Hey! My good pal, Rob Williams, writer of stuff forwarded on a young artists portfolio – Brian Corcoran – a Dredd story he’d drawn from one of Rob’s scripts.
I spent a little time and dug through the art commenting on it over the next few days. Brian kindly agreed to let me share our conversation about the art, hopefully you’ll enjoy this too. I’ve tried to edit the entire correspondence down to just things that I think other people may learn something from, so in case it’s not clear, Brian’s generosity in accepting this critique allowed me to be this thorough (and I’ve had similar done to me so I know ho much this stuff can sting!)
Let’s start with Brian’s full art and the script. (the script in question is Judge Dredd FIT). I want to stress: I haven’t read the script. My suggestions here are purely for the story telling in the artwork as I see it. My choices might be different if I’d been reading the script.
Our email’s started with my amendments to page 1.
Hi Brian[..] only had a chance to glance over some of it, but I broadly agree with Rob [… about pulling the viewpoint back as I tend to have a lot of close-ups]- you want to pull out and give the page panels room to breath. I think it’s a pretty common thing to try and fill a panel with things so there’s as little dead space as possible, but the dead space is pretty important, both for space for dialogue but also for not making it feel cramped (except, of course, when you want a reader to feel cramped). (Have you read the 2000AD artists 10 commandments, I treated them like gospel for years… top left 25% of a panel should be dead space…)I’ve tweaked the first page, I’ll talk you through my choices – which won’t be everyone’s choices, so don’t worry if you disagree, I’m sure plenty would!Ok, panel 1 – it’s a big close up of Dredd, so let’s make it a big close up of Dredd.Also added a little bit of black behind the other judges so they don’t get lost. I realise this goes against what I’ve said about pulling out – but I think one key thing you’re also missing is a rhythm – it’s midshot after midshot (or at least not terribly big distances between midshots) but you want close up, distance, midshot, midshot, close up, etc (or any sort of rhythm, really – it’s like a drum beat, a repetitive tap tap tap quickly bores you, and you want something that will keep the reader interested).Panel 2, Pulled out a little more and whited out a lot of details (though I didn’t have a high res scan to work from so it’s all a bit vague! sorry!) I suspect I’d’ve pulled that out further and had someone silhouetted in front of the floating figure to frame it. Giving a little more context and interest.Panel 3 pulled out a big chunk, and added some bg. This whole scene really needs a back ground – I don’t think the pure black background in this scene is really helping to sell it. I’d’ve been tempted to try and get a panel with both judges in it, to give a reader a context for them together – though the file he hands over does this job too.Panel 4 added some bg.Panel 5 – I dropped the dutch angle, didn’t think it was doing anything useful here aside from making it look a little off kilter.Panel 6 – I’ve silhouetted dredd’s always identifiable chin. My preference here, but it feels like it reads a bit better.
The page looks so much better, totally agree on everything, especially the inclusion of the backgrounds and the Dutch angle removal. I took Rob’s script too literally, I think – he said the office was ‘darkened’, so I went straight to black backgrounds without taking the time to think about what interest a ‘darkened office’ could bring to backgrounds. It’s all so much less static now. The silhouette in the last panel is inspired.Rob’s script called for the presence of the shocked technician in Panel 1, but his omission in favour of a more ‘present’ close-up Dredd works wonders. There’s a point there, I suppose, about maybe not always slavishly following scripts to the letter?
To be fair, I’m working without script and just with the page as you’ve drawn it, so I’m cutting/pasting/shrinking enlarging. Rob’s scripts are usually pretty good at calling out stuff that’s useful – I suspect that panel one, while impactful may get a little note from Tharg saying “Where’s the technician”.(That said, it wouldn’t have been hard to move the technician up and nearer the bikes looking around to Dredd, framed by that smoke coming off him)
I’ve pulled out the 2000AD drawing commandments and stuck them on the wall, thanks for the heads up. Love what you have to say about the drum beat, makes so much sense.
