When I read the script for chapter one of The Eighth Seal, I was pretty damn impressed. James Tynion got a lot right when it came to opening a horror story properly, and he had some really interesting ideas that could make it a great digital comic, but I still saw many ways that we could push his script even further to take advantage of the digital format. I focused on storyboarding the chapter in a way that I thought would take advantage of digital storytelling but not take away from the story itself. James’ script was twelve screens long (we say “screens” instead of “pages”), and my storyboards ended up making the comic almost 40 screens long. I altered a lot of pacing, panel placement and word balloon placement while experimenting with the digital storytelling. Quite a bit gets adjusted, but my focus is always on embellishing what James has written and not on taking away from his story. Plus, James and I talk all the time, so I have a pretty clear idea about what he likes when it comes to storytelling and horror in general. To get a better idea, take a look at the script for chapter one and the storyboards for chapter one.
Things worked out so well on the first chapter that we ended up using the same approach on all of the following chapters. My process seems to almost always end up doubling the number of screens in the script, so now James writes with that in mind. James’ scripts have definitely grown to take better advantage of the digital format, and he’s come up with some of the best ideas for swipe effects in the series. When I storyboard The Eighth Seal, I tend to ignore the panel numbering in the script and look at a scene as a whole. My goal is to figure out the rhythm of the scene and see how far I can experiment with this digital format. Many times I draw the panels/screens how they are written in the script, but a lot of the time I end up with ideas that will work only if I move a panel to a different screen, move a word balloon to a different panel, or add an extra shot to a screen. It’s tricky to play with a script in this way and requires a writer who trusts your approach to storytelling.
All of my original storyboard sketches are actually pretty small and drawn on 3 x 5 inch paper because it helps me think within the 5:3 aspect ratio. Another goal with the storyboarding is to create a rough mini version of what the final comic should read like. When I’m finished sketching all of the storyboards, I scan them into my computer and edit them in Photoshop. I use Photoshop to layer images and create the rough swipe effects. After I’m done with editing, I throw everything into a folder and use an image/photo gallery program on my computer to click through the rough comic. This entire process helps me to know if my ideas are even going to work. I try to experiment as much as possible during the storyboarding phase because it’s the easiest time to test out ideas. I recommend including word balloons in your layouts/storyboards because they can play a large role with this format. Once I’m satisfied with the storyboards, and James approves them, I begin work on the final line art and create the core screens.
Core Screens: A core screen is a screen of artwork that has not yet been manipulated with editing or layering. On the image below, example 1 shows some of my core screen line art for The Eighth Seal. I usually figure out what the core screens will need to be during the storyboarding phase. While sketching, I get a pretty clear idea about which images will need editing or layering to create swipe effects. That’s the benefit to having storyboards that offer a very clear example on how the final comic will read. I try to fit as much line art as I can on each core screen. Once I feel that I have all of the line art on the core screens needed to create the final screens, I send them off to get colored. When the colors are finished, I then begin work on editing and layering the colored core screens to create the final screens. On the example image below, three core screens were edited to create a sequence that consists of five final screens. (By the way, I charge per core screen, kind of like how artists charge per page for a traditional comic. I charge only for the original art I’ve drawn on a screen, but not for any of the duplicated art on the screen. For example, if only half of a screen has original art on it, I charge only half of my core screen rate. I adjust my core screen rate based on that principle and try to always be fair about it.)
Layering: I layer core screen art to make something appear, disappear or create the illusion of movement. Layering is really just a simple copy/paste process. When I want to show something move on a swipe, I draw that moving character, or object, on a separate screen from the rest of the non-moving art. When drawing the original line art, I use a lightbox to make sure that the character, or object, lines up in the right spot on the shot it will be layered over top of. Once I’m satisfied with the original line art, I scan it into my computer and send it off to the colorist. When I receive the colored core screens from the colorist I then begin layering the art together in Photoshop to create the final screens. On the example image below, example number 2 shows multiple characters pasted onto one screen. All of those characters will get layered on the same background; the background gets duplicated a few times to create the illusion of movement on the final screens. I ended up needing only two core screens of art to create four final screens on the example image. My goal with that final sequence was to slow the scene down and have it end in a way that put extra emphasis on the last panel.
Lettering: Most of the lettering placement is figured out during the storyboarding phase. During that phase, I move a lot of word balloons around and place them in different panels, but this makes it hard for the actual letterer to know where to put his or her lettering because the original script doesn’t match the final screens I’ve created. So when the final screens are done, James creates a lettering script to help the letterer understand where all of the dialog will need to go. James usually adjusts the dialog one last time in his lettering script and uses my storyboards as a reference to see where the dialog will now need to be placed. Once he is finished, I upload the lettering script, final screens, and storyboards (for reference) to the Thrillbent server so that the letterer can download them. Take a look at James’ lettering script to get a better idea about how it works.
Once the letterer is finished, all of the final screens and lettering files are put in a folder on the Thrillbent server to be pieced together and finalized. When finalizing is done, a pdf of the final comic is sent to James and I to proofread. If everything looks good, we let Mark and Lori know that the chapter is ready for release on Thrillbent.com and Comixology. Then we begin work on the next chapter. That’s pretty much it. I hope some of this stuff has been helpful to anyone out there who is interested in creating this style of comic. Thanks for reading.