Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Elf-Help 1 -- anatomy of a page

Elf-Help is the first comic I've ever had drawn by a professional artist. Luckily for me, Elf-Help artist Martin Morazzo is thoughtful, ultra-talented, and even a mind-reader of sorts. Here's page one of the script I sent him, and what he came up with:

Page One
1/ Splash, with credits and title: “Elf-Help.”

Looking down on a low cliff overlooking a harbour. A Viking-style longboat is in the water. A very long pole juts from just before the ship’s bow, topped by a carved monster (the ship’s ‘watchman’).

Three kids lounge on the cliff but we are too far away to make out definitive details. There is quite a bit of dialogue here, but we have most of the page to play with.

Mar: You ever seen elf boobs, Coby?

Coby: Uhh…

Gerd: You haven’t either, Mar.
Mar: How would you know, Gerd?
Gerd: I’d never let you see me naked.

Mar: Well that’s good, since you’re like, twelve --
Gerd: I’m fourteen -- same as you and Coby!
Mar: But how old are you in dog years?


Inset Panel (bottom right): Move in closer on the kids, who are lying near the edge of the cliff (Gerd, Coby, then Mar). We see that Coby is a kobold (dog-boy) and Mar is chubby with light hair.

Coby: What does that matter?
Mar: I assume it’s Gerd’s counting method of choice since she’s always being such a bi --


Despite the clunkiness of the script (what was I thinking with the "long pole" on the ship?), Martin drew the page almost exactly the way I had envisioned it in my head -- better, in fact, since he simplified some of the more awkward bits (like the long pole).


I was quite astonished when I saw that first page -- we were so in synch, it was like he had read my mind. Looking back, I suppose some of the similarity between the page as I envisioned it, and the page as Martin drew it, are the natural results of both of us understanding how a comic page is read, and how to guide the reader's eye. (Like prose, western comics are read from left to right, and from top to bottom, with particular importance given to the bottom right hand corner).

My hope on this first page was to draw the reader into the story -- literally. The eye moves across the title, then onto the ship entering the harbor. Is it a friendly ship from the village? Strangers bringing news? Amazon Kobold Marauders? -- the idea is to introduce a little mystery and tension. Martin seemed to grasp this intuitively, and the ship he designed is absolutely perfect for the purposes of our story (so good, in fact, that the image of the ship in the harbor will become very important in future chapters).

The way the ship enters the page from the top right (which I didn't specify in the script, but which Martin sensed should be the case) leads the eye down the pier (a nice addition on Martin's part), right to the dialogue balloons, which then pull you to the bottom right corner, where we meet our main characters. As an insentive to turn the page (Elf-Help was originally intended as a 16-page b&w print comic), I built in a cliffhanger where it seems like Mar is going to call Gerd a bad name.


As much as Martin did with the layout, the real magic is in what he brings to the characters themselves (more on that later).

To see page one in its final form, head over to komikwers.

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