Creating Chloe: Thoughts On A Girl’s Appearance

For those that are new to this comic, the central hero of book 1 in Adamsville is Chloe Johnson.  She’s a 12 year old basketball star. She’s popular at school and adored by the other hero of the story, Todd Frederick.  Here’s her being awesome:

page012I love her character.  She’s smart, brave, makes hard decisions and in the end she’s exactly the person she needs to be.  But one of the only things I have ever been criticized on with the art for Adamsville has been Chloe’s appearance.  Every so often I am given feedback from someone on how boyish she looks.  Or that she should be prettier.  I’ve had people tell me that if I dolled her up more I might sell more copies of the book or it would be more popular.

For a long time I took these comments to heart and would feel bad about it.  Mostly I would take it as an affront on my art and ability to draw.  I would feel like “maybe I just can’t draw a pretty girl.” And I mean, I’m just a humble artist trying to make his way in the world, what if I did maker her prettier?  Maybe I WOULD make more money. It made me feel very self conscious of myself and my character.  It’s hard to have someone call a character, you feel so fondly for, ugly  basically.

I don’t know what that means for “the success of my book” or if it “turns away readers.”  I would have no way to quantify that, but what it has done is make me think very soberly about the thing I see behind comments like this.  What I really feel when someone comments on her like this is “what kind of message are we sending our girls?”  What is going on that I should feel pressured to make Chloe a character that looks a certain way to help me sell books?

A friend of mine posted this up on Facebook and I was really touched and moved by its message. It really helped me see what this sort of message does to these beautiful young ladies and women in general:

 

This is a serious problem in general within our society.  I am a father to two young girls and they will be growing up with all sorts of insecurities about themselves and their appearances.  Every movie they see, or show they watch, and magazine on the store self screams at them THIS IS WHAT PRETTY IS!  It scares me frankly.  As I know it does many parents.

The funny thing is, I designed Chloe very specifically.  I designed her to be a bit boyish in her appearance, because she’s a tomboy!  It’s an essential part of her character. I designed her taller than Todd because she’s a basketball player, so she’s lankier and more stretched out in her design. I didn’t sit down to design her and think how I could make her the most attractive 12 year old I could think up.  I had a character that I saw very clearly in my head, and frankly the way she appears in the book is exactly how I want her to look. I tried to design a character who is a person, not some sort of strange 12 year old sex symbol.  And I think she’s very pretty the way she is, thank you very much.

All this to say…  I love Chloe Johnson and who she is as a character. After thinking on this criticism, it’s actually made me proud of  what she represents to my readers.  I love the way she looks, because to me she is a normal person…  Though fictional.  So I used to feel very self conscious about her, but now… I embrace this bit of feedback.  Because 1) it means my character design came through and 2) I’m not out to reinforce these stereotypes.  Maybe Chloe can help break some of that down.

I hope in some small part she encourages other young female readers of my book to be brave in scary situations.  To believe in something bigger than themselves.  To be themselves.  And that they’re pretty awesome, the way they look and the way they are.

Pick up your copy of book 1 today.

 

Words On Pessimism For Artists

I can get pretty pessimistic sometimes about my art and where it had taken my career wise to this point in my life.  To those closest to me, I know it comes as no shock.  But I also know that they all feel the same way… and often.  We want to be more successful, or “popular” (which in the art world, success usually correlates to this).  We want to see things change and we wonder if they ever will!  If we ever will make enough money to support our family with our work, or even just ourselves!  I sometimes look out across the expanse of job opportunities in this art world and wonder if I should quit comics altogether and pursue animation…  Surely that’s where the money and living is to be made, right? Right?

Truth is I don’t know.  I don’t know where the living is to be made in art, nor do I think it’s that simple.  I always have these very odd interactions with co-workers where they will come up to me and ask how my books are going.  I tell them about how I’m seeking out a publisher and that I don’t know if that will work out (it didn’t).  But they’d always say to me, “so when you get that book deal you’re out of here, right?”  To which I have to explain the industry to them and let them know that’s not very likely.  I always leave the conversation with just a statement that, I will treat it like any other work decision:  I will do what makes the most sense for my family.

But why keep going then?  And to be frank I don’t really want to write a post about never giving up, and believing in your dreams.  We all know those things.  We hear them like a mantra and they are very true things to be sure.  But that doesn’t always lift your spirit when you’re wishing things were going in a different direction.  Instead I want to talk about seeing past your situation and what you can take with you to feel more optimistic about things.

