Greetings & Salutations! How The Devil Art Thou?
Every writer and artist will tell you that the experience of seeing a page or two of script become a finished page for your comic book is magical and exciting. And this is especially true when you’re working on a very personal yet very dark story.
On many occasion, Kristian Rossi, the artist of my upcoming book ‘Lady Satan’, share his work in progress. He doesn’t show off everything. He just gives readers a little tease of his process on the book.
This helps to get many readers excited, but it still begs the question of what the entire process of the script to the finished page looks like. So in this post, I’m going to pull back that red velvet curtain and show you how Kristian and myself have brought a page for ‘Lady Satan’ to life.
THE GENESIS OF ‘LADY SATAN’
Before I can peel back the curtain, I should give you a little insight into the tale itself and how I came up with the story.
Many years ago now, my life was turned upside down. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me while I was carrying a large array of chainsaws and knives, and the resulting fall led to me becoming a human pin cushion… In other words, some shit went down, and I entered a very dark and bleak time in my life. I won’t go into details about what exactly happened. It’s all in the past now. However, at the time, I was not in a good place. I had lost everything that I cared about.
During a very long period of recovery, I started looking into public domain characters. I wanted to play around with a character that wasn’t mine and see what I could do. And along the way, I discovered a character who was created by George Tuska (Iron Man, Ghost Rider, The X-Men) known as ‘Lady Satan’. So I grabbed all of the stories I could find featuring his character (who was now in the public domain) and discovered something. Not only did his character have very few stories that they appeared in, but the character and their origin changed from strip to strip. It was almost as if the creators working on the title couldn’t agree on or solidify any specifics with the character.
This didn’t matter to me. It was the name that intrigued me… Lady Satan.
I spent a little time thinking ‘What would someone have to go through in order to feel that the moniker of ‘Lady Satan’ would be best suited for them’?
After some time, I thought about what I had been through and how it left me feeling. To me, it felt like my whole life had been murdered, and I was now recovering to get back on track. This then led me to think about movies like ‘8mm’ and ‘I Spit On Your Grave’ (the original, not the remake). And that’s when it hit me… The kind of person who would call themselves ‘Lady Satan’ went through an ordeal unlike any other. They had suffered one of the worst experiences ever and now they were on a revenge mission… And before long, the element of a snuff film being at the core of the story fell into my lap, and the story shaped itself from there.
When I was done, I had the basis for a story about a French stripper who was abducted for a snuff film but survived. And now she was on a mission to get her life back by finding the only copy of the film and destroying it while taking out the person (or persons) involved in the production of the film.
It was dark, it was twisted, and it was moving in a manner that I don’t think readers will expect… I was over the moon about it.
Originally, I was illustrating the book. However, due to unforeseen circumstances that were out of my control, the production of the book was delayed. And during this delay, I realized that I was not the right person to be illustrating this book. However, due to working with Kristian on ‘Ed Gein: Demon Hunter’, I knew that Kristian was the perfect artist to approach for the project so that we could get production rolling again. And luckily for me, Kristian agreed to illustrate the book.
Which leads us to the present moment. We are closing in on wrapping up production on Issue One of ‘Lady Satan’. A twelve-page preview of the book is available to read (which you can do by going here), and it won’t be long before we reveal the cover and release date for the book.
But until then, let’s take a look at how a page of my script for the book becomes a finished page of the comic.
CRAFTING THE SCRIPT
If you ever get the chance to read one of my completed scripts, then you will notice that some of my panel descriptions are lengthy, and some of them are straight to the point. Usually, the lengthy panel descriptions are used for setting up the tone or the mood of the scene, while other times the lengthy descriptions are used for reveals in the story that are designed to take the reader by surprise and (hopefully) pull them further into the story. The shorter descriptions are saved for when the pace of the story speeds up.
For the purpose of this post, I am going to show you how page eleven of Issue One has come to life. Mostly because it is a single page that has mostly short panel descriptions. This page is a part of the twelve-page preview, so I highly recommend that you read the preview first (if you haven’t already).
This is what the script looks like for page eleven:
Page eleven comes from a scene in the story where we are introducing the reader to our protagonist. There are lots of details that need to be scattered and layered throughout the scene. One of them is that Lucille (A.K.A. Lady Satan) suffers from a form of P.G.A.D. (Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder).
Contrary to popular belief, it does not mean that she is constantly aroused. It means that her body will force her to intermittently have extremely painful and debilitating orgasms. However, and this is a spoiler (you have been warned), in the case of Lucille, the trigger for her episodes with P.G.A.D. are connected to extreme violence due to the traumatic ordeal she went through when she was tortured and abused for a snuff film….Is it dark in here, or is it just me?
The last thing you want to do with a character detail like this is to introduce the character and have her explain this for no other reason than to inform the reader. If you do that, you are falling victim to telling instead of showing (which is a topic that I might discuss at some point as it amazes me how many people do not understand what this means).
So, what I have done is I have shown Lucille having this experience. That way, when it is absolutely necessary (and not before then) I can find a unique and plausible way of explaining what is going on. After all, the rule is not ‘show don’t tell’, but it is ‘show before you tell’.
