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Archive for April, 2005
Tom Spurgeon on How to Critique Comics
At Comic Foundry we encourage feedback on member portfolios, but giving criticism is a lot more than a simple thumbs up or down. Famed editor Tom Spurgeon of The Comics Reporter and former editor of The Comics Journal gave CF a hand in figuring out how craft the perfect comic review.
What’s the first thing you look at?
The first time I read a comic I just read it, and then later when I’m looking for stuff to write about I go to the pile of comics I’ve already read rather than the new ones. Sorting through my memories of first reading those comics usually provides me with a hook for at least the initial draft of what I end up writing – a first impression or something that popped out at me. The other day I wanted to write a short review for my Web site, and looking at my pile of comics I remembered reading Fermin Solis’ “One Step After Another,” and I figure I could make something out of the really severe dichotomy I recalled the artist setting up between personal liberation and stability. Considering the brevity of the review, I probably didn’t have too much more to offer than that, but that was the hook.
When I get to the formal writing process, I would say that I first pay some attention to the general look and design of the book because that’s what first presents itself to the reader. Design in comics has really changed a lot in the last 10 years.
What is your process for critiquing?
Without getting to fancy about it, I think when I write about comics I’m working in a more intuitive fashion than locked into a process. There are certainly things I like and pay attention to, although that frequently depends on the comic book. When I review superhero comics, for instance, I’m probably more interested than usual in how they deal with page design and with the amount of text on the page, simply because those are things that have really changed about superhero comics in the last 30 years. Also, when I look at superhero comics I’m really interested in how the figure is depicted and how the figure is used on the page, whether it’s another design element or the focus of the visual elements. If you look at someone like J.G. Jones, the bodies Jones draws become really important as a visual signifier, clues on where he wants your eyes to go, more than someone like John Buscema for whom the body was almost always the destination.
Other things I look for generally are any disconnect between the written word and what’s depicted on the page, the use of blacks as a design element, the comic’s pacing and how the style serves or otherwise works with or in opposition to the story’s content.
What should be the goal of every critique?
As there are many reasons to write about comics critically, naming a single goal based on various legitimate objectives becomes really difficult. Your goals are your own, you know? I would say the one thing that applies to every critique is it should be as good a piece of writing as you can manage, above and beyond any other aims.
How do you go about critiquing a comic that features a style that you have personal feelings against?
That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure I have personal feelings against a style of comics, although I certainly have preferences and they might have been strong enough preferences when I was a teenager to manifest themselves as feelings. One great thing about being around for a bunch of years is that you can go back to stuff you disliked when you were younger and you may see them in a kinder light.
In general, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to critique a comic based on its use of a style you don’t care for, as long as you have something interesting to say about why you don’t like it and why others should consider sharing your opinion.
Being a coward is good, too. There are some comics that I like and comics I dislike for reasons I haven’t yet figured out yet, so I avoid writing about those comics. I’ve never understood Lil’ Abner.
What if I’m don’t know a lot about writing or art – am I qualified to give a critique?
Sure! It might even be a great one. In the end, insight trumps everything that we can learn about writing or art or the history of a medium and all the useful examples we can accrue through doing so. Those things might let us write in more interesting ways, or give us a chance to say something insightful on a more regular basis, but the heart of the critical process is something that’s possible to reach without knowing what you’re doing. In fact, I’ve always thought most critics learn all that other stuff so that they can forget it and go back to making points based solely on their own observations.
How do the creator’s feelings play into this?
I’m afraid they don’t. If you get off subject or just plain nasty, you deserve to reap the whirlwind when it comes to hurt feelings. For an honest critique, though, you have to try your hardest not to think about those things and hope that you’ll be afforded the same generosity of spirit from the artist. If something is put out in public it can be commented upon, and creators just have to deal that someone might do so.
Where’s the line between being specific and nitpicking?
It becomes nitpicking when it can no longer be tied into a thought or an idea about the overall work.
What advice do you have for a self-critique?
1. If possible, give yourself some time away from the work.
2. Simply read before you dig into the how and why you did something that either worked or didn’t. It’s difficult to know if a joke is funny if you’re looking at your cross-hatching.
3. Be harder on yourself than you imagine anyone else will be.
4. Don’t ever let even the severest appraisal, from yourself or others, stop you from creating. Critics may give you a lot of things, but they never give you permission.
What’s the most common mistakes made when reviewing a comic, and how can they be overcome?
I think the two most common mistakes people make when they review comics are 1) to accept a depraved standard, that something “is good for a comic book,” for example, and 2) to mirror what they think a good review should sound like rather than honestly engaging the work in question, being open to really liking it or really not liking it, and then putting that on paper.
In writing a critique, how true is this twist on the old adage: If you can’t say something nicely, don’t say anything at all?
There might be something to that in peer-to-peer critiques, particularly in that part of the goal of that kind of work is to support each other and learn from another. And it’s also human nature. My football coach used to tell me that it was the rare player that could accept a criticism without hearing something complimentary first, so he would always try to start with something nice, even if it was sort of stupid. At the same time, you can’t extend “nicely” to include whitewashing the truth as you see it, and it’s really not a factor at all when you’re doing it for a readership rather than the artist one-on-one.
Scorched-earth rhetoric in a review does have a place, particularly if you feel like your piece of criticism is appearing in a critical context of a lot of reviews where you really want to make your point in as strong a manner as possible. If 32 people shoot guns in the air going “yippee,” you might be better off throwing a grenade than shooting your rifle and saying “the opposite of yippee.” Be careful not to overuse that kind of approach, though, or no one will take you seriously.
In the Internet age, it’s a lot easier for people to be combative in light of a bad review. How would you sidestep such an issue, or is it an issue at all?
You should consider it a great thing if people are combative in response to something you’re written; it’s a really high compliment, similar to the compliment you paid to the art in question by choosing to write about it. I would say that you want to get to the point where your reviews speak for themselves, and not get mired in a back-and-forth argument. That’s sort of how I feel about the Internet generally, now. There’s an assumption online that if someone says something you have to counter it or that other person wins! But they’re not filing a brief in court that demands a response; they’re just trying to get you into an argument. In most cases, life’s too short.
Why is a critique important for creators and the ones giving the review?
I think critical writing becomes important to the creator when it’s useful, when there’s a way of looking at what you just did that hadn’t occurred to you in the doing of it. A creator who reads and gets something out of a piece of critical writing frequently does just as much work going over that piece of writing as the critic did in going over the original work.
I also think it’s nice just to be talked about, whether or not the reaction is a good one or a bad one.
For the person doing the review, the reward is the pleasure that comes with the writing and in seeing a work in a different light you might not have seen going over it the first time. It’s fun to figure out why something works, whether it’s a street-corner lamp or Art Spiegelman’s Maus.
— Interview by Tim LeongPosted by Tim Leong on April 29th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Fiona Avery on Story Structure
Top Cow’s top writer enlightened Comic Foundry with a lesson in story structure. From rules, to classic models to advice, Fiona explains it all.
I bet my answer won’t be what you were expecting to hear. I don’t outline. I hate them I think they make a story horribly stale. Tell a story once, and you lose inertia when it comes time to tell it again. That said, I do have some tricks constantly in use. The first way I learned about structure was not through plot. Plot is actually a consequence of character. There are very few writers who write from character anymore, but it goes something like this: What does character A want, and how far are they willing to go for it? What does Character B want to do in order to stop Character A, and how far will they go? This equation gives you plot. That is all the structure you need if your characters stay the course and you don’t chicken out while writing them.
Story structure is generally taught to be the defined antagonism that grows throughout a work resulting in a climax that proceeds to a denouement. It’s important because without conflict producing a climax, you end up with nothing but talking heads and what we now like to call reality TV programming.
No one’s ever come by and laid down the rules for me as a comic book writer. Generally they like you to have an action set piece in each issue, or something that represents tension and conflict if not action — a chase scene, a horror scene, something that gives a thrill. If you’re writing a serialized story that never ends, you need to pace out your issues and overall story arcs so that the readers like coming back for more. Generally something new is revealed in every issue until all has been revealed, and then you move on to your next storyline.
If you start the story by looking at a three-act structure, and if you follow it to the letter, it will make your writing stale. This is because you’re writing backwards from plot instead of forward into plot. You can however set up a very basic three-act structure with 1) introduction to the characters, 2) the problem is revealed and the plot thickens, 3) the resolution occurs and place scenes within these three categories to help you get a big picture of where you’re going. If you go too far into details, you run the risk of knowing everything ahead of time. So for you as a writer, there’s no thrill in following the story. The next logical step in any storyline will almost always be the most predictable step and if you can predict it, I guarantee so can the readers. Writing from character will lead you to a loose three-act storyline with interesting deviations. It’s a much better way to approach story and it will keep you guessing. This will keep the readers guessing too.
I have never had a story that didn’t know its own structure. My stories find their own gait after about five pages without me helping them. In the editing stage, it may occur to me that the story has a recognizable structure, and sometimes it will remind me of the structure of a movie or a book I’ve seen or read.
That said, I work with structure most during the editing stage. Once I see what the story had in mind, I prune it or shape it to further meet those goals. I leave only the necessary tangents in place and tighten up any deviations from the main storyline that weren’t necessary, so the reader isn’t confused.
Try not to tell stories that are only talking heads. Too much time spent doing nothing but gabbing gets incredibly boring. The real heart of any structure is conflict. For example, my biggest problem with the new Star Wars movies is that there’s no conflict throughout the entire first movie. Even when the Jedi are “arguing” with one another, they had no real conflict. It was chess pieces moved across the board because the plot mandated that’s where they needed to be. But real plot is controlled by genuine character conflict; plot should never control the characters.
A good example of conflict pushing a story forward is the charming movie “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman. I chose it because it’s a very simple movie that most people have seen and it shows a progression of conflicts leading to resolution. The young couple fall in love, but he must make money, but he presumably dies while seeking his fortune, but she’s taken by the bad prince, but he’s planned to murder her, but the lover returns to save her, but he has to go through a swordsman, a giant and a genius to reach her. … It is very clear at every step that, though tongue-in-cheek, there is conflict pushing this story forward. William Goldman is a master writer too, and it shows in his storytelling. Find your conflict and you’ll find your story.
