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

I’m going to be completely honest here—I don’t really like research, I don’t read as much as I “should” (As a once-English major, I’ll forever be plagued with the obligation to read more, in the same way I’m expected to like Scrabble and use words like “penultimate.”), and I’d rather smell old books than labor over them for nuggets of information.  Luckily for me, researching for comic books doesn’t have to be laborious and boring.

Remember, you are writing a comic, and comics are a visual medium, so, while “traditional” research is necessary (I’m not going to talk about it here because, really, it’s the same type of research you’d do for any type of fiction. If you’re looking for a good reference about non-visual research, check out Writer’s Digest and Writing Forward), visual due diligence is essential to writing a great comic.

To maximize my visual research, I created a Pinterest board for my comic. Pinterst (a virtual pin board for those who live in a cave and aren’t familiar) allows me to easily collect images and display them in an attractive, socially-connected way. Thus, I can simultaneously gather my research, build my writer’s platform (more on that later), and self-indulge in the cool-factor of physically seeing the essence of my comic before finding an artist.

http://pinterest.com/mscomix/fusion/
http://pinterest.com/mscomix/fusion/

Visual research is vital to the success of your comic, especially if you’re not going to draw it. Here’s why:

  1. Images allow your vision to shine (accurately). Your job as a comic writer is to simultaneously craft a story while translating the images banging around in your mind’s eye into readable, concise language so that an artist can pick up your script and draw it—in a way that actually resembles your vision.
  2. Visual research aids your storytelling. I do visual research (yes, via Pinterest) for my novels as well. Stream-of-consciousness Internet surfing sparks ideas. Gathering together images of the setting, characters, artificial eyes, Jimmy Cho heels, Ducati motorcycles, or whatever helps you identify gaps in your vision. Like, “Oh crap, a flamethrower is way too clunky. There’s no way she’d be able to fire that thing on a moving train.” Or, “I’m glad I didn’t write him wearing an ascot because I totally thought that was a kind of hat.” Visual research is particularly useful for comics set in (or inspired by) a historical context.
  3. Your visuals are part of your script. Copy and paste those images right into your Word document. I stuck mine at the end of my comic as a “visual appendix” with footnotes throughout the body of the script. Feel free to include it right along with your writing. You’re saving your artist time and grief by making your visuals accessible.

Long story short, do your research—both traditional and visual—before, during, and after writing the first draft of your comic. But! Don’t get too caught up it in….because at some point you’ll actually have to write this thing.

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

My life is substantially different than it was a year ago, when I moved to downtown Chicago to take a class in comic book writing. Since then, I’ve graduated, found myself a “grown-up” job, moved to a new city, and written a young adult novel. But the knowledge I learned and the experiences I gained from the best college class I’ve ever taken, stuck with me.

I got lucky and somehow finagled my way into a comic book writing class at a college I wasn’t even attending, with a professor who was a real expert in the industry, and with a group of student who actually gave a damn about the oft misunderstood world of comic creating.

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Art by Antonio Almazo. Find more of his stuff here: http://seedofsmiley.deviantart.com

I’d hate to be greedy. Not everyone gets to take a comic book writing class. So, while this series is long overdue (I promised it’d begin nearly five months ago), I’d like to present, Ms.Comix’ “I Can Write a Comic Book & So Can You,” a series of articles intended to take readers through the entire comic creating process from the perspective of a writer—a writer, mind you, who only “got into” comics two years ago, is a woman, is a feminist, was recently a student but now works (more than) full time in a real person job, and is, perhaps most importantly, incapable of drawing her own art.

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Storyboard. Trust me, it makes sense to me.

I intend to walk through the entire comic-creating process from a writer’s perspective. Besides the actual script writing, I’ll address research, story-boarding, outlining, building a writer’s platform, working with (and finding) artists, seeking publication, and finding your place in the comic community.

So come back. Subscribe to Ms.Comix emails. Walk with me through the highly-rewarding journey of a comic writer.

