Underdogs

Comic Review Checklist, Part 2: Words

Hi again everyone!  This is the second part of my comic review checklist, which has three parts: everything that relates to the “flow” of the pages, everything that relates to the words on the pages, and then everything else. This is part two! To read part one, click here.

Time for part two of what I’ve learned about making comics as the editor for Carpe Chaos. Last time I focused on the layout and flow of a comic, which should be the first things you address when penciling out page layouts. This part of my review checklist is all about the words. The dialog! The narration! The text! The language! Once again I did my best to include examples.

  • Are conversations harder to follow because related dialog exchanges and reactions are not on the same page (or adjacent pages)?

The first word-related thing I look for when making a new comic is the words’ flow, in other words making sure the layout is good and that the speech balloons and narration boxes are naturally read in the right order. There’s a lot of feel to this process; it’s difficult to say what makes a comic’s pages too condensed, or too expanded, or just fine as they are. A lot of it comes down to personal taste. Personally I like to savor each moment, I want to make sure each moment-to-moment transition is clear, and I’m aware that the more words are on a given page the less likely people are to read them. Too many words on a page can be a deterrent to readers who like comics for the visual storytelling more than the dialog. Some readers will actually skip pages with too many words and just read past them!

A good example of a comic that started out too dense would be Moments of Elation. The layout Anthony Cournoyer originally proposed was 5 pages (as you can see below), because the story is a short poem. But it ended up becoming 11 pages! Because the story is about the natural beauty of the Kaeans’ home ring and spiritual reflection, we chose to take it slow and have the comic show off as much of the rich imagery of the poem as possible. I think spreading the poem out like this and providing more visual aids made it more accessible while enhancing the atmosphere of the scene.

Break up the blocks of poetry!

Break up the blocks of poetry!

  • Are the lines all in the right order? Do they match the script? Are any words mixed up or copied and pasted from the script incorrectly?
Careful!

Careful!

After the layout is finalized, remember to check out how the pages look with the actual words in place. This is the start of typesetting, which means you need to make sure there aren’t any typos or copy-and-paste errors, and that all of the lines are in the right places in the right order. It’s easy to accidentally paste the wrong thing, or to lose a character of text somewhere, so it’s worth it to take the time to compare each line with how it was originally written in the script to make sure no accidents make it into the final version.

With digital comics it’s often easy to replace a page on your website when you notice an error (or when a fan points one out to you!) but once you do a print run, not so much. It’s a great idea to run pages by friends if you don’t have an editor, because it’s not always easy to spot your own mistakes!

  • Do the lines of dialog still work now that they’re positioned in the comic? Do they still feel right? Do they ring true?
The final few words were unnecessary, so they got the axe.

The final few words were unnecessary, so they got the axe.

Imagining how things will look on a page when writing a text-only script can be difficult and when confronted with an actual layout, some things that seemed like a good idea at first can come across as awkward or just don’t read the way they were intended. This happens to me ALL THE TIME, and it means making script changes to better work with the art. I’ve heard other authors and editors refer to this process as “tightening up the dialog” but for me it’s just a matter of making sure the comic communicates what I want it to communicate as clearly, believably and smoothly as possible. Most of the changes I end up making are for clarity, conciseness, and the pursuit of natural-sounding speech. Would this character say it in that way? Is it believable? Is it too wordy?

Reading “five gliders two weeks ago” feels like reading a math problem.

Reading “five gliders two weeks ago” feels like reading a math problem.

  • Does the punctuation work well? Is it smooth to process, mentally, while accurately inducing the desired pace?

remove-comma-300x229Not much to say about this one. Too many commas are bad because they slow things down. Too few can also be bad. It’s important to think about how the punctuation affects how the text is processed by readers, because punctuation affects everything from the pace of reading to the perceived personality of the speaking characters.

  • How is the text broken up into multiple lines? Are the line breaks (↵) put in places that make sense?

When actually putting text into balloons, how are you fitting them in? How do you decide where to divide sentences and paragraphs into multiple lines? Wherever possible, try to keep individual thoughts and phrases together and avoid creating widows and orphans. Breaking lines in odd places can disrupt the reading flow! And you should pretty much never split or hyphenate a word between two lines in comics, because it looks even weirder in comics than it does in prose.

  • Do the facial expressions, poses, movements, and actions of the characters work with the script properly?

too-mad1This is like asking yourself “How good is the acting?” The art and the words need to work together in comics, and even the most subtle facial expression or gesture can cause confusion or give the wrong impression of what’s happening in a scene. Faces are the worst because our brains are wired to pick up on the slightest little thing, and it takes considerable artistic ability to even be able to reliably draw nuanced facial expressions, never mind use them effectively. (And it’s harder still with my characters, because many of them lack eyes and noses!) When scripting out stories it’s very important to write down the emotions and facial expressions of the speakers so you or another artist can refer to them later, but ideas don’t always turn out perfectly and new “stage direction” is occasionally called for.

  • Does each emphasized word have the right emphasis (bold, italic, larger font size, smaller font size, all-caps, or a combination of these)? Should emphasis be added or removed to better convey speaking inflection and timing?

hate it when comics style TEXT to aimlessly emphasize every other word. When I try to read a comic that has dialog like that, my head hurts. While plenty of people disagree, I think text effects like boldface, italics, and capitalization should be used just like punctuation: to emphasize and add inflection to dialog in ways that enhance, not confound, their interpretation. In the example below I wanted to add italics because I thought italicizing that part of the word would work well with the character’s rolling eyes to show her boredom and disengagement.

italicize1
  • Does each speech balloon tail point in the right direction and clearly identify the speaker?

who-is-speakingWho is saying what? A speech balloon pointing in the direction of a group of people when only one is speaking can be very frustrating for a reader.

My example here is more of a stylistic choice, but it has the added benefit of making it harder to interpret the tree in the foreground as the speaker :-).

  • Are any speech balloons wrapped unevenly or too tightly around their text?
If this were scaled down, the words would appear to touch the bubble outline!

If this were scaled down, the words would appear to touch the bubble outline!

If this were scaled down, the words would appear to touch the bubble outline!

Speech balloon borders that get too close to the words they contain make for an uncomfortable reading experience, and when the borders are uneven (unless the comic has a rougher style, e.g. Jailing Fortune) it makes the whole comic look sloppily typeset. You should also consider the different formats in which your comic will be read. At what resolutions will your comic be published? Make sure that your bubbles don’t feel cramped when scaled down to a lower resolution!

After the text of the pages are proofed, it’s time to look over the finalized artwork. I’ll cover that in part 3!

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You can see more of Jason Bane’s work at carpechaos.com.

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