Ten Little Indians
Friday — February 21st, 2014

Ten Little Indians

Update 4-22-2014

Well, I’m still feeling pretty good, appetitie good. I’ve made alot of progress on the LIM story and have been in discussions with a terrific artist, Ellis Goodson, to possibly pick up the art chores, at least through the end of issue 5 (the current one.) We are looking at some innovative ways to do the climactic book so as to keep from just running an outline version of the story but without having to draw every page. Some kind of hybrid is looking good, but we are still knocking ideas around.

I’ve also finished up several articles for Ed Hulse over at Blood ‘n’ Thunder magazine, knocked about 2,000 words of a new Carnacki short story, and added to my world bibliography on an obscure but popular European fictional detective, Nat Pinkerton. No moss growing on Larry Latham.

All this in addition to rounding up the five gazillion medical records and dealing with long-term benefits if I can’t return to my job. By 7 pm I am completely worn out.

Update 4-19-2014

Ok, appointment at MD Anderson confirmed, travel arrangements made, ass-kicking mental attitude amped up to red.

You know, if there were such a thing as Cthulhu, I think he’d be a cancerous tumor. If I didn’t already have a completely different idea for my own version of the big C (!), I think I’d got with that, but I’ve spent too long laying the groundwork for the story climax to change it that radically. Plus, I still think my idea is cool.

I guess any change in the body’s chemistry brings about various strange urges, like the proverbial link between pregnant women and pickles. For me, it’s been a craving to see Charlie Chan movies, especially those with Warner Oland. I’m not a particular Chan fan; I have far fonder memories of Boston Blackie and Sherlock Holmes and even Ma and Pa Kettle, but who am I to argue?

I’ve also been organizing my collection, getting it compacted down into one area of my house instead of strung out all over, and moving all other books out of the way. Wow, I have a lot of stuff! A lot of it is probably valueless (as opposed to worthless) but it sure means a lot to me. I even found a 1987 issue of Crypt of Cthulhu that I did the cover for, which I am reproducing below. My concept has changed radicaly, but hey, thirty years ago…..

Cthulhu 669x1024 Update  4 19 2014

Update 4-17-2014

I received two great pieces of news today that I want to share with everybody.

1.) MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has accepted me for treatment; they have experience with the particular rare cancer that I have. We are just working out scheduling.

2.) io9 posted an article today about 51 webcomics that have never been nominated for an Eisner award but SHOULD BE. Lovecraft is Missing is on the list. I’m flabbergasted and proud and pleased and stuff like that there. Given the fact that there are thousands of webcomics, and many done by highly professional people, to be included on this list is just….wow.

And right now, I am going to my workroom to work on the latest page as well. Looks to be a good day.

Lovecraft is Missing: How to Make a Webcomic-Drawing ‘n’ Stuff

Obviously I am not going to give a drawing course in a single post, so I am going to assume you already know how to draw well enough to get your point across, or have an associate who is going to do it with you. But if you’re just starting out, the least I can do is introduce you to your enemies.

Twin Killers in Cheap Suits

Like all good demons, they hover around us perennially. Make no mistake, they want you, and they will do everything in their power to get you, though naturally, like all good demons, they’ll drape their evil in enticement and allure. That’s why they are so successful.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the two Crown Princes of Hell, Procrastination and Perfectionism.

There are, of course, charms to work against them, but only two: Commitment and Discipline. In some ways, that may sound like the game isn’t worth the candle, but in the end it comes down to your answer to this question: Do you want to do a webcomic or not?

I’m going to assume you said “yes.”

Commitment

I think I put this in an earlier post, but it’s always worth repeating: Commitment means doing what needs to be done even, perhaps especially, when you don’t feel like it. It means that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. There’s always something else that needs doing, and always something else that seems like more fun. That’s where Procrastination is in its element.

The only real method I’ve ever found that is successful against Procrastination is the Five-Minute Rule. When you don’t feel like working on your comic, and in the absence of any life-threatening emergencies, commit to sitting down and working on your project for five minutes. Set a timer if you like. At the end of five minutes you reassess…and you’ll be surprised to find that your interest in working has increased.

Commitment also comes into play when you find yourself spending hours and hours over a single panel or face, always finding something wrong. That’s a sure sign Perfectionism has snuck up on you and sunk its teeth in.

