Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cover - Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit Preview

We're pleased to present the cover for the upcoming Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit Preview!

We had previously posted the pencils by AC:SCU interior artist Leandro Panganiban. Now, we can share the completed version with inks by Steve Bird, and colors by Coleen Allen. What do you think?

We also wanted to share the "full trade dress" version of the cover with lettering and logo design by designing dynamo E.T. Dollman. Not only has E.T. worked on every page contained in the Preview, but he continues to work with us on a ton of other material we're producing for the convention season. We can't wait for you to see everything!

The Preview contains two Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit stories ("Feral" and "Breeding Stock") as well as a Panda Dog Adventures story ("Girl Trouble").

If you'd like to pick up your copy, come by the Panda Dog Press table at Heroes Convention in Charlotte, NC (June 4th - 6th) or stay tuned here -- it'll be available in June 2010!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Comics Experience Alumni Network

If you've been following this website for a while, you know that I'm an alum of Andy Schmidt's Comics Experience writing courses.

One of the big benefits of the class -- y'know, aside from the learning and writing and such -- was getting to know my fellow classmates. I've learned a lot from them, we've helped each other out, and we even produced the Tales from the Comics Experience Anthology together. I've also had the good luck to run across some folks from subsequent writing and coloring classes.

Which got me to thinking...We really need to have some way to meet, network, and communicate across the many great Comics Experience classes.

That thought has led to the creation of the Comics Experience Alumni Network.

What is it? Simply an entirely FREE, private Google Group/"listserv"/email list for anyone who has ever taken one of Andy's classes.

What do we do with it? Whatever we want! Let's see where it goes. If you're going to a convention and want to see if any alumni are attending, send a note. If you want fellow graduates to know your own anthology has been printed, share the news. Need advice? Looking for a writer, artist, colorist? Well, you get the idea.

If you're a past student of Comics Experience and would like to get in on the fun, just drop me a note at rob@PandaDogPress.com with your name and the class(es) you took.

If you haven't already taken one of Andy's classes, what the heck are you waiting for? Get to it...and drop me a note when you're done!

I hope to "see" you there!

Rob Anderson
Class of 2009 (1st Online Class)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Panel Density & Pacing in Invincible Iron Man

I recently did an analysis of Matt Fraction's "panel density" and pacing in Invincible Iron Man as part of the April Comics Experience Book Club. We were studying the first seven issues of the series, and the question I volunteered to discuss involved Fraction's reputation for favoring 8-panel pages and how the density affected the reading experience. (Click images below for a larger view.)

[As a side note, I realize that comics are a collaborative medium, and depending on the style of the collaboration, the panel density could have been determined as much by the artist as the writer. But I'm looking it at solely (and perhaps unfairly) from a writer's perspective for purposes of this discussion.]

First things first, in the initial seven issues of Invincible Iron Man, Fraction only used an 8-panel page twice. This surprised some of us in the class; it felt denser than it actually was for two reasons:

(1) although only two pages technically used eight panels, other pages were laid out on what was essentially an 8- or 9-panel grid, but with a couple panels combined, making it feel like more panels than were actually there; and

(2) although he rarely used eight panels, he did use a lot of 6- and 7-panel pages.

The gap between my impression and reality wasn't obvious until I did some spreadsheet work so that I could visually see the panel density across individual issues and the whole story arc.

Specifically, I measured panel density by looking at the number of pages that had six or more panels, and then assigned a percentage to the issue based on the number of overall pages in the book. As it turned out, this seemed to be a better measure of panel density than just average panels per page in an issue.

For example, while issue #2 had a seemingly standard "average panels per page" of 5.3, the issue contained a "panel density" of 41% (with 9 of the 22 pages containing six or more panels). Similarly, in issue #4, a set-up issue with no action at all, the density is 40%, with 10 of the 25 pages having six or more panels. This is part of what makes the storytelling sometimes feel dense.
As a point of comparison, Iron Man Legacy #1 by Fred Van Lente -- telling a somewhat similar story about terrorists using Stark armor technology -- had a panel density of 23%, with only five pages having six or more panels. (Of course, he did manage to sneak a 9-panel page in there, one-upping Fraction -- ha). To use a more extreme comparison, Ultimates #1 by Mark Millar had a panel density of only 15%, although even the "widescreen" classic had one 8-panel page.

