Author Archives: cjstandal

Creators Corner: Creating Rebirth of the Gangster, Part 8 – Filtering Through Publisher Feedback

Over the summer, I wrote a few parts in a series detailing the creation of my comic Rebirth of the Gangster (on sale now!)

In case you missed it, check out these links to the first seven parts-

Part 1: The Birth of the Idea

Part 2: Brainstorming and Outlining the Plot

Part 3: Outline, Synopsis and Chapter Breakdown

Part 4: Scripting the Action

Part 5: Finding the Right Artist

Part 6: Pages in Progress and the Artist/Writer Collaboration

Part 7: Submitting the Comic and Cover Letters

As any aspiring writer, artist, or any other creative person will tell you: sending in submissions as an unknown is hell.  And I don’t have anything new to add to that point. The stress of waiting for a response would kill me–I don’t do well with unknowns and things I can’t control, so I would pull out my phone, praying for a new response to pop up in my inbox. I did this obsessively: sometimes every 5 minutes. In fact, I knew it wasn’t healthy behavior and would only lead to further stress, but I still kept checking, just like an addict keeps going back for a re-up of her favorite escape. As of this writing, there are still companies that haven’t responded to my submission (this is pretty standard for unknown creatives, but that fact doesn’t make me feel better).  

Eventually, however, a few companies started getting back to me. The bad news: they were all rejection emails. The good news: many of them gave me feedback that I could use to refine my comic. After all, I could wallow in the rejection all I wanted–and I did for a while, crying in the shower like Tobias in Arrested Development–but that wouldn’t help me get this comic off the ground. I like to think we are all on a path of continuous improvement, at least if we have the will to put one foot in front of the other, and I decided to use this experience to make me better, faster, stronger.  

Read on for excerpts from emails (or summary of the some feedback, if the email had a confidentiality disclaimer on it), along with my reactions in bold. Some of it I accepted, and some of it I rejected; hey, I want to grow, but I don’t want to be a puppet for publishers.

 

Email 1 from Markosia Publishing:

The art is a problem for us, and that is half the battle. The publisher does use a different in-house art style than Juan, so I partly see where they’re coming from. But they’re crazy to think that Juan isn’t the perfect fit for this story. So, while this made me review the research component of submissions to check typical art styles of a comic, I largely ignored it.  Even more confusing, TJ Comics gave me the exact opposite feedback, saying, “Whatever you do, don’t let go of Juan.”

It also needs re-lettering, not so much of an issue but again it doesn’t help the pitch. This comment was echoed by TJ Comics (so at least they were on the same page with something): “The lettering is not professional and inconsistent. You don’t want to have different font sizes based on the amount of dialogue, and you want to be sure that the captions can be read clearly. The captions are placed cleverly in some spots but immediately the placement of the text on page 1 panel 3 gets muddied by the background.” They were both definitely right about this–and by implication, I needed to spread out my dialogue across more balloons, instead having it all in one or two big chunks–so I went back to the Illustrating board (Adobe Illustrator that is), and fixed this problem, sometimes needing a few tries to get that consistency.

final draft p 1

Final Draft pg. 1

first draft p 3

First Draft pg. 1

                                                                       

second draft p 3

Second Draft pg. 3

first draft p 3

First draft pg. 3

 

final draft p 3

Final draft pg. 3

third draft p 3

Third draft pg. 3

 

One other thing that can be off-putting to some people is anything to do with word gangster. It gets people to assume straight away and that takes away from the experience.

Your story sounds deeper than just a regular gangster story and maybe a new title will help with that.  I thought about this and came up with the alternate title A Family Affair, which conveys the generational/systemic/secretive motifs I was looking for in the comic, but when asking most people, they preferred the original title.  They thought the alternative was too bland (and that might have been what Markosia was looking for–a title that won’t offend or alienate others). But, as I tell my students when talking about writing, your work is only good if it elicits an emotional reaction.  So, as far as I was concerned, Markosia was 1 for 3 on their feedback. Let’s see how other publishers fared.

 

Email 2 from TJ Comics:

Appreciate the submission. We love your passion and enthusiasm.

Whatever you do, don’t let go of Juan. And yes, this is a story best suited to black and white. Two things stick out about the pages. 1) The cover needs a catchier logo and should have some color to it. It also doesn’t really tell us what the story is about. And based on the title and synopsis, it’s not really a “Rebirth” of a gangster, so much as it is a Journey to becoming. (more on that in a moment). Rebirth is supposed to imply the rebirth of the family as a gangster family, but maybe they weren’t digging that thematic idea; it’s also supposed to connect to the national resurgence of crime and stereotyping black people as criminals, but maybe that’s too complex for this company.  They were right on that the cover needed color and a catchier logo.

2) The lettering is not professional and inconsistent. You don’t want to have different font sizes based on the amount of dialogue, and you want to be sure that the captions can be read clearly. The captions are placed cleverly in some spots but immediately the placement of the text on page 1 panel 3 gets muddied by the background.

Story-wise, 24 issues is a lot for an independent/creator-owned comic of this magnitude. Frankly, it’s unrealistic and you would need consistent sales and marketing to justify a series of that length from unknown creators, let alone consistent and increased month-to-month distribution.  I see where they’re coming from in terms of the financial worry, but I didn’t want to compromise my vision this much for a financial consideration–I have another job, so my main intent with this comic is to just get it out there and make it as strong creatively as I can. There are too many characters and way too many plot threads when in reality at the end of the day the story should be primarily about Marcus and Hunter.  Hmm…what about Game of Thrones?  The Walking Dead? The Wire?  I guess they’d also say The Avengers and Justice League of America wouldn’t work because there are too many characters in those comics.  And wouldn’t focusing more on female characters, a gay character, and Latino characters create a wider appeal, not less of one?

That’s where the strength is, and it’s an intriguing hook to have a successful black character contrasted against a broken white character and the sins of their fathers. But what’s Marcus and Hunter’s real journey? There are some interesting things at play and I think the story could be consolidated to focus on the relationship between Marcus and Hunter and their fathers. Was he so remorseful about killing John that he changed his life and encouraged Marcus to become a lawyer? Is Hunter’s primary motivation to seek revenge by turning Marcus to a life of crime for the sins of their fathers? The real meat of the story is there, that’s the most intriguing plotline. You can still have many of the other characters, but their journeys and arcs should be supplemental to the main characters’.  These are all good questions, and just because I have 4 other supplementary characters doesn’t mean I can’t focus on Hunter and Marcus.

Your ultimate endgame is the moral dilemma that Marcus faces and that final confrontation with Hunter. Marcus doesn’t have to be the perfect person, but it seems as though he should have an understanding of right and wrong and not wanting to become the man his father was at one point.  That’s the whole dilemma for Marcus outlined in the synopsis and the script, so I’m thinking they didn’t read it closely enough.

This is really a story you could tell (and have solid success with) in 96 pages or less. It would be best suited in print as a graphic novel that could be serialized digitally.  I also had other advice to serialize this digitally and then turn it into a graphic novel, so this makes sense, which is what I’ve been doing (not the 96 pages part though–clearly we have a difference about the scope this comic should have).

For future pitches, some advice that I learned over time and a few failed pitches myself. In your cover letter, you’re trying to sell yourself a bit too much. Your story is what matters and what makes it unique. A description of your work and experience should be no more than a paragraph and a brief explanation of the story and why you are telling it should follow. Fair point: as with all writing, especially cover letters, strive to be concise.  This is the hardest thing for me to do in a cover letter when I want to impress, but they’re absolutely right.

The one-page synopsis is way too detailed and that was my first red flag that there might be way too much going on in the story. You really want one major plot thread that sticks out with smaller secondary plots subtly weaving their way into the main plot.   The secondary plots all do this (Small Spoiler Alert! Katilyn and Lorena go through their own struggles, which helps lead them to the plot of Hunter and Marcus; Randy’s plots within the robbery connects to the framing of his father by Curtis; Dennis and Lizzeth’s romance creates a hole in Marcus and Hunter’s gang, creating tension toward the end to make it seem like the plan isn’t going to work, so that Marcus is able to nominate Devonte and create more tension within this gang –how does this not weave into the main plot?)

You want to hold the reader’s attention with the primary journey and it often gets lost in the smaller details and situations throughout the extended narrative. While I don’t think they have the right perspective on these secondary characters and subplots, it is good advice for me to keep the main journey in mind.  So, even though the outline shows that a chapter should focus on a character, that doesn’t mean it is only focusing on the character; I’ve added more Marcus scenes in the second chapter based on this advice, for instance, so this advice is partially helpful.

Thanks for submitting and we hope to hear from you again soon!

 

Email 3 from Anonymous Publisher:

There was a publisher who said their feedback was not for publication, but I’ll briefly summarize their feedback. They said they couldn’t publish it, but that it was a fun work and that I should consider Kickstarter as a way to publish it electronically and/or in print. While I had thought of this idea before, it was nice to see it reaffirmed–especially the idea that I could start with digital serialization and Kickstarter campaigns and then move to print campaigns for the graphic novel that collects each individual story arc, all of which I did.

 

Email 4 from Creator’s Edge Press:

Email 4A:

Thanks for sending us your work.This book looks fantastic.

But I think I must explain a few things about CEP before we move any further… We are in a position to get your book out to a broader audience, but we’re not comic tycoons with deep pockets. Typically, we ask any creator bringing us a book to pay for the print run (keep in mind that we have a pretty decent deal worked out with our printers, so you get to take advantage of that as opposed to going it alone). The split is 50/50 of the profit (once the price of each book is returned to you on a sale by sale basis) no matter how many sell, we pay out twice a year and we NEVER want to own your book. The property always stays yours.

Basically, I’m interested in the new project and I’d like to read more before we make our final decision.

Also, keep in mind that an outfit like ours isn’t really doing a lot of single issue comics. It’s easier for us to promote a graphic novel of a full story arc and it’s cheaper for you to print them in the long run. It just makes sense all around. We can release the singles digitally to spark a following, but print should be reserved for trades and graphic novels. (things over 80 pages) BTW, setting up a “digital only” contract with us costs nothing. There’s no real money in it (downloads don’t yield much cash), but it will be something we can promote until the rest of the book is completed OR until you can find the cash to print the graphic novel.

If you’re thinking of self-publishing anyway, give us a try. If we enjoy a book, we’re going to try to get it into the hands of others who will like it. It’s just that simple. But we’re not as big as even Arcana (especially now that they are under the Boom umbrella). We’re pretty grassroots and mostly make our bread and butter at cons and shows. Also, keep in mind that while we will submit the book to Diamond, they are not the end-all-be-all of our sales. In fact, as the industry changes, large outfits like Diamond are having less and less faith in small press and indie books. What I’m getting at is: Don’t count on Diamond. At all. Our main focus is conventions, shows, direct sales, etc. The more people we can get the books out to the better. But we cannot depend on the distributors. Just want everything to be as clear as possible.

Now I’d like to take a moment to talk about our company structure. CEP is a network of creators helping creators. So, when one creator of a CEP book goes to a show, while their book is the star (obviously, because you are there to sign books), the rest of our titles are available. So, you do a show near your home town with your book and the others in our library, the same thing is happening with the other creators all over the country. You are getting exposure at every con we attend and you don’t have to leave your house. And CEP tries to pay for tables at the bigger shows, so all you have to do (if it’s in your area or you are travelling to it) is show up and sit at the table. Any money collected from the sales of books is sent back to us. Any sales of art, personal swag, etc. is yours to keep.

But, if you pay for the table at a local con (as CEP can’t pay for every show), you keep all money from sales of YOUR book to offset your overhead. Your book is still selling and the CEP brand is getting out there. We’re happy.

Let me know if this is something that interests you and we can talk further.

Thanks!

Travis Bundy (CEP Art / Submissions Director)

 

Email 4B:

Hi Travis,

Thanks for your quick and detailed feedback.  I need to look at it a little more closely, but here’s my first response:

1) I’m still interested in working with you, but maybe more to publish the story arcs/graphic novels instead of the individual issues: I’d probably go digital for individual issues if I’m working with you.

2) Would you be able to send me a quick run-down of printing costs through the printer you use?

(divided by page count, black and white vs. color, and number of copies being printed–if there are other categories you normally use, of course throw those in)

Thanks

 

Email 4C:

It all depends on what the end size of the book is (dimensions and page count), Let me know what one one volume would be and I can get an approximate cost.

Also, if you plan to do it this way, we would require at least the first 2 graphic novels to be completed before committing to the project. No offense to you, but we have to be sure about people’s level of commitment before we involve ink and paper lol!

 

Email 4D:

The size would be standard comic size:

7 inches wide x 10.5 inches

The page count for individual issues would be 22 pages, but the page count for graphic novels would be 132 pages.

 

Email 4E:

 

Thanks. What is your address? We typically ship half the books to us and half to you (250 each – 500 total book run) and I need them to calculate shipping costs into this. That way you can sell them on your end as well and have them available for cons.

I sent my address to him, but I’m not putting it here.

 

Email 4F:

I got some numbers back from my printer.

