Visual Storytelling: The Art
Introduction by Harlan Ellison
Special essay by Jim Steranko
(Watson-Guptill, $24.95, 192 pages, paperback; April 2003.)
as I prepared to move house, I decided to purge myself of clutter before
I started packing. Even books were not immune from my suddenly insatiable
hunger to lead a life of minimalism.
Like most writers, I had collected a multitude of reference materials
regarding the art and craft of putting pen to paper. As I reviewed each
title for the keep or toss piles, I found myself cringing
at the restrictive, pretentious "professional advice" that plagued most
of these books. Soon, I discovered I had but a handful of important
works to hang onto. And, if I had already owned Visual Storytelling:
The Art and Technique, it would have been the one work above all
others that sat at the top of the keep pile.
The problem with most "how to" and "how not to" books of writing, screenwriting,
playwriting, comic-book writing, etc., is that they are written by people
with knowledge based on their own egocentricity. They take their writing
style and personal experiences, put them on the page as the rule of
thumb to follow, and that's the end of that. But Caputo's work comes
up with something far more important than ridiculous absolutes and one-sided
stories: it offers an open-ended philosophy that allows the reader to
take what he wants and run (write, draw or design) with it.
As Caputo states so perfectly at the outset, this book is
about telling a great story. It's not enough for the audience
to read the story, or watch the film, or play the game. They need to
experience the comic or film or game. That's visual storytelling.
In an instant, the work is not just for one particular artistic medium.
It relates to everything from writing and cartooning to game development
and film editing.
To get the reader into the proper mood, Visual Storytelling
kicks off with a spirited introduction by sf writer Harlan Ellison.
Honest and engaging, Ellison takes readers through his own storytelling
experiences without pretence, while delivering a "know the rules, but
break the rules" mantra which casts stones at the latest rules-of-thumb
for screenwriters: "Don't incorporate camera direction into your script
-- that's the director's job." Well, Ellison will have none of it. "You
must think visually before you write," he declares. "And if one's
visualization calls for a particular camera angle, director be damned."
And if you're not a screenwriter? Don't worry, Ellison has something
poignant and insightful for all comers.
Overall, Visual Storytelling is a hotbed of history, art, behind-the-scenes
discovery and "method behind the madness" revelation. The read is as
vibrant and as fast-paced as should be expected from a body of work
devoted to telling a great story. Each page is chock-full of illuminating
insight, with a multitude of intriguing sidebars and graphic images
from manga, comics, film and gaming.
The bookend to Ellison's great intro is an enlightening special essay
by renowned comic-book artist Jim Steranko. We're talking not about
a "how to" piece but about a riveting wordscape concerning narrative
theory, visualization of scene components, the core of the storyteller's
art, temporal continuity, and far more that lies beyond the confines
of a comic panel. Steranko's final sentence reflects the objective behind
the book itself: "The art of [storytelling] is ultimately up to you."
Caputo has put together a treasure trove of storytelling history, philosophy
and theory, where readers, writers, artists and film makers can explore
lighting, colour, planning, pacing, theory and so much more. In a nutshell,
Visual Storytelling is loaded.
I'm sure you'll find it at the top of your own keep file. Or,
better yet, by your side as you bring your stories to their ultimate
fruition. I can only imagine where my writing career would be today
if I had had this book fifteen years ago.
Review by William D Prystauk.