Different Roles in Comic Books
ARTIST, ILLUSTRATOR WRITER
To begin, recently I resigned as the artist of the webcomic series Adventures In Pulp. It was a hard decision but one that has been coming for many months. While I could point to many reasons for my departure from this role, one of the things that came out of it was my view and take on on my role and that of others in making comics. So with that, let us begin.
I think the best way to describe my view of the role of the creatives in comics is to view them in terms of filmmaking. In filmmaking there are tons of roles but the ones most people know are: Producer, Writer, Director, Cinematographer, Cameraman, Lighting, Wardrobe, and Sound.
Comics have similar roles. Very similar actually.
The Producer would be either the Editor, Writer, or group of people who have collaborated on the overall story. I could expand this out but I typically feel this is the person who is the overall leader of the team. The person who makes sure everyone is working together well and harmonizing.
The Writer is the person responsible for writing the story. They are skilled and responsible for the overall story structure, dialogue, overall beats of the story, and the framework of the story. They are the big picture thinkers. The skeleton of the story. Without their underlying framework you just have a bunch of scenes that don’t work together as a whole.
The Director is the penciller (or artist) who takes the framework and brings it to life. The Director is responsible for the visual storytelling, how people move from panel to panel, the overall camera angles, setting the pacing of the story through the panels and how the reader even reads the story. The Penciller wears many hats. They also act as:
Wardrobe – They generally are responsible for what the characters are wearing. How they look
Lighting – They generally set up the lighting, how the characters or scene is lit.
Cinematographer/Cameraman – They also decide on the best camera angles and framing of each panel to make sure the story is told properly.
Sound – They can even be responsible for Sound. Hand lettering sound effects is many times done by the penciller.
Lighting – Now in some cases lighting is also the Inker. A good inker can influence the lighting better and with more skill than the penciler. The penciller can put his ideas on paper or in some cases might leave that wholly up to the inker. But if an inker is involved this becomes his role and it’s an internal one at that. Some pencillers ink their own work and they take up this hat too. But it’s vital that any inks on the page set the mood with light and darks, and most importantly make sure the artwork has depth and clarity.
Color – I didn’t list colorist in the list above. I’m not really sure who sets the overall color palette of a movie in filmmaking. So please pardon me for my ignorance here. However a colorist is responsible for many of the major roles in making comics today. Along with the inker they are largely responsible for lighting. The color also imply depth, mood, tone, and emotion. Comics can easily be done in black and white, and the best art works well without color. But once color is introduced, that’s when a comic really becomes something different. You can take one story with a pop-art color scheme and it can be wholly different to one with a subtle subdued color scheme. If I were to argue that any role in making comics today deserves more recognition it is the colorist. I have colored almost every comic I’ve ever drawn and would gladly hand over that job to any number of colorist that I respect and admire, because I know that no matter how skilled I may be… they would make that work even better.
Sound – The Letterer. In film, sound is often overlooked by the viewer. But it’s as important as any other role. In comics it’s just as important as any other job. Without a good letterer or someone who undertands the fundamentals you might as well call your work unprofessional. Lettering makes the reading possible. It also helps lead the eye, and is integral to the storytelling. A good comic CAN be told without word balloons, and you SHOULD be able to understand a story without them, but without them a comic just isn’t a comic.
Now with any step, with any story, any of these roles should have an opinion. Writers generally give notes on what they think a character should look like, on how a scene should work. If there is a specific reason for a scene being a close-up, that should be noted. If a character should speak off-panel for a reason, note that reason. As an artist myself, my job isn’t to change a script for the sake of my ego. However I will speak my mind about a scene if I disagree with it. I also will change a camera angle if I don’t feel it’s serving the story or even the page in general. Just as if I were to pencil a page and an inker felt my lighting was wrong or my pencils didn’t give the characters proper weight.
Recently I did pitch pages with the amazing Jeremy Holt. It was a great experience and one I’d be more than happy to repeat. He gave me a well thought out script, plenty of references for what the characters would look like – backgrounds and even details such as what a ring would look like that the character wore. But it was also give and take. I read the script and asked questions. This in turn led him to rethink certain things and he would adjust the script because it led him to new ideas. If I drew something that didn’t work he’d say..”This part isn’t working for me” but he did it in such a way as to give me the freedom to solve the problem on my own. I did a pass on the color that didn’t jive with the overall tone he had in his head. He told me so and offered a suggestion. His suggestion was the right one. It made the story that much better. But he gave me the freedom to disagree. He gave me the freedom to do my job and fail (Failure as a key to success will be another blog for another time). I generally tried to make the art not deviate from the script but there were several times that I added a panel or reduced the size of a panel to add to the story. If I recall correctly we only had one page that we struggled with, but it was inherit in what we were trying to accomplish, not any sort of disagreement. It just was a page that had it’s own struggles as they sometimes do.
The key I think is to let the person do their job and handle their responsibility. Conversely also let everyone have a say in the story and ask questions. Give everyone freedom. Give them notes on things that are there for a reason. But give them the freedom to make decisions. Give them room to succeed or fail. To put themselves into a story and be a part of it.
But I think overall anyone interested in creating comics as a team needs to understand what everyone brings to the table. That every role is important, and in many cases requires us to wear many different hats. So.. respect the hats.