Marc Alan Fishman: Make Your Comic Book Happen!
It would seem my last few posts have been quite popular, and as such, I figured this whole be transparent thing served me well. Stands to reckon that I oughta continue whacking the cash piñata while it’s raining likes, retweets, comments, and the whatnot.
If you’re thinking of jumping into the deep end to make your own independent comics, the process is several columns long, kiddo, so consider this the prequel to the finale that was last week. Step one in making a comic could be a litany of sundry topics. I could talk about choosing your audience, or ascertaining your skill level, or learning how to collaborate. But the former is more about the sale (which we’ve already covered), the latter is far more personal in regards to your own level of humility and your need for control. I’d like to focus today on Unshaven Comics’ writing process – how we get from concept to actual words on the page – served up to you in bite-sized content chunks in a rich snarky gravy. Eat up.
Notes, notes, notes. Then more notes.
Beyond the initial spark of an idea we choose to explore, Unshaven Comics likes to begin our stories by simply spit-balling our way through every loose idea jangling around our collected beardspace, in regards to said comic. A blank document is opened (typically on Google Drive because being able to work and share a live document in the cloud makes for easy workflow… #synergy). And then the ideas just start spurting out. Matt might chime in how we need to focus on the armor and weaponry. Kyle will jump on the history and backstory that exists for the characters. I myself tend to ask the big picture questions: “What are we really trying to accomplish in this story that hasn’t been done before?”
My personal take before I start a comic is typically more business-minded. Call it the Jewish stereotype living well inside me, but I love being able to build a product I have sincere passion for as a fan and be able to eventually turn a profit from it. You can clearly see why Unshaven Comics works well as a unit: we each play to our strengths, and play off one another. That doesn’t sound dirty, does it?
So, we brain-vomit out all our fleeting thoughts into a working document, and then like a good grilled brisket, we let it rest.
Beat it. Beat it. Don’t you let me repeat it.
After a bit of time to stew in the ether of our privately shared note-pile, the next step in creating our comic is to hash out the main story beats we’re set to cover in the issue. These are the main ideas – scenes, really – we need to cover to get us from start to finish across the 36 or so pages. And for those playing at home, this is actually two blocks of 18 pages, one set for me, one set for Kyle and Matt. We start at the opening of our book and talk our way through the issue. As opposed to the note stage, here we consider the three-act structure, rising action, and all those loose ends needed to be tied together before we roll the credits. This stage is often rife with digressions that could last minutes, hours, or even days. Matt will think of a cool action beat we need to reach – and I’ll inherently feel the need to one up him – before we both realize we’ve created an impossibly cool moment that equally excites us to share with the fans, and instill pure terror in us because now we have to draw it. For what it’s worth, when we hit that stage, I’ve always known it to the sign that we’re ready to move forward.
Outlines in the sand.
So, let us say for Curse of the Dreadnuts 3 (coming soon to a comic con near you!), I have a story beat that calls for Sora, the Purple Samurnaut, to activate his hidden power of teleportation portal creation. It’s then my duty to figure out within my given set of pages (18) how long I need to draw the moment out.
I can’t recommend the books by Scott McCloud enough. As Mr. McCloud would instruct, the amount of time in a comic page, or even between one panel and the next, is entirely fluid in the writer’s hands. I could make the story beat itself seven pages long – exploring the creation of the first portal, the journey through it, shots of Sora’s facial expressions (paired with angsty caption boxes, oh my!), and maybe even a flashback to his youth to bring together a larger theme. I could just as easily make it half a page – blip, port, blip, crash, and scene. The key here is the outlining of the comic itself.
It’s typically here that I personally like to look over all the beats I need to cover in my given set of pages, divide evenly to start, and then start fiddling scene to scene. I give more time to beats that need more exploration, and I constrict lesser scenes to the necessary plot points I need to hit. In my example above, since this was the first time Sora would activate this latent ability, I’d felt a need to draw the sequence out; 4 pages from start to finish. And to ensure I was doing more than the expected, I introduce the second major beat of the issue, interspersed throughout the sequence. In lay-mans terms? I used the comic format to my advantage – using the digression of one scene to eat time away from the other, thus increasing the tension as Sora hurtles untethered towards his demise.
Sage Advice I Was Once Given
“If your character is going to go outside to get the mail, and all you do is show him opening the door, walking to the mailbox, pulling out the mail, and walking back inside… you’re wasting my time as a reader. Every panel is an opportunity to show someone something – even the mundane – in a new and interesting way.”
But I digress.
The outline for Unshaven Comics is the lynchpin by which our books are created. From a simple listing of scenes with their appropriate page counts, we’re able to see a birds-eye view of our comic before pencil ever hits the paper. And when that outline can be tweaked no more? We write out panel to panel what needs to be shown in order to communicate the scene and beat in question. After all these initial thoughts and scribblings are captured? Well, then it’s on to step two, kiddos. Stay tuned.
Next week: Dr. Photoshoot, or How I learned to stop caring what someone more talented than I can do, and love my models instead.