I'm in celebratory mood, so I'm celebrating by doing a newsletter. I really don't think these things through at all.
Star Wars! Life is Peaceful There! Star Wars! In the open air!
Making Page Budgets, Blowing Word Counts
So, my first issue of Star Wars with Salva and Guru EFX. The sort of book that's so big it's almost not worth me hyping it. It's Star Wars! This hypes itself.
Let's give some tiny pieces about it...
While it builds on Jason's run, it's a clear jumping on point.
It stars Han, Leia, Luke, etc. It wars the Empire. It's set between A New Hope and Empire.
It's set on the remains of the planet Jedha, last seen being shot by the Death Star in Rogue One.
You could sum up the arc as “Mashing the cast of A New Hope with the aesthetic of Rogue One.”
Like Darth Vader, it's the start of a large, multi-volume story. I'm taking these characters on a journey. It will be a fun time. For you, if not for them.
I've handed in the last issue of the first arc a couple of weeks ago, and am really pleased with where this ends up. A first arc in a long story is always going to be about delineating expectations and where we're taking them, and I think we do it. Also, dudes in white armour gets hit hard with the glowy space sword. I hope you like it.
With my Comics Masterclass coming up, I did a couple of things at Comic Experience. Firstly here's a brief podcast chat about structuring stories in comics and secondly, here's an interview about what I'm hoping to touch on in the class. Still time to sign up for those interested in a full day of this stuff.
This was an interesting essay on the idea of Poetic Structure In Star Wars, and how it applies to Doctor Aphra. “Rhyming” narrative is never quite how I've thought of it, but there's certainly some techniques here I use elsewhere. I mainly think of them as lifted from Watchmen.
Essay about Internet being scary scared everyone this week. Our immortal machine masters will destroy us all.
Jamie actually was useful to humanity by doing a post about comic page technical specifications. If you're an artist, or wanting to be an artist, I can't stress how important this is.
Clearly comics writing stuff is on my mind, as I answered a casual ask with a huge essay. I think it's worth reprinting here...
Q: So, page budgets? You mention them a lot, and how you innovatively save on them by printing half empty pages. I eventually worked out that this was to do with Jamie’s time rather than actual printing. Which would, you know, get more expensive the more pages you make. But I’m still confused. Surely the budget should be on a number on panels, not a number of pages? A nine panel grid on a crowd scene is going to be a lot more intensive than a splash reveal on two characters in bed, for example?
A: Heh. This question includes basically huge chunks of what it means to write comics which no-one ever really talks about.
In short, you’re right to be thinking on more axis than just number of pages but you’re not quite thinking on enough axis of complication simultaneously (Or at least, Tumblr’s word county is preventing you from expressing all those axis.)
Yup, a nine panel page of a crowd is more work than a splash of a fairly simple scene. On average. You can probably think of some exceptions and ways to do it which isn’t more work, which is at least part of the point.
Any of the following (and more) increases the amount of work on a page…
More complicated story telling.
And so on.
So, for example, what’s more work? A nine panel page of talking head or a 3 panel page of a fight scene in a crowd in the middle of a city-scape?
I dunno. Depends on the artist and their choices, and recognising which is true for every artist you work with means you can think about their workload.
Because this is where the page Budget comes in. As we’ve described above, the amount of work on any given page varies hugely. However, that’s not how people get paid in most comics. You get paid on a page rate, whether or not the page is a lot of work or nothing.
So, as a writer, you try to be aware of what an average amount of work actually is on a page. You try and make sure your issues (or at least the work across the series) averages out. You try and work out ways for an artist to work out what work is 100% necessary, and which work you can try to minimise. At the absolute least, you should know when you’re asking for too much and apologise.
It’s also worth noting that an artist will be thinking of their own workload. You ask for too much and they will end up either blowing the deadline, quitting the book due to the level of abuse or just creating their own shortcuts.
In the case of Young Avengers, Jamie was doing 13 issues in the year. That is a lot of work. This is a team book, meaning there’s a lot of figures in play. Some of the enemies are fucking crowds. Ouch.
So I tried to work out some ways to help with that. The biggest one is Mother’s dimension. It’s a domain beyond reality, outside the page, outside reality. We do lots of creepy stuff with panels there. It’s effective.
It also has literally no backgrounds. It uses white backgrounds as an aesthetic choice, but also a practical one.
Equally, there’s an awareness when there’s an issue which asks a lot, you may plan for the previous one or the next one to ask for less. Young Avengers 9 and 10 - are relatively quiet. While it’s also the beat of the book, this is at least in part as I know the next issues are going to need spectacle.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not just writers who think like this. For example, consider this cover by Jamie.
This is at least twice as much work for the Matt on colours as a normal cover. Each one of the dimension slices require basically starting a new job.
The next issue…
It’s effective, but at least in part it’s giving a much easier cover.
In short: be aware of what you’re actually asking for.
Turning to WicDiv’s concept of page budgets, it’s that Jamie and I have agreed that there’s 20 pages of work in an issue. That’s basically what the advance covers, and what Jamie can do in the period. That is 20 “average” pages. We use all the above to try and balance that out. Some pages are harder than average. Others are easier than average. And we use all the above tactics to try and help with that. The basically backgroundless black of the Underground allows us to do something aesthetically effective while saving time, in the same way as Mother’s dimension. We create a crowd based character in the form of Dio but use it sparingly - plus have them in coloured silhouettes. It’s still a lot of figures, but it requires less detail than a true crowd, and we get our unique effects from it. Plus there’s the awareness of some issues being more work than others - 31 and 32 are this visual showcase, while issue 30′s extended scenes in the Underworld let Jamie catch a breath before heading into it.
In terms of my hard page trickery where I basically split a page in half and fill the rest with text, that’s an extension of the above, made possible by the fact WicDiv isn’t paid by a page rate, but rather an advance per issue. At Marvel, a trick page is normally counted as a full page for payment.
(There’s a few exceptions there - pure design page with no art don’t come out of the budget. Things like JIM’s text drops and Jon’s design elements are all “free” for the sake of the budget. In other words, if they weren’t there, they’d only be replaced by an advert. They never take away from comic art.)
As long as I can make a page half as much work as average page, I can count it as a half page… assuming everything else is balanced. The simplest trick there is having a grid and only having half the panels featuring drawing. There have definitely been times where things I’ve counted as half a page are in fact more than half a page, and Jamie has corrected me, and I’ve tried to settle the books down the line. The Dionysus fight pages in 32 are certainly half a hard page.
Anyway - when I talk about Page Budget that’s basically what I’m thinking about.
In terms of work, this week (and last, frankly) have been primarily about wrestling with the first issue of Spangly New Thing. I finished it an hour ago. It’s with Chrissy, and assuming that she doesn’t think it’s terrible, it’ll be with Spangly New Thing’s Magnificent Artist, who plans to start work tomorrow. Which is exciting and petrifying, exactly as it should be.
More on that soon, I guess.