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You usually don’t hear “girls” and “comics” in the same sentence, but it’s a trend the Luna Bros. are starting to buck. Jonathan and Joshua Luna’s debut comic, ULTRA, drew fans and acclaim alike and the Lunas are hoping to repeat their success with their follow-up project, GIRLS (Image, May 25). The brothers Luna revealed to Comic Foundry what they’ve learned since ULTRA, and what it takes to be a storyteller.
Is the process any different — technically or creatively — from ULTRA to Girls?
JONATHAN: Technically? Not really.
Creatively? I think the closest thing is that we’re working in a different genre — a story that’s almost the complete opposite of ULTRA.
In GIRLS, our protagonist is a male, and it’s set in a small town, with a much bigger cast. And I don’t think it will be your typical comic book.
How has your writing and planning differed from ULTRA to GIRLS now that the central character changed from a woman to a man?
JOSHUA: I wouldn’t say it changed too much. Well, obviously, there are some major differences that must be considered and applied when you jump from female to male points-of-view, but for the most part it’s a relatively organic process. My main priority is just to figure out the character as a person and not as a sex. Because once you start getting too gender-specific, you run a risk of turning the character into a stereotype, as opposed to an individual. So, I just keep it human. The rest is window dressing.
What have you learned from your experience with ULTRA that’s helped the most with GIRLS?
JONATHAN: In terms of craft, you can definitely see a difference in my art looking at ULTRA No. 1 and No. 8. It wasn’t until ULTRA No. 2 or No. 3 that the “glove” was beginning to fit. Even the lettering took a while to get a hang of.
Being an indie creator, you learn a lot about business — a crash course of sorts. In the beginning, I thought Image would hand me some “booklet” that explained how to do everything I needed to know to get by. I was so wrong, and till this day, I’m still learning new things about how to make comic books.
On ULTRA, I didn’t really learn anything revolutionary — just a bit of tweaking here and there. It was in college where I learned all of the major stuff.
Did you see an evolution in your work from issues 1 to 8 in ULTRA?
JONATHAN: Absolutely. In ULTRA No. 1, I was attempting make the book highly detailed. But in order to do a page a day, I had to streamline the way I did things a little. This was pretty much all subconscious, but I began to draw fewer lines — each line represented more.
Also, I think my staging and shot construction improved. It became easier to read information.
Lastly, I think I fine-tuned my coloring. I use colors as a thematic element in scenes, and I learned how to accentuate each mood a little better.
JOSHUA: It’s difficult for me to gauge that kind of thing because I’m such a nitpicker. Even if I think the dialogue, for example, starts to flow a bit smoother, I’d probably find weak points in other areas such as plotting, pacing, etc. Sometimes, weaknesses don’t really go away — they’re just displaced. So, if there was an evolution, they were most likely baby, Cro-Magnon steps. I’m a constant work-in-progress.
Doing it the Write Way
How does the plotting and writing aspect for Girls work between you two?
JOSHUA: Well, during the conceptual phase, we’d get together to discuss the story and lay down some loose plot points along the way. Once we’re pleased with a foundation, I write the script for the first issue, and then Jon gives it a read to add any additional comments or criticisms. When we’re happy with a final draft, he makes the art while I stretch out on the couch and eat peanuts. Just kidding. I have to stay a script ahead of him, so I’d work on the next issue and we’d repeat the process.
A lot of people say you have to have a lot of life experience to really tell stories. At 23 and 25, you guys are relatively young. How do you combat that notion?
JOSHUA: Yeah, that’s true. Writing what you know definitely keeps a story honest, but sometimes, life experience can be overrated. If it isn’t complemented with an imagination, or the ability to find scenes and events that carry the audience to a meaningful climax, then those experiences won’t do you much good as a storyteller. But of course it never hurts, so yes — the living part is a constant process.
But more so than “life experiences,” I think a lot of good writing is gained from “bad experiences.” Since life is basically conflict, the most memorable and rewarding experiences in life are the ones that traumatized the piss out of us. I definitely draw inspiration from those because they teach us something. So, thankfully, I still have many more years ahead of me to accumulate scars.
JONATHAN: I’m not a master at writing, but to me it takes five things to be a storyteller.
1. Imagination. You have to be good at making things up. If you’re not daydreaming or thinking “What if?” all the time, you can never be a writer.
2. Dedication. The only way to get better at writing is if you write all the time and constantly.
3. Taste. This is where subjectivity comes in, but if you’re writing about stuff no one cares about, who is going to call you a good storyteller?
4. Structure. You have to know what a story is before you can write one. There are ingredients to a story — if you ignore some of them, your story won’t taste right.
5. Pain. Stories are about conflict and problems. Meaning: Every writer has to have gone through pain. So, yes, that means EVERYONE can be a writer. Every time I see a great movie or read a book that touched me, I think, “Damn… that writer went through a lot of shit.”
