Well that was real mature...

Well that was real mature...

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Art of Collaboration (or When Did You Stop Beating Your Wife?)

My Adventures in Pulp partner, Matthew Childers, recently decided to do a video series showing the process of illustrating a page in our comic, Jigsaw World. He posted part 1 "Thumbnails" here: http://adventuresinpulp.com/process

Not long afterwards, I was asked on Twitter if I minded that he changed my script. I've wrestled with a response for about a day now. Why didn't he ask me something easier like that old trick political question: "When did you stop beating your wife?"

One reason I do Twitter and my blog (beyond shameless self promotion) is to discuss writing and things I like (I probably spend way too much time discussing my son, but I'm a proud poppa, so I ain't quittin' any time soon). In several of my writer's commentaries I have mentioned changes in scripts-to-page. Not every time, because when we started I told Matt he could change things and to use the script as a guideline when it came to panel descriptions. I try really hard to mention when things will be important later on. Most of the time when he makes a change the overall product is better, but I would be lying if I didn't admit there have been some times when it broke my heart to see things changed.You gotta give a little to get a little, especially in  a collaborative medium like comics.

I know what you are thinking, "Did the answer to the question just become BOTH yes and no?"

You betcha!

Let me dive into the "NO" side of the answer in general terms:

No, I'm not mad because, as I said, this is a collaborative medium. There are some writers who HATE when artists deviate from the script. Normally, I'm not one of them as long as the plot points are met. Artists need to be able to have creative freedom and you tend to get better artwork if the artist feels they are contributing creatively and not just looked at like a monkey with a pencil. Sometimes a writer might not like the change and my suggestion to writers is GET OVER IT as long as a plot point is not changed or missed that will affect the story later on. Everyone brings something to the party.  If a writer can't accept that, then they need to be a novelist.  Sometimes I will have a panel that just says "Medium shot of Dan and Cass" to give Matt the maximum amount of freedom. I love the synergy between a writer and artist. In creator owned independent press and webcomics you see more of it. However, once a writer gets to the big boys like DC and Marvel, he or she is playing with other people's toys in someone else's sandbox. You get to go to the dance but editorial sets the tune. They pay you to write a specific story.  Once it's done they will change it to fit their vision (with or without you). Writers should get used to change now, because it will only be worse later. In other words, SUCK IT UP, Princess.

And now let's address the "YES" side of the answer in general terms.

Sometimes artists can take advantage of the creative freedom. Artists need to be VERY selective when they deviate.  Writers tend to have material a certain way for reasons that an artist may not realize. An artist may have a script for a single issue, but the writer will have the whole plot for several issues ahead. It's a big faux pas to change a writer's words. The artist is slapping the writer in the face when they do it. If you are an artist and you make the call to do this, don't just consider why YOU want to make the change but consider WHY the writer had it that way to start with. If an artist can't answer that question, then I HIGHLY RECOMMEND they check with the writer before they change anything too drastically. As I said above, in creator owned independent press and webcomics, you see more synergy between artist and writer because of creative freedoms. However, once an artist gets to the big boys like DC and Marvel, a lot of artists (unless they are super stars) get a script that is set. It has been edited, re-written and agreed upon by an editorial staff. If you change it, you risk future work or going back and redoing panels or entire pages. If an artist changes an editorially set script he/she better have a REALLY good reason.

So all of that has been in general. Let's get specific. I was asked about a single panel in general. Page 7 panel 1 of Jigsaw World #2. Here is the script from the panel in question:


Dan looking exasperated, his arms outstretched.

OK, assume I was living on the Moon for the last --


Twenty years.

DAN (new balloon)

Twenty years? OK, hit the high points.

In the video Matt's change is pretty minor. Instead of a shot of Dan, he added in Cass so that they both appear. No big deal. The main reason I wrote it to focus on Dan is because I wanted a panel that focused on his exasperation since his confusion/frustration should, logically, be at a boiling point. I felt Dan needed to be the sole focus without the distraction of having anyone else in the panel so that this emotional moment could be felt by the reader. Without that focus, his frustration might not be noticed by the reader who comes away with the erroneous feeling that "Dan seems to be taking all this in very easily." Matt disagreed and made the change. Sure, it would have been nice to have been consulted about it, but (and this is very important), we are discussing a thumbnail. He may very well have a vision that includes both characters AND conveys Dan's feelings of exasperation. We can't judge until we see the final page. He says in the video he has read the script several times, so he knows Dan is exasperated and while Matt appeared very cavalier about making the change and dismissing what was scripted very casually (which I think may have prompted the original question on Twitter) we don't know what his thought processes are. He may not have verbalized them very well by simply saying he "disagreed" in the video (keep in mind this is his first one) but he may have a good reason, artistically, for making the change.

Bottom line, it's too early to tell. Don't prejudge. I for one am looking forward to future videos in the series.

I know what you are thinking, again: "But he didn't answer if he was mad about the change."

Damn straight, I didn't and I'm not answering any questions about when I stopped beating my wife either.