The Ten Things

Sorry about the lack of updates on here lately.  June of 2012 turned out to be a meat grinder, and I’m only now curling my toes around the foot holds on what I still call my “schedule” — not by any means the least help has been a small disciplinary exercise I came up with and have been observing for the past month.

If you’re anything like me, a creature of ritual, you have a fixed set of things you like to do before you actually start drawing, writing, or whatever it is you do.  The attendant “sup” with the Skype buddies.  The near-Pavlovian Facebook Like.  The snarky midday Tweet.  In the midst of all this, I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping a .txt file on my desktop titled “Ten Things.”  If you hate lists, you might as well stop reading now.

What it is, is an enumeration of all the work-related things I accomplish over a work week, as they are accomplished.  But as a play on my OC-ness, it starts out as a blank list already numbered one to ten.  This way, I am always aware of how much I still haven’t gotten done.  A partially complete list exhudes a sort of cognizant want to finish it, or as close to ten as you can get.  The mechanism is simple but surprisingly effective.

Comic pages.  A set of layouts.  A character design. These are all aspects of my job that I can accomplish over the course of the week. Seeing the list build up mid-week not only gives you an idea of how much further there is to go, but also gives you a better sense of accomplishment.  So you did five pages?  Great, that’s five items on the list.  Snuck in a character design or two?  Even better.

There are of course some caveats. One will ask “What about blog updates? Those are work related.”  Sure.  But unless this is what you get paid to do, for all you role-players, This effect does not stack.  So you posted ten blog updates?  That’s one item on the list.  Same goes for personal art.  One item.

It didn’t seem to have a point at first, especially because all it did was make me feel bad about not always reaching my number ten.  And I won’t lie, most of the time you won’t.  But what you learn very quickly is that it’s not hitting that number that’s important, but trying to.  And when all is said and done, it’s still art, right?  Hopefully most of it succeeds, but some of it always fails.  The important thing is that you tried.  And y’know what?  there’s always next week’s list.


The Deadbolt Witch

As moon looms high and head hangs low,
There sits terror in the hearts that know
That be you simple or be you rich
Your home may harbor the Deadbolt Witch.

Mottled skin of ashen gray,
Eyes so black they blot the day.
If you so spy her be not brave
Know that your children you cannot save

Best keep her out of house and home,
Sure to lock up when you’re alone;
For if the deadbolts you forget,
A laugh from your quarters you will regret.

The Best Bit

Over the past week, things have just worked out in such a way that all the projects I’m working on need a ton of layouts done on the same day.  So my Monday afternoon to early Tuesday morning is about thumbnailing.

Working to The Social Network OST and bits and pieces of Joe Hisaishi.  No words.  Just melodies pouring in to help the conversion of text to visuals.

I am about three-quarters of the way through.  I’ve had my second coffee.  My wife is asleep.  There is a slight drizzle outside and a chill to the air that plays on my fatigue and determination in equal parts.

Laying a book out tends to be the most tedious and challenging part of making comic books.  At its heart, comics are storybooks, and thumbnailing is the very first time the story is being told.  By the writer.  To you.  This is when the soul of the comic is formed, and when you boil it down to its purest form.  And what that purest form is to you is what it’s going to be for everyone else.  This is the best bit.

Visual Problem Solving, Alex calls it.  It’s no lie that it’s not easy getting a story across with no words.  But when it is done successfully, it is that much more powerful because the reader is a participant in the story’s telling.

It is a cold Tuesday morning and I am making comic books.


Been tweaking the dialogue for Urban Animal #2 for the past week, and I’ve pretty much put most of it to bed.  With the series already completely drawn, I’ve really no choice but to write in a pseudo-Marvel style — applying text that I hope works with the imagery.  I had thought of leaving in the original dialogue from almost a decade ago, but a lot of it now feels verbose and cumbersome.  I like to think that I am at least a little bit better at writing than I was back in college.

In reviewing my scripts and self-editing, I find that I am often guilty of using redundant dialogue, so I’ve been keeping to a set of guidelines as I go along:

1) Dialogue should be brief.
2) It should add to reader’s present knowledge.
3) It should eliminate daily conversational niceties.
4) It should push the narrative forward.
5) It should reveal the speaker’s character, directly or indirectly.
6) It should show relationships among people.

— Elizabeth Bowen

I have a fairly good ear for dialogue, but where it gets wonky is when I have to make different people talk in different ways.  There’s this joke about Silver Age comics not exactly being known for their character-driven dialogue — when Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and the Flash get into a car and drive into a tunnel, if they continue whatever conversation they were having in the daylight, now that all you have is word balloons in the dark, you will have no fucking clue who is saying what.  I heard this on a podcast once, and it just cracked me up.  It speaks to the importance of having dialogue genuinely reflect the speaker’s personality, and that’s what I’m trying to build on today.

Scripting for Comics: Best Practices

Here’s the thing.  Writing a good story and effectively writing for comics are two totally different things.  They needn’t be mutually exclusive, but there’s a learning curve for everyone, right? WRITE! (See what I did there?)

