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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

In our textbook Creating Comics (due out from Bloomsbury at the end of the year), Leigh Ann and I describe three processes for creating comics before recommending a fourth: perhaps the most effective approach is a combination of the first three, developing story, image, and layout simultaneously. Though the page is always a kind of canvas, canvas-first emphasizes the page as a whole, treating other parts of the creative process as elements that evolve to suit it. So while creators may begin with plot, image, or arrangement ideas, they will change according to what works best on the page. Nothing is set in stone.

In an earlier blog, I showed how our student Henry developed his main character from a doodle, inventing his background and plot situation after revising him visually first:

The next four illustrations show Henry’s canvas-first process for creating his one one-page comic “Homesick.” Some of the images in “Homesick” originated while Henry was drawing his character Gabe in multiple poses for homework. That discovered knowledge of his own character was key when he started composing Gabe’s story.

Henry begins by brainstorming textual descriptions:

“we have a center-framed GABE experiencing the drudgery of being reduced to a simple worldly person.

“the daily toil and drudgery of a demon?

“Stepping on the bodies of the damned, stabbing through the heads of non-believers”

Note the tiny sketch beneath the words: “Maybe begin with a lot of them,” and then the creative epiphany: “Daily toil and drudgery of human life.” His first row of four panels begin with Gabe hanging upside down, presumably sleeping as inspired by his bat wings, before enacting the “stabbing” from the descriptions. The next row shows Gabe sighing on a desk, an example of “human drudgery.” The rest of the row is undrawn, with the word “flying” substituting for images, as he establishes a layout idea of separately spaced and enlarging panels, followed by lines indicating the start of a full-width panel and the words “big panorama panel.” The next row begins the page over, revising the first draft row, adding “7:00” on a clock behind Gabe, suggesting that he has just woken up—though he is no longer hanging upside down. Notice how the sketchbook page begins the process by working in images, story ideas expressed in words, and layout designs all together.

Henry next sketches a full draft of the comic page. Row one is now a two-panel action of Gabe waking up as shown by a close-up of the clock followed by a close-up of his face. Row two consists of three one-panel actions of Gabe centered while performing individual acts of human drudgery: brushing his teeth, driving to work, sitting at a desk. The second half of the page enters his thoughts, with the largest panel labeled “Bosch World,” indicating Henry’s plan to develop Gabe’s memories with images based on Hieronymus Bosch’s c. 1500 painting Hell. The layout idea of spaced and enlarging square panels has evolved into circular panels that emerge from Gabe’s head like the circles of a thought balloon tail, with a sketch of Gabe flying inside each.

Henry refines the first three rows, giving Gabe’s bathroom a toilet, towel, towel rack, cabinets, counter, and sink. The car in the second panel is now much more than simply the driver’s wheel of the previous sketch. And in the third, Gabe’s work place includes constricting cubicles—though Henry has cut Gabe’s statement, “I can’t type.” Henry has also begun arranging the Bosch-inspired details in the central panel.

The final draft includes further refined details: a tighter close-up of Gabe’s eyes, so that the full strangeness of his anatomy isn’t revealed till the second row. One of his bathroom cabinets is now ajar and his towel features a realistic crease. There’s also a “Motivation” poster hanging behind his desk now. The chaos of the large, Bosch panel is fully developed and suggestively unframed. Because this is a one-page comic, ending on Bosch produced a cliff-hanger effect, so Henry moved the daydreaming Gabe to the final position, with his thought circles now flying back inside his head, completing the page’s action with his “sigh.”

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