So as promised (or threatened, depending on your point of view), I’m going to continue talking about the evolution of my scripting process this week. With that in mind, let’s look at example #2, taken from a later draft of Zombie Ranch. Go ahead and click on the image below for a larger view.

All set? Let’s talk shop, then. The first thing you may notice is that the page counts in the header still hadn’t been revised. This is not due to any grand plan on my part, it’s just something I didn’t bother mucking with at the time, since all of two people were going to be looking at it. The more important number was the big PAGE ELEVEN, which I put in manually at the top of each new script segment. This is important because, although I try my best to keep to a system of one script page per posted comic, there are times where I’ve had to break that rule. For instance, I had a lot of panel description on the fourth story page of the second arc (#27 in the archives), which meant that “page” was actually two pages in the script. That throws off any automatic numbering, so I prefer to just do it manually.

Incidentally, you may notice a great deal of white space present in the bottom portion of the page. That’s not actually there so I can doodle and make notes (although in this case, I did) — it’s there because this particular comic posting ends after panel 4, and I make a hard page break whenever that happens. It helps to keep the “beats” organized in my head (and Dawn’s, as well), and though it may seem wasteful at times, I think it’s indispensable when you’re working with someone else who can’t read your mind on where things are supposed to start and stop. You want to eliminate confusion as much as possible.

In that same vein, by this draft I had begun the time honored practice of consecutively numbering every line of dialog (and sound effect) that’s supposed to appear. Notice how the numbering carries through to the end of the page, instead of starting over with each panel. This is very, very important because both you and the artist have to be thinking about the composition of the page, and if there are words to be said, the words and images have to find room to effectively co-exist. If I start getting into dialog line #13 or #14, I know I’m in dangerous territory, which is a good warning system to have since I think it’s very easy for a writer to overdo it in a comics medium. More on that later.

The numbering helps mostly, again, in letting your artist keep track of the various elements. When Dawn sketches up a quick storyboard for me, she can also sketch in word balloons and label them ‘1’, ‘2’, and ‘3’ to show which lines of the script they correspond to, and there’s much less chance of accidentally skipping something. For this same reason, I put the names of characters appearing in a given panel in ALL CAPS in the visual instructions, so they’re not overlooked.

My visual instructions on this page are relatively sparse, which is perhaps a shortcoming. There are times I’ve leaned heavily on Dawn to help provide the visual flair. Sometimes a lack of detail is liberating to an artist, but don’t be surprised if what they come up with might stray from what you intended.  That said, it was Dawn who came up with the elaborate final composition of Panel 4, including the idea of Suzie casually lighting up a cigarette. That image is still one of my favorites from the entire run of the comic, which is probably why it’s on the back of both our postcard fliers and our print issue.

And just to go back to the dialog numbering for a bit, you may notice Suzie’s words in Panel 4 are split into two separate lines, even though it’s only her talking. I actually do this a lot… there’s only so much text that can be crammed into a single word balloon, so an artist will often have to split things up. When those splits need to happen, I’d prefer they happen my way, at my pace and flow, so I arrange it up front so that Dawn knows where she should make the breaks.

There are further differences between this page and the final that make it obvious there was more revision, such as my adding of an entire extra line to Panel 1, and Dawn winning out with her argument that ‘SPACK’ was a stupid sound effect. Oh, and if you haven’t guessed by now, ‘LGZ’ was my abbreviation for ‘LITTLE GIRL ZOMBIE’. I wrote it out on a previous script page and felt like using the shortened version from then on.

The scrawls at the bottom of this script page don’t refer to page eleven at all, but the page after. I was reworking the dialog, and also did a simple little attempt at storyboarding since I was having trouble describing to Dawn what I had envisioned. I think we may have been having a bit of an argument over how to present things. Some married couples have fights over Junior getting an earring, or why Mr. Smith once again came home drunk and smelling of perfume… we have fights over the sequential art of a webcomic.

This is hardly unusual, though, even for writer/artist pairings that aren’t living together. Arguments and misunderstandings will occur despite your best efforts to minimize them, but in a lot of cases the end result may turn out better for having two separate viewpoints, even if it’s wildly different from the original script.

Anyhow, Comic-Con is coming up next week and we’re trying to get everything together for that, so on the comic front we’ll probably be leaving you folks with this week’s minor cliffhanger and then resuming the story on the 28th. I do have one more post I wanted to make about the scripting, though, so I’m going to try to get that written up for my blog for the 21st. Stop by then and I’ll tell you about my “Stan Lee Rule”.

Oh, and on the advice of one of our peers, we’ve put together a Support page, listing various suggestions on how those of you who are fans of Zombie Ranch can show your love (in ways that won’t get you arrested, I mean). A lot of it is stuff that we’ve mentioned at various times before, like our Facebook group, but now it’s all gathered into one convenient place. Check it out! LINK