There’s nothing wrong with standards. I believe in doing the best I can at any given moment. And the higher your standards, the more work your comic is going to be. That’s all to the good…

…except when your standards keep you from getting the work done, or even when they are severely impacting your life in a negative way. Derrick Ravey, over at Everyday Decay, has an interesting tale to tell in that regard, so I suggest you check out his blog.

Perfectionism’s greatest friend is unfocused Commitment. Are you committed to that one panel or to getting your story out to the public? It’s a balancing act, sure, but you have to decide.

And how does one do that?

Discipline

Oooh, sounds kinky. But you don’t need to dress in leather for this one unless you want to.

You do have to remember that you’re going to get better as you go along. Your reach will, if you’re creative, always exceed your grasp.What’s perfect today is going to be imperfect tomorrow.

And you will improve more by doing a thousand decent panels than one or two ‘perfect’ones. That means learning to let go, move on, do it better next time. The point at which you let go is, unfortunately, up to you. It’s not an easy decision.

Discipline also reinforces Commitment. In fact, Discipline is the strength that allows you to keep your commitment.

Story-Telling First

You’re not a ‘writer’ or a ‘penciller,’ you’re a story-teller. Even a single gag panel is a story. The most incredible draftsmanship, the finest rendering, is not going to make much impact if it doesn’t convey its point. Flashy panel layouts and whacky perspectives won’t do it either. All can add to the impact of what you have to say, but in a pinch, clarity always trumps window dressing.

Play to Your Strengths

If you’re not (fill in the artist flavor-of-the-month here) then don’t get lost in pretending you are. You can be influenced -lack of influence, so they say, is lack of interest – but the sooner you find your own way, the more quickly you’ll find satisfaction in the work…and believe me, it is a lot of work. A LOT.

Now me, for instance, I have a shaky hand. I can sit and mope about not being as slick as this guy or as graphic as that one, I can put off drawing my comic because I think people won’t like my work, or I can get over it and incorporate my supposed weaknesses into my style. And although I always strive to improve, as should you, your style is going to emerge anyway, so the sooner you get to it, the sooner people wlll quit spotting the Mike Mignola swipes.

If all you draw is stick figures, then draw stick figures, the most expressive, powerful stick figures you’re capable of; that’s what it’s really all about, expression. Yeah, we all love to drool at the folks who draw for the ages, but  comparing yourself to them is a dead-end game, ’cause you’re not them and you never will be them and if all you want is accolades then you really don’t want to express yourself in the first place. I guarantee that any successful story teller would be telling stories, even if they had to work in a laundromat to make a living. (Shades of Stephen King!)

There are lots of comics on the web that have very simple drawing styles and yet are still very popular, because it really is all about the story you tell. Take a gander at Order of the Stick, or  the noob; A Softer World uses photos.

Style Emerges

Lately rediscovered, likely by Bruce Timm when he redesigned Batman for animation, is the idea that you don’t have to draw realistically to tell compelling dramtic stories. Anyone who has ever read  Dick Tracy strips from the thirties and forties could have told you that.

No matter what you set out to do, your own personal style will emerge over time, the amalgamation of all the things you’ve taken in during your life-to-date.

You can’t make all your decisions up front; your strip is going to grow and evolve. Waiting to finalize your drawing style is merely procrastination and/or perfectionism in a cheap suit.

But you don’t want to set out on this journey without some idea of where you’re headed. Too easy to get confused and lost, and that will kill you as surely in your storytelling as it will in a blizzard.

Just as with your script, you need to at least decide as much of what you want to say as you can…then feel free to change it as you go along.

It’s called growth.

Update 4-16-2014

Today is my 61st birthday.

Went to the oncologist yesterday. Aside from the fact that he was an asshole, I didn’t get much out of the appointment. Wow, could it be because he didn’t have my records or ct scan and, after my wife provided him with copies, he barely glanced at them? Or maybe it was the fact that he seemed genuinely perturbed that I didn’t feel bad like I am apparently supposed to. Either way, though I am not Pollyanna-ish about this, I don’t believe in this guy as far as I can spray urine, so we’re off to someone else. Trying to get into MD Anderson in Houston. We are supposed to hear by Thursday.

