Grr(aphic) Mondays: The eternal struggle of artist and writer

Good vs evil, chaos vs order, artist vs writer. These are the big three battles at the centre of the human heart. The first two are impossible to solve but, the last one is at least worth discussion. When creating a comic book or graphic novel many artists and writers try to collaborate and find themselves almost immediately in a fight for creative control. Most first-time writers are convinced that the art is a secondary aspect of the genre and that it is the writing that provides story and structure whilst many artists will tell you the story and structure can be created through the art and without any writing and so the writing is the secondary aspect. The truth is, they are both right. Consider this exert from Batman: The court of owls:


The Writer’s contribution

What does the writing add to this page? Well the first thing is, the writer (in this case, Scott Snyder) has provided the script for the artist, Greg Capullo, creating the frame work for the artist and requesting certain aspects to be highlighted in service of the story. I don’t have Snyder’s original script but we can suppose that in the last panel in the middle row Snyder asked to see Batman’s blood shot eye showing that the dark knight is slightly breaking. The actual words on the page lend a context that cannot be displayed in the artwork, Batman’s internal thoughts, which add a depth no image can convey.

The Artist’s contribution

What does the artwork add to this page? The easy answer, everything else. In more analytical terms, Capullo has taken Snyder’s script and interpreted it, filling in all the fine details. This enriches the world, the artist looks at the script much like a director, choosing which elements to display. It was the artist who designed the maze and decided how tall it should be in comparison to the caped crusader. The artist interprets the world and how it is presented to the reader.

Artist and Writer co-operation

These roles form the basis of co-operation between writers and artists. Each has a impact on storytelling and, depending on scenario, the jobs can take the lead at different times. If there is a scene requiring a lot of exposition and storytelling it’s the domain of the writer, he needs to decide how to convey the story in the most appropriate way. The artist in this scenario can help develop the story too, and often the writer will rely on the artist to deliver key details. In a scene that sets up a character or place it’s the artist that helps to shape the fine details that make the difference between a subject seeming lifelike or a little hollow. The majority of the time it’s more a half and half split for all other scenes. These are not set in stone rules but they are identifiable tends that can be seen in a lot of comics. It’s a lot like the writer and the artist are two horses pulling the story along, each having to speed up and slow down at different times to turn corners. Neither are more important, but they are more important at different points.

Why is this so important?

This is something to consider as a reader, as it can be important to understand which horse is pulling the story along at different points. As a creator of comics it’s also important, as the choice of which aspect to focus on at different times can make a big impact upon a narrative. Also, it’s important there is never a point when either side stops working towards the narrative. When the horses have to turn a corner the inside one slows but it never stops. Collaboration is a tough task but with a full understanding of the story it is possible to make something that is far greater that the sum of it’s parts.

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