To do a 7×10 book, 132 pages + cover, 500 copies your cost would be $3,886.02. That’s roughly $7.77 per book. If we sell them for $15, we give the cost to print that copy back to you off the top and then split the remainder 50/50. So, per sale, you’d get $11.39 and we would get $3.61. If we sell directly to stores, it will be less, (as we could only charge half of the cover price to the store), but we won’t take a cut on those sales. And any copies you sell on your own the money is yours to keep. But we let you set your own pricing on your book. If you want to sell it for more or less, just let us know.

If this sounds like something you’d like to pursue, we’d want to see the full first book before we could make our final decision. But you should have all the nuts and bolts in place before we move forward.

 

Email 4G:

Hi Travis,

Thanks for getting back to me and outlining your model with specifics.

Would it be an issue if I sold the individual chapters digitally (so I can afford to keep paying Juan and possibly bankroll some of the printing costs) and then sent the graphic novel to you to print?  Or would you not like the fact that it’s available in a different format in smaller chunks earlier?

 

Email 4H:

If you want to do the digital sales on your own, we are totally fine with that. We can also sell the copies digitally, but honestly it really should be written off as a marketing expense. There’s very little money in indie digital sales. My recommendation would be to do a kickstarter campaign and ask for a bit more than is needed to print. That way, you can pay him up front and then more on the back end per sale.

If we get the rights to print a graphic novel, we’re good. In fact, one of our titles already had issues printed before the GN. So it’s all good. Preferably we’d like our imprint on the digital copies as well, but it’s not necessary if it’s an issue.

Let us know! Thanks!

 

I thought about taking them up on this offer when I was in my first few issues of the series, but it on further thought, it seemed more like a vanity press option.  And even if it wasn’t a vanity press, it still seemed like too much of a financial investment to work with a company that doesn’t have that wide of a reach, making it unlikely to offer a good return on that investment.

After all of this feedback and some reflection I decided to self-publish individual issues digitally and compile each storyarc into printed editions.  It’s definitely an uphill struggle, but I think it’s worth it for the creative control and financial freedom that it lends itself to. In fact, you can get the first printed edition now, collecting issues 1-6 and the first arc, “Meet the Family”.

Before I started self-publishing, I had to examine digital platforms, so stay tuned for that, my last installment in “Creating Rebirth of the Gangster”.

And, after I found the platform, I did run a successful Kickstarter campaign, which I covered already–happy reading and creating!

Creator’s Corner: Exercises In Cartooning: Week 6

I’m a writer, not an artist. But for the next 5 weeks, I’m going to be a cartoonist.

And you can join me on this journey–not only by seeing what I do, but by completing the exercises I do along with me.

*Note* To see Week 1’s adventures, click here, to see Week 2’s adventures, click here, to see Week 3’s adventures, click here, to see Week 4’s adventures, click here, and to see Week 5’s adventures, click here.

The great cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, also a teacher of comics/cartooning, has a book that publishes his course; it is a 10 week “class” that has a few exercises for each week, some of which I might even use in my own graphic novel class.

I thought it’d be fun–especially since I’m a writer and need to challenge my skills as an artist–to run myself through his course and post each of my exercise on here.  So without further ado…

Exercise 6.1

This is what Brunetti calls a “thought exercise”; while you can jot down notes, it’s not required, and it’s not like the other exercises that require drawing.  Here’s that thought exercise:

Imagine that you’re walking in a desert and you come upon a cube.  Describe (in writing or in your head) that cube.  Think about size, texture, the material the cube is made of, whether the cube does anything (or whether the desert or something else acts on the cube, etc…).

I thought of a small cube that was made of solid silver, gleaming to reflect the whole desert like a mirror.  And–it might be cheating–but because of the desert locale, I pictured a pyramid (also small and made of silver) floating above the cube.  The cube itself sat in the sand on the desert ground.

With that in mind, we move onto the next exercise–one that uses this cube in a comic.

Exercise 6.2

This exercise focuses on creating a one-page comic that tells a story about that cube.  The main focus of this exercise, though, is to break away from a rigid, uniform panel structure and create what Brunetti calls a “hierarchical structure”.

If that sounds like some fancy edubabble, rest assured that you know what he’s talking about.  He’s talking about creating a comic that uses different sized (and possibly differently shaped) panels.  The hierarchical structure implies more subjectivity, according to Brunetti, more of a chance for the creator to emphasize and downplay details, to focus on tone, or to focus on actions in a more purposeful way.

Essentially, he argues that you should use smaller panels to convey a claustrophobic tone or convey smaller actions, effectively slowing the pace.  On the flip side,  using larger panels conveys an expansive and maybe even intimidating tone and–generally speaking–creates a quicker pace to convey big actions.   I’ve made adjustments like these to panel sizes and shapes in Rebirth of the Gangster, but I’ve still mostly adhered to a uniform grid, so this exercise was a fun reminder to vary it a little more.

Here’s my comic, which focuses on panel size but also went a step further (I’m looking for some extra-credit Brunetti!): I place smaller panels inside the bigger panel (sometimes not even using panel borders for those smaller panels) to create an even bigger sense of immensity with the bigger panel and to have some more dynamic storytelling.

I use some smaller panels to slow the pace and focus on small details (the second panel focuses on footprints in the sand and the third focuses on a foot slowly moving forward to leave one of those footprints); I also use a small panel to reiterate the sun and the heat, creating an oppressive tone (which is the closest to a claustrophobic reality this comic will get, being in the desert).

However, the bottom panels create a claustrophobic effect, not in reality but in the feel of the image.  The explorer is still in wide-open desert, but he’s dwarfed by the huge pyramid, so the panels are smaller to make him feel more confined and claustrophobic in comparison to the pyramid.  (I moved away from the cube and focused on a pyramid rising out of the ground).

The biggest panel is clearly the pyramid, but it’s filled with other smaller panels (other smaller moments): The top of the pyramid is in a separate panel to convey that the explorer only sees that at first.  That panel features a “RUMBLE” sound effect which–combined with the explorer rolling down the page in mini-panels and the ground changing (the horizontal lines)–indicates that the pyramid is rising.  I like this approach in general, because it keeps setting and the pyramid alive while still moving story/character forward with small panels, but I still need to figure out how to clarify to the reader that the pyramid is rising.  (Maybe more sound effects and a true small panel on the right side that shows the pyramid rising next to the unsteady feet of the explorer).

All in all, a fun exercise and cool product, despite that area for improvement (and yes I know I don’t have, shall we say a “classical” drawing style, so that’s an area for improvement: I have resigned myself to focusing more on improving storytelling than drafting skills for the time being, which is the bigger issue in the above comic).

Well, that’s it for this week’s cartooning exercise and model.  You can see more of my work at cjstandalproductions.com. Check out previous week’s in the above links, and I’ll see you for Week 7!

Creators Corner: Creating Rebirth of the Gangster, Part 7–Submitting the Comic and Cover Letters

Over the summer, I wrote a few parts in a series detailing the creation of my comic Rebirth of the Gangster (on sale now!)

In case you missed it, check out these links to the first six parts-

Part 1: The Birth of the Idea

Part 2: Brainstorming and Outlining the Plot

Part 3: Outline, Synopsis and Chapter Breakdown

Part 4: Scripting the Action

Part 5: Finding the Right Artist

Part 6: Pages in Progress and the Artist/Writer Collaboration

Comic publisher submission guidelines_ Making RotG part 7-page-001

Image from “The Definitive List of Comic Publisher Submission Guidelines for 2018”

 

Step 1: Research:

Most advice on submitting to comics publisher comes down to a few things:

Do the research on the company and editors, so that you can tailor a cover letter to their strengths and interests and enlist an agent.  This advice also helps save time: after all, if you create a superhero comic and you submit to a publisher that doesn’t produce superhero comics, you’ve just wasted both your time and the publisher’s time.

 Of course, if you have an agent, they’ll take care of this for you, leaving you free to focus on the creative aspect of the comic.  As a self-publisher with no agent, I don’t have that luxury, so I’ve always submitted directly. I’ve sent out some requests for representation, but I’ve hooked as many fish with those requests as I hook actual fish when I actually go fishing.  In other words, I’ve only had a few nibbles, a few responses, but nothing that I could bring home.

To do the first step, research, I created a spreadsheet with the following format:

Nameemail or other contact infoPast work that’s a good fitWhy my work is a good fitRequirements for submissionAnything else

 

This spreadsheet led to me creating entries like this:

215 Inksubmissions@215ink.comThe Price–noirish feel (not the fantastic element);
Ignition (possible place in the anthology for first chapter);
Ghost Lines (noirish feel);
Broken (noirish feel, haunted by family legacy);
Black River (noirish feel);
The parentheses in the previous column explain why it’s a good fit Introduction about yourself and your credentials as well as the creative

team on the project.
● One sentence summing up your story.
● One page (at most) summary of your story.
● Completed pages for review.
(I didn’t have anything for the Anything Else column)

 

One last note on agents: even though I don’t have one, I’d jump at the chance for representation, but I don’t have any representation offers coming my way yet. This might explain why some publishers (like Image Comics) haven’t even replied to me–they’re busy enough, so they’ll probably only respond to known commodities.

 

Step  2: Cover Letters

Although all of the advice says that you should tailor your cover letter to specific publishers and editors–and I did do that–I tweaked that advice a little.  I work best from a template that has flexible sections, so that was my middle ground to save time and still have some personal aspects of the letter tailored to the publisher and editor.  

The first template I created looked like this:

To

 

(first paragraph here–talk about stuff that editor or publisher has done that makes RoG a good fit; maybe talk about some personality element of an editor that meshes with me; end on thesis, why this comic is strong and a good fit)

 

I have attached the first 8 pages of Rebirth of the Gangster, completed by Juan Romera (the artist of Strange Nation, Tall Tales of the Badlands, Los Muertos, Clockwork, Chillers, and more).  In it, you’ll see that Juan Romera and I have a strong sense of comic book storytelling: we use strong panel transitions, action-to-action, subject-to-subject, or whatever option is best suited to the story, character moment, or theme.  We truly understand that words and images need to be interdependent in a comic. Some quick examples of this: the first page shows how this juxtaposition can be done ironically–”born out of darkness into light” right next to a murder is ironic–or can be done to reinforce a thematic element–that same quote and “take nothing and make it something” reinforce the motif of redemption; the “want more and more” paired with a woman reaching for champagne highlights the motif of greed.  Additionally, I’ve only added dialogue if it’s necessary to add a character moment or thematic concern that can’t be done by the image alone. Sometimes, I’ve deleted dialogue that was originally in the script, because the strong image and sequential storytelling make it redundant, which shows that I’m truly creating for the comic book medium and my artist. These pages should also show that we have a strong sense of “camera” movement in a page, with specific shots done to increase tension, characterization, or thematic development.

 

I’ve also attached a five-page synopsis of the whole story (not just the first issue).  It has a logline and the ____ meets ____ style pitch that shows I know how to boil my story down to different audiences and space/time constraints (for further proof, ask for my one-page synopsis).  In the synopsis itself, you’ll find that I have a strong sense of building a beginning, middle and end to conflict and character arcs. Every character has a relatable motivation and arc for us to follow and care about.  Maybe most importantly, each scene also serves multiple purposes (plot, character, and theme), which shows that I am able to convey a lot in one chapter and scene. I’ve paired this with another attachment–the outline–to show how I have a strong sense of pacing and of juggling an ensemble cast.  Of course the synopsis and outline are just a vision that could be adjusted based on editorial feedback.

 

I appreciate the time you’ve taken to read my work, and I truly believe I am a great fit for you and your company. At the end of the day, though, I would appreciate any feedback.  If you don’t think this comic is a good fit for you, but you think it would be a good fit for some other editor and/or publisher, I would appreciate any advice on that (contact info and why this is a better fit for them; ideally, I’d love an email endorsement from you to that editor and publisher).  Thanks again, and please consider how good a fit I am for your company: I have shown a level of professionalism that highlights my willingness to learn, adapt, and grow, which will sustain any publisher and worker in the comic industry.


Brevity-is-the-soul-of-wit

Image from IAS Papers

From reading this, you can probably tell that I wasn’t concise enough, and that I didn’t talk enough about the actual story of the comic.  So my next cover letter would start with my logline and then get into the letter proper, as seen below. While it still might be too long, it’s an improvement on the pitch.

Two sons–one rich and one poor, one black and one white, one with both parents living and one with a dead father and a dying mother–get sucked into a world of crime as they are haunted by their families’ secrets and a murder as old as the sons themselves.  

 

Dear ______________________

 

I’m writing to see if you or anybody at _______ would be interested in publishing my comic presently titled Rebirth of the Gangster (or, given recent feedback I’ve received about the present title, the possible alternate title could be A Family Affair).  It’s illustrated by Juan Romera (the artist of Strange Nation, Tall Tales of the Badlands, Los Muertos, Clockwork, Chillers, and more).  I envision our comic as a series released in individual issues, but it could also be released as four graphic novels, divided by story arcs, which you can see in the outline I’ve attached.  It’s essentially Breaking Bad meets The Wire with Othello thrown in; it’s a crime and noir driven family drama that examines society from many angles.

