Wednesday 21 February 2007

In thrall to the cinematic principle. (rule #1)

A couple of days back I promised to explain my reasoning behind my reconfiguration of Alan Moore’s 'camera angles' in Chapter 5 page 26 of FROM HELL.
Back in ’84 I had my first in-print encounter with Alan Moore, in a ‘chat’ set up and taped by Escape magazine editor Paul Gravett (it's in issue 5). I confess I went in with the intention of sparking a printworthy argument by describing a ‘pictorial language of melodrama’, which was dominating the art of the comic book and maintaining it in a retrograde state. I then cheekily located Alan on one side of it and me on the other. Four years later Alan engaged me to work on From Hell, and there at the very top of the proposal was printed: ‘Being a melodrama in sixteen parts.’ I thought he was having a dig at my earlier theoretical position, but no, he’d forgotten all about that and this was to be the official subtitle of the book.

The essence of my thinking was, or is, since I haven’t reneged on it, that if we are seeking to use the comic strip form to tell a more sophisticated kind of story, the first thing we needed to do was to reassess the assortment of devices that we were inheriting. They may have been suited to the pictorialising of SUPERhuman drama, but were lacking when it came to examining the small but infinitely interesting business of everyday people. The first problem to be addressed was what I have usually called ‘the cinematic principle’, and if you can name it better, be my guest. It’s the idea that we’re always looking through a camera. In a comic book script it shows itself in ways that we have long stopped being conscious of. For instance, we will tend to automatically describe a view as being in long-shot or close-up. We have forgotten that these are movie terms. They have entered into everyday usage. But let’s look further. If we place a long shot beside a close up, we’ve introduced another cinematic technique, that of ‘cutting’.
And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, and most certainly not in the hands of a master such as our Mr Moore, but I have often looked at samples in aspiring artist portfolios where all the technical issues have not been understood.

My idea was to take ‘cutting’ away and replace it with a keen observation of body language. In order to see subtle interactions between two bodies, the leanings toward, the leanings away, the slight turnings, superior straightenings, lookings down, lookings away, while not necessarily leaning the same way, lookings inwards, subtle changes in the emotional temperature, but instinctively dealing with it and not categorizing it like this, etc, etc… then the two bodies need to be seen in each and all of the pictures. My thoughts along these lines developed further after reading an interview with Bernard Krigstein a long time ago (the one from Squa Tront*, probably reprinted elsewhere since then) where he complained that the fragmentation you get in comics goes against pictorial logic and usually works against the drama that the artist is supposed to be expressing. I formulated a rule from this:
CAMPBELL's RULE #1: The entire drama of a given situation must be contained within each panel of the sequence of that situation.
Thus, if you take Krigstein’s masterpiece, the short story Master Race, and look at the second last page (above), you will observe that in eleven panels ten of them show both the chaser and the chased. Add five at the foot of the previous page, and one at the top of the next one, and you get a run of seventeen panels showing both characters (with only one break). The subject of the drama is the relationship between them, and there isn’t a single panel where you could say that we lose sight of that simple essence.
So, given a situation such as the one in From Hell Chapter 5 page 26, I grabbed the opportunity to dwell on the subtleties that Alan wanted to focus upon in the scene, the strange undercurrents and suggestions of a different kind of relationship from the one that was being played out. Get all those cameramen and equipment, and the director and the sound engineer and the continuity girl and the boy with the clapperboard, out of that tight space and focus on the humanity.


* interestingly, there's a Dave Sim interview where he says this same issue of that magazine is one of his most important possessions and quotes a long extract from the Krigstein interview.

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Blogger Christopher Moonlight said...

I think I once said that you're one of the only artist to work with moore, who has gone one step more then he. That's sort of a pun, innit? As for me, well... everything I thought I knew about comics just slid off a cliff. I'm off to start from skratch.

