It has been frequently pointed out that there is a close relationship between comics (or “graphic stories”), and film; in that both are visual storytelling mediums.
The two arts share many of the same fundamental processes in constructing a visual story: scene composition, visual continuity, establishing shots, close ups, downshots, upshots, and so on; they even share a common terminology. The comic panel and the movie (or video) screen both frame the story.
Hence an appropriate name for Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers, a new book from Marcos Mateu-Mestre, whose career spans both art forms.
Mateu-Mestre, as I pointed out in my post on him back in 2006, is primarily a visual development artist for feature animation, with credits that include We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, Balto, The Prince of Egypt, Toto Sapore, Asterix and the Vikings and Surf’s Up.
He is also an illustrator and comics artist, and he brings his understanding of visual storytelling from both fields to bear in Framed Ink, which is a textbook for an often overlooked but vital aspect of both endeavors, composition.
Illustrators and other artists who work with single images are used to composition as a static aspect of an image, arranging elements to convey the intention of the work as strongly as possible. But in film and comics, composition is dynamic, it changes and flows with the story, and in fact, is vitally important to the process of telling the story.
It is through composition that viewers are given their bearings and understanding where the players are and what their physical relationship is to one another. It is through composition — camera angles, close ups, and other language of the camera — that much of the drama of both mediums is expressed.
After an overview of narrative art, Mateu-Mestre starts Framed Ink with the fundamentals of composing a single image within a story, the techniques of creating drama, focusing interest and expressing emotion with the composition. He demonstrates the use of complexity and simplicity, light and dark, size and distance and point of view to communicate the writer’s intention to the viewer.
He then moves into conveying motion, using sequential frames and changes in the drawings to create motion in the viewer’s mind (or in the case of concept art, to convey the writer or director’s intention for motion to the animators or cinematographer).
His subsequent focus is on continuity, a term you will often hear in reference to film and comics, but one that is often poorly understood, particularly given how vital it is in telling a story with comics. (In my own experience in creating comics, I’ve found continuity one of the most difficult aspects to handle properly, but one of the most important in successfully telling a visual story.)
The last chapter of Framed Ink delves into elements of composition that are specific to comics and graphic novels, as opposed to concept art or storyboards — the composition and arrangement of panels on a page, the relationship of story flow to panel layout, pacing a scene and the placement of word balloons.
Of course all of this is illustrated in Mateu-Mestre’s own drawings, and they are a treat. As I pointed out in my previous post, he has a wonderfully lively drawing style, with springy, zippy linework that seems to be dashed casually off the end of his pen, but somehow lands in exactly the right spot. He combines that with a masterful command of chiaroscuro and a comics artist’s gift for spotting blacks (reminding me at times of Alex Toth), to which he adds intermediate gray tones for a series of panels that look like a cross between classic adventure comics and film noir.
The drawings are beautiful and you could simply enjoy this as an art book, but for those involved with the challenges of visual storytelling, whether in visual development and storyboards for film, or in comics and graphic storytelling, Framed Ink is a must-have addition to an artist’s bookshelf.
I’ve posted a few frames from the book above, for more detail see the “Look Inside” feature for the book on Amazon.
(I noted with interest that Amazon (or the publisher) has used a quote from my previous post about Mateu-Mestre, in which I rave about his drawing style, as part of the Editorial Reviews for the book.)
For an even better look at the inside of the book, see the review on Parka Blogs.
Mateu-Mestre also maintains a Framed Ink news blog specifically for the book, as well as mentions on his regular blog, where you will also find examples of his concept art, graphic novel work and more.