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.

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WonderCon 2011: the second day, part 3: Chris Garcia recommends Publishers for Graphic Novels

We catch up to our heroine in the cavernous exhibit hall at WonderCon, striding from one informative conversation to another.

Eric Shanower’s table in Artist Alley

After talking with Stephanie Lantry and Carrie Smith, who create and publish To the Power Against, I finally made it over to Eric Shanower‘s table. But he wasn’t there. He was over at the Marvel booth, for a scheduled signing.  I looked over his books, which were beautiful.   This was my first glimpse of any of his work.  There were many issues of the Age of Bronze series, as well as three collected volumes: A Thousand Ships in soft cover,  Sacrifice and Betrayal (part one), both available in hard cover and soft cover.  These are published by Image Comics and are also available at  Hungry Tiger Press.

There were some Oz books.  Eric Shanower is writing adaptations of L. Frank Baum‘s Oz books, and Skottie Young is illustrating them for Marvel.  The first one was there, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  I was more attracted to Eric’s original Oz stories in  Adventures in Oz, which he both wrote and illustrated,  but there were only two copies left,  so I bought one, with the plan to bring it back to be autographed later.

Chris Garcia recommends smaller presses for Graphic Novels (and gives other advice).

My next goal was to find  Chris Garcia, whom my costuming friend had mentioned.  Chris was volunteering at the Science Fiction Outreach booth, into which I had wandered first thing on arriving Friday, after picking up my badge.  Their booth was right near the entrance from badge pickup.  What caught my attention was that they were giving away books.  For real.

I stopped in to talk with a lovely woman there who explained their mission.  When I explained to her my mission in attending WonderCon, she helpfully told me that John Scalzi had serialized his first novel, Old Man’s War  on his website (which is intermittently hilarious, the website, I mean, especially the opening blurb on the canonical bacon page).  That got the attention of Tor Books, who then published the novel.  She allowed as how this was a traditional novel and not a graphic novel, but it was a good example of how to get something out there, and possibly published by another company as well.  She also mentioned that Ryan Sohmer and Lar deSouza had turned their webcomic Least I Could Do into several collected edition books.  I think they were at WonderCon, but I didn’t ever track them down.  I was so busy with everything else.

Since I had been to the Science Fiction Outreach booth,  I knew right where to look for Chris Garcia, and found him easily.  He was quite happy to help me, and was a font of information.

Chris felt that the best small press in the world is Slave Labor Graphics, and said they publish about 20 books a year.  I looked at their website, and they seem eager to welcome newcomers to the field, which could bode well for my project.  Of course I need to check them out more.  They do accept unsolicited projects, and I looked over their submission guidelines.  Chris did say that Slave Labor Graphics mostly publishes in black and white, and I think color would be better for my book, but it’s certainly still a good recommendation, and I’ll be thrilled if any publisher takes it on.

In the realm of smaller publishers, Chris also mentioned Fantagraphic Books.  They seem to be looking for very individualistic visions, steering clear of anything the major publishers would take.  I found their submission guidelines on their FAQ page in the About Us category.

Chris also mentioned Top Cow.   This is an amusing moment in the adventure, because I thought he said “Pop Cow,” (it was loud in the exhibit hall) and I just spent 20 minutes searching online for them, to investigate and link to, before I stumbled upon Top Cow, and its parent group, Image Comics.  Here are submission guidelines for Image Comics.

I read the Top Cow submission guidelines.  At the moment, they’re not hiring writers or looking for original story material.  They  are hiring artists of various sorts, but this is clearly not a possible publisher for my project.  They advise writers to self-publish, saying, “If your work is good a larger publisher will eventually notice you,” and “Publishers are always on the lookout for promising young professional writers.”  Over the weekend at WonderCon, I heard similar advice from various people.

Chris also mentioned two bigger publishers, and he advised that if I wanted to contact them, I should have my manager call.  One was  Vertigo,  which is a division of DC Comics.  I checked them out.  They also are not seeking new writers or original stories, but they are looking for new artists, through their Talent Search at Comic Conventions.  Here are the DC Comics Talent Search Guidelines.   Here is some further info about Vertigo, from DC Comics, and from About.com.  Since Vertigo is not looking for original stories, it seems it is not an option for me, either (even if I have my manager call, as Chris suggested), although my story is in line with the kind of thing they do.

The other, bigger publisher Chris mentioned was Tokyo Pop.   Since Tokyo Pop is primarily focused on manga, and previously-created franchises (like Star Trek and Sponge Bob Square Pants), and they don’t seem to be taking any submissions at this time, they also wouldn’t be an option for my project.

Other Advice – from Chris Garcia

In the realm of studying graphic novels, Chris Garcia also had a few recommendations.   He mentioned that Gail Carriger had written a manga called Soulless, but I must have misunderstood, because this book turns out to be a novel in her  Parasol Protectorate Series, which Gail describes as, “comedies of manners set in Victorian London: full of vampires, dirigibles, and tea. They are Jane Austen doing urban fantasy meets PG Wodehouse doing steampunk.”   Her website is delicious, full of Victoriana and Steampunk, and personality.  (Re: mistaking “novel” for “manga:” Did I mention it was loud in the exhibition hall – especially where I was talking with Chris?)  Anyway, I’m very glad to find her website, because it’s fun, and it may have useful publishing information.

Later update on Gail Carriger‘s manga: There is going to be one!   It’s a manga version of her novel Soulless, illustrated by Rem.   It’s going to launch officially at the upcoming Comic-Con in San Diego, July 21-14, 2011, serialized in Yen Plus, a monthly online  anthology, and as a full book next spring, published by Yen Press.  (I guess I didn’t mishear Chris after all.)

Chris also mentioned Scott McCloud‘s book, Understanding Comics, which everyone mentions (and I ordered right away, when I started this project).  But Chris Garcia was the first one to suggest another McCloud title about the business of comics, by which I think he meant Reinventing Comics, which contains a section on the business of comics and creator’s rights.  I discovered Scott McCloud has another book, Making Comics, that also seems like an excellent resource for anyone learning to create comics and graphic novels.

Chris Garcia told me that I should have only 2 characters talk at a time in a panel, although as I have continued reading graphic novels, I have seen exceptions to this, of course.

He also said I could find examples of comic book scripts in the back of one of the Sandman trade paper back collected editions.

When I asked about his recommendations of graphic novels to study, he said the best was Stuck Rubber Baby, by Howard Cruse.   It has won an Eisner award and bunch of others.  It got three stars in my notes as Chris talked about it, so I know he really enthused about it.

Another fellow was standing nearby, and now I don’t recall whether he or Chris Garcia also recommended Barnum!: In Secret Service to the USA, by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman, art by Niko Henrichon, and Kill Your Boyfriend, by Grant Morrison, art by Philip Bond and D’Israeli.

Of course, I thanked Chris so much for his time and suggestions, and headed back toward Eric Shanower‘s table in Artist Alley.

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…