Tag Archive: Craig Thompson

Happy Samurais issue #1 Layouts

Happy Samurais issue #1 Layouts

When working on a comic, I usually layout and draw one scene at a time. My fear has always been that if I laid out something like sixty pages, that my drawing, storytelling and layout abilities would improve so much during those first twenty or forty pages that I’d have to re-layout a ton of pages to incorporate all that I’d learned. I’m not sure if there’s any truth to that at all, but it made sense to me for a number of years.

Two things have recently helped change my thought process on that. One, during my time at the Atlantic Center for the Arts residency last year, I talked with Craig Thompson about his experiences working on Habibi. (Though Habibi just came out this September, Craig had finished it as of October, 2010, so I’d seen the completed book while I was there). Craig had laid out the entirety of the 600+ page Habibi at least three times (I wanna say it was actually more like five). Each layout wasn’t just a change of camera angle or adding another panel, it was completely changing the way he was telling the story or more often, changing the story itself. He felt laying out the entire book was the only way to really see how the story worked. You sat down and read it from beginning to end.

Craig’s group at the residency was working on longer form comics — stories with page counts at least 100 pages in length. Members of his group each had to have a huge chunk of layouts done for their story, which they’d then share with the rest of Craig’s group in a workshop type of session. Craig said he was more convinced than ever after his experiences workshopping with his ACA students, that laying everything out ahead of time was the way to do it.

The second thing that made me change my thoughts on layout was hearing details of how Pixar develops their movies. Directors at Pixar screen their films internally every 16-20 weeks for their “Brain Trust”. The “Brain Trust” is considered to be John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars), Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo), Pete Docter (Up, Monster’s Inc.) and Brad Bird (Incredibles, Ratatouille) — though I believe other key people like Bob Peterson, Ronnie Del Carmen, Michael Arndt etc. are involved in some form as well. They “screen” the film in whatever form it’s currently in to get feedback on how it’s progressing. So during the first screening, the film is probably still an animatic (animated storyboards), the next version is maybe an animatic with temp voices/music, then onto a version with blocked in 3D models etc.

This screening process isn’t necessarily a straight line through to a finished film. Often times they get three or four steps into the process only to decide things aren’t working and go back to square one — both Monster’s Inc. and Up went through multiple false starts. Andrew Stanton has said, “I don’t believe in a scene until I see it on the reels.” As Stanton describes Pixar’s process, it’s essentially making the film three or four times to get it right. (Incidentally, Stanton feels that Pixar isn’t the best at making movies, but that they excel at re-working them). What Pixar doesn’t want to do is waste time making a story that doesn’t work. They want to, as Stanton says, “Be wrong as fast as we can.” So Pixar turns it into a movie (even if it’s animated storyboards) as soon as possible to see how it’s working out. Thus it only makes sense to turn your comic into a comic as soon as possible to see how it reads.

Before I can lay out a scene though, I need to know what the characters and environment for that scene look like. If you design a characters that’s super-wide, or maybe has some ornate costume detail that sticks out three feet off each shoulder, you’re going to compose a shot with that specific costume differently than you would a generic mannequin figure. Same thing with a location. The shape and design of the architecture is going to suggest unique angles, framing, composition and backdrops to set your characters against. The background should never be an afterthought to the characters.

I currently have about half of the triple-sized Happy Samurais #1 penciled (not all consecutive scenes, I jumped around a little). To apply my new strategy of laying out the rest of the issue, I had to finish off all remaining character and location designs. I like to make a reference packet for each character/location (see stack in the photo below). The packet will have printouts of whatever designs I’ve drawn and any other reference I might need. As of yesterday, I FINALLY finished off all the design work for issue #1 and this morning I start laying out the remaining scenes. The design phase always bogs me down (when I think back on many of the projects I worked on that fell apart, the design phase was almost always where it occurred.). It just happens to be the most time-consuming task for me. Super-happy with the designs I came up with, but honestly more psyched to be done with it and back to drawing and telling stories.

