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B&N Week 141: Script To Thumbnails

| September 3, 2013 | 0 Comments


I can see clearly now that Tuesday has come… I can see all the Bolts & Nuts in my way…

Okay, fine. I’ll stop singing. However, it doesn’t stop the song that’s in my heart. This week, I want to talk about something that should be near and dear to all of your hearts. (Steven, don’t you say that every week? It seems like it.) That’s because it all should be near and dear to your heart. All of it. But what I’m talking about right now is where the rubber meets the road. I’m talking about seeing a story go from being a script to thumbnails.

We’re going to do some fast-forwarding, as well as make some assumptions. We’re going to say you’ve already written the story, you’ve hired the editor, you’ve had the script itself edited, and you’ve not only saved your money and searched for an artist, but that you’ve already gotten them onboard, and they’ve read the script. Time to dive straight into the pencils, right?


Before starting the work in earnest, the artist should be doing character designs first. This can take some time, especially if you’re doing superheroes. Generally, the artist will do at least two characters: the antagonist and the protagonist. These designs will allow the artist to get a feel for the characters, so that they can just pop them into the script. After that’s done, the real fun begins.

Now, I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again: thumbnails should be done for every issue of every comic done. This is an important step that should never be skipped.

(Steven, what’s a thumbnail again?) A thumbnail is a quick sketch of the comic, taken directly from the script. Thumbnails allow everyone to get a general feel for the comic. It gives a camera angle, where the characters are going to be placed, and shows pacing. All of these are the basic blocks for visual comics storytelling.

What happens if you don’t have thumbnails? You don’t get to see the book until the pages start to come in. This could be bad for the artist, because if things are really bad [I’m not talking about anatomy and perspective—I’m talking about camera angle, character placement, and pacing], one of two things will happen: redrawing, or writing around the art. While neither of these are terrible, they also aren’t good. Having to write around the art could lead to an uneven read. Redrawing? That’s just more work for the artist, and really, it’s pain that they could have saved themselves if they had done thumbnails and shown them to whoever’s running editorial.

That’s what happens when you don’t get thumbnails. What happens when you get them, or when things aren’t working the way you thought they would?

Magic. This is where the magic happens.

From a purely selfish point of view, this is where many writers first see their words start to come to life. They may have written many scripts, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been produced. Getting the thumbnails in could be the first time many have seen their ideas start to take shape. And you know what that leads to? Fear, mixed with a good dose of happiness.

(Fear? I don’t get it, Steven.)

The fear comes in because you don’t want to upset the artist if things don’t look right. You figure that they know what they’re doing, so you let them do their thing. I’m going to tell you not to do this. Unless you’ve hired a veteran who’s produced dozens if not hundreds of books [it’s possible], you should look at every panel and every page with a questioning eye.

The first thing you want to do is to pull out the script, and read it alongside the thumbnails. The very first thing you’re going to look for are the differences, where the artist deviated from the script. Are the panel numbers the same? What about the camera angle? Are characters placed correctly and with care? Has the dialogue been taken into account? You’re going to do this for every panel, on every page. This is not a time-sink. This will save valuable time and heartache later if done correctly.

What happens if the thumbs don’t accurately reflect the script? Then we ask for changes. Point out the wheres and the whats, and hopefully the artist will tell you the whys.

This is where characters can be seen to be placed wrong, or that storytelling problems can crop up.

Face it: editors aren’t perfect. They’re there to help you tell the best story you can, but they can’t see everything. They can’t visualize everything. Sometimes, what works one way in the script doesn’t work well when drawn. That’s when corrections have to be made in order to get the best story possible.

Then, there can also be a problem with following a script too closely. Sometimes, the pacing of the script can be off [because, again, editors aren’t perfect], and the artist draws what was given in the script, panel for panel, without checking for sense [also known as storytelling] or pacing. Are there too many panels when some could have been combined? Or is it a problem of things are a bit too condensed, and a panel or two are needed in order to space things out in order to have a better pace? This happens, and this is the time where you want to talk about it.

Now, this is not the time to be a jerk, which can happen. If you asked for a magic carpet in panel 3, and you got a magic carpet in panel 3, and the story revolves around that magic carpet in panel 3, this is not the time to change the magic carpet into a flying llama with its tail on fire. This is a decision that you should have made back during the scripting. Want to change New York to Las Vegas? Again, something that should have been done during scripting. No large, arbitrary changes. That’s for the big things.

The little things? I can’t even think of anything that would be the cause for it. There should be no issues with perspective or anatomy, because these are just sketches. You can’t complain about lack of detail, because these are just sketches. There shouldn’t really be anything that can be deemed as little that can be nitpicked.

That’s really about it, folks. Your homework this week is simple: always make sure you have a thumbnail stage for every book you make, and make sure you read the script alongside them to ensure the story is being followed and that everything makes sense. This is the first step in injecting quality into the art.

See you in seven, and comments are still open here.

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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 for rate inquiries.

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