I sat in on the first two hours of the Graphic Artists Guild panel on Developing and Publishing your Graphic Novel, which took place Saturday in a Cornish classroom. Flu kept me from staying the whole five hours (!) but I enjoyed the panel immensely with its (mostly, if only virtually) grizzled veterans. I expected to hear a lot of conversation about the movement to virtual publication, but that did not come up. The movement to e-book or app format isn’t industry standard – yet. With web comics available and the legacy of collecting the physical comic maybe the need isn’t felt, though I’d sure like to download a few of these babies onto my iPad. Then again, maybe this was covered in the second half of the afternoon.
Here are the panelists with a few choice remarks (some paraphrased), beginning with one I didn’t record an attribution for:
You achieve your dream by doing it. Self-identify as what you want to be. If you want to be a cartoonist and someone meets you on the street, introduce yourself as a cartoonist. Be willing to sacrifice a lot.
Mike Grell, perhaps the most grizzled of the grizzled veterans. He of Green Lantern and Legion of Super-Heroes. He self-identifies as a storyteller, but says he is happy with “cartoonist”. He talked about coming from the days when everything was compartmentalized: writing, pencil work, coloring, lettering. Now some people do it all. He exploded the rigid hierarchy of the page for the first time, playing with the panel placement and flow and likes to have the entire space to play with.
The first panel is your visual introduction to the story. Make your intention shown visually.
Think cinematically when you are writing.
If it ain’t on the page it ain’t on the stage. Never give them an excuse to stop reading.
Balloons and their placement help to tell the story, lead the eye down through the page. Design your balloons into the work, number them as you go.
Web comics are different. You have no control about where your reader in going to come into the story. Every page has to have something that will catch interest. Target up.
Web comics are good as you get established; startup costs are fairly low, and they are the next best thing to strips because you can get feedback, judge or build the audience.
Peter Bagge, whose Nerd Apocolypse and Hate series are only the tip of his comics iceberg. Bagge (no, not baggy, ‘bag’) flew his curmudgeon flag high. Everyone talked about how you should just plan on getting screwed and enumerated the many ways you could make this happen: contracts, comics storage fees, contracts, not making your print costs, and then there were contracts. Oh, and distribution.
Figure out some way to have your work in print or some other way to work in small increments – when he started there were underground newspapers, weekly strips that let an artist build their work. Web comics or spot illustrations can be that same kind of small start. Build from there.
Anthologies: You learn things when you see your work in print next to other artists.
Leigh Kellog & Jason Janicki, the team that creates Wayfarers Moon. They had a lot to say about their collaboration and how to manage the two roles of writer and illustrator. Janecki:
Figure out what can be said per panel and per page. Once you get this format down you can get pacing and flow into the writing. Read comics you like to figure out how it’s done and how characters are introduced.
Once it’s on the page, it’s really hard to change. Convey what you want really distinctly. Ideally, work with an artist closely to get a breakdown, working with thumbs. The writer can do sketches as well.
I like to release as a series and then compile and release as a collection, to build interest and investment as opposed to creating a single graphic novel.
You usually have an A, B and C plot. You introduce these threads through the episodes.
I was struck by the universal quality of the testimony, as well as the pride and pleasure each took in their life’s work. Get your story first and be very clear about communicating it at all times and with all collaborators. Be prepared to work hard and not make a lot of money. Play well with others. Make your own luck and watch your back. Timely advice in any league.