On the choice to present “Inertia” with a landscape orientation
I had originally planned a blog post for today that discussed the development and creation process of our new self-published collection Night Zero: Volume Three, but with “Inertia” taking such a dramatic turn (figuratively and literally) from our usual comic format, I thought it’d be best to talk about that first. But don’t forget, Volume Three is available for pre-order if you’d like to support Night Zero and keep our production going.
Like nearly all Night Zero vignettes, “Inertia” saw many variations before it became the story it is, and while I’ll discuss some of the conceptual iterations in more detail next week, there’s one element that simply cannot be ignored. The entire comic is sideways, utilizing a landscape-orientation that’s actually better suited for (most) computer monitors but very rare in printed comic form. So what’s the deal?
The unusual page is the result of the unusual storytelling, which follows two sets of characters simultaneously. When the vignette concept shifted to this form (from one set of characters originally), it was still expected to alternate scene-by-scene… but over time, the contrast of the students and the professors became more complex than that. Because the professors will spend the majority of their scene in discussion, I wanted the students to have minimal conversation. Drawing from “Hush”, my all-time favorite episode of BtVS, I decided to cut all dialogue completely… leaving the entirety of the communication and development to the actors’ nonverbal expressions.
This provided a new challenge, though, because what we learned from vignettes like “Sisters” is that dialogue and action need to be balanced not only in quantity, but portioned out evenly as well. I was concerned that alternating from one couple to the other would create segments of too much dialogue, followed by too much action, then too much dialogue again. I considered switching page-by-page, which inspired me to really focus on keeping the stories parallel. I started a new draft of the script in which the two tales were literally written side-by-side, so that I could keep track of what was happening in the one room while writing in the other.
This format led to some much stronger overlaps and really played out the contrast how I wanted, but I was concerned that alternating every page would be confusing to the readers (at least in the beginning), and even so, one page to another is a psychological boundary that would dampen the crossover effect. So I took it to the next level, and toyed with the suggestion of splitting the two stories down every page, side-by-side. I knew this would be tough, especially considering how much I love to show off our photographs, but as I thought more and more about it, I saw no other way to accomplish what I wanted.
After the shoots, as I was looking through the photos and drafting together the page layouts, I decided to try building both on normal portrait pages as well as sideways landscape pages, and the difference was everything. The landscape format provided almost the same width as a normal portrait page, so I could still use the wide shots to full effect, but the stories remained side-by-side on the same page and the parallelism worked just as I wanted. The real challenge was reminding myself that I was still working on a 7×10 canvas, not zoomed out on a 10×14 canvas as I was used to, and therefore had to keep the framecount down lest they become tiny.
The next challenge was to sort out how the website would handle these pages, preferably without breaking the system in place that handles the other comics. Fortunately, modern browsers have some great tricks up their sleeves and I am able to maintain all our update methods without much trouble. The only downside, other than not seeing the professors’ half on the homepage preview, is that the site might look something terrible in an old and/or incompetent web browser (I’m looking at you, Internet Explorer). If you encounter any odd behavior, please let us know.