 

I have attached two covers (one for each possible title) and the first 8 pages of Rebirth of the Gangster.  Right now, it’s just inked in black and white, but I would consider adding coloring with further financing.  In the pages as they are now, though, you’ll see that Juan and I have a strong sense of comic book storytelling: we use what’s best suited to the story, character moment, or theme.  We truly understand that words and images need to be interdependent in a comic, developing irony, theme, character, and tone. Additionally, I’ve only added dialogue if it’s necessary to add a character moment or thematic concern that can’t be done by the image alone.  Sometimes, I’ve deleted dialogue that was originally in the script, because the strong image and sequential storytelling from Juan made it redundant, which shows that I’m truly creating for the comic book medium and my artist. I’m actually planning on deleting the one piece of dialogue in page 7, because the art shows the drama and character motivation enough.  I’ve paired this art with the script for the first issue and character sketches.

 

I’ve also attached a five-page synopsis of the whole story (not just the first issue).  It has a logline and the ____ meets ____ style pitch that shows I know how to boil my story down to different audiences and space/time constraints (for further proof, look at my one-page synopsis).  In the synopsis itself, you’ll find that I have a strong sense of building a beginning, middle and end to conflict and character arcs. Every character has a relatable motivation and arc for us to follow and care about.  Maybe most importantly, each scene also serves multiple purposes (plot, character, and theme), which shows that I am able to convey a lot in one chapter and scene. I’ve also attached an outline that breaks the story down into individual chapters or issues and story arcs (potential graphic novels). Of course the synopsis and outline could be adjusted based on editorial feedback.

 

I appreciate the time you’ve taken to read my work, and I truly believe I am a great fit for you and your company. At the end of the day, though, I would appreciate any feedback.  If you don’t think this comic is a good fit for you, but you think it would be a good fit for some other editor and/or publisher, I would appreciate any advice on that (contact info and why this is a better fit for them; ideally, I’d love an email endorsement from you to that editor and publisher).  Thanks again, and please consider how good a fit Juan and I would make to you or someone else at __________

Now that you’ve seen some templates, take a look at a cover letter to Self Made Hero Publications:

To Dan Lockwood and the other editors at Self Made Hero:

 

I’m writing to pitch my first comic Rebirth of the Gangster.  I have been published before (by Slant), but that’s only been written work.  Despite my rookie status in the comic field, my comic proposal reflects a level of professionalism and artistry rarely attained by few rookies, let alone veterans.  Rebirth of the Gangster is a multi-layered family and crime drama (centering on an Iago-Othello vibe between Hunter and Marcus, the son of the guy who killed Hunter’s dad), and it would be a great addition to your lineup: you show that you’re willing to go beyond superheroes and you’re willing to publish in black and white, as seen by the magnificent The Sculptor.

 

I have attached the first 8 pages of Rebirth of the Gangster, completed by Juan Romera (artist of Strange Nation, Tall Tales of the Badlands, Los Muertos, Clockwork, Chillers, and more).  In it, you’ll see that Juan Romera and I have a strong sense of comic book storytelling: we use strong panel transitions, action-to-action, subject-to-subject, or whatever option is best suited to the story, character moment, or theme.  We truly understand that words and images need to be interdependent in a comic. Some quick examples of this: the first page shows how this juxtaposition can be done ironically–”born out of darkness into light” right next to a murder is ironic–or can be done to reinforce a thematic element–that same quote and “take nothing and make it something” reinforce the motif of redemption; the “want more and more” paired with a woman reaching for champagne highlights the motif of greed.  Additionally, I’ve only added dialogue if it’s necessary to add a character moment or thematic concern that can’t be done by the image alone. Sometimes, I’ve deleted dialogue that was originally in the script, because the strong image and sequential storytelling make it redundant, which shows that I’m truly creating for the comic book medium and my artist. These pages should also show that we have a strong sense of “camera” movement in a page, with specific shots done to increase tension, characterization, or thematic development.

 

I’ve also attached a five-page synopsis of the whole story (not just the first issue).  It has a logline and the ____ meets ____ style pitch that shows I know how to boil my story down to different audiences and space/time constraints (for further proof, ask for my one-page synopsis).  In the synopsis itself, you’ll find that I have a strong sense of building a beginning, middle and end to conflict and character arcs. Every character has a relatable motivation and arc for us to follow and care about.  Maybe most importantly, each scene also serves multiple purposes (plot, character, and theme), which shows that I am able to convey a lot in one chapter and scene. I’ve paired this with another attachment–the outline–to show how I have a strong sense of pacing and of juggling an ensemble cast.  Of course the synopsis and outline are just a vision that could be adjusted based on editorial feedback.

 

I appreciate the time you’ve taken to read my work, and I truly believe I am a great fit for you and your company. At the end of the day, though, I would appreciate any feedback.  If you don’t think this comic is a good fit for you, but you think it would be a good fit for some other editor and/or publisher, I would appreciate any advice on that (contact info and why this is a better fit for them; ideally, I’d love an email endorsement from you to that editor and publisher).  Thanks again, and please consider how good a fit I am for your company: I have shown a level of professionalism that highlights my willingness to learn, adapt, and grow, which will sustain any publisher and worker in the comic industry.

*By the way, I ended with contact info and address in all of them, but come on–like I’m going to put that here*.

 

That’s it for this installment of “Creating Rebirth of the Gangster“.  Join us next time, and in the meantime, check out all installments of Rebirth of the Gangster or visit me at my site.

Creator’s Corner: Exercises in Cartooning: Week 5

I’m a writer, not an artist. But for the next 6 weeks, I’m going to be a cartoonist.

And you can join me on this journey–not only by seeing what I do, but by completing the exercises I do along with me.

*Note* To see Week 1’s adventures, click here, to see Week 2’s adventures, click here,  to see Week 3’s adventures, click here and to see Week 4’s adventures, click here.

The great cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, also a teacher of comics/cartooning, has a book that publishes his course; it is a 10 week “class” that has a few exercises for each week, some of which I might even use in my own graphic novel class.

I thought it’d be fun–especially since I’m a writer and need to challenge my skills as an artist–to run myself through his course and post each of my exercise on here.  So without further ado…

Exercise 5.1

At the top left corner of your paper, draw a face–adding only a nose and eye, along with an eyebrow above that eye.

Draw the same picture to the right of this one; continue this to the end of the paper.

Then, beneath the row (at the left side of the paper) draw a different eyebrow for that face. To the right of this one, draw a new face with a new eyebrow.  Continue this, every now and then duplicating the same drawing and eyebrow.

Create multiple rows for this (Brunetti had his whole page full but I only filled about 2/3 of the page).

In addition to practicing consistency, something other exercises have done, this exercise also shows how one small change can lead to a dynamic change in emotion.  Take a look at how I changed emotion with just a different eyebrow!

This week had a homework assignment (I don’t know why he differentiates between homework and exercise).  And to be honest, there have been other homework assignments I haven’t done (as a teacher, that seems hypocritical, but this course isn’t for a grade, just for my growth).

The assignment: create a 12, 16 or 24 panel strip, making each panel the same size.

For the story, use your childhood as inspiration, either thinking of a place meaningful to you, a person meaningful to you, or a memorable event.  You can add a caption for the title, but don’t add any other captions; this caption should be handwritten, not type-set.

My title is an homage to the Beach Boys song, and I also added a few images next to it to symbolize what the cartoon reveals about my interests and personality. Here’s mine, using my bedroom (the geek’s sanctuary) as the focus:

Creators Corner: Creating Rebirth of the Gangster, Part 6–Pages in Progress and the Artist/Writer Collaboration

Over the summer, I wrote a few parts in a series detailing the creation of my comic Rebirth of the Gangster (on sale now!)

In case you missed it, check out these links to the first five parts-

Part 1: The Birth of the Idea

Part 2: Brainstorming and Outlining the Plot

Part 3: Outline, Synopsis and Chapter Breakdown

Part 4: Scripting the Action

Part 5: Finding the Right Artist

Last week I wrote about finding the right artist–and I definitely lucked out in finding Juan Romera, a perfect match for the story I wanted to tell. Wait: the story we wanted to tell. Even though I lucked out in getting such a great talent, we didn’t have as dynamic and smooth of a collaboration when we started issue 1 as we do now. Part of that might be because I was too controlling/too descriptive in my scripts, and part of that could be just the natural journey in any collaboration–the more steps collaborators take on that journey, the more they are able to convey directions that used to take a whole sentence with a simple word. And that’s led to some great work in the last year and a half of our creative partnership.

That great work isn’t the only reason I love working with Juan, though: he’s a great collaborator. He’s understanding, willing to accept feedback, and a true professional. I mean, he’s put up with me sending multiple emails of feedback on some of his pages, even when I’ve sometimes changed my mind. Like me, he wants to make Rebirth of the Gangster as good as it can be; if something isn’t working, he’ll adjust it until it does. Take a look at some of the below thumbnails and the exchanges between us to see for yourself.

 

SAMPLE 1:

Since flashbacks play heavily in our story, I wanted something special in the art to frame these flashbacks, making the transition between time periods easier on the reader. Juan sent the following two versions of the page to offer options. After the images, you’ll see my feedback on the flashback style and a request to change something else (the mistake was mine, sorry Juan!).

First style for page 1

first style p 1-page-001

Flashback style for page 1

flashback style p 1-page-001

Email 1 for Sample 1:

Hi Juan,

Thanks for taking the time to work this up; don’t worry about getting it to me a little later, since I’d rather you take the time you need than have you rush through it.  I love the sample page and the character sketches!

I love the flashback style and I’d like you to use that style for this page and other flashbacks (in the script I’ve attached the only other time you’d use this flashback style would be for page 9 and 10 of the comic, which are pages 16-19 of the script).  I like the other style that you sent, though, and I think that should be what we use for the other pages of the script, the parts of the book that take place in the present.

I only have one suggestion for the sample page: I would like Marcus, his dad and his grandfather to have a darker skin tone.  Make it look closer to the skin tone you have in the sketch for Marcus.

As always, if you think of a different interpretation for the layout of a page or a scene, let me know.  I’m open to ideas and adjusting if we both think it’s a better option.

I started a Twitter and Instagram account with a pseudonym (CJStandal).  I’m a teacher, and for right now at least, I’d like to use a pseudonym because some of the swearing and subject matter of the comic isn’t school-appropriate and might make me lose my day job if I don’t have that pseudonym.  And if I lost my day job, I wouldn’t be able to pay for your work long-term for this whole series; I’d only be able to pay for this issue.  If a publisher thinks I should use my real name, though, I’m definitely open to that.

Sorry for yet another long email (but you’ve probably already sensed that’s what I do).

Please let me know if you have any questions or other feedback.

-CJ


Email 2 for Sample 1:

And I should add this to my last email:

I like how young Curtis has longer hair, but I’d like old Curtis (present day Curtis) to have short hair and a graying beard.

And would you be OK with me posting your sketches and the first page on Twitter and Instagram? I would tag you unless you didn’t want me to do so. [The answer was yes unsurprisingly].

Let me know if you have any questions.

 

Email 3 for Sample 1:

Hi Juan,

Sorry to keep bugging you but after some thought I had a slight change to the point I made about the flashback style.

I said I like the flashback style, but on second thought I’d like to use a style in between the flashback style and the other one (just for the flashbacks; I still want to use the first style [not the flashback one] for parts that take place in present day). For the flashback style you sent, I like how the panel borders are different but I don’t like how the coloring/inking/shading looks different.

So could the flashback pages have the same inking/shading as the first style but have the same panels/borders as the flashback style you sent?

Thanks for your time and please let me know if I wasn’t clear or if you have any questions.

 

Email 4 for Sample 1:

Hi Juan,

Is it also possible to change the chalk outline on the first page to the actual dead body of Marcus’s grandfather? That seems more realistic and dramatic.

I did some further research and found out the chalk outline isn’t really part of police procedure: it was something created for movies. I want to be realistic and reflect real procedure by not having the chalk outline at all.

That last email is another example of me going about things a little backwards.  I should’ve researched before writing that page, but better late than never right?

(And I know, you’re probably thinking: How did Juan put up with this?  Make up your mind, CJ!) Thankfully, Juan took it in stride and agreed to make the changes I suggested.  I didn’t include his responses, because they’re so agreeable they’re boring.  And because I’m a narcissist that wants the world to focus on my words.  Why else would I become a writer?

 

SAMPLE 2

Sample 2 p 2-page-001Sample 2 p 4-page-001

Above (pages 2 and 4); Below (page 3, take one)

Sample 2 p 3-page-001

Email 1 for Sample 2:

Hi Juan,

Thanks for all this great work!  The corrections on page 1 are perfect!  The sketches look great!

I only have one small request for a change, and again, it’s not because you misinterpreted my script–it’s because I thought of something that would work better after seeing the sketches.

At the bottom of page 3, I think it would work better if we just saw a close up of the woman’s hand grabbing the glass.  That way we focus more on her grabbing more champagne (an image that better highlights greed and pairs better with Curtis saying “but we want more and more”).  It also gives more variety to the images, so that we don’t have too many big, crowd scenes.  Again, this is a change based off my own thoughts, not because you messed up .

