Creating Gravestown: 2 - plotting

Friday at 22.10.10

Plotting is where the real work starts for us. It's all very well thinking about a project and talking about it and doing lots of fannying about, but for our working method the plotting session is crucial, as it's where I try to transfer those images in my own head into Vince's head, so that we're both visualiising the same thing, and where he throws in his own ideas to improve and refine it.

Vince and I do this at the pub. More specifically we do this at the Dormouse pub in York - in the summer it has a lovely outdoor area that is perfect for thinking and exchanging ideas, and when colder it has roaring fires and scrummy food. Writers like roaring fires a great deal! There's nothing quite like a good roaring log fire and a refreshing pint of beer to really get my creative muscles working - most of my best ideas have been aided by a small dose of refreshing English ale.

I'd spent the weekend whilst at BICS giving Vince as much detail as I could about Gravestown, particularly concentrating on the novel I wrote three years ago, which would form the basis of the opening elements of the story. So the plotting session was all about refining those ideas, both of us throwing in a whole bunch of new ones, waving our arms around expressively, pulling together a full storyline for the first six issues so that we'd know where we're heading. Once that was done we zeroed in on the specifics of issue one.

We've always done this the same way, throughout our work on the Harker monthly. Once I have the issue firm in my mind, Vince gets his pen and paper out and draws 20 boxes on the page - one box for each page of the comic. Here we block out the pacing of the issue and I tell Vince what I need - it might be a full page here, two pages for conversation there, three pages of action here, giving him the main images in my mind (in this case the house, the doors, the bridges, the pump room, the cliff face, the spooky child etc) and placing them in their right context (and of course the right order) so that Vince knows what happens and when. Vince scribbles notes into each box as we talk, until we're both satisfied that the pacing feels right and all those pesky boxes are filled with exciting stuff.

Armed with all of this information, Vince takes the notes home and works them into twenty pages of rough thumbnail layouts - effectively the entire issue is drawn rapidly with stick men, working out the storytelling (i.e. where the characters are placed in each panel to tell the story in the most efficient and exciting way - one of Vince's real skills) and blocking it out carefully. It's just like drawing storyboards for a movie, getting those camera angles right before the photo shoot.

You'll notice that there's still no script at this stage - Vince and I work 'Marvel-style', drawing the issue first and then scripting over the artwork. This leaves Vince much freer with the artwork, able to add his own ideas and flourishes, and makes the scripting a little more fun for me.

As of today (Friday) Vince has now finished the thumbnails, so the next stage is the photo session, which we're doing tomorrow afternoon. On Monday, the drawing begins...


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