getting started on graphic novels?

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Phil McAndrew
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getting started on graphic novels?

Post by Phil McAndrew » Tue Aug 23, 2005 7:41 pm

Over the last year or so, I've been thinking quite a bit about working on a graphic novel. I've bounced back and forth from "maybe I'll do one after college" to "I have so many ideas, I'm gonna start thumbnailing a book out right now!"

Anyways, I have two ideas that I'm pretty happy with right now. One of them is a wacky mystery/suspense story. I've it on my mind pretty much 24/7 lately. Even though I'm really excited about the story I have forming in my head, I think I may let this idea simmer a while longer. I'm not entirely sure that I'm ready to tackle it yet.

The other idea was something I decided I definitely wanted to do someday a while back, but hadn't really put a lot of thought into when I would do it. Something that happened earlier this summer has put this idea back into my mind and now I'm thinking I want get started on it real soon.

I've chatted with a good friend of mine a million times about doing graphic novels. He just recently started working on one himself. Another friend, Ed Brisson, recently announced that he was looking for original graphic novels to publish under the New Reliable Press name (he's publishing You Ain't No Dancer). I've managed to draw at least one comic every single weekday for something like 6 months now. I'm headed back to school in less than 2 weeks, where there isn't a whole lot to do other than read, draw, and watch CSI re-runs.

Basically, I'm thinking that maybe now would be a good time to take a serious stab at getting a book started.

So what advice would you guys have for someone getting ready to start a book? I know a bunch of you have got a graphic novel or two under your belt. How much time do you generally devote to working on your books and how much do you get done each day? A page? More? Are any of you balancing time between graphic novels and school or jobs? How much time do you spend thumbnailing it out before hand?

I'm really excited about the prospect of finally sitting down and working on a book, but I'm also feeling really intimidated.

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Mike Laughead
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Post by Mike Laughead » Tue Aug 23, 2005 7:59 pm

I think this is a great question, I wish I could help with an answer, but I am actually in desperate need of the answers that will pop up here. What is the best way (or at least your way) of starting a graphic novel?
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Kazu
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Post by Kazu » Tue Aug 23, 2005 8:10 pm

I recommend beginning with short stories until you feel fully confident in telling complete stories with a beginning, middle, and end. When you feel you're ready to tackle a graphic novel, it helps (and I personally think it's necessary) to have the entire story pretty much worked out on paper or in your head before you begin. Changes will surely be made, but if you began on a solid foundation and stick to the core ideas in the story, no amount of freestyling will throw you off course.

This is what I learned after beginning my first successful storytelling exercises with Copper, then moving onto the Flight stories, and then onto graphic novels like Daisy Kutter and Amulet. I'm still learning, but one of my goals is to be able to spin a massive tale without it getting out of control. The short exercises can be just as fun, or even more fun, than taking on the big projects. Having patience, or understanding that it takes a long time to learn how to pace yourself both in the story and in your work process, will help you immensely.
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Post by DEADDUCK » Tue Aug 23, 2005 8:25 pm

Thanks for asking the question that was also on my mind Phil.

after the birth of our child back in May my wife and I talked about it and came to the conclusion that it was time for me to quit my fulltime job and stay home and raise the baby and work on my storys.

Three months later I am just now reaching the point where I realize I need to start out with some short storys like Kazu said instead of just jumping in full tilt and try to produce a 150 page epic on the first outting.

on the up note the comic store that I still work for part time has said that they will carry anything I put out so I guess that is something in my favor.

ok, getting long winded.

really looking forward to hearing what the rest of you have to offer.

Charles
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hope
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Post by hope » Tue Aug 23, 2005 8:26 pm

I'll echo Kazu.

I write the whole story out in a quasi-screenplay format and work out the kinks with trusted friends/editors before I start drawing anything. With the script finished, my only challenge is to knuckle down and work.

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Phil McAndrew
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Post by Phil McAndrew » Tue Aug 23, 2005 8:28 pm

Kazu wrote:I recommend beginning with short stories until you feel fully confident in telling complete stories with a beginning, middle, and end.
This is good news! The idea that I want to get started on is really more of a string of short stories. The mystery/suspense story that I'm going to hold off on is a much longer, complete story.

Thanks for the advice, Kazu! You're always a great help! :D

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Post by JP » Tue Aug 23, 2005 11:05 pm

This is a good question, Phil. I hope we get answers from others here aswell but like Kazu and Hope said, you begin with the short ones.

And there's always the possibility of lengthening a shorter story by adding meat around the bones you know. Add a little something here and there, basically scenes that bring the characters more alive or something. But without a proper string there's no weaving the tale. That's what I noticed back in 1999, when starting the first version of the Druids.

Yup, it's been under work since that - hell, six years already - but the good news is that the characters are becoming solid, lot's of weak parts have been changed etc. But yes, it's a pain trying to work between freelance jobs, school and dating. ;)
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Dan Santat
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Post by Dan Santat » Wed Aug 24, 2005 1:56 am

I'm with Kazu as well.