And change it he did!

Sample 2 p 2 take 2-page-001

Above: page 3, take two

SAMPLE 3

First draft of page 8

p 7 take one-page-001

Email 1 for Sample 3: 

The pages look great! One small change: I think the last panel on page 8 would work better if it was a close up of only Marcus’s face, so we can see that he’s really upset and lost in thought.

Next draft of page 8

p 7 take two-page-001

Not only did he do that; he made the panel before it a smoother transition into it (making it less of a bird’s eye view, so that we don’t suddenly shift camera angles).

That’s it for this installment of “Creating Rebirth of the Gangster“.  Join us next time, and in the meantime, check out all installments of Rebirth of the Gangster or visit me at my site.

Creator’s Corner: Exercises in Cartooning: Week 4

I’m a writer, not an artist. But for the next 7 weeks, I’m going to be a cartoonist.

And you can join me on this journey–not only by seeing what I do, but by completing the exercises I do along with me.

*Note* To see Week 1’s adventures, click here, to see Week 2’s adventures, click here, and to see Week 3’s adventures, click here.

The great cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, also a teacher of comics/cartooning, has a book that publishes his course; it is a 10 week “class” that has a few exercises for each week, some of which I might even use in my own graphic novel class.

I thought it’d be fun–especially since I’m a writer and need to challenge my skills as an artist–to run myself through his course and post each of my exercise on here.  So without further ado…

Exercise 4.1

Part 1:

Create a basic design for a character and draw from it from a few angles.  I created a robot character with a wheel instead of legs.

Then, brainstorm a location to set your comic with this character and a verb, an action for this character to do.  I set it in a factory and wanted the robot to hug someone/something, to add some pathos and emotion to this character.

 

Part 2:

Create a page with 8 evenly divided panels.

For panels 3-6, draw the character doing your brainstormed action in the preset location.   Avoid shifting perspective too much, but when needed, shift and use the angle character study you created.

Then, draw 2 panels (panels 1-2) to show why the character is doing this action; add closure by drawing the consequence(s) of this action in panels 7-8.

Here’s what I came up with; I’ll do a postmortem analysis of my choices and cartoon after it–good luck with yours!

cartooning exercise week 4

While I like the simplicity of the robot design, I did find it hard to have him “act”, which might explain why some of what he’s doing is a little unclear. The first panel, for instance, is the robot hugging his boss and coworker, but that isn’t clear. It actually looks more like he’s assaulting his boss then hugging him.

 

Specifically, though, these were the parts that made it hard for him to act and in turn possibly made it hard for his hug and other actions to be understood by a reader: the boxy arms and hands; the stationary wheel; the lack of legs. If I were do do a similar comic and character, I would have the arms be more flexible and fluid, and I would have the wheel attached to some sort of legs or leg-like appendage.

 

On the positive side, I do think I was able to make the robot, the boos, and the assembly line worker emote with few facial details; they also were relatively different–in the way their faces were drawn but also in their figures–which made them easier to distinguish.

 

Another positive: the action and storytelling were pretty clear with what was being done by the factory machine (the one that looks more like a claw a kid uses to grab a stuffed animal in an arcade game).

 

A positive and negative: I do a good job streamlining setting details to a minimum, making the reader focus more on character, actions, and storytelling. The one point where I went too far with this minimalism, though, is the fourth panel, when the robot has gone through the doors into the factory. I’d like to add another machine or two, along with a worker or two, so that the factory seems busier (and so that the setting is clearer, that it is in fact a factory).

 

Well, that’s it for this week’s cartooning exercise and model. Check out previous week’s in the above links, and I’ll see you for Week 5!

 

Creator’s Corner: Creating Rebirth of the Gangster, Part 5–Finding the Right Artist

Over the summer, I wrote a few parts in a series detailing the creation of my comic Rebirth of the Gangster (on sale now!)

In case you missed it, check out these links to the first four parts-

Part 1: The Birth of the Idea

Part 2: Brainstorming and Outlining the Plot

Part 3: Outline, Synopsis and Chapter Breakdown

Part 4: Scripting the Action

In today’s segment, I walk you through how I found the perfect artist for Rebirth of the Gangster, Juan Romera!

Finding the Right Artist:

Now that I had my story and script ready to go, I started looking for an artist. Yes, I realize that the best scripts are tailored to an artist, but as you will see (or have already seen), I sometimes go about things in a backwards way. What good is creating your own stuff if you can’t set the rules, am I right?  

I had a few guidelines in mind: I wanted an artist who wasn’t overly detailed, but could bring the heat when it came to creating character expressions. A lot of this comic is reliant on the “acting” of the characters and the reader inferring things, rather than me just telling them. Note–there is more telling and exposition in the first issue than the later ones will have, but that’s often the case with a first chapter or scene.

juan sample 2 faces

Image rights owned by Juan Romera: one of the images that drew me to him as my artist

I also knew that I wanted an artist who could play with shading and grab the reader with just black and white. Part of that, to be honest, is an issue of funds–everywhere I looked, artist’s price for coloring their pages was out of my budget. I also like to think, though, that black and white suit this story even better. It creates the noir atmosphere and tonally helps emphasize some of the thematic concerns, especially ones dealing with race and class.

juan sample 1

Image rights owned by Juan Romera: one of the images that drew me to him as my artist

Other than those two big guidelines, I was willing to be flexible and let the artist bring something new to the table. It might sound weird when you look at how detailed my script is–that’s how I envision each page and panel, but I’ve always let any artist I work with know that if they think of a better option, they should discuss it with me. After about a month of searching, I narrowed it down to two artists: Juan Romera and a European-based artist (I guess I can’t stand to work with people in the United States!)

juan sample 3

Image rights owned by Juan Romera: one of the images that drew me to him as my artist

Both of these artists were advertising themselves on a “Seeking Comics Artists/Writers” forum, found on zwol.org. The forum’s title gives you a clear idea of what it is for, but there are other comic creators that advertise themselves, like colorists or letterers (like I advertise my letterer service on that forum here).

The European-based artist had some things going for him, but I thought some of his storytelling and character work could get a little too abstract, so I couldn’t justify his extra cost, especially once I saw some of the sketches that Juan did for me, based off these character descriptions.

 

Marcus:

Age–26

Race–Black/Asian mixture

Hair–Black hair.  Curly hair, but we barely notice it because his hair is cut very short.

Clothes–He’s a lawyer, so he’s often dressed in ties and suits or in other fancy attire: button up shirt, dress shoes, and khakis/black slacks.  He’ll be in a tux in the first scene.

Other general appearance: He’s lived a clean life, so he’s fit (not overly muscled, but toned).  He’s professional looking, but often happy (or at least he looks happy–he focuses a lot on having a good appearance).

Hunter:

Age–26

Race–White

Hair–Long, brown hair.  It’s almost shoulder length and is mainly straight, not curly.  A little messy.

Clothes–He’s mainly wearing jeans, tennis shoes, and sweat shirts/flannel shirts.

Other general appearance: He’s a heavy drug user and drinker, so he’ll look older than Marcus (baggier eyes, more wrinkles, and his teeth are a little yellower).  He also has a little pot belly (not so big that he’s fat, but you can see that he drinks a lot, eats poorly, and doesn’t exercise a lot).  He’s mainly looks a little anxious, depressed and angry.  Every now and then, he’ll be happy, but that will mainly be when he’s high or drunk, escaping his stressful life with chemicals.

Lorena:

Age–26

Race–Mexican

Hair–Black hair that’s straight and just a little past shoulder length.

Clothes–She’s a detective, so she’s often dressed in  suits.  Her suit is a little wrinkled and of poorer quality than Marcus’s suit; she also doesn’t wear a tie (or if she does, it’s only loosely tied, there only for appearances).  When she’s off duty, she wears jeans, tennis shoes, and plain, long-sleeve shirts.

Other general appearance: Like Marcus, she’s mainly lived a clean life.  She’s fit, but has a few more wrinkles and bags under her eyes than Marcus, because of her stress growing up.  She can look serious to people that don’t know her but nice to those that do.  We know we don’t want to mess with her, but we also know that there’s nobody else we want on our side.

Andrea:

Age–47

Race–Asian (Hmong from Vietnam)

Hair–Short, black hair.  Not quite shoulder length, but not so short that she’s “looking like a man”.

Clothes–She wears blouses, fancy slacks, and high heels.  In the opening scene, she’s wearing a fancy dress.

Other general appearance: She’s really pretty, but you can also tell that she has an edge to her, a hard side (dark side).  Like Marcus, she also mainly puts on a happy face for appearances.  As the story progresses, though, she’ll start looking tougher and more serious.

And from those concise character descriptions, here are the sketches Juan sent me:

Rog sketch

Not only did Juan have a better feel for the characters, he was cheaper!  In fact, the only suggestion I made was this:

“Hi Juan,

And after further thought, I’d like the character design of Andrea to still have black hair, not white. She’s going to be a badass and I think it’ll be easier to sell if she’s not too “old looking”. It’ll also match the flashback and make it easier to transition from past to present.

Sorry to keep flooding you with feedback. If, because of all the emails and changes, it’s a little confusing, I can send you one email to look at for my feedback.

Just let me know if that would be better for you or if you have any other questions.”

I didn’t know how I lucked out to get both of my major needs met, but I didn’t want to waste time and let Juan slip away to some other lucky writer.  So I agreed to work with Juan, and haven’t looked back.  

That’s it for this installment of “Creating Rebirth of the Gangster“.  Join us next time, and in the meantime, check out all installments of Rebirth of the Gangster or visit me at my site.

Flashback Friday: Robinson’s Starman: The Unrepentant Collector

starman logo

As comic fans, we often share a similar, repetitive request when people we meet find out about our fandom: “What comics would you recommend?”. Whenever someone asks me this question I invariably respond with the standards–Maus, Persepolis, Fun Home, March, and so on. Of course the conversation eventually steers towards superheroes, and I’ll spotlight Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and more of that great–yet gloomy–work.

But for those close friends of mine, those with refined eyes and a discerning taste, the superhero comic I always endorse is James Robinson’s Starman.  Brilliantly embellished by Tony Harris at first, and then suitably replaced by Peter Snejbjerg, this series succeeds on many levels: bringing heart to each character, big and small, hero and villain, person and place; it also adds intricacies for the intellect, with a story that unfolds in more and more complexity–never sacrificing clarity, though–and reveals itself as a Russian doll, full of more secrets with each new doll opened.

starman opal

But that doesn’t even touch on the best serving that Starman brings to the table: a heaping helping of pure geekery.  This is possibly most notable when considering the plot of the series as a whole: one that pays tribute to the decades of DC history and it’s most popular characters plus a few of its most unsung ones; one that uses time travel mixed with that continuity to tie together loose ends; one that jumps across worlds in the solar system the way Star Trek does; one that tries different narrative techniques with each new arc; and even one that uses history, architecture, art, and more to bring Opal City and its citizens to life.  This attention to detail betrays the obsessive nature of most geeks, myself included.

Now, comics have always been closely connected to geek culture, but Starman brings that connection to a new level, to a perfect degree of alignment with both geek culture and its bastard offspring–collecting culture.  After all, Jack Knight, the titular hero, is a pawn shop owner, highlighting for the reader a collector’s mindset that’s touched on in many places through this saga.  jack as collectorRobinson’s focus on collectors and their mindset happens most prominently in Jack Knight’s moments of narration, which sometimes seem like the stream of consciousness inhabiting a collector’s daydreams.

To make collecting even more important, Robinson even creates a story arc about a demon that lives in a Hawaiian shirt, one of the world’s most dangerously collectible items.  And, as a geek and collector myself, perhaps that’s why I can’t sell these comics, why I continue to reread them, even when I’ve purged most of my superhero comics over the last few years to make extra space and money (being a teacher and a self-publisher doesn’t really earn me the big bucks).

starman_jack_knight_symbol_wp_by_chaomanceromega-d51faz2

My geek and collecting origin probably shares many similarities with many of you, dear readers.  Before I even got into comics, I was a nerd.  *Note* I tend to separate geeks and nerds this way: nerds are in love with academic knowledge whereas a geek is in love, actually obsessed, with a certain subculture that isn’t as valued.*  Comics are seeing increased value, yes, because of their success on the big screen, but most Americans value STEM byproducts more than artistic showcases.  I realize this distinction is mainly something I’ve created, not found in a dictionary, but it’s helped me view the world with greater perception, something that typically is a hallmark of both nerds and geeks (well, except for in the one area we tend to lack perception, leading to that other hallmark of these special clans: poorer social skills, less social awareness and limited social perception).

To give birth to a nerd, my parents dropped workbooks full of math and reading practice in my room every summer that I was in elementary school; to make those summers even more fun, they’d sign me up for enrichment summer school courses.  During the school year, my mom even volunteered herself (and me!) for the school’s before-school book club, a memory that remains dear to me.  I can’t remember if I fought against this book club at first, but if you’re a gambler, the odds would favor placing a bet on “No–young CJ immediately embraced this opportunity”.

