Anyone who has ever made an effort to be creative has done so with one goal in mind: to tell a story. Over the centuries, countless media have emerged and evolved to achieve this goal. Some sculpt single moments of time into clay, wood or miscellaneous objects. Some use the written word to create entire worlds in the imagination of their audience. Somewhere along the way, someone decided to replace those words with pictures.
Today, places such as Hollywood and Los Angeles thrive with people whose sole job is to make such pictures. Almost as many people also work at illustrating stories for publishers such as Marvel and Dark Horse. The media of comic strips and movies seem dissimilar at first glance, yet they share a strikingly common result; continuous visual storytelling.
'Sequential art', 'animation': such words differentiate these areas of creativity, yet they say the same thing. The goal of any artist or film maker is to take a series of images that trick their audience into seeing fluid motion from one moment to the next. Obviously a page of drawings does not move, but it is an established fact that animation is also a simple illusion. Characters on a screen do not move. Lay out a roll of film and you will see those characters as motionless as they truly are.
Here's an experiment for you. Take one frame from each major scene of a movie and lay them side by side, see if you don't have a general feel for that movie's visual element. Next, draw each of those frames out. Now you have the movie's story board. Finally, place speech bubbles around each frame and what was once a movie is now in convenient comic book form. Same story, same concept, different venue.
Let's go back to the story board for a moment. Professional film makers use this series of early sketch work as a reference point for the rest of their production crew. As their name implies, these story boards are designed to tell any given part of a story at a glance. If you think about it, a movie is a comic that is taken a step or two further.
As similar as they are, movies and comics tend to diverge in one major area: production size. While it's true that anyone with a camera can record something and call it a movie, most people wouldn't want to pay money to see the result. On the other hand, someone with a pencil and a good enough drawing skill can make a fairly decent comic for public viewing more or less on their own. Then again major companies like Marvel might have massive production teams focusing on relatively minute details of each page.
Let us clarify this issue by breaking down each medium into the most basic, practical, parts. A movie must have a camera operator and a cast. Essentially this is it, but most entertainers on such a production would feel incredibly stress with double duty.
Add to this a director, someone who guides the work of the camera man and the actors to artistic harmony. This is a bit more relaxed, but someone has to write the script. Presumably one of the actors could do it (something not uncommon in today's world), but they would still be performing two tasks at once.
So a cameraman, a cast, a director and a writer. Four jobs, fairly easy to understand, but who's working the lights? Who's operating the sound system? Building the sets? Makeup?
The point is, to make a really top notch movie; special detail must be given to too many factors for any one person, so an ideal production team tends to have a handful of members.
Now look at the comic industry. Sometimes you get a one man show, but there are two main parts to any comic; story and art. Someone has to write the story and someone has to draw the art. What about the lighting? Easy; the artist shades on this side of a figure with a darker lead. Makeup? Same deal. Line delivery? The writer makes the lines so that the artist can place them on the page. What about the action? Setting? The character's portrayal of emotion?
'Artist, artist, artist. In a comic, a script goes directly from initial layout to finished product by passing through one person. Actors, lines, settings, and even camera angles are all squiggles on paper. Squiggles on paper can all be controlled together. Take the entire production team of a movie, split it down the middle and you've come up with the equivalent production staff of the funny papers.
Comics could be (and sometimes are) easily divided further into things like pencil, ink and coloring artists or story, character and punch line writers, but this is usually a luxurious exception.
Which medium is better? Neither. You can enjoy a graphic novel and a movie equally well. The one is simply a different way of expressing the other, and this is a two way street. Bear in mind also that the size of a production team never speaks for quality. The simplicity of a comic staff comes from all the short-cutting provided by that medium, while massive crews of technicians and actors are necessary to movies because movies are inherently more difficult to make with quality in mind.
Even so, whenever you read the latest X-men or watch the hottest blockbuster, look at them in each other's light. After all, someone had to picture Toby Mcguire as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
- Matt Franklin