First art pages and an impending meeting

Just a quick update on progress.

Andrea Potts, my artist, sent the first four pages she has drawn of the graphic novel, and they’re great.  These are just layout pages, more detailed than storyboards but less completed than finished art.  She wanted me to see how she’s visualizing what I’ve written.  She did an amazing job of representing exactly what is in the first pages of the script.

In a couple of weeks, we’re meeting up in New Orleans, so that she can see the town for the first time, to get a feel for it, and I can show her some of the principal locations.  We’re also hoping to hash out some of the storyboarding.

Progress Report 1: Progress on the Project so far…

I Dream in Panels!!!

Last night (9-11-11) I dreamt in panels for the first time.  I was dreaming a story, and it was laid out in picture panels, like a graphic novel.

In the past, I have frequently dreamed stories in movies or in scripts (in fact, that same night, I dreamed of some scenes and changes for my current script re-write), but this was my very first time for dreaming in a panel layout.  I’m very excited by this, and though it is not any form of concrete progress, I feel it is a sign of significant creative, mental progress.

Okay, I’ll calm down now, and continue reporting the more mundane aspects of my progress so far.

R & R: Reading and Research

So of course, I have been reading graphic novels, to get more familiar with the art form.  Some graphic novels come with additional materials, such as development, sketches, proposals, scripts.  I have been able to read and compare the scripts side-by-side with the finished works (also a very handy practice in studying screenwriting – to read the script and study the film made from it.)

I have also done some research – at WonderCon, and while blogging about that and about other aspects of this project.  I have learned a lot about creating and publishing a graphic novel.  Of course I don’t know everything, or even enough, at this point, but I’m forging ahead anyway:

Writing is Re-Writing

I have started a re-write on the script I am adapting into a graphic novel.  It needs a re-write first just as a script in itself anyway.   After that, I’ll convert it into a graphic novel script.  I’m continually learning about graphic novels, reading them and their scripts, so I hope by then I’ll be more competent at making that conversion.

Approach with Caution (or is that Enthusiasm?)

I have decided to approach Archaia first as a potential publisher.  Their books are gorgeous, and for many reasons, they seem potentially like a very good fit for my story.  At WonderCon, Josh Trujillo seemed very enthusiastic about original submissions for their company.

Of course Archaia might not be interested, in which case, I’ll try other publishers.  If necessary, I’ll go the self-publishing route.  I just know that will be a lot more work, and I’d rather find an established publisher to take the project, if that’s at all possible.

Archaia wants 5-10 completed pages (as detailed on their submissions page).  I’ll write those up first and give them to my artist, Andrea Potts.  While she works on the art, I can work on the other components Archaia wants: a logline, one-page synopsis, and cover letter.

Practice, Practice, Practice

I’m going to be doing the lettering for my graphic novel, since Andrea will be busy with drawing, and she doesn’t have any experience with lettering.  At first, I just planned to use a computer font to do it, but in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel, there is a chapter on lettering, in which they show an example:  the same text in the same panel in the same word balloon, one done by hand, the other by computer, in a similar style.  I really liked the hand-lettered example better.  I sort of wish I didn’t, because I think it would be easier to use the computer font.  Oh well.  It’s all part of the adventure.

So I have started practicing lettering, in the comic-book, all-capital,  sans serif style, both in a regular and italic mode.  I print over the alphabet several times each day and sometimes write random phrases and names for practice.  If you have ever seen my hand-writing or printing, this is especially hilarious, because my writing is usually a mess, a curvy, swirly mess.  I have frequently joked that only my piano students can interpret my writing.  Notice I didn’t say they can “read” it; they can interpret it.

Mini-sidebar: And sometimes this seems to be true.  Once I was writing in a student’s notebook while she played, and at the end, I myself couldn’t read something I had just written.   My student tried, and immediately she said: “It says, ‘Even on measure 22.'”  And she was right.  I couldn’t even read it, but she could.  And I was printing!!!

Anyway, now I print in capital block letters in their notebooks and their music, and my excuse is that I’m trying to make my writing neater.  Which I am, they just don’t know the real reason for that.  And they don’t need to, until I can switch jobs.

Grocery lists, house mate notes, memos, phone messages, everything hand-written, everything, has become an opportunity  to practice my lettering.

I find that “D” is my most difficult letter.  It’s tricky to get the straight stroke to be truly straight, and not curvy, like part of an “O.”  Also, perfecting a nice curve stroke is also tricky.  In addition, my normal way to write a “D” is with quite a bit of overrun past the straight stroke in the curvy stroke in both directions.   So I really have to curtail that.  If there’s space at the end of a practice line of the alphabet or anything else, I write additional “D”s, for extra practice.  Strange little things you discover in the process.

Todd Klein Rules!

Another little side-bar: I have developed an extreme fondness for the lettering of Todd Klein.  ( I had no idea before this that one could have a preference for a letterer – an artist or a writer, of course, but lettering?  This is a whole new world for me.)  So of course, I try to make my letters similar to his.  I know I’ll never get mine to look as good, because he’s a master, and he’s spent thousands of hours at it, and I’ll never touch that, but I can aspire.

I was utterly unsurprised to discover that:  “As of 2011, Klein has won sixteen of the nineteen “Best Letterer/Lettering” Eisner Awards that have been given out since the category was established in 1993. He has won the Best Letterer Harvey Award eight times, the first time in 1992 and the most recent one in 2005.”  Quoted from the Wikipedia article on Todd Klein.

I just discovered that he co-authored a book on coloring and lettering, The DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics.  (So now, of course, I want one.)

And More Practice

I also discovered in the course of my research that there are more writers than artists in this field.  In a panel I attended Friday at WonderCon, several writer-artists reported with contempt the conversations they had had with people who had “great stories” and “just needed someone to draw them.”  These creators had their own stories to draw, and didn’t want to spend their energies on others’ stories.

I myself have had similar conversations.  Occasionally when people discover I’m a screenwriter, they tell me they have some great ideas for movies, they “just need someone to write them up for them,” as if that would be the easy part.  As if it weren’t a huge undertaking to structure a story properly for a film, fill it out with dimensional characters, and actually write all the dialogue and descriptions.

I may end up continuing to create graphic novels.  I don’t know.  If I do, my artist friend Andrea may not always be available to work on these projects with me, or I may not always be able to find an artist, so I’m practicing drawing, too.  I always wanted to draw better, anyway.  I’m not terrible at it now, but I’m not great, either, and there’s always room for improvement.  Even if I never end up doing my own art for a graphic novel, drawing is still a quicker shorthand for communicating with an artist about what I have in mind.  We can bounce ideas back and forth, and it will help so much if I can sketch more easily.