This love of words was fostered by my older brother into a love of certain geeky genres, ones that paved the way for my later geeky travels into comics: I had discovered fantasy and it’s inextricable cousin, science-fiction.  My older brother had voraciously consumed the Redwall series (almost like he was eaten one of the many mouth-watering feasts described in each tome), leading me to test those waters.  I was soon diving in, and not just with other Redwall books.  mapmossflowerIn elementary school–after exploring Mossflower, Salamandastron and other unknown lands until they were known–I ported to another series, as a third grader easing myself into The Lord of the Rings with The Hobbit; I wouldn’t finish The Lord of the Rings until I was in fifth grade after two years of off-and-on reading.

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But I didn’t lose myself in fantasy only: I loved Star Wars, even reading books set in the universe that have since been jettisoned from the Star Wars canon.  That doesn’t say much uniquely about me, of course, but it led me to other science fiction stories that were more my speed at the time, like the My Teacher is an Alien series (don’t ask me why I, a self-professed nerd, loved a book that played to most children’s judgement of and disgust towards teachers; I must have just been so sucked into another world that I didn’t think about the intended audience of that series or its satirical implications towards education).

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In the midst of this geeky perfect storm, my parents did the one thing that would thrust me deeper into the ocean of geeks, a move that would end up washing me onto the shore of comic collecting–bear with me, we’re slowly getting back to Starman.  Toward the end of elementary school, they gave me a box set of 25 X-Men comics, a move that sparked my lifelong love of comics, and a move that possibly burned down other potential interests, along with a move that possibly postponed my first girlfriend.

Soon I was having my parents chauffeur me to comic stores (one time, I convinced them to take my step-brother and me to a store that was about an hour away, since its collection was more thorough than a nearby store.  My parents regretted agreeing to this the moment our car sputtered to a stop.  Luckily–for me anyway–another family member drove out to pick us up and finish the journey, my dad and step-mom waiting at the car for AAA or some other highway help).   About once a month–or twice if I was really lucky–I’d walk by racks of comics, pointer finger pilfering through bagged and boarded back issues, calculations running in my head about what the best deals were, what stories I needed to have told to me and what stories I could live without.

I even started forming lists, the most valuable tool in a collector’s arsenal.  Sometimes my lists were comprehensive: a notebook contained every issue title and number that I owned, separated by the boxes they were stored in.  Sometimes they were looser, more directed by others: at the back of many trade paperbacks, publishing companies had lists of the most important storylines to collect.  In the back of Spider-Man: The Alien Costume Saga, I checked the books I had (actually marking the book, something I shortly stopped doing as a collector, only starting again to annotate texts I read for college or to teach to my high school students–but I still never started annotating graphic novels again, just traditional texts).  When I was done checking those books I owned, I stared at the ones I didn’t, as if that alone would put them in my possession.

blueberry cover

It took me about a decade to reach the summit of my comic collecting, a weekly Wednesday trip to the comic shop when I was in college (by this point, I’d already read Starman, and Jack’s unrepentant passion towards pawnbroking had spread to me, costing me far too much money, but it’s an experience I wouldn’t change).  I even bought what could be called a Comic Collector’s Bible, the Sling and Arrows Comic Guide.   That brought a whole new level to my comic collecting: the global world of comics, little explored by me before except with Lone Wolf and Cub, became my new obsession.

I discovered Blueberry for the first time, collecting the long out-of-print 80s translations, so valuable because they let Moebius’s artwork shine in its colorful glory, unlike other more recent, black-and-white reprintings.

 

The-adventures-of-Tintin-tintin collection of book covers

And after that, I traveled with Tintin, gloried with the Gauls in Asterix, and many more (yeah–these aren’t really underground global comics, but they seemed that way to my limited experience).  If you still want to look down on me with the same snobbish collector’s smirk I give others–a smirk in all our toolbelts, I’m sure–feel free).

jack knight logo starman alternate

So, why did a mere comic help condone my collector behavior so much that it multiplied it tenfold?  Why was it the first comic to pop into my head when I decided I wanted to write a Flashback Friday?  And why do I have some anxiety about my copies of the comic, currently lent to a friend, an anxiety that will only be alleviated when I have all volumes of Starman returned to me?  Well, the answer to the last question has something to do with the quality of the comic, but it probably has more to do with the collector’s mindset and anxiety I have, one that wants to control the world through items, through comics in my possession.  The answers to the other two questions, though, all have to do with the quality of the comic, a quality that hasn’t reduced on any re-reading.

Part of Starman’s impact on me stems from Robinson’s love of DC’s continuity: at that point, I’d never done a deep dive into DC comics, staying in the shallow end of the pool, populated by Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Justice League, and the other A-listers.  I’d never before cared about the Shade, Solomon Grundy, the Sandman (although I liked Neil Gaimain’s Morpheus), and–most central to my argument–I didn’t care about the original Starman.  If anything, I just thought he was goofy, but other than the few times I’d thought that, I just didn’t think about Starman at all.

the shade

This changed because Robinson’s love of continuity–in addition to helping him create a more complex, intertwined plot and set of secrets–made me care about all of these characters, and not just the “current” incarnation.  I loved the Shade who was cultured, who had a relationship with Hope O’Dare, who had a moral code all his own that didn’t always make him a superhero.  But that code didn’t always make him a supervillain either.  And this ambiguity made me even more curious about his earlier appearances, ones that showed only the typical, one-dimensional bad guy.  Perhaps knowing that would be most reader’s reactions, Robinson made that mystery a slow-burning, central plot point, one that would blow up in the magnificent The Grand Guignol storyline.

sandman starman crossoverI’m saying that every single connection to larger DC continuity shines.  As much as I love Captain Marvel, the story arc involving him doesn’t seem to further much of the plot or reveal much in terms of character.  But that misfire is worth it for the all the dead on shots taken throughout the rest of the series, especially Jack’s adventure with the original Sandman (and if you haven’t read Sandman Mystery Theatre, check that out after Starman!)

Similar to how Robinson’s Shade pushed me into past versions of the character, Robinson’s relatable, atypical portrayal of Jack as a reluctant superhero who had a punkish attitude, made me care even more about Jack–and through extension, his dad, the original Starman.  But, before I elaborate on his dad, there’s one more point about Jack that bears mentioning in more depth.

As described earlier, part of the appeal of Jack is the running stream of collector’s consciousness he displays the whole series.

This is perhaps seen most prominently, because of contrast with the other characters’ also offering narration, in “Sins of the Past”.  mikaalIn this arc, Robinson starts each chapter by returning to the beginning events of that arc but with a new narrator, building characters and conflict to a level that creates more sympathy and suspense.

o dare starman chapter

This is a big reason I fell in love with Jack as a character (and the others), but he’s not a one-note character, only about collecting.  In fact, Jack experiences tremendous growth in the series, like his resolve to never take another life after he’s haunted by a murder–done in self-defense–haunted by his own conscience and by the consequences thrust on him by those close to the person he killed.  Other than that character growth, Jack experiences a realistic romance full of ups and downs, one that is part of the realistic closure mentioned earlier.  starman75a with babyFinally, one of the biggest ways Jack grows is in his relationship with his dad, one that started off with distant antagonism and ends with close compassion.

And speaking of the original Starman, the more Robinson peppered in past exploits of Ted Knight, the original Starman, the more I researched his past appearances.  And that led to another mystery: the one featuring Ted’s retirement and  the Starman right after Ted, an unknown Starman only revealed in the final volume of the series–if the reveal of Shade’s secret in The Grand Guignol was earth-shattering, the reveal of this Starman’s identity was out of this world, much like the previous journey to help the space-borne Starman!

1144714-gavynThis last revelation, though, was made even more impactful  because of the time-traveling element that allowed Jack to peer behind the scenes–Robinson always excelled at making Jack and characterization the central element, even more important than the intricate plot.  Jack got some answers, but he also found some closure on another note, seemingly unrelated, just like we did as readers.  And I dare you to name many superhero stories that actually end with closure instead of a return to the status quo, a return that prevents true character growth and thematic completion.

Not only were these plot points so intricate as to be worthy of rereading–justifying the need to collect Starman a little more, so we don’t have to get it at the library or pirate it–the style they were told in was revolutionary for superhero comics of the time.   Most of my focus this whole essay has been on Robinson’s strong writing (and I’ll be the first to admit that he doesn’t always equal this caliber; Justice League: Cry for Justice, I’m looking at you).  But focusing so much on Robinson’s writing is truly a disservice to the strong artists in this series, one I’ll try to rectify, but I might not be able to, since–as a writer–I’m better equipped to talk about other writers.  Still I’ll give it a try…

Having such a dense, fully outlined, years-long plot is often standard in today’s comics, but a 70ish issue superhero story in Robinson’s time was almost unheard of. And Robinson–accompanied ably by Harris and Snejbjerg–brought a mature sense of storytelling rarely seen in superhero comics, then and now.

Anyone familiar with Harris’s work will see that he brings more of the same, but different enough to keep our interest (the fine balance every artist walks to gain and keep audience approval).

tony harris starmanHis trademark tableus, sometimes reminiscent of J.H. Williams III, are still there, offering variety past the only-linear, strongly similar to storyboards-style dominant in so many comics.

tony harris starman tableau

But when he needs to get traditional, he can–shining more, though, because of the strong shading, level of detail, and color pallette that typifies his work.  starman_blimp

As much as I love Snejbjerg, it’s a shame Harris couldn’t finish the series, although he stays on for covers, offering some more creative consistency, a creative consistency often lacking in most modern, factory-model comics (and I love DC and Marvel, so I’m not trying to say that approach is bad: it just limits singularity of vision).

Tony-Harris-Starman-art

Snejbjerg took over from Harris about halfway through the series, offering a distinctly different artistic voice that would seem to clash with Harris’s.   starman75 supermanSnejbjerg has more linear storytelling, sometimes adapting the storyboard approach, but he still maintains some tableaus (albeit in his own style) to offer variety and some consistency with Harris.  snejbjerg black and whiteMoreover, he elevates the more traditional linear storytelling with a crisp line–more reminiscent of the European clean, clear line approach (ligne claire) than the hyper kinetic, overly detailed art done by Marvel and DC.  This clean line makes the story feel more mythic, which is what a superhero story should feel like (even though Starman is also grounded in reality through its complex characters).  It’s no surprise that Snejbjerg has worked on other mythic masterpieces, like Vertigo’s Lucifer and The Unwritten.   Another byproduct of this mythic, clean line is that it makes the characters more relatable, something that is consistent with Harris’s approach and Robinson’s vision.

I could keep going on, but you’re starting to get the picture.  It’s not like I have a magnum opus critique for Starman; Robinson plotted out a magnum opus, and that’s good enough for me.  But–like any collector–if you feel the need to dig into more nooks and crannies, looking for that hidden treasure of a tidbit that will make you appreciate this work on an even deeper level, there are plenty of places you can go to.  Tell them Jack sent you.

jack the collector

 

CJ Standal is the writer of Rebirth of the Gangster, a neo-noir masterpiece.  Follow him on Twitter: cj_standal or like him on Facebook or visit the site of CJ Standal Productions.

Creators Corner: Creating Rebirth of the Gangster, Part 4–Scripting the Action

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Over the summer, I wrote a few parts in a series detailing the creation of my comic Rebirth of the Gangster (on sale now!)

In case you missed it, check out these links to the first three parts-

Part 1: The Birth of the Idea

Part 2: Brainstorming and Outlining the Plot

Part 3: Outline, Synopsis and Chapter Breakdown

Today, I’ll take you through the process of writing a script, showing some of the revisions I made along the way–partially because of some peer feedback you’ll see–along with some of the final art for the first issue, so you can compare and contrast it to the script description.

If you compare the script to the comic, you’ll also see some changes from the script to the comic page, mainly dialogue that’s been rewritten to be more concise, less explicit–in character motivation, not swearing–and  more realistic.  You won’t see a lot of revisions in panel layouts, because I do that in rough sketch form before writing the script pages themselves.

*As you’ll notice, I inserted Google Drawings for the page layouts I imagined most pages having–you’ll probably note a flag/US flag motif in the layouts for many pages, done on purpose.  I always gave him the freedom to change these layouts (as seen in the script by how often I say things like “this is how I possibly view the layout”; I also let him know in emails that he could change the layout).  Eventually, though, I felt like he was being confined by these layouts–even though he sometimes steered clear of them, I think sometimes he used them just because that version was forced into his head.  Because I thought he needed greater control and freedom, by issue 8, I’ve stopped doing this, trusting Juan Romera more, which is one of the lessons I’ve learned on how to be a better collaborator*

Rebirth of the Gangster, Issue #1

 

PAGE ONE, fFlashback (nine panels, standard 3×3 grid, each panel the same size and shape.  If you envision any page laid out differently, though, let me know!  I’m completely open to suggestions.)  I’m using the Dark Horse Comics Script format, seen here.

