Question: Script Convention
First of all, let's get the perfectly reasonable question from Matthew McLaughlin out of the way before we get to the rant that developed as I pursued the train of thought…
Of breakout balloons, Matthew asks:
"…Would you mind in future posts explaining what you see in a script or what indication a script might use to prompt an effect such as this? Does the writer indicate specifically "breakout balloon"in his script or is this something a letterer makes as an artistic choice?"
The short version is that this is something you should leave to the letterer. You can certainly indicate an escalation in drama and the required emphasis in a line of dialogue with an instruction like this:
FRANK (shouts): Get DOWN!
But the fact is, until you have the page of finished artwork in front of you, there's no real way of knowing what's going to work in terms of the mood of the art and the amount of physical space. If your letterer's good, you're going to get the most suitable shouting effect for the artwork; if they're not then no amount of instruction in the script will remedy that fact!
(And then, I don't mind admitting, I think I must have suffered some kind of aneurysm or minor stroke because my train of thought rather got away from me at this point! Matthew -- beyond the fact that your question got me thinking about the roles of the various contributors to the process that ends up creating a comic, what follows has nothing to do with you, and is not a comment on the way you write scripts, several of which I've had the pleasure of working on.)
Rant: It's A Question Of Trust
When did the trust start to break down in comics? When did everyone start trying to do everyone else's jobs? When did we collectively start to forget that this is a collaborative medium and that, although it was necessity that divided the creative process up between several contributors, sometimes a team can be greater than the sum of its parts?
If you're the writer, I don't expect you to care about the lettering. Beyond an understandable desire for it to not suck, I don't want you to care! All I want is for you to understand that I care about the lettering and will do the best job I can for you.
I've seen examples of lettering guides from a couple of artists (not ones I've worked with, I hasten to add) that have essentially lettered the entire page; all the dialogue from the script rendered into captions and balloons.
But here's the thing: unless I copy your font choice and size/leading settings, my balloons aren't going to take up the same amount of space. I can understand why you wouldn't want your art covered by lousy balloon placements but, dude, if you're that bothered, then letter the thing yourself and get paid for it!
Otherwise, all you've done is make the letterer's job incredibly boring and waste a whole load of time that you could have been spending drawing the pages, which is the thing you are getting paid for. If you're not happy with the lettering, give feedback to the editor -- sorting this stuff out is their job.
Here's a crazy idea: leave a quarter to a third of each panel as dead space, draw the first speaker on the left, and let me do my job. There you go -- I've just saved you hours of non-billable time. No need to thank me, it's what I'm getting paid for.
It's about trust. It's about understanding that you --wherever you are in the creative chain-- are one pair of hands out of several through which this strip is going to pass. You don't have to be able to do everything and, to an extent, you have to be prepared to fall backwards and expect the person behind you to catch you.
Writers: camera angles? Lighting instructions? Detailed notes on frame composition? Screenwriters don't give that level of instruction to the director, and comic book script writers don't need to spoonfeed the artist every tiny element of the scene.
Pencillers: when did you guys start rendering every last stroke of the artwork in pencil? Seriously? You want to know why you struggle to hit that deadline? Because you have a perfectly capable inker, whose job it is to worry about texture and feathering and cross-hatching, and you've reduced them to tracing all that lovingly rendered detail. Sometimes, you've put them out of a job entirely, because your pencils can just be darkened off in Photoshop. Except that you know that's not as nice as having them inked.
Concentrate on the composition, the storytelling, anatomy and perspective. The writer hasn't included notes on figure drawing in the script, because it's a given that you know what you're doing.
The inker knows that the objects in the foreground have a heavier line than the objects in the background; the inker knows that this line needs to taper thin-to-thick down the page to create weight, because they're the inker. Let them do their job. They've just saved you days. No need to thank them, it's what they're getting paid for.
Maybe, just maybe, if we all tried to worry a little less about what kind of job the next person in the process is going to do, and a little more on playing to the strengths we're expected to bring to our part of the process, our comics would all be a little bit better.
And they might even come out on time.
PS: Just adding some extra material into Part Six of the Illustrator Guide. Look out for it tomorrow or Tuesday.