Prognosis? Well, nobody knows, and Dr. Doofus was so non-committal that I might as well just make my own guesstimate. On one hand he’s talking about possible years, and in the next breath 9 to 16 months.

One of the really positive things to come out of all this is the realization that I want to spend however much time I have left –and it might be years and years — doing the exact same stuff I am currently doing. Might like to travel a bit more, but writing, drawing, reading, collecting, yakking with my friends, enjoying the world, loving my wife….it really is who I am. That’s a big relief.

Update 4-9-2014

I’ve always known you folks were incredible, but I won’t reject the proof expressed in your comments. Thanks everyone for every good wish, thought, prayer, and hug. They feed me (in a good way) like nothing else can. A couple of people sent in cash donations, which is nice, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart, but it’s unnecessary. However, that money has been put aside with my advertising proceeds and other various cash into a fund that will be used to defray any costs of getting LIM finished or in book form.

I should get my biopsy results today. Then I’ll have a better idea of what happens next.

Liar, Liar, Pants on…. the Three-Lobed Burning Eye!!!!

 

How to Make a Webcomic: Layout & Design

I drew the first two issues of Lovecraft is Missing on paper, but have now switched to all digital. Why? Speed. It is hard enough to keep up a regular schedule without adding steps that don’t add to the comic. Scanning in pages eats up a couple of hours that are better spent on the story and art.

Photoshop and a 9 x 12 Wacom tablet are my primary tools for drawing and coloring, though I now have a Modbook which lets me work on the go. ‘m also now using Flash to ink. I have a Master Page template set up in my LIM folder that saves me a few minutes on each page, and those minutes do add up.Layout 001 Liar, Liar, Pants on.... the Three Lobed Burning Eye!!!!

The Master page is 11 x 17 inches, at 300 dpi, and, as you can see from the layers palette, has a number of layers. The bottom one is simply a scanned sheet of comic book blue-lined paper, for registration. I put a white layer over that for reasons that have more to do with color than anything else, so I’ll talk more about that when I get to color.

I also have multiple panel layout layers ready to go. I use the 9 panel page a lot, but I use some four panel strips, and some larger panels. All the sizes I use most are on layers, so I can knock together the layout of a page really fast. Sure, it’s not that difficult to make new panels, Layout 002 Liar, Liar, Pants on.... the Three Lobed Burning Eye!!!!and when I need to, I do, but I am telling you, every second saved can go into the important stuff rather than the prep. (See the gallery at the end of this post for all the variations I mention that aren’t shown alongside the text.)

I also have a layer of a variety of balloon shapes. I can mix them, match them, overlap them, resize them quickly and easily. The only design aspect of balloons I care about is how the sit in the panel. Other than that, I don’t care if they are all basically the same shape.

Next, I lay out the panels, the number per page as well as what goes in them. The fewer panels, the more variety of sizes you can have, but you have to take into consideration what is going to be in those panels. Big. empty panels always look to me like the creators don’t have enough story to tell.

And how do you decide what to put in the panels, and which to emphasize? Well, that’s the art part and is totally up to you, but whenever I get stuck, I have one question I ask myself : what do I want and need the reader to see at this moment?Layout 010 Liar, Liar, Pants on.... the Three Lobed Burning Eye!!!!

Simple. Difficult. If you can’t answer it, you don’t know your story well enough.

The panel layout is also an integral part of your story. Some people have found my panel layouts a bit on the unexciting side. However true that may be, it is done with intent: my story is set in the 1920s, and the period is a really important part of the story, of the mood, and of the pacing. You can’t just stick an old car in the frame and evoke anything other than a genric period.

Snazzy modern ways of laying out comic pages would detract from the feel I’m going for. The 9 panel page lays down a kind of steady drumbeat that makes deviations from it a bit more expressive.

Think about your own story this way. For instance, a hip modern story and character could be played out in hip modern styling OR you could tell that same story and use the LIM way of doing things. Each would affect your story in different ways, even if everything else was the same. The reverse, a period piece with modern layouts, would also have a different feel, and so would the million variables in between.

