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Steve Colle
03-10-2017, 06:10 AM
I was at an editors' gathering a short while ago where the discussion of style guides came into the conversation. For those who aren't familiar with the term or what they are, the following link gives an expansive definition and explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Style_guide.

With my work pretty exclusive to comic publishing, I was asked which style guide I used. I told them I didn't know of a guide of this type for comics. At least one overly dramatic editor gasped at the thought I didn't use a style guide.

With that said, I've been looking for what exists in our industry. What I have found online deals exclusively with graphics: character design, color specs for print, stuff like that. These are meant to maintain a consistency from a base under which all works need to follow. Even in the case of graphics, there isn't anything that covers general or specific usage in broader terms.

Style guides and even brand guidelines are there to set the terms and conditions under which certain rules exist. For example:

- a word balloon is the lettering device used for general character speech in comics, while caption boxes are used to contain narrative and/or voice over text;

- ellipses and double dashes follow specific rules of usage, the former for casual speech connected in two or more text devices or for the trailing off of this type of speech, while the latter works under similar rules with rushed or interrupted speech;

- the placement of text devices such as word balloons, along with the positioning of their tails in relation to their speaker and the order in which they are read, are necessary to both visual and written clarity of the story. This is actually one of the reasons editors typically place these and not the letterer.

This simply covers a few of the more global aspects of comic creation and publishing. However, even though some topics such as the above make sense, their application isn't always followed. Part of that problem is the lack of a style guide as a reference.

Do any of you know of this type of guide for our industry?

What kinds of details should be included in a style guide for comics, using other forms as a sample of the depth of information involved?

JRXTIN
03-10-2017, 06:29 AM
Someone has a blog about lettering conventions. I read it for a while and applied some of it to my work. I can understand why Marvel and DC might want to keep a consistent look across their books, but at the same time I read more webcomics than Marvel comics and the lack of convention is a non-issue. It's not something I'm going to be overly worried about as a webcomic creator, but if I wanted to be a Marvel editor I'd learn their conventions.

Lee Nordling
03-10-2017, 09:37 AM
Unless it's a recent development, there are no style guides at any Direct Market comic book companies.

Some editors will impose their sense of grammar and punctuation--I sure did at Platinum, when writers inconsistently used "--" and "..."--but nobody I worked with had a company-established style guide.

Now, if you take a company like Graphic Universe, which is part of Lerner, they absolutely have a style guide (even though I haven't seen it), but that's because they primarily distribute into schools and libraries, and they have a trade book publishing culture, not a comics culture.

maverick
03-10-2017, 06:20 PM
Most people follow the Comicraft book and other advice as shown on Nate's site

http://www.blambot.com/articles_grammar.shtml
https://www.amazon.com/Comic-Book-Lettering-Comicraft-Way/dp/0974056731

Renae De Liz
03-10-2017, 10:08 PM
I've never heard of such a thing, and I've worked for quite a few publishers. I can see where such a thing could be needed for a specific brand portrayal (i.e. Sonic the Hedgehog for Archie has very strict rules about how things are done) but overall I don't see much of a use for it, personally. True creative vision is so much more valued in comics, and it's hard to get that following a "guide".

I wouldn't feel intimidated by the editor's reactions, just follow whatever feels right to you.

Lee Nordling
03-11-2017, 01:21 AM
I want to take a moment to respond to what Renae wrote.

Naw, this isn't a "she wrote this" and "this is what I think about it" thing.

It's a short explanation about what exists in mainstream publishing, more specifically the magazine and newspaper publishing world.

Style guides are the "go-bys" that editors use to maintain stylistic consistency. You can argue (and I have) that there needs to be more flexibility in certain usages, but most style guides exist to give the reader an editorially consistent experience.

They are, after a fashion, commercially refined and in-house versions of "The Chicago Manual of Style." They are what editors and proofreaders use to make sure there are no "mistakes."

They mostly become problematic when their cultures crash into comics cultures, because they don't understand the differences between how grammar and punctuation are used in expressing use of time and how people speak.

Personally, I think a well-managed not-too-anal style guide is a good thing for an organization where a lot of people are going over material.

And if I had a magazine I'd want to make certain how "--" and "..." are used and for what purposes, rather than for each writer to make up his/her version, which drives me nuts...

...not that I'd be insisting others beyond my purview follow that lead.

I have a section in my book, "Comics Creator Prep," that addresses use of punctuation in comics, and there's so much of that's intuitive, and this DOES get lost when it's an educational publisher producing books for there grade-school readers, because these books are produced to fit a curriculum, and if they don't, then they don't get bought.

For those who consider a style guide an editorial intrusion, think about this: an editor is following his/her own personal style guide; it's just not written down.

ayalpinkus
03-11-2017, 12:44 PM
VISUAL style guides are sometimes used by designers to maintain visual consistency. In comics, there is an equivalent: the character model sheet.

Character model sheets play the same role in comics as VISUAL style guides do elsewhere. They are created to make sure characters -- Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, for example, say -- look the same throughout a comic from the first to the last page, and from one comic to the next, from one artist to the next. They are created so that artists can stay on-character. In other industries, VISUAL style guides are created so designers can stay visually consistent.

Publishers go further than that. I understood Marvel shares a Sketchup model of the Captain America shield with its artists for example.

And there are books with titles like "How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way" and "The DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering". Those books could be seen as visual style guides.

Comics are VISUAL. The style guides are VISUAL.

The link Steve provided, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Style_guide , does also talk about visual style guides for designers. And I'd say character model sheets, which I believe are used a lot in comics, would/could/should be considered the VISUAL style guides that are used a lot in comics.

ayalpinkus
03-11-2017, 07:11 PM
Here's something on the 1982 DC comics style guide:

http://www.cbr.com/the-entire-1982-dc-comics-style-guide-is-online-and-amazing/amp/

and the images themselves:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/JoseLuisGarciaLopezFans/photos/?tab=album&album_id=207954002578217

which is, as you can see, a VISUAL style guide with character model sheets and color guides. Looks like a thick tome.