 

Panel 1.  We open on a completely black panel, starting our story the way all our stories start: in darkness.  This page will be a flashback.  We’ll have a lot of these flashbacks throughout this story, so it would help if you manage to visually separate these pages and panels from the rest of the piece, either by having a different style or even something as simple as creating a different outline for the panel borders. Maybe just the corner of the top left panel and the corner of the bottom right panel is partially cut off/faded to separate it from the present.

 

CAP/MARCUS

“I was born out of darkness into light.”

 

Panel 2.  The fluorescent glare of hospital lights shines through and breaks the darkness.  We see these lights, the ceiling, and that’s it; we’re essentially taking on the perspective of the narrator as a new-born baby.

 

Panel 3.  Now we’ve shifted out of that perspective and are looking down on Marcus, the new-born baby.  A close-up of a screaming baby shakes the borders of this panel.

 

CAP/MARCUS

“But I’m sure I didn’t view it like that.”

 

Panel 4.  We’ve widened our camera angle to see the thrum of a busy hospital room.  Doctor and nurse hover near the hospital bed, standard hospital machines wait for the next birth, and Marcus’s mom and dad hold him, welcoming him into their lives.

 

Panel 5.   Zoom in on a scissors snipping an umbilical cord.

 

CAP/MARCUS

“Unfortunately, as I entered this world of light–”

 

Panel 6.  This panel is similar to panel 4, but now we’ve completely zoomed in on Marcus being held by his mom and dad.  Like all new parents, love radiates from them and his mom’s eyes water.  Marcus continues to howl.

 

Panel 7.  We shift scenes (keeping the voiceover from Marcus).  Now, we’re on the streets of Madison, WI at night.  On the left side of the panel, hands holding a gun creep onto the panel.  The hands clutch the gun as it blasts a few shots, attacker knowing how to prep for the recoil.  On the right side of the panel we see the target of this gunshot: an old, black man (Marcus’ grandfather).  He’s wearing a suit, newly bought.  He’s pushed back by the force of the gunshots, flailing as his feet leave the ground.

 

CAP/MARCUS

“–my grandfather’s flame flickered and fell–”

 

Panel 8.  We’re at the same scene as panel 7, but time has passed, the murder has been discovered, the body is gone, and all we see is a chalk outline of the grandfather’s body.  It’s still night, but we can see this area more illuminated than in panel 7; flashlight beams cut across the chalk outline and this panel.

 

CAP/MARCUS

–leaving my torch to replace his.  But my dad, as always, helped me withfather never let me be dragged down by that weight.

 

[Peer 2 Feedback: This is a little unclear. “Helped me [cope with/come to terms with?] that.” I’m not sure how to revise it exactly, but I feel like a little more specificity would give this line more power.]

 

Panel 9.  We’re at the same scene as panel 8, but now we’re panning out to see the area surrounding this chalk outline.  We still see the outline, but it’s crowded by police tape and cops talking with each other and with witnesses.  Their flashlights still shine against the darkness.  The caption ideally should be at the bottom right of this panel, to help transition into the next page.

 

CAP/MARCUS

“He taught me that I was born out of darkness into light.

rog 1 first page.jpg_large

 

PAGE TWO (four panels: one small panel inserted into another panel–the bigger panel is a widescreen establishing shot; the other two panels are medium/small-sized panels beneath the widescreen one.  Below is how I envision this page’s layout.)  

 

Google Drawing Page Layouts P 2 (1)-page-001

Panel 2.  Pan out to see the ballroom and a crowd of spectators in tuxes, gowns, and other fancy evening wear.  In the top center of this panel, Marcus stands at a podium, continuing his speech with a smile that slips naturally onto his face.  Light and shadows alternately streak across the room, echoing the stripes in an American flag.  

 

At the bottom of this panel, we’ll insert the title and credits.  The title will read “Meet the Family: Marcus–The Future is Mine”.  I envision this title mirroring the flag motif we’ve already set up–if we have color,”Meet the” will appear on top in white lettering and “Family” will be on the bottom in red lettering. “Marcus–The Future is Mine” will stand next to “Family”, but will be in blue.

 

Panel 3.  Zoom in on Marcus at the podium.  A smile is still plastered on his face as he twists to his left (our right), about to introduce his dad.  His left arm stretches out, hand splayed out like a fan, pointing off panel in his dad’s direction.

 

MARCUS:

And that great man is who this night is really about, so let’s get to him. You all didn’t shell out money just to listen to me, and if you did, talk to me later and I can see about getting you your money back.

 

SFX (muted):  

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha

 

Panel 4.  Pan out so we see both Marcus and Curtis, along with the audience.  Curtis is stepping up to the podium.  The audience enthusiastically applauds his introduction.

 

MARCUS:

So without further ado, the man who we’re all here to celebrate.  The man who showed all of us how to come up from nothing and make something of ourselves.  The man who showed me how to take something dark and make it light: my dad, Curtis Thompson.

 

PAGE THREE(six panels, which I envision like the below layout).

Google Drawing Page Layouts p 3 (1)-page-001

Panel 1. Amid continuing applause, Curtis and Marcus hug at the podium.

 

Panel 2. Now we’re looking at Curtis at the podium, an older black man dressed impeccably, with an even bigger smile stretching across his face.  

 

CURTIS:

Thanks Marcus, I couldn’t ask for a better introduction.  And all of you, thank you for coming out.  It’s a huge honor to be in this hall to kickstart my new foundation, and it’s an even bigger honor to celebrate this magical day with so many special people.

 

Panel 3.  Curtis is turning and looking at Marcus, a chuckle escaping his lips at the joke he’s about to tell.  Marcus holds up his hand and is laughing too, waving off his dad’s corny joke.

 

CURTIS:

Even more, thanks for listening to Marcus get all philosophical…as if he doesn’t get enough practice in the courtroom.  But I guess the blame for that falls at my feet too–he inherited my gift of gab, to my delight and the dismay of every crowd forced to listen to him.

 

SFX (muted):  

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha

 

[Peer 2 Feedback: It’s helpful to hear this banter, too–you make both of these guys instantly likable. Nice.]

 

Panel 4. Close up of Curtis giving his speech.  He’s taken on a more serious tone and countenance.

 

CURTIS:

If you’ll bear with me though, I’d like to talk about that path from darkness to light. You all know I haven’t had the easiest path to becoming the success I am.  And unfortunately, that story is still all too common for too many people.

 

Panel 5. Zoom in on the audience, who look like any crowd listening to a speech: a little bit happy and a little bit patiently polite.

 

CURTIS (OP):

Of course not for us, though; we are the lucky ones.  We don’t have to grow up with crime haunting us.  We don’t have to grow up with subpar education.  We want for nothing–”

 

Panel 6.  A waiter stands next to a woman in the crowd, holding a tray topped with glasses of champagne.  The woman is draped in a gorgeous gown as she reaches for the glass of champagne.

 

CURTIS (OP)

“–and we still want more and more.”  

 

PAGE FOUR (4 panels, possibly looking like the layout below)

Google Drawing Page Layouts p 4-page-001

Panel 1. Another wide shot of Curtis giving his speech.  If possible, angle it so that the “camera” is behind the woman who picked up the glass of champagne in the previous panel.

 

CURTIS:

 

But I know we can be better. And that’s why I started the Curtis Thompson Charity for Disadvantaged Youth.

 

Panel 2. A shot of the ballroom with people absorbed in conversation.

 

Panel 3. Marcus stands in the middle of a crowd, doing his best to look fascinated by his group’s conversation, but he’s clearly bored.

 

Panel 4.  Same shot as before, only now Marcus is turning his head, his attention being hooked by his mom speaking off panel.

 

ANDREA (OP):

…And speaking of Marcus, I’m going to quick talk to him before he heads out for the night.  MARCUS, LET ME GRAB YOU FOR A SEC!

 

PAGE FIVE (5 panels, possibly looking like the layout below, with the second panel as an inset–making it look like an upside-down US flag–and the last panel smaller than the rest):

Google Drawing Page Layouts p 5-page-001

Panel 1. Marcus and Andrea are walking away from the crowd–towards us–Andrea’s hand on the back of his shoulder, gently guiding him.  Both are smiling, Andrea’s smile looks more authentic.

 

ANDREA:

Thanks againn for making that great speech.  I know you don’t always like this stuff, but I know your dad appreciated it. I do too–it’s nice to see you get all gussied up.

 

MARCUS (small):

Don’t worry about it mom, it was no problem.  But yeah, it’s not really my thing you know?.

 

Panel 2.

Zoom in on Andrea and Marcus.  Andrea is smiling and Marcus is looking at her.

 

ANDREA:
Tell me about it! You know I’d rather be doing something else a little more exciting, but you also know we’ve got to do this.

 

Panel 3. This should mirror the last shot: but Marcus is now smiling and Andrea is looking at him.

 

MARCUS:

I know, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it, right?

 

ANDREA:

Yeah, I guess…if you want to if you want to pout like a little kid! (Everything before this is the final version) pout like a little kid be a little kid about it! (Previous versions had these two phrases in it)

 

Panel 4.  Andrea and Marcus are angled toward us, so that they’re somewhat facing us while still looking to the right of the panel.

 

ANDREA:

But anyways…I see your P.I.C. Alex over there looking to stir up some trouble. , so I guess you’ll want to join him. Don’t get too crazy OK?

 

MARCUS:

Yeah, we’re getting up to something, but I’m sure it won’t be too crazy. Bye, love you mom.

 

ANDREA:

Love you too. Have some fun but not too much fun OK?

 

Panel 5.  Marcus gives Andrea a kiss on the cheek right before he leaves.

 

PAGE SIX (six panels, laid out in a 3×2 grid, all panels the same size)

 

Panel 1.  Marcus and Alex are walking home from the bars–toward the “camera”–both laughing and having a good time, although Alex is stumbling a little, being tripped up by too much to drink.  Madison’s capital is lit up in the background as they waver down State St.  It’s a winter night, although there isn’t any snow on the ground yet, just people walking around bundled in coats, wrapped in scarves, and sporting hats and gloves.

 

SFX (loud):  

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha

 

Panel 2.  Still focused on Marcus and Alex walking home, but they’re smiling now and we’ve zoomed in on just their faces.

 

MARCUS:

You know, I don’t think she knew what she was in for once you started buying drinks.

 

ALEX:

They never do…and neither do I really!

 

Panel 3.  Same shot as before, but now Alex and Marcus are turned to face each other, and panned out enough for us to see that Marcus’s hand is on Alex’s shoulder.

 

MARCUS:

Man, I wish I had a video of her face when you said that to her…that thing about marriage and divorce, you know…

 

ALEX:

Oh, yeah!  “I’m not that into marriage, because sooner or later you have to deal with that whole divorce thing.”

 

Panel 4. Pan out so that we have a view of them walking–the “camera” now sees  them in profile, heading toward the right and a homeless man.  The man is black (African American) has blankets wrapped around him, his head poking out from under a winter hat, and he’s wearing ragged clothes.

 

MARCUS:

Lex, I don’t know how you manage to get any women talking like that, that’s crazy.

 

ALEX:

Oh, it’s part of my charm. Yeah, they can’t get enough of the old Asshole Alex charm.

 

Panel 5.  Same shot as before, only now Marcus and and Alex are closer to the homeless man, who’s reaching out, about to beg for some money.

 

MARCUS:

Yeah, keep telling yourself that and then you won’t be just an asshole for no reason, right?

 

Panel 6.  Same shot, but now zoomed in more and the homeless man is right next to Alex and Marcus; he holds out his hand, hoping for some change and kindness.

 

ALEX:

Ah, fuck you, Mr. Big Shot.  Don’t tell me–

 

HOMELESS MAN:
Excuse me, do you have any extra change?  I just need some cab fare to get to a shelter.  I’ll pay you your money back…I promise.

 

PAGE SEVEN (5 panels–two of these panels will be insets in the biggest panel, the top–one at the top left and the other at the bottom right)

Google Drawing Page Layouts p 7-page-001


Panel 1 (the first inset).  We’re zoomed in on the homeless man’s hand, outstretched in a vulnerable request for help: his hand’s a little filthy and full of callouses.

 

Panel 2 (the top big panel).  Profile view similar to panel 6 is the last page, but Alex is now cringing away from the homeless man, and the homeless man is leaning in, still hoping for some help.

 

HOMELESS MAN:

Please, I just need a little help…

 

[Peer 2 Feedback: Could you make it clear that the man is now addressing Marcus? Maybe his speech starts to ease into a plea to a fellow black man? I think it might justify the man’s anger at Marcus more clearly if he was to be ignored here; maybe Marcus turns away his face in shame before Alex slaps the man’s hand away?]

 

Panel 3 (the second inset).  Somewhat similar to panel 1, but we’ve panned out from that enough to see Alex slapping the homeless man’s hand away, pushing the homeless man’s whole body.  I’d like it crossing over into panel 4, so that it’s partly inset in panel 3 and 4, like the example above.

 

Panel 4.  Alex has just pushed the homeless man, who’s falling backward, arms flailing, as Marcus looks on in astonishment.  The homeless man should be falling toward us, so it’s not a pure profile view anymore.

