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Archive for May, 2010

I’ve tossed an idea around for about 7 years now. Its plot has stayed relatively unchanged. But the location, characters, story, even what the villains and protagonists ARE has changed radically.

At its core it is about what growing up means. And more importantly what the trade-offs are when it happens. As a kid, growing up seems like the best thing EVER. As a grown up (well at least an old person) I can’t imagine why exactly I thought that. The beginning of dinner is far better than washing the dishes, isn’t it? I’m also geting kind of obsessed with how my memories of childhood are starting to fade more quickly. What I recall now are rather odd moments. Moments that are very etherial, very emotive at capturing how being a child felt, but these moments are almost always not the big moments you’d think they would be. Not a birthday party or a Christmas morning, but things like what the driveway felt like on my bare feet, after a summer rain, when I would run down to the get the mail. Odd..

So as I have been hard at work on Earthling! I have two or three side projects that I can scribble ideas down for. And this story finally came together.

It seems that procrastinating on a big project always helps another along. It actually helps both projects. Right now, doing roughs, can get tedious and mechanical. If I take an hour or two a day and break away to something else it really helps me approach the pages with fresh eyes and enthusiasm again. So here’s a page I drew and colored from the new story. It’s taken the form of a graphic novel right now. I deleted the text out as I am still developing the structure and characters and hey, I don’t want to give everything away!

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I’ll warn you ahead of time. This is off topic. Well, on topic as it is an issue in my life, but it’s not directly about writing and drawing.

I currently live in a suburb of Portland called West Linn. Nice enough place. I’ve been here for around 5 years now. I’m not a ‘local’ nor am I a stranger. Local politics and governance is dominated and often controlled by developers. Or people who work for developers, or people who work for people who work for developers. They complain if the city dare raise the fees to build (ignoring the cost the city takes on yearly by said developers building miles of roads and endless tracks of homes). This is nothing new. I have lived in quite a few different American cities. Rural, suburban and urban. Developers have the most riding on the property issues so it’s natural they end up driving the political and cultural land use views. After all, making money off developing land may be the least complicated method for currency accrual. And as Oregon doesn’t really offer a lot of other paths to riches, (cutting trees is up there too) it’s very popular.

Anyway, I live near a lovely piece of open land that would be best described as multi-use. As in, it’s open to use for different things. It’s not paved over, it’s not a giant skateboard park or cement basketball courts. People fly kites, fly RF airplanes, walk dogs, children run, play Lacrosse games, have concerts in the summer, birds of all sorts feed and rest there. It’s pretty special to have this ‘undesigned’ piece of property that hasn’t been carved into a particular thing.

But the city wants to build on it. They traded it for some other land from the school district, I think, though I can’t keep up with all the different maneuvers. But they want to build a new police department on it – and an aquatic center and a courthouse, or something else. I think it changes depending on who is talking to whom. To get it annexed it seems to have been sold as something for everyone, but of course it won’t be. Not compared to an actual open, multi-use piece of undeveloped land.

And pouring concrete creates jobs. So I can see that too. Aside from the obvious issues (like why put a police department so far from major city roads, and stuck on a hilltop that is often closed in winter storms) it’s sad that no one seems to be consideirng the value of that land on the quality of life issues they love to crow about up here.

I lived many years in Los Angeles. And everyone loves to hate on LA. But here they are in Oregon building roads and filling every empty lot with more stuff. They won’t be happy until they are Los Angeles. There are many reasons LA is LA. But one thing to remember is that development and property are big business. The wealthiest people in Los Angeles got that way from property and development, not by making movies. So you think the folks up here want to let some quality of life issues stand in the way of making bank? Don’t get me wrong. They have done some smart stuff at the county and state level. They are forcing dense housing, creating an urban zone. They still have a fetish for single family homes, but in time that will fade. You have to build up at some point.