— by Fiona AveryPosted by Tim Leong on April 29th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
The Good Karma of Indie Comics
As host of Fanboy Radio’s Indie Show, David Hopkins interviews a lot of comic creators. Now he’s going to have to find someone to interview him. Hopkins, along with artist Tom Kurzanski, are launching Karma Incorporated, a three-issue miniseries by Viper Comics. Both David and Tom talked with Comic Foundry about how the series came to be, how you can start your own series and provided EXCLUSIVE PREVIEW IMAGES along the way.
David, you’ve done a mini-comic and have contributed stories before, but Karma Incorporated is your first sole comic series. How is it different than the rest of what you’ve written previously?
DAVID: Even before I wrote the mini-comic, I had already written two different series, which never got published. Over 300 pages of script that may never see the printed page. And honestly? I’m glad. It was during that time I learned how to write comics. I became comfortable with the medium. It’s good to move past your first attempts to see what’s next. The mini-comic was my way of saying, “I’m finally ready for others to see what I’m doing.” And it went over well. Karma Incorporated is different, because after writing issue 1, I knew it was getting published. I knew it’d be in comic-book shops. No pressure, huh? At times, it was difficult to stick to the plan. I wanted to put everything in the story, to try and prove something. But it’s not about that, you’ve got to trust the story. Fortunately, Tom’s art is so damn good that cleared a lot of the stress. I knew whatever I sent to him, however outlandish or absurd — he could do it, and it ended up looking better than how I first imagined.
Also, for those who have a copy of my mini-comic, I’m happy to say one of the characters makes a brief appearance in issue No. 2 of Karma Incorporated.
Tom, this is your first real foray into comics too. What weren’t you prepared for?
TOM: How time-consuming it can be. I got a taste of that when I worked on the Comic Book Project for the Columbia University Teachers College. I had to time-manage my regular and evening work schedules just to squeeze in a few hours sleep. I didn’t anticipate that it would continue in a similar vein. Now I’ve got to balance freelance work with comics and down time so that I can be sure the project doesn’t suffer from exhaustion.
Actually, I just tell that to David so he won’t know I spend all of my time watching ‘Gilmore Girls.’
How did the learning curve work?
TOM: It really all came down to my being able to accept that I’m allowed to do my own style. My earliest freelance clients had fairly strict guidelines, which meant I was mimicking and being somewhat derivative of other artists. As they got increasingly more comfortable with my work, I got increasingly more comfortable interjecting my own style and ended up finding a stylistic identity that I felt wasn’t too familiar as to be boring.
I was lucky early on that I got to talk with some industry pros to get an idea of what I was lacking, what needed improvement. The routine I developed as an artist is drawn from the sources they recommended to me. But I’m still learning, honestly.
You have a film background, right? How has that specifically helped you as an artist?
TOM: My background in film is limited to film school. During my time there, I quickly learned that writing, cinematography, editing, and the elements that went into pre-production for a film were my passion. I think that comics and film are parallel entities. Seeing as I wasn’t one to participate in the politics that made other students excel, devoid (of) any Hollywood connections, and lacking any overwhelming desire to move to Los Angeles, I’ve found that comic books encompass all of the elements of film that I enjoy. As an artist, you’re interpreting the script in such a way that you have to get the story across without words. You compose the shots as panels. You’re the cinematographer, the editor. You create the storyboards that sell the pitch to the audience.
David, you’re an English teacher — how does that help with your comic writing?
DAVID: Schedule-wise. It’s great. I work from 7:30 to 3, which leaves the rest of the afternoon and evening to write. I have a winter break, a spring break, and a two-month summer break. During these times, I write. I get a monthly paycheck, which keeps food on the table so I’m not in a continual panic about finances. All of that is a blessing when you’re writing professionally. In the classroom, I spend several hours a day talking about literature — plot, theme, structure, symbols, characters, all that stuff. Needless to say, the storytelling craft is always on my mind.
What basic lessons learned in high school English are applicable to comic writing?
DAVID: I try not to bore my students too much with, “Oh, Mr. Hopkins writes comic books, so let’s all read Ultimate Spider-Man for homework.” However, in high school, learning how to communicate clearly in your writing and how to identify and enjoy good literature — it’s essential to being a writer in any medium. Everybody has ideas, but you need to translate those ideas into something others understand — and that’s what I spend a lot of time teaching in class.
Art-wise, Tom, how does your process work? What do you do first?
TOM: David sends me the script and I (being obsessive-compulsive) divide it into manageable sections, which basically fall on the scene changes. If a character is introduced that we haven’t seen before, I do some sketching to get a good idea of what he or she will look like. If there’s a location that will play a crucial role, I lay out some rough blueprints. David’s great about providing reference photos, so I work from those.
After all of the preliminary work, I sketch out some quick thumbs, which I use to get an idea of how the story is best served. From there it’s extremely rough sketches on 11-by-17 art boards, which I clean up with a harder pencil. Because I ink my own work, I don’t sketch every last detail. For inking, I use Staedtler and Sakura technical and brush pens for different line weights. I’ve tried using regular brushes and quill pens, but find the technical pens give me the kind of control I’m really looking for. I clean it all up digitally.
You’re also a freelance illustrator. Any tips for someone looking to jump into that arena?
TOM: My best advice would be to look for even the smallest opportunities to get your artwork out there. Enter art competitions, paint a sign for the local vet, draw the poster for your school play — anything. As people start to notice your work, the jobs will get increasingly better, and your art will, too.
Freelancing is really something I was lucky to fall into. The projects I’ve worked on have all come from word of mouth. My friends and family have been incredible at selling me to potential clients, some of which have given me steady work. Right now I’m working with a friend on getting a Web site up, so I won’t have to rely as heavily on their ability to drop jobs into my lap.
David, you’ve written a lot in different genres. Are there any themes that remain solid through them all?
DAVID: Definitely. Family has been a huge theme. Both Dead@17:Rough Cut stories, Karma Incorporated, and another upcoming Viper project of mine all have strong family themes. Maybe because I got married, became a dad, and moved into our first house during the course of the past three years. My wife, Melissa, is my audience and my editor. She’s been with me on every trip to San Diego, and she’s the one who told me to do Karma Incorporated when I had my doubts. And she’s super hot. So yeah, family is important to me. It creeps into those stories.
How did the whole process work for you, Tom, given you live in New York and David lives in Texas?
TOM: E-mail. David would send the scripts to me and I sent back pages periodically, through an FTP, and got reports from him and Marlena Hall on things I may have missed continuity-wise, or changes that needed to be made. I’ve never actually met David, though I’ve spoken to him on the phone a few times. He likes to yell at me when I make mistakes. If we lived in the same city he’d probably just constantly kick my shins as I worked – his idea of motivation.
David, how does being around high school students affect the way you craft dialogue?
DAVID: Teenagers are all different. But one thing is for sure, adult-speak and teen-speak are very different. Completely different set of words and patterns of speech. Karma Incorporated consists of mostly adults. Maybe I should do a story with teenagers in it? Since I spend so much time around my students, I like to stay far away from that world when I’m in front of my computer.
For me, dialogue is the hardest part. I agonize over it. I can take 500 different plot lines and subplots and happily merge them into a single coherent story, but give me four pages of a conversation between two people? I turn into a mess. What’s my problem? Dialogue is distinct from how we actually talk, and it’s distinct from standardized formal writing. It’s somewhere in between. Dialogue should come out naturally from the character. If the dialogue suffers, it means you either (a) don’t know your character, or (b) you’re trying too hard to make the character say something they wouldn’t normally say. My problem is typically B. Thankfully, Tom is a big help here. He’s a better writer than I am. I’ve read a few scripts he’s written. Great stuff. And so whenever I’m stuck, Tom saves my ass.
You guys both did comics for your college papers. David, you were an editorial cartoonist and Tom, you worked on a strip — how did that experience prepare you for Karma Incorporated?
DAVID: Working on editorial cartoons gives you a taste for irony and satire. I can’t write without inserting my own statements about society here and there. In Karma Incorporated, we spend a lot of time looking at the politics of relationships— specifically, marriage, fidelity and divorce. Everyone is stuck in their own hopeless drama. When things get difficult, no one is equipped to deal with the situation in healthy ways. I don’t know if I intended Karma Incorporated to be a satire, but the themes emerged naturally as I was writing.
TOM: That was a collaborative gag that my roommates and I dubbed ‘Tuscany 304,’ after our apartment. We saw that the paper was printing uninspired inside jokes decorated with stick figures, so we decided to do an experiment. We came up with the most insipid, indecipherable nonsense we could put to paper, and they printed every last one, save the one we thought was legitimately funny.
I walked away from it knowing more about how to work with collaborators, and more confidence in my abilities as an artist. It was a start to developing my own style. It also seemed like we were grifting the paper, as we got paid for basically doing nothing but making fun of their total lack of a sense of humor. I think the guys in Karma Incorporated would’ve been proud of that.
How has working for Fanboy Radio helped your work in the comic industry? Is networking important?
DAVID: Scott Hinze, the host of Fanboy Radio, has introduced me to some great people. He’s shown me how to be a professional in this quirky little industry. At the conventions, most people who know me usually know me from the show: David from Fanboy Radio. It’s cool.
Scott and I are best friends, and we met long before he invited me to do Fanboy Radio. Scott is the best. I mean, he’s done over 200 episodes, twice a week for over three years— building an amazing community of listeners. Who else can boast that?
Because of Fanboy Radio, I get to chat with these cool comic book creators! Craig Thompson, James Kochalka, Jim Mahfood, Brian Bendis, Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Mike Wieringo, Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Paul Hornschemeier. I’m a geek for these guys and their work.
Networking is extremely important, and tricky. If you overdo it, you screw yourself. You become needy and rather pathetic – always throwing yourself at people who you think can help you out. The key is to help out others, without expecting anything in return. Don’t even think in terms of networking. Friendships will develop naturally. You may not see direct results, but that’s not the point. Over time, you gain a reputation for being the kind of individual people want to work with.
What have you learned from working on FBR that’s made you a better creator?
DAVID: So much. Primarily, there’s no single way to “break into comics.” Let your work and your work ethic speak for you. There’s no single way to be successful.
