A Last-Minute Adventure at Chicago’s Comic Con

I had approximately 24 hours to assemble a Black Widow costume. Black leotard from Forever 21? Check. Black leggings and multiple black hip belts? Check and check. 90s-style high heeled boots from Goodwill? Check. Handmade Black Window insignia? Check.

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When you find out last minute that Chicago, a mere 2 hours away, is hosting its annual Wizard World Comic Con, you must pull out all the stops to get there. And get there I did. This was actually (can you believe it?) my first con, so I’d like to share a few words of advice:

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Go to Artists’ Alley. Chat with the artists and writers. Buy a creator-owned comic book and have them sign it for you. Exchange business cards.

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Don’t be shy. Ask everyone is a decent costume to take a photo with you. Drop everything and pose when someone asks you to take a photo with them.

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See the costume contest. Cheer like a maniac when Wolverine takes his shirt off.

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Next time, blackmail all your friends into coming with you. Dress as the Avengers.

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Interview with Artist Tony Almazo

I met Tony in a cafe in downtown Chicago. A mutually beneficial opportunity brought us together–I needed an artist for my graphic novel, Fusion, and he wanted to expand his portfolio. He showed me his stuff–edgy, dark, Sin City-inspired. He agreed to draw my covers, and I knew I had seriously lucked out. It’s not every day you find an artist whose aesthetic syncs with the style you’ve been envisioning for your comic. Tony agreed to an interview as well. Heed this promising young artist’s advice. (And check out his website and Facebook page).

Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

My comics are awesome because I’m awesome! No, just kidding, I create sharp, gritty images of robots, superpowered beings, and men with a little sanity attached.

If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?

A lot of Nine Inch Nails, that’s for sure! Anything with an ambient sound and good lyrics will do. Oh, and a lot of Hip-Hop too! That always gets me in the mood.

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Tell us more about your current comic/creative endeavors.

I’m currently working on perfecting my craft, and I’ve always found Color Theory to be very interesting, so I’m also giving coloring comics a go!

What advice would you give students who want to get involved in the comic book world?

The only advice I can give is to keep doing what you do, and love what you do. You don’t want to find yourself stuck with something you’re not even passionate about. And also, don’t push yourself so much to the point where you’ll lose your mind! Sanity is the only thing that’ll keep you level in this insane comic book world!

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

My favorite graphic novel would have to be either Watchmen, or The Ultimates by Mark Millar. I’m a huge fan of both Millar and Alan Moore because their rich storytelling is a breath of fresh air every time I read them. And the artists on both of those novels are just as great!

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What is your dream job?

I always liked drawing since I was a little kid, and as a kid you always believe your hobby will become your job when you’re older. But I didn’t seriously consider drawing until I was exactly that. So I’ve come to realize, any job that will allow me to draw things I like all the time would be incredibly awesome!

What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics?

There are many writers and artists that inspired me to create comics. To name a few, Bryan Hitch, John Romita Jr, Mark Millar, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, I could go on. They set the template for some of the best comics in history and I was always intrigued by their original approaches to comic books. You can’t beat ’em.

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How has being a Chicagoan affected your writing? Are their any neighborhoods in Chicago that have had a particular effect on you or have played a role in your creative process?

Well, I’m not originally from Chicago so it wouldn’t be fair to call me a Chicagoan, but I do love the Windy City. The cool breeze in the atmosphere is always a must! It brings me into a peaceful state where I can just relax and ideas will come to me. And let’s not forget about Graham Crackers Comics in The Loop! Nothing beats inspiration for comics than a comic book store.

How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?

I hope it doesn’t differ in any way…But I think women bring something entirely new to the table although men run most of the business. It sure never hurts to bring in some new ideas from a different perspective. After all, we all want to create comics.

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What is your next project?

My next project is called, “Kings, Queens & Machines.” It will be a series of images inspired heavily by science fiction comic books and films. It’s sure to make me lose my mind! haha!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I usually go by the name “Seed of Smiley,” pasting a smiley face icon on all my work, so if you ever hear it or see it then you’ll know who it is! And also, keep up the positive vibes and creative flow going, because when it’s all said and done, that’s a big part of what makes the World turn. Seriously. Adios!

Review of Zoe: Out of Time

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Zoe: Out of Time, part one of four of the series, is worth a read for three reasons 1. great art 2. cool female protagonist 3. it’s self-published. Zoe is a story about Zoe, a teenage girl from the future obsessed with 90’s rock star, Trent Darrow. Her scientist dad invents a time traveling machine, and soon Zoe finds herself on a journey that may uncover the truth of Darrow’s untimely death.

A time travel comic, especially one that incorporates flashbacks as well, seems to be setting itself up to be confusing. Zoe isn’t though, thanks to the artist, who uses color to delineate time period–blue for the future (the “now” of the story), sepia for memory flashbacks, and green/brown tones for the ’90s. Santacruz drew the comic in your  typical superhero realistic style, but it’s a lot stronger than most mainstream work out there. Really, a lot stronger. The coloring is striking (props to Kramek for that) and the use of light and shadow, besides just looking awesome, suggest the emotions and personalities of the characters.

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…and speaking of emotions, there are no voice over captions in the entire comic! Alleluia! Zoe’s feelings and thoughts are expressed through the art and dialog. I think of voice over captions in the same way I think of voice overs in a movie. Very, very few movies do voice overs well (Forrest Gump is the only one that comes to mind), so most use a vocal narrator to compensate for poor writing (Have you ever watched The Lucky One? Yeah, it’s that crappy Nicholas Sparks movie with Zac Effron. It’ll make you want to throw up.).  Lagos and Michalski didn’t take the easy road. They wrote a comic with a clear protagonist driving the action without annoying caption boxes talking us through the scenes.

