There are always three ways to do something; The right way, the wrong way, and your way.
There's plenty of information out there on this subject that is technical and direct. Screw that. This is how an actual crazy artist, early in his career, tackles the monumental task of a graphic novel. This week is Part 1, so let's get started.
WRITING-The writing process starts with two-part insanity.
Part 1- Zoning Out. Making coffee, in the shower, goofing off online, and otherwise doing something mundane...and then losing complete track of what I'm doing as something plays out in my head. This is a technique I perfected years ago while tuning out everything my ex-girlfriend said.
Part 2- Stream of consciousness writing. Once I have the tertiary ideas for characters and scenes from zoning out all the time, I sit down with a notebook and basically write out a conversation to myself. I don't edit, I don't erase, and I write out what I like or don't like about what I just wrote. I doodle. Essentially I'm taking a runaway train of thought, and I start pushing behind it. Speaking of trains, I do most of this on the subway since I have time to kill. If anyone ever reads through that notebook, men with butterfly nets will be hauling me off within the hour.
Maybe I shouldn't have shown you that. Again.
I work the story out by breaking down the book into chapters, then I write/blather out the chapters scene by scene. Set design ideas, character motivations, dialogue rough drafts. Eventually I will read over what I just wrote for a chapter (which may or may not be an insane rant), figure out what needs to be in said scene for both narrative and pacing purposes; then assign each scene the number of pages I think they need to be. Once the page count starts, the rambling starts to take form.
The scene-to-page-count outline for a chapter is what I base my thumbnails off of. I have two kinds of thumbnails- the kind that are only for me (sketchy penciled messes) and the kind I want someone else to see (much clearer, ballpoint pen and sharpie). While I'm doing thumbnails in my sketchbook, I also have the notebook out, as I skim the ideas to keep them fresh. I write a rough draft for any dialogue I didn't already write a rough draft for. This dialogue will base where I'm leaving room for text, and who needs to be standing where to talk in what order. Also! This dialogue will be absolutely terrible. Oops! We'll come back to that later, and on the computer. Right now I'm sick to death of writing and am ready to start drawing.
Things like camera progression now need to be fit on top of whatever pages I envisioned for this scene, reveals need placed after the page turns, stuff like that. I thumbnail pages as spreads so I know how two pages will look together, and what the viewer will see at a given time. Design choices are being made. Admittedly I didn't think about this part of the design near as much when I started, so the more recent chapters I don't readily have online yet are better examples. If only I had minored in Graphic Design...
The thumbnail step is really still a writing step though, because it is where I set the visual pacing. In my mind, the book and the chapter both need to breathe. When space opens up, panels get cinematic. When spaces are tight and stressful, the panel count increases and stresses out the page. Action tends to get vertical. These are just generalizations, it varies scene to scene.
There are no hard and fast rules for me other than the basic page rules I set for myself; in Benthic all my vertical panels break evenly in sets of two, three, or four. I don't get over 8 panels a page. No splash pages. Any panel stacks, which are limited, are always stacked on the right, and always when the vertical break is in the center of the page for that row. I never change scene mid-page. In the future I think I'll break up this visual language project by project, but I do think it helps to set yourself parameters at the start.
Once the chapter is more or less thumbnailed (80% is good enough to get things going) I'm ready to pencil! So...I wait. I wait a couple days and work on another step of something else. I have enough to do that these ideas can ferment. I come back to it, and like grease, all the suck as risen to the top to be skimmed off. NOW I can start.
That's it for Part 1! Next week we'll hang 11 or 12 sheets of Bristol on the wall and get penciling.