Interview with Comic Writer Kara Barrett

It’s not every day that I stumble upon a comic that 1. has a strong female lead 2. has awesome art 3. involves fighting, superpowers, and other such kick-ass elements. Kara Barrett’s The End Is Totally Nigh gets a little checkmark for each of my qualifications for a throughly enjoyable comic book read. And there’s a lot to learn from Ms. Barrett, who made her dream comic happen through the help of Kickstarter, hired artists, and a ton of hard work. In this interview, she shares her experiences and advice for those looking to get their comics out into the world. (Oh, and check out a preview of the comic here.)

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

The End Is Totally Nigh is one BIG burrito-wrapped apocalypse of awesome filled with hellfire, horseheads, heroes and demons! How’s that?

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

My favorite comics right now are Rachel Rising and Saga. But I’m always looking for new titles. You have any recommendations for me? I’ve also backed a few on Kickstarter that I can’t wait to read.

What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics? Why did you begin writing and creating comics?

I read comics when I was a kid and then stopped. When Buffy went to comics, I picked up a few copies and fell back in love with them. A few years ago I started writing this story in a loose format. I looked at different mediums for my story, and ultimately decided that comics were the way to go. I think they are a great way to put your story into people’s hands.

Tell me about  The End Is Totally Nigh.

The End Is Totally Nigh is a story about a girl with mysterious abilities who is trying to stop the impending apocalypse. She suddenly has the ability to exorcise demons, but it isn’t sure how or why she is able to do this. All she does know is that the demon army is about to rise and Lucifer is going to walk the Earth. It’s up to her and a group of ragtag demon hunters to try make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a supernatural story filled demon bad guys and plenty of apocalyptic drama. I think readers will really enjoy it.

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

The End Is Totally Nigh playlist? Yes, I’ve got to create that!  I think there’s some country music on that playlist. T-R-O-U-B-L-E and Amarillo by Morning for the main character Jane. And Thunderstruck. That’s a must. I’ll have to ponder on the rest.

Why did you decide to write a comic with a strong female lead? When I began work on my own graphic novel, Fusion, I purposely wanted to break gender stereotypes so prevalent in superhero comics. Were you motivated at all by a similar “feminist” objective?

I definitely wanted strong women in this comic. The End Is Totally Nigh is filled with great female characters who take charge. They are also drawn in a more realistic manner than a lot of what you see in today’s comics. I hope that is a refreshing change for some readers.

You used Kickstarter to fund The End Is Totally Nigh. Would you use Kickstarter again to fund another project? Why did you choose to use Kickstarter in the first place?

I heard about Kickstarter and decided to try it as a last attempt to make this series happen. It was a lot of work but totally worth the effort. I think crowdsourced funding is helping a lot of indie writers get their stories to public. I think that means we can expect a lot more variety in comics and graphic novels. I would definitely try it again and may do so very soon. The End Is Totally Nigh is funded from my own pocket, so I will be in need of an influx of cash soon to keep the series going. 

What was most intimidating about breaking into comics, and what tips would you give others who are hoping to break in as well?

I think I read something recently where someone said, there is no such thing as ‘breaking’ into comics anymore because of sites like Kickstarter. If you have the gumption, you can just go out there and MAKE a comic. I think that’s true. Write a story you believe in, find an artist and get your funding. Anything is possible!

What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to getting their stuff published? What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?

Self publishing is a lot of work, especially if you are new to the business and no one has ever heard of you. But the upside is that if you self-publish you can keep all of the profit. If you have the time and money to devote to self-publishing, then go for it. Personally, I am juggling full time work, freelance work and writing and promoting this series. My plate is pretty full. I have recently found a small indie publisher willing to help distribute the title. I hope to be able to announce who that is very soon. Once I have more experience I may pitch a new book to a big publisher and see if gets picked up. Ultimately, I think it’s really just a matter of what you have the time and money to accomplish.

