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Jamie S. Rich | From page to page, plan to heist

by Jamie S. Rich, with art by Joëlle Jones

The comic book creative process is a mysterious, fascinating thing to both fans of comics and non-fans alike. People always want to know how a writer/artist team works. What comes first? The images or the words? How much detail does the writer demand in the script? How involved is the artist in plotting?

So, to clear some of this up, I decided to pick a four-page sequence from the middle of You Have Killed Me and show you the script pages side by side with the final art.

When planning a job, there are only a handful of basic steps. We begin with the germ of the idea, which generally gets discussed between Joëlle and I before I move on to Step 2, which is basically laying down notes. I am not a heavy outline guy, nor do I create detailed synopses. Usually I just keep a running computer document full of ideas that I can pull from whenever I need to. That also includes stuff that I might put into my Moleskin and then transfer to the computer. Later notes will usually be put into the script itself, either as a space marker or ahead of the last page I’ve written.

The script is Step 3. I write a pretty detailed page-by-page, working in full script format. With each successive collaboration with Joëlle, my level of description gets less and less exact, and I leave far more open to her. I rarely call out panel size, though I have been known to suggest a layout when I see something clearly. I usually end up thumbnailing 25% of the pages myself, it’s an excellent writing tool if a particular scene is proving troublesome, but I never show those thumbnails to the artist. I prefer to let my partner roam.

If there is a detail that is particularly important, I will emphasize it. I don’t play any cat-and-mouse games in my script. You can’t tell an artist that a shadowy figure is going to attack your private detective and then not tell her the identity of said shadow, because one assumes that this person’s silhouette would be the same shape as they are. Likewise, I have to lay props early, and so as I was writing You Have Killed Me and realized that on page 76 I needed a bottle to konk someone on the head, I double-checked that the first time we saw that room on page 41, the bottle was there, even if the reader isn’t going to notice it. (Hypothetically speaking, of course. Page 76 is actually a flashback.)

These pages from You Have Killed Me, pages 82 through 85, should give a pretty good example for the way, as a writer, I lay the scene, and how as an artist, Joëlle grows the material from there. I give a lot of descriptions of things that we don’t need to see, and stuff that maybe can’t even be drawn. The idea is to create the frame, set the mood, and move the pieces around, but to let Joëlle direct the reader’s eye through a scene as she sees fit. I don’t think I’ve ever made her go back and do something closer to how it was written, even when a change might frustrate me (I don’t even need the fingers on one hand to count those instances, though). I try to forget what was in the manuscript and see her drawings as if it were the first time the story is being told to me. Surprisingly, I’ve never had to rewrite dialogue to fit what she’s done, she never indulges on a flight of fancy that leaves the story behind.

Note when comparing script and finish product that there are moments where Joëlle stays very close to what was written, and moments she goes a different way. The first two pages are pretty close to the original script, though she does edit. Dropping the tray of chips from the third panel of the second page is a good example of deleting an unnecessary detail. Likewise, when she starts to deviate from the script on page 3, she saw correctly how Mercer’s false disguise probably wouldn’t work on the page. Fans of the Howard Hawks’ adaptation of The Big Sleep might see how I am borrowing from the bookstore scenes in that movie, when Bogie puts on glasses and flips the brim on his hat to pose as an effete book collector. The banter between Mercer and the girl is also inspired by that scene, and I would even rip it off again in the very next chapter. When Mercer goes to the hall of records in City Hall, I described the girl working the counter so that she would ultimately look like that lady bookseller. Though I never told Joëlle to reference that, she got it just right.

So, what does Joëlle do to replace Mercer’s hat and collar shenanigans? Makes the scene sexier! You’re not going to hear any complaints from me, that’s for sure.

[caption align="aligncenter" width="431" caption="You Have Killed Me, Page 82"]

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[caption id="attachment_17941" align="aligncenter" width="370" caption="You Have Killed Me, Page 83"]

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[caption id="attachment_17941" align="aligncenter" width="378" caption="You Have Killed Me, Page 84"]

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[caption id="attachment_17943" align="aligncenter" width="381" caption="You Have Killed Me, Page 85"]

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