Getting started with the writing

My first step is to scribble out the gist of my imagined dialogue on two sheets of plain typing paper.

Why two sheets? Because in those days a two-page spread in each biweekly issue of The Advocate was allotted to each of my Wendel episodes.

On each page I pencil in a crude grid, breaking up each grid into three tiers. For starters each tier (except the top one on page 1) gets three panels within which I'll scribble my first notions about what my characters will say to each other.

As my idea congeals I'll begin refining my dialogue's structure, but this first raw breakdown of the two-page space gives me an early feel for how my strip's dialogue will "time out."

The first panel in any episode has to be big to make room for my recurring Wendel logo. And in this particular strip it will need to be roomy enough to contain a panoramic "establishing shot," whose job is to let readers know where the conversation is happening. Such an uncrowded, airy atmosphere will set the reflective tone my characters' exchange of ideas needs. I start off thinking I can give over the entire opening tier to this shot; but as you'll soon see from my subsequent draft, pacing concerns will lead me to limit my establishing shot to only two-thirds of a tier.

But fine-tuning the pacing will happen later. Deciding how a given strip will begin and end is my first order of business. Once I've done that I will free-associate the dialogue that hopefully will usher the characters (and the reader) from point A to point B.

Although my messy scribbles are too small to read in reduced images above, you can still tell that, as first drafted, most of the gabbing is bunched up in the middle of the sequence. That can be fixed; correcting such verbal clumps is why God invented second drafts. In the beginning it's important first to let words spill out of my subconscious uninhibitedly.