If you’re interested, I highly recommend checking out the following links to Pixar related podcasts:

Andrew Stanton – talks about upcoming John Carter movie & Pixar’s film-making process.
Pete Docter & Bob Peterson – talk with Jeff Goldsmith of Creative Screenwriting about Up.
Brad Bird – brilliant interview about Brad’s career and work in animation.

Design Work for The Happy Samurais Issue #1


Last October, I had the pleasure of attending an Atlantic Center for the Arts residency with Paul Pope, Craig Thompson and Svetlana Chmakova (see previous ACA posts – part 1, part 2, part 3, & part 4). One afternoon, I went over to see what was going on in the Craig Thompson group studio. There sitting on the table was a stunning new comic page by Craig. It was his introduction to Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s Daytripper trade.

I was utterly enthralled with the piece. First, it was an original piece of Craig Thompson’s art in my hands!! Second, it was such a gorgeous page, I got lost looking at Craig’s lush brushwork, patterns and hand lettering. Third, I found what Craig said in the page to be a very insightful. But more than anything, I was mesmerized by the idea that Craig had done the introduction as a COMIC. Now maybe doing an intro as a comic isn’t a groundbreaking idea to everyone, but it was to me. It hit me hard and I began to think or rethink lots of different possibilities. You could take virtually anything and “do it as a comic”. I was so captivated by the piece, I actually stood there and drew it in my sketchbook (see below) so I could have it for inspiration until the Daytripper trade came out. After I got done staring at the piece for an hour and a half, one of the artists in Craig’s group, the amazing Jake Wyatt, told me that Craig was really worried the introduction wasn’t any good and that he hadn’t actually “said anything” with it.” Over dinner that night, I got a chance to tell Craig how amazing and powerful I thought it was. I worry he was too humble to accept my sincerity.

Craig Thompson's introduction for Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba's DAYTRIPPER

Gabe Bridwell's study of Craig Thompson's DAYTRIPPER intro

I was reminded of that Craig Thompson story because I’ve recently seen a couple creators do promos/ads for their projects as a comic instead of just the typical static illustration or poster. And I LOVE that idea of just “doing it as a comic.”

Jay Faerber and artist Simone Guglielmini have a new series coming out from Image Comics called Near Death. To promote the comic, Image did a sweet poster of the cover of issue #1 by Tomm Coker. Doing a cool promo poster is always a good idea (especially when you have someone as amazing as Tomm doing it), but it doesn’t really get the logline of your average series across. So Jay and Simone did a 3-page promo story that spells out the premise of their book. The promo straddles the line and is basically a comic and an ad at the same time. They’ve even managed to work in testimonials from Brian K. Vaughn and John Layman. The idea and execution is absolutely brilliant! And extremely effective as well. I’d be way more inclined to pick up Jay’s book after reading the promo comic than if I’d just seen the cover to #1 (and I don’t mean any offense to Tomm Coker with that remark).

Jay Faerber's NEAR DEATH promo

Jay Faerber's NEAR DEATH promo

Jay Faerber's NEAR DEATH promo

Another example of “doing it as a comic” I’ve seen recently was for Shane and Chris Houghton’s comic Reed Gunther. I think Shane and Chris felt Reed Gunther was being unfairly categorized as an “All-Ages Kids Book”. But instead of just slapping a blurb on their book saying, “A comic for everyone” or something like that, they did  2-page comic explaining the idea instead. And I think it turned out great. It honestly made me take notice of the series more than any of the other promo images they’ve done.

Shane and Chris Houghton's REED GUNTHER promo comic

Shane and Chris Houghton's REED GUNTHER promo comic

And the last example I thought of is some of the promos that J. Scott Campbell did for Danger Girl and Wildsiderz. The Danger Girl promo was a fun little 2-page comic that not only got the series premise across, but also showcased it’s fun factor and sense of humor. With Wildsiderz, Jeff pushed things quite a bit more and basically did a 10-page comic trailer for the series.

