February 12, 2016

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Weekend Pattering for February 12th, 2016-- Post Decompression Storytelling

** PIPELINE: What Will Be Comics' Next Big Storytelling Technique? (Comic Book Resources)-- A couple of weeks ago, CBR's longtime-writer Augie De Bliek Jr. questioned what is the current state of mainstream storytelling?
Modern readers are seeing a new phase of storytelling, I think. As decompression was borne of manga, I think this new phase is borne of television and movies. Those are the media forms that dominate the landscape. Today's creators were raised on a steady diet of motion pictures and serialized entertainment on the small screen. We live today in a much talked about Golden Age of television. 
More and more of these productions use storyboard artists to help guide the visual look and storytelling style of the shows. More of those storyboard artists cross over into comics, and more comic artists can crossover into storyboards. We've heard plenty of times from Hollywood executives that the comics they base their movies on are like instant storyboards for the films.
While De Bliek Jr. goes on to admit that this isn't the best comparison to make, he follows through with it, using Charlie Adlard and Gabriel Hardman as his examples.  Now there may be some deliberate setting of the examples, using a comic book that has spawned a wildly successful television show (Adlard's Walking Dead) and an artist who has had a career as a storyboard artist (Hardman has worked on a number of movies, including Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2.)


I think it's bleeding over into comics. I think comic book artists are more and more using the medium to tell a story in smaller chunks. Rather than putting two characters in a panel with plenty of dead space between them to stuff a ton of dialogue into, they're more likely to draw that dialogue back-and-forth in a series of panels that show each action and reaction. Each speaker's turn might get a panel. The conversations spills out
over a whole page, as eachchange in direction or emotion gets a panel.
DeBliek Jr. makes the connection to storyboarding but on his Facebook page, Hardman isn't too sure that he agrees with De Bliek Jr.
But I think equating the pacing with storyboards is a real misnomer. Especially pacing-wise, boards and comics have little to do with each other. The pacing I do comics comes out of a desire to connect with the characters. I don't think that'sinherently cinematic. It's just about using the form to get the information out the way I like to. He does a great job of describing that in the piece but I disagree that storyboards are the root of it. But I appreciate the kind words!
And a bit farther down in the comments:
There's no direct connection between comics and storyboards. I have a lot of experience in both areas. I've been boarding films for 20 years now and making comics for 10 all together.People think there is a connection because both are drawn but really the only link is the underlying visual storytelling. There are core principals that comics and film storytelling share but many more they don't. And It's filmmaking that has some kin to comics, not storyboards. Storyboards are a filmmaking tool. A guide for what the director plans to shoot on the day. The aesthetics of boards are pretty irrelevant since they're not meant for public consumption, just to communicate potential shots and sequences to the rest of the crew. Though boards are about describing most every beat in much more detail that you could or would want to do in a comic. And I've been involved in boarding very specific, elaborate sequences that go way beyond a shorthand of shots for the director on the day. Particularly since shooting is so integrated with vfx now. I absolutely agree that in a sense in comics we're directing and acting on paper (though it can still be a misleading comparison) but I don't use storyboard techniques in making comics. At least not beyond core visual storytelling ideas like leading the eye across the frame. There are no camera movements or movements of any kind in comics (I'm not lecturing, I know you know this). Framing and lighting have been round long before storyboards of films for that matter. What I'm trying to say is I agree that equating comics with storyboards is lazy but I don't entirely agree with the way you frame it here.
In 2011, Hardman also addressed a lot of the same issues on an episode of the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast.  Fast forward to around the 28-minute mark to find Hardman talking about this.

Decompression was a writer-driven method of storytelling, really codified by Warren Ellis and his books like Planetary and The Authority.  But it became such a thing that decompression storytelling became the norm at both Marvel and DC, with everyone from Brian Michael Bendis to Grant Morrison to Geoff Johns writing stories that were thought of as decompressed.  Look at Bendis's Marvel output from Daredevil to any of his Avenger's titles to see Bendis in action.  There's definitely a cinematic approach to his writer-driven storytelling. (Of course, the cinematic approach is also enforced by Maleev's photo-influenced artwork.)


If decompression was writer-driven, that's what makes De Bliek Jr.'s argument a bit more interesting in that he defines it by the artists-- Adlard and Hardman-- primarily due to the artists control over the pacing of the story. Whatever De Bliek Jr. is seeing is in the art and not how the stories are written.  Now these two artists (and you could include Maleev, Michael Lark, Sean Phillips, Nicola Scott, Salvador Larocca and many other mainstream artists here) are fairly realistic storytellers.  The deliberate storytelling on display by a lot of these comic artists shares the same concern over realistic depiction and storytelling.  It would have been interesting and better supported his proposal if De Bliek Jr. had used looser and more exaggerated artists like Brandon Graham or Humberto Ramos as examples.

But De Bliek Jr. is getting at something in his piece, even if his concentration on storyboarding is a bit misguided.  As an offshoot of decompression, we're probably seeing comic book storytelling that is more influenced today by the best of television and cinema.  As the way that television storytelling develops and as the visual artistry in movies becomes more appreciated, we're seeing the best storytelling techniques of both entering the comic storytelling lexicon.  That's what we're seeing in all of these examples from Hardman to Maleev and even to Sean Phillips.  It's not just trying to mimic the way a camera captures a moving image but about the way that the panel is used as a frame of a story.


Tony Zhou's Every Frame a Painting video series is a great resource to understand visual storytelling.  Even though this series focuses on cinema, his video essays are really about telling a story through images.  His most recent video on ensemble staging is a brilliant piece of criticism about composition and the lack of it.  Samuel Jackson talks about the pains of shooting coverage, shooting the same scene many times to establish time and setting but forcing the actor to be basically acting by themselves.  Watching the scenes he's talking about is like reading really unskilled comic artists who think they're telling a story but all they're really doing is illustrating a script.

The Hardman sequence from Invisible Republic (the first example in this piece) is more akin to Joon Ho Bong's Memories of Murder, even if it isn't quite as kinetic.  But you can see how Hardman is building the scene and space by using all of the characters, as opposed to the Bendis/Maleev Daredevil example that shows us more of the same old storytelling that Bendis loves to do.  You can find a sequence like this in almost every Bendis comic where he feels that he's the love child of David Mamet and Martin Scorcese.

With a foot in both the world of cinema and the world of comics, Hardman is a fascinating artist to watch in action.  From just the way that his drawings capture light to the very distinct ways that he moves through his stories, you can see a lot of the influences of cinema on his comics and maybe this is what De Bliek Jr. is getting hung up on.  Hardman does storyboards for movies so can it really be that hard to imagine that he approaches his comics the same way that he does storyboards?  But it also doesn't give him the credit he deserves to understand the difference between the two visual arts.
People think there is a connection because both are drawn but really the only link is the underlying visual storytelling. There are core principals that comics and film storytelling share but many more they don't. And It's filmmaking that has some kin to comics, not storyboards. Storyboards are a filmmaking tool. A guide for what the director plans to shoot on the day. The aesthetics of boards are pretty irrelevant since they're not meant for public consumption, just to communicate potential shots and sequences to the rest of the crew. Though boards are about describing most every beat in much more detail that you could or would want to do in a comic.