Sex on the Brain
There’s definitely a notion of sex appeal to your work — is that something you consciously pursue?
JOSHUA: I guess it’s mostly unconscious, considering I never realized my work was that sexed. But I like putting my characters through sexual situations because that’s when you find out what they’re really about — when they’re naked and uninhibited.
What do you think of the ULTRA characters being compared to the girls on Sex and the City? When you first wrote the characters, were you thinking more about single female characters or superheroes?
JOSHUA: Honestly, I’ve only watched that show once or twice, so I wouldn’t really know what to make of that comparison.
Well, I didn’t really look at the characters that way because that would’ve led to a lot of generalizations. Instead of labeling her as a “single woman” or a “superhero,” I just made Pearl as real to me as possible. The purpose of the book, ULTRA, was to strip away that archetypal mask and reveal a human being underneath. So, I was just basically thinking about Pearl, the individual — a woman who happened to be a single superheroine.
You had to learn to letter things by yourself — what were some of the better lessons you learned that helped smooth out the transition? What fonts do you use?
JONATHAN: Comicbookfonts.com was the big and only help I got on how to letter. That’s also where we got a few fonts from.
It took me a while to figure out how to letter with ULTRA No. 1. I had to figure out the right stroke width for bubbles; I learned that I needed to overprint my bubbles to avoid “halos”. And figuring out the right size of font and spacing was very time-consuming. I’m sure I lettered all of our first issue 20 times. It was hell.
How has your design sense influenced your comic work?
JONATHAN: In terms of the magazine theme of ULTRA, it’s more about our cynicism towards media that influenced our comic work. The magazine design is something I had to learn to do in the process of parodying media — it’s not my personal style. Though, I had little previous experience as a graphic/web designer, so that might have helped slightly.
In my opinion, the covers to ULTRA will look nothing like the ones to Girls.
You have to pencil, ink and color a page a day. What have you learned that’s helped speed up your process?
JONATHAN: Add “lettering” to that.
To this day, I’ve worked on 10 issues of comic books, and I have to say that there’s absolutely nothing to make all of those tasks any easier or done faster.
Do you think that your educations at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) gave you a leg up on the competition? How did courses there help you along the way?
JOSHUA: Absolutely. We actually majored in sequential art, so we were fortunate enough to develop our skills within every aspect of that discipline: writing, penciling, inking, conceptual design, etc. Even some electives that seemed to deviate from my core curriculum, such as acting or art history, really helped me become a more dynamic storyteller.
I’ve read that you learned from comics how to draw people, and that left you with some bad habits — What were they? Why were they bad?
JONATHAN: I’m not going to name any artists that I’ve emulated in the past, but from my experience, learning to draw comics from comics is not exactly the way to go. I can’t place what bad habits I was left with, but I know that, if anything, drawing from comics is mostly greatly inspirational. Every artist’s art will always look like someone else’s. It’s inevitable. Though, I would recommend more life drawing or drawing from photos and magazines.
In Good Publishing Company
You’ve mentioned that you went through four other concepts before deciding on Girls. What does a story take to be solid enough to move on to the next step?
JOSHUA: If we love a concept, sleep on it for a night, and then still love it the next day, it’s good to go.
How is publishing through Image?
JOSHUA: It’s great. They’ve basically given us complete artistic freedom. What more can you ask for?
Was your process of being picked up by Image the standard submission — no backdoors or inside tracks? What did you do when you got the call that they were interested in ULTRA? What was the next step?
JONATHAN: Yes, just five colored pages and a cover. We didn’t know anyone at Image, or in the industry, for that matter.
At first, Jim Valentino e-mailed us and said something like, “Hey guys, we like this one.” After a couple weeks, Erik Larsen became the publisher, and it was like starting all over again. I sent Erik the pages, and called him up. We had a good talk and he gave us the green light. He told me to start drawing pages. I’ve been doing a page every weekday ever since.
ULTRA was the second thing you submitted to Image — what was the first? Obviously, it didn’t progress, but what did you learn from that experience?
JONATHAN: Josh and I have agreed to never talk about our first submission. We might use it down the road.
Our submission process was pretty ironic. For our first submission, we did an entire book. Twenty-two pages and a cover — penciled, inked, colored and lettered. It took us three months to complete it, and it didn’t go through. ULTRA was submitted as five pages, and that went through. I guess we learned to follow the submission guidelines on the Image Web site.
On the other hand, the experience from working on our first submission was invaluable. If we didn’t work on that, I doubt ULTRA would have been as strong.
What have you learned along the way that has made your pitches stronger?
JOSHUA: Looking back, our first pitch was very raw and unpolished. We were so eager to tell a good story that we tried to tell multiple stories within the story. It lacked focus and clear direction — too much characterization, not enough structure. But I’d like to think that we’ve gained a better sense of balance in that aspect.
For more information about the Luna Bros. and GIRLS, visit their Web site - http://www.lunabrothers.com/
—Interview by Tim Leong