Whether a graphic novel is successful is often due to the penciler. If and when you wear the artist's hat, you'll find out very quickly the nature of the graphic narrative requires you to do more than just draw pretty pictures or do character sketches. The artist creates the whole world in which the story takes place. You only have seconds to get the reader's attention. In a novel or short story, the opening line or narrative hook is consciously designed to grab the interest of the reader. In a graphic novel, the artist must rely on the first visual—often a splash page—to keep the reader turning pages.
This is often achieved by presenting a powerful and memorable image combined with evocative text. More attention and care is frequently lavished on this page of a comic book or graphic novel than on any other.
Just as the writer must know grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure, the comic artist must understand character design, perspective, proportion, light and dark values, and, perhaps most importantly, how to tell a story in a sequence of images. Although the artist has a bit more freedom than the writer to utilize caricatures rather than ultrarealistic renderings of people and places, the context must still be accepted as believable by the reader. To endow her images with atmosphere the artist may choose to use solid black masses or render the backgrounds in a minimalistic sketchy style. The range is infinite.
The penciler lays out the fictional world, the inker follows his lines, hopefully interpreting them faithfully, then the colorist brings the black and white world to life and sets the mood with her own interpretation of the original art. The letterer is an artist, too, and you'll learn more about her role in the next section of this chapter.
One of the main reasons superheroes have been essential in comics for so many decades is that, until recently, they were very difficult to believably present in other media, such as film.
In an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Lot No. 249, artist Darryl Banks established the atmosphere of the story in this beautifully detailed opening splash page.
The comics artists who drew them were unrestricted by the confines of realism. Jack Kirby, the undisputed King of Comics, was legendary for his powerful drawings and grand imagination, which often outstripped the ideas of his many writer-collaborators.
WHAT DO WIDOWS, FIREFLIES, AND BURSTS HAVE IN COMMON? THESE ARE ALL TERMS USED TO TALK ABOUT TYPOGRAPHY OR EFFECTS USED IN THE COMICS LETTERING PROCESS. WIDOWS ARE LINES OF TEXT THAT STAND ALONE, AND FIREFLIES ARE THE THREE SHORT LINES PLACED BEFORE AND AFTER SIGHS AND GASPS. BURSTS ARE JAGGEDEDGE BALLOONS THAT CONTAIN SOUND EFFECTS OR SHOUTED DIALOGUE.
When working with a writer, all the artists involved in the project must translate the scripter's descriptions and words into images, but they need not mindlessly follow the letter of the script. As in the case of Jack Kirby, individual style and approach frequently enhances the script, not hinders it. Be sure to discuss your ideas with the scripter when possible, as a radical departure from the script could conceivably cause future problems.
Certain kinds of stories are best illustrated with certain types of styles, appropriate to the theme and content. However, the skills of many artists are quite versatile, even if they prefer one genre over another.
For example, Don Heck was known for his many years of work on Marvel superhero titles, yet he felt his best work was featured in less flamboyant stories, such as the characters of The Miskatonic Project. The artist should focus on the kind of narrative that best suits his style, if for nothing else, so that he and the writer will share the same voice and vision.
Although artist Don Heck was best known for his work on Marvel superheroes, he preferred drawing noncostumed characters such as The Miskatonic Project.
Sound effects, such as this in a panel from The Miskatonic Project, punch up the action in the scene.