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    John Layman Interview

    By Tim Leong

    How has your experience as an editor at Wildstorm help you as a writer?
    I was lucky enough to have access to scripts from some really wonderful writers, working with Mark Millar and Warren Ellis and Joe Casey and John Arcudi, among many others. Really, there is no one correct way to write a script, and everybody writes scripts differently. However, it interesting to be able to look at a writer’s script and compare it against the final art, and see what works, and what doesn’t. I was able to look at good scripts and learn from them, and a fair share of bad scripts, too.

    What was the best thing you learned from being an editor?
    I’m not sure there is any ONE best thing. I suppose I learned to roll with the punches, and put myself in an editor’s shoes. That is, I do my best not to deliver a late script, because it makes the editor’s life difficult, and it hurts your artist, which ultimately hurts your book.

    I also learned to shrug when there are errors, and not freak out. Or, at least, I’ve learned to put them into perspective. Typos WILL get through, and mistakes will be made. As an editor, I’d see some little mistake and I would FREAK, and then figure out that nobody even noticed… or cared. It’s not to say I don’t care, but you have to take a certain amount of a “shit happens” attitude. Be happy with the big picture, but don’t sweat every little teen-tiny thing, or you will end up going insane.

    How did the thought process work when editing a book? What did you look for?
    Well, to be perfectly honest, Wildstorm has a bit of a different editorial philosophy than other companies. We mostly hired people we trusted, and didn’t do a whole lot of “editing.” That is, I was more concerned with making each book most accurately recreate the creator’s vision, whereas places like DC and Marvel that are a little more editorially driven, the editor has a larger say in what goes into the story.

    You mentioned you’re working on a video game - how did that come about?
    Actually, since your initial request for this interview, I have worked on THREE video games, and I’m not sure exactly how it came to be, other than sheer, dumb luck. A friend of mine who works for a very big game company was asked to write a game for another company, but couldn’t due to conflicts of interest. He recommended me, and the game producer got excited because I write comics, and for some reason I got the gig from that. That led to another game, and then another.

    This doesn’t really apply to comics, except for the fact being in comics helped me get the gig. Comics fans and the comics industry tend to have a low opinion of themselves, and would rather hire outside of comics. However, people outside of comics regard comic creators pretty highly, I’ve found. I don’t really have a good explanation, other than comics has a real inferiority complex, and we need to get over it.

    How can comics, a static medium, compete with video games, something much more interactive?
    I’m not sure they can. That’s like asking how radio can compete with TV. It simply can’t. It’s apples and oranges. People assume comics SHOULD compete with video games, because most comic readers got hooked on comics as kids, and now kids today play video games instead of read comics. And, yes, video games will take a chunk of kids’ time and income, but if you are looking for someone to blame for kids not reading comics, blame comics. The Powers that Be in the world of comics have made comics unfriendly for kids, moving everything from corner stores (which is where I discovered comics, and most people in general) to kid-unfriendly specialty stores.

    You’re a former journalist, correct? How does that experience affect your writing?
    Some new writers have a hard time letting go of their stuff. They want to noodle it and noodle it and noodle it. Working on a newspaper, where the deadlines came fast and furious, taught me to let go. Finish, and move on. It’s better to be able to produce three B+ scripts in three months than one A+ script in three… particularly if your livelihood depends on it. This way, you’ll eventually be able to get that A+ script in one month. All noodling with the same script ever encourages is more noodling…which is much less productive.

    The title character Gambit, is Cajun. How do you go about dealing with stereotypes with characters you write?
    Actually, it’s something I don’t really think about too much. I scaled Gambit’s accent way back and have tried to concentrate on him as a character, not a caricature. As long as you have respect for your character, his or her intelligence and abilities, chances are that character will not descend into stereotype.

    What was the hardest part about becoming a freelance comic writer?
    It was getting the work, at least initially. I thought being a comic book editor would be a good way in the back-door. As it was, it’s actually been somewhat of a hindrance. Initially, I think, nobody wanted to hire me because it looked like nepotism, so I had to go about proving myself all over again.

    You have to be disciplined in a way that a salaried employee is not. If you want to screw around and play video games all day you can… but do that too often, and you’ll regret it when it comes time to pay rent.

    You’re also a letterer - how did that come about? How did you learn how to do it?
    That was weird. I knew Adobe Illustrator from my days at the newspaper, where, among other things, I would design stock charts and pie graphs and stuff like that. Our Wildstorm Vice President, in a continual effort to cut costs, went through a phase where the letterers he hired were horrible. Eventually, I decided it would be faster and more efficient for me to just correct their work myself rather than ask for corrections and get a whole new batch of mistakes. And, after telling myself “I could do better than that,” enough, I decided to just give it a whirl myself.

    It’s more than just writing very carefully. right? What goes into it?
    I’m not sure what this question pertains to. Lettering? Writing? I’ll answer both

    Lettering is trying to make the words and dialogue flow in such a way it guides the reader’s eye where it is suppose to go, without them noticing it. There is a certain aesthetic to it, even a science. What goes into it? A lot of trial and error, and a willingness to try things a few different ways and figure out what works best, and why.

    As for writing, I don’t write particularly carefully. Warren Ellis scripts are sparse, and a 22-page script by Warren may end up to be 15 pages or so. My 22-page scripts are more in the neighborhood of 40-45 pages, but it is very conversational. In panel descriptions I have a conversation with my artist and editor. I tell corny jokes, and just kinda ramble. It’s the dialogue that I try to keep tight and precise. The other stuff is not seen by the public, so it’s not something I worry too much about, beyond giving the editor and artist what they need to tell the story.

    Any advice you’ve learned along the way for new creators lettering their own work?
    I really encourage it, because if you put the time in, you can get the most mileage of out your words and your sound effects. There are lots of subtle things you can do, variations on sizes of words and things like that, that would be simply too difficult and time-consuming to go over with a letterer, but when you do it yourself, it’s a really great marriage, and way to insure you get the words on the page exactly as you intend.

    On a more practical note, fledgling writers tend to overwrite. Lettering your own stuff let’s you see firsthand exactly what can fit on a page. You tend to be a little less unnecessarily verbose as a result.

    What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since entering the comic business?
    Don’t take things personally. Editors will blow you off. Nine out of ten pitches will be ignored when you are starting out, and once you are establishing, four out of five will be. Don’t get mad. Don’t get bitter. Just keep on, and don’t write for anybody else than yourself. Sure, try to keep an editor happy, and your audience, but the most important person you need to please on each and every script is yourself.

    Current projects?
    May was a good month for me. It saw the release of the TPB of my Image miniseries Puffed and Stay Puffed. Thundercats: Enemy’s Pride was released through Wildstorm and I wrote “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Drawing Manga,” Illustrated, through IDW for Alpha Books. Gambit wraps up in July, and after that I will be working on a three-issue Fantastic Four House of M mini series. And, I’ve just had an OGN approved at Oni, but it’s name may be too similar to another comic, so we’re probably gonna have to change the name.

    Posted by Tim Leong on April 8th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |

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