By Josh Hechinger
Welcome to From Strip to Script, where I take a page of finished comic art and try to derive a script from it, to see what I can learn from the exercise.
I missed the first 'season' of Warren Ellis and Jason Howard's Trees when it was coming out, but ended up catching up on the first trade's-worth as a late-night impulse buy a little while back, and found myself just blazing through it (is it still a page-turner if you're swiping on a screen? Surely I'm the first person on the Internet to ever ask that question).
The premise is simple: ten years ago, giant black alien columns dropped from the sky, all over the world, and embedded themselves in the world, sometimes in the middle of major cities. No aliens came out, no communication came out. Extremely corrosive chemicals come out once in a hot minute, but other than that, the titular trees are silent. This is the story of how various people (and their governments) across the world live in the shadow of them.
We'll be looking at a simple-but-sequentially rich sequence from the first issue by the aforementioned Warren Ellis [writer], Fonographics [letterer], and Jason Howard [artist].
PAGE FOURTEEN (EIGHT Panels)
P1. Low on CHENGLEI'S feet as he drags his luggage through the dark enterance tunnel. There's an actual light at the end of it: the city, though we can't make out too many details just yet.
CHENGLEI (cap) I felt like I was suspended in space.
P2. Big. CHENGLEI is a tiny thing, completely dwarfed by the hustle and bustle of Shu: people crowding the sidewalks, strings of lanterns hanging between buildings, the traffic careening down the street in both directions, barely not-crashing into each other.
P3. Inset panel, dead center at the bottom, if possible. CHENGLEI, agog.
CHENGLEI (cap) And I could not steer.
So, What'd We Learn?
This puts me in mind of a film sequence (low angle on his feet as he walks foreground to background into the 'light', dissolve or cut to the big panorama of the city, cut back to Chenglei taking it in, or maybe cut back and pan around him as he does so), but it's delivered ala "comics": a pure distillation of the important narrative beats: Chenglei dragging his baggage towards the light/our first good look at Shu/Chenglei's reaction. One, two, three; all the narrative info and emotional content you need.
The choice of where to place Chenglei's reaction inset panel was something I took care to note in my take on the script, because it's really key: center-bottom has him being enveloped by the city, which ties into the 'suspended in space' line in the caption. Upper left corner (assuming a smaller reaction shot), we'd get a little extra jolt of anticipation as we take in his reaction before we see what he's reacting to. Lower right, he'd be getting dragged through and crushed by the big shot. Guttered panel, he'd be reacting with distance.
Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger [joshhechinger.tumblr.com] is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+. You can find him being a loquacious dope on Twitter, and read his comic collaborations on Comixology.