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.


WonderCon 2011: the second day, part 1

My plan for the second day was to spend it in the exhibition hall getting information.   Watching the Graphic Novel panel on Friday, I was impressed by Eric Shanower, and I knew I wanted to talk with him.  All of the panelists were clearly dedicated to their art.  It was just that he mentioned sometimes helping people who wanted to get into graphic novels, pointing them to websites with comic scripts and other useful information.  I was also impressed by his passion for his stories.  At one point, he said he would get his stories out in whatever format was needed, as the medium transformed.  He’s working on a very long series, the Age of Bronze (http://age-of-bronze.com/), which is the story of the Trojan War.  That’s immense dedication, ’cause that’s not gonna be a short story.  Anyway, he sounded really potentially helpful, so my main goal for the day was to make sure to speak with him, among others.

The Exhibition hall at the Moscone Center is huge.  Bigger than the city block I live on.  Immense.  Truly immense.  There was not enough time to go through it methodically, checking at every booth of artists or small presses, asking my questions everywhere, seeing if anyone could help me.  I needed another strategy, so I would pick a goal or two for each day, and then let myself be lead, here or there, hoping that I would collect the information I needed along the way.  It was a little like pinging through a pinball machine, like one of the little, silver balls.  One person would lead to another would lead to a chance encounter along the way.

Before I could even get into the Exhibition hall, I ran into a costuming friend, and I took the leap to tell her about my screenwriting and the reason for my attendance at WonderCon.  I didn’t have to tell her, but as we were preparing  to part, I felt that I wanted to tell her, and ask for any advice or direction she could give me, and that if I let her go without saying anything, I’d regret it.  So in I plunged.  She’s known me many years, but she didn’t know I was a writer, because I have kept that largely to myself.  (Why I kept it mostly secret is a story for another day.)  I was glad I told her, because she told me about the beau of another costuming friend who might have good information.   She went off, and I went into that grand hall of possibilities, on the quest for information, now with at least 2 goals: talk with Eric Shanower and the guy my friend had mentioned.

I was wandering down an aisle, when I was shyly beckoned over to a table where I discovered some high school students from San Diego had started the High Tech High Graphic Novel Project, to publish their work, and they had 3 issues for sale.  I bought all 3 for $10, which seemed like a great investment, in the kids themselves, in the idea of dreams coming true, and in supporting other aspiring writers.  They seemed eager for feedback, and when I read the issues and have a moment, I hope to give  whatever input I can.  I’m not yet knowledgeable about graphic novels, but I hope I can offer them something useful.

There was more, much more, to this glorious day at WonderCon, but it will have to wait for the next post.  Does our heroine get to meet the illustrious Eric Shanower?  Can she track down the beau of a costuming acquaintance?  And will he have any helpful info?  Follow the continuing saga…