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

I really don’t know. This does seem to be a male dominated industry, but that is changing. Kickstarter and sites like that are giving a lot of female writers a chance to create and publish their own projects. That is really exciting. I’m glad to be a part of that.

What is your next project?

I have two in the pipeline. One is a mini series and the other is a one issue horror story. I hope to get the funds to do one or both of them later this year. Right now I’m devoting my energy to getting my series off of the ground and hopefully hitting some cons this year.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Please visit  our Facebook page and “LIKE” us so you can keep updated on news, release dates and information about the series!

Comic Books 101–Part Eight

For the 8th edition of Comic Books 101, here’s a straight-up list of useful resources for comic book writers and artists:

Duotrope.com—Duotrope offers “a fully searchable database of over 4,125 active publishers
statistics on publishers’ response times, acceptance-rejection ratios, etc.
the ability to track all your submissions in your own submissions tracker.”

Writers’ Market—Keep up-to-date with publishing news, search for places to sell your work, manage your submissions, and search genre-specific resources.

Frame Forge—“FrameForge Previz Studio 3 enables you to create a virtual 3D set in your computer with the freedom to place any number of virtual cameras in any placement, angle or height desired.”

Poser—Poser is a 3D figure design software. It “includes over 3 gigabyte of ready-to-pose, fully textured, human and animal figures, basic accessories such as hair, clothing, pose sets, real world props and 3D scene elements. With Poser 9 you can start creating 3D character art and animation in minutes.”

Bryce—“Bryce is a very affordable 3D terrain generation tool. You can create mountains, skies, and oceans, as well as your own 3D models and props.”

Comic Life—Comic Life is useful for storyboarding your comic. “The easy-to-use interface integrates seamlessly with your photo collection or iSight. Drag in your pictures, captions, Lettering text (‘ka-blam!’) and speech balloons and your work is done!”

Anything you’d add to this list?

Comic Books 101–Part Seven

Collaborating with Artists

The panel of five comic creators I mentioned in the previous Comic Books 101 had much to say on the topic of collaboration.  I say this often, but one of the major reasons why I love comics is because it’s a naturally collaborative medium. Only in rare cases is a person able to write, draw, print, promote, and sell her comics all on her own. Unlike traditional writing, which is a generally solitary endeavor, comic creating is a dynamic, collaborative process. I love it (and, yes, it kinda weirds me out at the same time) that what I write isn’t actually what my readers see when they read my comic. Rather, my readers see how my artist interpreted my script. Comics are collaboration at its finest!

Here are some gems of wisdom regarding collaboration from some seasoned comic professionals:

“It’s always easier to start a fight than end one.”

Find an artist who balances you out. If you’re shy, find someone who’s more talkative. If you’re immersed in the fantasy genre, find some with experience writing noir crime.

Don’t confuse collaboration with friendship. Your friend might not be an ideal collaborator. An idea collaborator might not end up being your friend.

Listen to your collaborator. Respect can go a long way.

Have a contract ready before you show your artist anything. More on contracts here.

And my advice (I’m currently working with student artists willing to draw the first six pages of my graphic novel in exchange for collaboration and an addition to their portfolio.):

Find an artist you can trust. DO judge them by how promptly they reply to emails or if they often skip out on meetings.

DON’T just judge an artist by her art. A novice artist who is willing to work her butt off for your project is better than a brilliant seasoned artist who can’t meet deadlines.

DO cast your net wide. Tell everyone you’re looking for an artist. Put up posters. Advertise on Craigslist. Find artists on deviant art. There are artists willing to work at any price point, so don’t be discouraged (although, DO consider the trade offs).

Look out for next week’s Comic Books 101 about online resources for comic writers!