21 February 2007 at 00:51:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...

I've often gotten bothered by the use of movie terms in comic making. For one, there's no camera, and for two it forever dooms comics to be derivitive film, which they aren't at all in their normal state.

To experiment with removing any film elements from my writing, I've taken to describing things in terms of the page. Not quite as well thought out as your solution, but it performs a slightly different purpose.

So I'd say "Joe looks shocked towards page right and sees Sue" and in the next panel "We are peeping over Joe's shoulder at Sue, inpage left of center on a chair, smiling." and such.

I don't really know how all the camera terms snuck into comics anyway, as they basically evolved contemporaneously with film. Still, I'd like to see one of your scripts to see these things in action in print, before the art goes up.

21 February 2007 at 01:08:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Just so long as you don't give up

with my scripts for the companies, i just do what they want and keep my trap shut. They want a pseudo movie script, i just crank it out.
For my own work, i don't script. I make it up as i go along. Just letter it onto the page, one page at a time. I used to dart ahead, lettering pages in big clumps in advance, but i found by the time I got to them i'd have come up with a better idea, so now i letter each one, draw and paint it, then letter the next etc. as to how a 120 page book comes out right on target by that method, well, i dont know, but it always does. Just painting page 55 of The Amazing Remarkable Mr. Leotard. I've got two or three versions of the end in my head. We'll see when we get there.
admittedly, when it used to have to fit into 24 page part-issues i'd have to plan a bit tighter. This 120 page thing really is a liberation for me i can tell you!

21 February 2007 at 01:50:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Christopher Moonlight said...

I can't give up. I've already told everybody that I'm a great artist and writer. I'm going to have to back it up at some point.

21 February 2007 at 03:15:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Christopher Moonlight said...

Nice photo, by the way.

21 February 2007 at 03:17:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley Campbell said...

I can get behind that. I heard someone telling an anecdote in cinematic terms the other day and it was brilliant. "So I sez to him 'OY!' --pan right, he's sat at the bar, close-up of furrowed brow--"

It's a bright sunny beautiful day in London and I'm looking out the window at the Tate Modern and all the big cottonball clouds hanging about the enormous chimney bit. Just thought you should know that. Also, I'm sure the man I sat beside on the tube was decomposing.

21 February 2007 at 04:47:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to nitpick--and I usually do, seeing as I'm a born pedant--some of those cinematic terms of Alan's aren't correct. A movement to or away from something in film is usually a dolly-shot, while a tracking shot moves through the scene horizontally.

It surprises me seeing cinematic language in comic scripts. Isn't the word "view" or "viewpoint" good enough? Ironic seeing as cinema itself was in thrall to theatre until DW Griffith started chopping things around.

Isn't this all down to the construction of comics as a production-line process? As you say, artist/writers have never had to worry about how to detail a scene, they just do it. Once you bring in a division of labour you need to describe everything and so end up with these shorthand solutions borrowed from other media.

21 February 2007 at 06:44:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

Interesting stuff.

Krigstein was brilliant. Amazing. I adore his brief body of comic book work. MASTER RACE is likely the best of the lot. Although the story about the keys (I forget the title) also is possessed of some magic (even though he was constrained by the script).

21 February 2007 at 08:47:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Scott Morse said...

Hey Eddie-

We've met a couple of times in passing a one convention or another, and I just found your blog via the "Journalista" link to it.

I'm glad you're taking the time to explore and expose the myths of cinema vs. comics storytelling. i work at Pixar currently, as well as continue my comics in my "free" time, and I must say, it's so very interesting to watch how other storytellers at work, also comics fans, but story artists by day, often lump the same tricks into both mediums.

Of course, there are tricks that can cross over, but I think it's so important to remember that comics are comics, and film is film, and there's a very specific difference in WHY they NEED different languages: timing. Film is force-fed at a specific rate to an audience. Comics, on the other hand, allow the reader to linger and analyze, to emmerse themselves in the story on different levels, and take their time processing the information they're given. Just last night I finished Alison Bechdel's FUN HOME, and while i worked my through, it wasn't until the final pages I realized how long I was spending not only on each page, but in my head, processing the juxtapositions of story that were transpiring on the page.

