In-Depth: High Level #1 - Script-to-Page Part 1

The first issue of my comic HIGH LEVEL hits comic stores on February 20th, and as of today comic shops can begin pre-ordering it. If you have a local comic shop, PLEASE let them know you're interested in the book! It helps a lot as it informs how many copies they decide to order for their stores. If you're not a comic shop person but want to check it out, I'll be posting pre-order links as soon as I get them.

Today I want to show a step-by-step process of how the comic comes together (if you missed it, here's a previous BTS post about the character design for High Level). A lot of people, even avid comics readers (myself included), take for granted how much work goes into every panel and every page of every issue, every month. So I wanted to show a little behind-the-scenes of just one page from issue #1 so you can see how it all comes together. I'll do this with a select page from every issue going forward.

NOTE: This is an exclusive for Patreon, so please don't share it elsewhere!

For this post, I've chosen page 4 from the first issue, which is innocuous from a plot perspective but very vibrant in terms of world-building, so it's a perfect page to break down without spoiling anything before you've read the comic. All spoilers in the script have been redacted.

Each issue of the comic begins with a BEAT SHEET, a step-by-step breakdown of what happens in the issue. It's a blueprint for the plot and pacing, and it goes through a number of revisions between my editors and me before it's approved to go to script. And actually, everything you see here is the end result of many revisions in between, I'm just showing you the key stages.

Here's the portion of the beat sheet relevant to page 4:

This was the first draft, so you'll notice the events change a bit once it gets to the final script. The original beat sheet had a lot more of the action taking place in the bar scene, but my editors pushed me to move some of it to different parts of the story, to keep the scenery and visuals constantly changing. It's a visual medium, and staying in one setting for too long becomes tedious for both the readers and the artists. Also, because of the importance of issue 1 "selling" readers on the concept and hooking them into the story, a LOT more ended up happening in the first issue than I'd originally intended. There are a lot more hints about the bigger mysteries of the series, and the pacing is much faster. I'd originally plotted the first six issues as one story arc, starting off as a slow burn that gradually expanded the world and ramped up in intensity. That's great if we're selling a trade paperback, but for a new monthly comic there's not much room to be coy in the pilot. In the end, I think we found the right balance of starting out small but still teasing how big the story/world is going to get.

From the beat sheet we move to the SCRIPT. The issue 1 script went through MANY revisions (you'll see the date of this one in June, but we only settled on the final lettering script a few weeks ago), mostly because my initial scripts had a TON of dense dialogue, and as the art started to come in and we saw how vibrant it was, it was criminal to be covering so much of it up with lengthy word balloons. The final script is much breezier than I'd originally written it, but that's part of the compromise when you're working with such rich artwork: You have to let the artwork tell at least half of the story for you.

This particular page didn't go through many revisions, as the dialogue is fairly straightforward. Most of the script on this page is me writing to the artists. This is where comic book scripting is as much directing as it is writing: I spend a lot of time describing the scenery and characters to the artists, words which will never be seen by the readers but are expressed in the visuals. You'll see here how much writing goes into a seemingly simple page:

Once my editors and I settle on the final script (although it will go through further revisions once we see how the lettering sits on the pages), it's sent to our penciler Barnaby Bagenda, who uses it to sketch out thumbnails of how he wants to organize the panels and frame the action:

If you compare the script to the thumbnails, you'll see Barnaby has taken some artistic liberties in how to arrange the action, and that's an important part of the collaboration. After everyone is happy with the thumbnail layout, Barnaby moves on to the pencils. This page was actually the very first page he penciled, probably because the scenery is a lot of fun to play with:

Barnaby draws with actual pencils on Bristol board, and it's amazing how much detail he puts in. His detail is important, because unlike the vast majority of comics, ours doesn't have an inker. Normally the next step would be for an inker to create the linework from Barnaby's pencils, but Barnaby and our colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr have a unique collaborative style (seen previously on OMEGA MEN) where Romulo digitally paints directly onto Barnaby's pencils, giving the art a rich painterly style that's incredibly unique for comics. Here's Romulo's finished colored page, you can see how much depth and detail he adds to the pencils:

Once everyone is happy with the colors (there were some tweaks along the way, as with every step), the final phase is the lettering. We spent some time with our letterer Nate Piekos to design the right lettering style for this book. Here's a proof of the final lettered version of the page:

This page only shows basic word balloons and SFX, but there are some other cool custom lettering designs you'll see in other parts of the book. For example, for Thirteen's voiceover text, Nate designed caption boxes that incorporate Thirteen's insignia - her forehead tattoo - to visually signal that it's Thirteen's first-person voice. Here are Barnaby's concept sketches of Thirteen's tattoos (which, as previously discussed, are based on my linework designs) next to a panel showing Thirteen's voiceover caption design:

And that's just a taste of all the work that went into the other 21 pages of issue 1. I hope you'll all come along for the ride in February.

UPDATE: Script-To-Page Part 2!

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