First I think we need to stop thinking so much about the future.  I’m not saying don’t think about your goals.  I’m saying, have a goal and go after that goal with all of your intensity.  Really pursue it.  Not halfheartedly.  My goal is to make graphic novels that are read and enjoyed by a mass of people.  Well the first step I have is to focus on making books worthy of that!  So I have to make books and be intense about them!  I can’t predict what opportunities will come my way.  In fact when I think about it and the likelihood of it panning out the way I have hoped since I was a kid, I get pessimistic.  But that does me no good.  None whatsoever.  All that helps is to pick myself up and go after this book with everything I had.  As a general rule, you earn the opportunities you are given.  So go earn them!  When you focus on what you CAN do, the future, which is always more scary,  can just take care of itself.

Second, realize you’re already doing the thing your aspiring towards.  I give credit to my friend Josh Ulrich on this one.  We were having a discussion about art and careers.  I said something to the effect of, “man I’m most interested in just making these comics!”  He then reminded me that I’m already doing that!  No one is taking it away from me.  I didn’t need to have it be a full time job to make it a reality.  It is a reality because I went and made it.  How empowering is that?!  There’s not a lot of room for moaning about things, when I’m already doing the very thing I’m aspiring towards.  It just needs to be owned, and really embraced by me to have the pessimism go away.  I’m doing the thing I would always do even if no one was paying me to do it…  And consequently no one isl, lol.  BUT maybe that changes!  Who knows?   What I do know is, there’s reason to be excited, because there’s work to be done that I can do.  And if I can do it with all my might and get better… the future is anyone’s guess.  But that can take care of itself.

Jackie Rose

One of my closest friends and brother in arms, Josh Ulrich has launched his graphic novel, Jackie Rose, online today!  Josh and I have spent the last two years working away on our books in private, waiting for the day we finished to share them with the world.  It’s a mantra we’ve adopted; Finish The Book.  Well now you guys get to see the fruit of that labor and Josh has made an excellent book.  Everyone swing by and get ready for adventure with Jackie Rose: The Treasure of Captain Read!

Finish The Book – How I Finished A Graphic Novel In A Year And Half…

While working a full time job, having a marriage and being a parent…  Basically LIVING LIFE!

So last year I finished up work on my what is my second full length graphic novel, ADAMSVILLE: THE UNKNOWNS.  I began the process of working on it in July 2011 and finished December 2012.  It was 155 pages long, fully colored and by the time I was done, I was exhausted! Lol.  I’ve spent the last five months searching for a publishing home for the project and I’m busy writing it’s sequels.  But what I hoped I would share with everyone, is how I did it.  I’m finding that a lot of people are amazed I was able to pull it off with so much other stuff going on and I figured explaining it might be of use to someone out there.

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1.) Preparation –

When I started this project, I actually abandoned all webcomic models for how to make a book, favoring instead to treat my book as if a publisher were paying me an advance and asking to me to make a book and turn it in complete.  So I spent a lot time reading how other artists did this.

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I basically said, I want to know how the most successful people in this field make their books and then work within that frame work.  Kazu Kibuishi’s blog has a great archive of blog posts about his process on Amulet book 1 and I highly recommend this for an inside look at how that amazing series is made.  Doug TenNapel is another artist I have mentioned often and several of the videos he’s made are very helpful too.  Like this one:

Once I had done some research, I felt the best thing for me to do was:

2.) Write The Entire Script-

All artists have their own process for getting a story done and some do very well in writing it as they go.  That said, that’s very tough and to expect as a new creator to handle this well is sort of difficult.  Those who have done it well, have been doing it for a long time.  So I decided, I would write my entire book and do my very best to have as solid a story as possible.  As I would later find, I had more rewriting to do, but in the end it came through as an advantage.  It took me about a month and a half to get this book written and rewritten.  In all fairness, I had written previous drafts of the book that gave me a solid foundation to begin from.  I write my books in screenplay format, using the free program Celtx.

3.) Plan Your Work Load –

The next step was to go through my entire script and get a sense for how long it would be by doing early thumbnail break downs.  I actually follow just about the same exact process as Doug TenNapel does in the video above, taking my script and breaking the written page down into panels and page breaks.  What this allowed me to do, was before I had even started penciling of thumbnailing a page, I had a good sense of how long the book was going to be. At that time it was 138 pages.  This was going into August 2011, and I was two months into the process.