Looking at page 2 here and I’m struggling to know what’s going on in Panel 1 – is it a flashback? did it just happen? Needs to be clearer. I’ll assume it’s a flash back.I’ve dropped the overlapping hand in behind the panel, which I think i more effective for a story telling pov and sells it a little better as a flashback.Panel 2, I’m afraid I dropped the top down panel – normally those kind of panels have one strength and that’s to give you a clear sense of location, but here I think it’s actually obscuring the location – I THINK (but am not sure) Dredd is at a locker? Assuming that’s the case, I’ve redrawn it with Dredd and the other judge and the lockers more clearly in view. (I could be wrong; haven’t read the script! so that applies to all of these things. Acutally as a good rule of thumb, I always tell people to ask their partner – who often isn’t a comic reader – to explain to them what they think is happening in a story without the script or lettering, if the partner can tell them boom! Solid storytelling. If they’re confused then you need to think about how to improve that).Panel 3 – more breathing space. Love this panel, but you’ve obscured the other judges face partially behind a panel (in fact you habitually crop figures out of panels, which is ok, but feels like it’s happening too much and rarely happening deliberately…)Panel 4.. Ok I’ve futzed around a lot on this. Initially couldn’t see dredd and giant(?) on the bikes, and I think that’s because there’s so many lines on the panel it’s hard for the eye to find anything (that and it’s low res, which is killer!). So I added a ton of shadows to all the vehicles hopefully to direct your eye. Also brought the SJS judge more into the FG – made him a little larger and moved him so he’s not cropped out of shot. (I’ve also moved giant a little so he’s less cropped – I’d be inclined to make sure you have a super clear view of giant and dredd on bikes, even if giant’s bike is behind dredd’s bike a little you want to make sure nothing else is overlapping them)Panel 5 I redrew. It wasn’t selling this was dredd on his bike. Repositioning the camera below and up, gets dredd in, and a big vehicle. But I’m not sold on that either. Suspect if I was drawing this properly I’d’ve gone for a silhoutte of Dredd looking right, with speed lines behind him (maybe half his figure in the “riding a bike stance”)Panel 6 – I like this, but it feels little cramped, which, I’ve cured, ironically by making him much larger, which has the nice side effect of really framing those scared people under his left arm.I don’t want you to feel like these are “I’m right, you’re wrong” – it’s all “this is what I might do” give it to a hundred other artists and you might get a hundred different interpretations. Also I’m trying as much as possible to do stuff by just moving things around and adding shadows, from scratch I might make different/similar choices.
It’s your daily page!Page ..3 ? (losing track)Ok, the edits here show up a little more of my own preferences and idiosyncrasies, they’re solutions I often draw on when I need to solve similar problems – but as always they don’t mark the right answers, just my answers.Panel 1:I’ve extended the panel off the top of the page (bleeding it out helps to lead the eye down and in to that panel)I’ve also added more black /shadows – your rendering of the uniform is pretty consisitent regardless of the lighting, and it’s become sort of habitual – good idea is to look at some black tight leather (you’re own your own their for google searches…!) to get a feel for different ways light play on it. Ultimately, dredd’s uniform is a futuristic material so can work/light however you want, but it’s good to get some more ideas in your head for how it might look rather than just other comic artists.Panel 2 – shifted Dredd over – no need to crop that eagle.Added soem shadow over the perp’s face – added shadow all over the place (esp on the gun) to hep control the flow of the read, feels more focused – your lighting is too uniform and you want to let the black help you with the story telling – the shadow on the perp’s face does two things: it heightens the drama and it splits the action in to two bits – bit one dredd shooting, bit two explosion off the backpack.Panel 3:Shadowed up the SJS – sinister SJS judge looks more sinister. Also removed some wall as it was serving no useful purpose (except to separate sjs from dredd, and the does that job)Panel 4: enlarged dredd, straightened him up a bit. Now his shoulder frames the SJS judge and the distance between them looks greater, better drama.Panel 5: Futsed around with the shadow, moved head down to stop him overlapping hershey, so you can see her hands (if you can do it, separate figures and make them readable in silhouette form)Panel 6:Enlared the 2 headed bloke, more drama. Put Dredd’s face in shadow, more drama and more cleanly separates Dredd from the background peeps. You want to cleanly have foreground/middleground/background (at the very least)
This is brilliant. Lighting and shadow are a particular issue for me definitely and I tend to be nervous around applying loads of black even though it always looks better when I do! This’ll steel my resolve to get more shadow on them thar drawin’s! The shadow applied to the perp’s face is fantastic as a device, I always thought the exploding backpack was quite lost in this panel, your trick has totally changed that. Likewise the introduced distinction in the last panel between back/mid/ foreground.It’s amazing how improved Panel 5 is now with your changes, (well, really how improved they all are!) such a small simple panel now has so much more interest and depth.
Apologies for the scrappiness of this redo. But here we go:
Panel 1: more breathing space! pulled out (Hershey should probably be higher in this panel, but sod it) needs room to breath.
Panel3: pull out and up so we can get a decent view of where dredd is, also gave him a little movement and old lady so,e body language. All pushing us towards the door.
Panel 4: I think a straight on exploding door shot is possibly the dullest on possible, it Works in film because they have movement, but you’ve got to suggest movement through camera angle, s/fx and speed lines.
Panel 5: dredd silhouette more menacing, tense. Old lady behind dredd, worried.
Panel 6: push the foreground/background. But harder. Kept the gun in shot, helps sell the story telling panel to panel…
As always, everything you’ve done is really instructive. As I’ve said before, it’s real wood for the trees stuff for me, I keep asking myself why didn’t I think of this or that. The pull-out of Panel 3 to set the scene for example. Love the added tension in panel 5 by silhouetting Dredd, never thought of including the old lady! Panel 6 is looking way better, and way more dramatic for the difference in foreground/ background. Loving the addition of the gun for better connection from the last panel.
