Thumbnailing

After writing comes possibly the most crucial stage of all. Thumbnailing takes the script I’ve written and turns it into a very rough draft of what the entire book will be.

I start off with the script infront of me, working through it page-by-page to establish how the pages will lay out in the book. Unlike a prose book, where text flows from page to page without any thought by the author, comics are paced panel-to-panel and page-to-page.

What this means is that while in prose a sentence may be split across a page-turn without any effect on the reader, in comics the page-turn is a significant part of the reader’s experience. In comics, page-turns are often used to help signify a change of scene or time, and most artists attempt to hold back any shocking visual reveals until after a page turn. There’s no tension in looking at a character on a left hand page when in the corner of your eye you can see them getting eaten by monsters on the right hand page.

In the case of my non-ficiton work, I try and pace pages so that each page spread covers one topic, and so that any page turn moves us on to the next part of the argument.

Of course, the scripts I’ve written don’t always play along with this idea. It’s my work at the thumbnailing stage to break down the script so that the pace of things is satisfying, and so that pages that belong on the same page-spread end up together.

Sometimes that means adding in big splash pages, while others it means splitting a page in two. Fortunately in this case, I rarely had to meddle too much – sometimes simply starting the chapter on a left or right hand page was enough to establish the right pacing so that every page ended up facing its natural mate.

From here I began work on actually visualising the book. In a sketchbook I would measure out small versions of the page spreads. Then begins a visualisation process, involving further research into the time-period, locations and people I’ll later be drawing. It’s a fun process, and with this project it was great getting to research a number of iconic 20th century eras for fashion and decor ideas, as well as all the evolving technologies of the era.

It’s not just the visual content either. I also need to work out roughly how the panels will sit on the page – how many I’ll need, and how they run together in relation to the text. It’s really important to get this to a satisfying level now. The further down the line you realise panel-to-panel or page-to-page pacing isn’t working, the more work you’ll need to redo.

At this point in the process I’d often find myself stuck trying to lay out a page. A realisation I quickly came to was that if I was having trouble visualising the page, then there was likely something wrong at the script level. I’d often find that this was the best way to spot a flaw in an argument or a point where I was repeating myself – in trying to draw it all you quickly realise where your words are failing to do their best work.

In all it took two months to thumbnail the book. It felt like a mountain of work, but it was hugely satisfying to see it come together. Words becoming pictures, the book becomes more real in my mind. I can see all the places where I made decisions I wasn’t sure would work. All the places where I struggled to get things right. And now with pictures in place (rough ones that now need fully realised) I can see how it all works, how those decisions were the right ones. It’s a good feeling.

Project Update: Time and Space

One of the biggest personal challenges I face as a creator is giving myself enough time and space to work on things that might not lead to any specific outcome.

When I sit down to write or draw or research, it often feels like what I’m doing at any given moment must be essential to the outcome, or it’s not worth it. I find it really hard to step away from the frontlines of work and just spend time thinking.

This drive to produce outcomes can be creatively draining. Not only this, but it prevents me from examining the work I’m producing and the decisions I’m making. When you’re in the trenches focussing on a series of very small problems, it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re wanting to achieve.

By stepping back and spending some time reading around a subject, playing with ideas and approaches in my mind, and letting myself off the hook for not completing another few pages of writing, I actually do myself and my book a lot of good in the long term.

Writing on Gamish is now well underway. I’ve reached the point, around the 1950s and 60s, when computer scientists were programming the first games. I think I could learn something from the programmers of that era. Employed to develop software for multimillion dollar computers, they spent their free time in play, seeing if they could make these machines into toys or musical instruments.

With a sense of play, and a lack of pressure to produce results, this is where some of the best ideas come from.

I need to step back, and let my mind play for a while…

Press Start to Continue

Here I am at the very start of everything. It’s the comic book creator’s equivalent of that moment you bust open your new video game box, and after flicking through the instruction manual, slap the game into the console and launch the game. It feels like I’ve finally pressed start on this new project, and slowly this comic is going to be played to completion.

A good eighteen months since my first graphic novel Filmish came out, and here I am back again at the beginning, about to launch into another graphic journey, this time into the fascinating history of gaming. Specifically, video games.

Games have always fascinated me, but in a very different way to films. Games were always a little bit more out of reach for me. My older brother had a Spectrum ZX, later an Atari, and I would watch over his shoulder as he battled goblins in Golden Axe or dodged death in Mousetrap. I was too young to ever be that good myself, always taking great pleasure in the anticipation of play and then great disappointment when the game swiftly dispatched me and it was my brother’s turn again.

As I got older, there were rarely consoles in the house, but always at my friends’ houses. It made games all the more appealing and mysterious. I could never master them like others my age, never obsessively complete the games again and again, but I was still hooked. I’d go home, playing through Goldeneye levels in my head, leaning into corners like in MarioKart.

As a teenager, games became everything for a while. We’d play through Half Life together, squashed round a 14in monitor, each friend taking a key or button, allowing us to control Gordon Freeman by hive-mind. We’d mod up Operation Flashpoint and Quake, creating our own sound-effects and game modes.

I got my first console, finally, at the age of 22. And here I started to engage more with the world of gaming – seeing perhaps for the first time the true potential of games as an artform. I’d play for hours on end, making the most of the freedom afforded by my mid-twenties.

A few years later my gaming life got derailed by the birth of my son, and life took over. At first I’d try to sneak in cheeky sessions during naps, or after an abrupt 4am wakeup, but the dedication to regular gaming soon subsided.

But the passion remained. Even through the busy job of raising two kids and creating my first graphic novel, it remained. And now, ready to work on my second graphic novel, an exploration of this amazing medium seems perfect.

Games are at a key moment in their history – a tipping point where they are now finally being recognised for their huge and varied potential. Games are a major part of human life, and have always been with us – from their origins at the dawn of humankind through to the invention of video games and the evolution of the artform we know today. Like in my previous book, Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film, I’m going to use this book to explore all manner of interesting angles on my subject – looking at how games shape our understandings of race and gender, how they allow us to better understand the world we live in, and how they can change our lives for better or worse.

This blog will run throughout production of the book, giving an insight into where I am at in production, what cool things I’ve been reading about, and maybe offering some reviews and recommendations of games I’m playing.

Thanks for reading!