Now I’m sure I’m missing some really obvious ones, so help me out if you guys think of any and mention them in the comments.

J. Scott Campbell's DANGER GIRL Promo

Wild Siderz #0 Preview Comic by J. Scott Campbell

Wild Siderz #0 Preview Comic by J. Scott Campbell

Wild Siderz #0 Preview Comic by J. Scott Campbell

Wild Siderz #0 Preview Comic by J. Scott Campbell

Wild Siderz #0 Preview Comic by J. Scott Campbell


My Atlantic Center for the Arts Experience – Part 4. 

As if hanging out with PaulCraigSvetlana and the other associates wasn’t enough, we had a almost a dozen guests stop by to visit us at the ACA. Craig brought his girlfriend, Sierra Hahn (who also happens to be an editor at Dark Horse, pics below left and center), with him for the first week. Sierra has worked on a couple of my favorite things coming out of Dark Horse the last few years:Umbrella Academy and Mesmo Delivery. Besides having awesome taste in comics, she was super nice and a lot of fun to hang out with for the short time she was there.

Svetlana brought JuYoun Lee (senior editor) and Kurt Hassler (publishing director) of her publisher, Yen Press, down for part of the first week as well (pic below right). JuYoun and Sierra hosted a great Q and A with us about editors in comics and manga. Awesome to be able to ask them those questions you’ve always had about editors (what to do if they don’t email you back, what’s the best place to pitch a project, what percentage of your property they’d take etc.)

Paul really wanted this residency to not be just good, but extraordinary. So he asked several of his friends to come down and be a part of it: Sam Hiti (creator of Death-Day comic), Jimmy Palmiotti (writer of the Jonah Hex comic), Amanda Connor (penciler for The Pro and Power Girl), Jeff “Jah Furry” Newelt (editor of thePekar ProjectAct-i-vate), Kostas Seremetis (painter and filmmaker), Harvest King (Paul’s girlfriend and burlesque performer) and Luana (Paul’s mom).

Jimmy and Amanda stopped by for a couple days on their way back to their Florida home after spending time in NYC for the New York Comic Con. It just so happens they were bringing some of their art collection back with them from their place in Brooklyn. So we got to see some of the originals from their amazing collection. Pieces byManara, Moebius, Darwyn Cooke, Alex Toth, Massimo Carnevale, Jamie Hewlett and Joe Kubert (complete short story “Tide!” from Two Fisted Tales #32 – April ’53). Plus Amanda had a box of her originals from various projects, including her pages from The Pro. We spent an entire afternoon pouring over this stuff, soaking it in, discussion the various techniques and approaches. Such a fun and inspiring day.
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My Atlantic Center for the Arts Experience – Part 3. 

One of the real highlights of the whole ACA experience for me was seeing work from Craig and Paul’s upcoming projects. Svetlana had just finished her most recent volume of Night School, so she was just in the beginning stages of her next project (an adaptation of James Patterson’s Witch and Wizard for Yen Press). Craig and Paul, on the other hand, were just at the tail end of their work, so we got to see near complete versions of their current projects.

Craig had the entirety of his next graphic novel, Habibi, in his group’s studio for anyone to flip through and read (he also had a few originals pages and layouts from Habibi and Blankets in the studio). Habibi is complete (minus final revisions) and clocks in at almost 700 pages. Even though it’s done, Craig said it’ll still be about a year before it’s actually published. Craig’s virtuosity is on full display in Habibi — his mastery of every narrative art technique, his lush brush work, his delicate sense of design, not to mention the sheer force of will to complete a project of this nature. Saying it’s an incredibly powerful work of art — and make no mistake, it’s not just a “comic” but a transcendent work of art — doesn’t even begin to do Habibi justice. Having that kind of access to it — I remember spending two or three hours one night just comparing his layouts for one chapter of Habibi to the finished page, which often times were radically different — is really an incredible experience. I feel honored, privileged and eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to read it in that manner.