A Great Little Drawing Exercise from Willy Pogany

Over the years I have practiced drawing off and on; I’ve even been lucky enough to take a couple of classes, but recently I got some books on the subject from Dover Publications (fabulous, fabulous Dover Publications – have I told you recently how much I love them? – oh well, digressing again…)  One of the drawing books I got from Dover is Drawing Lessons by Willy Pogany.  I looked at the first exercise, and I’ve been doing it several times a day, and it’s really improving my sketching.

The exercise is simple, but oh, so effective.  You take a blank sheet and make some random dots on it.  Then you take another blank sheet and try to replicate the pattern of dots without measuring or tracing.  Then you put the second sheet on top of the first and hold them up to the light to see where you’re off and then do it again.  I’ve been doing it with scrap paper that is cut to 1/12th of a whole, 8 1/2  x 11″ page and then numbered 1, 2, 3, and occasionally 4.  I like to do sets of 3 or 4.  It gives me a chance to try to replicate each random pattern more than once.

I have really been surprised at how much that simple exercise is improving my general sketching practice – my proportions, mainly, and my ability to reproduce certain lines of people or objects.

I was really excited by my progress with this, and by using such a simple exercise, even for just a few days.  I hoped the book would have a next step, another simple exercise that built on that one or expanded it, or something else, but in any  case, something direct, simple, effective.

I turned the page.  Did I find another exercise?  Nope.  An eighteen-page discourse on perspective, which is vital, but without any exercises, and then onto a chapter on shading.  (I’m already pretty good at shading – in high school calculus class, the teacher would often borrow my drawing to be the example of the solid for the class, because my shading was so good and made the object so clear.  He also said sometimes if you could draw the solid well enough, you almost didn’t have to do the problem, because the way to solve it became immediately obvious, and he was right about that, at least for finding volumes of solids.)

I’m sure the info in the Pogany drawing book is really good and useful, and I’m just going to have to make up my own further drawing exercises, or look up some others.  Most of the other drawing books I got from Dover jump into more complicated things right away.  Oh well.  I’m sure they will be very valuable as I continue with my practicing.

How Do They Do That?

As a kid, I remember being in awe of those artists who could create and recreate a character in a comic strip.  I tried that when I was young, and couldn’t manage it.  I think it’s amazing when someone can draw a character again and again, and you always know who it is, even though they’re changing all the time, based on the moment captured.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point.  I may not have to.  Who knows?  But I’m doing my best to prepare, anyway, in case I need to.

Oh, and I just remembered I did draw a little comic for a present once.   I drew people that were known to the gift recipient, who said I had captured them well with just a few expressive lines, so maybe there’s hope for me after all.  Once again, I know I’ll never achieve what the masters do, because they have practiced for so much longer than I, but I will do my best.

And now to reassure my Mom, who reads my blog (Yay for supportive parents!!!)

I’m not letting this practicing for the graphic side of the project get in the way of the writing I need to do, which is my primary job in this adventure.  I’m doing all this lettering and drawing practice around the edges, while my students work in their theory books, or on their compositions (which is much more exciting, of course; I love composing, and I want to encourage it as much as possible).  I do it when I’m on the phone, or while waiting for something to cook.   Sometimes I do it at night to wind down for a few minutes before snuggling down to read graphic novels before sleep.

Although, there is a problem with blogging…

The one thing my mom worried about, and I can’t reassure her on this point, is that blogging does take away time from actual screenwriting.  So my re-write is going much more slowly due to the time spent blogging.

My consolations are these: my manager wants me to have a blog – as part of building my career, and I’m doing a lot of research for my graphic novel project in the process of blogging about it.  (Bonus extra points, I get to connect with other, wonderful bloggers – this is another new world for me – especially the ones who stop by my blog and comment or subscribe.  It is an amazing thrill to have people I don’t know following my adventure, so thanks to all of you out there, as well as to the ones I know.)

And of course, I can’t spend all my time on this.

I wish I could, but I have to work for money, too.  That’s just life.  Someday, of course, I hope to get paid for writing, and then I won’t have my  job and my work: they’ll be the same.

Recently when I came out as a writer to a friend, she assumed I was pursuing this mostly for the money, and while it is true that TV and film writers get paid (when they get paid) more than piano teachers, that is not my main motivation for doing this.  Sure, it’s great to have more money.  But I want to write because I can feel the stories, the images swirling in my head.  I want to share them, and I want to touch other hearts the way mine has been touched by film, and yes, by TV.  Film is my favorite art medium, and I want to create in it, just as any other artist wants to create.  I feel that drive, and I just cannot give up.

Who’s who?

While Andrea’s waiting for me to complete my re-write, she wanted some clues about how the main characters look, so I combed through online pix of actors and actresses which I  sent her to indicate what I have in mind for some of the characters.  (Which reminds me, I need to do that for some more of the characters, to send to her.)

Just today (9-23-11) Andrea sent me the first two preliminary sketches of  two main characters in my story.  They look great, and I found a paint program on my computer to indicate the small adjustments I’d like.   I figured it’s faster to show her what I mean than to use a lot of words.

I sent over my revisions.  Andrea got them, and they’re clear to her.  We have some small adjustments still to make, but what she came up with from my photo input was already pretty close to what I had envisioned.

And then there’s technology…

Andrea and I have also gotten her a new computer, one that can handle the software needed for the project.  Her old computer was giving out last, dying gasps, and could never have handled the art software anyway.

In January, I got a donated laptop from a friend, since my old one (also donated by a friend – I usually cannot afford to buy these things for myself) had finally given out on me.   I really prefer to write on my laptop, and I have a smooth rhythm with that.  Well, it took until just now to get it up and running and usable with my screenwriting program.  I use Movie Magic Screenwriter, which is one of the two industry-standard programs.  The other one is Final Draft.  You can find writers who swear by either one.

[Another side-bar:  Here are two different takes on that debate.  I guess my miniscule contribution to the debate is that I tried to load demos for both software programs before buying.  Within 10 minutes (maybe less), the Movie Magic demo was running, and I was writing with it.  I couldn't even get the Final Draft demo to load onto my computer; it was so clunky.

In addition, my writing buddy already had Movie Magic, and with it, we could insert notes into each others' scripts for feedback.  Movie Magic feels smooth and easy and intuitive to me, and I can make the background purple on my screen (more purple is always a plus for me).  I like Movie Magic, but if I get hired into a shop that uses Final Draft, I'll get that one and learn to use it.]

