B&N Week 103: Become A Better Creator- Be Observant

| December 11, 2012

Tuesday is upon us once again! Some people love the weekend, some people look forward to Fridays, but me? I’m partial to Tuesday, because spending time with you is always the highlight of my week.

This week, we’re still talking about being a better creator, and this time around, I want to talk about being observant. Let’s get into the Bolts & Nuts of that, shall we?

Being observant means being aware of your surroundings. Your surroundings have something for every single person on the creative team, because no matter what type of book you’ll be doing, be it space opera, prehistoric tales, and everything in-between, only by being observant will you be able to get that story told.

How can you be observant? By taking the time to actually look at things. You ever stop to smell the roses? How did that experience strike you? Could you tell a one-page story about it? Could you expand on it, bringing it to two or three pages?

Being observant means you have to notice everything. This isn’t just a writer thing, either. Sure, writers need to see things in order to tell their stories, but I’ll tell you something: some of the most boring books I’ve ever read were because there was so much detail that the writer forgot to move the story forward.

Anne Rice. Her early vampire books? I loved them. Absolutely. [Memnoch the Devil is my favorite, to be honest.] However, she has written a book that I can’t seem to move forward on: Blackwood Farm. It’s part of her vampire books, but she keeps going on and on and on and on [and on and on] about a cameo [piece of jewelry], and doesn’t really move the story forward. One of the books in her Lasher series [or is that the Mayfair Witches series with Lasher being the title of the book? I dunno. I’m not big on that series.] Anyway, in that book, she did lots of description, lots of description, lots of description, and then at the end of the chapter, she gave a little bit of story in order to move the plot forward. Not the best of writing, methinks.

So, writers can be too descriptive. The gold standard for too descriptive in their scripts? Alan Moore. (I knew you were going to say that.)

Being observant for a writer does not mean you put in everything to include the kitchen sink. It means you put in only those things that are absolutely important to the story. That is something that has to be learned. It isn’t easy.

Now, for artists, it’s different. Whereas the script should evoke imagery for the artist, the artist is the one tasked with making the visual come alive. That’s done two ways: by seeing the image in their head, as well as by using reference.

When I was a kid, I used to trace. I would create my own characters by tracing the outlines from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, and I would re-costume the characters. I’d add new/different masks, or create some sort of power effect around their hands or bodies. It was fun, and I was good at it. What I could see through the tracing paper, I would follow along with my pencil.

My cousin sucked at tracing, though. He wanted to trace my comics just like me, but he wasn’t good at putting the pencil where he could see the lines. So, there would be thick lines where there should be thin ones, there would be tons of unconnected lines, and it was just general butchery. Not good. He couldn’t visualize what was in front of his face.

Some artists are like this. These are basically the newer artists. They don’t have the complete imagination to put in the details to make the panels a rich image, and they don’t think to get reference pictures in order to help fill in those gaps.

Know what reference does? It helps fill in the gaps of being observant. Reference allows the artist to not be as dependent on their memory or imagination as much. It brings a level of realism to their art.

Inkers have to be observant and use reference, too. They have to see textures and light sources and see how one interacts with the other in order to affect the outcome of what they’re seeing. They have to see how the thickness of their line can push or pull a figure into the fore-, middle-, or background. They have to observe how what they do can affect the composition of the panel and page. It isn’t easy.

Know who else needs to be observant of the world around them? Colorists. They have to see the real world, possibly take or get pictures for reference, and then they have to recreate that color on the page.

Coloring can be tricky. The reason why is because you have two modes of coloring: RGB and CYMK. RGB means Red, Green, and Blue, primary colors of the rainbow. These colors are what you find on your computer monitor, and they will not be printed. You can literally do any color of the rainbow on your monitor.

CYMK means Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, blacK. These colors are the ones that you find on the printed page. You can still get tons of colors, but not the infinite palette of RGB.

Remember in elementary school, you would take a prism and break white light into its primary colors, but when you tried to do the same thing with crayons, all you got was a muddy mess? The same principle. The prism is RGB, and the crayons are CYMK.

So, while colors may look terrific on the screen, if you’re going to print the comic, they may not look as good on the page. This is why I say that coloring can be tricky. They have to worry about print vs computer monitor, and then they have to worry about the color of the panel and page. On top of that, they have to make certain items “pop”. It’s a challenge.

Whether you like it or not, comics is about bringing some elements of the real world and reproducing it on paper. No, it isn’t a faithful reproduction, and it doesn’t have to be. There is more than enough space for the fanciful. However, it has to be understood that it is fanciful because it’s based on the real world. Understand that, and the observations, approximations, and stories you tell should start to improve.

Want to be a better creator? Then you have to become observant. Look and listen.

And that’s all I have for this week. See you in seven!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at [email protected] for rate inquiries.

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