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Archive for February, 2011

As I continue working on my graphic novel (GN) I am coming face to face with some of my scared beliefs about comics and graphic novels.

I have been getting every recent GN from our library and picked up a few others at book stores. Overall, lots of amazing work. But when it comes to GN work for younger readers there’s one issue that is starting to bug me. The pages are so dense, so full, so overdrawn, I am not sure how to even read the pages. And for a younger reader, I can’t imagine they actually get through the story when each page has a minimum of say, 90,000 lines. It’s one thing to fill a page in a 32 page Where’s Waldo book. It’s quite another to fill 234 pages with that level of detail.

This coming from an illustrator who loves to draw lines. I have a habit of overdrawing. Can I PLEASSSSE cross hatch one more item in this scene?

But with Earthling, I’m trying to consider when a background helps propel a story forward and when it just adds visual clutter. I talked with the colorist, Ken Min, (also an amazing illustrator, who in a weak moment let me talk him into coloring this book) this morning and we talked about the main issue which is, what helps tell the story the best. Not how many times you see a well executed wall in the background.

My POV is that the characters need to have a certain amount of focus, and on a small page, drawing in too much background clutter takes away from being able to easily follow the story the characters are telling us, with how they look, how they pose how they gesticulate.

Granted, there is something soothing about drawing all those background lines isn’t there? That’s the obsessive part of cartooning. And it can be a style in itself. I have some favorite cartoonists who heavily fill each and every frame. But I believe it doesn’t fit well with younger reader material. It’s similar to introducing 4 or 5 plots in the first page of fiction. Be careful or the reader won’t care about any of them.

At the same time, if it gets too clean and reduced, it feels emotionally vacant to me. And the caveat to all this is, it’s about personal taste. There is no ‘right’ way to accomplish a graphic novel. But there are ways that will reduce readability and clarity. But the technique in itself won’t make a bad story good or a good story great. This is an engineering tasks which often overwhelms comics and cartoons for some reason.

Anyway, I’m trying to walk a line where my characters stay front and center. Where a reader can easily follow them on their journey and the ‘sets’ and locations enhance the story and don’t distract the readers eye.

Working in full color also leaves room for letting the painting carry some of the story. For instance, once we introduce that grey wall with a ventilation grill why not in the next frame, when the main character is talking, just have a grey background? Fewer lines, less visual commotion and more opportunity for a reader to focus on my characters dilemma. And at times of high action, don’t just show me LONG shots of chaos with my main character looking like a hair in an omelet. Get me close to the main character as soon as you can. With comics we have an opportunity that *historically films had to work hard to accomplish – getting rid of a background’s distractions in medium and close shots. And in comics it’s a painless process. You just have to trust that the number of lines in every frame doesn’t increase the quality.

I’ve included a sample page that’s nearly complete which I reworked to reduce the background clutter. We have an established location, and know where characters are. But once my characters have something to say, I think it’s important to let them say it with the full attention of the viewer. Color also helps this page. But I won’t be sharing color pages until closer to the finish line!

* I say historically because shooting on green screen you can do a lot more with artistically adjusting a background to fit a medium or close up shot.

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Time Marches On! And so does my graphic novel. I am inking every day now (well, digital inking, as I am drawing this in Photoshop). Coloring tests have started, and it’s looking great. I’m seeing how many pages I can average in a day. Granted these are smaller pages, about 6 x 8, but somedays it’s a lot less finished pages than I was hoping for.

Here’s an inked page from the middle of the book. No words in those balloons. I have to keep something secret! Closing in on the due date but I won’t post a release date until I see it in proofs!

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The headline is a little misleading. But it’s a good headline, no?

I was a little depressed when Borders declared bankruptcy this week, but than I thought about the last time I went to a Borders and bought something. I’d guess I spent no more than fifty dollars at a Borders in the past 3 years. But, I have bought a lot of books in that time. Then I read that Portland’s own, Powell’s bookstore is laying people off and has seen significant sales declines. It’s getting scary isn’t it book people? Fear is becoming a burden on my free time!

Working in books is starting to feel like something that will only be taught in college art classes soon, along with etching, engraving and letterpress. Fine arts indeed, but pretty dead on a large commercial scale.

Change is not easy. From what scientists understand, humans developed over a million years in a very consistent world. But of course when change happened, according to the most recent evolutionary biology, it almost drove us to extinction – right before humans met the challenge and within 50 thousand years or so covered the earth. Bacteria like behavior? Maybe. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

Change causes headaches, fear, anger, ulcers, watching too much ‘news’ television and eating too much Ben and Jerry’s. And there is no doubt that our media world is in a whirlwind of change.