 

Panel 5.  Marcus has finally leaped into action, holding Alex back; Alex’s face and body writhes with anger.  We’re either seeing this from the homeless man’s perspective, or looking over his shoulder so we can see him just starting to prop himself up in a half seated, half laying position that leaves him defenseless.  

 

Why don’t you get off your fucking ass and leave us alonework instead of mooching off the rest of us?

 

MARCUS (burst):

Alex!  Alex!  Leave him alone!  He didn’t do anything–
Rog original page 7 issue 1

 

PAGE EIGHT (six panels, laid out in a 3×2 grid, all panels the same size)

 

Panel 1.  We’re just zoomed in on Marcus and Alex now, and Marcus is still trying to calm down Alex–he’s facing Alex, his back towards the homeless man.

 

Panel 2.  We’ve moved so our focus is now only on the homeless man.  He’s clearly angry, but also a little confused and hurt.

 

HOMELESS MAN:

Yeah, I get it, you gotta protect your asshole buddy.  You all just stick together no matter what, right?  I thought you was my nigga.

 

Panel 3.  We’re now back to focusing on Marcus and Alex.  Alex has calmed down a little, but Marcus is now turned toward the homeless man, a little irritated by what the homeless man said.

 

Panel 4.  We’re focusing on the homeless man again.  He’s getting angrier, hiding his hurt and confusion.

 

HOMELESS MAN:

“You knoweah, man, I thought you were gonna help a nigga out, but I see you’re just like your asshole buddy.  You all just stick together no matter what, right?  I thought you was my nigga.”

 

Panel 5.  Marcus is guiding Alex so they walk away from the homeless man, both trying to avoid further conversation but for different reasons.  This should be a profile view, but angled slightly, so that they’re walking away from us, toward the upper right of the panel; the homeless man is toward the bottom left corner.

 

Panel 6.  Marcus and Alex are still walking away, but now we’ve zoomed in on Marcus, who’s clearly disturbed by this interaction and lost in thought.  He’s walking away–but we’ve shifted angles so we can see him walking towards us with the homeless man barely visible in the background.  Marcus is just going through the motions, the real movement being done inside his head.

 

CAP/DARIAN (He’s saying the same thing in the next scene/page as the homeless man to ease the transition from this page and scene to the next page and scene).

 

“I thought you was my nigga–”

 

PAGE NINE, flashback( 7 panels, possibly looking like the model below; panels 3-5 should hopefully overlap each other and shouldn’t be all parallel to each other–they’ll move slightly diagonally down from left to right to emphasize the action of the hand off).
Google Drawing Page Layouts p 9-page-001

Panel 1.  This panel should somewhat echo the previous panel, to ease the transition from scene-to-scene and page-to-page.  We’ll be focusing on Marcus lost in thought here too, but he’s standing in a back alley and not walking; he’s facing us.  Marcus is 17 years old in this panel, since it’s another flashback.  He’s still wearing nicer clothes than most 17 year olds, but he’s not decked out in full suit, his full formalwear, yet.  I like how you adjusted your style for flashbacks in the sample of page 1 you gave me, so mimic that technique here.

 

Panel 2.  We’re now seeing Darian, a black kid that’s also 17 years old.  He’s built like a football player (muscular, not a fat lineman) which makes sense since he is a football player, and he’s wearing a sweatshirt of his high school team: the Cardinalshe’s wearing his uniform.  Any type of high school football uniform is fine; he plays for a school other than Marcus’s school, though.  He’s acting nice, but there’s an air of threatening energy around him: you can tell that if Marcus crosses him, it won’t end well for Marcus.

 

DARIAN:

Right on time Marky-Mark.  You got it?

 

MARCUS:

Yeah, as long as you’ve got yours.

 

Panel 3. We see Marcus handing Darian an essay he wrote for Darian.  The title should say “Blood and Corruption in Macbeth”, but we don’t need any other visible writing.

 

Panel 4.  Similar to the previous panel, this is another handoff between Marcus and Darian.  This time, though, Darian is handing Marcus a bag of weed (marijuana).

 

Panel 5.  We’ve zoomed out to see Marcus stuffing the bag of weed in his pocket; he’s looking around nervously to watch out for cops or anybody else who shouldn’t be seeing this.

 

Panel 6.  We’re now seeing Marcus nervously trying to slide past Darian.  He’s also nervous because he’s trying to explain to Darian that this is his last time doing something like this.  He’s clearly afraid of Darian blowing up in his face and refusing to accept these changes.

 

MARCUS:

So anyway, Darian, thanks a lot for hooking me up like this, but, uh, I think this is gonna have to be my last time doing something like this.  I can’t, um…

 

Panel 7.  We’ve zoomed in on Darian, who is clearly shocked and not happy with what Marcus is saying.

rog issue 1 p 12-page-001

 

PAGE TEN, flashback (7 panels)

Google Drawing Page Layouts p 10-page-001

Panel 1.  This will be a shot of Darian similar to the last panel.  Now he’s a little less startled, though, and starting to get angry.

 

DARIAN:

What do you mean?!?  I thought you was my nigga…Right?”

 

Panel 2. This won’t have any panel borders or any background.  It’ll just be a shot of Darian facing right, advancing on Marcus, so that when he’s grabbing Marcus in panel 3, it’s a smoother transition and display of the action leading up to it.  He should have his arms at least partially outstretched–his back angled toward us and the hands angled toward panel 3 and pointing “inside” the page, away from the direction his back is facing.

 

Panel 3.  We’re zoomed in so we see Darian’s hands grabbing Marcus’ shirt at the shoulders.   Marcus is clearly scared.

 

DARIAN:

You know that, right?I know you really wouldn’t like what I’d do to you if you left me hanging.

 

Panel 4.  We’re now zoomed in so we only see Marcus’s face.  He’s startled, and he’s stammering, trying to talk his way out of a beat down.

 

MARCUS:

You know I’m not going to say anything, um I mean...I mean, I’m just not comfortable with this…I mean….you know what?  I guess I could do this one more time.  I mean we have that big research paper coming up soon…

 

Panel 5.  This shot should in some ways mirror panel 3, but now Darian is wiping off Marcus’s shoulders, straightening the wrinkles he caused in Marcus’s shirt.  Marcus is still rattled, but he’s not as afraid as he was in panel 3.  At the bottom right of this panel, a police siren cuts in.

 

SFX (burst):

Woop woop!

 

Panel 6. We now see a cop car that has approached, its lights flashing.  Marcus and Darian both look scared, petrified, and they’re both looking around for an escape route, although there is none.

 

POLICE:

Keep your hands where we can see them and don’t try anything reckless now…

 

Panel 7.  We see Marcus with his hands now handcuffed behind him.  He’s being led into a police car, the cop pushing Marcus’s head down so he doesn’t bump his head when getting into the back of the police car.  Make sure we can see the handcuffs because our next page will focus on somebody else who is handcuffed, and it’ll be a stronger scene-to-scene and page-to-page transition if we emphasize that detail.  That next page will take us out of the flashback to the present, and it’s important for us to make that switch as easy on the reader as possible.

PAGE ELEVEN (6 panels)

 

Panel 1.  Similar to the last panel, we see another pair of black hands in handcuffs.  This panel should only let us see the hands and handcuffs, though.

 

Panel 2.  Zoom out so that we now see a cop leading Devonte (an African-American man in his early twenties, wearing the orange clothes of a prisoner) to his seat in a courtroom.

 

Panel 3.  Zoom back in: we have a similar shot to panel 1, but we see that the cops taken off the handcuffs now–just show us hands and forearms.

 

Panel 4.  A shot of Devonte sitting down.  He’s clearly scared, but trying to put on a brave face unsuccessfully.

 

Panel 5.  Pan out so that we can see Devonte in the foreground, but our main focus should be on the next table over: Marcus is sitting in his suit with a briefcase in front of him.  Next to him is Kaitlyn, another lawyer.  She’s a black woman, about Marcus’s age, but has a little more swagger than him; her hair comes down in braids almost like dreadlocks, but not quite that unprofessional. .  She’s fit, tall, and dressed in a nice suit.,  She’ll be a big part of our story, but this scene will just briefly introduce her and Devonte, another important character later.

 

Panel 6.  A widescreen establishing shot of the courtroom, with Marcus, Kaitlyn, Devonte, Devonte’s lawyer, cops, a jury, and a judge.  

 

PAGE TWELVE (6 panels in a 3×2 grid, all panels the same size, except for the second-to-last panel and the last panel.  The second to last panel is a little bigger, and the last panel is a little smaller to create an introspective, claustrophobic feel)

 

Panel 1.  Focus on the judge as he’s sentencing Devonte.  The judge is an old white man, and he looks stern, glaring at Devonte in disapproval.

 

JUDGE:

For being found guilty of possessing Schedule I Narcotics, this court sentences you to 3 ½ years in prison.  I truly hope that you will use that time to reflect on the road that took you here Mr. Robinson.

 

Panel 2. Devonte is a little angry at the verdict, but more importantly he’s desperate and begging the judge to reconsider.

 

DEVONTE:

I told you!  It wasn’t mine!  You gotta reconsider, please.   I know I made some bad choices in who I hung out with, but it’s not fair!  Not just because I was there…

 

Panel 3.  Marcus is looking at Devonte with conflicting emotions.  He’s upset at this verdict, because he was in Devonte’s same shoes (charged with drug possession), but he’s also recoiling at Devonte’s outburst, thinking it’s inappropriate behavior.

 

Panel 4.  The cops drag Devonte out of the court, Devonte still yelling and pleading his case.

 

Panel 5.  Kaitlyn is standing up with her briefcase in hand, looking down at Marcus, who’s barely moved during this spectacle.  She looks concerned for him, but he just looks lost in thought.

 

KAITLYN:

Another one for the good guys!  Nice work….Everything alright Marcus?

 

MARCUS:

Huh?  Oh, yeah, it’s all good.  Why don’t you head on back to the office and I’ll meet you there?

 

KAITLYN:

…OK, I’ll see ya there.

 

Panel 6.  The courtroom is empty except for Marcus, clearly lost in thought about this case and its connections to his past.

 

PAGE THIRTEEN, flashback (4 panels)

Google Drawing Page Layouts p 13-page-001

Panel 1.  We’re back in another flashback now.  This one takes place after Marcus is arrested.  He’s about to be released: he’s sitting in a waiting room, looking as lost and lonely as he did in the panel at the end of the last page.  This shot should closely echo the shot of the last page; it’s in a different setting (the waiting room) and Marcus is younger, but we have the same angle and tone to this shot.

 

Panel 2.  Curtis has opened the door and is walking through it; the door should be on the left of the panel for natural movement and flow.

 

Panel 3. Curtis has closed the door, and is now standing by Marcus, hands on his hips, head lowered in a disapproving gaze.

 

Panel 4. Curtis sits down next to Marcus; Curtis is leaned forward, so that he’s facing the reader, not Marcus; his hands are on his knees.  He has a serious look on his face, but it’s hard to read.

 

PAGE FOURTEEN, flashback (5 panels)
Google Drawing Page Layouts p 14-page-001

Panel 1.  Curtis turns to look at Marcus.

 

CURTIS: I can’t believe you’d do something so idiotic.  What were you thinking?  How could you do this to our family?

 

Panel 2. Marcus stares straight ahead–he’s in the typical teenage mode of fuming and sulking instead of responding to authority.

 

Panel 3. Curtis is starting to get angrier, leaning in closer to Marcus as he lectures him.

 

CURTIS: I asked you a question. Answering’s not optional.

 

Panel 4. Same shot as Panel 2–Marcus staring straight ahead.

 

Panel 5. Curtis is now standing, towering over Marcus.  Curtis is yelling at Marcus, and Curtis has his arms outstretched.  Marcus cowers in fear, shrinking away from Curtis.

 

CURTIS: Listen to me!  You have no idea what you’re throwing away here! If you’re grandpa was here to see you acting like some fucking fool–

 

PAGE FIFTEEN, flashback (5 panels)
Google Drawing Page Layouts p 15-page-001

Panel 1. Marcus stands up and yells in Curtis’s face, causing Curtis to momentarily back away.

 

MARCUS: Don’t even fucking do that!  Like grandpa has anything to do with this!  You’re just mad because I can’t be fucking perfect like you!

 

Panel 2. Curtis steps back towards Marcus, even angrier.

 

CURTIS: Son, you don’t even know what you’re talking about.  You have no idea what I’ve had to do to get us where we’re at…I’m not going to have you waste it all.  Not when–

 

Panel 3.  Marcus pushes past Curtis, making Curtis fly back against the wall.

 

MARCUS: Get off my back!  I never needed your money and I definitely don’t need you!

 

Panel 4.  Marcus swings the door open and exits, leaving Curtis stunned.

 

Panel 5. Curtis is looking at where Marcus had been sitting.  He’s lost in thought, clearly disturbed, but by more than this argument–Marcus is starting to act like the gangster Curtis was.

 

PAGE SIXTEEN (4 panels)
Google Drawing Page Layouts p 16-page-001

Panel 1. Marcus and Alex are standing at a convenience store, strolling through the aisles, picking up items here and there.