Since I’ve been writing the script, I already have a pretty good idea of how many panels I have, which ones to emphasize, etc. I am always willing to change if a better idea comes along, and I do that all the way up to posting, but basically I first do a real rough version of what I have in mind. Really, it’s a scribble that has no meaning to anyone other than me, kind of like my first draft outline.

I adjust my panel size as necessary, delete any layers I am not using, then–very important–I use Save As to set up a separate file. No time is saved if you have to go back and constantly recreate your Master Page.

I use Lafayette Comic Pro as a font, and I lay in my dialogue and captions at this point, so I can see where I will have to adjust the picture. If a panel is too wordy, I may move a sentence, or rewrite it more concisely, but by the time I am done, I have the dialogue and  balloons in a little folder in the Layers panel. Once I have the little roughs arranged, I turn the dialogue folder off so I won’t be distracted.

Step number next is to refine the Layout 011 Liar, Liar, Pants on.... the Three Lobed Burning Eye!!!!rough a little more, but I still don’t get into much detail. If I were sending it on to an inker I would draw it out more, but since most of us are lucky if we just have enough time to do it ourselves, I rely on the inking stage for details.

Inking is one of those areas where I want to spend all that extra time I’ve saved. I have a shaky hand and I try to use it to my advantage, but some things just don’t look good that way. By saving each rough image as a jpg file and importing them into Flash, I can use the brush tool to get a richer line Picture 5 399x380 Liar, Liar, Pants on.... the Three Lobed Burning Eye!!!!weight, plus there is the wonderful Optimize menu selection which lets you smooth out your drawings for a sharper, crisper look. I usually set the slider to 25, then export the image as a jpeg file.

When I open the images in Photoshop, I copy and paste them on the page, adjust them to my roughs and I’m pretty much done.

I take all roughs and any reference I’ve put in the file, drop in a folder marked ‘outs’ and turn it off. You never know when you’re going to need those pieces again, so don’t delete them just yet.

I collapse all the final art down into a layer named, what else, ‘finals’ BUT I keep the panel Picture 6 382x400 Liar, Liar, Pants on.... the Three Lobed Burning Eye!!!!layer separate for now. For one thing, it’s easier to clean up any little line nubs that overlap the panel frame without messing up the frame itself. Plus, some things may still change.

My last step is to add a layer for base color. I don’t always use it, but it helps me visualize the page if I can see the art through a particular color. But that’s another topic.

Have a good weekend.

The Short Version

Ok, here’s the skinny on why you haven’t heard from me.

I have cancer. It’s inoperable and has spread to my liver. That said, we don’t know enough about it yet to know what good chemo and radiation may do. We should find out more middle of this week.All my efforts and resources obviously are going to go into surviving.

But I don’t intend to leave you, my readers, hanging either.You’re my traveling companions more than anything else. It sounds corny, but you are my friends and family as well. I never did this comic to make money out of it, I made it to share with people who like this sort of stuff.

I have four or five more pages in various states of completion. I may put them up as black and white pages, but I’m still trying to get my whole plan thought out.

But there is at least a year or two of story left, and, as things stand now, I’m not going to be able to draw them. I don’t know anyone I can turn the art chores over to, at least at this moment. So I am going to write out a long, detailed and hopefully entertaining prose version of the rest of the story. This will take awhile, but I have already started. I will print this as soon as it is finished. It will cover every plot detail, character arc and mystery that has been set up and bring the story to the conclusion. I can’t give you a date at the moment, but I will when I know more. In the end, you’ll get it, even if it’s in one sentence bursts.

I’m talking to some friends about them getting the book ultimately published in soft cover. That will be announced here if it ever comes to pass. It’s a big job, and as much as I love what I’ve done, I know LIM is never going to be a mega-seller. I’ll be splitting the money with them, but no one is going to be able to retire on it.

So, that’s all I know at this time. It bums me out, obviously. I so want to finish this story. I will, even if not the way I originally intended.

 

Best to you all,

Larry

Lovecraft is Missing-How to Make a Web Comic: Design & Layout*

Ok, you’ve developed your idea, know your characters, written your script – what’s next on your march down that road og good intentions?

It’s actually something you’ve probably been working on at least in the back of your mind all along, whether you’ve been sketching anything or not, and that’s design,

I break this process down into four parts: the world, the characters, color and page layout.