Tom, tell us about The Comic Book Project. What were you able to take away from that?
TOM: The Comic Book Project is a yearly publication, with educational themes, hosted by the Teachers Colleges at Columbia University and published by Dark Horse in a small run. It’s for kids, by kids and helps them to develop reading and writing skills in a fun, alternative way. Different schools participate, and the better stories end up printed in the books.
The first time out I had to adapt the kids’ artwork in varying styles, but now I just put the comics together with their own artwork, which I think is much more exciting for them. That was my first experience doing comic-book artwork and, as I progressed, I got a better understanding of the process.
Why is it important for indie comics to exist?
TOM: The same reason legitimately indie films should exist – they’re a forum for unusual creative voices to reach an audience without having to compromise. Without independent comics, a lot of the most iconic figures in the industry would never have gotten the chance to be seen.
That, and it gives me something to read.
DAVID: I hate it when people view indie comics as a stepping stone to doing “real” comics in the mainstream. Within indie comics, you have a large artistic community creating stories completely unfettered by all the fears that come with a large audience and a large publisher. Take Antony Johnston for example. One of the best darn writers out there, and to my knowledge, he’s never worked for any of the larger companies. We need a place for Antony Johnston to tell his stories!
Why do you think most small-press books run for a specific amount of issues, as opposed to many of the ongoing titles in the mainstream? Do you either way is more advantageous than the other?
DAVID: Lack of time and money seem to be the major reasons. Tom, Marlena and I all work other jobs. I’d love for Tom and Marlena to do this full time. We’d crank out the series monthly. I’d be cool with it. Already, I have at least 30 issues of Karma Incorporated loosely plotted in my head. I’d love people to see where it’s all leading. You wouldn’t believe me, even if I told you.
However, the advantage of a limited series is clear. You tell a story only when you have a story to tell. Think about Sin City, Hellboy, or Concrete, for example. These creators are under no obligation to spit something out every month. As a result, you get their best work and it shows. They were doing story arcs before they became cool.
Visit www.vipercomics.com for more information on Karma Incorporated.
—Interview by Tim LeongPosted by Tim Leong on April 27th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Inside Dash Shaw’s Indie Mind
You might not know who Dash Shaw is. Don’t worry,
you will. Dash’s current indie book, Love Eats Brains, is an epic zombie romance and has captured much critical acclaim. His upcoming book, Goddess Head, will surely do the same. Dash spoke to Comic Foundry and proved that even though you’re in the small press, it doesn’t mean you can’t do big work.
Can you take us through your process in creating your comic?
There’s a moment when I’m filled with the desire to make a comic. And then I have to hold onto that for as long as I can. It’s difficult. I don’t write a script. I just start drawing the comic on 8.5-by-11-inch computer paper really loosely.
I don’t have a consistent working method, so it’s difficult to explain. I did a short story, Heart-Shaped Holding Cell, because that place was in my mind and I wanted to draw it out and explain it. It’s not a story, really. I just wanted to describe this imaginary location. And the OddGod Press Love Eats Brains came out of Someone Who Cries For No Reason. And that kind of led to Hormones, which led to different things. I drew a lot of scenes for LEB that didn’t make it into the finished comic. And Operation Smile came out of my dad, who worked in South America cheering up kids with cleft lips before their operations. When I was little, he brought a box of “before and after” photos from the operation. I guess I was 10 years old, and the kids in the photos were all around my age.
I could describe how a particular comic happened, but each one came out a different way.
Tell us about your early struggles to publish Love Eats Brains.
In high school I was making Xeroxed mini-comics and doing illustrations for the Richmond Times-Dispatch every other week. And so when I moved to NYC for school, I wanted to start working on a series that I could self-publish from the money I made from the minis (that were made basically free since I had a friend who worked the graveyard shift at Kinko’s). I should have continued hand-making minis. My early minis were all drawn differently; some were more cartoony and others were more like short illustrated books. And at the Times-Dispatch every other week I would try to do something different too. One week I’d try to learn (Adobe) Illustrator or Photoshop or do a watercolor one. It was like illustration boot camp. I guess I got anxious and wanted to do something consistent (even though I wasn’t anywhere close to being a confident-enough cartoonist), instead of just continuing down that more experimental, learning path (which I’m now back on). I definitely jumped into self-publishing prematurely.
Anyway, the first three issues of LEB were done freshman year at SVA (School of Visual Arts) and I got burnt out on them too soon. They were printed at the Small Publisher’s Co-Op, which has incredibly cheap rates. I could sell them for 2 bucks each and make my money back easily. I already knew a lot of stores that would carry them from doing my mini-comics.
Those garnered some attention and a publisher asked to do a collection of the finished story. At that point I had done Garden Head and I was starting to move back to the kind of comics I was doing in high school. So I asked a friend of a friend, who I’d spoken with briefly before, about helping me finish the LEB series. He seemed really enthusiastic about it, and he said he was a fan of those issues. So I drove over to his place and stayed at his apartment for a week and I made a mock-up of the finished book for him. I penciled/sketched in the remainder of the story on Bristol board. I wanted to work on a comic with a friend, you know? I thought it would get me enthusiastic about the series again. It was really fun working on the project and, I think, we became good friends in the process. He wasn’t under any contractual obligation to work on the book with me. I just trusted his enthusiasm.
So I left all of my original art for the first three issues with him, along with a dozen or so pages I had finished on my own, and a whole bunch of penciled pages and stuff, and I left. After that, he stopped talking to me and kept all of my original artwork. I tried calling and e-mailing him and mutual friends and on and on. He really just cut me off. It’s weird. I still have no idea if the whole thing was a hoax or what. Obviously, I felt really betrayed. It was a shitty thing for an artist to do to another artist, but it was worse since I thought we were friends. I don’t have scans of any of those pages. He really just took a year’s worth of work from me. I later heard other pretty shitty stories involving this person, so I guess he didn’t single me out. But it doesn’t matter anymore. I just said “Fuck it” and decided I didn’t want to finish that series anyway.
So the OddGod Press LEB graphic novel is a completely different story with different characters. The only similarities are the title and the theme (feeling vs. thinking). It looks really different than the original series, since it was done a couple years later and I had developed a lot. And my bestest, oldest drawing friend Will Jones did a short story in the back. So I guess LEB has a happy ending.
How did you go about selling the books? What do you recommend as far as distribution?
The original series was distributed by me and my friends, who lived a lot of different places since they had all moved to different colleges. Tony Shenton, who single-handedly runs a distribution service, helped get them out too. My recent work is distributed through Diamond (Comic Distributors) and other catalogs and the Internet.
How do you put personal interludes and so much emotion into a mass product?
I’m always a little surprised when people say my comics are personal, because they’re certainly not in the autobio category of a lot of indie comics. I guess things sneak in there. I never have a character who is Me. But when I’m drawing, I tend to exaggerate shoulder blades and Adam’s apples and weird noses. And I have a weird nose and my shoulder blades stick out and my Adam’s apple is pretty pointy. But I notice that later. That’s true for the whole comic book story and places and everything.
I want my comics to be an emotional experience. The main character in my comics is “You” and the story is “You’re reading this comic.” I’m not interested in having characters go through experiences and then the reader can feel for them whether or not they relate to the character. Some people will relate to a character and others won’t. I have no control over it. I could draw a character who looks like someone you hate, but to another person it could look like their sister or mother. It’s all associative. But the emotions, the psychology of the drawings and sequences, is universal.
What are the advantages of working in the small press?
There’s so little money involved. Everyone in the small press totally loves the medium and has a lot of enthusiasm. That’s rare in any industry. Last weekend at APE (Alternative Press Expo), Jane and I hung out with the Hidden Agenda Press people, whom we’d never met before, and we all hit it off because we shared a love of comics. It was great.
What, on the business side of things, do people need to know before entering the small press arena?
I know a lot of publishers don’t make really official contracts with the artists. It’s good to keep your receipts and try to figure out how much money, exactly, you’re losing by working in comics. If Hollywood gets involved I’m sure it goes all crazy. My mom said I should do more “film-adaptation friendly” comics and try to cash in on that whole thing. Gary Panter’s told me a lot of film-meeting horror stories.
You have a lot of different styles. What was the evolution between them?
I choose the line quality for a scene or sequence. And I’m very interested in how different kinds of lines and marks look next to each other. Like how if someone writes you a letter, you’re going to get an emotional response from their handwriting before you go through and decode the words. With a comic, every time you turn the page, you get an immediate vibe from the marks and design. So sometimes the psychology of the drawings should be one way, and other times it’s different. Sometimes I can’t explain why something was drawn a particular way; it just felt right to me.
I think the reason a lot of cartoonists are so consistent is that their cartooning came out of the illustration field, or illustrating a story, and illustrators are hired to have a consistent style (so the editors know what they’re getting).
What can you tell us about your band and incorporating music and comics?
The Mother’s Mouth is something I’m almost done with. It’s a 128-page graphic novel and a full-length album by my friend James Blanca and I. The book and album are packaged together, but it’s not like a soundtrack for the book, and the book isn’t an elaborate lyric sheet for the album; they just compliment each other. The themes of the book/album are memories and regression, incorporating a lot of ideas of evolutionary psychology. So the music and the book are tied thematically and emotionally and they both “regress” in some way. It’s hard to explain. The book and the album will be completed at the same time, (I hope) in a month or so.
Where do you get your design influences?
I like Milton Glaser’s book illustrations, Ida Applebroog, Yoshiharu Tsuge, Peter Greenaway’s movies (especially “Drowning By Numbers”), Matisse, Charles Schulz, Henry Darger, my friend Andrew’s short films, David Mazzucchelli, Richard McGuire, Gary Panter, other Meathaus artists (especially Thomas Herpich, Angry Jim and Kenichi Hoshine), Keith Mayerson (Horror Hospital Unplugged), Dr. Seuss, Jules Feiffer, James McMullan, Chester Brown, Winsor McCay, and on and on… Chris Ware is a big one. I think many cartoonists working today owe a lot to Chris Ware.
So let’s say someone has an idea for a comic and writes and draws it. What’s their next step?