But what struck me is how successful ‘old media’ is in this digital age. When I say old media what I mean is old formats and structures. Because back in 1996 when I first worked on some of the earliest integrated, multimedia/new media, convergence focused, entertainment experiences being produced in Los Angeles, everyone was looking for entirely new structures and formats for story telling. In those days no one was thinking that books or TV was a killer format. What they wanted was new interactive experiences that sliced and diced and blah, blah, blah. Interactive soap operas that played in a screen the size of a quarter on your computer. Walled garden apps that ran along TV shows and let you buy the pants that the stars of Baywatch were wearing.

But what technology has lead us to is – books and TV and games on computers. And while the formats jiggle a slight bit, they have stayed pretty true.

Media consumption is going up rapidly. But the media is more similar to, than different from, the media that existed 50 years ago. That speaks to a certain truth about good stories. And while a new Facebook game gets a lot of attention, it’s just a game you play with ‘friends’. I’ll still bet on the next Stephen King novel to sell well, to be sellable in another 100 years and very likely to be turned into a movie, a TV show and a video game and I can watch them on my watch if I want.

I attened one Holiday party during my employment at Disney while Michael Eisner was still CEO. He took questions from employees at one point and he said something that stuck with me. He said in answer to a question about technology and technology formats (this is paraphrasing at it’s best) ‘That Disney should focus on telling great stories. Finding great charactrs who speak to people in a meaningful way. And that Disney can tell those stories in whatever viable format people want to see, hear and read them.’

Books will not go away. They will morph. TV shows don’t really change, except we need to stop calling them ‘television’ shows. Great comic books and graphic novels will still come out – on the iPad. *Books may cease to use dead trees as a conductor, but their ability to make a connection is not in doubt.

So amongst all my angst over the world of publishing, I’m going to concentrate on telling the best stories in the best way I can. And as the future, so far, looks very much like the past, I suspect that while the particulars of the format may change, the structure of the work will be very similar. For consumers there will be great new ways to be involved with your favorite media. Probably even more opportunity to discover new favorites. And a chance to catch up on a favorite TV show on your phone, while you wait in the Dr’s office. I guess it’s time to stop being burdened by fear.

*That’s not to say that a new platform will help make any Ayn Rand novel readable.

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The latest picture book I illustrated is listed on Amazon already. It’s not out until Fall. I just saw the first proofs last week, so I don’t expect to see any copies for a while. But the color reproduction is looking good so far. When the book comes out I will post a contest to win a one of a kind statue I made of one of the characters and a signed rough drawing from the book. I’m still trying to decide what the contest will be…

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My favorite advice in an animated film is from Dory in Finding Nemo. Her mantra of “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” I hear that playing over and over in my head when I tackle projects that are difficult. Or when something I work really hard on never sells, or even worse, sells but the deal is not workable. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!”

Below is a page from a graphic novel that is near and dear to me, and a few other people (you know who you are!) and to use more movie jargon, ‘I just can’t quit this book…’

I am busy right now working on another graphic novel called Earthling. And when I need a break I usually take out an older manuscript for a few hours and give it a quick read. I see if it’s still working or smells rotten with age. Some projects I can toss away. They aren’t working and/or I don’t feel they have a commercial enough angle. This book is, I think, practically an anti-commercial project. But the book still fascinates me. It’s an odd book that I have no idea how to sell it or to whom it would sell. It’s not comfortably a kids book, nor a middle grade or YA. It’s a bit of a stretch for my style and it’s not an easy story to classify. It’s just something I liked doing.

Recently on another blog a writer was answering a question about how difficult it is to work on projects when you feel there is no hope for them to be published, or bought or sold or read or whatever. And that is true. It’s hard to take up any creative project in this day and age and feel it has a chance of breaking into the mediaverse unless you are already part of the digestive track of the beast. Add a couple of hundred rejections in a lifetime and you can understand that the will to create can be killed off completely. That is a rational decision to make. And that’s too bad. Becasue as much as I need work to sell in order to pay my bills, I probably spend more of my time on projects that don’t sell for whatever reasons. And those projects help keep me sane. At least as sane as I can be. More importantly, for many, many years I worked other jobs and did my drawing and writing on the side. But I still did it. I worked on it relentlessly. This makes me think that selling the work is not the main reason I’m doing the work, as much as that contradicts the title of ‘commercial artist’ which I surely am.

At the 2:12 point of this YouTube video Steve Jobs sums it up perfectly. Jobs is speaking about why he does what he does. ‘Because it’s such hard work any rational person would give up. If you don’t love it, you’d give up. And that’s what happens to most people. The ones who are successful love what they do and they persevere. And the ones who didn’t love it, quit. Becasue they are sane.’

And that’s why, one day, even this project will see the light of day as a completed piece. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

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