Saturday, March 31, 2012

Editing Comic Scripts

Sean Cloran asks: 

How have you determined what to trim, remove or leave out a comic script? That is a kooky question, but comic book scripts to me have to have a certain balance since in most cases the script has to go another creative person to make a finished product. 
For example, One could write a scene where a character looks for his car keys for 20 panels and maybe create a certain visual pacing but it would probably be better just to have the character on panel one say, "Sorry, I'm late I had trouble finding my car keys." and move on with the story.
Can you recall any specific stories where you had to "kill your darlings" for telling a better story?

After writing comic books for so long it's generally pretty easy for me to just go ahead and write a story for a specific length. I don't generally outline beyond knowing what the character arc is going to be (or what aspect of the character I want to highlight with the story) and general things like what the basic plot will be, what needs to be said and by whom, what props, or seeds for a future story need to be planted, and what ideas need to be introduced. That's usually enough to get me through an issue of a comic book. Having said that, with a comic book story set at 22 pages in length I'll often finish with 20 pages (which is no problem to fill out) or 24 pages, which means something has to go. 

The decision of what to cut usually comes down to anything that isn't entirely necessary for telling the story. That seems pretty obvious, but with my work, I usually put the characters first and plot serves as a supporting function to develop the characters, whether that's something long term like Xombi, or even a 2-issue Batman story. If you read anything of mine, there are lots of bits of character interaction and conversation that don't necessarily move the story forward but instead serve to define the characters and their relationships with one another making their actions in regards to the plot itself truer and more complex. 

Generally, if it's an action oriented comic book, I will cut out some of the action. My feeling is that with over 75 years of super hero comics behind us, everyone reading them has seen two people in garish outfits hitting each other frequently enough that they can fill in the blanks and get the sense that a hefty battle is being waged even if I cut out a page of someone getting beaten with a parking meter or having a bus thrown at them. This seems like something easier to do away with and without the same impact that cutting a scene that strengthens the bond between two characters through their interaction over dinner. 

If I do end up choosing to cut character bits, I'll do so based on how much impact it has on the story itself. Often times, it's material that I can move forward to another issue, or figure out another way to convey in less space. With the recent Xombi series, I ended up doing a pretty broad, yet complete plot outline simply for the purposes of approval with a new series. Each issue was condensed to a few sentences, with longer explanations for character arcs and thematic undercurrents. This outline was for a series which was made up of 22 page issues. After issue #1, the page count of DCs titles dropped to 20 pages, which doesn't seem like much, but over the course of issues #2-#6 that amounted to ten whole pages of material that had to go, which is why issue #3 seemed a bit caption heavy. Some scenes I wanted to include and decided to cut were things I was really looking forward to including, but if they didn't serve the story they had to go. Most of these things were character bits, interactions between the characters. The story works fine with out them, and may, or may not have been richer if they were there. 

In terms of killing my children, that happens all of the time. When it was decided that Midnight, Mass. was going to be cut off with issue #8, instead of being an ongoing series, I'd already written past issue #9, but had to go back and try and pull out anything extraneous that hadn't already been drawn, and throw out all of issue #8 and try and turn everything into something that felt like it came to something like a satisfying conclusion. 

For the second Midnight, Mass. series, the scene that the entire storyline grew out of ended up being cut. I really loved it. I thought it was very funny and incredibly horrible at the same time and highlighted the dichotomy of monsters I was building in Midnight, Mass. by portraying them as well rounded people, not so different from us, but also very different and truly monsters. I just didn't have the space, and as much as I wanted to keep it in, in the end it was really enhancement and not necessary to moving the story forward. I also had planned to kill Arturo off at the end of issue #1, but he ended up being incredibly important to the story. 

The pacing issues that you bring up with the example of the keys brings to mind two things. When I write a comic book script I break it down panel by panel, with how many panels will be in a page, what will be in them, and what will be said, so that the artist knows how much space is needed for balloons, pacing, etc. I ALWAYS give them the right to mess with that. If they can condense four panels into two, or want to add panels, or reconfigure them, so long as the story's flow works, and that dialogue is paced properly, I'm good with that. Guy Davis did some extraordinary things with adding panels to cross cut the action in the never published Xombi Hanukkah Special that really enhanced the tension and danger of the climax. Likewise, Frazer Irving did amazing things with condensing entire scenes into single panels that really conveyed the passing of time and a character moving through space in a new and exciting way that was nothing I scripted. 

The pacing with the keys, as you point out, can be done a number of different ways depending on what you are trying to get across. If you just want someone unlocking a door, use one panel. If you are trying to show that they are absent minded, clumsy, or are new to a home, by still not knowing which key unlocks the front door, use several. When I wrote The X-Files comic book, the producers of the show wanted it to replicate the show as closely as possible, which meant no narrative captions. I ended up meeting with them, and pointing out that the tv series had the benefit of music, sound effects, and editing which controlled how long the viewer was able to look at something on screen, which were not tools available in comics. On tv, if someone picks a lock, it takes a few seconds. In comics, showing someone picking a lock in the same manner can use up half a page, but if I can use  a caption that says "Mulder picks the lock on the door" I don't even need to show it at all if I don't want to. This really helped us use the strengths inherent to the comic book medium to improve the comic book series, and led to a great deal of trust between the folks at tenthirteen productions and myself with regards to the material.