There’s a lot of different things: Internet, hand-made minis with Xerox or silk-screen or whatever … I guess the artist has to decide whether or not they want to show it to anyone, and if so: What’s the method of production that best suits the material? Making an emotional, interesting comic is a lot more difficult than finding someone to publish it.
You can learn more about Dash Shaw and his work at these site:
— Interview by Tim LeongPosted by Tim Leong on April 27th, 2005 filed in Story Archive | 2 Comments »
Draw at Aaron Lopresti’s Caliber
Aaron Lopresti wasn’t always a good artist. In fact, there was a five-year period when he didn’t draw at all, but a lot has changed since. First he went exclusive at Marvel and now he’s got the artistic reins of Excalibur and is set to help kickoff a House of M prelude. Aaron talked to CF about crossover: both Marvel’s and his as an artist.
How did going to film school at the University of Southern California help or hurt your comic career?
It mostly hurt it. I literally did not seriously draw from the day I got out of high school until I got out of film school five years later. I seriously retarded my drawing skills by not practicing during that time. I always joke I am about five years behind artistically where I should be for my age.
Also, when you storyboard for a movie, you don’t use a lot of the whacky shots and page layouts you might use in a comic. I think my visual storytelling may be clearer now than it was, but my dynamics weren’t as good when I got out of film school. I had to sort of re-learn all of that stuff by overdosing on Jim Lee comics for a while.
Going to film school really helped me as a creative writer, however. Since I like to write my own stuff, that part of my film education has come in real handy.
When you are bad, you think your art is great. When you get good, you realize how far you still have to go as an artist.
You’re a self-taught artist. How did that work? How did you know when your stuff was good and when it was bad?
When you are bad, you think your art is great. When you get good, you realize how far you still have to go as an artist. When you are a young struggling artist, you want to be good so badly that you oftentimes don’t look at your stuff realistically. If you are not working in comics, there is usually a reason. No one has it out for you. They either like your work or they don’t. If they don’t, you need to discover why and change what you are doing.
Discovering why is the trick. Most successful comic artists are not necessarily great draftsmen. They are usually artists with a strong sense of visual appeal. You can also call this style. I spent the first half of my career trying to improve my drawing skills. I have spent the last half trying to come up with a style that has visceral impact and strong appeal. I’ll let you know when I succeed!
John Buscema was a far better draftsman than Jim Steranko, but Steranko had such a unique style to his art and storytelling that he stood out. Style will always stand out over content. Neal Adams was the exception because he had both.
And, of course, there are guys today that have both: Adam Hughes, Travis Charest, Kevin Nowlan, to name a few.
I’ve read you say: “I don’t know that there is any one source, other than my own imagination, that I draw from. I do think the older you get the more you have to say and the more stories you have to tell.” If that’s true, how do younger people looking to break in tell successful stories?
What I meant by that is simply, the more life you experience the more important and lasting things you will have to say. But also keep in mind: A successful story isn’t necessarily a deep one. A well-done formula can be entertaining.
It is painfully obvious when someone is trying to write something “important” or “meaningful.” Be true to yourself and what you know and you will have a lot more success and the story will feel more natural and real.
With a book like Excalibur, how do you draw so many different characters?
It is difficult not to repeat yourself. I just try and find out as much as I can about “the character” of the character and try and incorporate those elements into the design. But unless you are swiping photos or using photo reference, it is difficult to keep all of the characters (especially the faces) from looking similar. It always helps if you have time to do character sheets before you start a project. Unfortunately, I did not have that luxury with Excalibur.
How does your painting vision tie in with your technique for sequential art?
I don’t know that it does. I prefer to do single illustrations rather than panel art. With a painting or an illustration you are attempting to tell a story with one picture. On a comic page you have several panels to do the job. I don’t know that I have the patience to ever do a painted comic. I admire Alex Ross — who doesn’t? — (Simon) Bisley and Dan Brereton for being able to do that consistently.
You’ve done a bit of self-publishing in the past. What advice would you give those on the verge of making the plunge?
Understand that the likelihood of you making any money is slim. I self-publish because I love it. But let’s face it, unless you have a great deal of exposure in mainstream comics, your chances of being financially successful — even on a small scale — are slim. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me. I was young and impressionable back in the ’70s when (Bernie) Wrightson, Barry Smith, (Frank) Frazetta, and others were publishing portfolios and prints and doing their own thing. That desire has really stuck with me.
Also, find out as much as you can about the process before you start. Learning on the run can be expensive and detrimental to your chances of success. If you are publishing a comic, find a printer first. Find out what they need from you. Find out how Diamond works. Find out about solicitations. Do your homework.
As a storyteller, how do you feel about the big, sweeping tie-in stories that are going across Marvel and DC right now — such as DC Countdown and House of M — that affect so many books?
It can be frustrating because you are waiting on so many people to make decisions. However, it is very satisfying to be able work on something we all hope is going to be memorable.
How is drawing a superhero book different than other genres?
For me, I get a sense of youthful exuberance when working on superheroes. Especially the iconic ones. This is the stuff I grew up reading and now I am creating it. It is also difficult because you have to be mindful of everything that was done before you.
Other genres, such as fantasy, make me feel more like an illustrator than a comic-book artist. They both have their merits.
How did you create new costumes for the Excalibur characters?
I try to figure out what the character is all about and what they do. I then try and incorporate those ideas into the design. I always try and come up with something that I think looks “cool.” Unfortunately, I am not always successful. I think the law of averages catches up with you when you are designing the volume of characters I am.
Never be satisfied. Once you become complacent you get passed by. I try to draw like I am constantly fighting to keep my job, which I am.
What/who do you use as a sounding board?
For serious art questions and opinions: Terry Dodson.
I have regular conversations with all of my CrossGen buddies, Andy Smith, Ron Marz, Bart Sears and Tony Bedard.
For everyday art opinion: my wife and son. I just changed a splash in issue #14 of Excalibur because my 11-year-old son didn’t think it looked good.
For general inspiration, I look to Frazetta, among others.
How do you decide on a style? Has there been an evolution?
My stylistic changes have been numerous. One change is I continue to get better because I actively try and get better. So I guess that would be a natural growth. Style changes are more of an intellectual change. I am very rarely happy with what I am doing. Sometimes that is me, sometimes it is the inking, sometimes it is the coloring. I feel it is my job to create such a strong sense of style that the art looks appealing no matter who is inking or coloring the job.
I am still trying. Until the day comes when everybody talks about my art in the same glowing terms as Adam Hughes, I will continue to change and try and find the perfect style.
Do you have any rules or guidelines that you’ve set up for yourself over the years?
Never be satisfied. Once you become complacent you get passed by. I try to draw like I am constantly fighting to keep my job, which I am.
With Professor X looking more like Patrick Stewart, what do you think about Hollywood’s ties with the comic industry, Marvel in particular?
Personally I would like to keep the two separate. I understand from a marketing standpoint why the comics need to look like the movies, but I think they are two separate animals. Let the movies do what they want or need to do to be successful and let us do likewise.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Making yourself work on a regular schedule and making every page look good. It is nearly impossible.
What are the disadvantages of going exclusive with a comic publisher?
Nothing. I get guaranteed work. I can’t self-publish my own comic, but that probably keeps me from losing money
You don’t always get to work on what you’d like, but that is often true even when you are not under contract. I really have no complaints. It has been really a good break for me.
Marvel’s upcoming House of M preludes in Excalibur #13, due out May 11.
—Interview by Tim LeongPosted by Tim Leong on April 27th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Do You Have Proof?
I had to laugh the other day at work when I picked up a printout of a page yet to be sent to press. Illustrating a story about ducks who had wandered into urbanity was a photo of two chicks. In this country built on Jeffersonian agrarian ideals, where our third president fought English rule because he wanted a society of farms and small villages, it’s a scant 200 years later and we can’t tell a chick from a duck.
My colleagues and I fixed the issue and the page went out, pictures matching words, and we didn’t give it much more thought. But had no one noticed in the office, a discerning reader – or worse, one of our bosses – would’ve caught the error immediately, and that would have made for an embarrassing correction. We’d be laughingstocks, both in and out of the building.
It’s not enough to copy edit alone; every page must go through a final proof, sometimes seven final proofs. Proofreading is a skill separate from copy editing and one at which every editor must be adept; without it, credibility is risked and perhaps even a lawsuit. Here are six tips to make you a better proofreader:
1. Correct. Make sure your copy is correct in both fact and grammar. Ideally, unclear copy should be corrected before the proofreading stage. Changing copy gets expensive; adding a word or two can typeset entire pages. This is not the time to reword large chunks of text. This is the time to add the inadvertently dropped “not” or alter verbs to agree with their subjects.
2. Consistency. Style and spelling matters, even at this stage. Make sure names are spelled correctly throughout the story. Finding “McDavid” six times in the piece is fine; finding five “McDavids” and one “MacDavid” is not.
3. Clear. Of the Big Three, this is the proofreading step you’ll use the least. If text is absolutely wooly at this point and no editor can decipher its meaning, then you’ll have to resort to rewriting it. But use your pen sparingly; it’s too late for major surgery. You’re past the stage for polishing. At the least, follow the Hippocratic Oath.
Editing to fit
These rules apply when you’re asked to proofread a page that is a few lines over; this won’t come up in comics often, but if you’re interning or editing, you never know what sort of press release or manifesto they’ll set in front of you.
4. Redundancy. Remove redundancies: all the verys, prettys, reallys; the young 5-year-old; the passive voice; the ups (head up, drink up, eat up, free up, heat up); the verbs of being (“He will be a participant” becomes “He will participate”); the conjunctive that’s (He said that he would go).
5. Examples. Must we know five ways in which Nixon lied to the American public? Won’t two or three, or the word Watergate, suffice? Cut direct quotes and paraphrase them instead.
6. Simpler words. Find me the one time the word “approximately” is necessary and I’ll show you the 99 where “about” will suffice. Say things; don’t state them. Find the vague words like area, concept, people, and replace them with more specific, shorter ones such as acre, idea, gymnasts.
Finally, find a list of redundant or excess words in any good grammar book or online and learn them. Soon you’ll start to recognize them in copy, and cutting them will be second nature.
Congratulations. You have an error-free page. At least until you get an 8 a.m. phone call from your boss.
