Process: Chapter 9, page 18

Chapter 9, page 18

When I first wrote the scene in which Val draws the symbols for the six elements on the floor, I knew that it was a lost battle trying to use words to concisely describe a diagram, so I just left it there as a rough guideline, knowing that the narration would eventually all go away and the scene would be simply turned into visuals.

"Fire", he said, pointing at the upright triangle; "Water", he said, pointing at the inverted triangle. He drew a little line crossing the tips of the two middle triangles ...

Yeah, this sucks...

In either case, the point of the scene is that Val is drawing these symbols on the floor and explaining what they are to Adrien. I thought that once the symbols are made visual, this scene should sort itself out. And I can thank my past self for deciding to make this story into something with visuals rather than a text-only novel.

The way I'd first written it, Adrien would be sitting on the floor opposite from Val. I imagined the camera to be kinda behind Val, so that we can see him in the foreground, then the floor on which he's drawing, and Adrien on the opposite side. When I went to draw that, however, I found the flaw in this plan...


...How are we supposed to fully see what Val is drawing if his body is in the way?

Evidently, the camera needs to be turned around so that Val's back is conveniently not obstructing the floor...


It is at this point that I find a second flaw in this plan. Given that the triangles mean different things depending on whether they're oriented with the point up or down, if Val is drawing the symbols to Adrien who is sitting opposite him... Adrien is actually seeing the symbols upside down, so Val is saying "Fire" while Adrien is seeing "Water". The camera can still show Val's perspective to the viewer, but Val would never confuse Adrien like that. He'd be more likely to draw the symbols turned around for Adrien's benefit.


But Val also wouldn't draw one thing while meaning its opposite - that would just be cosmically wrong. He couldn't draw a Fire symbol while saying "Water", that would be like... against his religion.

By now, I've called Denise over as I'm sketching all these possibilities and griping about their flaws. I'm complaining that I like how many of these sketches look in a vacuum, but I can't possibly use them because they all have these communicative issues... what can I do to fix them?

We find that there is not really an important reason why Adrien has to be sitting specifically opposite Val. He could be somewhere else. Why not at Val's side, so that he can see the symbols from the same perspective as Val?


To fit the vertical page and not have their bodies in the way of what they're drawing, the camera needs to be above them, and they need to sit pretty close together. Far too close together. And this is only for the sake of composition. I don't want to do that.


To get Adrien out of the way but have him still be present in the page, he could be standing off to Val's side, with the camera behind his shoulder. But there will need to be text underneath each symbol, so it's not really a good idea to have the symbols be askew - then the text, too, has to be askew, and I don't want such important information to be hard to read. It follows that the only way in which I should show the symbols is perfectly overhead, so that the text that will be underneath them can be nicely aligned.

So, the constraining rules of this page at this point are:

  1. Val cannot be in the way of what he's drawing
  2. Val cannot be drawing the symbols so that they are upside-down to Adrien's perspective, or to the viewer's perspective
  3. The symbols need to be clearly visible to the viewer
  4. Text needs to fit underneath the symbols, and be readable
  5. Adrien needs to be somewhere where he can see what Val is doing, but not awkwardly up his nose

When you think about it, it means that Adrien's perspective needs to be close to the viewer's perspective. So we ponder: do we actually need to show Adrien at all? Couldn't we make it so that Adrien's position is implied to be similar to the viewer's?


After all, The Gifts of Darkness is already written with the narrator being third person limited. Denise and I like to refer to the point of view of this story as that of a psychic bird that is hovering around Adrien and has the power to see in his mind to let us know what he's thinking. Sometimes the bird flies above and lets us view things from a little further than Adrien could see; and when Adrien is really paying attention to Val, the bird might also approach Val and look up at him. The bird will not peep into his mind, though, so we cannot hear Val's internal monologue - only Adrien's.

This all to say, it wouldn't be odd if this page used this feature of the story and not show Adrien at all, implying that the camera is more or less on his head. Val is explaining to Adrien, so it makes sense to see the explanation from Adrien's point of view. After this page, we can avoid confusion about where Adrien is in space by moving the camera behind his back in such a way that we can see both him and Val, confirming his implied position without spinning the camera around too much.

And that's my solution!

Chapter 9, page 18
Chapter 9, page 18

I would have preferred to be able to show Val's face rather than only his back, but, to me, what is most important in comics is clarity of communication, so sometimes I have to sacrifice a sketch that makes a prettier illustration for one that I think is easier to follow. Besides, one magical thing about comics is that, even though they are made of still shots, the movement of the camera and the choice of paneling can be used to create a sense of movement and animation; so I always prefer to focus on that aspect rather than whether each individual panel makes the best illustration when taken out of context.