Tagged: Marvel style

Mindy Newell is Just Ramblin’ On

Swamp Thing

Sometimes a writer can sit in front of the computer screen for hours, fingers poised on the keyboard, and – nothing happens. Not a word, not a syllable. Not a random thought, not a brainstorm. There’s not one single idea that can be expanded upon, not a hint of anything that seems at least remotely interesting.

Hmm, here’s something.

Did you read Denny’s column last week, the one about the Mighty Marvel Method? This writer came late to that particular game; in fact, I didn’t even know it existed, and the first time I heard the words “Marvel style” – another way to describe the “method” – I didn’t have a clue, though I was familiar with what a “script” was, having read numerous plays, including a whole lotta Shakespeare, in high school and college. I do think that, for novices, the best way to learn how to write a comic is by the “full script” method, which helps (forces?) the writer to understand pacing, hone dialogue, and think visually, because in the full script the writer is describing the artwork in each panel. This can be pretty easy to do in an action scene, but what if it’s basically just two people talking? Then the writer has to think like both a director and a cinematographer, and keep the “camera” moving and the “light” interesting, because otherwise a “talking head” interlude, no matter how important it is to the plot, how crucial to moving the story forward, is just plain b-o-r-i-n-g.

Either way, as in a football game, it’s a team effort. The writer may be the quarterback, but without a trusted receiver – Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Peyton Manning and Demarylius Thomas, Tom Brady and Julian Edelman, Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson, Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. – he or she won’t reach the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl. I’m thinking Alan Moore and Stephen Bissette on The Saga of the Swamp Thing, Marv Wolfman and George Perez on The New Teen Titans, Frank Miller and David Mazzucheli on Daredevil, our own Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams on Batman. Neil Gaiman and Sam Keith on Sandman. And, of course, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor, Captain America, et.al. Of course, these are all classic pairings; YMMV.

Did you read John Ostrander’s column yesterday? John is rightly furious. What’s happened in Flint Michigan is a fucking disgrace. Oh, and one thing John didn’t mention. The fucking Republican Ohio Governor Rick Snyder wouldn’t ask for federal aid or for the President to declare a federal emergency because, you know, Obama’s a Kenyan Socialist Muslim Anti-American Democrat. And he’s black. Thank God for Rachel Maddow, Michael Moore, and the Detroit Free Press. And above all to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint pediatrician who blew the whistle.

Yesterday I finished semi-binging on The Man in the High Castle on Amazon – semi-binging because I didn’t watch all 10 episodes at once, but divided it up into two “showings” – so I wasn’t aware of the release of the American prisoners from Iran until about 5:30 or 6 p.m. MSNBC and CNN were both covering the story. I turned to FOX, because I was wondering what they were saying about this windfall from Obama’s policy on Iran; no matter what you think about the nuclear deal with that nation – and I’m still on the fence about it – our people have been released. Would Fox, the bastion of fair and balanced reporting” at least celebrate that? Nope. They just kept replaying and replaying the Republican debate from Tuesday night until the other stations turned to other stories. So fucking typical. Meanwhile, the sixth prisoner, Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who allegedly was in Iran on a covert CIA mission (according to ABC News) and who disappeared in March 2007 is still missing. I told Mike Gold that I think he’s dead.

By the way, The Man in the High Castle is a brilliant and engrossing adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel. I heartily recommend it.











Mindy Newell: Up, Up And Away In My Beautiful Balloon

Word BalloonsI wanted to write about word balloons, which I’m pretty sure hasn’t been talked about here at ComicMix before, at least since I arrived here, is it coming on three years already? And now I’m incredibly frustrated and possibly going crazy.

I got the idea from seeing a piece in Entertainment Weekly featuring an interview with Scott McCloud in which he talked about the use of word balloons in comics. I thought I set the magazine aside to use as a reference – and I’ve been tearing about the house for over an hour looking for it. Can’t find it anywhere…and I even went through my recycle bin. And I went to EW’s website, but have you been there recently? It’s H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E! Supposedly it was “redesigned,” but it looks more like it was hacked into by The Onion’s staff, or maybe the same goons from North Korea who hacked into Sony. I mean, what kind of website doesn’t have a search engine icon?? Go ahead, go try searching the site for an old article… even a recap of Downton Abbey from two weeks ago. Unless I’m blind, it just ain’t there, folks – and if I am, please let me know how to search the EW website down below in the comments!

But back to word balloons.

If I could get a nickel for every time someone, upon learning that I’ve written comics, has said something like so you put the words in those little balloons, I’d be a rich lady. Maybe not part of the 1%, but at least a member of the 7%. Well, I do, actually. Put the words in the balloons, I mean. Only it all starts on the written page, whether it’s done as a full script or in what’s often called “Marvel style.”

I think I’ve said this before, but for me, when I’m really in the zone as I’m writing a story, it’s like watching a movie unfold in my head and all I’m doing is transcribing. As Scott pointed out in that article and in his brilliant Understanding Comics, the trick is, since it’s a visual medium, to convey the emotion behind the lettered words. And by using the art of the balloon, not only in its lettering, but in its presentation and placement within the panel. For example, if I were writing a key scene in a story between Clark Kent and Lois Lane in which Lois Lane has had enough of the bullshit, my script would look like this:

Lois: Well, you know what, Clark….

Lois: (big, bold letters in a big, bold balloon, because she’s done with the whole situation) GO FUCK YOURSELF AND THE ROCKET YOU FLEW IN ON!

Not that I could ever get away with that particular terminology in DC land. Well, I could if it was Vertigo.

If you’re lucky and you’ve got a great artist and a great letterer who really get it – and I have been – the final result will really hit the reader. If you’re not lucky, and you’ve got a hack artist and a hack letterer – and I’ve been there, too – the final result is just another panel among many, and that key moment will leave the reader skimming the page and feeling nothing.

Another trick I’ve used when writing scripts is what I call the “Howard Hawks” method. Film director Howard Hawks (The Thing from Another World, His Girl Friday) was known for his ability to have his actors talk the way real people talk, i.e., interrupting each other, overlapping, talking to themselves while the other person is continuing to talk, conversations going on in the background – he was so good at directing his actors in this that quite often you have to watch a scene at least twice to get everything. (Watch those two movies I reference above, and this time don’t pay attention to the main action– listen for what’s going on in the background. It’s quite a kick– for instance, did you know that the leading man and the leading lady in The Thing from Another World were sleeping together? I bet the censors didn’t catch that either, which is probably why it got through the finished cut. And of course Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell were superb at talking over one another in Friday.

The way you do this in comics is to have the balloons themselves overlapping and trying to crowd each other out. In that EW piece, a panel from one of Scott’s comics – I believe it is the upcoming The Sculptor, for which he is getting tremendous praise – has his character walking through Times Square, in his own world – but Scott gives you the sense of the thousands of people crowding and walking through the area with word balloons “floating” everywhere – bits of conversation that are going on around the main character which he doesn’t really hear except as the “buzz” of the city. Again, as a reader, because of the placement of the balloons, the number of balloon, the art of the balloon, you are with the character, not just a casual bystander.

Mindy: (faintly lined balloon with small letters, she’s whispering to herself) shit, it’s 6:27. mike is gonna kill me. better wrap this up.

Mindy: Let me know if any of you find that EW piece, okay, guys? See ya next week. And thanks.