Anyway…  It was an arduous process.  I had to change over the operating system on the laptop from Linux to Windows, and then install Movie Magic.     There were several snags and detours in all this process, but it’s working now.  And I am so tremendously grateful to my friends, who help me and give me their old equipment, so I have something to work on.  (My desktop was also a gift – from a friend upgrading to a better computer.)  So big, big thanks to all my friends and family who help with everything to make my life work.

Reading list update

Since I last reported which graphic novels I had read so far, I have now also read:

Chicken with Plums, by Marjane Satrapi

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

In the Shadow of No Towers, by Art Spiegelman

The Killer, Volume One, by Jacamon & Matz (in the translation from the French published by Archaia)

Kwaidan, by Jung and Jee-Yun

Maus I & Maus II, by Art Spiegelman

Moon Lake, an anthology created by Dan Fogler

I’ve also started reading Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud.  I feel that I’ve read enough graphic novels now to have a reference for what he discusses.

My shifting perceptions of Graphic Novels

One of the strangest things for me in this process has been observing my own perceptions of graphic novels and how that has changed as I have gotten more familiar with them.

I start out as a mess at reading graphic novels.

Well, okay, maybe “mess” is a little too strong, but I’m really not good at it.  Really.

In the beginning, I felt completely un-fluent in the medium.  Before my manager told me of the need to write one, I had read 3 graphic novels, and I really only  liked one of them:  Watchmen.   Now I have read 26 more, but I didn’t grow up reading comic books.  They just weren’t interesting to me, even when I was a kid.

You may (rightly) wonder what I mean about being un-fluent in the medium.  I mean sometimes I don’t understand what’s going on.  Sometimes I don’t understand the pictures – what they’re trying to convey, or some of the details.  As, for example, perhaps I can tell someone is hitting someone else, but I cannot discern with what.   Occasionally I don’t understand what happened between pictures.  I have to assume what caused a certain result, because it wasn’t shown directly, and it isn’t obvious to me.

Sometimes I can’t tell if someone new who shows up is really new or is a character from before because they look so similar – especially in time-looped stories with flashbacks, etc.   Sometimes I’m not sure if a character is the same scene to scene, because they are drawn so differently, but I can tell from the story that they’re supposed to be the same character.  But they look different, and I’m not sure until much farther in if that is the same person or someone different, because there’s some trick or deception involved, or whatever.   So far, I’ve always been able to resolve these conundrums, but they can be tricky for several pages at a time.

Another example of my un-fluency in a different medium is video games.  I was at a place once that had various simple games projected on the floor – each for a few minutes at a time.  Frequently I had no idea how to play the game or what the object was, but these things were immediately obvious to the video-gamer guy who was there with me.

This is a very strange feeling for me, to be so awkward, because I’m fairly fluent in understanding written words and film.  When I started reading Shakespeare at around age 10, it was immediately transparent to me.  Sometimes I didn’t know some of the vocabulary, but that’s what the notes from the editors are for.  I’ve always been able to understand fiction and nonfiction, to be able to read between the lines, as it were, and to pick up lots of clues about what’s going on and what’s being conveyed without being directly said in those contexts.

I’ve studied film for thousands of hours, watching and watching, all kinds of films: foreign, classic Hollywood, mainstream, independent, art, genre, whatever.  Much of this before film school and before I ever started reading about films. When I watch a film, a thousand things run through my brain – I’m caught up in the story, to be sure, but I’m also analyzing that story: its structure, its characters.  I’m processing the direction, the art direction, the costumes and the cinematography, the editing, the sound design, and oh, my goodness, of course, the musical score that goes with it.  (I love movie soundtracks and frequently play them while I write.)

I feel reasonably fluent in the medium of film.  I know what’s going on, what’s being said without being said, I even frequently have a track of my brain running about the meta-situation of the making of the film – what it might have taken for the writers to sell the concept, how it might have been changed to fit the market or please the executives making the movie – or perhaps that the executives came up with the story to begin with.  I am that annoying person who is not surprised by many of the big “secrets” revealed in films – I see the signs well before the “revelation.”  (Of course, I never spoil anyone else’s surprise by letting on ahead of time what I have figured out.  That would be rude.)

All this flows through my head easily and fluidly as I watch a film.  I feel pretty fluent in the language of film.

So it’s a very strange feeling not to know what is going on in a story.

I got better.

As I go along reading graphic novels, it does get easier for me.  I’m noticing that I pick up a lot of the information more easily now.  It’s amazing how much can be conveyed in pictures that would normally require quite a bit of description in unillustrated prose.  (I still remember the determination on a little mouse’s face while facing a fearsome predator in Mouse Guard Fall 1152.  It’s printed on my brain.)

Now I have always loved picture books, and I have a decent collection, not just of my childhood favorites, but also of gems I have discovered as an adult.  Graphic novels are just a step beyond the picture book, in terms of how much story information is conveyed through the illustrations rather than the text.

It’s beginning to look a lot like the time to read Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud.

I wanted to read a few graphic novels before I launched into this book.  I figured that after I had read some on my own, probably a lot of what he’ll say will make sense, much in the way that simply observing the world around you makes physics equations obvious when you study them.  I’m beginning to feel that I have enough experience, I hope, to be able to take in the info in this book, and that it will all make sense now.

Defending Graphic Novels.

I have found myself defending graphic novels as an artform to disdainful friends.  There is great beauty and depth in some of them.  I cried several times while reading Persepolis, for example.   I think the prejudice against graphic novels stems from their origins in comic books, and the idea that somehow the story is dumbed down to be conveyed through pictures – or that  a reader must not be as sophisticated if they need the information to be conveyed through pictures.  But I have found rich stories with complex narrative threads expressed in the graphic novel form.  They’re a beautiful marriage of narrative and art.

I myself have never felt disdain for them.  They’re just an art form I was unfamiliar with, one I didn’t particularly pursue.   Sort of like opera.  I think it’s fine, but I don’t seek it out, the way I do the ballet, or, oh my gosh, the movies.  Thousands of hours of my life were spent watching movies.   Operas, not so much.  I have gone a few times, and I enjoyed it, but I don’t pursue it, for whatever reasons.  I didn’t pursue graphic novels either.   Until now.

Now, any time they come up, any time I discover someone knows about the field, I ask them for their favorites, for recommendations, for insights.  I’m reading them all the time, and on the lookout for good ones to study.

Coming to think in Graphic Novel style.

As I think over my story, the one I’m adapting into a graphic novel, I begin to see it in panels.  Not only that, when I heard that Archaia wants a good, all-ages fantasy, I thought back to a story for a film I started years ago that would qualify – and then I thought of many story ideas that I generated for screenplays or teleplays, many of which could make good graphic novel stories.  Some of them could become an ongoing series, potentially.