This is something that rarely, if ever, is capable of occuring in film, simply because the delivery of images is timed differently. And it's something that your own argument concerning characters'
spacial relationships and acting just reinforces. There's a poetry of imagery that can occur with comics that can't with film.

I was also heartened to read that we work in the same fashion on our own personal work, straight ahead, with little regard for "full" scripting and "stage" direction. Very cool.

At any rate, I love your blog, and I hope to say hello again in person sometime.

Scott Morse

21 February 2007 at 13:27:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Campbell,

I think what is being discussed here is a muddling of tasks. In film, television and theater, there are specific tasks that need to be accomplished in order to make the art forms work. These tasks tend to be given out to various people given the amount of work that is required to accomplish them. In comics, especially in comics created by a single person, these tasks get smudged together. It isn't that they don't exist. We still need to create characters and a story (script), we need to create costumes and a sets (backgrounds and such), we need to create interesting framing and positioning of characters and view points (directing and blocking) and the characters need to emote along the lines of the story as well as through the dialogue (acting). Some of the tasks are transmogrified from one form to another. Sound FX and sound editing in movies are changed to Lettering in comics. But in comics that can all be left up to one person to create (part of their beauty). In that case, it really doesn't matter at all how the story is written or outlined as long as the final product is up to par and all of these various things are addressed. In a division of labor system, where there is more than one person working on the story, it becomes vital for each person to add to the story via their contributions while following an understood method of communicating with eachother. I'm not defending Mr. Moore or presuming to know why he does anything the way he does it, lord knows he needs no defense and is an unfathomable character, but that MIGHT be part of the reason he works the way he does. He has a specific vision and wants to get it across.

As for the difference of comics vs. these other mediums (timing, as it were). I don't argue that this needs to be taken into consideration when working on a book. However, people have been reviewing films at their own pace for years. We speed them up, we slow them down, we pause, rewind and stop them. This allows us to analyze the structure of a scene, to look at the framing of a shot, to take in a favorite line of dialogue over and over again. This isn't available to us in a movie theater, which may be part of the reason for the decline in ticket sales. We like taking in stories at our own pace. We like to linger. It is not an event specific to comics. Anyone who cares enough does this with any art form they enjoy. And I imagine most people don't do this in comics. I would say the average reader looks at a comic in the way they look at a movie or TV show, as if the timing is force fed.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we need to quit worrying whether we are using terminology and tricks from other mediums as long as it works and we know why it works and we know when it doesn't work. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. For me the story is what is important, not the medium.

Also, Mr. Campbell, I think you are wrong to assume that comics co-opted their use of movie terminology in scripts because of SUPERhuman stories. SUPERhuman stories vs. everyday business stories is more of a matter of scale. The scripting, as long as it is specific enough, matters very little.

Not the enemy, just another P.O.V.

Joe Bowser

21 February 2007 at 15:22:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a little disclaimer. I haven't read any of your other postings. This was forwarded to me by a friend and I am making a snap judgement with my response. Should I be covering ground already much discussed, or should I have missed the point of an on-going discussion entirely, I may regret my ignorance later.

Joe B.

21 February 2007 at 16:39:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

tell you what
never mind the blog, go and buy my book!

best to ya

21 February 2007 at 16:54:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think when writing it makes sense to use whatever vocabulary is useful to you in laying out a situation, cinematic or otherwise. At the same time I think it's wrong to be restricted to a blandly cinematic presentation.

A scene from my own comic script:


Panel three: The four men are visible from the hips or waist up, facing left as they walk towards the tent. Word balloon one (Akhirom): "We had heard rumor of your hospitality, but the rumors are nothing in comparison to your graciousness." Conak's other hand gestures to encompass his camp, as he shows it off to his visitors. Word balloon two (Conak): "My graciousness is dust, and my insignificant belongings are also dust." In the distant background you can see, along with other features of the camp, Conak's wife Valda and her children, who appear to be about two years old.

