I love to call myself the keyboard player (or keytarist) in a rock band, when referring to my role as a comic book writer.
I know, it‘s not sexy, but I’d totally be missed if you didn't hear my power chords and sweet harmonics with the lead singer.
In a medium like comics, it’s difficult for readers to grasp the importance of a good writer. Many people make the assumption that since the art is “lead singing”, that there are no other members in the band. But a good writer should like that. If they can convey a message without getting in the way of the art, they've done their job.
A writer isn't in it to be seen, they’re in it to be heard.
I’ll push the limelight away from me in a heartbeat and give credit to the artists, because their work give my stories life. But I’m still aware of my role. I’m only successful if I write something that speaks to both me and the artist. The improvisation and harmony is what I strive for and crave.
There’s nothing like sending a line like this…
Panel 6 I picture the city being a hipsters Mecca, with bike lanes, organic stores, indie music and horned rimmed glasses shops. Also on his path signs in the background that hint of a vampire infestation. I want to see a sign that says “protect ya neck” and maybe some folks with garlic necklaces. Within this scene I want Vamp to covertly follow Jasper
…and getting this back.
There is, nothing like it indeed.
♫ Let’s Get Technical…Technical ♪
Alright, I got all of the philosophical blather out of the way, here is the tune your aching ears have been waiting for. I’m going to divulge my patented (not really) process. Note that it’s from my perspective as an independent comic creator. I‘m no expert in the goings on of the mainstream comic companies.
First let’s define my role as the comic writer.
I consider myself both the architect and director of my comics. I wordsmith worlds and the people in it, but it’s also my responsibility to walk the artist into these worlds and allow them the freedom to build upon it. It’s also my job to make sure my material fits the artist’s skill set. If I know, for example, that the artist I’m working with does mind blowing fight scenes, I want to give them materials that capitalize on their strength, and challenge them to do something they never imagined.
Now let’s define the artist’s role.
The artist’s role is the hardest of them all. They take my “blueprints” (in this case script) and utilize their skills and knowledge to realize my concepts. When working with me, they also have the power to provide suggestion to improve the story or make the imagery consistent and aesthetically pleasing. I’m ALWAYS open to improvements.
How I get things done.
Various writers have different ways of creating comics. Personally I always draft my scripts to fit a specific art style.
Before I write a story I usually have the imagery I want etched in my brain. I first research a ton of artists I would like to collaborate with who posses the specific art style I’m looking for. I then thoroughly look through everything they have ever done. I do this to see if they have dabbled in elements related to the story I want to write. I also want to see their mastery of sequential art.
I go back to the forensic lab, (if you see the art, comics, notes and photos I have lying around you’d call it that too) and I take all of the elements I have stored and begin writing my story. When I write, I ALWAYS have the artists I might work with in the back of my mind. I want them to be inspired and enjoy working with me.
My whole process keeps in line with my philosophy of elevating artists. If I can write something that inspires and elevates them, the readers (and I) will benefit tremendously from it.
► The Approach
Once the script is done, it’s time to see which of the artists I want to work with is available and interested. As you can see, already having done the leg work earlier saves me a lot of time in approaching the artists. I already know what they are capable of and it’s just a matter of them having time or accepting my offer.
While I’m approaching an artist I’m always respectful and honest. I give a full copy of the script for them to evaluate, and some background information (character description, scenery…) about the story. I budget what I can afford to get the project done. I try to be fair because I know being an artist is a career and they are doing something I can’t.
Some accept my rates, others want to have co-creator credits others volunteer their talents. But at the end of the day I offer up my stories to give us all an opportunity to shine and grow and make something that didn't previously exist in this world. The artists who can see that tend to stick around and the magical stuff you see is a testament of our collaboration.
► The Collaboration
The wheels are in motion, but before we can rock out at any concert, we've got to make sure the band is ready. I like to do a few paid try-outs before I pick the artists. I always ask the interested artists to do some character designs and a scene of my choosing from a panel in the script.
I use this opportunity to decipher how much direction an artist need. Some artists need full detailed descriptions, while others can get the idea in a couple of words. This also gives me a chance to evaluate how much time it takes them to deliver me material and the caliber of work I can expect.
Once the artist is chosen, it’s time to do some rehearsing. Based on the scripts we start the dance with pencils, inks, then color and lettering. Instead of boring you with the details, I’m going to give you an example of David Degrand and I working on a panel and how it progresses into the This Bites comic.
On his way into the store he sees an 80’s glam rock looking fellow staring at him. Giving him the “glamour sparkle” look. Jasper finds it strange, yet is oddly drawn to it. He then brushes it off and goes into the store
They’re really rough as I like to pencil loosely, it makes the final inking more fun and I get better results (but I’ll tighten these up a lot more). This is just to see if we’re anywhere close to being on the same page. (Note from David)
I LOVE THESE! Spot on!!! Definitely captures what I’m going for! Can’t stop staring at them! (My reply)
► Other Band Mates
Depending on your budget you might work with more than just an Illustrator. In my case I also worked with a letterer, the super talented Marc Jackson. Like the artist the same rules apply. It’s all about respect and that craving for harmony.
Whether I’m working with a penciler, inker, colorist and or letterer, I’m mindful that they all deserve my attention and guidance. As the director of the comic it’s my responsibility to keep things consistent and insure that the band plays harmoniously.
This is the song that finally ends…
WOAH my hands are sore from those power chords on my keyboard.I hope this little ditty gets you to notice the cymbals, keytars and cowbells that go behind your favorite comics. We are in it to make beautiful music… I mean, beautiful stories for you to enjoy. No one is more or less important, it’s the end product and the need to share that makes all of the work worthwhile.