That’s the way my brain works.  Once a new pathway for creativity opens up, my brain goes wild, cooking up new ideas.  I love that part of creating.  Well, I love a lot of parts of creating, but certainly the original rush of the ideas is one of the most fun parts.

And for all I know, I may need to continue in this field to make headway in film.  I don’t know until I get into it.  A friend of mine from USC film school who makes his living writing films has told me that graphic novels and comics are the big, big thing in film these days.   He said that Comic-Con, in San Diego, has become the new Sundance, where all the executives go to seek out material for their next film.

So in a weird way, this graphic novel project may not end up being such a detour after all.  Once my story is a graphic novel, perhaps it will be more appealing as a script for a movie.  (Which is how it started in the first place…)

I have to describe Graphic Novels to those not familiar with them.

A few times as I have described this new endeavor, I have had to explain what a graphic novel is to someone who doesn’t know.  It’s a little tricky.  I can start from the foundation of comic book, but there is so much more – more variety, more depth, more complexity than that.

Serious Reading?

Someone called me a serious reader, and asked me if it was difficult for me to switch to reading so many graphic novels.  I guess I’m a “serious reader.”  I read a lot of non-fiction.  The book I interrupted to take up reading graphic novels was Contested Will, by James Shapiro.   (And here’s another review of the book by another blogger.  I especially enjoyed this comment thread.  I have to stop looking for links for this book, or I will never get back to my own writing.  The Internet, oh so useful, but also, oh so distracting…)

Mostly I read non-fiction, because there’s so much interesting stuff to learn about in the world.  Of course I read (and re-read) a lot of books about writing, especially screen-writing.  My normal relaxation reading is history.  (Not historical fiction, though some people assume I read that.  There’s nothing wrong with historical fiction, and lots of people love it, but I’d rather read the facts: to me they’re fascinating enough.)

But I don’t find anything not “serious” about reading these graphic novels.  Now of course, I haven’t read that many, and a lot of the ones I’m reading are the best of the best, people’s top picks when they only gave me 2-3 titles, many of which recurred frequently in these recommendations.  Not only am I enjoying them, I’m studying them, to discover how they work, how the art form works, how they affect me emotionally.  A big part of my own film study was about the effect of different techniques – in writing, shot-selection, acting, art-direction, cinematography, etc.  All this in order to understand how to use the medium myself.  It’s the same with graphic novels.

And now for Something Completely Different.

At the moment, I’m rereading Dune, by Frank Herbert.  I read it once when I was a young teenager, and I never read any of the sequels.  I picked it up again now because I was going on a tw0-week trip away from home, and I wanted a disposable paper-back to read, you know, the kind you can easily carry and easily replace if anything happens to it.  Some group online proposed a group read-along of that book, so I thought, why not?  Of course, I’m such a slow reader that I’m barely half-way through the book and the online discussion is already over, but I decided to finish the book anyway, especially now that I’m studying the medium of the graphic novel, and this is providing a good example of a completely prose novel (for lack of a better term).

I find I’m studying the novel form as I read it and comparing it with graphic novels.  There is so much you can say in a novel.  Of course, this is not my original observation, but the novel is really the best medium for getting inside a character’s head.  You can just write what they’re thinking.  Not so much in other media.

In Dune, Frank Herbert is amazing at getting inside so many heads.  In a novel, the reader can be a very intimate voyeur.  In graphic novels, as in movies, one could write out the thoughts (and use voice-over in film or something), but usually authors don’t.  We show what happens, and the way characters react, and readers and viewers intuit the thoughts behind it.  I find graphic novels and film both to be very empathetic mediums.  Instead of having the character’s thoughts fed to me, I have to sense what characters might feel.  I like it.  (I like novels, too, don’t get me wrong, but each medium has its own beauties, strengths, and limitations.)

My Reading List, So Far…

For those of you who may be curious, here are the graphic novels I have read so far since starting this project:

Absolute Sandman, Volume 1, by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, and other artists and creators

Adventures in Oz, by Eric Shanower

Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships and Sacrifice, by Eric Shanower

Artesia, by Mark Smylie

Embroideries, by Marjane Satrapi

Girl Genius, Omnibus EditionVolume 1, by Kaja and Phil Foglio

Green Arrow: Quiver, by Kevin Smith, Phil Hester,  and Ande Parks

Inanna’s Tears, by Rob Vollmar and mpMann

Kill Your Boyfriend, by Grant Morrison, Philip Bond,  and D’Israeli

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, Winter 1152, and Legends of the Guard, by David Petersen (Legends is an anthology with numerous contributors.)

Persepolis 1 and 2, by  Marjane Satrapi

Promethea – the complete series, in 5 hard-cover collected volumes, by Alan MooreJH Williams III, Mick Gray, Jeromy Cox, Todd Klein, and Jose Villarubia

Y: The Last Man – the complete series, in 5 hard-cover collected volumes, by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr., Goran Sudzuka, and Goran Parlov

300, by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley

Coming Out, as a Writer

So, for a long time I have kept my writing ambitions mostly to myself and shared them only with a select circle of family and friends.

I know a lot of people, and most of them don’t know at all that I write.   There are a lot of reasons for this:

Not everyone is supportive, and I have enough trouble assuaging my own fears, without dealing with anyone else’s dampening influence.

It’s a long road, and I know that already.  I don’t need others to tell me.

In the film industry, there’s a certain contempt for the “wannabe.”  And I never wanted to be seen as a wannabe.  I wanted to come out to people as an “am,” as in “I am a screenwriter, and here are my credits,” or “I’m writing for this TV show…”

Of course I can withstand other’s unsupportive thoughts.  I survived USC film school, after all, which is not a gushingly supportive atmosphere, at least it wasn’t when I was there.  (And it doesn’t have to be.  We were all tough enough to get through it, and the industry itself can be tough.  I know that.)  It’s just that dealing with other people’s negative comments takes energy, and I’d rather spend it on my work.

I also prefer to spend my energy doing the work, not talking about it.  I have gotten so close with a lot of things, good responses from producers and others,  getting my work seen by production companies, etc.  And I don’t want to be continually saying, “This almost worked,” and so on.  I just want to work on it until I succeed, and then be able to share the success.

Now with the Graphic Novel (and blogging) project, I can’t keep it that way any more.

I need help.

And I need to come out as a writer to get it.

