Panel Descriptions

edited July 2013 in On The Road
Here's an issue that I have been hitting a lot and I hope that someone might have answers for me and that is panel descriptions. And not just about establishing shots or anything, I mean you have your description document of characters, you've established a settting, but say your in a fight scene and you write something like this:

"Good guy palm heels bad guy in the forehead with his right hand."

I feel like thats a panel in itself, I feel like I've described the panel sufficiently and now I can move on. But am I wrong and if so what am I missing in the panel? If the artist wants to add something, cool, but I feel like I dropped the basic idea down and as long as that is shown, I'm happy. I mean obviously background needs to be there, I can't deal with Mike Mignola style, but I feel like if I establish the setting in the first panel or something, I don't have to keep on describing the background.

The same thing with lets say two people talking and walking down a street or something. If I establish where the two characters are in the 1st panel, I feel like I can do something like this:

"Sam and Max walk down the sidewalk. Sam has an agitated look on his face, while Max has a slight smirk on his"

Then you fill in with whatever dialogue needs to be inserted. But am I wrong about this, again I feel like the main idea of the panel is being described and I want to leave the rest to the artist to handle the details that may be unimportant to me as the writer in the sense that if you want to show other people walking, cool. If not, that's fine too, I'm fine with whatever as long as the expressions are shown and the dialogue is being shown.

But am I just being lazy or trying too hard to be Warren Ellis or something?


  • Every comics writer has a different style for it. If you're able to communicate everything you want out of a panel in one or two short sentences, more power to you.
  • I tend to write panel descriptions much like yours, where only the key elements are described. Often they are the emotional content. Sometimes its just a call for a close up.

    I dealt with a script once that was so dense with (to my mind) unneeded scene descriptions (locations of unused doors etc) that I spent considerable time deleting the excess before I printed it out, just so I could see the forest for the trees.

    But the writer found it necessary to include all of that, I guess, because it helped him to understand the story. To each his own.
  • I'm told that in Eddie Campbell's autobio book "Alec," he reproduces the script Alan Moore sent him when they were doing "From Hell," where he'd just blacked out all the extra details and just left the stuff he needed to draw.
  • My recollection is that Campbell merely went thru and circled the parts that directly pertained to the art, which was usually just a few key phrases for each panel.  He still read the whole script in the process of doing that, so Moore's extra verbiage (arguably) still served a purpose.

    How much to write depends a lot on the artist.  As an extreme example, Stan Lee could get away with writing essentially nothing in term of panel descriptions or (until afterward) dialog, because he was usually giving it to Jack Kirby, who he could trust and who thrived on that amount of creative freedom.  If I'm scripting for myself, I'll write uselessly brief descriptions ("Jason grins. Trevor scowls.")

    But if I'm writing for an Artist To Be Identified Later (or one who I thing might need coaching), I'll tend to err on the side of Moore, to make sure they're thinking about what else is happening in the setting (e.g. "the crowd is watching in horror"), or specifying distance and panel sizes to prevent sameness.  However when I do that, I make a point of encouraging the Artist When Later Identified to do it differently if he has a better idea (which the good ones often do).
  • And Watchman was so meticulously plotted that scene description that might have been unnecessary, in fact had a role. But most of us don't require all that.
  • Frazer Irving has always cited John Wagner's scripts as being some of his favourites to work on, describing them as being like "getting a really exciting telegram"… I've seen some of John's scripts and they're a thing of beauty in terms of economy. Who is doing what. That's pretty much it. No 'directorial' stuff beyond the occasional 'establishing shot' instruction.
  • Depends on the artist.

    If I  know an artist can break down a story better than me, I'll let them. If I don't know what they can do, or if I know they have a problem with certain kinds of scenes, I'll direct.

    If I have a certain kind of storytelling I want to show for a particular reason I will give very specific details Watchmen-style. 

    Alan Moore, by the way, did not just provide masses of direction to Campbell on From Hell, there was also a lot of context information. Some of that context included what he had seen on TV the night before. 

    My preference is to include provide necessary context outside of the script, in, cover letter or an email.

    I frequently hear (new) artists say "I was intimidated by the amount of script you wrote...but when I actually read what you wrote it was really helpful." 

    To me that is a job done properly.

  • I switch it up on a panel-to-panel basis, depending on what's required by the panel. So, something like:

    Panel 1. DREDD on his bike.

    Panel 2. Wide. We're looking over the top of DREDD'S head as he sits on the outskirt of a riot.
  • I don't number the individual text bits for the letterer (as in Fred's script in the example at Dino's link, above). I assume that the it's intuitive for the letterer: first in the script = first on the page. (Similarly, I don't summarize the number of panels at the top of the page [i.e. Page One (8 panels)]; I assume that the EIGHT PANELS described in the script are sufficient to clue the artist in...)