Anyway, below is a brief breakdown of best practices I’ve seen my collaborating wordsmiths use in their scripting format.  Note, what is discussed here has nothing to do with actual story but more what the script looks like when it is sent to the artist and other people working on the book.

Comics are a collaborative medium and as such should, ideally, be easy for multiple heads to work on.

1) Indicate important elements at the first page of every scene. Even if the element doesn’t appear until later, if you want a character to wear a specific sort of hat, the pavement to have a specific cobble, or the skyline to have a certain hue to it, indicate this early on and not on the panel it comes into focus.  Artists need to approach the scene with all these factors in mind beforehand, so it is vital that they know what they are or else they run the risk of drawing something completely different.

2) At the page header, include a panel count. Page 4 (6 panels).  While true that an artist takes each and every panel as it comes to make it as eloquent as possible, also note that the page has a finite amount of real estate.  How big you make the first panel directly affects the size of the last.  That action sequence in the middle of the page directly affects your establishing shot up top.  Letting your artist know in advance how many panels you’ll be needing mentally equips him as to how best to approach the page’s flow.

3) One action per panel. A number of writers, especially those coming from straight prose, forget that one panel can’t show a man opening a door and walking through it at the same time.  It’s an understandable fault, but if you want to keep the artist sane, do try to remedy it as quickly as possible.  If it proves a difficult habit to break, be open to your artist’s suggestions to either remove redundant panels or create addendum panels to help progress the page narrative.  Remember that your artist wants to tell the story as clearly as possible as well, so help him help you.

That’s it for tonight.  I love you all, and Izzy you owe me a backrub.


Creating art as a profession teaches you things.  There’s a big difference between drawing for yourself, for fun, for art’s sake… and drawing to pay the rent, to feed yourself, and to keep the lights on.  It’s a job.  And while this distinction is clear to a precious few whom I love and respect immensely, I figured it’d be peachy to lay down a grocery list of the most common misconceptions that most people have about artists.

#1 Artists are proud of everything they create. Nope.  More often that not, we are painfully aware of how a piece could have been better, even when our peers compliment us or at least gently bend us over.  We know we can be better.  And while most of us can take constructive criticism like normal people, also keep in mind that no one sits at a desk, whips out his art equipment, and intentionally tries to suck.

#2 Artists are insulted by reference material. No way.  There may be a handful of artists who scoff at drawing from reference, but the majority appreciate it and tend to consider it a genuine effort to make our job easier, may you be a collaborating writer or even just a fan commissioning a piece.  Nah.  Whatever helps us make the finished piece better is usually appreciated.

#3 We like flowery scripts. This is a weird one.  Some writers tend to fashion scripts thinking of their collaborators as the audience.  Though there may be a bit of merit to that, nine times out of ten, an artist will prefer that you just say an alley is dark rather than “oppressed by the shadows of the adjacent concrete monoliths.”  While yes, it serves to help the imagery, keep in mind that you don’t need to sell us on the story.  We are already working with you.

#4 We don’t need praise. We do.  Admit it, artists.  The biggest reason you’re still on Deviant Art is the ego stroking.  Take me for example, after a day’s work, I’d like to hear more than “ooh, that’s nice.”  What’s the matter?  Am I a puppy?  Did you pass out because my page is so awesome and that’s why you can’t say anything more?  All I’m saying is… If you’re a writer receiving pages and you like them, tell your artist you do.  Don’t just ask for the next one.  Show the love.

#5 We’re always in the mood to draw. This is probably the most common misconception, and understandably so.  When comic fans see us at cons, it’s at artist alley.  When writers hit us up, it’s within the context that you are a collaborator whose job it is to illustrate a story.  But of course, just like every OB-GYN gets sick of staring at vaginas every now and then, sometimes we just want to sit at our desk and NOT be holding a pencil.

So that’s it.  Five common misconceptions about artists.  I’m pretty sure I’m wrong about a couple of them and very right about others, but this is all from experience, so bear with me.  Now back to work…

Building a Closet

I noticed a slight deficiency around here in terms of new art, so I thought I’d peel some skin back and show some bones for a little bit.  Closetworld is a webcomic written by Matt Yocum that went online a little while back.  As pretty standard procedure for all my projects, I make sure thumbnails are approved by the writer and/or editor before I actually begin work on the page.  Below are the layouts for the first four pages of Closetworld, and the finished sequentials for comparison.  As usual, click to biggify.

Aside from camera placement and shot angle, two other very good uses of thumbnails are the preconception of Shadow Placement and Shorthand of Expression.  Figuring out where your shadows go in this miniature version of the page saves you a lot of time and ink.  It’s not just shadows really, but blacks in general.  If the page reads smoothly as a small sketch, there’s no reason for the finished version to be weak compositionally.

As for shorthanding expression — it can get tedious when you’re already drawing the page and you need to keep checking the script to see if the emotion on your character’s face fits what he’s saying and doing.  If you indicate this in your thumbnails ahead of time, you save yourself quite a bit of hassle later on.