Even though I am constantly educating myself, I still don’t know nearly enough about Graphic Novels as an art form or about how they are produced and published.  I am working on finding out, and there are so many people who can help me with that.  Bur first they need to know I need their help and why.

I tried, judiciously, telling a few friends about it at a Victorian dance ball a couple of months ago, and out of four revelations, I got two offers of help from friends who have brothers or friends with knowledge of the field, or who have published graphic novels, and would be willing to advise me.

The warm enthusiasm of my friends, and their expressions of support have been wonderful.  As I said, I have been releasing the information carefully.  I’m not ready to broadcast it yet.  But those I have told have been marvelous about it, and I am grateful.

It’s scary coming out.

As exhilarating as the response has been to my selective revelations, it’s still scary to share the information.  I fear people will think me a poor, deluded soul, pursuing a crazy, unrealistic dream.   Counterbalancing that is the tremendously positive comments I have gotten about my writing from Ken Rotcop and my manager.  Just being able to say I have a manager helps, and makes me seem more legitimate.  The very fact that my manager judged me good enough to try out for a T.V. writing job is so encouraging.  (No guarantee of getting the job, of course, but still, encouraging.)

Still, it is hard to let my secret out.

After all the hours and years of studying and writing, I want to be taken seriously.  It has taken a lot of dedication to get to this point, but in America, if you’re not making money already at something, you’re seen somehow as less legitimate.  Also, American culture has a strange relationship with the arts.  It seems we worship those who are making lots of money in the arts, and disdain anyone who isn’t.   There isn’t a lot of support for those of us transitioning into making money at it, the way there might be, for example for lawyers are applying to firms, or dentists seeking their first office to start practicing.

It’s as if an artist isn’t a professional until we bring the check home from it, but those other professionals are regarded as “the real thing,” even before they obtain a position.

Now, I know not all artists are created alike.  I know that not everyone with aspirations is creating good work.  I know I certainly wasn’t when I first got started.  It takes time to get good at any art form.  And there are some people who just dream of an artistic career but never do the work necessary to get good, or to get connected with the money side of it.  Of course, some people don’t want to make money at art – and that’s fine, too.

But it would be nice if people in general would give aspiring artists the benefit of the doubt, instead of the all-too-usual cynicism.

There’s another dimension to this.

As gregarious as I am, I’m very private about certain things in my life, and for the longest time, this has been one of them.  I’m not used to having this all out in the open.

But I must forge ahead as I must.  Coming out as a writer is already helping me, to get advice and help.  So here I go…

WonderCon 2011, the third day: Will I ever find the Foglios?

Will I find the elusive Phil and Kaja Foglio before WonderCon ends?

Ever since before WonderCon, I had been hoping to talk with Kaja and Phil Foglio.  They are the creative team that produces the long-running graphic novel series Girl Genius.

When I told a friend about my new project, she suggested I find them at WonderCon and talk with them.  Later, the same friend loaned me her copy of the first omnibus edition of  Girl Genius to read.

And then on Friday at WonderCon, another friend I ran into, who really likes Steampunk, also told me to talk with them.  Well, that proved more difficult than I at first imagined.

The Exhibit hall was huge.  Did I mention HUGE?  And nowhere in the map were the Foglios listed.  Same for Girl Genius.  I looked and looked over that brochure each day.  At night, I searched online and discovered their umbrella name for all their projects is Airship Entertainment.  So I looked for that.  No good.  It wasn’t listed either.

So on Sunday, finding them was one of my top priorities.

As I came into the hall, I was distracted by dinosaurs.  No.  Really.  On the cover of a book.  It’s very easy to distract me with dinosaurs.  Big hint: if you want me to see your movie or read your comic, put a dinosaur in it.  I mean, of course dinosaurs are not always appropriate.  I really can’t see wedging one into Sense and Sensibility, for example, but they’re always fun.

Anyway…

I have questions, and James Walker II at Flesk Publications has answers!

I had stumbled upon the booth of Flesk Publications, and the enormously helpful James Walker II.  While I was lingering over some dinosaur book, he asked if I had any questions.  I told him a million, but I didn’t know if he’d have the answers.  He ventured to try.  I asked him where was a booth for Phil and Kaja Foglio, and he knew – it was just two aisles over, along the same open walkway.

Next I asked him about printers, for self-publishing.  I think he said they use Paramount Printing, in Hong Kong.  He also mentioned Brand Studio Press, and James thought perhaps they had a sliding scale.  I’ve looked over their site, and they mostly seem to publish art books and sketch books by various well-known artists.  In their catalog I didn’t see any graphic novels at all.  The descriptions of the printing and binding of the books sound wonderful:  primarily hardcover, with sewn pages: my favorite kind.

James Walker II told me that Diamond Comic Distributors was a big distributor for comics and graphic novels, and suggested that I could comb their catalog to find big name publishers.  I could look at what they’re already publishing and try to find a good match.  James briefly mentioned that Marvel and DC don’t take on newbies, and I quickly assured him that I had no intention of trying to get them to publish my story.  As little as I know about this whole comic-graphic novel universe, I know that they primarily publish superhero comic stuff, and my story isn’t remotely like that.  Although I believe my story will make a great graphic novel, just of a different sort.

James also told me about SCB Distributors, located in Southern California.  He said their catalog would be better for locating boutique publishers.

In addition, James Walker II advised me to check out The Anthology Project, which has published 2 volumes so far, with up to 21 different artists and their various stories in each one.  He mentioned there was a blog about their publishing, run by Joy Ang.  Their blog does have some really cool animations of the process of some of the artists, showing the art in various stages.  I think it may be worth checking out to see all the different styles and stories.  I think James was thinking I might try to be included in a future volume, or I might learn from their adventure in bringing it to print.

James said that Flesk Publications wasn’t accepting any new projects to publish for about the next 4-5 years.  I guess they must have so many good ones in the queue they don’t have room for more.

When I asked if there were any publishers in the hall that he could recommend, James Walker II pointed to the banner for Archaia.  They looked too big for me, and I told James as much.  He assured me they were a small publisher, even though they had a big presence here at WonderCon.  He really thought I should give them a try, so that became my new goal, after finding Phil and Kaja Foglio.

I thanked James tremendously for all his terrific help, and followed his directions toward their booth.

At last – Kaja Foglio!

When I reached the Girl Genius outpost, Kaja was in the middle of describing her wedding dress to a friend.  Seeing me, she graciously offered to interrupt this to talk with me.  Instead, I encouraged her to continue, as I love costuming, and this sounded beautiful: it was an art nouveau confection, inspired by Mucha, complete with an “Ozma hat,” as Kaja described it, meaning a big flower on each side of her head, as featured in several Mucha paintings.  In the case of Ozma, they look like poppies.  And there was beaded draping on each side of her head in this headdress.  It sounds fantastic.  I wish I could have seen it.  I mentioned a friend of mine had a recreation made for herself of a Mucha gown – to dress as the green fairy.