Panel four: Same camera shot as panel three as Conak guides Akhirom into the largest tent, Libro and Nebuhan following behind. As the initial formalities are over with, the younger men relax from their original posture and start clowning around a little. In the background Valda et al are still visible, but while they haven't moved physically, they appear closer to the foreground than they were in the previous panel. Basically she is becoming more prominent as the men of Shem are slowly becoming more aware of her; the children are now about five years old, as the relationship between Conak and Akhirom lasts over years. At the same time, I want the current narrative to appear seamless, so the figures in the foreground don't appear to change their style of dress or age.


Whether I am successful or merely pretentions, I leave to others to decide.

21 February 2007 at 17:31:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...

I feel you should now change the name of this blog to "Never mind the blog... go buy my book!"

I must be done.

21 February 2007 at 22:24:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...


In response to your response to my earlier response, back when I sadly attempted to draw my own comic, I did the same thing you describe, with no scripts and improvising as I went. I've never heard of someone lettering first though, and that fascinates me. It makes so much sense, but I could never picture doing it.

As for scripts, I always view them as a two part exersize. One, I have to communicate the information about what I want ending up on the page; this is obvious. The second is that I feel it's part of my duty to entertain the artist as well, not just with what's going into the comic but with the script itself. It's a way to keep energy up over a potentially long project, and as long as we're having fun, the end result will have a bit more kick in it. At least that's the theory.

21 February 2007 at 22:40:00 GMT-5  
Blogger jasonturner said...

Dear Mr. Campbell

Ever since reading the Comics Journal interview with you a few years back I have made an effort to follow the "Rule of the Foot", trying to make sure I draw feet at least once a page. And in conversation with other cartoonists, I have been surprised to meet quite a few who also picked up that habit, from that interview.

I have been quite enjoying your blog. Thanks!


21 February 2007 at 22:56:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your blog you wrote...

"My idea was to take ‘cutting’ away and replace it with a keen observation of body language. In order to see subtle interactions between two bodies, the leanings toward, the leanings away, the slight turnings, superior straightenings, lookings down, lookings away, while not necessarily leaning the same way, lookings inwards, subtle changes in the emotional temperature, but instinctively dealing with it and not categorizing it like this, etc, etc… then the two bodies need to be seen in each and all of the pictures."

What you are describing is very much like the layout and keyframing steps used producing animation in which the moments within the shot are defined.

22 February 2007 at 00:30:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Dave Gibbons said...

The use of cinematic terms in a script really functions just as a shared language between the writer and the artist, to convey the general set-up of the panel in the writer's mind. "Cut", "dolly", "track" etc are really descriptions of transitions between panels. Since comic panels are static, all transitions are really "cuts", but can be intensified or softened by the pictorial content.

Although the repetition of elements or entire figures might produce a certain effect on the page, to make it a requirement in all situations seems stifling. I find Krigstein's work has a stroboscopic quality that often feels like disjointed animation rather than efficient comic art and draws the attention away from the drama of the situation onto the nuances of movement.

It's really the juxtaposition of individual panels on the page that produces the dramatic effect, so I would postulate that the page is really the unit of story, rather than the individual panel.

Accordingly, I propose GIBBONS' RULE #1: The entire drama of a given situation must be contained within each page of the sequence of that situation.

22 February 2007 at 04:59:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

I was going to address everybody personally here, but time is getting the better of me

thanks for commenting, sharing, having opinions, even the ones that disagree with mine.

We all have different ways of doing and thinking about it. It's good to re-examine it all at intervals, cast a glance at how everybody else is doing it and see if there's anyhing else we can take on board.


26 February 2007 at 00:50:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice post!

18 September 2007 at 10:46:00 GMT-5  

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