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Artists as Editors I

I've been thinking about my last post, and the comments it garnered recently.

One of the threads seemed to be, to quote DAJB, "comics are not like movies." And he's right. Comics and movies are different mediums. That doesn't stop people from making comparisons though. I actually despise it when people blather on about how much better the book was than the movie - but here i'm willing to make an exception. Comics and movies are, at a fundemental level, similar. Books just have words, photography just has pictures. (Yes, there are exceptions - roll with it.) But comics and movies both have pictures and words. To a certain extent, i think that makes them prone to a bit of comparison.

That being said, there are certain things one cannot do in comics - there are no zooms, pans, dollies, crane shots or dolly counter zooms. (At this point i was going to say that you can't do some comics things in a move, then realized that most of what i was going to say had already been done... even my "comic", which relies heavily on the ability to hyperlink could be done on a DVD, and there are choose your own adventure DVDs out already.) That really wasn't my point though. Because we are both juxtaposing words and pictures, comics and movies can learn from each other in ways they might have never thought of before.

Notice it's how one juxtaposes pictures and words that i'm interested in - that's why i'm looking to the movie editors. DAJB cited an important note as to why we should look to editors, and not directors, actors, cameramen, or movies as a whole (not that they don't have wisdom to impart - let's just take it slow, alright?) -
[quote]Take Bendis, one of the generally acknowledged masters of the medium today. In one issue of Sam and Twitch he uses three or four pages to show one of the heroes running across rooftops. No dialogue. No reaction shots. No cuts to other events. You can see how the scene must have played in his mind ... a fast moving 10-minute chase punctuated by dramatic music. You can even see how exciting it would look on a set of story boards with every jump and near miss breathlessly illustrated. But as a comic?[/quote]
Most editors in their right mind would not allow that. To know why, i think i need to address what an editor actually does a bit.

An editor can sort of be looked at as a voice of reason to the director. (Note: some voices are more reasonable than others) I think a lot of people in comics - especially in webcomics, where the writer and the artist are the same person the vast majority of the time - have the director bit down. So let's say that a writer/director comes into the editing room, ready to make his masterpiece. He's spend years writing, months shooting, and now he's watching the rough cut up on the screen.

He hates it. "What happened to shot X? And shot Y?! Shot Z is in the wrong place!" he says to the editor. The editor simply looks at him, and says "X is excess, you don't need it, it should be cut. Y mucks up the pacing, it needs to be cut. Z wasn't in the right spot to have the right emotional impact." The editor cut the director's "babies" - he worked hard on those shots, he thought about them, and when push comes to shove, they just don't work.

Look at Jaws - (i tend to reference jaws when talking about editing because everyone's seen it, and Dede Allen edited it beautifully - she's been editing longer than i've been alive.) when Speilberg showed his cuts to Dede, his shots of the shark were always longer than hers. He spent so long getting that stupid mechainical shark to work that he wanted it in the movie too much. In a snowboarding video i shot last winter, i have a beautiful camera pan / barrel roll - i'm confident i'll never be able to shoot anything like it again - i love the shot, but there's about a 90% chance it'll wind up on the cutting room floor because stylistically it doesn't fit anywhere.

On a grand scale, that's what comics can learn from editing - that it's good to take a step back from the work, look at our babies, and see if we need to cut them. I think there's more to it though - why use a zoom instead of a cut, what alternitives there are to the two shot and the over over, what image juxtaposition does to the reader's perception - that's the part i really wanted to address in this post, but this is getting rather long, so i think i'll get back to that another time. That's when it should really get interesting.

Also: "Cutting your babies" is rather macabre.

i think one of the major

oolong's picture

i think one of the major problems with my comic is that i wrote the script of it like a movie - with scenes that make little text in context until a later event ties them together. unfortunately, it doesn't work so well when the audience has to wait 4 months for closure instead of 10 minutes. but hey, you learn from your mistakes. and i've never claimed to be a good writer.