There are some more references to this style guide if you google it online.

This style guide is obviously not used today, but I would be very surprised if artists today worked without character model sheets.

Stewart Vernon
03-12-2017, 12:20 PM
The interesting thing to me... is that an editor would ask "what style guide do you use" which, by the nature of the question, seems to imply that there is more than one acceptable answer...and then when your answer doesn't fit that editor's preconception, he seemed to balk. At least, that's what I read from your description.

I come from a Technical Writing and Illustration world. I've worked for different companies... and they all had plans! (apologies to the cylons ;) )

Some companies were better about following their style guides than others. Some I was able to help better follow their style guides while I was there. For Technical Writing, there is an importance to consistency where this all makes a lot more sense.

For comics, and other creative work... I believe there are some conventions, or styles, as others have already mentioned that fall under the category of "you should do these things because readers have become accustomed to seeing them." I could also see Marvel or DC having a set of corporate rules and then each editor having his or her own guide to shaping their stable of titles.

Perhaps next time this comes up, a better answer is that while some companies have rules about how to handle their characters, and comics have developed some conventions of storytelling over the years, there is otherwise no formal style guide as such like there is in other industries... nor is there necessarily a need for one.

Colby
03-12-2017, 01:34 PM
You know that is a fascinating to me as I'm intrigued by the different comic styles. For me, it's always been about the panel structure. Like right now we are in the tail end of a deconstruction age where we have really big panels, splashes, and double spreads. But most pages don't have more than five panels.

Then you a more constructed approach where you have a lot of panels on single page.

And others that do their own thing, ignoring the use of panel entirely.

Personally, the best I can offer would be Denny O'Neils book and Scott Mclouds writing for comics books.

Steve Colle
03-13-2017, 04:49 PM
I just ordered this particular book from Amazon, which deals with fiction writing vs. the typical journal and technical writing style guides commonly on the market. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1123695.The_Creative_Writer_s_Style_Guide.

Part of the problem is that most style guides are for writings outside of fiction, with many having specific guidelines for their distinctive publications. Sure, there are the general usage sources, but even they battle each other. And what of the Canadian source that uses British spellings of words, terms, and usage? How does that work against a non-American writer?

Here's the thing: the writer of the above book hit the nail on the head when he stated that it's necessary to know the rules of usage before breaking them deliberately. Not knowing shows inexperience, while knowing and manipulating adds craft.

If anything, what the comic industry needs isn't a 'style guide', but a manual of standard usage that describes what works, what doesn't, and why in the various stages of comic production, both textual and visual. This collection of direction by industry professionals and scholars would cross over all publishing houses in culture and convention. Standards of practice exist within the industry: its a matter of collecting what applies to all.

Would this help facilitate the newcomer's potential success in getting published and/or growing and maintaining an audience? I believe so, just as all those how-to books on comic creation and publishing have a place, but with different perspectives. With an agreed upon convention, standard rules are established that cross publisher borders.

Steve Colle
03-13-2017, 05:42 PM
It's cool how ideas come together sometimes:

I'm in the process of designing a course for comic book editors where one of the things I teach is the need to understand the conventions of the medium in both creative and administrative aspects. Part of that is understanding the various disciplines in comic creation and why things are done the way they are. In talking about this thread's topic, it has given me the idea for THE COMIC BOOK GUIDE OF STANDARD PRACTICE For Editors and Creators.

If all who read this have knowledge of creators and links that would allow me to begin collecting information for inclusion and recognition in this type of volume(s), such as the previously offered http://www.blambot.com/articles_grammar.shtml, please post them here or contact me directly at editors.eye.view@gmail.com. In the meantime, I thank you for this conversation and any that continue from it.

RoboTwin
03-13-2017, 09:16 PM
Here's a decent article on lettering that covers additional concepts:

http://chrisoatley.com/comic-lettering-comic-layout/

Notably, individual books will have idiosyncratic art direction (compared to other books in the same publisher's catalog) when a creative team assembles, or when an older book gets a new team, and there's obviously some kind of balance between following the rules and allowing creativity with the art form.

Maybe look at sales figures and awards to gauge how style guides or the lack thereof effects the success of a comic. Could be a chapter in your book.

Another idea is to kind of reverse engineer some classic comics, like Watchmen or Dark Knight, and create example style guides for them.

DCdraw
03-28-2017, 08:50 PM
Here's something on the 1982 DC comics style guide:

http://www.cbr.com/the-entire-1982-dc-comics-style-guide-is-online-and-amazing/amp/

and the images themselves:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/JoseLuisGarciaLopezFans/photos/?tab=album&album_id=207954002578217

which is, as you can see, a VISUAL style guide with character model sheets and color guides. Looks like a thick tome.

There are some more references to this style guide if you google it online.

This style guide is obviously not used today, but I would be very surprised if artists today worked without character model sheets.

The Garcia-Lopez style guide wasnt for artists to use as reference, it was for licensors to use on their products. So you'd see those images on all kinds of merchandise. I remember the Mayfair DC RPG pretty much strip-mined the guide for all of that artwork at one point.

ayalpinkus
03-29-2017, 03:05 AM
The Garcia-Lopez style guide wasnt for artists to use as reference, it was for licensors to use on their products. So you'd see those images on all kinds of merchandise. I remember the Mayfair DC RPG pretty much strip-mined the guide for all of that artwork at one point.


I'm sure you're right, but that doesn't invalidate my argument that comic style guides are necessarily going to be visual.

That DC comics style guide doesn't tell licensors how to use punctuation.