It’s 3am. I’m sitting looking at a blank page wondering how to start. I’m tired and frankly fed up, but I refuse myself sleep until I have solved the mystery of the opening page.
I let out a lugubrious moan going back to the screeds of notes I had hand-written, looking for inspiration to grease the wheels of creativity. Nothing. So I sit there, mired in my own sense of inadequacy while that blank page looms ever higher.
This is one of the many joys of being a comic book writer.
Much like a novel, the first page is crucial in establishing many aspects of your story. You need to hit the ground running and grab your reader from the get go. In sequential art, that balance of show vs tell, art vs dialogue and establishing vs progression is far more finely balanced. You have fewer words to express key ideas and events that will set the tone of your story and a much more limited scope for success with the art.
Reading a comic is a very “active” process, unlike a film which is totally passive. If you aren’t enjoying a film in the cinema and you disengage from it, the film keeps on going regardless. But with a novel, if you mentally disengage from the text then the story stops when the eye stops.
Similarly with a comic, once the eye stops the story stops. The reader is in full control so you want to ensure you get them past the first page. The ultimate goal is to get them interested enough to turn that page, then the next one and the next one and so on.
With sequential art, however, it’s all laid bare immediately. A reader may simply look at the style of the art or the substance of the images without reading a single word. This is because even though the eye of your reader will naturally move to the top left of the page where we all expect the beginning to be, their periphery vision will have registered in some form pretty much all the art the page has to offer. In doing that they have seen the page not as a sequence of panels, but as a whole. This is why it’s difficult to produce a twist in the medium.
This is not the case with a novel or film, the reader or viewer will not be aware of a major twist or revelation until they either read that very line or the film shows it. Either way, they have more control over the reveal.
Furthermore, in a film, the visual and audio aspects of the piece do not interfere with each other. By that I mean the film operates on two separate layers that overlap to create the sense of togetherness. With a novel, the two layers cannot overlap but segue into each other to form a seamless narrative.
On the pages of the comic, the “audio” part is also represented visually in the form of speech bubbles, cap boxes and onomatopoeic sound effects like BOOM! Meaning they must coexist on the same layer, which again must be taken into careful consideration when planning every single panel.
Overall it took six days to finally write an opening page I was happy with.
There are plenty of difficult pages ahead, but thankfully nothing is as hard as that first page.