The Grammar Guru can’t wait for green eyeshades to come back in style. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.Posted by Tim Leong on April 26th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Be the Next American Igle
He’s been working in the industry
for half his life, and he’s seen it all. Jamal Igle explains to Comic Foundry how art is a business, and why talent alone isn’t enough to take you to the top.
Once you have an assignment, how do you put your own personal style on an established character’s look?
There really is no way to avoid putting your style into something. You can’t worry about what the audience is going to think when you put your style on an established character.
Has your style changed over the years?
Not style so much as just the way that I draw has changed, due to years of experience and observation. I still take live art and drawing classes. I worked for four months doing animation storyboards at Sony, where I just drew 2-by-2 sketches all day long. I call it “artist boot camp” and just doing that progressed my drawing a lot.
You’ve worked with Marvel and DC. How would you say the process differs between the two companies?
The process between the two companies isn’t that different. But they have changed historically. They both used to send just outlines, whereas now I get very specific scripts.
What about between the mainstream companies and the indie press?
Yes, there is a lot more room to get involved at an indie or self-published project. More interaction between the writer and the artist, etc. You also tend to get less fully finished scripts.
What is the relationship between you and the writer/editors at DC?
I’m at DC’s offices talking to my editors every week, or talking to them on the phone, so there’s really a lot of communication going on. But again, for the most part they don’t ask for corrections, they pretty much leave me alone. So I’m allowed to just kinda do my thing.
When you’re doing your initial sketches, how do you decide to draw something at different angles, from different perspectives?
I’ll read a script two or three times, to get a feel for it, and then I’ll just spend two days laying out the entire book. I’ll just take four thumbnails, and lay out the entire thing from start to finish. This is where my storyboarding experience at Sony helps the whole process. It’s just scribbles, most people would not be able to decipher it half the time, but it helps me set up the character direction, helps me set up what kind of scene, if I want to create beats in a story, if I want to have scenes mirror each other, I can have that all worked out in advance. Even before I start an issue, I’ve got exactly how I want it to work from start to end worked out in my head.
Is it easier for you to draw a talking-heads scene versus an action scene?
For a talking-heads scene, you want to do it in a way that isn’t boring, and isn’t boring for me to draw. I actually find that doing a talking-heads scene – and making it interesting – far more challenging than doing an action scene.
How do you determine the pacing of the panels?
With a full script, that’s usually broken down already. Sometimes, I try not to do it too much, I tend to like to stick to what the writer has in mind, but sometimes I’ll add a panel, take a panel away if I think that it helps the storytelling, the flow of the story.
Do you take influence from media such as film or television?
Oh, absolutely. I’m influenced by film, by television. I’m influenced by animation. With film, a lot of films I like were actually made before 1960.
Is there a staple film, a go-to film you use when you’re trying to get inspiration?
It’s not a single film, but there are a couple of films that, if you want to look at for cool shots, great storytelling. Of course you have “Citizen Kane,” “The Big Sleep.”
Does the film noir style impact the way you shade your drawings?
Well, no, because I’m more line-oriented than I am shade-oriented, but just from a storytelling standpoint, that’s one of those things that you look at and are just like, “Wow,” because it is deceptively simple. Half the shots that we do in comics, they were doing in movie serials back in the ’30s. I’m a film buff, and that really does play heavily into my work.
What’s the dynamic between you and the colorist on a project?
It depends. On Venture, I was very much involved with the colorist. I would make suggestions, basically editing all the artwork, because I was doing the penciling and the digital inks, and overseeing everything else. On Firestorm, Chris is a much better colorist than I am, so I just let him do his thing. If the editors have any comments, then cool. I usually don’t get to see the finished product until right before it goes to press, but I’m fine with letting that go. When you’re doing a project for somebody like DC or Marvel, you have to keep in mind that you’re just a cog, you’re just part of the process. I’m not gonna pull some kind of diva bullshit.
As an artist, do you prefer creating or editing?
I’ve been an editor, and it’s a headache! It’s a colossal pain in the ass. So when you’re trying to draw the book, and co-edit the book and oversee what everyone is doing, you’re doing three full-time jobs, and it’s just very, very difficult. So I prefer now just being part of the machine rather than trying to oversee everything.
As a freelancer, are you slipping sketches under doors? How does the process of getting hired work?
That’s a good question. These days, more often than not, somebody calls me, asks me if I’m available. When I was first getting into the business, I was very lucky. I had a few contacts at DC from my internship there, which made it easier for me to go into the office and bug people, this was in ’89-’90. It’s a lot different now, as far as getting editors’ attention. I remember about 1998, I wasn’t working that much, and I spent two or three months basically just doing samples, bugging my writer friends for parts of scripts that they had done, bugging editors that I knew, just asking them to give me a bunch of JLA scripts, a Green Lantern script, a Supergirl script, whatever. Just pick four or five pages, make 50 copies, drop them off, send them out in the mail, make follow-up phone calls. That’s all I was doing for two months straight, that’s all I was doing. And it worked, actually. I got a lot of work out of it, because people got to see my work on a regular basis. Because I didn’t have a lot of stuff out on the stands, it was good practice for me. And the people would get on the phone, and even though they didn’t have work for me, they would say, “You need to work on this, this and this.”
But having the contacts helped.
Yes, having the contacts helped. I was very lucky that I got started in the business while I was still in high school, basically.
You get most of your scripts via e-mail. Do you think it would change the way that you work, to be forced to work face-to-face with the writer?
No, because there’s not going to be a situation where he’s looking over my shoulder, telling me to change things. I wouldn’t allow that for myself, because I am very stubborn and it wouldn’t be comfortable, just working-wise. But I think it would help just at the beginning of the issue, if there was something in particular that he wanted to see. I’ve worked with people before who’ve sent me pictures of themselves, or pictures of friends and said, “Hey can you work this person in there somewhere, can you stick this in there somewhere?” Or if they have a particular point of reference that they want to use for the story, and it works, then it’s easy to fit stuff like that in. I like having a certain amount of contact with the writer. Jay’s lived in New York and he’s lived in L.A., and so have I. But when he was in New York, I was in L.A., and when he was in L.A., I was in New York, so we’ve never been on the same coast. We’ve never had a situation where we’ve sat down in the same space and plotted something out. Most of our contact is either over the phone or by e-mail.
You were talking about deadlines before, but how does that really work?
You adapt! Deadlines are tough. Doing a monthly can be very, very crushing, but at the same time if you’re up for the challenge, and can just knock stuff out, and get the work done on time, there’s no reason a deadline should be a hindrance to you.
How many hours per day do you spend drawing while on deadline?
I work anywhere from nine to 15 hours per day. Usually around nine hours.
How many pages per week does that work out to be?
If I’m having a good week, that’s usually about six pages per week. I’ve had weeks where I’ve done eight pages, and some where I’ve done two pages per day. Once I did 22 pages in 10 days, based on someone else’s layouts. The layouts were fairly simple, it was one of those situations where it was a money job, it was actually doing an issue of this book called Perry Rhodan (by Uwe Anton and Karl Altstaetter), so they needed someone who could draw Karl Altstaetter. Now, Karl and I, you couldn’t get further across the penciling spectrum. But I took the job, muddled through, got it done and everything was right as rain. So there was an inker in Germany, basically blue-lining my mock Karl Altstaetter pages.
Do you work in Europe a lot?
For a little over two years I’ve been working on a project called Army of Angels, for Humanoids. I’ve done two books so far; the second one just shipped. I’m supposed to be starting a third one soon. It’s supposed to be released in the states in November.
How many projects do you work on simultaneously?
I never do more than two at a time, if I can avoid it. The way it’s worked out the last year, I was working on my first issue of Firestorm and penciling my second book for Humanoids, and occasionally doing artwork for Wizard magazine, so I was running myself ragged for two months.
Do you have any words of wisdom?
Get out quickly! Just kidding. I think probably the best thing an up-and-coming creator, whether he’s a writer or an artist, in any creative endeavor, the best lesson is to listen. Shut your mouth and open your ears. There are a lot of people in this business, people who are perfectly willing to help a young creator. People who know, people who have been there. So, if you ask for our advice, actually attempt to listen to what we’re saying because we’ve been doing this a lot longer!
In regards to deadlines, know your limitations. If you know you can only produce three pages per week, but you know they’re spectacular pages, tell them. Tell whomever you’re working for that you can only do three pages per week. If they want to work with you, they’ll compromise. If you tell them you can do five or six pages per week and you get the job, but you keep blowing deadlines, you’re gonna lose that job and you’re not going to get hired again because you have to keep in mind that comics is a very, very small part of the entertainment industry. All you have in this business, for the most part, is your talent and your rep. And no matter how talented you are, if you have a rep for blowing deadlines, you’re not going to last that long. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve been in this business since I was 17 years old, and I’m going to be 33 this year. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen some really, really talented guys blow it over and over again. Some who kept getting chance after chance and kept screwing it up, they either couldn’t admit that they couldn’t handle the work, or took on a job knowing full well that they weren’t going to be able to complete it. Another good piece of advice is that you have to keep in mind that it’s a job. And you have to treat it as such. You have to be a professional, in all things. You have to carry yourself as a professional, treat your fellow creators with respect.
—Interview by Amber MitchellPosted by Tim Leong on April 25th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Member of the Week: Jeff Elden
As told to Comic Foundry…
I find this great honor of Member of the Week to be fairly unsettling to my stomach. I’m an elementary educator by training and a social worker by profession. Cartooning has only been, for me, a simple and enjoyable hobby. And, until recently, my doodling has remained private in my sketchbooks and the margins of my Mead notebooks at school. Let’s get this straight, I have NO formal training in art, just a few high school classes. I’m self-taught. I’ve drawn cartoons my whole life, even dreamt of being a pro cartoonist, but never took it more serious then that. So my nerves are a bit on edge with the prospect that this hobby is beginning to turn into a little something more.
