Writing comic book panels seems to be a notion that paralyzes a lot of first-time comics writers, particularly for ones coming from other media. What is the picture in the panel? How do I decide on the right panel to describe?
This is always an interesting conundrum that bares discussion.
When I was a kid, I was fascinated with illustration, drawing and particularly comic art. So I, like countless other kids, picked up this book called HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY by Stan “The Man” Lee, and there was an interest comparison page that has always stuck in my mind — when envisioning comic books panels and how to describe as well as how to compose photographs and the movie camera frame when lining up a shot as a film director.
So as writer/actor Nick Vince once said, you want to imagine the panel as your “print moment.” You know how on a film set, once the director calls “cut”, he or she has to make the decision – do I print this take? If it was as dynamic as possible and tells that piece of the story in the best possible way, then he or she says to the script supervisor, “Print”… this comes from the days when films were shot on film, and only the “printed” takes made it to the dailies screening, and then eventually made it into the final film.
So when you’re writing the comic panel, you have to break up the story in your head, find the most compelling most and then realizes that the comic panel captures the distilled essence of that moment. If that moment also contains dialog (about 30 seconds worth), then include that in this specific comic panel too.
That’s a very mechanical way of looking at it, but it might get you started. You’re looking for the image that captures the moment.
You’re also, wherever possible, looking for an arresting image, something you know the artist will get a kick out of drawing and that your readers will dig looking at. However, arresting is not splashy; you first order of business is to service the story you’re telling, and you do that by telling the story as simply and as clearly as you can. It’s also important to recognize that each panel must have a relationship with the panels that come before and after it (this is the tricky part; see the Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. page below). What you’re doing is describing a sequence of motion in a series of still images.
If you can think like that (and it is a difficult transition, unless you’re a director or film editor), then you should be able to get a solid understanding of how a story flows in the comics medium. If you examine the Nick Fury page to the left, you’ll see that the images tell that moment of the story with all the energy of a suspense film. That’s another important aspect to consider – the tone of your book influences the panels.
After you write a couple pages, and then get an artist to draw out those pages, you’ll get a better sense of what works and what doesn’t, and so you’ll make adjustments. Also, you’ll want to talk to your artist as much as possible to help communicate the story ideas that you want to convey. The above-average comic artist knows a great deal about composition and page layout, and they should be able to give you some suggestions of better (i.e. more compelling ways to present your idea).
I read somewhere that when the comic script is like a love letter to the artist, it needs to inspire him or her to be better than they imagined. The relationship you establish with the artist is important, you need to identify their strengths and weaknesses as an artist, so you can tailor your scripts to his or her strong points; this way your book will be better.