Chronicling the creative process for Pop Zeus, the forthcoming Guided By Voices/Bob Pollard tribute comic- including sketches, concepts, finished art and whatever else is in my brain at the moment.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Comic Books 101, Part One: Story Is King

I wanted to take some time in this forum to focus on the process of creating a comic book and self-publishing in more of a how to, step by step way. And as in any form of storytelling, the numero uno most important part of the process of creating a comic book is the writing. Without something to say, there is no point in even getting started. And the majority of your time needs to be focused on writing, as much as it pains the average pencil clutching cartoonist.

I have always been a visually oriented person and it is so easy for people like me to get trapped up in a beautiful or amazing image. And as a voracious comic book collector in high school, I would get sucked in by a cool cover or detailed drawings as much as the next greasy kid. But the emotionally based story elements were more subtle and intangible, and could only be discovered by reading the comic at length later on. And there was no saving a terribly written comic, even with the coolest drawings.

As an animation major at the School Of Visual Arts in New York City, I really began to understand this idea in a concrete way. Working on my own school projects, I experienced firsthand how funny, unexpected or clever writing added to the enjoyment of a piece, even if the art or animation was sub-par (often true in my case). Also, through studying what worked and what didn't in the history of animation and film, numerous examples of great stories with crappy visuals, or vice versa became apparent. The old battle between style and substance. And substance (story) is king. When the two come together in equal parts, it can be pretty amazing, but one is definitely more important than the other. And even though I figured this out a long time ago, it wasn't as much of a focus for me as it should have been until Pop Zeus.

My previous comic book project Logjam (see previous post So, What Happened to Logjam?) suffered due to writing neglect- something I was somewhat aware of while I was working on it, but did little about. The basic creative principle I was running with was working strictly on instinct, operating much more like a painter than a storyteller (I paint as well which is much more of a feeling thing than comic books). I had a lot of very general ideas of what I wanted Logjam to be, but no clear focus on an issue to issue, page to page basis. The basic concepts were solid, but the plot was on shaky ground from day one. And ultimately, the major themes I was trying to explore got lost. In the midst of drawing an issue of Logjam, I would come to a complete halt not knowing where I was going next- a really bad way to go about it.

Ironically, landing my current exhausting animation job helped me to focus more on my writing. In the last two plus years, I was often left with little energy at the end of the day for focused drawing or inking. But writing was something I could usually handle. I also realized a long time ago that if I had an idea and nowhere to put it down, I would forget it. So I got in the habit of carrying a journal in my backpack. And as I got used to writing more and more, it started to take the place of my sketch book as the major source and outlet for my voluminous ideas. These days, I also have a small journal in each one of my jackets, and a backup journal just in case I run out of space! In spite of not having completed a new issue of Logjam in a while, the last few years have been extremely productive in the creation and working out of many new and exciting projects.

And I have a million exciting ideas for Pop Zeus! I have probably been writing Pop Zeus in one form or another since GBV announced their breakup, which would be about 2 years I guess. The only problem is how to boil down all that writing (many many pages of dense scribblings) to the best of the best, which is exactly what is what I've been up to lately- fine tuning and focusing the story ideas into a cohesive whole.

So remember and learn the key to great comic books, film and animation- story is king. Without good writing, you are up shits creek without a paddle. (In part two I will explore the process of writing a little more in depth and answer that age old question: where do you get your ideas from?)


Blogger Scottish Toodler said...

As a writer with zero drawing talent, I have to tell you, almost no one in the comix industry agrees with you. I go to Comic Con every year with my script of the year and usually no one gives me the time of day. If I could afford to hire an artist then maybe I could get a publisher to look at my stuff, but otherwise everyone else-- like yourself-- has there own projects and it is hard to get someone serious, I suppose becuase I have no published credits. Granted, my stuff could suck, but since no one ever reads it, I haven't put much stock in that concept. It is very strange to me that I clicked on your blog tonight, when I was just thinking-- not even two hours ago!- that I was going to scrap the whole idea of doing my latest graphic novel and just write it as a straight novel. Damn depressing, but honestly, I don't even agree with you that comix are about writing. I usually just look at the art the first few times through. I have comics I couldn't even tell you the stories. I guess I am doomed by own viewpoint. Anyhow, I've bookmarked your blog. So far you rock! PS-- A bonus was having no idea who RP was-- I like learning about new musicians, especially one that is obviously so inpsiring.

11:20 PM

Blogger Phil said...

I'm feeling you, scottish toodler! I don't envy your position, trying to find an artist to complement your writing must be difficult(Comic Con is a tough crowd too). Trying another path to make a name for yourself in the meantime might be a good solution- not sure how people like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman got started. We are also in agreement about the comix industry, which has run in parallel with the film/animation industry in touting style over substance more and more, year after year. And I wouldn't say comics are about writing either, but they should be. I guess my point is that what separates the greatest comics of all time from the mountain of crap is transcendent (or even decent) storytelling. And I've always believed that there is no reason not to put comics up next to all other more respectable forms of storytelling- stage drama, fiction, film, and animation. All are different forms with the same aim, to engage the audience emotionally and take them on a ride. The trouble is comics are an belittled, undervalued and mostly untapped medium. And that is also its greatest opportunity for people like you and me! Don't give up!

12:11 AM


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