I have to give most of the credit for my style to the classics…the funny papers. The fascination with comics started when I was young and discovered that cartoons were being delivered to my doorstep for free every morning in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. I devoured the daily strips, never missing a day, reading all of them from Mark Trail to Hagar the Horrible. Naturally this combined with my interest in drawing, and I began to imitate many of the artist like Bill Watterson, Gary Larson, Bill Amend and Chris Brown, to name a few. I’ve never stopped watching the funnies and over time they have given me my sense of humor, understanding of pacing in a comic, and love of exciting and different characters. The rest of the credit will have to be split between alternative and independent comics, my family, children’s books, billboards, video games, the kids I’ve worked with and their amazing art, ska music, cereal boxes and a childhood that left my imagination just a bit…off.
Since my journey into the world of published cartooning has begun I have help to start a mini-comic with Matt Leong called Exit 126 which you can learn more about at www.exit126comic.com More of my comics can be found at www.fanboyradio.com where the show’s host, Scott Hinze, has been kind enough to let my sick humor toy with him and his colleagues. And I am taking part in an online jam comic called The Bullet Angelica that can be found at http://members.shaw.ca/d.hyde/jam/index.html Look out for that Amy Angel, she may pop up somewhere else. For now check me out there and email me at email@example.com with your thoughts, criticism, or if you just want to talk.
I am also starting a traveling sketchbook. Here’s how it works: I bought a sketchbook, I drew the first page of a story, then I mailed it to someone in another state to draw the second page, they e-mailed me when they were finished and I gave them the next address to mail it to for the third page. When the third page was finished they e-mailed me and I gave them the next address the book was headed to, and so it goes. The book is up to five pages and I’m looking for more contributors. Interested in joining the jam where the sketchbook literally shows up at your doorstep? Then e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address and I’ll put you on the list.
Want to be the Member of the Week? Better your chances by uploading to your portfolio…Posted by Tim Leong on April 25th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Words of Encouragement from Adrian Tomine
Adrian Tomine first started writing
and drawing Optic Nerve, a mixture of autobiographical and fictional stories, when he was 20. He hasn’t looked back since. Besides producing the top-selling Nerve, Tomine also works as a commercial illustrator and has done several New Yorker covers — a high achievement. How can top that? By talking to Comic Foundry and giving advice to you, the readers, of course.
How did you get started? Did you have a favorite artist or a mentor? Any gritty details worth mentioning?
I’ve been drawing comics since I was a little kid, and I’ve always wanted to be a cartoonist. I think that lifelong experience and single-mindedness is really what’s brought me to the point I’m at now, more so than talent or luck. I got started professionally by sending my self-published mini-comics to various artists and publishers. Eventually Drawn & Quarterly called me up and offered me a deal. I still recommend self-publishing, even if it’s as primitive as my early efforts were, as a way of getting your work seen.
What outlets should aspiring artists look to in order to publish their work? Newspapers, magazines, college papers?
I guess it depends on what your aspirations are. I always wanted to work in the world of comic books, so that was my focus. The commercial illustration work that I’ve done was a byproduct of the comic, not vice versa.
How about small independent comic publishers? Which ones are particularly easy for up-and-coming writers and artists to deal with?
Well, there’s only a few left these days, and they all seem pretty decent. I think the real variable is how easy these up-and-coming artists are to deal with.
(Note: In other e-mails Adrian has mentioned Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly as two outstanding indie publishers.)
What’s the etiquette in pitching a project to a media outlet? Should creators have a voluminous portfolio or just a few good ideas on paper?
I feel like this question and the previous one are searching for “the correct way” to get published, and I think the most important thing is just to be good. I know that sounds glib, but the truth is, most publishers I know are dying to find good, new talent to publish. So I don’t think it’s any kind of game, really. If you do good work and behave like a decent person, I think you’ll be on your way.
It is fair to expect to be paid as a beginning comic creator, or should writers and artists expect to do some pro bono work initially for anyone who’ll publish it?
If your interest in comics has ANYTHING to do with money, then just give up. For the most part, it’s a very low-stakes situation, and it’s tough way to make a living. (Again, I’m just speaking with regards to the world of “alternative” comics. Mainstream comics might be a whole different matter, for all I know.) I’m not saying that there’s no money to be made, but I think your primary reward has to be the work itself. If you require financial rewards and critical acclaim and popular response, then it might just be too heartbreaking of an endeavor for you. I hate to sound discouraging, but I think people should know
what they’re getting into.
What’s your opinion on self-publishing mini-comics? Are they worth the time and investment? Do they work, or would the writer/artists be better off diversifying his or her portfolio instead?
I like mini-comics, and I think they can also serve as a means of getting your work seen. I know that, for whatever reason, I’ll pay more attention to someone’s mini-comic than a stack of loose Xeroxes.
How might an aspiring creator market his or her stuff to one of the big-name comic publishers? Is it even feasible anymore to aim for Marvel, DC and Image?
I have no knowledge about working for mainstream publishers. It’s an empty pursuit, in my mind.
—Interview by Patrick RollensPosted by Tim Leong on April 20th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Noble Advice from Noble Causes
Jay Faerber is living the dream:
In Noble Causes, he writes his creator-owned series at Image. It wasn’t easy path and Jay explains to Comic Foundry why, and how to make sure your plans for a creator-owned series doesn’t become a nightmare.
What exactly does “creator-owned series” mean?
A creator-owned series is one where the characters, concept, and title – the whole book, really – are owned by the creators, and not the publisher. Most of the comics produced by DC and Marvel are work-for-hire situations, where the creative team is paid to work on properties they don’t own. In those situations, the creative team answers to an editor, who answers to the publisher. On a truly creator-owned book, the creators have complete creative freedom, because they don’t answer to anyone. The downside to this scenario is that most truly creator-owned work is created in a situation without financial backing — meaning, there’s no guaranteed paycheck, since you’re not working for a big company.
There is sort of a gray area, where big companies publish books that are technically creator-owned, but the creators are still paid a page rate, and the company usually has some stock in the profits of the book. The creators still technically own the characters and concepts, but they’re in a contract with the publisher that limits their creative freedom.
I hear you’re a soap-opera fan. From a storytelling point of view, how are comics and soaps similar and different?
They’re a lot more similar than most people realize, both in terms of storytelling and in terms of the way fans connect with them. They both hinge on serialized storytelling (at least, monthly comics generally do), where they end on a cliffhanger to keep you coming back for more. They also both often juggle multiple storylines featuring multiple characters, with some characters operating in the “A” (or main) storyline, some in the “B,” some in the “C,” etc. I once heard that former Marvel editor-in-chief Bob Harras used to pass out scripts from “All My Children” to show writers how to juggle plotlines and pace stories.
Of course, there are differences. For one thing, soaps are daily, so they can cover a LOT of ground. They can have dozens of characters and half a dozen plotlines and still keep everything moving. Most comics only come out once a month, and generally have around 22 pages of story, so they’re severely limited in the amount of ground they can cover, when compared with TV soaps.
How did you go about pitching Noble Causes to Image? What was the process?
I had met Anthony Bozzi, who was then Image’s marketing director, at the Wizard World convention in Chicago, back in 2000. I had never really considered creating my own series, but he encouraged me to pitch something to Image, and after having a very enlightening dinner with some other Image creators, I started developing ideas. I followed the Image submission guidelines, which required me to have a series overview and five completed pages — pages that were drawn and lettered, as well as a completely finished, colored cover. I threw in some additional stuff — character designs, that sort of thing, and the book was accepted shortly thereafter. The convention where I met Bozzi was in, I believe, July or August, and I submitted the book in December. So it took me about six months to find a creative team and get the pitch produced.
You’ve done a fair amount of co-writing in the past. How does that work?
Every situation is different. Most of my co-writing has been with Devin Grayson, with whom I’m fortunate enough to be good friends. So we’d just talk about the story we were going to tell, and then I’d go away and write up an outline, blocking out the story scene-by-scene, and mapping out how many pages each scene would entail. I’d send it over to Devin, and she’d play with it a little, sometimes suggesting we shorten or lengthen certain scenes. Then we’d divide up the scenes, and I’d write some and she’d write some, and when you put our individual scenes together, you’d have a complete story.
When you were trying to break into the industry and applying to Marvel and DC, what was in your submission packet you sent?
When I first started sending stuff to DC, it was back before the Internet was really up and running, so I would mail in one-page pitches. These pitches were almost always updates of old, underused DC characters. I’d send them to any editor I thought would read them. A good idea is to pitch to assistant editors, since they might be on the lookout for talent they can “discover.” As e-mail became more and more common, I started pestering X-Men editor Mark Powers, and he graciously sent me some X-Men artwork, along with a Scott Lobdell plot, and asked me to dialogue the artwork based on the plot. This was back when a lot of Marvel books were still produced this way: The writer would write up a plot, the artist would draw from that plot, and the dialogue would be written after the art was turned in. This isn’t really the case anymore. At any rate, I now had professional scripting samples, so I started including them in my packages to Marvel editors.
Noble Causes, in the early stages, went through a lot of printing transitions – some issues in color, some black-and-white, some publishing monthly, some bimonthly - why the changes? In the end, what did you find as the best solution?
The “why” is money. It all came down to money. When you’re publishing without the financial backing of a big company, every dollar counts. The most time-consuming part of the project is having the pages drawn, so we initially used the split format (having 15 pages of one story, and 8 pages of another) to make it easier on the regular artist (who’d only have to draw 15 pages a month, instead of 22). We also went bimonthly as a way to accommodate the artist. We switched to B&W for awhile, because our order numbers were really low, and the book didn’t stand to make any money. We thought switching to B&W might help, since it’s cheaper to print. But what we learned is that a lot of superhero fans really don’t like B&W books, so that experiment was something of a failure. While it’s more financially risky, the best format for superhero titles, in today’s market, appears to be a monthly, full-color format.
How has your writing evolved during your Noble Causes run?
That’s a question that’s probably best answered by someone other than me – an outside observer. But if pressed, I guess I’d say that my pacing has improved. It’s tough to juggle all the subplots I like to have in the book, so I’m constantly trying to improve exactly how to structure the book so that each issue is a satisfying read, but all the characters are serviced. It’s a real tightrope to walk. I used to try to advance every single subplot every issue, and when you have as many subplots as my book does, it doesn’t leave much room for an actual story. So, I’ve started staggering them, so you might not get an update on every character every month. But it makes each issue more satisfying.