The World

The look of your world is influenced by the time period of your story, the approach to your story (i.e, realistic, comedic, stylized, etc.), the level of detail you are comfortable with and the amount of research you want to do.

Lovecraft is Missing is set firmly in 1926, with flashbacks from 1908. My approach is a stylized realism filtered through the look of a traditionally animated film, I like to do lots of detail and I really love research. I can’t swear I’ve succeeded, but I’ve tried to make sure that every single prop and reference is correct. I try to use accurate locations whenever possible, so that the house HPL is shown living in IS the house he was living in at the time the story takes place. When I have to make a location up, I find a raft of sources and create an imaginary place based on real places and/or events. For me, these things are absolutely essential to the story I am trying to tell. A generic jazz age milieu would undermine the mood I am trying to achieve.

A story set in the far future or on an alien world would require a whole different kind of research, and a whole different part of the imagination. If you’re comfortable with a kind of generic world you can mimic any of a million movies or comic books. That may work for some stories, but I always prefer a unique vision that reflects and supports the story. As a reference, look at the movie Poltergeist; the whole point of the film was to transfer a stock haunted house story to the suburbs, so creaky old houses and rickety fences would have played against the story, Edward Scissorhands took a similar approach, contrasting a bland suburbia with Gothic elements. The Dark Knight had a stylized realism; Iron Man based it’s world on high tech, which really emphasized the remote caves in which Tony Stark was held captive; Pirates of the Caribbean was richly detailed by highly stylized, a pirate fantasy rather than the smelly, dirty reality. In comics, Moebius is particularly brilliant in creating such worlds for his comics, as are Howard Chaykin, Alex Raymond, Kevin Oneill and Mike Mignola.

The Characters

Most of the same thoughts that go into imagining the world apply to your characters as well.

Everyone’s taste is different. I like interesting character faces and am put off by stock jut-jawed heroes and overly buxom beauties, especially when they appear in every role. I’m not crazy about he current crop of movie and tv stars for the same reasons. I can’t tell them apart, and they have no character, just looks.

I’ve given some examples of how I work up a character design in earlier posts so I won’t go into it in detail here. Suffice to say, characters looks can either symbolize their character or mask it; a jolly looking guy who is a killer is creepier than someone who looks really mean; a small, weak looking man who is a kick-ass hero is more interesting than the another Christian Bale look-alike. In other words, each face needs to be distinct and be a fundamental part of the story. Attractiveness really is about character, not looks. Humphrey Bogart is one of the most enduring movie stars of all time, and you can’t call him a pretty boy, though he obviously has a lot of attraction. Most of my favorite actors – John Malkovich, Brad Dourif, Tom Hulse, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins – fall into this category. I like Frank Miller’s Sin City in large part because he’s not afraid to show unusual faces. Nobody is ever going to mistake Marv for good-looking.

That’s not to say a character cant be good looking, only that it needs to be a reflection of the character you are trying to get across. Looks unrelated to character are boring.

Oh, and one other thing: make sure your characters are at least recognizable. I was recently reading Simon Dark and half the time I wasn’t sure who I was looking at.  A character would show up and I would have no idea who they were.

Color

Whether you are doing a gag strip or an adventure comic, color is a critical element. For all the mystery and creepiness, I chose a very saturated color palette for LIM, inspired by my years in animation. The Zombie Hunters, on the other hand,  has a very mute color palette; Hellboy has a saturated red hero played against fairly desaturated backgrounds and characters. The Sandman, for all it’s strangeness, had a very bright palette. I’ll be going deeper into how I color a page in a week or two, but for now, just know that your use of color needs to be carefully considered.

Page Layout

Here’s my first shot at a video tutorial, showing how I layout a page.

Lovecraft is Missing: How to Make a Webcomic- Writing, pt.3

We’re going to look today at some of the other elements of storytelling that are critical to an audiences enjoyment.  There are obviously many different ways to enjoy a story, and the thoughts below are my own solutions. The important part for you is that you consider these things. How you deal with them is what makes you unique

Plot is what happens to your characters. Whether you choose to work out everything in advance, or let things develop as you go along is your choice. But if plotting were all that there was to writing, then there would be a lot more good books. A mechanical, predictable plot is a sure turn off, but then so is a rambling, incoherent one. No matter which approach you take, you have to have some idea of the story you are trying to tell. You don’t have to be a fanatic about it, because you can address problems in your second, third, fourth and fifth drafts.

