In this final post I’m looking at how page layout and panel design affects manga narrative. Before drawing up any chunk of script from text adaptor into actual page art, I would first scribble “thumbnails” – small rough sketches that break down the action and speech balloons into “blow by blow” moments or sequential panels. These then get corralled into page units (see below).
This way I know what I need to get across in each panel on any given page and how each double page spread will work (see below).
The Manga Shakespeare scripts are supplied as rough page breakdowns, about 50 artwork pages’ worth each time. I would play quite fast and loose with these scripts in terms of pacing across the same amount of story pages – playing what I call the “comics concertina”: a kind of squeezebox, it makes its own curious brand of music by alternately squeezing and releasing the bellows. In other words the pacing goes faster, slower, faster, faster, slower. This allows for greater variety and keeps the reading experience interesting.
I wanted to make some sequences wordless, such as the opening race through the forest or else cuts between scenes that required establishing shots for new environments. Or just taking the time to admire the local landscape – introducing a bit of pathetic fallacy (not as rude as it sounds).
Any time the visual side of things was thus expanded, however, I had to keep in mind to telescope or contract a sequence elsewhere (especially long dialogue scenes), so as to arrive at the same final page count as in the script. Lear is a top-heavy play, with one very long scene and most of the central characters introduced right at the start – so I caused some nerves by expanding the page count of the opening section by quite a bit (knowing full well that all of these “extra” pages would have to be recovered by the end).
Right from the off I instituted a couple of ground rules for page layout – these restrictions on total freedom actually help rather than hinder…
To bleed or not to bleed, that is the question
First, I would use “bleed” (taking the imagery right up to and over the edge of the page; in a sense filling the entire page area, in certain panels, with the pictures). But I would do so selectively… whenever the action took place outside (in this Native American setting, that’s most of the time), those panels would go to full bleed.
By way of contrast, when events were happening indoors the page area included margins, and so were not “to bleed”. This helps the vary the look of the pages considerably, and also helps clue the reader in to what scene they are in and where at any given time. (each scene has its own atmosphere and so on)
Holy Homework Batman!
In terms of panel layout within the page, be it bleed or non-bleed, I either played things straight (perpendicular angles – panels as boxes and rectangles of varying size) or else shattered them like shards of glass, a device that is quite popular in many of the more action-packed styles of manga (featuring sharp angles, tilts, oblique views and sudden close-ups). The thinking behind when and where this would happen was more a question of “who”.
In the campy Batman TV series of the late 1960s (and my own early childhood), they would tilt the camera on an angle for any scene wherein that week’s villains appeared. This explicitly suggests crooked villainy is afoot. So, if the scene is expressed from a right-thinking person’s angle, it is shown straight on, give or take. If, conversely, it is played from the villain’s end of things, the panels break apart the page in a more twisted or violent sense.
Four different ways to die
So any panel on every page is played in 4 possible different ways according to who appears in it (or as the “soul” of that particular scene – more on that shortly), AND according to where the action is taking place
– straight and bleed
– straight and non-bleed
– crooked and bleed
– crooked and non-bleed.
Once the artist has settled on how many panels are on any given page (at the thumbnail stage), this method lends itself to instant page design – one that not only looks cool but makes narrative sense (whether or not the reader is consciously aware of the narrative codes being employed to denote character and situation).
The Ups and Downs of Two Brothers
In a similar way, check out how we tend to see the two brothers Edgar and Edmund, the sons of Gloucester. Edmund, the illegitimate son, has a hell of a chip on his shoulder, an inferiority complex if you like that makes him want all the more to stand up and fight, even so far as to take on his own family. Therefore in any views of Edmund we are most often looking slightly down at him. The very first time we see him in close-up he seems to say “keep your eyes on me, I’m going places” ie he intends to be upwardly mobile:
And my invention thrive, Edmund the baseShall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:Now, gods, stand up for bastards!
This pays dividends in a later sequence, after Edmund has conquered all during the big battle scene that comes toward the climax of the action. He enjoys one brief panel of equal footing (page 190, panel 3) before the Duke of Albany’s unjust put-down – proves just how inescapable his underdog status is.
I hold you but a subject of this war, not as a brother
In our version of King Lear Edmund is mixed race – Gloucester’s son presumably with an African American maid – and so, according to the times, part slave. His illegitimacy is compounded. Calls for the abolishment of slavery gained in popularity within a few decades of our 1759 setting, in particular the cri de coeur:
Am I not a man and a brother?
The echoes of that catchphrase here add a further dimension to the original dialogue from Shakespeare – something he may or may not have had an eye on himself: the conceptual possibility that black characters in Elizabethan drama should not be limited to Othello, when there were something like 10,000 estimated native Africans in London alone at the time – and as social equals, operating in every strata of society.