But I also find it hard to believe that there’s not another piece of property in the city that would work for their Police-Aquatic Center-Court House building. Something that’s not currently an open piece of, basically, parkland without the beloved concrete and pavement (which needs constant upkeep, maintenance and graffiti removal). Or why the city wouldn’t have planned for this years ago, and taken a look at where a police department would best serve the community. But considering that West Linn is now best known for having its Mayor forced to resign because she lied about her college degree (she didn’t have one) maybe this isn’t a surprise.

Here’s a picture of the park I took a few days ago.

And here’s the artist rendering of what the new structure in West Linn will look like.

(Just a joke. syd mead production art for Bladerunner)

I think quality of life issues are most often ignored when there are dollars to be made. So I don’t expect the fact that the city population voted against selling bonds to build said Police-Aquatic Center-Court House- Chuck-E-Cheeses will stop the powers that be from getting done what they want. Developers make money only when the develop. So if I stay here as long as I lived in LA at some point I won’t be able to tell the difference. But some folks will have bigger bank accounts thanks to the never ending need to build,build, build. All the while telling me why they hate Los Angeles. Which is, at its core, just one big suburb. Just keep building roads and it will end fine, I’m sure.

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I received emails about my graphic novel post. Several people asked about the same issue. How many ‘script’ pages equal a drawn page. I touched on it quickly, but here’s some more info about it.

rough layouts – sample 2 page spread from Earthling!

There is no standard conversion because there are many differentials. It depends on the size of the drawn page, the style of the script – both mechanically (is it written by panels, or prose, or screenplay formatted) and creatively (third person, first person ETC) and finally the amount of text a creator likes to have on a drawn page. I don’t like text-heavy pages. I try and avoid large blocks of text if possible. If a page ends up visually dominated by the text, I don’t see the point of the drawings. You may as well just write the story in prose.

Earthling! will be published at approx. 6 x 8. So it’s a pretty small page. You are limited to 9 panels or less per page (approximately). I prefer graphic novels written in the present (first person) and to use character dialogue to drive the story forward. I try and avoid third person (ghostly) voice over and stage directions. But I have to admit, I will use a few ‘Later that day.’ headers in the book. With younger readers in mind, I think it helps to make some things very clear. But I’ll keep trying to cut them or avoid them and use dialogue, location, or pacing to suggest the change in time.

A picture taken with way too little light – that shows a script page broken into 3 drawn pages

But not all paragraphs in a script are equal. A short action description on a script page can take a lot of drawings  to communicate. I have been working and reworking a few paragraphs in the script that describe a ZeroBall Tournament. What’s ZeroBall you ask. It’s like MeteorBall, but played in zero-grav. Having no gravity makes for a much more exciting game, don’t you think?

Well, the 2 paragraphs have taken 13 drawn pages of art – so far. Because once I begin to translate the action, I find little moments that we need to see in order for the scene to carry emotional weight. And I am also trying to find ways for the characters to further their stories within the action of the game. If they take a hard foul, do they show it hurts? Does the coach react? Does the player grab his arm? Using a number of panels to communicate an emotional state can be gratifying to read. Letting the characters act on the page means they need space.

rough layouts – sample 2 page spread from Earthling!

I should say that the two paragraphs took 25 pages of art originally. I cut it back to 13, but I suspect I will add in a few more now. It feels like too many moments are being left out, the scene playing out too quickly for a reader to get anything fun out of it. If it plays too fast it ends up feeling like Plot being unwound and displayed. But their’s no heart in it. I want to find some small moments during the scenes that are fun to look at. Drawings that give us story that isn’t just in the plot or the words on the page.

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I ran across The Storm In The Barn at my local library and fell in love with it. It’s not easy to categorize and it’s not a typical young-reader GN. But it is a wonderful fairytale/folktale mixture that is built upon solid Americana. It takes wonderful advantage of the pages, pouring out gestural, sketch style images that haunt the frames. The artist is Matt Phelan who was inspired by the black and white photos’ from the dustbowl years. Those are amazingly strong, emotive images and his being inspired to tell this tale by them makes perfect sense.