Once I had everything broken down into pages I could start setting a deadline and workload for myself.  Now, since I wasn’t making my book online, I wasn’t interested in maintaining a update schedule, as much as I was maintaining a production schedule.  To accomplish this I began a pretty crude process of breaking my work load down into steps and then determining how many steps I had to accomplish per day to meet a deadline.  A single page would have 5 steps for me (thumbnails, pencils, inks, color flats and colors/letter).  Eventually I created a spreadsheet based on some awesome stuff Kazu shared in his Making Comics interview with Jason Brubaker.  Once you input the data into the spreadsheet, it gave me a workflow that, if I maintained, I could use to stay on track.  My initial goal was be done by September 2012.

The long and short of it is, know what your workload is, set a deadline and plan accordingly.

If you are interested in how I actually worked through a page, here is a post on that subject.

4.) Use Your Time Wisely… And You Will Never Sleep

A big chunk of my day, around 9 hours worth, is spent at an office job.  I don’t work in the art field at all, but I wasn’t going to let that slow me down.  I brought my comic work to work with me.  There are certain parts of my process I have intentionally left away from the computer so that it can travel with me and I would make use of my breaks, lunches and any other appropriate down time to work on my book.  So rather surf the web, I would try and do something that got me closer to a goal I had set for myself.  You have a lot more free time than you think, you just aren’t looking for it. I wrote, thumbnailed and penciled nearly my entire book just in those blocks of time alone.

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Where it really grinded though was at night.  I have a wife and kids and they always come first, so I made a decision early on to work late into the night once they went to bed, as much as I could. I wanted my early evening hours to be spent with them.  There were many many a late nights and some can’t handle the level of sleep I was able to get by on, but even an hour or two a night after work, will make a serious dent in your production.  Again, the time is there, you just have to use it.  Brew a cup of coffee and get to it.  Coffee powered me through many a late night.  Thank you, Kureg and awesome coffee creamer.

All of that said about late nights, look after your health.  Know when your body is telling you, you need a break.

5.) Help From Your Friends-

This book couldn’t have been finished as quickly as I did without some amazing help my friends and fellow creators.  When I was marching in on the final third of the book I put out a simple request to see if anyone was interested in helping me do the color flats on my book and was amazed when I got such a generous response. In short, don’t be afraid to ask.  People will help for all manner of reasons and if you treat them well they’ll be happy to keep helping you.  This again was a principle I learned from working on Kazu’s Amulet series.  He put out a simple request asking for help, and my enthusiasm lead me to work on three volumes of the book…  It was a great learning experience.

6.) Have  A Support Group-
I owe a lot to my amazing comics friends.  I have an amazingly talented group of friends I’ve made online and in real life and we would often go late into the night together as we worked on our projects.  Skype and Google Hangouts allowed us to conference call with each other and screen share.. generally allowing us to work TOGETHER on our deadlines and projects.  Having their encouragement, kept me going more than the coffee did, almost every night.

Lastly, my wife, Viviane has given me the most support in this venture.  She sacrificed many a night with me to support my dream of making this book and often gave me a swift kick in the pants when I wanted to be lazy and not work.  A supportive significant other,if you have one, goes a long, long way.

I hope this was helpful to some of you out there.  There is a lot more to be said and I have said it throughout the year of process posts I have done chronicling my adventure towards finishing this book.  Right now I am still awaiting final answers from a couple publishers regarding my book and I will have a lot more to say on that process once I’ve finished going through it!

Take care and as my friend Will Terrell says: Keep Smiling!

The Longest Road and the Slowest Typewriter

One of my favorite things is to read about the production experiences of making comics from other friends and colleagues in the comics game.  Admittedly I am huge special features junky.  I watch the making of features on the Lord of the Rings trilogy far more than I do the movies.  It gives me that inside look at what people who create these stories do and how to approach them myself.  For comics these special features usually come in the form of blogs and podcasts.  Much of the time as well, comics creators don’t talk a lot about the work they are doing.  There are a few notable exceptions, but my favorite is the old blog Kazu Kibuishi kept while making the first volume of Amulet.  I think he did a great job of just really distilling the frustration, fun and exhaustion creating a graphic novel can be.  I actually think it may have been the best mental preparation for making this book I have had.