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And I should probably mention that Zoe is great from a feminist perspective, too. Zoe isn’t oversexualized and her actions propel the plot forward. While her teenage obsession with 90’s rock legend Trend Darrow is a bit stereotypical, Lagos and Michalski redeem themselves with Zoe’s explosive personality and awesome moped (also, awesome haircut).

Zoe: Out of Time is proof that great comics don’t always come with a big-name publisher’s label stamped on their cover. Zoe is self-published by the creators, and is a testament to the rise (and success) of self-publishing, particularly in the comic book industry.

When I got to the final page, I literally said aloud, “Shoot, that’s the end?!”

To pick up a copy for yourself, travel through hyperspace to Amazon.com or visit Zoe’s Facebook page.

Iron Man T-Shirts That Consider a Woman’s Curves

Okay, so every time I go into Urban Outfitters I get a little ticked because they have an awesome selection of t-shirts with prints like Captain America’s shield and the like but they’re all made for men. The one major difference between men and women that I’ll admit to recognizing is our body shapes. A man’s t-shirt simply will not accommodate my womenly features.I like my womenly features, thank you very much, and as much as I love Captain America, I will not shroud said features in a high-cut, boxy t-shirt made for a man.

A “unisex” t-shirt is a lie.

I have to buy my superhero tees somewhere though, so thank goodness for Threadless. Threadless, your one stop shop for artisan t-shirts, doesn’t discriminate based on gender. Any shirt they sell for a man, they sell for a woman. They have an awesome selection of Iron Man shirts for sale right now. Gentleman and ladies, take your pick:

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Running a Marathon Is Nothing…Try Writing a Novel

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Two weeks ago, I ran my first marathon (that’s 26.2 miles, baby!), but I’ve gotta say, for all the two-hour training runs, IT band injuries, and sweat I put into preparing for the marathon, it’s still not as hard as writing a novel.

Two months ago, I finished the first draft of my Steampunk YA novel. Writing that was a lot like training for a marathon–I wrote even when I didn’t want to, I carved out specific days to get a good write in, and I varied my workout (sometimes I worked on character backstories, sometimes I read other similar works to inform my own, and sometimes I actually wrote the novel itself).

Perhaps the key difference between running a marathon and writing a novel is simply: who the hell knows how long your novel’s “race” will be? 26.2 is a darn long distance, but at least it’s a distance I know and can measure. My novel? God help me if I know how long that journey is going to be. But, hey, isn’t that part of the fun?

“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. And work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen-hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I got to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; its a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long – six months to a year – requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”- Murakami

I Can Write a Comic Book & So Can You: The Basics

A comic writer writes behind the scenes. Most people never actually see the words we write. They experience them as a picture, a word balloon, or the movement between panels.

The Script

When you sit down to write your first comic book, it’s hard to know exactly where to start, simply becuase you might not know what a comic script even looks like. Do a quick Google search of “how to write a comic” or “what does a comic script look like” and you get a melange of discordant results.

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Click to download the full script.

Here’s the short answer: There is no one industry standard format for a comic book script.

Here’s some info that’s more helpful:

  • Download one of my short comic scripts for a solid example of a comic book script format. I took a comic book writing class at Columbia College in Chicago. Mort Castle, the class’ professor and experienced horror comic writer, offered up a flexible simple script format created by David Campiti. It’s simple and easily customizable to fit a certain publisher’s needs.

Formatting

Formatting can be the bane of a comic writer’s existance. I’m not convinced it has to be. Here’s why:

  • Use a writing software that does the formatting for you. Scrivner is pretty sweet and is compatible with both Macs and PCs. You can download a 30 day trial, but, trust me, it’s worth the $45 price tag. FYI–it’s awesome for novel writing in general, as it allows you to collect your character summaries, photographs, research, and multiple drafts in one “source of truth” for your work.
  • Just fortmat at you go. That’s what I did when writing my graphic novel. I’d adjust the formatting at the end of every chapter. It was a nice break from the brain-wrenching work of writing.
Scriver's ability to store multiple forms of media in one document is great for comic writing.
Scriver’s ability to store multiple forms of media in one document is great for comic writing.

Terminology & Other Useful Things

Gutter-Space between comic book panels; a way cooler way of saying “space between comic book panels.”

Caption-A small box that encloses text.

Word Balloon-Don’t ever say word bubble. Ever.

Birds Eye View-The scene as seen from above it.

Close-up-A view of an object at close range.

Gods Eye View-The scene from far, far above as if from heaven.

Inset-A small panel enclosed in a big panel.

Manga Motion Lines-Lines that denote movement. This is a common technique used in Japanese comics, or manga.

Panel-A box that contains a given scene.

Splash Page-A full-page panel.

Wide View-A view that captures a long expanse of a scene.

Wikipedia has a more comprehensive list here.

Finally, Some Words of Wisdom

Don’t use Comic Sans font in your script. Just don’t do it. Be cool and use the old school Courier. It’s actually preferred because each letter takes up the same amount of space, making it easier for the artist to gauge space needed for a caption or word balloon.

Don’t over-describe. Probably your artist knows what a violin looks like, or a steak, or a ladder. The goal of the comic writer is to be descriptive enough her vision shines through but pithy enough to not constrict the artist’s style. When in doubt, add a picture reference.

Don’t get hung up on the formatting. If your script is readable, clear, and simple, you’ve probably got something good going. Let formatting be secondary to the actual content.

And with that, I release you to find the script format that works best for you!