Comic Books 101–Part Six

Selling Your Comic

Instead of a typical class, this Friday we got to listen to five comic creators talk comics, self-publishing, dealing with feedback, and collaboration among a whole slew of other topics. Honestly, I can’t recall the names of all the creators present, but notably among them was Garrett Anderson of Newton’s Law, Dan Dougherty of Beardo, and Onrie Kompan of Yi Soon Shin. Two main topics discussed during this panel I found most significant: how to sell you comic and how to effectively collaborate with an artist. I’ve broken up these two topics into two Comic Books 101 posts. This post, Part Six, will discus selling your comic. Look out for Part Seven for tips on collaboration.

Okay, you’ve written a comic. You found an artist (or several), spent hours getting the thing formatted and printed, and got yourself a booth at a comic convention. If you think all the hard work is behind you, think again. As a self-published comic writer, you gotta learn how to sell.  Self-publishing comes with an often-times hefty price tag, which you’re hoping to pay off through sales of your comic. Not to mention, you’d like people to actually read the thing you’ve slaved over for the past couple of years.

The comics panel had some valuable insight into the process of selling one’s comic. Kompan suggested finding yourself a gimmick, something you can do that nobody else can. Search for alternative revenue streams (consider advertising on your website, striking a deal with an airline to put complementary copies of your comic in the back seat pockets, write articles based off your research and submit to magazines and newspapers). Don’t just rely on comic conventions to make your sales.

Consider skipping the middleman and sell directly to retailers. Always carry a copy of your comic with you. Pass out bookmarks or postcards wherever you go. Most people don’t turn down free stuff. Dress professionally because it’ll give your comic greater credibility.

The thought of selling freaks many people out. They think they’re going to have to push hard for sales or, like a sleazy car salesmen, cheat customers. If you think of selling in this negative light, you’ll make few sales. Rather, think of selling as sharing an opportunity. You like your comic, right? In fact, you love it and ought to want to share it with the world. With this mindset, as Kompan said, selling something you like, isn’t selling. If you’ve got enthusiasm for your comic, it’ll almost sell itself.

Got any selling tips you’d like to share? Post them as a comment and share the wealth!

Comic Books 101—Part Five

How Will You Break into the Comic Industry?

“How will you break into comics?” my professor asked the class. He chose three students to convene in the hall and discuss their determined path to becoming comic book writers. The rest of us, he told us, were to play devil’s advocate.

The three students came up with three very different plans for how they were going to break into comics. After the remainder of the class picked apart their ideas until things got a little feisty, we had developed three unique—and possibly doable—ways to break into this turbulent, unpredictable industry.

  1. Attend comic conventions and network like a crazy person. Or, as one student put it, become a comic book whore. Give your comic to anyone who walks within a three-foot radius. Stalk editors and pitch them your arsenal of story ideas. Grab a beer with some fellow comic con attendees after the day is over and continue your networking endeavors well into the night. Basically, make full use of the opportunities a comic convention has the offer. What could be more beneficial to an inspiring comic writer than a large group of comic professionals crammed into a convention space for the sole purpose of talking comics?
  2. Pursue the indie rout. Utilize your current contacts within the industry and just BE NICE (because you never know who can help you later on). Sell your work on consignment in willing comic shops. Set up shop on Etsy.com. Self-publish until a publisher with more funds and expertise is willing to pick up your work. Basically, prove your worth as a writer by creating your own stuff NOW, nurture and grow you contacts, and just get yourself out there.
  3. Brand the hell out of yourself. Start a blog. Don’t create a new you, but do hyperbolize the real you. Social media is your best friend, so utilize it. Write for other blogs or web sites, even if they don’t initially seem to be relevant to your career path. Basically, build your digital platform and launch off it as much as possible. Hell, go viral!

My personal plan for success consists of branding (hello, Ms.Comix!), networking (did you know that comic book publishers/editors/writers/artists actually really like to chat with newbies?), and writing, writing, writing.

Which path will you take?

And, by the way, some other quick tips I learned in class today:

  • Standards are tough right now, so hold yourself to them.
  • Take advantage of what might seem like a disadvantage (e.g. being a woman in a formerly all “boys’ club”).
  • The self you are selling is yourself…only more so.

See you next week for another Comic Books 101!