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B&N Week 184: Are You A Good Storyteller?

| July 1, 2014

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It’s another Tuesday! Guess it’s time for another Bolts & Nuts question!

Are you a good storyteller?

(What? Steven, come on! Of course I am.) Well, I know that you think that, but is it really true? Sometimes when looking at the work, it’s hard to tell.

I guess the first question to ask is “who am I talking about?” The simple question is “the entire creative team.” The writer, obviously, but the penciler may not be so obvious. The inker, too, is less than obvious. The colorist has some input, but the letterer? Yes, they all have a part to play in storytelling, as does the editor. Let’s take a look at each.

The writer should be asking themselves this question all the time. For the writer, it is all about story: character arc, theme, action, pathos, humor, and whatever else will further the story. If you’re a writer and you aren’t asking yourself questions about the story, then you aren’t doing it right.

Artists are a little different. Yes, the overwhelming bulk of what they do is dependent upon the writer, but they also have to be able to tell a story visually with what they’re given. Even if it isn’t explicitly stated, the artist has a lot of leeway when it comes to the story: camera angle, how the eye is led across the page, what the eye focuses on, pacing, and more.

The artist needs to be able to tell the story of the script with pictures. If the script isn’t doing its job of telling the story, then the artist is going to have a more challenging time telling a cohesive story in the art. One thing follows the other. However, if the artist is picking the wrong things to focus on in the art, or picking camera angles that do not enhance the reading experience, then they are not helping to tell the story in a dynamic way.

Inkers are the final arbiters of the art. They are the ones who give the art its final look. The artist lays down the pencils and gives a good indication of light sources, black areas, shadows, and the rest, but it is the inker who makes those pencils permanent. They should also be cleaning up any faults in the art, such as correcting anatomy. The inker also has to push the characters into their respective planes. They have to interpret the pencils and add texture. If that isn’t storytelling, I don’t know what is.

The colorist also has to tell the story. You don’t want a story that’s supposed to be bright and uplifting to be gray and dingy. Take the latest Superman movie, Man of Steel, and contrast that to The Avengers. MoS was blue and gray and drab. The whole thing. The Avengers, in contrast, was vivid with its color. The colorist in comics does the same thing: they give the feel of the story. They help tell the story, but through color.

The letterer also is a storyteller, in that they have to place the words so that it is aesthetically pleasing, leads the eye correctly, and doesn’t cover up important pieces of art. That’s storytelling, because if certain things happen [like word balloons being in the line of sight of two conversing characters], then the reader could be seeing it wrong. And that’s only the start.

The letterer also has to choose a font for the characters and sound effects [if any are used]. The font used and visual effects of the balloons and captions all help to tell the story. Hell, even using Comic Sans helps tell a story. [Maybe not the story you want, but a story nonetheless.] It all affects how the reader “hears” the character.

And, of course, the editor tells the story by helping the creators tell the best story they can, either by making suggestions on certain things, taking a more hands-on role, or a more hands-off approach. It all depends on the story and the creators, so there isn’t a formula about where and when.

Whenever you’re creating a comic, the question “am I telling the story” should be first and foremost in your mind. Sometimes you aren’t, and when you aren’t, then you have to do what you can in order to fix what you’ve done and then tell the story. Sometimes, the work already done cannot be saved, so you’ll have to start all over again. [As an editor, I hate doing that to creators. I’ve done it once or twice, and while the creator wasn’t happy, they saw where they had gone wrong in trying to tell the story.]

Are you a good storyteller?

Of course, the word “good” is subjective. Right now, I’m not talking about the merits of the story itself. The merits of the story is different from the ability to tell that story.

Being a good storyteller means you’ve done everything in your power to effectively get across the message and the meaning of the story you’re trying to tell. Have you studied, practiced, and applied your craft to get the most out of it? Have you done any research to bring as much authenticity as possible to the story [without sacrificing drama]? Artists, do you practice different techniques and camera angles that could heighten the reading experience? Inkers, do you practice using different brushes and techniques to give your work different textures? Colorists, are you matching your palette to the story? Letterers, have you picked an appropriate font for the story being told? Editors, have you done everything possible to make sure the story is in harmony?

So, I’ll ask again: are you a good storyteller?

See you in seven.

Click here to discuss in the ComixTribe forum at Digital Webbing!

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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 stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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