Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Darkest Night creator talks comic process

This week I discuss comic making process with prolific creator Hayden Fryer, best known for his Billy the Demon Slayer series. Here we discuss his latest work and how he goes about making comics...

Dan: Thanks for being a part of the blog! Can you tell us a bit about your latest release DARKEST NIGHT?
HF: Thanks, this is always the tricky part, in all honesty I haven't quite worked out the perfect "summary" for the series as yet, hows this: DARKEST NIGHT is an original graphic novel series, written & illustrated by me and published through Siberian Productions. The series follows the trials and tribulations of 3 lives as they cross paths in love, death and revenge.  
Darkest Night - Turning the emotion up a notch
Dan: It's a great read, there's a real produciton quality to this series. For those who need to order this (and you all do) where can one grab a copy?
HF: You can order it directly from me online through my website www.siberianproductions.com, and for those of you who are in Sydney I'll also have copies available at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo in June. And for those of you who read comics digitally now, it's also been submitted to Comixology and is currently under review, so fingers crossed by the time this goes online it's available!

Dan: Cool, nothing like getting yourself a global audience! First off I would just like to say how intriguing the DARKEST NIGHT series is, it's not really an action/comedy adventure like your Billy stuff, its a lot heavier thematically but once you start reading you are totally sucked into this story about real people and you can't stop reading it - even without superpowers or folks being bulletproof in it at all! I think that kind of storytelling is a testament to your skills. Kudos to you for that. The series has a lot of visual storytelling and for me it really reinforces the old comic book making axiom, "show, don't tell".
HF: With regards to the "show don't tell" approach, I've got the mindset that comics as a medium are a quintessentially a visual narrative first and foremost. Follow on for that is that the biggest focus for me on the art side is that it be able to tell the direction of the story coherently without the inclusion of dialogue, exposition, etc. With DARKEST NIGHT I also realised early on in the scripting stage that it would be the visual elements of the story that were the connective tissue to the reader and their empathy towards the characters.

Dan: I think somewhere I read you have done like 600 pages of comic artwork using the same process, for those like me who are trying to nail down an efficient process can you run me through how you go about things?
HF: Sure,actually it's over 700 now! There's a quote by Dave Sim where he references the need to draw 1000 pages before you draw a "Good" page, by that standing I'm nearly 3/4 of the way there. The main difference for the DARKEST NIGHT pages is that I've increased the size of the page; these ones are all at A3 so I've also increased the amount of detail in the frames, redesigned how I draw characters from the ground up and focused more on heavier lighting. This is something that I was tinkering with in Billy: Demon Slayer series two, and also something that's continued to evolve over the course of the series. I also put more focus on the digital effects like lighting. I've also been focusing more on breaking down individual scenes; whereas before I'd have a rough general outline for the story, thumbnail it out hitting the planned story beats and then make the adjustments to the sequential elements of the story telling on the final page (flow, action beats, etc). Now I'm spending a bit more time before I start a drawing a scene/sequence to re-pace it out from the original thumbnails and in some extreme cases this has meant reworking the entire sequence, expanding/trimming the pages involved/needed, repacing panels and on the odd occurence changing the sequence of the individual panels on the page in the final digital layouts to give a different effect.

Starting rough

Story Outline
The series is kind of evolving as I'm creating it, I have a rough outline of events that'll happen in each of the books which all build to the overall finale. But the smaller moments in between have been in a constant state of flux throughout the various stages of production. I knew exactly where I wanted the first book to end, but I was completely blank on how the narrative would get there after the Wake scene in Act Two. After quite a few months of mulling over both the script and the notes I ended up biting the bullet and began Thumbnailing the book from what I had written. Specifically with the intention to just get it started, around this point I was itching to draw some more comic sequentials...
Dan: I know that feeling well! 
HF: By the time I reached where the script ended in the thumbnailing process I'd managed to crack the missing pieces to drive the bridging sections and put everything in place for the lead in to that book's finale.
Dan: That's some good advice there, work on what you can until the missing links show up...At this point do you have a full script for the series?
HF: So at the moment there is no real script per se written for the latter half of Act 2 or any of Act 3. Before I start drawing up a new scene or a sequence I'll generally go back over all of the previous pages and between them, what I've written in the Outline and drawn in the thumbnails I'll have a rough idea on what needs to happen. It's also at this point I'll expand the scene out to more pages or condense it as needed to suit, this is done by working out the focus/keys shots on the page, intent of the sequence & associated elements that will be in play during the sequence.
Sequence Breakdowns

Pencils & Inks

Once I've worked out the key shots, focus elements, character movements, rough dialogue beats and camera movements; I'll rule up an A3 page and start pencilling up the frames. It's normally at this point where I'll start looking more at the flow of the frames and the general effect of the sequence. Following the pencils is the inking stage (Felt-Tip pens for line work, Brush Pens for larger black areas), where I'll define the shadows and highlights.

And then once the inks are down I'll scan in the page for the Digital work; each of the frames are worked on individually, half-tone shadows, special effects added, etc. Following that is the digital imposition stage where I'll rearrange the frame sequence where needed if they don't feel to work how I'm intending them to story telling wise.
After all the pages have been digitally positioned for that particular issue, I'll then go back over any previous issues, the script (if it exists), the outline and the thumbnails to work out a rough dialogue to suit the frames.

Dan: So you adjust the script to match more closely match the pictures at this stage?
HF: Yeh, the dialogue then usually gets reworked a couple more times before it's finalised. Normally I'll get a couple of other people to read over it just before finalisation to check for spelling mistakes, grammar, or any dialogue that reads in the sound of my voice [laughs].
Some nice digital post production work 

On the left, inked page, on the right, same page re-ordered for maximum impact!

Dan:Thanks for taking us through your process, it's encouraging to me that you can get a great finished product even though it may not be fully formed at the start! I'll be sure to catch up with you at Sydney Supanova! I'll show you some of my process progress then!

HF: Cheers! Pleasure to do so and I'm really looking forward to seeing what you've got in store for us local readers!

Dan: Will do!

Some great advice there from a real gentleman of Aussie comics, and a truly great storyteller.If it could sum up his advice succinctly maybe it up would be:

I'll leave the last words of the article to Hayden, with his preferred quote when it come to making comics: "Less Talk, more Comics!"

Next week: Progress on the digital frontier...

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