Saurav Mohapatra - comic book writer

author, artist and bona fide geek

Tag: Timepass

[CRAFT] Get the hell out of the way (a NINE PANEL GRID column)

My first comic book story (one I got paid for) was published sometime around this time of the year in 2006. So that makes it 4 years (yeah, I’m a math whiz :P ) “in the biz” for me. It’s been a great ride. Balancing a dayjob (and later parenthood) with writing has been challenging, but very rewarding. I’ve had the good fortune of working with some great people and have come to know (or even make friends with) some creators who were till even a couple of years back hallowed names in the credits pages of books I adore. Yeah, it’s been a good ride.

So today, as I nurse a busted ankle, I felt like writing a blog post about one of the primary lessons I learned through my 4 years of working in comics. Much as a writer’s ego wouldn’t let him/her admit it, Comics are primarily a visual medium. A writer seeds the vision, but the artist executes it. The art is what one sees first and thus great art is a must-have hook for a reader to pick up an “unfamiliar/unknown” comic book in the first place. So the first part of the writer’s contribution – the script, is sort of “invisible”.

The script and the initial panel breakdowns decide the pace of the comic book and set a box around the artist’s execution space. For example, as a novice I had this habit of putting every single visual and transition I could think of on the page. The result was a very panel heavy page that didn’t account for the fact that someone had to draw it (and someone else had to letter it too). Condensed information of this nature is visually off-putting as well as confusing. Visual stimulus is one of the most direct methods of perception in Cognitive Theory followed closely by Sound and Smell. So overloading the visuals, results in a confusing disjoint experience that turns off the reader and sometimes assaults their senses too.

So the key to visual storytelling, in my humble opinion, is simplicity. The one lesson you learn as a writer of comic books is to “Keep It Simple, Stupid” (KISS). A writer must learn intuitively the art of picking “frozen moments in time” from the entire timeline of the unfolding action and give the art some “breathing space”. Trust your artistic collaborator to execute the sequence you’ve chosen and (as the title of the post says) “Get the hell out of the artist’s way”

Once the art is done, the writer’s pawprints show up again in a comic book via the captions and speech balloons. Lettering is often compared to other “invisible arts” like the background score of movies. When done right it enhances the experience, without intruding on to the foreground of perception. Conversely, when screwed up it completely ruins the experience. As a writer, I’ve come to learn the hard way to let the art “speak” rather than go around ham-handedly inserting text to repeat what is already explained in the art. Comics are unique in the fact that all of the different dimensions of storytelling (art, speech, sound effects) occupy the same 2D visual plane and panel real estate is a zero-sum resource. More you use for Captions / Bubbles / SFX, the less you have for art. So sometimes it’s again just better to let the art “breathe” and “get the hell out of the way”.

Of course, I am by no means an expert on sequential storytelling. These are things and practices that have worked for me and your mileage may vary… a lot.

Until next time,

Toodles.
Mohaps

I used to write a column called “Nine Panel Grid” at Comics Waiting Room about my experiences as a writer and things I learned as I moved through the world of comics. I have decided to continue writing those “columns” here at my blog.

Oh My God I'm So Afraid

[This is a repost from my old sulekha blog. a chance conversation with someone today, reminded me of this]

‘Twas winter and  snow fell from the heavens like only new england snow can fall. I mean three foot snowbanks and it was only  late Novemeber. Axel Rose you sure did not leave in Massachussets. It don’t rain in Novemeber here.. it snows.

I flipped through the channels and found assorted collection of evangelists proclaiming that the day was at hand for the final judgement and it moved me. I thought since the whole of creation is to end soon in trumpets and fanfare, I must do the one thing I have not done yet.  I decided to bite the bullet and dwindle my certainly not sizeable bank balance by plonking down $5.38 plus tax for a pay per view p0rn movie.

I don’t remember the name of the movie, only its subject. It was described on the blurb as “an erotic thriller featuring the quest of an investigative journalist who wades through corrupt cops, vile gangsters and her own sexuality to locate her kidnapped sister“. That perked up my interest and much more. I sure as hell was not going out to shovel the white stuff soon enough after a heavy meal of mac and cheese. So I settled down with my comforter and chin rag after making sure my roomies were fast asleep upstairs.