I hope all this rambling helps answer your question. I've got an old question of your to answer tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Secret Origin Revealed

For those of you who don't know the story of how I broke into comics, Brian Cronin retells the tale over at Comic Book Resources. I can confirm that the proposal of mine in question never did end up seeing print, though it was well received. It was for a Union Jack miniseries or one-shot (I don't recall exactly) , and the combination of what was viewed as an unknown quantity in terms of character popularity and the fact that I'd not yet proved that I could actually write anything hampered its chances of being published at the time. Instead I was assigned to come up with a bunch of humorous filler for various issues of "What If...?" Brian also cruelly shares some of these pieces in his article.

There's also much more interesting material about the Watchmen and an unbelievable yet true tale about one figure in the Australian comic book industry which is pretty stunning.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

From The Archives 15

It's been a while since I've put up a "From the Archives" post. This one comes from the dawn of time and is something of a super geeky origin story as well. Below is one of the first professional bits of writing I ever did -- professional in the sense that I received money for something I wrote.

The piece comes from the January 1980 issue of Boy's Life magazine, the magazine for Boy Scouts of America, of which I was one. This issue came out when I was in Junior High School and all of thirteen years old. It was a tiny tidbit that was part of the monthly "Stamps and Coins" column. I actually wrote a number of these which saw print, and am not sure if this is actually the first one I contributed. It's the only one I could find though.

Yes, it was an unassuming, humble beginning, but I applaud the editors for encouraging kids to research and submit these little entries by paying them for the work. It was the first money I'd earned that didn't involve yard work or washing dishes, and while $5.00 doesn't seem like a lot now, back then I could buy two books or a record for that money.

So, without further ado, here's my contribution to the January 1980 "Stamps and Coins" for Boy's Life.

I like to think I've improved since then.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Good Things For Xombi

This has been a busy month or so for me, and I'm a bit behind on posting some news here. Among them are a few things that may be of interest to Xombi fans, and for people who haven't taken the plunge and picked up a copy to read for themselves.

First up, the Xombi trade paperback was chosen by Comics Alliance as one of the best covers for February. The cover (shown above), which replicates the cover to the first issue of the series was rendered by series artist, Frazer Irving and not Brendan McCarthy as it is attributed at comics Alliance. Brendan McCarthy created an alternate cover to issue #1 which can be seen here.

Second, Xombi was chosen by YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association as one of the 2013 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Nominations. I don't know much more than that, or why it's 2013 and not 2012, but it's from the ALA, so it's cool anyway.

Similarly, for what it's worth, Xombi was chosen by as a Best Book of the Month Selection.

Finally, this I have mentioned before, but Xombi is also nominated for a 2012 Rondo Hatton Award honoring classic horror under the Best Comic Book Series. Anyone can vote in the Rondo's. If you have a love of classic horror, then you should vote, even if you're not knowledgeable of all of the categories. You should certainly vote for best comic book series though.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Interview at Facets of Creativity

W.L. Sherrod has conducted a short interview with me in which he asks questions regarding Xombi, Midnight, Mass.,  and mainly about my cut paper collage work. You can find the interview at his blog, Facets of Creativity.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Is This Thing On?" 2 at Gallery 1988 - Video

Here's a link  to a video for the current "Is This Thing On?" 2 show at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles. My Bill Cosby piece can be seen at the 3:07 mark in the middle right of the screen.

You can see all of the art here including work by my talented friends, Belle Dee and Kirk Demarais.

Friday, March 09, 2012

"Is This Thing On?" 2 at Gallery 1988

Here's the cut paper collage portrait of Bill Cosby that I did for the "Is This Thing On?" 2 show at Gallery 1988 Melrose in Los Angeles which opens tonight. The show runs March 9 - March 31, 2012. The opening from 7-10 PM will be hosted by "Weird Al" Yankovic. If you live in Los Angeles this is where it's at tonight.

If anyone attends I'd like to see some photos.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Ask Me Anything #18

It's time once again for "Ask Me Anything." This feature runs on the first Monday of every month and gives you the opportunity to ask me anything you might be wondering about me, my work, or anything else i might have a possible answer for. 

Head down to the comment section and post your question. I'll either post my answer in the comment section as well, or answer it in a special post all its own sometime later in the month.

Please take the time to view the previous questions so that we don't wind up with a lot of repetition. I've been asked a lot of good, thought provoking questions in the past as well as some really banal ones. all of which I tried to answer. You can see the previous questions by visiting Ask Me Anything  #1#2 ,  #3#4#5#6 , #7 , #8#9,  #10,  #11,  #12 , #13#14,  #15 , #16, and #17.  Answers not found following the questions can be found in the archives section for each associated month.

Now ask away.