I would like to also add that because this page will be an odd-numbered page, it means that it is the page you have to turn in order to keep reading. Therefore, I needed to set up some sort of mystery so that the reader would have a reason to turn the page. I mean, the last thing you want is for a reader to reach a page turn and close the book instead of continuing.
Hence why this page focuses on the build-up to Lucille’s painful moment. The final panel gives the reader a want/need to turn the page to find out exactly what is going on, all while delivering a very important detail about the character.
Now, the way myself and Kristian work goes as follows:
It begins with me pleading and begging Kristian to be the artist of my book. Because Kristian is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, he agrees. That’s when I send him the script and hope that he likes it. After a few days of unnecessary anxiety, Kristian comes back to me and tells me how much he enjoyed the script. Along with this, Kristian gives me character sketches to approve of. Once I have approved them, he then sends me the thumbnail sketches for every page of that particular issue. These are just to give me a rough idea of how he will compose the pages and panels.
After I have looked through the thumbnails (both with and without the script), I let Kristian know how wonderful and amazing he is before encouraging him to begin pencilling.
Kristian likes to work in batches. So what he does is he sits down and pencils the first five pages of the book. He sends them over my approval. Once I have approved the pages, I send Kristian some money and tell him to move to the next phase. He then takes those five pencilled pages and inks them. They are then sent to me for approval.
Once I have approved the inks, I set them up for lettering. While this happens, Kristian pencils the next batch of five pages. This process repeats two or three times. Then, while Kristian is working on a batch of pencils, I letter a batch of pages. Personally, I like to work in batches of ten when it comes to lettering.
Once the lettering of the pages is done, I send them to Kristian for his approval. Once he approves them, they go into the pile of completed pages. Then once all the pages (and cover) are done, I do the graphic design portion, which includes putting together print-ready files of the pages, and the book goes off to press. And that’s when the whole process starts all over again.
So now that you know the process that myself and Kristian go through and you’ve read the script for page eleven, let me show you the evolution of the artwork from thumbnail to final inks.
Below is the thumbnail sketch that Kristian sent to me for page eleven of the first issue.
The first thing I want to note is that in this sketch the panels are divided up. However, Kristian has not made it clear which panels will bleed right to the edge of the page and which panels will be separated by gutters. Which I think is brilliant.
The reason I say that is because it allows Kristian room to breathe when it comes to pencilling the page. He has set up the composition of the page and the composition of the panels, and he can change anything that doesn’t work when it comes to pencilling the page. If he had added gutters and which panels bleed to the edge of the page, it would make it harder for him to make any necessary changes.
Another thing that I really like about Kristian’s thumbnails is that while most of the panels do not contain too much detail, he chooses to select panels to quickly sketch in shadows. This in turn lets me know what kind of atmosphere he is trying to bring to the overall composition of the page.
Now, while the thumbnails give me a sense of what Kristian will bring to the page when he pencils it, it’s the pencils that highlight the magic that Kristian creates.
Below you can see the pencils for page eleven of the first issue of ‘Lady Satan’.
Kristian’s pencils are absolutely beautiful. They give me goosebumps every time I see them. He has a wonderful way of keeping the pencilled page detailed while also being economical so that time spent on them can be reduced and in turn help speed up the production of the book.
Now, if you look closely at the first panel, you will see that Kristian has placed a bunch of ‘x’s in certain areas. These are large areas that will be filled with solid black. So instead of quickly pencilling in the darker tone, Kristian saves time by marking the area quickly with a few ‘x’s and spends more time on the details.
You’ll also notice that there are several guidelines that Kristian keeps in place. This helps Kristian to make every panel feel three-dimensional while still conveying a particular tone through the visual language of each panel. In other words, Kristian wants to visually communicate to the reader that in this beat of the story, something is wrong and he wants the reader to feel unsettled. Therefore he uses a slight ‘Dutch angle’ in the panel's composition. However, he needs to keep the guidelines in as he pencils, otherwise, there is a risk that the characters and the props that form the panel could appear flat instead of three-dimensional.
Now, take a look at the fourth panel where Lucille is on her knees and clutching her stomach. In that panel, you will see a different set of guidelines. These guidelines are to help with composition.
In Kristian’s panels, he always remembers to use the rule of thirds (which is where the shot is divided into a 3x3 grid, and the points where the lines cross over each other can help him figure out how to best frame the shot). However, this also allows him to make room in each panel for the lettering. Especially as it can be very easy to get into the flow of drawing a page and not realize until it’s too late that there isn’t enough room for the lettering.
You’ll also notice that in each panel, Kristian has very subtly guided the reader's eye so that they read the panels in a particular order.
In the first panel, The curtain that is blowing in the wind is angled so that it ‘points’ towards the corpse of Agent James Scully. However, Agent Scully’s eyes lead us down towards the small stream of blood on the carpet, and that stream flows towards the second panel.
In the second panel, the movement and angle of Lucille’s hand as she grabs the straps of her duffel bag guide our eye to panel three. And in panel three, the angle of Lucille’s arms (and the shadow cats under her left arm) guide us towards the bottom row of panels. And because the bottom row of panels is a ‘staccato’ and the camera zooms in towards Lucille, the reader's eye is guided from left to right.
I could go on all day about the genius of Kristian’s pencil work. But we need to move on to the next stage. The part of the process that really makes the page ‘pop’. I’m of course talking about the inked version of the page.