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Dissecting the art of layout
Hello dear Tower,
Niko here. Thank you so much to all the subscribers. Thanks for your support.
As you may have noticed, I’m in charge of the visual side of our new Spectators serialized graphic novel. So you might hear me a bit less than Brian, but I’m still planning to share some details about my craft on a regular basis. And I will be available, in the discussion section, to talk about the art of doing comics, the techniques, the process, the tools or any relevant aspect of the job. I’ve been doing comics for a little more than 20 years, it’s about time I share a few of the things I learned along the way.
Today: How the hell I do layouts efficiently?
To me, layout is the hardest part of the process of doing a comics page. It’s the only step that demands total silence and tranquility. It was the case when I started and it’s still the case today. At the layout step, every possibility is available, that’s what makes it hard. Since I want the best layout possible before I commit to one version and proceed to the next step, I want to be sure I pick the best option. When doing comics, time is of the essence, especially while working on monthly books. Nobody wants to realize they choose a bad layout at the moment we are working on the inks. During my first years in comics, it unfortunately happened regularly.
The Cintiq tablet emergence was a big deal for creators who had to do layouts. It allowed us, in only a few minutes, to try many possibilities, move things around, resize panels and all sort of modifications that would otherwise take long hours to do on paper.
My first graphic novel with DC Vertigo was titled Barnum! It was written by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman and was edited by Shelly Bond and Will Dennis (who I would work with again a bit later on a certain book about lions you might have heard of). Since it was scripted to fit a Chaykin type of storytelling, the way the panels were described and the general balance of the pages was very close to what I knew of Howard Chaykin’s own work. As an example, there was a heavy use of insets. Those small panels are inserted in the page where we generally focus on a character’s facial expression.
This was my first really substantial job (128 pages) in comics and I should say, it influenced me a lot on the layout aspect of comics. To give you an idea of what a big deal it was to me, before doing Barnum!, I only did 6 pages on a Sandman Presents issue with the same editor. And that was the whole of my professional experience. If we consider the pages I did as an art student, around 40 pages, the work on Barnum! was more than double the total amount of pages I had ever done. My editors Shelly and Will were very supportive and helped a lot to improve the beginner aspect of my work. They even faxed me (yes, we were still using faxes in 2001) the now-famous Wally Wood 's 22 Panels That Always Work!! I learned a lot while working on this book.
Another big influence on me was the work of Belgian cartoonist Hergé and his world-famous series The Adventures of Tintin. It was made as a comic for kids but the storytelling codes put in place by Hergé were destined to revolutionize comics and become a major influence on a whole lot of creators. Hergé was at the pinnacle of both simplicity and sophistication.
Notice how Hergé’s storytelling skill allows readers to make their own version of what happens to Captain Haddock between panel 4 and 6. The art of ellispsis at its best.
I could also name creators like Moebius, Will Eisner, Frank Miller and Katsuhiro Otomo, who each had a big influence on the art student I was.
So here’s how I work. First I do a very loose sketchy version of the page where all basic elements are present and I even place dialogue balloons to be sure everything can be easily read.
Then, I refine everything, work on the characters, background perspective and add everything I need to be able to go forward with the inking.
Here’s how it looks when it’s ready for inking.
And here are some more layouts from Spectators.
Thanks for reading, and see you Monday for another brand-new scene of Spectators!
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