Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Old Comics

Comics aren't just for over weight kids with no friends you know! That is a very one track way of thinking. They're for thin kids with no friends as well!

This project is divided into two distinct parts: An original comic book and a Hollywood blockbuster trailer. A director stumbles upon the comic book I am going to make in a bargain bin. It was originally made in the 70's. He likes it so much he decides to turn it into a Hollywood blockbuster. I play the role of that director as well as the parallel role of having created everything within this story.

I will be making the comic book first. It is very important that the comic book is a bit rubbish, because it never took off and got cancelled after the first issue. The research in this post will be essential to making sure that the comic looks like it was made over 3 decades ago. I will be looking at character design, comic layout, panel shape and design, overlaps, story lines, speech bubbles, form, paper the comic is printed on and any consistencies from comic book to comic book. I will be analysing old comic books in this post but in another post, I will analyse new comics to make any differences obvious.

The front covers are all full of motion and excitement. The drawings are often detailed and depict a major event that the comic is centred around. The detailed drawings are to capture new readers eyes, but the content depicted will be to bring back the regular readers. Sometimes the covers will feature the cast of the comic instead, all posing or flying in shot. The Fantastic Four covers do this a lot.

The covers are printed on a glossy paper with full ink colour and usage, inside however it is a different story. The action and quality of the artwork continues, but the print and paper type is significantly down played in an effort to reduce cost.

The first page of most of these comics often uses a full page image. This image generally either sets the scene, or shows a preview of a significant event later in the comic. This whets the readers appetite and gains their interest. These images are generally printed at a higher quality that the rest of the comic, but on the same low grade paper.

I never understood all the cross overs in comics and it was always one of the things that put me off. It seemed that whenever things got stale they would bring in a character that was more popular at the time to spice things up a bit. I always found this a bit frustrating, but it must have worked. For me all the super heroes exist in their own universe, but apparently that is not the case.

I am starting with a black and white comic deliberately, so that I can follow the significant changes in style in the next few examples. They run in a rough chronological order by year. The older comics were printed in black and white and I have to say right off the bat: I prefer them. You can clearly see all of the action and the use of contrast between light and dark leads to some great graphic drawings. The drawing quality in the older comics is also of a higher consistency, because they couldn't use colour to distract the viewer. This is the first page of an 'Avengers and the savage sword of Conan' comic from 1976. Comics were being printed in colour by then and the cover is full colour, so I'm not sure as to why it is in black and white.

Older comics tend to use strict panel rules. They are rectangular or square and firmly lined around the edges. This makes it nice and easy to see the pictures and follow the comics story, but it doesn't necessarily provide too much excitement.

I scanned this page out of interest. Did they not have time to finish the drawing? It isn't shaded and it is the pages main image. It certainly draws the eye, but for the wrong reasons. I like the idea of having a full page drawing and then scattered panels with the story surrounding it, this is a great early example of what became a staple device for comic books.

I really like this idea. The clock is counting down until the rocket takes-off and the panels count down and show each second of the action. This really builds the tension. The design with the really thin panel strips helps the eye flick through the story. You can almost read a panel a second, so it is like you are counting down along with the story.

It would seem a mixture of rigidity and broken comic panels makes for a good comic. Attaining a good balance so that the eyes do not tire, the reader doesn't lose interest, the story is correctly told, the cost of the comic isn't too high and hundreds of other factors must be incredibly difficult. It is a challenge I am really excited about. Planning for speech bubbles must be the most difficult part and the use of bold text to highlight important things is a simple but very important device.

This shot is very clever, I would call this: A Dummy's Guide to Advanced Comic Book Layout. The negative space at the top means the eyes don't get confused with the busy scene below. It also doesn't mislead the reader into thinking this is a solid panel-to-panel read. The chaos of the scene is communicated by using an open format and it works really, really well. The main shot of the 'Stilt-man' walking is the most important shot and if you look closely you can see it is a whole background drawing, with negative space at the top. The panels are then laid around the drawing. I can imagine a lot of cut outs been shuffled around to achieve the correct balance for this page. The writing in the yellow boxes is helping to communicate the story and without them I have to admit, I would be totally lost.

