Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I thought I'd take a few minutes to talk about what I'm doing, under the misapprehension that it is always useful to look at what I'm doing.

Yes, I see what I am talking about. Go back to Europe, college!

Ok. A long time ago, I came up with an idea for a comics story. A 'graphic novel'. A 'webcomic'. A 'mini'. Bla bla bla. I did a lot of work in a variety of sketchbooks and on scraps of paper and in my head ("What are you doing?" "Working" "You're just standing there." "I'm working very hard!").

Once I thought I had the major bits in place, I figured I was ready to begin this new comics adventure. And I did. But, after I started working on the color elements, and began the subsequent pages, I realized that I hadn't done nearly enough preliminary work. I was still working out the overall look of the work. I was still working out some of the logic. I was even applying logic to the clothing. Madness. Um, all here.

Anyway, amidst all of this work (most of which hasn't been scanned and posted), I also started working out some of the details of the story. I wanted to avoid the Kaiju Jugoruma trap that turns a single line of dialogue into a 40 pages of comics (I need to go back into that and build a little more structure in to next chapters).

One of the things that inspired a tighter vision of the plot was George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books that some friends talked me into trying. Say what you will about some of the prose, Martin has such a solid framework beneath this and some serious world-building chops that make the whole thing actually seem free-wheeling and actually opens up the chances to improvise.

Where was I? Have I done it again? I have?

I went to work actually writing this shit out. Full-size thumbs on the backs of drug regulatory manuscripts and outdated airline legal disclaimers. I wrote and I wrote. Pages and pages of comics.

Then I hit a Kaiju Jugoruma moment. A classic, actually. It was precisely the sort of thing that happened in both Earth Minds Are Weak #8 & 9. I let a few characters talk, and I let them get comfortable which each other, and they developed a bit of a banter, and then one character alluded to something, and another character explained a bit more.

And suddenly I had a line of dialogue about something that had happened a month ago (story time).

Motherfucker. You see, the line was a little bit necessary. Forget the developing characterisations. Ignore the art of naturalistic dialogue (why not? I do). There was a bit of of necessary exposition hiding in there (well, it wasn't hiding, per se). There had to be something that happened a month ago (well, I think it's going to be three months ago now — the damn thing takes place thousands of years in the future, I can take a couple months). It was the reason the character was there. Basically, I had to make a decision right there.

Whatever. I could get to that event eventually. More dialogue. A flashback. Something.

But this was a scene that was eating at me. I actually — no matter where in the narrative this scene took place — I needed to figure it out. I needed to know what happened.

I started to work on it. I didn't scan the original piece. I forgot there was a prior step until I went looking through my pages, trying to find this line of dialogue. But there was more. A lot more. That initial scene started in one place and ballooned in every direction. Another new starting place was found. An entire sequence was dropped.

Then the thing sat and gestated. I went to work on other elements. I worked on other projects. There was a wedding. There was some life too. And MoCCA.

When I returned to the comic, I had changed and solidified some ideas. I had thought about format and visual concepts. I thought about some of the things I could do with this scene. I figured out a way to use this scene as an opening chapter — a prologue — without diminishing in any way the big scene I had originally planned to start with. In fact, it could magnify that scene. Strengthen its impact (all of this assumes, of course, a competency of execution I'm not at all convinced I'll demonstrate).

And then I struck on something that made it all even better. Hans Christian Anderson. There was something missing from my first draft of this scene and it was a detail I wasn't all that concerned with. I trusted myself to come up with it later (where does this blind faith come from?). Essentially, I needed my characters to be doing something when the the big event happened. This is an element that I think most people under-appreciate and, under-think-and under-play: the what you are doing when life happens.

It's something that David Lynch excels at. Has someone done a montage of David Lynch characters eating while stuff is happening? I love those eating scenes in Twin Peaks. Think of Ben Horne eating with his brother in the Great Northern.

But I had nothing. I had a location: a grade-school field trip. I knew my protagonist. I knew my antagonists: her classmates and teacher. I knew who my protagonist was with at every point in this story. I knew how it ended.

But I didn't know what the field trip was. I didn't know what they were learning. And then I thought about animals and zoos and museums and animals in a zoo for kids and ducks and Motherfucking Hans Christian Anderson. I could finally kill that guy in his sleep. Oh, and I thought about Boudica as well. Boudica vs Hans Christian Anderson: your daughters' futures are the stakes.

Then it was time to start writing again. This is how I write:
Sometimes I wonder why I don't do my finished comics in ballpoint.

I took that drawing and pencilled it on Bristol board. Then I attacked the board with crow quill pens and brushes. I didn't gank the threshold or bitmap this, so you can see the brushmarks and un-erased pencils (I normally erase)

I kinda love that panel. I got the girls just right, I thought. Composition is legible and gives you something to do with your eyes. But I wanted a bit more. This is the first panel, the first page, the very first thing in this comic. My main character has no feet in the above panel. And her name sucks a little. Normally, I'd leave it as is. Uncentered lettering and all. BUt I wanted to see if I could do a little more. Maybe even push the background a bit more (at all).

I let it sit for a couple weeks.

I pencilled this last night and thought it was ready to ink. Then I inked that hand and decided it was beyond crap. And it was in the wrong position. So I decided to do something else. I taped a piece of clear vellum to the top and started working the image over. What you see above is actually the original pencils with pencil alterations I made while working on the vellum over it.

The vellum:

I pushed teach off to the left about as far as I could, while keeping her gesture and authority and age recognizable. I added more kids and another duck. I pushed the protagonist off further to the right.I added more background characters (guards, walkety people) and more rows of pillars.

At first, I was trying to draw this vellum piece as close to a finished piece as possible, even though I planned to light table it onto bristol anyway. But then I started making post-ink changes: that one heavy-lined girl and the guards and pillars, actually). I decided to go loose. It's a mix.

Tomorrow, I hope to get the thing light-tabled and ready for color. The next terrifying step.

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Blogger Mike Short said...

Nice to see some stuff here again :)
Also I really enjoy the long post. Love reading all the thought that goes into each panel. Most importantly that panel is great. It conveys so much information about the story and the main character. Excellent.

10:49 AM  

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