Page 5Getting near the end!I found this page a little confusing, as a result I’ve probably done more redrawing than I’d normally do, but here we go:Panel 1:I pulled out. You can do a headshot without getting right up in dredd’s chin (and gives room for any dialogue)Panel two. I’ve moved in closer, confusing jumble of hands, more interesting if it’s even more confusing jumble of handsPanel three: pulled out more (though I’ve no context here, beyond I’m assuming dredd is reacting to this, I’d’ve been tempted to add Dredd in the bg looking at this.Panel four:Added more depth to this panel making the guy changing the positions slightly to make the guy on the right appear to be closer to us and turning to talk to the other guy, silhouetted most of the people behind them – they’re not important, lose them, but keep them readable. Adding figures between those guys and dredd – more depth – should be kept simple, lots of shadow, not much details. Dredd silhouette at doorway (dredd has a strong silhouette, albeit identical to most other judges but readers have been trained to assume any big judge silhouette is dredd – use that!) Also add some more distinguishing costume features to these dudes to help the next panels read better.Panel five:Closer in (I was confused about which of these guys were getting their head dunked, but seems like it would be the one closer to dredd – the baldy one, so I’ve made it more obvious here by using the costume additions)Panel six:Had to edit this guy to make him look like the other guy. Got more dredd in. Where there’s no panel border, and on thing bleeding into another, you end up with weird things like that guys hand in panel five appearing to pop out of dredd’s helmet.TBH though, I’d rethink that panel, the SJS judge feels like a static cutout, maybe rethink this to have it from the POV of the SJS judge, so we’re seeing the back of his head as dredd mets out the old ultraviolence. I suspect that’s the intent here rather that Dredd smacks dude in face.
You skipped Page 4 I’m afraid! Unless I missed an e-mail? [no, you didn’t Brian, it turns out I’m a thicko]No worries but maybe that’s part of the confusion? Dredd discovers a room full of starved slaves on page 4 and the 1st panel of this page is his reaction to that. I followed Rob’s script directions fairly closely for panels 1 & 2. I’ve attached the script – I should have sent it to you at the start – apologies!Panel 4 works a lot better for sure, love the use of big recognisable silhouette on Dredd! One thing, this scene takes place outside – obviously another failing of my panel was not to make that clear enough. Totally get what you’re saying re costume elements.You’re right, it is the bald guy getting mashed by Dredd into the table in panel 5, obviously I’m not making the info in these panels clear enough! I prefer it as you’ve drawn it, closer in, but I suppose I drew it like that with burger and drink flying to indicate it was him, and to show his companion to his left reeling back as Dredd did his thing.Totally get what you’re saying in panel 6 about the hand coming out of Dredd’s head! Looks so much better showing him the way you have. Btw the guy in Panel 6 getting the punch is the same guy as in panel 5, hence the bald head and facial tattoo (direction from Rob’s script). I have to say this is a real wood for the trees moment for me, as I think you’re totally right about maybe showing it from the POV of the SJS judge. It would work so much better. Again, I took direction from Rob’s script here, which called for the SJS judge to be at a distance down the street. This is probably one of those moments where a more experienced artist might have queried the writer’s choice of set-up maybe?
Panel 1:Ok, let’s pull WAAAY out and show everything, this is our last best chance to give these two a decent establishing shot…Framing them with the buildings etc. Once you’ve done a good establishing shot you earn the right to show some shots without background – you earned TWO panels like that with that background 🙂Panel 4I pushed and pulled thee last three panels, largely to give them something beyond a tap tap tap rhythm – so I moved in slightly closer here (added a background)Panel 5Brought him closer, add lots of shadow and now he can frame Hershy as he walks away.Panel 6Dropped the panel background altogether, and turned the angle to make it more interesting (contrapposta-italian phrase meaning counter pose, general a twist in a figure so that they’re more interesting. she needs to look off panel, so I flipped the figure and badly mangled her eyes to do so. Dropped the background too.With final pages of a strip there’s a certain structure it feels (to me) that they need, this is nearly there, but not quite, not sure what’s missing, I’ve done an alternative last panel here, though I suspect I’d need to read the script to see what emotion I’m pulling for.
Ah, the establishing shot! Sets a much better tone for the overall page. The large background kind of creates a quietness or something as well I think. I have to say I think I’d change panels 2 & 3 now too, looking at your revised Panel 1, they just don’t do it for me any more! They look too static I think, especially panel 3.I’m looking here at my drawing of Gerhart in panel 5 versus your shaded up-closer version, and I can’t help kicking myself! I have obviously been so tentative, so concerned with just getting the characters and detail into the panels rather than taking it farther and introducing the added drama and rhythm necessary to tell a good story. I tell you PJ, this experience has had a major effect on how I’ll draw my comics from here on in.On what you said about structure of the final page, I have the same feeling, I was never too happy with this page, even in the pre-PJ edit days! It is so much better now after your edits, but I agree, there’s still something left to do. Rob’s script says: “As Gerhart leaves, Hershey stands alone in her office, the darkness surrounding her.” In my opinion I think your alternate final panel nails that – I love the shadow on Hershey’s face, her face looking slightly downwards; there’s “a picture worth a thousand words” if ever I saw one!