Time to check in with my progress against the goals I set in October last year.


On October 7th 2016 I wrote about creating a graphic novel in a year, and drawing about 90 pages by October 7th 2017. Clearly, I’m not going to do that. With two months left to go, I’ve produced a twenty-eight page comic, and completed the art and lettering on another seven pages of sequential artwork. Thirty five pages in all. I’ve also done ten or so pages of character designs.

I’m not going to beat myself up to badly for failing to hit that goal. It was always a motivational target. At the back of my mind I knew that if my aim was high I would end up with enough material to make a good comic by August, which was the principal aim.

There are a few reasons why it didn’t happen. When I set the goal I had absolutely no idea how much academic work was involved in doing a master’s degree. I was over optimistic in my estimate of how many days I’d be able to spend each week writing and drawing the graphic novel. With all the reading, thinking, research, journal writing, lectures, conferences, papers and so on, most of my free time each week was spent on academic work. It was only in the final term, the last couple of months, that I could focus on the comic itself. I didn’t mind this, as the other surprise was discovering just much I adore academic work is.

I’d also naively assumed I’d be able to get some kind of living grant to finance these studies, but this was not possible. I’m not complaining, I just had no idea how it worked. As a result, I spent a lot more time earning money in terms one and two than I’d planned. Happily, this was creative work, much of it in comics, but it still used up a large chunk of time which I had earmarked for creating this graphic novel.

I’d also planned on churning out pages in a ruthlessly efficient way about half way through the year, tippung the scales toward quantity over quality. Which I started to do. These pages were fine, comparable in quality to many popular graphic novels. But I soon decided it was not approrpiate for such a personal project. I prefer to bring some special magic to each page, some kind of innovative approach or structure. This takes a little more time and thought, maybe two days a page instead of one. But it makes me happy, and I feel the quality of the final comic is worth it.

Publishing and Crowdfunding

I’ve not yet tried to get this published, but I’m nearly at the stage when I can start to approach publishers. I need to write a short synopsis and a brief introduction or covering letter. Then I can make inquiries via my agent, or e-mail, or at conferences or conventions. There are a couple of editors who’ve  already expressed an interest in looking at my next project, so I just need to make sure everything is as I want it to be. I’m nearly there.

I’m also interested in crowdfunding via Kickstarter which I’ve never tried. Retain all the rights, while remaining in creative control, is an attractive scenario. I’ve been reading Greg Pak’s book on Kickstarter campaigns, which is full of practical tips. Raising the money and creating the rewards takes time, but it seems viable. I’m going to dip my toe into the crowdfunding waters with another project next month, a humour title called Monty and Zuzu. If all goes well, I’ll apply whatever I learn from that to this project.

Defining and exploiting emotional, physical and intellectual responses to comic book storytelling, as opposed to pure prose storytelling.

This has been a really fascinating area to explore. Take for example, evoking the atmosphere of a forest, which I discuss in more detail under the colouring section of the previous post. Initially, in the script, I conjured this through words. These words, over time, evoke the relaxed, rugged beauty of nature. But you can create a similar mood in the reader, through single images. I deliberately slowed the story down at this point, conveying a sense of space with three widescreen panels focussed on a close up of swaying grass and a butterfly. I continued this approach with a couple of large images of the forest and further close ups of knotty trees, mossy rocks, and so on.  A twelve panel grid fills the page with an overhead shot of a path winding through a forest. Having established this sense of time and place, it’s simple enough to continue to evoke it in the backgrounds of the subsequent panels. It deliberately constrasts with the more claustrophic approach to the suburban scenes.

I experimented with combining the initial prose passage with the imagery, but it seemed somewhat redundant. The artwork acts quicker, with greater power. It’s better to use some natural sounding dialogue to work more subtly with the images in creating the desired effect.

ii) Exploring the primacy of text (verbal elements), or otherwise, in the comprehension of popular comics.

This has been a rich mine of creativity. There’s no doubt that much of the meaning and narrative of this comic would be retained if the artwork was removed, leaving only the words. But many of the comics most powerful moments, and deeper resonances, are entirely wordless: the silent two page prologue (p1,2), and epilogue (p25,26), the butterfly in the forest page (p13), the heady thrill of nostalgia locked up in that climactic kiss (p23); the visual juxtapositions between war and ordinary life on p16  This, to me, is a good balance. A great comic utilises the full spectrum of verbal and visual possibility. The only major change I’d make in this regard would be to remove a few of the word balloons on page 9. which seem uneccessarily verbose. My intention was to use these smaller panels to create a larger picture, four abreast, with text in each. It works fine, but I think on reflection I’d prefer a more spacious approach at this point in the story.

iii) Manipulating typography to exploit the blurred area between the visual and verbal qualities of lettering.

I found less to intrigue me here. Other ideas seemed more exciting as my studies developed. Because I use Illustrator to letter, there’s still something a slightly clunky about the interplay between word and image in my comics. It’s more fluid than many comics, but ultimately I don’t think I’ll be able to exploit this aspect of comics to it’s fullest until I hand letter all my work. And I’m not quite up to that, just yet.

iv) The effect of writing directly onto the comic page in comics font, using text and image as appropriate, avoiding panel descriptions of any kind.

For me, this worked well. My process has become very settled. Each scene begins by laying out the dialogue and narration. As i do so, I tweak it, generally by cutting extraneous phrases or sentences from the script. Once it’s laid out across the page, certain panel arrangements suggest themselves by the rhythm of language or narrative. I draw the borders around these and see how it feels. I try a few different arrangements. It’s easy to imagine what the artwork will be, at this point. Once I’m happy with a layout, I start sketching the artwork into each panel around the word balloons. I always draw the panel fully, because I like to retain the freedom to delete text or change it’s position slightly.

One advantage of writing directly onto the comic page in a comics font is that the story  exists on the page before an image is drawn. You can literally see it working, unambiguously, as your eyes scan the words across the page. Much of the imagery is evoked by the text alone, by what’s missing or what’s obvious: you can picture who’s speaking, how they might be standing, the expression on their face, and their location. It’s often evoked purely by text. The art is therefore free to show some other aspect of the narrative, without confusion. This might be a close up, or some other resonant scene. A few times I cut to entirely different events (p16). On another occassion, we drift into two different comic strips drawn by different fictional versions of myself. None of this is confusing. The story always remains clear.

v) Accurately conveying human experience by depicting reality, memory and imagination interchangeably

This is a work in progress. I’d cite the flood of memories in the epilogue and prologue and opening pages, the visual presentation of some of the avatars,  the scene where various Jay’s are creating the comic we’re reading, and the full page kiss on page twenty three, as good examples of this goal . I did more extreme work in this area, including rendering all of the Jay’s in the forest sequence as broken glass, and a trippy extension of Jay’s advetures within the comic he’s drawing. But it seemed to be overkill, a bit too showy and distracting. It’s important to remember that all these goals and techniques exist to bolster the story, not distract from it.