The movie began with an assorted montage of things to come, the intrepid heroine, the chivalorous hero, the lecherous villain, the sultry vamp and sundry farm animals in various states of sexual congress accompanied by the best elevator muzak that the yamaha synthesizer can offer. After the names of various thespian and technical luminaries involved in this cinematic masterpiece in various capacities and positions (pun not intended) had flashed through the screen (Of the names most of which seemed to have surnames either derived from or directly referencing gential organs and acts of depravity, one name I do remember is “Hung Lo” which I instantly identified as the vile Asian American henchman of the villain of the piece), we cut straight to the obligatory twenty second story segment.

The movie opened like any other self respecting direct to video VHS gem with a scene of our intrepid heroine hard at work at a nameless news paper office typing away furiously on a computer hard at work at what most suspiciously seemed like the BIOS settings screen. She was hindered time and again having to reach around her massive hi tech sillicon enhanced mamrary glands to operate the keyboard. She was dressed tastefully in a tweed short skirt and a tight white office shirt which seemed shrink wrapped onto her. She looks the epitome of the successful news woman of today, radiating an IQ several points above her cup size. (My first guess was around 50, but then I had just watched Forrest Gump the other day so i upgraded the estimate to 60). Her blonde hair (suspiciously looking like a text book case of “Blonde in a Bottle” gone mad) lends her an official air, even in spite of the fact that the discerning viewer could spot more roots in it than the entire season of the television grand event adapted from Alex Hailey’s masterpiece.

Suddenly the elevator music interrupts her thoughts and she picks up a pencil from the desk.She bites into it softly with the subtelty of a teething mink in heat and stares dreamy eyed into the distance. And the screen star wipes and we are obliged with a ten minute segment of her previous escapade with an unnamed (as yet) African American male of generous endowments south of the equator.

I was intrigued. How is the director going to move the plot along when the pair seems so content and satisfied and making small talk about the future.In the meanwhile he gives her a tape asking her to keep it safe and dons his starched police uniform and departs. His final words are “This tape shall put Big Dick away for ten to life.”

Our heroine smiles the wily smile of the seductress who has achieved her goal. She has obtained the story of the century simply by lying on her back.

I could not but shout out “Bravo! What cinematic greatness! What richness of story telling!!!”

As if on cue! The phone rings. Trrrrrrrrrrring Trrrrrrrrrring. Flashback ends and our heroine is pulled back into the real world. I was at the edge of my seat with tension. Who could it be? What awaits our protagonist beyond the wires that lead from this mechnical contraption? How could this lead to further erotic confrontation?

“Hello! Olivia R. Gasm speaking! News Desk, LA Times!”

The voice at the other end was seething with venom! With unbridled furiousness it hissed.

“Drop it lady! If you know what’s good for you, you shall stay away from snoopin’ into Big Dick’s affairs! The Boss don’t like nosy dames pokin’ their powdered noses into his affairs.”

“What! Who is this! How dare you! Tell Big Dick! O.R Gasm is not afraid of his threats!”

“Oh! You should be! If not for your sake then for your sister.”

Click!

The pencil falls from her hands…

The tension is writ thickly on her acquiline nose. No doubt the product of expensive plastic surgery by the best the Mayo Clinic in Beverly Hills has to offer. She is afraid. I almost could spot the fear entrenched so deeply i her vacant eyes proclaiming the last shootingbreak and a generous snort of cocaine derivatives.

Enter our hero from stage left. I did not catch his name in the title sequence, but judging from the caucasian features he can not be “Hung Lo” in name but he would most certainly have done justice to the name.

He comes and on cue comforts our heroine. The comforting leads to a sesual shoulder massages and our female protagonist gets the same dreamy eyed look she had fifteen minutes ago.

Then she utters the magic phrase which is the title of this post.

Wiht utmost sincerity of a damsel in distress borrowed from some ancient conanesque epic she blurts out, “Oh My God! I am so afraid!”

I did not catch the subtle maneouvering of the plot or the exact sequence of cinematic twists but withhin five seconds the couple were joined in sexual congress utilizing the space in that cramped office to the maximum to enact at least thirty five of the most difficult positions from the Kama Sutra and beyond. It ended with a grand finale of the oral sort.

