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Writing/Drawing – what’s the difference?

As much as I hate to think of comics as a bifurcated process, in practice, the truth is that it is. Often you’re in writing mode, and then, at other times, in drawing mode. When you’re drawing, you listen to podcasts and music, and when you’re writing, you don’t. When you’re drawing, you look at the clock rarely, and when you’re writing, you check your email every fifteen minutes. One can be done in public, in libraries, bars, trains, coffee shops, and one keeps you tethered to a big wooden table and bottle of ink. When discussing comics, I think it’s unfortunate to refer to them as “writing – with pictures” or to discuss “illustrating text” or to approach the words and images as independent entities. And when creating, that not really how it works, but when you’re in your studio (or other place of work) these two things often do happen separately, if not in conception, then in execution. Seth has written a great short essay about this split here, called “The Quiet Art of Cartooning.”

7 thoughts on “Writing/Drawing – what’s the difference?

  1. seth’s discussion of the importance of reverie in the creative act – specifically, in drawing – recalls ashbery’s aesthetic (which he describes as ‘managed chance’). here, the artist doesn’t shut out distractions – a ringing telephone, a song on the radio, the voice of someone out on the street – b/c all are potentially valuable as impulses, or as instigators of impulse. it’s possible that a measure of any artist’s success is the degree to which his/her conscious mind defers, when necessary, to his/her unconscious mind.

  2. I’ve been reading some of Will Eisner’s comics theory recently, and in GRAPHIC STORYTELLING AND VISUAL NARRATIVE he writes a bit about how comics involve two types of literacy: being able to read the words, and being able to read the graphic narrative. Which I think is true.

    So I’m not surprised if writing comics involves devoting separate time to those two types of writing.

    This makes me wonder when and how those two types of writing/reading can be combined. CEREBUS comes to mind (although it often does). Especially in the later issues (GUYS onward), Sim synthesizes text and image in ways I’ve seen few comics manage. Although at other points he pulls them very, very far away from one another (READS being the epitome of this.)

    That’s Sim for you, though. And why he’s so important.

    I’ve been rereading a bunch of issues of UNCANNY X-MEN lately, and Claremont’s writing really dominates so many of the issues. The stories are told so verbally! And the drawings are often just illustrations of what’s being said. it’s very unusual for Marvel, where the opposite is usually true. Like, in the 60s work, it’s so obvious that Lee is just putting words in the mouths of the characters after Kirby has done all the graphic storytelling (following a short plot outline from Lee, of course).

    1. Adam, the big-house bullpen style of comic-making makes for interesting case studies, because “writing” and “drawing” are so separate – you can really differentiate one from the others. (Claremont’s X-Men writing, by way, once a clearly formative experience for me – I kind of forgot about it.) I don’t know Cerebus too well – I’ll have to check it out.

      As far as the two types of writing, I find that as time goes, for me, the processes come together more and more. I used to write myself scripts, which I would never want to do any more. Then I would do very precise thumbnails. Now I do looser thumbnails and work more of it out on the final Bristol. I do usually begin my comics in a notebook, scrawling down notes (usually on the train). And I know this is different than most of my friends who are more likely to begin an idea in sketchbook.

      You ever do any comics, Adam?

      1. Frank Miller has spoken a lot about “the Mighty Marvel Method,” for example in his interviews with the COMICS JOURNAL (now collected under one cover). It’s interesting to contrast his work on, say, DAREDEVIL, which he wrote and drew (but didn’t ink) with something like X-Men, where Claremont never did any of the drawing.

        Miller accuses Marvel’s division of labor as being a product of “the newspaper mentality,” or the desire to produce as much product as quickly and as cheaply as possible—assembly-line style. He of course broke with it by the mid-80s.

        To paraphrase Jean-Luc Godard, CEREBUS is truth 20 pages per month. (Or was, while it was running.) Although it’s best not to get started on its politics…

        Where can I find some of your comics, John? I’ve made a few myself, but they’re just amateur work. I am planning a big comics project, however—in fact, I was just thinking about it last night. I’m still creating the characters and sketching out the plot(s). It’s a response to X-MEN, actually, and to soap-opera/superhero comics in general. I’ll eventually find someone to illustrate the thing, I suppose/hope. But that’s probably some ways off, well into the future.

        I’ll be posting more about Frank Miller soon—specifically about THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

        1. Wow, that’s awesome, Adam. Although I had a brief and intense interest in Marvel comics in my pre-teens, Rob Liefeld killed everything for me, and I left never to effectively return. So serial comics have involvement in my own interest in comics.

          Here are a couple that you can find online: http://www.h-ngm-n.com/john-woods/awake-to-the-terror/ http://www.everyday-genius.com/2009/11/john-dermot-woods.html

          There’s one in the Hobart, if you have that. I’ll email you some PDFs.

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