Division of Labor in Graphic Novels
By Bryan Caplan
Bismark is often quoted as saying that “People who like sausages and legislation should never watch either being made.” (The actual line isn’t as catchy: “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”) If your expectations about the political process are as low as mine, however, it’s hard to get disillusioned.
But what if I learned a lot more about something I really enjoy, like, say, graphic novels (a.k.a. “high-fallutin’ comic books”)? Would that kill my enthusiasm for the subject?
I’m pleased to report that exactly the opposite is true. I’ve spent much of the last month looking inside the graphic novel “sausage factory,” and I like what I see. Above all, I’ve discovered a truly fascinating division of labor.
For starters, there is the division of labor between writer and penciler. The writer invents the story, writes the dialog, and figures out what each drawn panel should look like. The penciler tries to draw – and improve upon – the panel-by-panel descriptions of the writer.
But the penciler rarely does all the artwork himself. He does the core artwork in pencil (hence the name). But then he frequently hands the job over to an inker. The inker takes drawings in pencil and – to the superficial eye – “traces” them in ink. But in reality, good inking requires a lot of skill. The inker has to tailor the thickness of the lines to show depth, emphasis, light patterns, and so on. Penciled images that are supposed to be close need thicker inking than penciled images that are supposed to be far away.
You might think that the inker does the coloring, but that is the job of the colorist. Even in black-and-white comics, you need an inker. If you want to add color, you usually get a separate craftsman for the job.
But you’re not done yet: there’s one more person you need to produce your graphic novel: a letterer. No joke. There’s a person whose job it is to “draw” the words in each panel – to make the lettering clear, attractive, and engaging.
Oh, one last thing: If you want to sell your graphic novel, you’ll need a cool cover. And again, this is usually assigned to a separate person, a cover artist, a person who is unusually good at creating one-off drawings that grab the eye and get the consumer interested.
Now how would you guess this team of craftsman splits the income? Here’s a standard breakdown from The Complete Idiot’s Gude to Creating a Graphic Novel:
Cover artist: 5%
I think this division of labor is pretty fascinating even if graphic novels aren’t your cup of tea. But for me, it’s a revelation. After all, this means that, thanks to the division of labor, I can dream the dream of moonlighting as a graphic novelist even though I can barely draw.
Well, actually it’s already gone well beyond dreaming. Thanks to Comic Book Creator software – a wonderful product that combines the obsessive flow of a computer game with the satisfaction of creative accomplishment, I’m two-thirds of the way through writing my first graphic novel.
Yes, the first drafts of the first two issues of Bryan Caplan’s Amore Infernale are already available here. It’s a superhero mystery set in modern-day Verona in the glamorous world of opera. I kid you not. And with some luck, my future collaborators are reading this right now!