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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #11

The text and dialogue are beautifully placed and become part of the composition in this Moebius Major Grubert page.

11) The narration must harmonize with the drawings.

Gir's spotting and placement of the word balloons leads the reader effortlessly and clearly through the page.

There must be a visual rhythm created by the placement of your text.

Alex Toth placed his dialogue balloons so as to lead the reader exactly where Toth wanted them to go.

Few (if any) comic artists did this better than Alex Toth. Also, eliminate any redundant text. You don’t need to describe an action that your reader can already clearly see your character doing.

Here are some other Toth examples:

Toth was a master at using sound effects to help tell his story. From the way he designed them, you can tell where the sound is coming from — or whether the sound overlapped and dominated into the next panel.

Note the percussive sound effects as the plane engine sputters and how in the following panel Toth uses the sound effects to also convey trouble and motion.

Toth designed the laughter so that it appears to echo in the background. Brilliant.

Toth’s made his design and placement of sound effects crucial to the enhancement of this story’s action sequences.

The text in this Toth page is nearly all sound effects (ignore the stupid Hot Wheels logo).

The sound effects in these Toth panels express both time, volume (loudness) and movement.

The rhythm of your plot should be reflected in your visual cadence and the way you compress or expand time.

In the panel above, Toth breaks up the dialogue block into a series of small balloons that slow down time and take the reader through the character’s thought process.

Harvey Kurtzman was great at this, too. By visual repetition Kurtzman has conveyed the slow meander down the sluggish river of this corpse of a fallen soldier.

By slowly pulling back, Harvey again slows time while also conveying the corpse’s somber merging with its environment.

Kurtzman’s series of vertical sound balloons in this page reinforce the art’s vertical nature and composition while creating an effect that evokes the staccato nature of his characters’ dialogue.

By slightly varying his repetition of the same images, Harvey slows down time to allow the male characters in his story to savor the charms of and fantasize about the beautiful woman who is strolling their way.

The size that Kurtzman chose to make his sound effects on this page help to indicate their distance from the characters.

This Kurtzman story (Kurtzman: script and layouts; Wallace Wood: finished pencils and inks) for MAD was famously without dialogue — the entire story was told using only sound effects.

By having the hero standing with his back to us and the careful placement of the dialogue balloons, Moebius takes you from our hero and leads you right in to focus on the story’s heavies. The sounds of the “quiver shivs” emanate from the weapons themselves in these scenes from “The Long Tomorrow”.

Sometimes dialogue and descriptions aren’t necessary.

Moebius broke new ground with his Arzak stories which were completely devoid of description and dialogue.

Some more of “The Long Tomorrow”, Jean’s collaboration with Dan (Alien) O’Bannon, showing minimal (but well-placed) dialogue. This story became the design template for the film Blade Runner.

Moebius’ placement of dialogue on this page is superb, as is his storytelling. The sex, of course, grabs you but it’s the last four panels that slowly draw you closer to the story’s protagonist, taking you into his personal space, as he is about to learn a very important secret…

Like a film maker, you must be very careful in how you cast your characters and in how you direct them.

Even in this extremely simple Moebius drawing, the schlubs are interesting. Jean even depicts himself unflatteringly as a somewhat dazed schlub (twice!).

Even “dull” characters should be interesting. The seemingly mundane characters on the brilliant and compelling TV show Fargo are a great example of this.

Use your characters or “actors”  like a director, studying and then selecting from all of your characters’ different takes.

Experiment with different reactions. Try having your character react in a fashion opposite to what you (or your reader) would expect. The female sex partner in “The Long Tomorrow” turns out to be very different from what we as the reader assumed she would be:

Next: Dipping Below the Surface to Do Something Different

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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #10

Starwatcher 2 by Moebius exhibits beautiful and elegant divisions of space.

10) Another important element is composition.

Composition and design — much more than drawing — have grown with importance to me with each passing year.

The compositions in our stories should be studied because a page or a painting or a panel is a face that looks at the reader and speaks to him. A page is not just a succession of insignificant panels.

It’s a visual dance that requires rhythm, boldness, subtlety and accents that all relate to each other.

There are panels that are full…

Comic book panels don't get much fuller than this scene from Moebius' Arzak book (As with all of the pictorial examples, click to enlarge).

Some that are empty…

Others are vertical…

Some horizontal…

All are indications of the artist’s intentions.

Your choices are important, as they can dramatically effect the story that your telling and how your readers perceive it.

Vertical panels excite the reader…

Horizontals calm him.

For us in the Western world (most Asian cultures read right to left), motion in a panel that goes from left to right represents action heading toward the future.

Moving from right to left directs action toward the past:

The directions we indicate represent a dispersion of energy.

Even having your character facing left evokes a kind of looking back...

An object or character placed in the center of a panel focuses and concentrates energy and attention.

An element of bi-symmetry evokes a religious connotation.
Centered people or objects, though, do not necessarily have to be bi-symmetrical.

These are basic reading symbols and forms that evoke in the reader a fascination, a kind of hypnosis.

You must be conscious of rhythm and set traps for the reader to fall into so that, when he falls, he gets lost, allowing you to manipulate and move him inside your world with greater ease and pleasure. That’s because what you have created is a sense of life.

You must study the great painters, especially those who speak with their paintings.

