A question I get asked a lot, even from other webcomickers (perhaps especially from other webcomickers), is how Zombie Ranch goes from thoughts in my brain to a finished page for consumption. Mmm… brains… consumption… wait, where were we?
Well, first off, I’m only a portion of the process. According to our latest poll, the overwhelming majority of you who cared to see ‘behind the scenes’ are interested in everything, but I will let Dawn talk of her end of things when and if she chooses to. Actually, if you haven’t yet, I encourage you to click on over to some of the videos that were done last year, where you can see her drawing and coloring. In one of them you can hear me yammering on as well, should the sound of my voice be a curiosity of yours.
So that’s a taste of her side of the equation. On my side, there’s mainly the script. Yes, Zombie Ranch does indeed have a script, and it can get pretty complicated at times as I try to communicate what I want to the woman sitting five feet away from me. That’s not as easy as you might imagine, which believe you me has given me new respect for the writer/artist teams who aren’t even working in the same state (or even country!).
But I’m guessing one of the first questions any aspiring comics writer asks is, “What’s the format for this?” If they also happen to be the artist, the answer is most likely “Not much”, since they have the most minimal communication barrier possible. For the rest of us, we grasp about asking people and looking at various sample scripts, and eventually come to the perhaps disquieting realization that there’s no universal format. I mean, if you’re working for a certain publisher such as Marvel, I would guess they have a “house style” for scripts in the same fashion they do for artists… but I swear to you, I’ve seen a lot of samples from professional comics writers whose scripts have marked differences in presentation. Sometimes they look no different from screenplays, including all the dialog being centered and instructions like EXT. STREET – DAY. Sometimes they marshal the power of the computer age to include reference screenshots for the panels and characters. There are so many different ways that successful, critically acclaimed comics writers have brought their ideas forth, how can you possibly choose?
Well, keep in mind that I haven’t been doing this for very long, but I went through that period where I was fretting about how to write the script, which as you might imagine can really get in the way of actually getting a script written. So anytime anyone asks me the question of how I set up my script, I will gladly share what I came up with. As far as self-publishing such as webcomics goes, I think the question of comic scripting boils down to two rules:
1: Is this format comfortable for you?
2: Are you communicating effectively with your creative partner(s)?
It’s really as simple as that, in my opinion. My scripting style uses a lot of discrete elements to try to make it as easy as possible for Dawn to pick out the details she needs to. Often the dialog for a certain page starts with the horribly last century method of just writing lines in a notebook, so that I’m not thinking of too many things at once. Then in the next pass, I move things electronic, but I still use nothing fancier than plain old Microsoft Word for my drafts.
Speaking of drafts, if you click the image below you can see a scan of one of the printed out pages when I was revising my first draft of Zombie Ranch several months ago, complete with my horrible handwriting as I pondered changes and expansions.
Not especially pretty, as you can see, but the basic script format I still use is present in this example. I was in the process of expanding the original, very condensed 12 pages into something not quite as hurried, which explains why the printer stamped this as ’16′ and why the bolded “PAGE” entry at the top doesn’t have a number following it. This is about as rough as it gets without me subjecting you to my mad, cramped notebook scribblings.
If you compare this page to the final product visible in story pages 16-19, you’ll see how differently things can turn out. I’m often revising, sometimes until the last minute, based on feedback from Dawn or just my own sensibilities as I try to find the precise “rhythm” for that week’s installment. Obviously some elements are easier to revise than others… once Dawn has a panel inked, there’s no going back, but the word balloons are all added electronically, making them comparatively easy to alter or reposition.
But anyhow, there it is. I have several pre-programmed Styles in MS Word that are a click away as I write. “COMIC PAGE NUMBER” is big and bold, “Comic Book Panel” is underlined, “Comic Book Visuals“, italicized, and “COMIC BOOK BODY” (for the dialog) is all caps.
This honestly isn’t even the best example for scripting since it doesn’t include later improvements I made such as numbering every dialog element, or including the title for posting the page along with the page number. Actually, that sounds like a good topic for next week! Stay tuned!
P.S. Big thanks to Michael Hamersky, who read and reviewed the full print version of Zombie Ranch #1 this week on his blog. If you’re interested to see what he thought, click here: ComicBookCollectorsBlog.Com