What’s the one thing every amateur writer should know but probably doesn’t?
They should know that, in comics, at least, there’s never one way to do things. People always ask me how I broke in, as if they can just copy what I did, and they’ll break in as well. But I know a lot of other professionals, and I have never, ever heard the same “How I broke in” story twice. It’s fine to learn from the past, but you really need to forge your own future.
Generally, do you think comics should be more plot- or character-driven?
I think that those two choices should really be combined. You shouldn’t be able to separate the plot-driven stuff from the character-driven stuff, if it’s done well. The best comics feature compelling characters who are made even more compelling by their reactions and responses to an engrossing plot. It should all be one package.
What’s been the hardest part about publishing a creator-owned series?
The financial side – using every trick you can to keep the book in the black, so that you can produce each issue.
What are the perks?
The creative freedom, and the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing it 100 percent your way.
You’ve also released a graphic novel. What are the pros and cons in publishing a straight OGN rather a monthly series?
One of the pros is that you only have to solicit the book once. Soliciting a book costs money, as does paying for a cover to be drawn, as does paying for printing the different covers, etc. With an OGN, you just do it all once. That’s also a con, though, because with a monthly series, you have repeated chances to engage readers, and maintain a presence on the racks. While OGNs generally enjoy longer shelf lives, they still have to compete with other, newer OGNs, which generally get more promotion from the retailers.
It really comes down to whichever format best suits the story you want to tell. That should be your primary consideration.
— Interview by Tim LeongPosted by Tim Leong on April 18th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
The Best Advice From the Great Will Eisner
Fifteen bucks was all it took for Will
Eisner to get started on the road to “legend” status. That covered the first three months’ rent at the office building he and fellow artist Jerry Iger chose to form their Art Syndication Co. Within a year he had created The Spirit, a costumed character for adult newspaper readers. Eisner’s creativity — pushing the envelope for both writing and art — continued unabated for the next 60 years, and his genius influenced an entire generation of comic creators. The most coveted award in cartooning bears his name. Will Eisner died Jan. 3, 2005, and Comic Foundry offers up a treasure trove of insights, hints and tips from Eisner’s numerous interviews and articles.
On the nomenclature of the industry:
“The term ‘comics’ long ago became obsolete and inaccurate. It merely defined the content of the early joke-based comical strips. ‘Sequential art’ is a more accurate description of the form. I first suggested it because I believed something needed to be done to correct the feeling of inferiority by artists and writers in this field. If we ever hoped to address serious subject matter in this medium I felt students had to see the discipline as a valid literary/art form.” (From Famiglia Cristiana, in an article by Stefano Gorla)
“Cartoonists have always worked for publication, as opposed to painters, who work for galleries. It’s the final vehicle that often determines ‘the challenge,’ as you put it. A painter’s vehicle is the gallery. The painting he makes is ‘the product.’ The cartoonist, however, is creating something for reproduction. This has an effect on the challenge.” (From Hogan’s Alley Online, in an article by Tom Heintjes)
“The work we do is as demanding as any of the great painters because nothing that happens on the page of a comic is accidental. It has to be imagined first in your mind before you do it. Those of us who know something about the art of painting know that working on a canvas, very often a lot of serendipitous things happen that work to the advantage of the painter ultimately.” (From BadAzz MoFo, in an article by David Walker)
“What’s happening now is you’re at a point now in the history of this medium that’s really a turning point — it’s a maturing. You’re now getting books and material being turned out that’s written for adults containing — and when I say adults I don’t mean sex and kinky stuff — I mean serious, life-experience stories. I’ve been working on that for the last 22 years.” (From BadAzz MoFo, in an article by David Walker)
“The blank spaces between images, when properly employed, are not blank. They are abstract elements of time and space in which imagined action connects the images. Remember sequential art functions without sound, or motion. The sounds, the motion, the dialogue, the emotion the artist creates on a page are meant to be perceived by the reader.” (From Famiglia Cristiana, in an article by Stefano Gorla)
“I prefer The Spirit in black and white — I prefer all of my work in black and white, to be honest with you. I believe the black line is a more pure contact with the reader. Color tends to obliterate or interfere with the flow of the story. I try very hard to make emotional contact with my reader early and to maintain an intense relationship as the story goes on. I find that anything that interferes with that is counterproductive.” (From Comic Book Artist, in an article by Jon B. Cooke)
“You’ll find that in the case of superheroes and adventure stories, the artwork tends to be very tight and complex, heavily detailed and so forth. I’m dealing in impressionism. So my work today, if you want to put a name to it, would be impressionistic.” (From Time.com, in an article by Andrew Arnold)
“Comics are designed in a way that allows the readers to move at their own speed and to imagine the events as they are unfolding, you can go back to reread a panel, you can imagine the action, whereas in film they tell you when (you) can see it, not only that but each frame is presented under the control of the projector. You can’t say, ‘Hey wait, I want to go back and see that last frame again.’ They are totally different; comics are much more than ‘movies on paper.’ ” (From Silver Bullet Comics, in an article by David Gallaher)
“I’ve always been in pursuit of an emotional connection between what I’m saying and my reader. Which is probably why I use devices like rain. I now have the reputation of what Harvey Kurtzman called ‘Eisner-spritz,’ which is a fascination with rain. Rain and heat are the two things that readers understand.” (From Red Dwarf, in an article by Andrew Ellard)
“I write about what I know and what I have experienced. This keeps me an ‘honest’ writer. The Great Depression left a mark on all of the civilized world. It was a defining moment, like a giant earthquake, that reminds us of how little control we have over human destiny — despite our technology and innovation.” (From Famiglia Cristiana, in an article by Stefano Gorla)
On online comics:
“In print, you can count on the fact that the reader will either glance at your work or dwell on it for a great length of time. You therefore can develop what I call a ‘contract with the reader’ during the time he or she has it in their hands. In electronic transmission, we have no way of knowing how long a readers stays with you or what their retention time is. We’re dealing with a totally different relationship.” (From Hogan’s Alley Online, in an article by Tom Heintjes)
“Well, there’s no viable economic model for publishing comics online. Obviously, cartoonists are always looking for a new reader, a larger audience. They know now that a Web site can secure 100,000 hits overnight, but no one has figured out how the creator can make money off of that. This is not encouraging cartoonists to leave print. In fact, there are more cartoonists looking for print work than there ever have been. Perhaps the marketplace for cartoons is shifting. I’m not wringing my hands, because it’s simply a new phenomenon that we have to deal with.” (From Hogan’s Alley Online, in an article by Tom Heintjes)
“Remember, the creator’s primary function is to provide the material for ‘the vehicle,’ and I consider the Internet to be a vehicle. When I was doing comics for the newspaper in 1940, the paper that we were printed on was so rough and porous that the artistic style everybody used was rigid. There were no vignettes, so the flat benday coloring could be contained. Reproduction today permits oil painting or air brushing. Cartoonists have always learned to accommodate the technology as it changes.” (From Hogan’s Alley Online, in an article by Tom Heintjes)
On the declining marketshare of comic books:
“If someone stopped me on the street, grabbed me by the lapel and asked me, ‘What’s causing all this?,’ my quick response would be ‘content.’ The content of comics is not keeping up with the demands of the readers. In Europe, as in the United States, the novelty of comics has worn off. It’s no longer a novelty. When my former company in the ’60s, American Visuals Corp., was selling comics for industrial and educational purposes, one of my salesmen called up American Motors and said, ‘We’d like to do a booklet for you on the new Social Security
laws,’ the man at American Motors replied, ‘We already have a booklet.’ My salesman said, ‘No, we’re going to do it in comics form.’ The guy at American Motors said, ‘Oh, great! We’ll be glad to talk to you about that.’ To them, comics was a novel vehicle and a novel medium. The idea of a comic book is no longer new. You can’t sell it just because of what it is. You sell it because of what it contains.” (From Hogan’s Alley Online, in an article by Tom Heintjes)
“The problem is not superheroes; it’s how they’re presented. Trash and pandering in any field, whether it’s in movies, whether it’s in literature, always have the effect of turning people from a medium. Most folks are really not aware of the fact that below that 90 percent of trash there is some 5 or 10 percent of really good stuff that they should look for.” (From Grayhaven Magazine, in an article by Barry Wolborsky)
“This medium is capable of storytelling well beyond the business of two mutants trashing each other.” (From The Jewish Week, in an article by Julia Goldman)
On his life’s accomplishments:
“I enjoy teaching because it allows me (secretly) to review and evaluate my technical skills and abstract ideas. All professionals should teach at some time in their career because they are obliged to pass on what they have learned.” (From Famiglia Cristiana, in an article by Stefano Gorla)
“In the course of teaching I realized that all the things I understood about when you write in this medium — beyond the visceral approach you take — needed to be said. No one had said anything about it. So I wrote a book in which I attempted to explain the medium. My interest was in explaining it to university art teachers and very serious, more advanced, professionals. It wasn’t written for the kid who wants to know how to draw noses and ears!” (From Red Dwarf, in an article by Andrew Ellard)
“Actually, I’m still looking to achieve what I set out to do 50 years ago: to achieve a literary level in this medium. One of the problems is in marketing. Maybe one of the problems is that the adult reader is turned off by the form. He sees a lot of pictures, and he sees balloons, and he sees a book that he pays $14 for, which gives him maybe a half-hour’s worth of reading time. For that same money, he can get a book by Stephen King or John Updike that would give him hours and hours of reading time. Perhaps the solution is not in form but in content. This is something I’m struggling with: trying to seize the adult reader.” (From Hogan’s Alley Online, in an article by Tom Heintjes)
Regarding DC’s The Spirit: The New Adventures, not written by Eisner
“Clearly, I would never have done stories the way these guys did. Guys like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are very much in touch with today’s reader, and they were talking to them in that vein. I had no sense of violation or concern; they just saw The Spirit from their perspectives. When I created The Spirit, I never had any intention of creating a superhero. I never felt The Spirit would dominate the feature. He served as a sort of an identity for the strip. The stories were what I was interested in.” (From Hogan’s Alley Online, in an article by Tom Heintjes)
On the future of comics and cartooning:
“If I’m talking to a 13 year-old kid who hasn’t yet read a comic I’d say one thing: ‘There’s a lot of good stuff out there, don’t be fooled. Yes, there are going to be superheroes as long as we have a civilization because there’s a need for them. But on the other hand, don’t believe it.’ ” (From BadAzz MoFo, in an article by David Walker)
“As far as adults are concerned: I want to point out to adults that there is a world of good material available to you now in comic form — in this medium — and learn to give it your support because the more you support it, the better the material will be as it comes out.” (From BadAzz MoFo, in an article by David Walker)
—Compiled by Patrick RollensPosted by Tim Leong on April 13th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
GEOFF JOHNS: “If You Want to be a Writer …”
If Geoff Johns were a superhero,
he would be Everywhere Man. As the writer of DC Countdown, The Flash and Green Lantern (just to name a few), he is one of the hottest in the business and shows no sign of slowing down. The man who controls the destiny of many in the DC Universe sat down with CF to share his recipe for success — modesty and hard work — and how creating legacies can be just another day at the office.