I’m in the middle of doing my final edits on Adamsville Book 1 and quite frankly, I am ready to be past this book.  Especially since book 2 is really starting to form in my mind and I am anxious to turn to writing it.  But Kazu did a great post about revising and what happens in comics… He called it “THE SLOWEST TYPEWRITER”  I thought I would share a bit from it:

As a reader of graphic novels, it always bugs me that most long form comics read like they are the first draft of the material, when in fact they often are. And for good reason. As a creator of graphic novels, I am exhausted by my selfish reader tendencies by having to redraw page after page to smooth out the reading experience. I can see why, over the years, creators often compromised their stories under the pressures of deadlines and satiating the public’s thirst for the material. For the large amounts of time and energy a creator must spend to create the work, the reader only gets a small handful of information to chew on. Sometimes, working out the details are not an option.

This is the pickle that the readers and creators of comics seem to always find themselves in. Readers are very forgiving of the story elements in a comic book. This is unlike other media, like films or novels, where audiences often criticize stories with sharpened talons, and only the very best and most appealing works make their way through the gauntlet. Is it because comics readers understand how difficult the process is and are simply happy to have reading material? Or is it simply that we have low expectations of the medium, as opposed to extremely high ones for films and novels?

                                          Illustration by Stephen McCranie

I remember reading this post years ago and it often comes up in my mind.  See when I was making my webcomics, I really depised the immediate nature of it.  It had it’s benefits, like immediate feedback and a means to share and grow an audience.  But I always disliked that I felt I truly was giving my audience the first draft of my material.  However niave it may be I have always seen and wanted to approach my books like a film or a novel.  I’ve wanted to give people the most authentic and complete experience I could at the time in my creative life.  So when I finished the first pass at Adamsville, and finally let some small section of the world read what I had made, getting the feedback that it needed work went to my heart.  Not because I was hurt in my pride or anything, but because I knew I was at a moment when I could just pick my ball up and go home… Or I could do the professional thing and make a better book.  No matter how much that meant revisiting material I was emotionally ready to move on from. 

I may not be there yet, but I want to be a great graphic novelist.  Like in my bones want it.  And I don’t mean in the flocks of fans, people standing in line forever sort of way (though that’s not terrible either).  I mean in the way that I repsect the craft and want give it the attention it deserves.  I want it to be as profound an experience to people as movies and novels can be.  Settling for shotty, misfired execution of my story is simply not gonna cut it.

It may make the process take much longer than I would like, but I hope the love comes through when people read it, close it and think… “man that was good stuff.  When does the next one come out?!?”

I am wrapping my edits all up this week and I think I can honestly say I’ve made the best book I could right now.  I hope that others will enjoy it.  I do often get a pit in my stomach wondering about it.  It’s going to be a fun new year as it finally leaves my small office space and enters the bigger world to see where it goes. 

Then the typewriter will start all over again….

Here’s a page I shared on my Twitter account if you haven’t seen it.  I showed it off already in black and white form, but here it is in color.

Adamsville Book 1 Is Complete!

Last evening I finished coloring and lettering the final page of book 1 in the Adamsville series! It was a really nice moment as I was up chatting with a few cartoonist friends and my wife was in the room with me and we all got to celebrate together. What a journey it has been. I am super grateful for all of the encouragement, and congratulations and cheerings on and dealing with me being a sentimental sap along the way to this point. Thank you everyone who has gone on this with me. It’s been a unique experiment to try and make a book completely away from the eyes of the open public when today’s default is make a comic and share it with people immediately.

When I started this project I had a few things I wanted to see happen.

1) I wanted to make this book my way.

This may seem like an odd statement, but when you are making a webcomic, as I have over the last five years or so, you get pressured by your readership to do a lot of things that are fun, in some ways helpful, but for me were distracting.  I wanted to make a book in private and have it finished before I shared it with everyone.  I wanted to have no pressure on what my work flow was or what needed to happen and when.  I felt this would maximize my productivity.  That was goal number one.  And that’s what I did.

2) I wanted to finish it in a year

This more or less happened.  I started rewriting this book in June of 2011 and started penciling and inking pages in July.  I also had to take about two months off to stay focused on a few licenses I needed for the full time job.  But all in all I finished in about 14 months.  That I can not even believe.  I will be honest.  It was difficult, time consuming, exhausting and awesome.  Not everyone can do this. But I highly recommend you try to within the confines of maintaining your life and responsibilities.  Sarifices have to be made to do.  For me it was sleep.  I miss it and I plan to enjoy it for a short period before book 2 gets under way in about a month.  

I owe a tremendous thank you to my color flatting help in Kev Brett, Nick Perkins, Van Roberts and James Greene.  You guys saved this book from being something that would have just been way more labored.  You kept me able to stay focused and let the train keep on rolling.  I can’t thank you all enough.  Truly.

