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.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. JennyJ
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 06:55:59

    The panel idea is good. It’s like the sequence approach. What you need to do is understand hero’s journey and panel / sequence it out.

    Reply

  2. cynthiahussey
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 22:52:42

    Hi Jenny. Thanks for your suggestion. In fact, graphic novels frequently resemble the sequence approach, since most of them are originally published in smaller, separate sections, called issues. This comes from their origins in comic books. Even graphic novels that are published originally as books and not issues are often written in chapters, which are strongly like film sequences.

    Thanks for the reminder about the hero’s journey, too. Your comment reminds me of some feedback I got from one producer about my script exactly along those lines. It certainly won’t hurt to go back over my story as I rewrite it and see if works to hit more of those points, to give the story more power.

    Reply

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