Having said all that, Fraction is a master of the craft, and he really opens up the pages when the story dictates it. For example, in issue #1, after seven pages in a row of five or more panels (pages 5-11), he backs down to three panels per page for the action on pages 12-14. This is why Fraction often has an average number of panels per page per issue, even though some individual pages are very dense in panels.

We see this variation at the level of the overall 7-issue story arc as well. While issue #4 (the "no action" issue) has a panel density of 40%, the following two action issues (5 and 6) have, respectively, panel density of only 9% and 14%; lower even than Millar's Ultimates #1! In issue #5, only two pages have six panels; every other page has less. Salvador Larroca must have loved drawing that one!

The difference across issues made me feel like the best way to experience the story arc might have been in trade paperback form. While the pacing served the storytelling, reading the book with a month break between each issue might have felt uneven, with some issues going slow and taking a while to read, and others taking only minutes.

Of course, panel density alone is not a good measure of true story density. Consider that Nick Spencer's Existence 2.0, issue #1 has a panel density every bit as high as Fraction's denser Iron Man stories -- 40%, with 9 of the 22 pages having six or more panels, and a high panels per page average of 5.9 -- but it's a relatively fast read with just an average amount of words.

So, comparatively speaking, it seems to be Fraction's words, rather than the 8-panel page, that determine how dense the reading experience feels at times. What I noticed most was his tendency to both show *and* tell. Take the sequence shown here, from page 5 of issue #1 as an example. We're being "shown" that Tony is a playboy by the presence of the Contessa, and the dialogue is indirectly showing that he's an alcoholic, as he declines her offer of a drink verbally.

At the same time, he's directly telling us he's an alcoholic and a playboy in his first person narrative captions about his "first nightmare"; not just that he'll have a drink, but that he'll have it by pouring it down the Contessa's back. That's a lot of showing *and* telling going on -- and it's a heck of a lot more skillful than a clichéd first person caption that read something like: "I'm Tony Stark, and I'm a playboy and an alcoholic." (ha) Fraction takes the same approach on the Tony and Pepper page shown earlier, where Fraction's telling us (through Tony's first person caption) that Tony trusts Pepper with his company at the same time he's showing us that through their interactions via the dialogue.

To be fair, though, Fraction also knows how to use few words with a high panel count to control the pacing. As an example, check out issue #4, page 19, where Fraction uses six panels, with only a single caption containing one word, to heighten the drama as the illicit Stark technology falls into the wrong hands -- just as Tony planned.

So, what was the bottom line of all this? To me, it shows that Fraction is very consciously controlling the panel density, word count, and pacing, both within individual issues and across the whole story arc. He leaves more space and uses less words for action or for turning points, and increases the overall density when he needs to do (skillful) info-dumps or talking heads. When you step back from it, it all seems very knowing and well-planned.

My rather silly number game did give me a sense of how much thought should go into the panel density of my own stories because of the effect it has on the reading experience. If you're not thinking this through as you write, you probably have room for improvement in your own pacing. (I know I do!)

If you're interested in information on joining Andy Schmidt's Comics Experience Book Club -- where the discussion doesn't usually involve so many numbers, I promise! -- you can visit the website here, or you can read a review of the last class over on Joe Sergi's Cup of Geek.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Interview on The Tiny Electric Blog

I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by The Tiny Electric Blog, run by writer and fellow Comics Experience alum, Justin Heggs.

Justin is doing "6 Questions With..." interviews with each of the 13 writers from the Tales from the Comics Experience anthology. I got to chat with Justin about where the idea for Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit originated, what it was like working with AC:SCU artist Leandro Panganiban, and what comics I've been reading lately.

As of this writing, there are interviews up with Joe Sergi, Dan Rivera, George O'Connor, Joshua Osborne, and J.D. Oliva, along with panels of artwork from each of their respective stories.

Check out my interview here.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Panda Dog Adventures - Title Logo by ET Dollman

AC:SCU letterer and designer ET Dollman has just completed the title logo for our new back-up feature, Panda Dog Adventures, and we wanted to give you a peek at it.

We think it really captures the fun spirit of the stories. Great work, E.T.!