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<   No. 303   2003-11-24   >

Comic #303

1 Prof. Jones: So the museum thieves stole dozens of paintings, but nothing else?
2 Monty: Correct. They left lots of valuable items. Sculptures, artefacts, even jewellery!
2 Prof: Any clues?
3 Monty: Not much. No witnesses, no fingerprints, but there were a few boot marks. Probably Nazis.
3 Prof. Jones: I bet it was enviro-nazis.
4 Monty: Enviro-nazis?
4 Prof. Jones: It's their modus operandi - "take only pictures, leave only footprints".

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This is a good example of the sort of editing that I have to go through to get a potential script to fit into a comic. This began as a script sent to me by Glen Barnett:

1)
Prof. Jones: So let me get this straight: the museum thieves stole dozens of paintings, but nothing else?
Monty: Correct. They left lots of valuable items. Didn't touch any of the sculptures. They didn't even take any of the jewellery!
2)
Prof. Jones: Any clues?
Monty: Not much. No witnesses, no fingerprints, but there were a few boot imprints. Probably Nazis.
3)
Prof. Jones: I'm betting it was /enviro/-nazis.
4)
Monty: Enviro-nazis?
Prof. Jones: It's their modus operandi - "take only pictures, leave only footprints".
That reads fine, but there are way too many words to fit into a strip. I really can't get more than about 20 words into one panel, especially when it's multiple characters speaking because their speech balloons eat up space. So the first thing I do is trim the dialogue as much as possible without losing the essential elements. That requires some tricky editing sometimes.

The next step is to rearrange the dialogue so it spreads neatly across the panels. Sometimes I can only manage this by splitting one character's speech across two panels, but usually I don't need to. In this case, you can see I shifted Monty's dialogue in panels 1 and 2 over into panels 2 and 3. This also helped keep the dialogue flowing left to right in each panel, rather than having a panel where Prof. Jones speaks before Monty. Sometimes I'm forced to do a panel where a character on the right speaks before one on the left, but I try to avoid it if I can.

This is the point where I take the photos - so I know where I'd like to have the characters positioned in each shot.

After that, I actually have to do the layout, and sometimes the words just refuse to break nicely into lines that fit comfortably into balloons. If that happens, I pull out the thesaurus and look for synonyms with different lengths, or just try to trim more verbiage. It's amazing how concisely you can express something when you really have to.

And sometimes I like to leave unnecessary words in if I have the space. I could have trimmed "Not much. No witnesses, no fingerprints, but there were a few boot marks." down as far as "No witnesses or fingerprints. Just boot marks." but the longer form conveys more atmosphere. On the other hand, I try not to stuff the speech balloons into the blank space too closely, because it makes the strip look dense and cluttered. So there's a balancing act between the textual and visual content.


2012-10-17 Rerun commentary: This is a bit of a one-off gag intermission strip in the Cliffhangers theme after they escaped from the Nazi prison in Berlin. The next ongoing storyline in this theme is still a bit away.

Modus operandi, by the way, is one of those cool Latin phrases that everyone should know. Especially if you watch a lot of crime dramas.

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Last Modified: Wednesday, 17 October 2012; 03:11:02 PST.
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