    Also, I learned how to write comics by reading Warren Ellis scripts. The first THE AUTHORITY trade contains the issue one script, plus COME IN ALONE, etc... and Warren capitalizes his dialogue, to get a sense of how it will look on the page. 

    I've learned recently that this is a good way to piss of a letterer, since he or she can't simply copy and paste all-caps dialogue (the capitalized I in most lettering fonts has serifs...) 

  • @EricPalicki - I had no idea about the capitalization = bad thing. I usually letter my own stuff, but I tend to re-type it/rewrite on the fly anyway. Good to know.

    (For me, learning was a combo of COME IN ALONE and the Dark Horse submission guideline script.)
  • Copy and paste is handy for me since I'm a crap typist and don't want to introduce additional errors.
  • Numbering dialogue lines is good for corrections, as in:

    Page8 line 3, change the spelling to weird.
  • All caps for dialogue is a minor pain for the letterer and won't give any meaningful indication of how it will look on the page, regardless of what Warren Ellis says. (Unless you're incapable of visualising what sentence case text will look like in upper case.)

    That said, I have a macro set up in Word that takes care of about 90% of the formatting headaches for letterers. The two things that still cause me issues are indenting dialogue by using a hard return and a tab, and PDF scripts.
  • When Warren said that all-caps dialogue would give you a sense of how it would look on the page, I think he meant that it would give him a sense of how it would look on the page. He claims to have written his scripts for Ultimate universe books using sentence case. 

    I think it's a fair point. Things like ID and CIA look different when surrounded by all-caps dialogue. And a sentence or two of dialogue can suddenly resemble a brick (and should be avoided) when written in all caps.


    I've made the mistake of handing in PDF scripts to a letterer, too.
  • I write my stuff to be readable to me, first. That all caps thing would drive me insane trying to reread it.
  • The only way I know how to offset things is enterenterenter so I generally stick with flush left for everything. But I can never get anyone to draw my scripts anyway, so it matters not.
  • edited October 2013
    I center all dialog in my scripts and put in line breaks,

    because it gives me an
    approximation of how the text
    might fit in a word balloon.
  • I'm gonna start doing centered all-caps Comic Sans to really get as close to the final product as possible.

    (Note: I'm not going to start doing this.)

    Real talk: do any of you ever paste in images in your scripts as part of your panel description? I'll occasionally throw a specific outfit or a quickly-doodled panel layout or something in there to supplement the panel description.

    The most recent one I did is, I've got a gag where I wanted to add a statue to Adam Yauch Memorial Park, so I dug up a picture of...y'all remember that giant gold statue of Superman they put up in the comics after his death? So I'm basically telling the artist "this, but it's Fight for Your Right Yauch and he's got a mic in his fist".
  • edited October 2013
    I put links in my scripts all the time. I don't drop the image in directly. On the rare occasion when it's necessary (five "lucky" kickstarter backers had their likenesses drawn into ORPHANS), I'll send the images as a separate file, with 'See Attachment 1.."

    That said, NOT putting the images right into the script is mostly down to my OCD, which insists upon a 1:1 script page to finished page ratio.
  • I've dumped images into scripts a few times, usually for likeness reference.  So far I've always managed to do it without going over my 1:1 page ratio. :)
  • I center all dialog in my scripts and put in line breaks,

    because it gives me an
    approximation of how the text
    might fit in a word balloon.
    Except that it really, really doesn't unless you're typing your script in the same font that the letterer is going to use. What if the letterer decides to butt the balloon to the top or bottom border? Fiddle with the tracking and the horizontal scale? Stripping out those returns is a massive pain in the butt for the letterer and only gives you the illusion of understanding how the text might fit in a balloon.
  • If I was a letterer and I had to remove all those returns, I'd go nuts.
  • I do my own lettering, and don't really have a problem with it ... maybe because it's all just guesswork that I'm working out as I go, regardless.  I realize that it's not exact, but I think it helps me, so I do it.
  • Because I write pretty lean for myself, and I hate wasting paper, I often get two script pages onto a single sheet. And I've been known to carefully go through a script that is 1:1 and jam it together before printing it out. I will also go through and strip out formatting, and on occasion, excess description. I can't imagine that anyone will want to work me now.
  • Then in that case, Jason, do what works for you.
  • Then in that case, Jason, do what works for you.
    Likewise: hadn't realised you'd be lettering from your own script. Note to any writers not lettering their own scripts: don't do that.
  • edited October 2013
    I switched to lower case for this script I'm working on. It looks weeeeeeird to me after years of all caps, but I dunno if I'm going to be lettering it, or an actual professional will, so...

    e. I still keep the characters' names all caps, for whatever reason. For me, it's slightly easier to pick out who's where on a page that way. *shrug*
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