Selection is what parts of the story you choose to tell. Every one of those choices needs to add something to the story, whether it be plot, characterization, foreshadowing or whatever. The obvious example of what not to do is detailing a person going from point A to point B. Unless it is germane to the story, is an exercise in tedium: She unlocks the car, gets in, starts the ignition, drives down certain streets, pulls into a parking place, turns off the ignition, gets out of the car, locks it and goes inside. Wowzer. Better than Sominex.

Thanks to TV and movies, now even novels and comics can say “I need to go to 5th street” and cut directly there.

However, use the same tedious details of the trip and add someone mysterious following her every move and you have the basis for a suspenseful sequence.

There is only one tool that I am aware of to help you select what to include, and that is to ask yourself, “What do I want my reader to know at this particular moment?” It’s as simple and as complicated as that. If you’ll refer back to Wednesday’s reviews of Dominion and The Exorcist:the Beginning, you’ll see that the exact same sequence, that of Merrin choosing which of  his parishoners are to be shot by Nazis, presented in two completely different ways, to differing effects.

Pacing is the rate at which your story unfolds. Popular fiction,as opposed to literary fiction, tends to rely on a fast pace. Action, baby, action is the writer’s equivalent of drill, baby, drill. The problem most people have with this approach is that speed is relative; fast is only fast if there is something slow to contrast it against; otherwise, fast is normal speed. A story in any medium that moves at a rapid-fire pace continuously soon becomes a monotone, dragging a story down to the level of bad pulp fiction. Such a pace allows for little character development or nuanced details.

As far as comics go, you have two major tools for working out your pacing: 1. how much you decide to reveal in each panel and 2. the number and arrangement of panels per page.

Pacing is not always about speed, either. It can affect meaning as well. Here are two silly examples.

Example 1:

example 001 Lovecraft is Missing: How to Make a Webcomic  Writing, pt.3I didn’t say it would make sense, but the point is still to be made. Here’s the same art, same dialog, arranged differently. See if you don’t find that it affects you differently:

Example 2:

example 002 Lovecraft is Missing: How to Make a Webcomic  Writing, pt.3This comes back to the “read like a writer” guideline I mentioned last week. Look carefully at your favorite comics and see how the writer and artist have broken down their story into discreet bits. Grab a sheet of blank paper and scribble out some alternate ways of doing the same page,combining or separating dialogue, rearranging panels and composition. Even if the result is terrible, it will be instructive to figure out why.

Dialogue is the toughest nut to crack. It has to be believable, and sound like real speech, but it is actually very stylized and selective. Even so called slice of life conversations are stylized representations of conversation, and still aimed at creating a mood or effect or convey a storypoint. However, take stylization too far, add lots of slangy catch-phrases, or affected speech patterns and you stray into satire or humiliation. It can also date your story, and not in a pleasant way. Trying to read 19th century pulp fiction can be a real slog because it was common to render all the ethnic dialogue phonetically. Get an Irishman, a Chinese and a Brit together in a conversation and I’ll take a root canal, please.

Some questions to ask yourself: 1. What do I need this character to say here that adds to the story? 2. How would this particular character say it?

The other thing you need to work on is listening. No two people talk  alike. There are patterns that we all have, some concise, some rambling, some full of big words….the variations are endless. Then you have to distill that down to something usable. As an example, you might here someone talking like this:

Ah…y’know, you uh take..uh..Reno…no, Rogers… is it Reno or Rogers…I think it’s Rogers. Pretty sure it’s Rogers, yeah. So take Rogers down to , uh, that big blue, you know, ugly building, kinda dirty tan….used to be a bar or something, I never went in it, not my kind of place, my dad says it was a gas station when he was a kid, only one downtown..uh, you know..the Blue Dome, yeah, got that Big Blue dome thingee on top, on Third…can’t miss it.