After years of studying

Scott Story's picture

After years of studying cinematography, and what makes movies work, and adapting that to comics, I have now started to step back and worry what makes comics work. In other words, I think too many artists have been aiming for widescreen cinematic comics, and they have lost site of what makes the medium of cartooning itself special. Artists like Cassidy and Hitch are great, but I'm thinking we could use a little more Eisner in our approaches.Â

Comics have one thing that movies don't have--the panel. The panel can change size and shape, but a movies picture plane is always the same. In movies, the passage of time can be show with ... time. In comics, the passage of time can be illustrated with spatial width of panels. (Yes, I know Neil Cohn has an interesting paper on this on his site, and Understanding Comics deals with this too.)

Oh well, you got me monologuing.

I don't think there's

I don't think there's anything wrong with 3-4 pages used for a brief action sequence. If you want a story to be a list of plot points, then read a summary. How a story is told is more important than anything else. 3-4 pages is hardly excessive for anything that isn't the equivalent of "man takes a step."

<a xhref="" target=blank>Kiwis by beat!</a>

I agree. The point's not

I agree. The point's not that action sequences are bad, but that one can get out of hand with them if they feel attached to it.

DAJB obviously felt that it was taken too far - that in the artist's mind the sequence was intense, gutsy, full of life and vigor. DAJB just felt like it was a long and boring sequence where nothing happened. I'm not saying that one should cut an epic masterpiece down to six pages, just that trimming the fat is good.

Also: "Trimming the fat" is a much better expression than "Cutting babies."

This is: how it's all connected.

This is: how it's all connected.

Oh, I was mostly disagreeing

Oh, I was mostly disagreeing with him, not your call for more thought towards editing.But since you moved the discussion from the old blog post I just made a general response instead of responding directly to him. The call for cutaways to other scenes or dialogue to justify several pages of chasing is just weird.

<a xhref="" target=blank>Kiwis by beat!</a>

"That being said, there are

Gordon McAlpin's picture

"That being said, there are certain things one cannot do in comics - there are no zooms, pans, dollies, crane shots or dolly counter zooms."

Sure there are. You can do something similar enough to all of those shots with a sequence of panels.

Multiplex is a twice weekly humor comic about the staff of the Multiplex 10 Cinemas and the movies that play there.

I suppose i should have said

I suppose i should have said "in one panel." I think i'm sort of implying that the panel and the shot are quite similar in terms of being a fundemental building block of the sequence - but i suppose it wasn't too clear.

I'll assume you've seen Serenity - the first shot we see of Mal, the ship, and the crew is done through an enormous (nine minute long i believe) steadycam shot. To do that in a single panel would be hard - probably not impossible, but hard. (Just of the top of my head, i suppose you could wind out the whole ship like a sidescrolling video game, and draw Mal walking about, but it would feel forced - it would be much easier to split it up into panels and give it a more dynamic feeling)

In any case, i'll be sure to talk about this quite a bit in the next part - zooms especially.

This is: how it's all connected.

This is: how it's all connected.

But a shot in a film and a

Gordon McAlpin's picture

But a shot in a film and a panel in a comic are not parallel. I think the smallest elements that are still parallel between the two mediums are scenes. The functions of panels and shots are similar (in that they are both used to construct scenes), but I think beyond that the differences between the two mediums get too large for any comparison to be particularly useful -- at least in regards to storytelling.

<a xhref="">This strip of mine</a> shows three two-panel sets. Each of the sets has the same "camera" angle, composition, etc. If you were to translate that into film, those would be one continuous shot.

Multiplex is a twice weekly humor comic about the staff of the Multiplex 10 Cinemas and the movies that play there.

"This strip of mine shows

"This strip of mine shows three two-panel sets."
I suppose i never thought of that... and now I look stupid.

In any case, i do still think that a comparison between shots and panels is still useful and vaild on a certain level - which is all i'm going for here, not some grand unified comics theory. There is a certain usefulness in comparing scenes, but i'm looking more toward how shots and sequences are put together - which is really why i'm focusing on editors and not directors. (Don't get me wrong though, a good comic writer would need plenty of "directing" skills. George Lucas started out as an editor, and look how he directs! *rimshot*) They're down there doing the dirty work of assembilng a movie bit by bit, and that's what i'm interested in - what i see a lack of in tutorials and articles on the internet. I'm just a guy trying to figure out how that all works in my own sort of way, because i don't get a workout at it doing my normal "comic" and i've found it sort of difficult in my side projects.

This is: how it's all connected.

This is: how it's all connected.