 

ALEX:
So why are you worrying so much about him, huh?  Dude got caught…he just had to be smarter about being dumb.

 

Panel 2.  Similar shot as panel 1, but zoomed in.

 

MARCUS:

Yeah, I know, but there’s something that doesn’t sit right with me.  I don’t know…

 

ALEX:

I’ve said it time and time again, but you’re too serious for your own good, Marky Mark. You gotta figure out how to relax.  Maybe that kid doesn’t have too bad an idea with indulging in a little recreational, how should I put it?

 

Panel 3.  Just zoomed in on Marcus now, who’s a little upset, but trying to cover it up.

 

MARCUS:

….You know I don’t do that stuff, so just drop it.

 

Panel 4. Similar to panel 4, but zoomed in more, with a robber’s voice coming from off panel.

 

ROBBER 1:

Alright, nobody move!  We do this quickly and nobody gets hurt!
Rog issue 1 p 19-page-001

PAGE SEVENTEEN (5 panels)

Google Drawing Page Layouts p 17-page-001

Panel 1.  Two robbers enter the convenience store through a pair of sliding doors.  They’re dressed all in black with ski masks and gloves.  They both wave their guns around, one waving to the left and the other waving to the right.  One is yelling, and the other (Hunter) is quiet.

 

ROBBER 1:

We don’t want any trouble, but we’re not afraid to start some shit either.  Don’t test us!

 

Panel 2. The robbers have moved to the cash register and are pointing their guns at him.

 

ROBBER 1:

Alright, man, just put the fucking bills in the bag and we’ll be on our way.  It’s not worth your life, just remember that.

 

Panel 3. Pan out so that we see the whole convenience store: Hunter and the other robber are still focused on the cashier, who’s hurrying to put the money in the bag.  Marcus and Alex are crouching behind a series of shelves with candy and other snacks a stall where they can’t see them.  Nearby, there’s a stand with newspapers on it.  We can’t see any of the articles or pictures yet.

 

Panel 4. Zoom in on Hunter and the other robber.  Robber 1 is pointing at Hunter, while he waves his gun in the direction of Alex and Marcus.

 

Panel 5.  Hunter strides away from the other robber, mouth grimly set, eyes focused forward.

 

PAGE EIGHTEEN (3 panels)
Google Drawing Page Layouts p 18-page-001

Panel 1.  Hunter is walking towards Marcus and Alex.  We see this from a perspective that has Marcus and Alex in the foreground and Hunter in the background, striding toward us.

 

Panel 2. Hunter is moving towards the right of the panel, gun at his side.  We only see Marcus in this panel, not Marcus and Alex.

 

Panel 3.  Hunter has found Marcus and Alex, who are still crouched behind the shelves, clearly scared.  He points his gun at them.

 

HUNTER (ROBBER 2):

Stand up slowly, go walk over to that corner, and face it.  Slowly. so I can only see your backs.

 

PAGE NINETEEN (5 panels)
Google Drawing Page Layouts p 19-page-001

Panel 1.  Alex talks back, looking indignant.  He’s pointing at the stand with the newspapers on it.

 

ALEX:

You have no idea what kind of trouble you’re about to bring down. Do you even know who this guy is?  Look at that if you don’t believe me.

 

Panel 2.  We’ve zoomed in to see one of the newspapers, The Capital Times.  It reads, “Curtis Thompson Writes a Check He Can Certainly Cash”.  Underneath the headline, we see a picture of both Marcus and Curtis from the ball that started this issue.

 

Panel 3.  Hunter has taken a step back, and puts one hand on a shelf behind him, clearly upset. His mouth hangs open and his eyes are stretched open in disbelief.

 

Panel 4.  Marcus has his hands up and is also clearly upset that Alex made this comment.

 

MARCUS:

Don’t listen to him, sir.  We don’t want any trouble, now or after this.  Come on, Alex, let’s do what he says.

 

Panel 5. We’re now seeing Robber 1 and the cashier again.  Robber 1 has the bag of money, and the cashier is backed up with his hands up.  Robber 1 is looking at the cashier but speaking to Hunter.

 

ROBBER 1:

What’s the hold up?   We all good?

 

PAGE TWENTY (4 panels)
Google Drawing Page Layouts p 20-page-001

Panel 1.  Hunter swings his gun down on top of Marcus’s head; Alex backs away from both of them.

 

Panel 2.  Marcus is falling to the ground.

 

Panel 3. Hunter stands still, expression unreadable.

 

Panel 4.  Robber 1 is at the door now, turned toward Marcus, yelling.

 

ROBBER 1: What are you doing?  Let’s go, let’s go!

 

PAGE TWENTY-ONE (5 panels)

Google Drawing Page Layouts p 21-page-001

Panel 1. We see the feet of Hunter and the other robber as they’re running towards a car at the far right of the panel.  We have a low camera angle here, so we only see feet, legs and the bottom half of the car.

 

Panel 2. This shot is similar to panel 1: it’s the same angle, but we can only see the car with its door open; Hunter and the other robber are already in the car.

 

Panel 3. The same angle, but now the car door has closed and the car is moving, pulling away from the robber in a quick getaway.

 

Panel 4.  We’re inside the car now; there are three men, all wearing ski masks and gloves.  The getaway driver is new, wearing a mask, and fat; the man in the passenger seat up front is the robber; the man in back is Hunter, although he hasn’t removed his mask yet.  The robber (in the passenger seat) is turned around, yelling at Hunter.

 

ROBBER 1:

What the fuck was that?

 

Panel 5. Hunter has taken his mask off.  He’s trying to pretend like it’s no big deal, but there’s clearly something bothering him.  His gloves are also off, one on his lap.

 

HUNTER:

Nothing, don’t worry about it.

Rog issue 1 p 24-page-001

PAGE TWENTY-TWO (4 panels: panels 1-3 are inset into panel 1, which is a whole page spread)
Google Drawing Page Layouts p 22-page-001

Panel 1.  We’re back in the convenience store.  Marcus is starting to get up, but he should be close to the ground, with at least one knee on the ground and his two hands pushing himself up from the floor–the other two panels will show him halfway up and then all the way up.

 

Panel 2.  Marcus is halfway up; his knees are no longer on the floor, but he’s not fully standing.

 

Panel 3.  Marcus is completely standing, still in shock over the events.

 

Panel 4.  We see a Hunter’s lap with the glove still on it and his bare hand holding a photo.  That photo shows a young Curtis standing with his arm around the shoulder of Hunter’s dad, John.  John has long hair like Hunter, but he has a full beard.  Both John and Curtis are smiling.  

 

Based on the feedback from publishers–more on that in a later post–I added a page in between page 6 and 7 to justify Alex’s reaction more.  Here’s that page:

NEW PAGE SEVEN (six panels–two rows of threee panels each; top row–panel 1 is smallest in the row, panel 2 is bigger and panel 3 is biggest in the row; bottom row–panel 4 is biggest in the row, panel 5 is a little smaller, and panel 6 is the smallest in the row.)

 

Panel 1.  Zoom in on Alex’s face as he’s trying to shrug off the homeless man’s plea.  His hands are raised in a dismissive gesture.

 

ALEX:

Sorry, man, I can’t help you.

 

Panel 2.  Alex is on the left side of this panel; the homeless man is on the right side of the panel, stepping towards Alex.  The homeless man has one hand held out.

 

HOMELESS MAN:

Come on nigga…We both know you’ve got some skirlla to share.

 

Panel 3.  Alex is clearly getting angry and a little worried, but he’s trying to back up from the homeless man and get away from the situation.

 

ALEX:

 

NEW PAGE SEVEN (continued)

 

Panel 4. Alex has stopped backing up now.  He’s changed his mind, and his face is now resolved to a new course of action, but he’s very calm looking.

 

Panel 5. Alex is now moving towards the homeless man.  The homeless man has stopped stepping towards Alex, and the homeless man is looking a little worried, but he still has his hand held out.

 

ALEX:
You know what? Yeah I do. But not with you.   Maybe if you got a job…

 

Panel 6.  The homeless man is standing up straight, looking at Alex.  (Alex is off panel though).  He still holds his hand out, but he’s now looking more confident and righteously angry.

 

HOMELESS MAN:
Yeah that’s more like it.  Nigga finally being honest up in here.  Least you can do one thing right.

Rog issue 1 p 07 resized for printing-page-001

That’s it for this installment of “Behind Rebirth of the Gangster“.  Join us next time, and in the meantime, check out all installments of Rebirth of the Gangster or visit me at my site.

The Forbidden Chamber: An Interview with Sarah Searle About Gothic Tales of Haunted Love

Cover with Editors_rgb

cover art by Leslie Doyle, logo by Dylan Todd

Sarah Searle brings a new twist to the gothic genre and an old tale in her story for Bedside Pressanthology Gothic Tales of Haunted Love. A fundraising campaign is currently running on Kickstarter and you can read more about it in this previous article.

Searle’s story, “Ladies of the Lake”, is Searle’s “spin on the classic Bluebeard tale, incorporating some Arthurian themes over a setting of spooky 1920s Wales.”

The new themes and setting is one twist Searle gives this source material, but this story is even a slight departure for Searle herself. “I’ve done a good amount of historical fiction at this point, but I’m allowing myself to stylize it and go a bit darker this time, which sets it apart from my past works that focus more on research.”

Although Searle hasn’t “read anything from that time period [the 1970s gothic romance comics that inspired this anthology]”, she is “a great lover of gothic literature and romance comics, so it was a natural fit!”

It was such a good fit, in fact, that she “had this story already written, just waiting for the perfect home. ‘Ladies of the Lake’ references some of [her] favorite books, including Northanger Abbey, so [she pays] homage to [her] own inspirations as well.”

ladies of the lake searle gothic tales anthology

“Ladies of the Lake” by Searle

Searle elaborates on her love of Northanger Abbey: “Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is a delightful play on the gothic romance genre back when it was much fresher, which is an enjoyable read.”

But Northanger Abbey isn’t her only gothic inspiration, as Searle explains: “I also love Terry Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum for a healthy dose of vampire romance. I suppose I’m drawn more toward humorous, satirical approaches these days, but I can’t help but love taking it seriously sometimes, too.”

And Searle doesn’t just create and read gothic stories–she plays them too, as she explains: “My D&D group recently finished the Curse of Strahd campaign and I really enjoyed seeing the romance and drama unfold amongst the NPCs.”  

When discussing Hope Nicholson and Sam Beiko, the two editors in charge of the anthology, Searle had nothing but good things to say: “I haven’t worked directly with Sam before but she’s had great feedback for my script, and Hope is always super on top of the business side.”

Having worked with NIcholson on The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, Searle had already experienced Nicholson’s business acumen.  In particular, she commented on how “everyone in publishing is so busy all the time, which often means (understandably) long waits on emails, so [she] extra appreciate[s] how quick they’ve been with communication.”

secret loves of geek girls kickstarter edition

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls Kickstarter Edition Art by Gisele Lagace and Shouri

Searle offers one last word on the Gothic Tales anthology itself: “I’m especially excited for the comic my friend Hien Pham is working on, about a man who gets help from a friendly ghost during the Vietnam War”, a comic covered in this interview with Pham.

But this anthology isn’t the only place to see Searle’s work.  Much of her work can be seen on her website, www.swinsea.com.  Searle is passionate about her site, putting in the same effort in designing it as she would her comics, saying, “I started it back when I was a new media major learning coding and web design, and I don’t know if I could ever leave it behind. It’s like I’ve built this time capsule that tracks my whole career.”

She continues to express her passion for her site: “I keep it mostly for myself, but I do see that it gets regular traffic, and I like knowing people can get a taste of my work even while I’m toiling away on books that won’t see the light of day for years to come. Plus the accessibility of webcomics has been so important to me, I try to put as much out there as possible.

As seen in the images above, both the anthology piece and the pieces posted on her website, Searle avoids extensive cross hatching and weighing her work down with unnecessary details.  

searle FreshRomance1PDF-18

Searle’s “Ruined” from Oni Press/Rosy Press’s Fresh Romance

Part of this comes from her many inspirations.  While “it changes all the time,” Searle lately has “been studying the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Jillian Tamaki in particular”, artists known for conveying much emotion and story in few lines.

As Searle herself says, “’I’m very story-focused so my art ends up on the minimalist side, and I want to learn from artists like [Miyazaki and Tamaki] who seem to really understand just how much detail is needed in a character design or environment to convey meaningful nuance.”

Reflecting on “Ladies of Lake” and her other work Searle concludes, “I’m proud of all the comics I’ve made for various reasons, but I’m also generally pretty happy to leave them in the past. I learn so much from every project I do, even the small ones. Even if I don’t feel confident about the quality of story or art anymore, I’m proud of myself from making them so I could grow into the better storyteller that I am today –– and still growing, I hope!”

Anyone interested in more of Searle’s work can follow her on Twitter and study her online portfolio while waiting for Gothic Tales to release!

 

CJ Standal is no stranger to Kickstarter, having run a successful Kickstarter for his comic Rebirth of the Gangster, for sale as a print copy or an ebook now!  Find out more about him at cjstandalproductions.com.

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