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…

Graphic Novel Recommendations

As I go along, trying to learn more about the art form of the graphic novel, I have been asking artists and fans for their recommendations as to which graphic novels I should  study, and other books about understanding the art form.  Some of these books were recommended over and over from many sources, some only once.

Here is a collection of their recommendations and other books that I have discovered in my quest (and online searching):

Barnum!: In Secret Service to the USA, by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman, art by Niko Henrichon

Comics and Sequential Art, by Will Eisner

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel, by Nat Gertler and Steve Lieber

Ex Machina, created by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris

Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist, by Will Eisner

I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly, art by J.M. Ken Nimura

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

Life, in Pictures, Autobiographical Stories, by Will Eisner

Maus and Maus II, by Art Spiegelman

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

Promethea, by Alan Moore, art by J.H. Williams III, Mick Gray, Jose Villarrubia, & Jeromy Cox

Runaways, created by Brian K. Vaughan

Sandman, by Neil Gaiman

Scott Pilgrim, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Stuck Rubber Baby, by Howard Cruse

Terry and the Pirates, created by Milton Caniff

Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud

The Unwritten, by Mike Carey

Watchmen, by Alan Moore, art by Dave Gibbons

Watching the Watchmen, by Dave Gibbons (about the making of)

Y: the Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan


Adventures in Oz, by Eric Shanower

Age of Bronze, by Eric Shanower

Artesia, by Mark Smylie

The Killer,  by Matz, art by Luc Jacamon

High Tech High’s Graphic Novel Project, first 3 Issues: La Sombra de America; Modern Mythology; Nice Meeting You, Goodbye

Inanna’s Tears, by Rob Vollmar, art by mpMann

Moon Lake, an anthology created by Dan Fogler

Mouseguard Fall 1152, by David Petersen

To the Power Against, Issues 1-4, by Carrie Smith, art by Stephanie Lantry

I found a link to this article:

27 Amazing Graphic Novels for Readers New to the Genre

Some of  the ones listed there are on the list I gathered, too.  I was especially gratified to see Mouseguard Fall 1152 among them.  I’ve read it twice now, and I love it.

I also found this on WordPress:

Anabelle Hamilton’s Blog.  She has a page on Graphic Novels and Developing a Story.  If you’re following my blog, hers might interest you, too.  I haven’t read all of hers yet, but I look forward to exploring it.  In fact, she linked to the article above about 27 Graphic Novels.

Does you have others to add to the lists?  Please comment and let me know.  Thanks!