Rough Work

June 11th, 2009 | brainjuice, comics talk, Work

For the people who still ask me about process:

My comics scripting process has thoroughly mutated over the years. I use pretty much any method that works, and there’s little resembling a method left. Things sometimes start in a notebook, scrawled in pencil. Sometimes, on blessed days, I’ll open OpenOffice and start writing in fully-formatted script, straight from brain to page in finished manuscript.

But, usually, it’s like this. I’ll have an idea, stare into space for an hour assembling its bits and testing it for legs enough to get to the end, and then open Notepad and put things down very roughly, just to get it out of my head and down on the screen so I can see it. Sometimes it’s all dialogue with a quick stage note, sometimes it’s all descriptive work. The point is getting it all down, even if it’s crap or incomprehensible to anyone but you, so you can see it outside your own head. And then you can start adding to it. Expanding it, putting new layers on it, winding a new plotline around it, moving bits of it around. Just get it down.

This is how it often looks:

PAGE ONE

Pic 1
OWLSLEY sitting outside the Box, scowling. A gun, in its shoulder holster, on the table in front of him. Pagewide.

Pic 2

BOB comes in

thought you were interrogating a suspect?

The lieutenant thinks I need to learn from the young master in there.

Pic 3
in box -- FELL (2pan)

OH GOD. RICHARD FRIGGING FELL.

NO, NO. DETECTIVE FELL, HAVING BEEN WORKING IN SNOWTOWN FOR SIX MONTHS -- AS OPPOSED TO OUR COMBINED SERVICE OF FORTY-FIVE YEARS -- IS APPARENTLY THE NEW JESUS OF POLICE WORK.

pic

I AM TO SIT HERE WHILE HE INTERROGATES MY COLLAR IN ORDER TO BE EDUCATED ABOUT HOW TO USE THE BOX.

pic

Bob indicates the gun. (2pan)

THAT?

THAT IS DETECTIVE FELL’S SIDEARM. HE HAS A NEW RULE. NO GUNS IN THE BOX.

(2pan) is a personal notation I use when writing FELL. All FELL pages are based on the nine-panel grid — (2pan) indicates knocking two panels together to make a single larger picture. (2pan) doesn’t survive to script, because it’s a code that has meaning only to me, and I need to make scripts easy to read. So I’ll expand that to "Ben, knock the next two panels into one for this shot." I’ve got a sketchpad next to me where I jot down little nine-pic grids, because I’m counting frames to make sure I’m not running over the page or asking for an impossible (2pan). I think I’ve fucked that up at least once in the past.

Pagewide indicates knocking out the panel walls of an entire row to make a single wide picture. That’s one I also use in FREAKANGELS.

The full script for FELL #1 is still available here.

And yeah, that fragment of rough is from FELL #10, underway right now.


10 Responses to “Rough Work”

  1. Well now, Mr. Ellis, you’ve just made my day. I eagerly await the moment at which I will give you money and you will give me more Fell.

  2. I’m interested to know if you think the best work comes from this sort of “stream of consciousness” style or from writing things fully formed and formatted. I have heard arguements both ways on this, and the pervasive arguement is that when you’re not drafting, you tend to slow down and let the work write itself.

    Curious to hear your opinion on this one.

  3. Thanks. Full script downloaded. Us wannabes appreciate seeing things like this.

  4. I passed the script to a friend who is writer. She was suprised that comic scripts seemed like harder work than film/tv scripts.

    And shoulder holsters suck. Just for movies and TV. Too slow to draw from, too easy to either take it from you or prevent you drawing it. I really don’t know any department that would authorize the use of one.

  5. The ideas in my head have set up camp. They have a great supply of provisions and no intention of leaving anytime soon.

    Exciting stuff, this. Maybe I’ll just start scratching nonsensical notes onto post-it notes and saee what happens.

  6. You’ve never been one to outline? I hate outlines, ever since grade school.

  7. [...] finally, Warren Ellis on the writing process: The point is getting it all down, even if it’s crap or incomprehensible to anyone but you, so [...]

  8. Impartment of experiential wisdom appreciated, oldster. I only request that you produce more Fell so that I can pay money for it.

  9. Whatever swirling chemical miasma Mr Ellis subjects himself to has finally yielded genuine results! I take the appearance of this post as concrete proof that the man has gained psychic powers as I was considering contacting him and asking him for just this information. Bravo, my newly psychic overlord!

  10. [...] Warren Ellis: I’ll have an idea, stare into space for an hour assembling its bits and testing it for legs enough to get to the end, and then open Notepad and put things down very roughly, just to get it out of my head and down on the screen so I can see it. Sometimes it’s all dialogue with a quick stage note, sometimes it’s all descriptive work. The point is getting it all down, even if it’s crap or incomprehensible to anyone but you, so you can see it outside your own head. [...]