3) I wanted to give this book its best chance

This may sound strange, but I wanted to give this book it’s best chance to succeed by finishing it first, making it absolutely the best book I think I could have made and then letting the world do with it what it pleases.  My first goal though is make a book that’s hard  for it not to find an audience.

I had a set of goals when I started, and I have no idea what the future will be for it or me as a result of it, but what I can be excited about is I accomplished my goals and I take joy in what I consider a job well done.

This book is what I wanted it to be.  I think it’s fantastic and the kid in me (and adult) would have fought someone to get this book off the shelf. (OK I wouldn’t really fight someone…  no fighting over my book kids)

A lot is still set to happen.  I have a round of edits I want to do on it to make sure it’s the best possible read I can give people.  After that begins the hunt for an agent and publisher.  The plan at this point is to spend the next few months doing that.  Hopefully it will find the right publishing home.  If it does not I will then start building the comic as a web comic and will look to self-publish.  All of this will take time. The publishing industry is a slow business.  The best thing to do is just pick up book 2 and get to work on it while all of this shakes out. But if you want to follow along with that journey, please continue coming here as I will look to share my experiences with others about all of this. Hopefully it will be helpful for others as well!

Grinding Down To Finish (How The End Feels The Longest)

I now have two and half weeks of work and 22 pages left to finish coloring until book 1 is complete in the Adamsville series.  For whatever reason the last month of work or so has felt like the LONGEST!  Probably just being sleepy, but one of the things with making graphic novels, as opposed to comic books or webcomics, is that the project has no real victory dance until the book is done.  These build up of little victories that can come from putting your material out on a continual basis gives you a sense of completion a bit more regualrly. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, though I hear it’s mostly bad:

 

It starts to feel like this never ending journey to the end… I mean I’m weeks away and I should feel exhilarated and ready to attack ths sucker in the face, but I feel… whooped! Is this a normal thing?  I’m not sure.  My instincts told me I would have been extra energized, and I’m excited, but it just seems an odd phenomena.  Interested if others have felt the same at the end of a long project.

On other news, I am ridiculously close to the end of production. I am coloring approx. 1.6 pages a day to be done by 09/28.  Along the way I am working my way through some adjustments.  I did some redraws of faces in the early pages and have a about thirty more pages to get through some of that and then fixing the colors.  I also came to a pretty bad realization in the final sequence that Chloe’s jacket has to change from green to something different as her jacket was blending in completely with the monster’s skin tone.  So I did a fix:

I am actually pretty happy with the different color. Helps her stand out in general which is good sense she is the main focus of book 1. Downside to this is I have about half the book to go through and fix because of it. I thought I was going to be able to put these late pages behind me faster.

Good thing is that I couldn’t be more pleased with the book right now.  I have started filtering through agent names and  all for pitching the book very soon.  Hopefully the end of this year will yield some great news about the book and it’s publishing future.  So hang tight!

Tropical Storm Beryl & Reworking An Ending

This weekend gave us some fun here in Jacksonville as Tropical Storm Beryl barrelled in to our coast and gave us a good deal of rain, power outages and wind.  Where I live things were thankfully uneventful, but it was pretty crazy throughout town.  At one point I did wake up in the middle of the night to hear just an insane gusting of wind.  Thankfully I had some big tree branches cut down last year that posed some problems with the house, so I was able to sleep easier.

With all of the rain, and potential power outages, I had the computer turned off and decided to spend some time reworking the ending of the book. I know that the final moment in Adamsville in which everything comes to a head really needs to matter.  It needs to be a moment where you stop and say. “that was great!”   It needs to feel like it was worth it.  I literally feel like if this moment doesn’t work, the book is a failure as a story.  No pressure, right?

 The interesting thing with it is that it’s been more of a process of redoing the layouts for this scene than actual rewrites.  So I have been rewriting on paper rather than in my software.

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It’s pretty cool how many ways we can make comics and how there really is no right way. This process of rewriting with thumbnails is interesting because in an anction sequence or something that really hinges on the visual, you can control the overall flow better. In the end I feel really good that the final moment of the book will sing the way I hope it will. Here’s hoping you all agree!

The only bad thing, if it’s bad at all, is that the process of rewriting has added about 9 pages to the over all product, effectively adding about half a month of work to my process of finishing this book. I’m still working hard to be done by September so I can pursue all of the publication options, but the goal is a great book first and foremost so we’ll see how things go.

Thanks for coming by and reading. See you all next time.