Hi guys. So last week, I was tagged in a writing process blog tour by the super-talented Laura Terry. Laura is a great cartoonist and Illustrator, who makes beautiful, compelling work. I’m really flattered that she chose to pass the tour in my direction!
1. What am I working on?
Right now I am working on three comics. The first is called “Starlight Teen Unofficial Magazine Issue #23”. It’s a short story that will be published as part of Dog City issue #3, an anthology that I co-edit, which will be out in September. This is the comic that I’ll be using as an example of my writing process. It takes the form of a hybrid prose fanzine and minicomic about a fictional teenage pop-star named Starlight.
In addition, I am working on two more comics for anthologies. One is called “Mountain, Take Me”, and it’s about a group of teens who follow their elderly neighbor up the mountain near their town. This comic will be out in September. The third comic is a sci-fi story about personal trainers in the future, and it will be out in October.
2. How does my writing process work?
At any given time, I have at least half-a-dozen ideas for comics I’d like to make. Sometimes, I’ll choose my next project based on what I think will best fit the publication in question, sometimes I’ll just pick whichever I’m most excited about.
I like to build my comics with a tight set of restrictions.
I usually start the comic with one idea, and then choose to include a number of disparate ideas, doing my best to make all of these distinct elements work together. It’s kind of like a puzzle. This keeps the process very engaging and fun for me, and usually results in a more interesting final piece.
For example, in the comic that I’m currently working on, I wanted to write a story about a teen pop star that is dealing with the disappearance of her mother. In order to make things more interesting, I decided that the comic would also be about reality TV baking shows, the creepy secret places in Disney World, and fanzine culture. Anything I’m interested in is fair game. I’m the kind of person who consumes a lot of media in my down time, so I if I find anything that piques my interest I’ll usually note it down.
Once I have decided which Ideas I want in the mix, I start by free-writing a bunch of notes. Then, when a narrative starts to emerge, I’ll write out the page numbers and begin to place certain events in order. Usually, I place the pivotal moments, and then just work to fill in the space between them.
Next, I draw out a small grid for each page. Then, using my previous notes as guidelines, I’ll fill out each panel. Usually at this stage, I concentrate on inserting dialogue/important action into the panels. The stuff I draw into the panels is never what the final panel will look like. I think of this stage as the next step of note taking. At this point, I am only concerned with getting the pacing, and feel of the comic right.
It’s important for me to keep these thumbnails loose, so I can cross stuff out, or ditch entire pages without having to feel precious.
Next I move on to visual thumbnailing. In this stage, I’ll decide what the pictures in each panel are going to look like. I think this is one of the most important stages in writing. Often the details you include in the images can add so much information and texture to the story, which lives around the main narrative, and contributes to the tone of the piece.
At this stage, the comic is pretty much written, however, when I’m drawing the final page, I usually edit any of the words going onto the page a fair amount, ensuring the that prose of the piece flows right. This is especially important for me when I’m writing a comedic piece.
3. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It’s kind of hard for me to say what genre my work falls under. I guess “literary comics” or postmodernist fiction or something like that. I try to give it all a fairly light tone by ripping off The Gilmore Girls as much as possible. I want my work to be really funny and really sad. The funny parts make the sad parts sadder, and vice versa.
4. Why do I write what I do?
My only absolute goal when making a comic is that I want it to feel fresh. I see a lot of comics with jokes I’d heard before, or plotlines recycled from something else that I’ve seen 100 times.
In one way I believe that whole “there’s no such thing as an original story” thing, but I also think it’s too reductive. Yeah, there are a million stories about a child searching for their lost mother, but I think it’s the details; the smaller choices we make; that brings a story to life and makes it fresh and exciting. I’m just trying to grab a little bit of that feeling.
Who’s up next week?
First up, I’m tagging Simon Reinhardt. Simon’s a great writer (and artist) of comics, most of which you can read on his website. I personally recommend you check out Dead Rappers and his Detectives strips. His more essayistic comics, as I can’t write narration for shit, constantly impress me.
Secondly, I’m tagging the great Melanie Gillman. Melanie’s comics are not only beautifully drawn, but also expertly written. Melanie’s comic As The Crow Flies (which is nominated for an Eisner this year!!!) always catches me off guard with how subtly it handles big issues. Often when people write about issues they’re passionate about, it can be so heavy-handed, but Melanie treats their characters and their stories with a lightness that I find really impressive.
And Eleri Mai Harris, who is just so, so good at making comic books. Do yourself a favour and buy all the shit in her store. Eleri is sure to have an interesting post on the subject, since she works mainly in non-fiction comics.