Friday, July 11, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

Last week my cartoonist friend, co-worker, classmate, and all-around talented human person Sophie Goldstein asked me if I would be interested in taking the hand-off for this Writing Blog Tour thingy that’s been going around the interwebs. The Writing Blog Tour allows artists to talk a bit about their work and their writing process. But before I get into my work, I insist all of you take a look at Sophie’s work because she’s extremely gifted as a draftsman and storyteller. She makes some of my favorite sci-fi comics. 

And now the part where I talk about myself…

What am I working on? 

At this very moment I'm working on my third slice of leftover pizza. HA HA HA HA. Get it? Oh, right, you'd probably appreciate a less smart-ass answer than that, huh? Well, the first thing I'm working on these days is a six part story that is being serialized in Maple Key Comics. Maple Key is a bi-monthly magazine and it is serializing some truly great comics. I'm lucky to have a story in there. My story is called Talk Dirty To Me and it’s about a woman who takes up a job as an operator at a sex hotline. And no I didn't know about the Jason Derulo song when I started this project. But I do like saxophone. 

I'm also working on two stories called Pops and Dance Yourself To Death. The former is about a man that discovers a secret hatch in the back of his dying father’s head. Using the hatch, he is able to shrink down and explore the inside of his father’s body. The latter is a completely fictionalized story about how Igor Stravinsky came to find the inspiration for the now famous ballet The Rite of Spring. Dance Yourself To Death was originally a mini I created as part of the Irene 3 anthology that I’ve decided to reimagine as a longer piece. I hope to Have Pops finished for convention season next year with Dance Yourself To Death following sometime after that.  

I've also been toying with the idea of launching a webcomic. I've started the tiniest first stages of that process. 

How does my writing process work?

I like to think I have two ways of writing. The “Scalpel” and the “Hammer.” I stole these terms from a good cartoonist pal of mine, DW. He uses the terms to describe the different ways that he draws but I really like the way they sound so I took them. 

The “Scalpel” way of writing is the process of writing that I'm very comfortable with and have been using long before I made my first comic - back when I was pursuing screenwriting and making films. I guess you could say this is the more common approach to writing. I get an idea, it germinates for a long time in my head and I write it mentally over and over. After that I break the story out into an outline and I make a formal script (which is basically just a screenplay). When I'm making comics I take that script and break it down into tiny thumbnails, planning out how the comic will physically look from panel-to-panel and page-to-page without letting myself get bogged down in whether the drawing is any good. From there I refine the thumbnails, pencil the pages and then I ink away (blah blah blah blah). I can't say there is anything unique about this approach. In fact, I would bet that nearly all the artists that have been a part of this Writing Blog Tour have a similar way of writing - idea, roughing out the script, scripting, thumbnailing, penciling and then inking. I like the term “Scalpel” for this way of writing because it really does feel like there is a fully realized story deep inside my brain somewhere and I have to poke around step-by-step, meticulously and carefully extracting it. It’s a very time-consuming way of writing, but that work usually serves to weed out major story problems. 

What my rough scripting looks lik

What my final scripts look like

What my thumbnailing looks like

The “Hammer” way of writing is something I only came to when I started my thesis at the Center for Cartoon Studies. I was using the “Scalpel” way of writing like I always had to try to extract this hefty (if not heavy-handed) graphic novel following the cycle of sexual abuse that has plagued this one family for four generations. It was way too ambitious of a project and I was feeling incredibly burdened and bogged down by the enormity of the task. It was around October of 2012 that I decided to try my first 24 Hour Comic. For those of you who don't know, a 24 Hour Comic is a challenge created by Stephen R. Bissette and Scott McCloud. The challenge is to see if you can make a twenty-four page comic in twenty-four hours. That’s a page an hour for twenty-four straight hours. And let me just state the most obvious of statements: IT. IS. ROUGH. But my hope was that it might shake something loose - or at the very least take my mind off my thesis for a day. I found the experience to be incredibly eye-opening. There was no time to write in the traditional way I was used to. I simply sat down with a pen and a blank page and when the time started I drew my first panel. When that panel was done, I drew the next. No planning ahead of time. No preconceived ideas. What resulted felt very magical to me. I was surprised at what kinds of things came out when I wasn't giving my brain weeks and weeks to mull things over. And what was even more surprising was that by the end of the twenty-four hours I had an actual story instead of what I would assume would have been a pile of nonsense. Sure it wasn't brilliant, but it showed me that there was an entirely different part of my brain, some spontaneously creative part deep inside there, that I had been ignoring with my storytelling. I ended up scrapping the graphic novel idea and using this method for most of my final thesis. It’s also how I've been writing Talk Dirty To Me, I used it for my stories in both Irene 3 and 4 and it’s a method I think I'll continue to use for lots of my projects. I like the term “Hammer” for this approach because it feels like I'm just cracking myself over the head and running with whatever gets knocked loose. 

The first two pages of my 24 hour comic. Read it here
not the most beautiful artwork, but I liked the story quite a bit

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I honestly have no good ideas on how to answer this one. I guess it differs because I'm me and no one else is me? That sounds like nonsense but it's also just the truth. I really try not to spend a lot of time thinking about whether my comics are constantly being unique and original. As long as my stories feel honest to me and I've been able to wrestle with something inside myself, I'll try my best to count it as a success. I hope people like my comics and I do hope there is some originality there, but it might be too dangerous for me to get deep into thinking about how or whether it is above the fold. 

Why do I write what I do? 

I can't say it better than Sophie Goldstein did in her writing blog post so I'm going to quote her here: “When I shake the tree this is what comes out.” Doesn't get more spot on than that. Well put. Well put…

Next week on The Writing Blog Tour!

Laurel Holden. One of my favourite watercolorists out there. If the concept of whimsy was trapped in a bottle and then you took a ladybug and then the ladybug and whimsy had a baby and then that baby made comics, that would be close to the kind of lovely, hilarious and often touching comics Laurel makes. You have to read The Seawitch.

John Carvajal. Quickly becoming one of my new favorite people, John's comics are adept and they're covered in this veneer of creepy. Or maybe it's gooey. Greesy? I don't know, it's something. Check out his mini Saved. 

Rebecca Roher. Deceptively loose, Rebecca's comics are another great example of whimsy done right. Along with that, she has this way of making you think she's going in one direction with her stories, like maybe a predictable direction, but always manages to find a unique and often bizarre narrative twist. The Man and His Two Wives is just a great mini.