As with everyone else in this quest, Kaja Foglio was amazingly helpful.  She’s very enthusiastic about self-publishing.  They put out a new page of Girl Genius three times a week on their website, and then they also have printed book versions for sale.

She said they give away everything for free in their webcomic, which horrifies some other writers, but she’s very happy with it.  They have plenty of hard-copy sales (and ancillary artifacts for sale as well).  Kaja said that people say things all the time  like:  “I read it online all through college, and now that I can afford it, I want to buy the books.”  I saw several sales at their booth while I was talking with her.  At one point, Phil put some books in front of her to sign, and Kaja said: “I’m only Italian by marriage; I can’t sign these now; I’m talking.”  (And using her hands quite a bit for that.)

They use Courier Corporation for printing, this is the company that owns Dover Publications.  (I am completely mad for Dover.  I love them, love them, love them, but perhaps I ought to rave more about them on another day.)  Kaja said she really likes working with Courier, because they have good communication, and they notice mistakes.  They really seem to care about the quality and appearance of the books.  It sounded very impressive to me.

Kaja Foglio advised caution in size of print runs.  She said a printer will want to run more copies, because the per-unit cost is lower, of course, so they’ll offer you a better unit price for 1,000 copies than for 600, but she said, if you don’t sell those extra books, they’re tying up money you could use for other things and taking up space in your basement.  Good advice, to be sure.

As far as distribution goes, Kaja said Diamond Comics Distributors is the only game in town for comics.

In terms of the quickest way to get the story out there, Kaja Foglio proposed distributing on the web, as they do.  She said Alexa was a website that ranks websites, so I could find out which ones are popular, and which ones might be best to host my own site.   She mentioned Shutterfly is a good site that is geared toward photography, where you can “create your own free photo and video sharing website with a personalized web address. ”  Kaja said it should be easy to find a place where I can do a starter website, perhaps at Google.  Usually the basic one is free, and they you pay for upgrades.

With the idea of generating additional revenue streams, as it were, Kaja said if I had popular characters, I could use Cafe Press to sell customized coffee mugs and tee shirts and the like.

For marketing, Kaja Foglio recommended Facebook, because she said you can get lots of “likes,” which can show that your work has broad appeal.  She said you can use Facebook to direct people to your website, and to mirror blog posts, so that you can get double duty out of any posts and traffic.

I thanked Kaja so much for all her help and suggestions.  When I asked if it was okay to blog about our conversation, she said of course, and said that links are always appreciated.  So that is what spurred me to learn how to create links here at WordPress.

Kaja likes the freedom of self-publishing, she said no one is going to tell you to use certain characters more, so they can sell more toys.  Kaja was really gung ho about self-publishing, but she admitted that’s because that’s what she does.   And it really works for them.

ARCHAIA wants stories, and at least they’re easy to find.

After talking with Kaja, I strode directly to the Archaia booth.  They were really easy to find, because they were in the same general area, and they had a big logo banner hanging above their booth.

At this point, it was less than half an hour before the end of WonderCon, so I didn’t have much time left.   I looked around the Archaia  booth, scoping out various books.  I had a couple in my hands, when Josh Trujillo approached me to ask if I wanted help.  I explained to him that I want to adapt one of my screenplays into a graphic novel and that I’m potentially looking for a publisher and that someone had suggested Archaia might be interested.

Josh seemed very  enthusiastic about new stories.

He said they are looking for:

Crime.  All-ages Fiction.  Historical Fiction.  Horror.  High-Concept Science Fiction.  He said most of all they’re looking for good stories, and they’re not that attached to particular genres.

In fact, he said they had been talking, and their dream project right now would be a good, all-ages fantasy – a pure fantasy that is the classic, medieval, sword and sorcery style that could appeal to both children and adults.

Josh Trujillo said the submission guidelines were on their website, and that they accept open submissions.  He said to send a .pdf file of 5-10 completed pages, showing the tone and storytelling of my piece.  Of course I was very excited by his enthusiasm and the prospect that they would look at my submission.

Archaia was running a special: buy 2 books and get 3 free.  I thought that was an amazing deal, and I asked Josh’s help in selecting five books that would give me a good idea of Archaia’s range: what they do, and what they might be looking for.

Here are the five he chose for me: Mouse Guard Fall 1152, by David Petersen.  Josh Trujillo said it’s one of their most popular (and I love it).  I had already picked up Artesia, and Josh said that was a really good one to get, because it is by Mark Smylie, who founded Archaia to print his own work and that of others.  Next Josh picked up The Killer, volumes one and two, by Matz and Luc Jacamon, translated from French.  Josh said there was an incredible character arc between the two books, so that the guy at the end of Volume two is completely different from his character in the first volume, but that the change is believable and beautifully arced.  I took both of those books, but Josh suggested I put back Volume two and go for more variety to start with.  I agreed, and Josh perused the books, seeking other good choices for me.

Josh Trujillo  showed me Some New Kind of Slaughter, by mpMann and A. David Lewis; several versions of great flood stories from diverse cultures.  It was especially interesting because I like mythology, and because it was in a different format than most of the other graphic novels.  This one was wide and short, like a film frame.  But on the whole, Josh recommended instead Inanna’s Tears, written by Rob Vollmar, illustrated by mpMann, because it showed their historical fiction, and  mpMann was on the other side of the booth, signing, and Josh said I could get him to sign it for me.  For my last book, Josh chose Moon Lake, an anthology created by Dan Fogler.

Of course, I thanked Josh for his help, and then I checked out.  For $50. I walked away with 5 beautiful hardcover graphic novels: almost a steal.

I went around the booth and found mpMann, who signed my copy of Inanna’s Tears and made a little drawing of a pyramid and a man’s head with a Sumerian-style hat.  I asked him if the 5 for 2 book deal was an end-of-the show special, so they wouldn’t have to pack and transport back so many books, but he told me they had been running that deal for the entire show.  I was impressed, and he said it helps expose people to more of their titles and encourages people to try new stories.  I was really grateful, since it let me go home with a good beginning selection of Archaia’s stories.

Archaia’s books are gorgeous.  Solid hardcovers with lush colors on thick shiny pages.  I will be unbelievably fortunate if  they say yes to my proposal and publish my story.  According to various bits I’ve read about them now on the web, they might go for it.  In their own words from their submissions page:

“One of Archaia’s core missions is to constantly seek out new and exciting creator-owned projects in the adventure, fantasy, horror, pulp noir and science fiction genres that test the boundaries of the comic book medium.”

