Learn clear storytelling from Steve Rolston

With Steve’s class scheduled to start at the end of month, it’s time to wrap up my “How to make comics the Steve Rolston way” posts.

So far in these posts, I have talked about how you could learn precision and discipline in Steve’s Introduction to Comic Book Production at VanArts. Yet, the ability to put down clean lines and do so day after day means very little if you haven’t learned how to lead your reader from panel to panel and page to page.

That’s where a lesson or two on clear storytelling could come in handy.

Fortunately, Steve is not just an exceptional artist, he is also a pretty great storyteller. I first realized that when I picked up his graphic novel, One Bad Day.

One Bad Day

There’s this really engaging sequence in One Bad Day where the main character acquires the gun she’s holding on the cover. Even though it comes after a particularly shocking part of the story, it’s paced so well that you can’t help but laugh. It really fits Joss Whedon’s philosophy about writing: “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” It also shows just how much Steve has to offer students when it comes to communicating ideas to an audience.

So for the last of these posts about Steve’s class, I wanted to show how Steve helped me get this weird sequence in my Dawn Line pages to make sense. Aside from highlighting Steve’s insights into the storytelling process, this case study also showcases the level of engagement he has with his students and the worlds they are trying to create.

Weird Sequence 1For this page, my intention was for the second and third tier to be read concurrently. Of course, that didn’t translate here. Everyone read the second tier before reading the third (as you are sure to do as well).

Here are Steve’s Post-it note comments:

Weird Sequence 2

However, that was not the only problem with this page. There was also an issue with the perspective in the top panel. So, it was back to the drawing board.

Weird Sequence 3To correct that issue with perspective, the top panel had to be enlarged, which presented the added challenge of getting this sequence readable with less space.

If you follow the dialogue balloons, you’ll see where I hoped to lead the reader. However, the eye still goes all the way to the right instead. Luckily, I had Steve:

Weird Sequence 4

Weird Sequence 5Eureka! It may not break conventions, but it does have the dynamic quality that I was looking for in this weird sequence. What’s even better is that it pulls the reader along without confusion.

On my own, I could not have accomplished the same level of clarity.

Here are Steve’s final thoughts on this:

Weird Sequence 6And here’s the final product:

Weird Sequence 7It should be clear from my posts on precision, discipline, and storytelling that Steve’s comic-making class had quite an impact on me. Yet, this is just my perspective. To really see what Steve’s has to offer aspiring comic makers, you need to experience it for yourself.

So, take the plunge and enroll in Steve’s Introduction to Comic Book Production at VanArts. If not this semester, then the next, or the next after that. You will not be sorry you did.

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