Few landscape painters come anywhere near the color, composition, values and majesty depicted in nearly every Thomas Moran landscape painting.

Their individual painting schools or genres or time periods should not matter.

John William Waterhouse had it all: vibrant color, bravado brushmanship (though tight when necessary), thoughtful plein air backgrounds and the timeless beauty of his men and women.

Their preoccupation with physical as well as emotional composition must be studied so that you learn how their combination of lines works to touch us directly within our hearts.

Next: The Placement of Your Text

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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #9

9) When an artist, a real working artist, goes out on the street, he does not see things the same way as “normal” people.

Moebius depicts another creative giant: Jimi Hendrix.

That’s one big reason people become attracted to his or her work.

His unique vision is crucial to documenting a way of life and the people who live it.

The artist holds up a mirror to society, helping them to see what they encounter and take for granted on a daily basis with fresh new eyes.

Next: Composition

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WesterCon 67

WesterCon 67 is this weekend! I hope to see all of my friends, family and fans who can make it to the Salt Lake City area over the 4th of July holiday weekend!

Here’s the shirt design I did for the convention:

This is how it’s going to look on the black shirt they’ve chosen:

Nice! I’m sure they’ll sell out.

This convention has special meaning for me, as WesterCon was the very first science fiction convention I ever attended. I believe it began as an alternative show for those who couldn’t make it to the World Science Fiction Convention when that was being held outside the United States.

I was born in Salt Lake City, so this is kind of a homecoming. I am hoping to see family members while I am there. I had no idea how many that would be until I received the Stout family comp list. Yikes! Not a practitioner myself, I forgot all about the rabbit-like breeding habits of Mormons!

So, that will be interesting.

I will have a fairly large (about 18 pieces) art show there of some of my best work so, if you’d like to see a batch of originals, this will be the place in which you can do that. Thanks to Daniel Blatt for driving them all up!

See You Soon!

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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #8

An early self portrait drawn not long after he coined the pseudonym "Moebius".

8) The style, stylistic continuity of an artist and its public presentation are full of symbols; they can be read just like a Tarot deck.

One of Moebius' many public personas.

So choose carefully.

Moebius self portrait much later in life.

I chose my name “Moebius” as a joke when I was twenty-two years old — but, in truth, the name came to resonate with meaning.

The name “Moebius” comes from the term “Moebius Strip” — a loop of paper with only one side (not two). This seemingly paradoxical object is a perfect metaphor for the complex, mysterious, layered and sometimes seemingly contradictory art of Jean Giraud.

A Moebius Strip

Make a Moebius strip:
1) Take a full-size double page spread from a newspaper or a huge sheet of bond paper.
2) Cut a wide strip down the longest side.
3) Tape the two ends together — but before you do, give one end a 180 degree twist (a half twist).
4) Take a ball point pen and draw a line done the center of the loop. Your line will end up connecting with itself on both sides of your paper loop, proving that the loop only has one side, actually.
5) If you carefully cut down the center (this is one reason we originally made the strip so wide), you will end up with another loop twice the size of your original loop.
6) If you cut down the center of your new loop again, you will end up with two separate but interlocking loops. Like Jean’s art, mind blowing!

Moebius presents himself as Man of the Future.

If you arrive wearing a T-shirt of Don Quixote, that tells me who you are.

Dave Stevens

Dressing well is so rare among American comic book creators that Dave Stevens was once known and identified as “the artist whose clothes fit”.

Jean was fearless. He was not afraid of portraying himself with blunt honesty. Here, he draws himself as a schlub.

In my case, making a drawing of relative simplicity and subtle indications is important to me.

Simple elegance at its best.

Simpler and subtler is much harder to do than complex and obvious — but much richer and more rewarding. Wanna see how hard simple is? Try doing a line-for-line duplication of a Charles Schulz Peanuts strip. It’s much easier to duplicate a complex Burne Hogarth Tarzan panel (I speak from experience). Schulz’ art being so incredibly personal yet spare is what makes it so difficult to copy. There’s no room for any leeway. You either nail it or you don’t, with the slightest deviation easily screwing it up.

It’s the slickness of Hogarth’s art that makes it relatively easy to mimic, I think. Once you’ve got that brushmanship down, copying Burne’s work becomes no big deal.

This has all just made me realize that successful style duplication mostly comes down to the inking much more than the penciling.

Next: The Artist and His Vision

(This series will return after WesterCon 67, where I’ll be the Artist Guest of Honor (see “Appearances”). See you in Salt Lake City this weekend?

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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #7

7) Equally important is the clothing of your characters and the state of the material from which it was made.

Counter-intuitively, the more specific you make your observations, as an artist or a writer, the more universal they become.

These textures create a vision of your characters’ experiences, their lives, and their role in your adventure in a way where much can be said without words.

Moebius costumes for Dune.
More Moebius costumes for Dune.

Important arrows in your storytelling quiver…

Gir's young and rather flashy clothing for Angel Face say a lot about his character.
This distinctive helmet immediately identifies and tells you something about Major Grubert.

In a dress there are a thousand folds; you need to choose just two or three — don’t draw them all.

Note the spectacular variety in Jean's clothing studies. These were also for the Jodorowsky Dune.

Just make sure you choose the two or three good ones.

Next: Representing Yourself