I just hope they like my proposal when they see it.  I would be beyond thrilled to publish with them.

WonderCon 2011: the second day, part 4: Eric Shanower Really Rocks!

After talking with Chris Garcia, I hiked back toward Artist Alley, hoping to find  Eric Shanower at his table there.  His Marvel signing hour was over, so he was likely to be there.

Arielle Kesweder gives me advice.

On the way, I was waylaid by some likely-looking and deeply-discounted graphic novels.  While perusing them, my friend Arielle Kesweder happened by.  She’s the vice president of  the California Browncoats, a cool group that promotes Firefly and Serenity fandom while raising money for various charities.  She’s also into comics and graphic novels, so I asked her advice.  The first recommendation that practically leapt  out of her was Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Pia Guerra, and then pretty much anything else by Brian K. Vaughan.  I have heard a lot of recommendations for Y: The Last Man, so I definitely plan to check it out.

Arielle also recommended Reinventing Comics, by Scott McCloud, and she told me of Alana Abbott, who used to be a roommate, who expanded from writing novels to writing graphic novels.  Arielle may also have recommended Understanding Comics also by Scott McCloud and Watchmen by Alan Moore.  By now I had gotten so many recommendations for those books, I stopped writing them down anymore.  Arielle moved on, and I moved toward Artist Alley.

Eric Shanower helps me out.

At last, I got to speak with Eric Shanower. He signed my copy of Adventures in Oz to me and made the most adorable sketch of the Scarecrow’s head where he signed. On the third day, I bought another book which the illustrator signed, and he also made a quick little sketch. I guess that’s the standard. I really like it.

There was another gentleman visiting with Eric as I approached.  Part way through our conversation, Eric Shanower graciously offered each of us a complimentary issue of his massive, ongoing series Age of Bronze, depicting the Trojan War.  It’s issue 22, from the volume Betrayal 3, copyrighted in December 2005, so it’s a back issue.  I didn’t have the gumption to ask Eric to sign it, too, since he was giving it away.  Later on, I read it and enjoyed it very much.

I introduced myself to Eric as a screenwriter, and mentioned the tasks my manager had set to get an agent.  I told  Eric I have the greatest respect for his art form, and an almost complete ignorance about it.  I asked him for direction in decreasing my ignorance.

Eric’s gave some recommendations for graphic novels: Maus, by Art SpiegelmanWatchmen, especially for structure.  All work by Alan MoorePersepolis, by Marjane Satrapi.  The other guy mentioned I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura, and they both seemed to favor Terry and the Pirates, by Milton Canniff.

I think it was from the other guy that I learned that the Berkeley comic store Comic Relief had gone out of business (the owner died).  Its stock was bought by Dark Carnival, which now runs a store called the Escpapist, two doors down from the Dark Carnival bookstore on Claremont in Berkeley.  He also mentioned Dr. Comics & Mr. Games on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, and the Comic Outpost in San Francisco.  It also turns out that a former employee of Comic Relief opened another comic store, Fantastic Comics, in the same location where Comic Relief was: 2026 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA.

In the graphic novel panel the day before, Eric had mentioned sending links for comic book or graphic novel scripts to people who were seeking knowledge.  He offered to send me links, too, but said that I could probably find something just as good by searching with Google for “comic book scripts.” Until then, I wasn’t even sure what they were called.  I didn’t know the format at all.  Very helpfully, Eric took a narrow, long scrap of paper and wrote out for me an example of a comic script, with the format he uses for description captions, dialogue, sound effects, and scenic description of the art in the panel.  It’s pretty simple, and apparently far more flexible than screenplay format, with which, of course, I am extremely familiar.

When I went home, I did search for “comic book scripts,” and I found a terrific website: The Comic Book Script Archive.

Next, Eric opened his own book, Adventures in Oz, and told me how he would describe in a script what appears in a panel he pointed out.   I noticed the language he used for describing the saw horse leaping a gorge was very different in style from that we use for screenplays.  I asked him about that, and he said it does not matter how you describe it at all, as long as it’s clear, because no one is going to see the description, except the artist.  In film, of course, so many people are reading, judging, and interpreting a screenplay that we have to be extremely careful about every aspect, including the language for descriptions.

Eric told me that in the USA, typically there are 5-7 panels per page.  In Europe, he said the average is more like 10.  He said to portray only one action per panel, one moment in time.

Eric Shanower recommended a site by Anina Bennett, bigredhair.com. It is full of useful information, especially her page on Writing for Comics.

He also suggested I go talk with her (that’s a huge benefit of being at a Con, after all). Her table was just two aisles away.  Anina Bennett is a co-creator, with Paul Guinan of the book Boilerplate – History’s Mechanical Marvel, about a mechanical man created in the early 20th century to replace human soldiers, full of wonderful tall tales and photoshopped images of Boilerplate with famous figures in history.

I thanked Eric very much for his help, and went to seek Anina Bennett.

Boilerplate, and Paul Guinan‘s advice.

Near Anina’s table was a full-size standing cutout of Boilerplate with a dialogue balloon attached saying: “Soon to be a movie by J.J. Abrams.  No kidding.”  In fact, that was the landmark that Eric used to point out the table.

Anina wasn’t at her table, but Paul Guinan was, and I got to talk with him.  He told me these days a lot of publishers are only offering back-end deals to graphic novel creators, paying only when the book sells.  He recommended browsing the Scot McCloud sequels to Understanding Comics, and also The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel, co-authored by one of his friends, Steve Lieber.

Bob Beerbohm gives me his two cents.

At the tail end of Saturday, I ran into an old friend and her dad, Bob Beerbohm, who has run a comic shop forever, and had a booth at WonderCon.  When I asked Bob’s advice, he told me to look at Comics and Sequential Art, by Will Eisner.  I had never heard of Will Eisner, and he said, “You know less than zero if you don’t know who Will Eisner is.”  (I forgive his gruffness; we’ve known each other a long time.)

I acknowledged that is certainly true, and I’m doing my best to remedy my ignorance, to catch up with an entire field of art where I know less than zero.  And then I’m going to do my best to create in it.  Because that’s what I need to do to get to my goal.

I’m getting a lot of help, and I appreciate it so much.

In this adventure, it’s wonderful how generous and accessible the people in this field have been so far, sharing information and insights and their time.