Edgar meanwhile – well, two things occur whenever he appears. First, he literally eclipses his brother if Edmund is already in that scene. Second, we are almost always seeing him from a slightly lower angle, so that we appear to be looking up at him – in simple terms, a slightly superior up-the-nostril shot (implying either that he’s a bit up-himself, or else seeing him from Edmund’s POV (point of view) in that we feel a bit beneath his gaze. Edgar is a relatively simple fellow so it is most likely the latter – Edmund’s conceit, not his).
All of these thoughts lead us into consideration of the “soul” or emotional heart of any given scene – which is the real hidden secret of manga’s narrative power (hidden in so far as it isn’t anything necessarily immediately to be seen but, rather, it is content implicitly felt or understood by the reader). Approaching any given scene, I would try and work what lines were best served from whose perspective (and not always the person speaking them). Two clear examples of this are Edgar on page 126, and the Fool in the bottom half of page 121.
This is the emotive or psychological dimension that the “decompressed” delivery of manga… the eternal present moment; the same split seconds experienced from multiple viewpoints; the time taken for expressive symbolism – the petals, leaves, snowflakes, feathers, cloudscapes and even abstract tonal patterns. This is essential art of what is happening, as opposed to the “art of what happens next” that best characterises traditional American or European comic narratives).
This idea grounds everything in a non-literal sense of Point of View, that is to say, the central characters’ emotional perspective. All of this is what makes manga such great reading material, with such strong reader identification and reaction. Manga is comics, done right!
Some people have asked what sources I used when researching King Lear, So here is an outline biography for you all. Most of the editions I used are currently out of print. That said, many are still available, second-hand, through re-sellers in the Amazon US Marketplace.
> The Pitt Press Shakespeare KING LEAR (ed. A. W. Verity)
Cambridge University Press, 1912>
> KING LEAR (theatre programme)
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 2008
> FIFTEEN PLAYS OF SHAKESPEARE
Oxford University Press, 1946
> THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SHAKESPEARE (ed: Enzo Orlandi)
Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd, 1968
The period and setting
> DEERSLAYER, by J. Fenimore Cooper,
Blackie & Son Ltd.
> THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, by J. Fenimore Cooper,
Penguin Classics, 1986
> CRUCIBLE OF WAR, The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in Brit… (Fred Anderson)
Faber & Faber, 2000
> THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR 1754-1763: The Imperial Struggle for North America, by Seymour I. Schwartz
Castle Books, 1994
> THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR (Benton & Louise Minks)
Lucent Books, 1995
> THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WARS (Francis Russell)
American Heritage, 1962
American Heritage Illustrated History of the United States, Vol. II
> COLONIAL AMERICA (Robert G. Athearn)
Choice Publishing Inc., 1988
> N.C. WYETH’s PILGRIMS (text by Robert San Souci)
Chronicle Books, 1991
> THE EXPLORATION OF NORTH AMERICA 1630-1776 (Cumming, Hillier, Quinn & Williams)
Elek Books Limited, 1974
>HAWKEYE and The Last of the Mohicans Annual
> THE WILD WEST (Michael Johnson)
Treasure Press, 1985
> ADVENTURES OF THE WILD WEST (Ron Embleton)
World Distributors Ltd., 1971
> WOLFE’S ARMY Osprey Men-at-Arms 48 (May & Embleton)
Osprey Publishing Limited, 1974
Military Uniforms in America
> THE ERA OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, 1755-1795 (John R. Elting, editor)
Presidio Press, 1974
> Don Troiani’s SOLDIERS IN AMERICA, 1754-1865,
Stackpole Books, 1998
> Reader’s Digest, JOURNEYS INTO THE PAST, LIFE WITH THE PIONEERS LIFE IN THE AGE OF EXPLORATION
> The Story of HANOVERIAN AND MODERN BRITAIN, (C.W. Airne)
Thomas Hope and Sankey-Hudson Ltd.
Several years ago we asked comic creator Ilya to keep a production journal of the time he spent creating his graphic adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear for us. We’ve decided to re-post each of his four entries. You can read the first, second and third blog entries here, here and here. This is the final post.
Why are we re-posting now?
Firstly, because Ilya gave a genuine insight into his creative process and it’s as good today as it was then. Secondly, we hope they might inspire some younger creators to create something. Finally, the posts were languishing on at the back of a dusty cupboard on the interwebs, where they were buried. They were too good for that, we hope you’ll agree.
Currently, Ilya is helping us edit Swava Harasymowicz‘s Sigmund Freud case study, The Wolf Man, which will be published in February 2012. He also appears as an artist in our beautiful graphic anthology of London stories, It’s Dark in London, out in April 2012.
– SelfMadeHero, August 2011