Cutting the Dialog


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Welcome to the second installment of Trial & Terror, the behind-the-scenes production blog for my upcoming graphic novel, American Terrorist. Last week’s column was basically an introduction to the project and to this blog. If you didn’t read it last week, you can either go back and read that first or just pick up with this week’s entry.

I’ve been holding onto the opening pages to Chapter Three (what will be digital issue five) for a while now, waiting for an opportunity to finally show them. For those of you who’ve seen our kickstarter video, you might remember Andy working of these pages while we were filming him.

Here are three of those pages:


I’m really happy with the way these pages turned out. Andy did a fantastic job and his artwork only looked better once Matt colored it. The two of them have been working well together since the beginning, but it was clear they had hit on a whole new level with these pages.

What I’ve enjoyed about working on chapter three is how it explores more of the American landscape. The main characters are on the run from the law and traveling around the country. It’s been a joy to see these scenes come to life in the artwork.

But there was also an unexpected result that came from seeing these pages fully completed. Even though the art followed the script perfectly, I realized that now I needed to change the script in order to fit the art.

The best example of this is from page one of chapter three (this is the first page shown above). I had originally included a lot of dialog in the script as a way to recap for the reader what had been going on what what was happening in this opening scene. That’s actually why Andy drew the page the way he did, creating a lot of open space in the panels. He was leaving room for the word balloons that would be needed for all that I had written.

And this is something an experienced artist will know to do. They make sure they leave the appropriate amount of room for word balloons so that they don’t end up getting squeezed in or covering something they shouldn’t.

But what I realized when I saw the final page, especially after it had been colored, was that it worked much better without all the dialog. So even though it stung at first, I cut pretty much all of what I had written.

Here’s what the page looks like fully lettered:

I think the pacing is just perfect. I love that pause in panel four. By letting the artwork drive the narrative, the page is much more engaging. The reader may not have as much information about what is going on, but that can actually help draw them in and make them want to continue reading.

And that’s a lesson I’ve learned in writing comics. One of the great strengths of this medium is that we can use sequences of images to tell the story without words. It’s hard to accept this as a writer. We feel that if our words aren’t on the page then we’re not doing our job. But in comics, the words and the images have to work together, one has to give room to the other and that means creating a balance. Some scenes will work better with the dialog driving the narrative and letting the images compliment it, while other times the images can do most of the work and the dialog needs to stay out of the way.

Of course, this can only work if the writer is able to clearly communicate to the artist what's going on in the story and the artist is a skilled storyteller. Or you can just get lucky and the writer finally learns to stay out of the way of great art and colors.

As far as the other two pages I showed above, I couldn’t cut out as much dialog on those as I did with the first page. Like I said, some scenes need the dialog to tell the story. I did do my best to keep it as concise as possible so that those great scenes at the reservoir and the farm could be seen without too many word balloons covering them up.

But I’m not going to show the lettered versions of those pages yet. I wouldn’t want to spoil the story.

More pages next week.


Tyler Chin-Tanner started his own publishing company, A Wave Blue World, where he wrote and drew layouts for Adrenaline, its flagship series, Adrenaline and wrote its latest graphic novel, American Terrorist.

© 2010 Tyler Chin-Tanner.  All rights reserved.
Email: tyler@awaveblueworld.com

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