This page from 'Guardians of the Galaxy' provides a great example of some of the more exciting ways to lay out a comic book. In scenes with a lot of action, the panels are bigger so that the drawings can clearly be scene and so that their isn't as much to provide allowing the eyes to move quicker. This provides a true sense of excitement and action for the reader.

While the layout above is quite simple in style, it is a very effective way of showing lots of big movements and action in a fight scene. This comic is from 1968 and the colouring and drawings are considerably better than anything from the later 70's. I much prefer these drawings and colours: although they probably cost more money to make. The comic itself is also significantly thicker, another additional expense.

Something I have noticed throughout all the comics I have researched is that they all seem to contain a mini-comic story halfway through. This might be an additional series in itself for the reader to follow. It is also a good way to test new characters in their own environment before commissioning them for their own series. The strip above goes across two pages. I find this an interesting idea because you read all the way across and back. It is considerably more effort in my opinion and puts you off. This comic is also drawn in a significantly different style from the rest of the comic, this helps it to stand out. This comic is from 1985 and a lot of comics were beginning to emerge that didn't rely on the traditional 'realistic' approach anymore. This was due to cost and the waining of popularity in the face of newer forms of entertainment: such as video games.

Another thing I have noticed a lot, is pages of adverts halfway through or at the back of comics. They advertise everything from fake tattoos to bikes or video games to t-shirts, all at bargain prices. Reading some of the things that people used to buy is quite exhilarating and I would really like to do a send-up of this sort of thing within my comic.

Here are a few things I noticed throughout all of these examples:
  • There can only be a limited palette of colours, most of these examples chose a few colours to work with to make the printing process a lot cheaper - this will be essential to getting the right 'look'.
  • Highlighting important facts in bold seems like a consistency. I won't just be laying out action shots, I have to work around speech bubbles.
  • The use of a 'voice-over' in little boxes at the top of shots that start a new part of the story help to set the scene. Things like: "Meanwhile, further downtown..." or "Later that day..." add a sense of perspective.
  • Each comic seems to start with one major drawing. This drawing is rarely the start of the comic, instead it shows a major event that will come up later on in the comic to whet the readers appetite - this seems like an important device.
  • All of these comics have adverts in: this could be a fun addition to make the comic appear more 'realistic'.
  • Nearly all of these comics don't use full print, they use a distinct dps (Dots-per-inch) system: I should probably discover what this is so as to get this look. It seems to be a money saving device as well as an artistic device. A lot of drawings use a full colour block background colour and then use dotted print on the characters they don't want you to pay as much attention to. I recognise it from a lot of 90's computer graphic art that was deliberately designed as such so that crude home printers could manage the colours.
  • A lot of these comics use line, hatch or dot-shading instead of distinct shadows. This is probably because the paper that a lot of older comics were printed on couldn't have handled a full black print. It may also be a money saving device.
  • Motion lines provide a guide for the eye, these can show where a character has moved from and to, providing a sense of continuity.
  • Each comic tends to use one to two full page drawings half-way through. This is probably to keep the viewer interesting and maybe give them a rest for a few seconds.
  • All of the action scenes are quite spaced out, full drawings. These panels provide the real excitement in the comic.
  • Each comic has a glossy front cover and then different paper inside: this might be worth taking notice of. All of these front covers are very exciting and either contain an image of a significant part of the story, the hero of the story in some sort of danger or duress or an image of a group of action heroes together. Either way: they are all full of motion.
  • A lot of these comics have a 'cut this out and send us your address' bit: this could be a fun addition for the back cover.
  • Many of these comics have mini-comic stories halfway through: This could another fun addition.
  • My characters must be designed slightly differently from their 'modern' appearance: perhaps more muscular and more 'Marvel' like.
Since I started this project I have looked at all sorts of Super Hero related materials, in both the film and comic book mediums. I believe I am not beginning to get a good idea of the 'rules and regulation' that govern this form of entertainment and am getting very excited at the prospect of making my own comic book.

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