I recently read Guiseppe Cristiano’s Storyboard Design Course, so I’m keen to organise my ideas for my latest freelance job, a comic strip, in storyboard form. My work usually starts with a drawing in a sketchbook, or with days, weeks, months, sometimes years of research but I’ve got a midsummer deadline to work to for this job, so that isn’t an option. The starting point here has to be a story that works.
John Whitaker, curator at Wakefield Museums, is providing the script for this 36 page comic strip to mark the 150th anniversary of traveller and naturalist Charles Waterton. I’m working on Part 3, The Defence of Natural History which tells the story of the nature reserve that Waterton set up at Walton Park, near Wakefield, when his exploring came to an end in the 1830s.
I’ve split John’s initial outline for the story into 33 frames. After a dramatic opening in which Waterton fights hand to hand with poachers, there’s a tour of the nature reserve. This doesn’t give me much of a chance for storytelling. Waterton simply takes us around his park like a presenter on Countryfile.
We might try introducing a character being taken on a tour of the estate just to create a bit of dialogue and tension. Charles Darwin was a visitor who admired Waterton but could also be rather scathing of Waterton’s views and eccentricities. Another possibility is that Waterton’s son Edmund could be the one being dragged around the estate. Edmund was, like so many children, a polar opposite to his father.
In The Storyboard Design Course, one of the artists says that he never starts his storyboard at frame one. He’d rather go straight in to the confrontation with the villain of the piece. In my case that’s ‘Soapy’ Simpson, whose factory polluted the stream in Waterton’s park and killed the trees in his heronry.
I found myself snarling as I drew Simpson and thinking of the kind of confrontation that Clint Eastwood has with a smug but dangerous villain – Lee Van Cleef rather than Eli Wallach – in the Fistful of Dollars trilogy.
The other scene that comes alive for me is the one of Waterton’s sisters-in-law, the Miss Edmonstones being racially abused in Wakefield. They were Arawak on their mother’s side, Scottish on their father’s so you feel that at that time they must have appeared quite exotic in the old market town. But so far we’ve got no definite evidence that this actually happened, just the odd hint that John Whitaker is following up with some additional research.
I’d like to feature the Miss Edmonstones as a contrast to the all-action adventures of Waterton. There’s often a woman (or in one case ‘the Woman’) in a Sherlock Holmes story to provide a contrast to the male world of Holmes and Watson.
Link; The Storyboard Design Course; The Ultimate Guide for Artists, Directors, Producers and Scriptwriters by Guiseppe Cristiano, published by Thames & Hudson