The movie switched to a Tarantino mode for ten minutes after that. The action was fast and brutal with scene after scene depicting our heroine finding her sister kidnapped, working the streets (no no, not in that sense,.. like a reporter) in the company of our fearless hero pressing for clues about the whereabouts of her abducted sibling.

We cut in a manner befitting a Truffaurt or a Kurosawa to the villain’s den (to my untrained eye it looked vaguel reminiscent of Ms. Gasm’s office at the LA Times, but the computer was now showing the Windows 95 flying tubes screensaver)

The villain the eponymous Richard “Big Dick” Pornetti issneering at the predicament of Miss Valerie Gasm , younger sibling of our intrepid reporter but no less voluptous even in her state of utter distress. She suffers from the same enormity of the chest, the vacant eyes which must have been passed from mother to daughter as a tradition in the Gasm family….Only telling point was that to bring diveristy and richness of content the script has depicted that the younger Miss Gasm be  brunette.

He gives his most menacing leer and tells her of the dire fate that awaits her if her sister does not cooperate. With this he leaves leaving his vamp to attend to their captive. Valerie bursts into tears and this melts the heart of the raven haired vamp with distinct east asiatic features. Against her will, in a poignant  moment of solidarity of the vivacious feminine, she is drawn to this brunnete in distress and puts hand on her quivering shoulders.

I let go of a couple of sniffles at this display of affection and the change of heart brought about in the most stoic of sidekicks.

It is then that the captive (who has not been able to resist the famed “Stockholm Syndrome”) utters the “Open Sesame” phrase of the movie.

With all earnestness she looks deep into the eyes of her captor and says, “Oh! My God! I am so afraid!”

Aha! We cut to fifteen more minutes of some of the best interracial girl on girl action I have ever seen, in terms of camera angles and  cinematic techniques i mean.

By this time I was so engrossed in the movie that time had become subjective for me. I had not noticed the snowfall stop outside or my roomies waking up upstairs. I kept on watching the masterpiece. I heard character after character be trapped in scenes of seeming no escape only to blurt out “Oh My God! I am so afraid!!!” followed by ten fifteen minutes of scenes of virtouso erotic film making .

The movie ended in a grand finale of a group sex scene with what seemed like half the cast screaming out “Oh My God I am so afraid” to be comforted in the most sensuous of manners by the other half irrespective of gender, race or anatomical proprtions.

I was moved by this cinematic masterpiece. I was weeping tears of joy for having witnessed the best that the LA porn industry could offer.

Suddenly i felt a pain in my chest. Oh! No! was it to be the end! I panicked!

I wanted to be comforted! I wanted to be held close and told that there was no need to be afraid.

I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, “Oh! My God! I am so afraid!” in fact i think for a moment I did and was instantly rewarded by the Gasm sisters smiling their most come hither smiles at me. They moved in closer and I closed my eyes awaiting 15 minutes of heaven. Suddenly they poked me in the chest.. again and again…

“Dude! Dude! Wake up!!!It has stopped snowing!”

I opened my eyes! My world had crashed! The sensuous sisters had morphed intomy gruff roomies!

“We got to shovel the sidewalk before the landlord gets home! c’mon change into something warm!”

I sighed and looked at the television to be greeted by the blackness that greets one after a pay per view show has ended. A formless shapeless darkness that bespoke of my lament. How much of the movie had a I dreamt myself and how much of it was actual!

I did not care! The cinematic masterpiece I had just witnessed stayed with me forever. Whenever I hear someone utter the magic phrase “Oh My God ! I am so afraid!” I look around and await the coming of the lovely Gasm sisters.

I do not regret that I missed the screen appearance of the mighty “Hung Lo” or the bit with the farm animals!!! I do not regret that the tax on the movie turned out to be twice the 5.38 announced on the blurb… Neither do I regret that I can not ever utter the word “Oh My God! I am so afraid!” even in the direst of circumstances without getting majorly aroused..

My only regret in all this! I never bothered to remember the name of the movie !!! :(

Evil Overlord Top Ten

Found this gem at http://londonlovescomics.blogspot.com/2008/06/plan-9-from-outer-space.html

Click the image for hi-res pic.

Evil Overlord Top Ten

Fufu can haz cheezburger :)

Fufu is a lolcat now. :) Vote for her (click the pic or go here)

funny pictures
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Best baby video ever

Okay, this IMHO is the baby video ever. The kid does a great Bruce Lee :)