On Friday, I had never heard of Eric Shanower before, but I saw him at the Graphic Novel panel and decided I wanted to talk with him.  I got to do that on Saturday, and since then I have discovered that he won an Eisner award, which seems to be the equivalent in the comics world of an Oscar in film.  So here I am, a complete neophyte, asking advice from an Eisner award winner, and Eric Shanower was so gracious, helping me without even a speck of disdain.

Book Review: Girl Genius, Omnibus Edition, Volume 1

Book Review of Girl Genius, Omnibus Edition, Volume 1, by Phil and Kaja Foglio.

This volume contains the first three Girl Genius stories: The Beetleburg Clank, The Airship City, and The Monster Engine.  Online there are 11 stories in the series, 10 complete, and the 11th one in progress.  Online, each story is called a volume.

Sparks and Clanks and Constructs, Oh My!

These stories are zany tales set in a steampunk world (Kaja’s own term for the stories is Gaslamp Fantasies) where everyone is obsessed with building machines, but only those possessing the magical quality of the “spark” can create any that work.  A person who has the spark can also be referred to as a Spark.  In this particular universe, Sparks are very rare.

Probably my favorite thing about the book is the alternate language developed for this world, Sparks being one example, clank being another, which means an automaton.   In this universe, clanks often have a sort of spirit of their own, an almost independent will.

I also love the names for things and people.  For example, there are fierce, human-ish mercenaries called Jagermonsters.  They have rows of pointy fangs for teeth and a strong attraction to action, violence, and pain.  A “construct” is a human-like creature that has been constructed (much like Frankenstein’s monster), but lives and acts like a human being.

There is a fabled clan, the Heterodynes, who had many adventures, but have disappeared, and now are merely the stuff of legend and children’s stories.

Agatha Clay, heroine extraordinaire!

In these stories, our young heroine is  Agatha Clay, who attends Transylvania Polygnostic University (motto: “Know enough to be afraid”) and desperately wants to build machines, but can never seem to get anything to work.  At first she’s under the protection of the mayor of Beetleburg, but after an unfortunate accident, she’s on her own and gets swept away to the giant airship castle of Baron Wulfenbach, who rules the land and obsessively studies anything “sparky.”  There Agatha is stowed with some other youngsters being held as diplomatic hostages.  Agatha develops a friendship with the Baron’s son, Gilgamesh Wulfenbach (again with the fun names).  General wackiness (salted with danger) ensues.

Fun facts about Agatha: She seems to sleep-build machines in her underwear.  She’s quite brilliant at working with machinery, as when she fixes Gilgamesh’s flying machine while it plummets to Earth, improving the engine design and pulling them out of a crash path with the planet (potentially ouchy).

Extra! Extra!  Read it for free online!

The entire Girl Genius series is available online for free at Girl Genius Online.com.  Hard copy versions are also available (along with lots of other nifty stuff) at their store.

The Art of the Madcap Adventure.

Overall, I would describe the art style as toward the comic book end of the spectrum, with a simplified and exaggerated style.    Not hyper-realistic, like some super hero comics, but also not simplified and caricatured to the point of many newspaper comic strips.  My experience in this whole field is very limited, so I hope you’ll be patient with my developing knowledge.

The entire book is in black and white, but the style shifts after the first story, The Beetleburg Clank, which is drawn in plain, solid black on white.  The next two stories are shaded and more three-dimensional, as if they were done with some computer rendering program.  I found the 3-D pictures much easier to grasp.  Online, the whole thing has been colored, and is much easier for me to comprehend quickly.  Plus the color is very vivid, very fun.

In studying this artform, I’m studying various ways to signal different modes of consciousness, such as memory and dream.

Agatha’s first dream (found in The Beetleburg Clank) is simply introduced with a caption: Elsewhere, Agatha Dreams.  It is only one page, and the drawing style seems to be the same as for depicting waking consciousness.  There is one panel that has a strange, unreal, geometric pattern as the background.  At the lower right edge of the page is a large head of Agatha, waking up.

Agatha’s second dream (found in The Airship City and described as a flashback {even though she clearly goes to sleep before it happens}) is introduced with another caption: Long ago and far away.  The first and last panels of the dream have a cumulus-like rounded edge on one corner, and they’re the only ones in the book that have that.  The drawing style within the dream seems slightly simplified.  The texture of the backgrounds is not as detailed as it is in the waking reality of the story.  Online, the last panel of Agatha’s first dream seems to lose color on its right half, becoming a sepia-ish gray on gray, quite unlike the normally intense colors of the series.

Agatha’s third dream (found in The Monster Engine) is also signaled by a a caption: Agatha is dreaming…  It is a single page depicting Agatha standing in front of and gazing at a gigantic, vivid clockwork (shaped like a skeleton-key hole)  integrated with the moon and sun and stars.  I don’t perceive any particular difference in the drawing style, except perhaps that the surfaces of the clockwork are mostly solid color, and not textured like a lot of the other objects and backgrounds in the rest of the stories.

Glancing through the book, I can see that it adheres to Eric Shanower’s assessment that 7 panels is usually the maximum for an American graphic novel.  Several pages have 1-5 panels, but generally the maximum is 7.  When there are more than 7 panels on a page, usually there are several smaller panels or some insets, or both.  The shapes and proportions of the panels vary nicely for great impact, from horizontal to vertical, predominantly rectangular, with just a couple of curves thrown in.  There’s very nice use of smaller inset panels for close-ups and transitional moments between larger panels.

I find that the panel shapes that are square or rectangular lend an over-all settled feeling to my experience.  Panels shaped with diagonal borders tend to set me on edge a bit.  I can use that when designing my own work.

Frequent use of diagonals in the panel shapes also adds to the energy conveyed on the pages.  And there is a lot of energy in the stories.  Things and people zing about from here to there.  Strange creatures and machines appear almost out of nowhere.  Partly because of the varied panel shapes, the art really has a lot of verve, which matches so well the dialogue and characters, who seem to shout a lot.  There’s just a frenetic, over-the-top feeling about the whole enterprise, which befits their catchphrase: “Adventure, Romance and Mad Science.”

Disclosure, and props to Kaja Foglio!

Thanks so much to Phil and Kaja Foglio for having Girl Genius online.  It’s great to be able to illustrate what I’m describing.

For disclosure purposes: I got to speak with Kaja Foglio at WonderCon, and she was super-helpful, taking a lot of time to talk with me and share information.  In fact, it is due to her that I figured out how to insert links into my blog posts, because she mentioned that links were always most welcome, and I wanted to oblige.

And now, as your prize for getting to the end of this review: Here are some fun pix in a  Girl Genius Costumes group on Flickr.

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