A little of this goes a long long way. But the staggered speech pattern is useful, as is the habit of irrelevant digression. We can use these and edit the sentence a bit, then apply these techniques to the characters other lines:

Take..uh..Reno…no, Rogers… is it Reno or Rogers…Pretty sure it’s Rogers, yeah. So take Rogers down to , uh, you know, ugly building, kinda dirty tan….used to be a bar or something… got that Big Blue dome thingee on top, the Blue Dome, yeah,…can’t miss it.

And, uh, if you see Mary…I mean, even if you just talk to her, doesn’t matter if it’s, you know, in person, tell her I said, uh, well, just tell her I said ‘hi.’ Martin says ‘hi.’

Comics are a visual medium first, so there is also the issue of what pictures the dialogue is played against. Here’s some chatroom give and take I got from a website:

I like that

me too

yeah

sure

cool. Be there.

Realistic, maybe, but I’ll drink a glass of tepid, used dishwater for excitement. As a scene of two teens chatting with each other, if there’s some larger context and the conversation didn’t go on as long as most chatroom conversations do, then it could work. For instance, one of the teens is planning a suicide as he chats, or while someone else is torturing an animal in the next room. Suddenly, the mundane becomes monstrous… and effective.

Robert McKee, in his book, Story (which I highly recommend) has this observation, which is pretty far-reaching, but which fits nicely right here: If the scene is about what it seems to be about, it’s a badly written scene.

Rewriting is, for all us normal folks, a fact of life. Maybe there have been a few geniuses that turned out memorable material without any revision, but none come to  mind. Susan Clark worked on her wonderful novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel, for ten years, until she got it right.

Everyone I’ve ever known who prided themselves on being able to turn around a half-hour animation script over a weekend –and there were quite a few– wrote umitigated crap. Studio execs loved them because of the fast turnaround. The people who had to then make the cartoon hated them because nothing was thought through, nothing made sense. Batman would be tied up in one scene and free in the next with no clue as to what had happened.

Me, I work on the story right up to the moment I post the strip, and sometimes even after that. My process is 1. Write a rough outline, 2. Make notes on the outline, 3. Write a complete script, breaking the story down into panels and writing captions and dialogue, 4. Make notes on the script, 5. Revise the script as I am drawing it, changing dialogue, adding characters and story beats, 6.  Revise the script as I am coloring it, changing dialogue, adding characters and story beats.

This would obviously be harder to do if I were writing for a company, or working with another artist.

If you are working with another artist, then you can go through the same steps, you’ll just work them all out on paper first, and make the script as detailed as you can. Samples of comic scripts are available all over the place, and Denny O’Neill has a good primer on the subject.

Criticism is something we all need, something that helps us grow. But you have to be judicious in whom you ask for it. There are three basic flavors:

Worst Kind #1: People who love what you do, no mater what.

Worst Kind #2: People who never like anything, and can only give you vague notions as to why.

Worthless Kind: People who try to get you to tell their story instead of yours

Wonderful Kind: People who tell you what they really think  think and why.

Sometimes this will be a good thing, they really will love your work. Other times, you may hate what they say; get a six-pack of thick skin and get used to it. They are helping you. You don’t have to agree with them, don’t have to like it, don’t have to incorporate any of it; just listen for anything that strikes you as useful, absorb that and forget you ever heard the rest. There will always be somebody who doesn’t like your story. So what? Some people think Stephen King is a hack, others revile John Irving for his meandering plots, Moby Dick has put as many people to sleep as it has excited others. If you’re only looking for pats on the back, you’ll never grow as a writer.

But It All Comes Down to This

You have to do it. You can think about it, talk about, dream about, argue about it, screw around in your head with it forever, and you still will never be a writer until you put it down in some readable format. You don’t need an audience –J. D. Salinger made it into his nineties avoiding one– but most of us do desire one. All it takes, as a teacher once told me, you have to find people whose taste is as bad as your own.

What you write may truly be terrible, but let me invite you to do it anyway. Do your worst, be gloriously, liberatingly bad; vomit out volumes of convoluted, ill-conceived prose, purge yourself of the scabs and decay that have grown around your creativity and one day, probably not as far off as you might think, you will look back at the previous day’s writing and say, “Hey, that’s not bad.”

I wish that for all of you.

Now I have to learn how to use this screen capture software so I can do a tutorial for next week’s topic, design and layout.

Have a good weekend.