Hey, everyone, I’m Jeremy Rock, the illustrator/co-creator of The Eighth Seal, and I’m going take some time to explain my approach to digital storytelling. My hope is that this information will help those who are interested in creating comics in the style that Thrillbent uses. While I’m explaining this stuff, please remember that this is basically me saying “consider this” and not “do this.” Nothing is written in stone here. Also, if you haven’t read The Eighth Seal, please go read it now. It will make everything I’m about to explain easier to understand.
Let’s start with the basics. Digital comics are primarily read on computers, smart phones or tablet devices. I mainly have touchscreen tablet devices in mind when I’m creating a digital comic. I also prefer the landscape format for digital comics instead of the traditional portrait format that print comics use. Every Thrillbent comic uses the landscape format, but not all of them use the same aspect ratio, so if you want to create a comic in the same style as The Eighth Seal, the first thing you’ll need to do is figure out the aspect ratio of your comic.
Aspect Ratio: The aspect ratio describes the proportional relationship between the width and height of an image. Most Thrillbent titles use the 4:3 aspect ratio because that’s what the first Thrillbent comic, Luther, used. But I was interested in experimenting with a wider screen format for The Eighth Seal, so I decided to try out the 5:3 aspect ratio. Take a look at the example image below to see the differences between the two. On the right side of the example, you’ll see 11×17 comic art boards with little boxes measured out on them. Those show the sizes that I found most comfortable to draw my original art at for each aspect ratio.
An aspect ratio of 5:3 can offer a little more breathing room for the art and lettering depending on your composition. 4:3 is a little more squarish but translates better to print, by stacking two screens to create a printed page, if you ever want to convert your digital comic into a traditional print comic. Honestly, I never think about print when I’m working on The Eighth Seal. In my mind, it’s purely a digital comic. I didn’t think that way when I worked on Luther, and it caused me to hold back on some unique digital storytelling techniques because they didn’t translate well to print. The focus with Luther was to explore a digital format that could later be converted to print. I didn’t like that I had to hold back the digital storytelling so that maybe one day the comic could have a print run. This approach just seemed to take something away from both formats. So now my personal opinion is that it’s best to give each its own spotlight and treat print and digital as completely separate formats. Allow each the freedom to show off their unique traits instead of forcing one to be more like the other.
Art Tools: The next thing to consider is the art tools that you want to use. You can use traditional art tools or create all of the art on a computer. Completely up to you. Artist Peter Krause uses the program Manga Studio to create all his art for Insufferable straight on the computer. I draw all of my original art with traditional tools (pencil, paper, ink, etc.) and scan the art into my computer to be manipulated in Photoshop.
Storyboards and Swipe Effects: When creating a chapter for The Eighth Seal, the team basically uses a five-step process of script, storyboards, line art, coloring, and lettering. Those are essentially the key steps to creating the final images for the comic. Take a look at the example image below to get a better idea about what I mean.
When I start work on a chapter of The Eighth Seal, the first thing I do is read the script and create the storyboards. This is the same process as creating layouts for a page in a print comic, but I just got in the habit of calling them storyboards because of how they look and read on a screen. Call them whatever you want. A lot of the stuff that I’m going to explain is still so new that it doesn’t even have a name yet. I just make up names to help keep things organized, but feel free to use your own terms if you find them more comfortable.
Before I jump into my storyboarding process, I’m going to explain one of my most-used terms, “Swipe Effect”, which is just a play on the terms “special effect” or “sound effect.” It refers to a moment when the reader swipes on a touchscreen device and something changes in an unconventional way when compared to traditional comic book storytelling.
Some Thrillbent writers use the term “on the swipe” in their scripts when they want the artist to create a swipe effect (i.e., “on the swipe, she changes into a monster”). This style of storytelling can make something appear, disappear or create the illusion of movement. I usually just run on instinct when it comes to swipe effects, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain my approach, but when I started analyzing my techniques I realized that there was a lot more structure to my process than I had originally thought. So I’ve broken down my techniques and labeled parts to better explain why I do what I do. I’ve also created visual examples to help explain this stuff. These are just some of the basics to start with. There are still many ways to experiment with digital storytelling outside of the examples that I give below.