The story starts simply enough following a young boy’s life during the Dust Bowl years in Oklahoma. The first 20 pages feel like like they could be from a storyboard for the John Ford adaptation of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. But as the story developes it hs a fantastical edge, a sense of an American Magical Realism. Similar in tone to a Mark Twain book as retold by John Houston at the height of his directing and screenwriting skills.

It develops a skewed look at the difficult world that surrounds these characters. It’s a setting we all think we know something about, but do we really? A dust storm isn’t just a dust storm in this book. A bit of Stephen King flutters across the pages. He discovers the unsettling in the mundane. It’s exciting when an artist sculpts ‘average’ moments and locations into unsettling realities. Honestly, most of the time, nothing is as it really seems. Heck, just read up on quantum mechanics and see if your desk looks the same to you.

The overriding issue in the story is the death of the land these people live on. The lack of rain. The dwindling sense of hope. When will the rain return? Why did it go away? What exactly IS locked in that abandoned barn?

A really great book that deserves a read. I’m inspired that it was published because it seems to me it’s a story, a vision, that a lot of editors would turn down in this day and age. So often publishers are being asked to deliver not a good book, but a broad entertainment. Not that a piece of broad entertainment can’t be good. Or that a good book can’t be broad in it’s audience reach. But quite often that’s not the case. The appeal for a lot of fine work will be less than Shrek-like in it’s proportions. And therefore it will be passed over by prospective publishers.

I’m happy Candlewick Press published this book.

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I haven’t been too kind to comic strips. I love the art form, have read them all my life (produced a few mediocre ones) but I have come to dislike the current state of most newspaper comic pages. A big part of this is that they continue to run amazingly old and outdated material. Strips repurposed with new artists and writers, strips from dead people, strips that have been running for 90 years.

Let me make myself clear. I very much love and appreciate old comic strips. I have collections of almost all of them including Dick Calkins oddly lovable Buck Rogers interpretation (I grew up reading that giant tan collection of Buck Rogers Strips). I loved Prince Valiant when drawn by Hal Foster, I was amazed as anyone by Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon (at times almost too elegant to work on a comics page). I can even read the occasional collection of  Li’l Abner, though it hasn’t aged well. I still refer to Walt Kelly’s masterpiece Pogo and that’s not even listing the modern strips I enjoyed like Calvin and Hobbs, Peanuts (when it ran the first time) and Hagar (15 years ago). And today we have a few real winners (LOVE Cul de Sac).

(And by the way it tells me something that I still consider Peanuts a modern comic strip)

But too much of most comics pages are given over to work that should have retired years ago. By clinging to the ancient hits, the newspapers killed off generations of good new work. And then you have things like Garfield, which are not so much a strip as a marketing exercise (Garfield should pay newspapers to run it, as it is only an ad for merchandise and media. It’s quality as a comic strip is nill).

So I am quite happy to read that they are retiring that golden oldie, who hit it’s stride during and after the Great Depression, Little Orphan Annie. Harold Gray’s original strip was on the delightful side, at least when he wasn’t rebuking New Deal politics. It was good in 1924, great in 1933 or so, and since…well. I’ll say no more.

The newspaper comics page epitomize the newspaper industry. By doing so little for so long, by refusing to change with the times in any way, they have allowed the art form of syndicated comic strips to mostly die. They helped kill the baby they delivered. Most popular culture art forms change with the times. The comics page is still mostly holding onto a collection of work that would interest only a comics art collector or nostalgia hound.

There is no doubting that Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson did the right thing. He retired, he retired the strip. Making room for new material. If only a few more creators would have done that instead of milking the form for every last cent, the comics may have had a future.

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Here’s a sneak peek at a work in progress. This is from a new picture book I am working on. I’ll drop more samples as I move forward on the art. It’s a really fun little sci-fi story about 3 Little Aliens. This is 1 of 3 vignettes from a page.

I roughed it out in pencil, scanned it in and finished it in Photoshop. Using a nice scanned grid paper for a background.

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