I’m taking a 10-week workshop on improvisational acting at the American Conservatory Theater. It’s an opportunity to expand my actor’s toolbox –learning to be more spontaneous and less patterned in my approach. Thus far, it’s been fun, enlightening, and a bit scary — in a beneficial way — as well.
One of the key tenets of improv is the acceptance of offers or gifts. No matter what the idea or inspiration your acting partner presents to you (that’s an “offer”), you receive it enthusiastically — you always say “YES!” to whatever the other actor throws at you. More than that, you have to take the offer one step further, adding something of your own to it. So, it’s more than merely saying “YES!” to your partner’s idea, it’s saying “YES! AND… here’s another idea to go along with that.” With each actor continually saying “YES! AND…,” the scene grows and builds, and takes on a life of its own. (Saying “NO!” either overtly, or through subconscious resistance to the offer, stonewalls the creative process.) In a nutshell, that’s what improv is — constantly accepting offers and adding something new, which in turn earns a “YES! AND…” from the next actor.
Comic art, it occurs to me, is a lot like improvisational acting.
In a published comic, several artists contribute to the creation of what the reader sees on the printed page: the writer, who conceives the story and composes the dialogue and captions; the penciler, who draws the panels and the action that takes place within them; the inker, who refines the pencil art and finishes it in ink; the colorist, who colors the art; and the letterer, who drafts the words as they appear on the page. (Of course, some or all of these functions may be performed by the same individual. There might also be some overlap — for example, the writer and penciler may collaborate to a greater or lesser degree on the design of the page. But for the sake of our discussion, let’s suppose that each is a different person.)
If you think about it, this development process is a series of “YES! AND…” situations. The writer gives an offer or gift to the penciler in the form of a script. (If the writer is working “Marvel Method,” the script at this point may be little more than a plot outline. Or, if there’s a full script involved, the writer may verbally diagram the content of each panel.) The penciler takes the script and says “YES! AND…” adds pictures to visualize the story. The penciled pages go next to the inker, who says “YES! AND…” embellishes what the penciler has drawn. The colorist and letterer “YES! AND…” the inked art with their respective additions in turn. The end result is a composition of words, lines, colors, and letters that reflects each artist’s unique contribution, but is likely far different from what any one of them might have envisioned alone.
The same principle applies in commissioned art, although usually with fewer parties involved. The client gives an idea to the artist, who in this case will certainly serve as penciler, but may — depending on the agreement — also add inking, coloring, and perhaps even lettering. The artist says “YES! AND…” to the client’s concept, and adds the visuals. Other artists might be commissioned to add ink or color or lettering to the original pencil art as well, bringing even more “YES! AND…” into the mix.
I find this endlessly fascinating. As a collector, I’m the first offer-maker. The “YES! AND…” of the pencil artist takes my offer in directions I might never have anticipated. Sometimes, I’ll pass a penciled commission on to an inker, whose “YES! AND…” imbues the art with yet other unexpected dimensions.
Consider the series of images in this post.
I gave pencil artist Dave Hoover (who, sad to say, has since passed) an offer: What if Phoenix (a.k.a. Jean Grey) from the X-Men and Looker (a.k.a. Emily Briggs) from the Outsiders — two heroines with telekinetic powers who each underwent transformative changes at one point — got together to hang out?
Dave said, “YES! AND… what if they met in an old courtyard with painted brick walls, and potted plants as decoration? And what if they posed with Emily kneeling, and Jean standing hipshot behind her?” So, he drew that.
Then inker Bob Almond said, “YES! AND… what if the light on the courtyard fell from this angle, making the shadows cast by the women and the objects fall this way? And what if the wall was textured like this, and the characters’ costumes were textured like this?” Then he inked the piece to show all of that.
And then colorist Blake Wilkie (whose involvement was yet another “YES! AND…” on Bob Almond’s part) said, “YES! AND… what if the walls were painted this color, and beneath the paint the bricks were this color, and the plants and pots were these colors, and the light had this kind of effect on everything?” When he finished working his magic, all of that happened.
To all of which I said, “YES! AND… that looks pretty darned awesome.” Because it did.
Sometimes, when I page through my art collection, I find myself wishing that I could draw as wonderfully as the artists I’ve commissioned. But then I realize that, if I did all of the drawing myself, then everything on each page would be mine — every concept, every character, every figure, every line. Every artwork would be exactly what arose from my own thoughts and talents — nothing more.
It’s far more interesting to me simply to make the initial offer, and let others surprise me with their special brand of “YES! AND…”
“YES! AND…” that’s your Comic Art Friday.