Action Swipes: These seem to be a favorite among readers. This style of swipe creates the illusion of movement by layering two or more screens that have slight changes to the position of characters or objects. It’s probably the closest I get to something like animation. This technique is a great way to make the reader focus on a specific character or object. It’s also useful for adding a surprise reveal and can even slow down the pace of a scene. Check out the example image below to get a better idea about how these work.
Traditional Swipes: These really aren’t typical swipe effects, but they are a type of swipe that occurs often. Basically, Traditional Swipes are just screens with traditional comic panel-to-panel storytelling, nothing appearing, disappearing or changing. Just good, old-fashioned sequential art. Mixing in a decent number of these types of screens helps to keep the reading experience balanced and allows the reader a chance to sit and just read without having to constantly swipe.
Full Screen Swipes: Much like Traditional Swipes, these really aren’t typical swipe effects, but they are a very useful swipe technique. A Full Screen Swipe is an image that takes up the entire screen. Think of it as the “splash page” of the digital comic format. It’s a great way to highlight a dramatic moment. The image can have a border to create a sense of confinement or be borderless to make the image feel boundless and open. It can even be entirely black, which creates an empty space in time if placed between two story screens. You can also place a word balloon over an entirely black screen to create a quieter opening or ending to a scene. I try to not use more than three Full Screen Swipes in a row so that the reader doesn’t start to feel like they are just swiping through an image gallery instead of a comic. But sometimes I break that rule if I feel the extra screens will add a strong kick to the overall sequence.
Alternating Swipes: This is probably my most-used swipe effect. It’s useful for revealing a surprise to the reader. This type of swipe causes storytelling changes that jump back and forth between different sides of the screen. It can go left to right, up and down, diagonal, whatever way you want. You can get pretty complex with this technique. The trick is making sure it carries a rhythm to it that doesn’t confuse the reader. This is also a great swipe effect for slowing down the pace of a scene because it requires the reader to swipe for small bits of the story.
Isolation Swipes: I use this swipe effect to put extra emphasis on a panel or image by isolating a single shot on the screen. On the example image below, with example number 4 you’ll see that I used four back-to-back screens with Isolation Swipes. I did this to show a more dramatic progression of time and allow each shot to feel more prominent. When combined with Alternating Swipes, Isolation Swipes can help to slow down the pace of a scene and offer space to reveal a surprise element of the story.
Inset Swipes: This is another swipe effect that I tend to use a lot. Inset Swipes are similar to inset panels used in traditional comic book storytelling. They are smaller images or panels that appear, disappear, or change while inside, or overlapping, a larger image or panel. Inset Swipes can offer opportunities to reveal a surprise or slow down time.
Letter Swipes: These can be a fun way to reveal surprise dialogue. This swipe technique makes it so that lettering can appear, disappear or change. Pretty easy to understand, but tricky to master. Sometimes when new lettering appears, the old lettering is removed so it will not confuse the reader about what to read next. It really just depends on where you want the reader to focus after a swipe occurs.
Combining Swipes: This example isn’t about a single swipe effect, it’s about what happens when you combine multiple swipe effects. Take a look at the example image below, you’ll see that most of the time I use multiple swipe effects in a scene. Let’s examine this a bit further. With example number 3, I isolate the shot of Amelia to put emphasis on her feeling alone. I felt it was important that this be the very first image we see in The Eighth Seal because Amelia feels alone in her fight against her mental instability. On the swipe, we see Dr. West appear on the left, talking to her about her problem. After another swipe, we see a Lettering Swipe get rid of Dr. West’s word balloon, and a close-up of Amelia explaining her situation appears on the right. By using Alternating Swipes along with the other swipe effects, I created a back and forth feeling to their conversation. When we swipe again, the close-up of Amelia on the right is turned into an inset image with new lettering, and is overlapping, and within, a new full screen image of a school. Amelia is telling a story about an event that occurred in the past, and I felt this was a fun way to slowly transition to that memory she is about to share. On the final swipe, we see Amelia disappear as her memory takes over the screen, the colors of the environment become more vibrant, and new captions appear. The swipes I combined to create this sequence were Isolation, Alternating, Letter, Inset and Full Screen.
So now that we have some of the basics down, next week we’ll look at how we create and assemble the actual digital comic.