Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Invisible in San Diego

The script for HMDH #6 is with my "editors" (Todd, Suzanne and Christian) so I'm going to take some time this week to regroup and work on the Scholarship Fund brochure and some other much-neglected projects, if possible, before jumping right into issue 7.

This last script was tough because there was a lot of..."emotional content", I guess you'd call it. I'm a very non-confrontational kind of guy so that was difficult to write. I'm hoping my editors come back with mostly thumbs up. As I've often pointed out, I've rarely progressed in any of my attempts at writing beyond the first issue and those are always the easiest. Lots of set-up and character intros. Being this far into the story is new ground for me and it's exhilarating, exciting and not a little bit scary. With everything I've written leading up to what happens in the next two chapters, I find myself wondering if I've telegraphed things too much or, worse, left gaping plot holes that will leave readers disappointed. But it's fascinating for me to see the story develop. A lot changed from the time when I was just figuring out the story to where I am now. Characters have taken on a life of their own and developed away from my original intent. One character in particular, who I hadn't given much thought to, has been a lot of fun to write, just seeing where he was going, and even spawned a couple of ancillary characters that I've grown to love.

You hear writers sometimes say "the story wrote itself." Stephen King claims to rarely use an outline (THE DEAD ZONE, one of my favorites, being an exception) or even know how his story will end until he gets there. I can't really say that because my story is a little plot-heavy. Character development had to take a back-seat (Eamon, Oscar and Chris, for instance, had some scenes cut or severely shortened) to make room for stuff that had to happen. But often, I would get to scenes where I knew what I had to accomplish and roughly how many pages I had in which to do it and I just ran with it, letting the characters do their thing. It has been a real hoot.

Recently, Christian turned me onto Jason Aaron's column at ComicBookResources.com in which he details his experiences and techniques in writing. While it's all very interesting, one thing in particular stood out. He said that, when he's writing a script, he starts out by just writing out the dialogue with no description or notes for the artist. I assume that was to maintain an organic flow to the dialogue. I was finding that I was doing a lot of rewriting of dialogue because, as I was writing, I'd have to pause between "lines" to write "Panel 2: Johnny picks his nose" or some such. It would break my concentration. With this last script, one heavy in emotional scenes, I wanted to keep the dialogue flowing and as in-character as possible. So I tried Aaron's technique, knocking out each scene's dialogue first, then going back and breaking it into panels and pages. It really worked well! I reduced my rewriting to a minimum (we'll see if that's a good thing or not) and it helped me keep my page count in line. If you're writing something for fun out there, like me, I highly recommend you give that a try.


Waaaay back at the end of the 20th century (okay, about 13 years ago) I made my one and only trek out to attend the San Diego Comicon. I had just left my job of six years as Production Manager at a presentation graphics house for a horrible corporate job doing Powerpoint presentations at G.E. and felt my future was a little uncertain. Before I took the plunge and settled on a real career path, I thought I should take one last stab at becoming a comic book artist.

Suzanne was supposed to go with me but we decided it was too much of an expense as we were dirt-poor at the time. Despite the higher pay at my new job, twice nothing is still nothing. So she stayed behind. I packed a lot of snacks in my suitcase (buying meals only once per day), loaded up a ton of sample pages and caught a flight. I missed Suzanne immediately. I'm not as adventurous as she is. I would have had a much better time with her there.

The entire trip was rather uneventful. I remember some of the highlights included a panel featuring John Carpenter promoting his new film VAMPIRES (based on one of my at-the-time favorite books, VAMPIRE$). This was roughly the beginning of San Diego turning from a comic convention to a multi-media madhouse. This was also where I got my brief portfolio review from a jet-lagged and irritable Tom Breevort. He basically raked me over the coals for wasting his time. While his heart wasn't exactly in the right place, everything he pointed out, in retrospect, was true. And the truth, as they say, hurts. I guess it was the manner in which that truth was presented that ruffled my feathers. But Mike liked him a lot so I figured it was the fatigue talking. I also got to hang out briefly with a small group of really nice ILM CG artists who were playing hookie to attend the show. They ooo-ed and aah-ed over my portfolio and told me I should come visit them at ILM which made me feel like James Cameron at the Oscars. But I never saw them again.

The one ray of hope at that show was a Vertigo editor (whose name escapes me) that reviewed my portfolio. I knew, even then, that I didn't draw the "Vertigo way" but I thought a little more abuse couldn't hurt. Imagine my shock when she absolutely raved about my work. She didn't tell me, like Breevort did, that my faces were mushy (they were) or that I seemed to be having trouble settling on a realistic style versus a cartoony one (I was) or that my characters weren't on-model (they weren't.) She absolutely loved my stuff. Her only complaint was that she couldn't tell if I could draw everyday items like cars, backgrounds and so-forth. She told me I would be great for a book...had I heard of it?...called THE INVISIBLES. I had not (I wasn't buying much of anything at that point) but I assured her it was one of my favorite books. She told me to work up some sketches so she could see how I handled the characters and she'd be in touch. I don't know if there was going to be a change in artists on THE INVISIBLES or if the regular artist just needed a break. I didn't care. I just knew this was my chance.

When I got home, I was in a frenzy. I spent the next few days doing the drawings you see above, along with a page of backgrounds, buildings, cars and (inexplicably) the Statue of Liberty. I sent off copies of the work with my contact info. And waited. And I've been waiting for 13 years. Never heard back, despite several follow-up letters. Looking at them now, I don't blame her. I wouldn't have called me back either. Look at the right eye on that lady in the S&M gear. Anyway, soon after, I got my job at the ad agency where I'm working now and quickly forgot about the editor. And forgot about trying to get work in comics.

While San Diego ended up being a colossal waste of time and effort, I did get something to post on my blog today, and that's the important thing.


Josh said...

I think those drawings look great. If you're talking about the S&M woman in her civilian identity there, I think I can see what you mean about the eye. It would just need a little tweak is all though. Overall it the drawings look great.

Christian D. Leaf said...

Sheeeeet. Those character sketches are top-notch, sucka. Always too hard on yourself, 'Fus!

todd said...

while i had seen those early mafus sketches in your office/studio last week while i was there, it's cool to see them again here on the blog! they're great!

as for the distraction of writing full script, having to pause to put in the plot and descriptions for the artist, i find it much more liberating to do it marvel-style, with the plot first and then dialogue later. not only 'cause encourages the collaborative process, but because it takes me so much longer to keep switching back and forth between plot and dialogue. i use two separate brains for that--have my head in two totally different places--and it's so much smoother to simply do one and the the other. even when i have to write full script, i do it in two passes. it's so much easier.
don't over analyze! i toldja, the pacing and character development on the HMDH scripts has been beautiful and readers are gonna be in for a real treat when they get their hands on this!

Brian said...

I hear you on the "waiting to hear" brother.

Waiting to hear back from a couple of artists I talked to in NYC.