Paul shared probably 100 pages of one of his current projects with us. I’m gonna stay vague on exactly which project it was, as Paul has a few of them going on at the same time, and some publishers and movie studios aren’t excited about the idea of Paul showing anyone anything from them. So use your imagination as to which amazing project it was. He talked us through 30+ pages of pencils and inks, page by page as he described his thought process and the story/art problems and solutions that arose during the making. It was kinda like the director’s DVD commentary. Except that it was live with the director in the middle of the project instead of at the end. Another once in a lifetime experience.
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My Atlantic Center for the Arts Experience – Part 2. 

The plan for Svetlana’s group was to conceive and execute a short story that would be collected into a group anthology while at the residency. So her group wrote, penciled, inked, toned and lettered 10-15 page short stories. Svet’s group was usually working into the wee hours of the night to make their deadline and their studio became the late night hangout of choice for some of us night owls. I’d hang out with Lilly MooreMojgon VatanchiAngi Mauri andSalina Trevino — who were affectionately dubbed “the manga girls” — and got a pretty awesome education in manga and anime. Not that I was totally ignorant, but these girls had like Manga Ph.D.s! They knew everything — proper pronunciation for every creator, character and phrase, the minute differences between each specific genre and sub-genre’s, the best places to read, buy or watch anything. I was exposed to all kinds of new stuff — for better or worse! Soul Eater, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, Princess Tutu, weird videos of flying panties, Shojo sparkles and an explanation as to what the attraction to Yaoi is for some people (though I still don’t really get it).

Svet’s group finished their pages on a Monday morning (the manga girls just got their pages in under the wire, while the “grown ups” — Leslie Harris, Alka JoshiDebbie Jenkinson and Matt Taylor — finished with time to spare) and had their printed anthology, Riding with Strangers, in hand on the final Thursday of our residency! Her group worked really hard and it was great to see how proud they were of the finished book.

For our group, Paul described us as more of a symposium on comics. Discussion of ideas, theories, and techniques. Then exercises designed to explore the topics we’d discussed. A lot of the subjects Paul wanted to talk about were in some fundamental way, extensions of his work and style. I think you when you really take a close look at Paul’s style, the origin’s to his approach are fairly obvious. He takes his favorite elements from European, Manga and American comics (throw in some pop art as well) and combines them into his own unique style. Equal parts Moebius, Crepax, Kirby, Caniff, Toth, Egawa Tatsuya and Tadanori Yokoo. It’s true “world comics”. I don’t think it’s any surprise then that his work has such strong worldwide appeal.
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My Atlantic Center for the Arts Experience – Part 1. 

As many of you know, from October 11-31st, I was in New Smyrna Beach, Florida attending a Graphic Novel Residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA). Three Master artists were in residency there during that time: Paul PopeCraig Thompson and Svetlana Chmakova. Each master artist had eight associate artists and I was one of the fortunate few to be accepted into Paul Pope’s group. Going into this, the only thing I knew for sure was that we were all going to live down in Florida for three weeks and that my group would meet and work with Paul for at least two hours every day. I had high hopes, but no idea what I was really getting myself into. What I experienced was something beyond anything I could have ever dreamed of. Since I know a lot of people are curious what this experience was like, I thought I’d go pretty in depth with posts on it. Try and cover a bit of everything.  This is part one of four.

Let’s start with who and what the ACA is. The ACA is it’s own little art center carved out of the middle of the Florida jungle. And I do mean carved. Every building and pathway was completely surrounded by palmettos, pines and other flora. Not to mention all the fauna. I saw all kinds of critters on my way to sessions — lizards, turtles, raccoons, and even my first ever armadillo (which if I’m being totally honest, creeped me out quite a bit).
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