You used to work in the film industry, and you studied screenwriting. How much of that carries over into your comic writing?
Probably 85 percent of it. In terms of structure, it really is similar. The formats aren’t that different.
Are you influenced by any screenwriters?
My favorite screenwriter is Brian Helgeland, who wrote “Assassins,” “L.A. Confidential” and “Mystic River.” I love his stuff. He’s probably the one screenwriter who, I have his scripts and I follow. I think he is terrific, I think Frank Darabont is a great screenwriter. Those are the two guys I like the best. I like William Goldman’s classic stuff (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All the President’s Men,” “Misery”). Those are just a few that I really like.
Depending on which company you are writing for, does the script-writing or format change?
There’s no set format for a comic book script, and Marvel and DC work really differently. DC traditionally uses a full script, which means a panel description, panel breakdowns and dialogue all in one script, so you do the entire script and turn it in. Marvel traditionally uses what is called plot style, where you would write a paragraph of what happens on the page and then ask the artist to draw it and choreograph themselves, then you get it back and add the dialogue, so it’s a two-part process. Now it’s pretty much open to what you want to do. Marvel works with full script too.
Say you’re a writer and you want to submit a script. Is there something editors look for?
“The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics” (by Dennis O’Neil) outlines the format that you need to know. It’s like “The Screenwriter’s Bible” (by David Trottier), same kind of book. But you would want to have a full script done so they could read your dialogue and know that you know what you’re doing with the comic.
What was the reaction you got when you first told your family that you were leaving the film business to write comics full-time?
Well, I haven’t left it! I still write for TV, I wrote a pilot for Fox this year, I wrote one last year, and I’m involved in a couple projects for TV. So technically, I didn’t leave it. It’s just that with writing in TV and film, you get a lot less of your work produced. In comics, your work is constantly in production. For every script I’ve ever written for comics, with the exception of maybe one, and that’s just because the artist hasn’t drawn it yet, and I don’t know if he ever will, has gotten made. Whereas with TV and film, you can work and work on projects. For example, I worked on two pilots, I produced one or two other pilots, also a couple other features, but sometimes they don’t come to fruition.
So it’s like an instant-gratification thing going on?
Right. You write something, and four, five months later, it’s out.
With as many books as you write per month, what kind of goals do you set for yourself?
I do a script per week. Come into the office around 9 a.m., leave at 7 p.m. I can usually get a script done in five days. Sometimes longer, sometimes shorter.
How do you maintain that discipline? Do you ever get writer’s block?
Not really. The thing is, I worked in an office on the Warner Brothers lot for four years, so I’m used to going into an office every day. And you know, I don’t have an Xbox or anything here. That would kill me.
So the key is to not have a lot of distractions?
You say that you have the plot of the story figured out long before you start writing. How much of the actual story details do you have worked out before you even write the first line of dialogue?
A lot. The plotting, breaking down the pages and panels is done before you even get to writing.
When you actually start writing, does the plot change?
Yeah, it always changes. It’s almost like sketching. You do a rough sketch, then go back in, harden up the lines, focus and sharpen it up. It’s the same way with writing, you lay out your plot. I don’t think I’ve ever had a plot that remained exactly the same, from plot to script. Things change, suddenly you’re there and you take a panel out, or you write a new scene.
Do you know who the artist is going to be when you start a story?
Most of the time I know, yeah.
How does that affect how you write a story?
If I know the artist I’m working with prefers to do rough panels on a page, and they just tell a story better that way, or the opposite, I have to try and tailor the story to their strengths. Like Howard Porter, who I worked with on The Flash, he draws really great big action shots, so I like to make sure I get a couple real powerful scenes. He draws great energy, and he draws it so well. I try to look at what they can pull off, and focus in on that.
So you would say it’s important for a writer to have knowledge of what the artist’s strengths are?
Yeah, and sometimes you get paired with someone you’ve never worked with, and it takes you a while to figure out their creative response, but the communication between a writer and artists are often pretty open. I talk with the guys I work with a lot, I tend to try and figure out their perspectives and where they’re coming from. It’s a team effort, with the artist and writer and a dozen other people involved in it. It’s a collaboration, and it’s really important to keep that together to get book in synch. The thing is, if you work with the artist and talk to them enough, tell them your goals for the story, what you’re thinking and how you see the world that the characters are in. Then you can start to write in shorthand, because the artist is always going to be two steps ahead of you as far as the visual story goes. I don’t have to describe the city or what type of city The Flash lives in. We’ve already gone over it a hundred times, so it’s nice to have that type of relationship. And it can also happen with details. The guy I work with on Green Lantern, Ethan Van Sciver, knows the story from beginning to end, so he goes in there and subtly will add something in the background that will actually add something that means something to the story, so it’s nice to have that depth to it.
Are you ever unhappy with the rendering of a panel, so that you would have to go back and change it?
There’s been a few instances, sure, where you’re looking for a different image, and a different emotion on a face or something that you have to go back and change. But it’s the same thing when an editor goes back and changes a script, or an artist. You know, I’ll tell the artist I work with, “If you have an idea that you want to add, let’s talk about it, it could be really nice.”
Do editors have a lot of influence over stories, or are they more hands-off?
You pitch the editor a story, they say yes or no, and then you go off and break down the story and get notes back.
How important is it, when writing a character for DC, to have a really good knowledge of all the characters in the DCU?
You don’t need to know all the characters but you should know all the history of the ones you’re writing for. If you’re writing for Teen Titans, you obviously need to know all of them – who they are, what motivates them, what their histories are, and also what stories have been told.
Do comic writers, like screenwriters, need to have an agent?
So, then how does the (way better than) average comic writer ever get noticed?
It’s hard. A lot of writers today come from different fields now. They come from film or TV, or novels. Or, one guy I know, Will Pfeifer (Aquaman), was writing for a newspaper. A lot of writers who are coming in now have already gotten their chops elsewhere. They’ve already proven themselves as storytellers. And they come in and learn the format of comic book writing and get in that way. It’s really, really competitive now. Between DC and Marvel, they probably put out 120 books per month, mainstream. If you want to do mainstream books, the best thing to do is start writing.
What else should writers know about the business of comics?
There’s no easy path. You have to make your own path. Whether that be working in TV, or writing a book or working at a newspaper, or self-publishing your own comic book or working at Image, a lot of the guys who write mainstream books now come from a small press background, where they did their own books for a couple years, then get work at DC or Marvel. If you want to go toward that, it’s a good way to go. The thing about DC is that they’ve got lots of options, imprints like Vertigo and Wildstorm, open for comedy or drama.
From your Web site and your message boards, it seems like you’re pretty in touch with your fans and fans of Green Lantern. Do the fans and the feedback that you get ever influence your writing?
Well, most of the time it’s already too late because you write six months ahead. There have been occasions where I’ve interacted with fans and they’ve enjoyed something or they really want to see a certain character or whatever, and I’ll listen to that. But, you take constructive criticism there like you always take it. I’m always trying to work on my plotting and characters, and if something doesn’t work, work to make it better. It’s like baseball, you’re not going to hit a home run every time. You hope to at least hit a triple and hope for a home run. But you’re always trying to get better, figure out why this story worked and this story didn’t work. You look at a few stories and try and improve your game.
You have to. Once you stop looking at yourself saying, “How can I make this better?” or figuring out what you would have done differently, or what you’re going to do next that’s different – once you stop doing that you’re gonna suck. Look at the great directors, too. I mean, even Hitchcock made movies that just didn’t work. Everyone has their off days, for one reason or another sometimes a project just doesn’t click, a story doesn’t come to life the way you want it to, but on the other hand when it does, it’s a great experience. You’ve got to keep trying to improve yourself.
Did you ever see yourself as a comic-book writer?
I always liked comics, and I thought about writing them, but I moved more toward film and TV when I got into college. I really didn’t get into comics until about four years after college.
So, inasmuch as you take influence from the writers before you, what is your feeling about writers whom you might be influencing right now?
I’ve never thought about that! I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question. If there are kids reading comics and are influenced by that, cool. Hopefully they take away the right stuff to take away. I’ve never really thought about that, but that’s a pretty cool thought.
Everyone says, “Oh, Geoff Johns. He’s had such a fast rise.” But in reality, you’ve been writing for a long time, writing for a while. Do you have any advice for writers who are just writing and writing and trying to get somewhere?
If you want to be a writer, be writing. You know, I can’t tell you how many people I talk to who say that they want to be a writer, and they say “You know, I really want to be a writer, but I don’t know how to get into it.” And I ask what they’re working on and they say, “Oh, I haven’t written it yet.” If you want to be a writer, and you know you don’t want to do anything else, you’ve GOT to go out there and write. If you want to be a screenwriter, write a screenplay. Don’t stop. If you want to write comic books, write a comic book! There’s no one out there saying you can’t write an issue of Batman. Go out there and do it. If you have a story idea, and you want to become a writer, and that’s what you want to do, then go for it. There’s nothing holding anybody back. It doesn’t cost anything to write. Just sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil. Or a computer, most people have computers. That’s the key, you’ve got to go out there and do it. You’ve got to really want to, like anything else.
—Interview by Amber MitchellPosted by Tim Leong on April 13th, 2005 filed in Story Archive | 1 Comment »