The thing about a graphic novel is that some stories can be very time consuming and having an outline can make a big difference in saving lots of time and effort.

But even though you have the outline, most likely, you're going to change it here adn there.

I don't know if this happens to anyone else, but after a while you'll learn things about a character when you're doing your novel and you'll get to know them so well that once you reach the end you'll realize that you've strayed a bit from your outline because you know how your character is going to act in certain situations and it doesn't always quite match your ooutline. In fact, I've had to go back to the earlier chapters to tweak a few things because when i think about the earlier chapters they were still quite rough and I was trying to figure out the REAL personality of my protagonist or whomever.

A short story is a great place to start because it's managable and it will help you quite a bit in terms of gaining experience for pacing a story.
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Post by Rocky » Wed Aug 24, 2005 5:34 am

As a reader of these stories, I've seen this circle of artists grow over the past few years in terms of skills and storytelling abilities. The most effective stories that I find myself drawn to are for the most part, the autobiographical ones...ie the trend of 'journal comics' or comics like Hope's "Salamander Dream" and Raina's "Smile". Like everyone has been saying, if you don't think this has a solid beginning-middle-and end, don't be afraid to tell a story from your own experience...or insert a character into this fictional story thats almost an extension of yourself, like Kazu's 'Copper' (though I don't know if he intended that (-: )

Anyways Phil, I enjoy your work and all I can basically just say is...go for it!
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Post by Joey » Wed Aug 24, 2005 8:41 am

hope wrote:I'll echo Kazu.

I write the whole story out in a quasi-screenplay format and work out the kinks with trusted friends/editors before I start drawing anything. With the script finished, my only challenge is to knuckle down and work.
Just curious, Hope, do you even thumbnail while writing the script? I have a hard time visuallizing what works without thumbnailing...

I wrote a big thing on Phil's LiveJournal about this, but what I've found to be extremely helpful for people to critique, and work out pacing and all that, is to write a Page Breakdown. You know, something similar to what's called the "Marvel Style" script or whatever, a second outline where I actually figure out what happens on each page...then when it comes time to work on the actual script, I can expand upon that and tweak things that actually deserve more or less (usually more) pages than I thought etc...

(Plus I should note the same disclaimer that I wrote to Phil...I may not be the most qualified to talk about this. I'm just beginning to work on a graphic novel, unlike Kazu and Hope who're starting to have a couple under their belts...) :D
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Post by hope » Wed Aug 24, 2005 8:50 am

Nope. :)

I write the script, then print it out and go through with a pencil marking page divisions and working out what beats I want to hit. I usually don't thumbnail until I sit down to draw my final pages. It's a little silly and, I guess (?), unorthadox, but it does the trick for me.

I should probably point out that my scripts are very visual, so when I'm writing I'm working out a lot of the same stuff that someone else might work out in thumbs.

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Post by Dan Santat » Wed Aug 24, 2005 10:24 am

I do thumbnails when I'm outlining a story. It's A LOT of work but I prefer it over the rigidity of sticking to a script (which will probably be revised a bit anyway)... Sometimes the thumbnails contribute an idea to the story and it takes it in a much more interesting direction... But it can also bite you in the ass. I had gone 14 pages into a chapter I was working on and in the middle of it I realized that it wasn't going to work as well as I had wanted and I had to scrap it. The pay off of doing thumbnails, in my opinion, is well worth the effort though. I find that it really helps the marriange between text and pictrures. One of those happy accidents that artists like to do...
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Post by Kazu » Wed Aug 24, 2005 10:59 am

My work process is similar to Dan's in that I write my stories as thumbnail pages. I feel it actually saves a lot of time, since I am getting both the script and the initial layouts worked out at the same time and for little effort. Also, whenever I get stuck in a story event where I know what's supposed to happen but I'm not sure exactly how I want to show it, I'll just draw a random assortment of panels and then let the page composition dictate the action that fills them (although this is generally a last resort option and only serves to keep the wheels moving). Here's a link to the Daisy Kutter process section for anyone who hasn't been able to find the book.

Amy works from a script and she seems to work really, really fast that way too, so the initial steps in the work process tend to vary a lot depending on what media the artist is most comfortable working in.
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Post by Nofret » Wed Aug 24, 2005 2:06 pm

I'll usually write the main story points down, no details.I also like to do the real scripting at the same time as the thumbnails. I may not have all the dialogues out yet, so I make notes of what the characters should be talking about in the margins.
I'm lazier than Kazu: if I have trouble with the layout of a page, I'll just write the main idea of what should be happening in the margins (like " character A finds treasure and realise he has lost the key") and move on.

I should always carry with me a note pad to jot down sudden flashes of dialogue or story ideas that sometime pop out of nowhere. By the time I get home, I sometime forget about it.

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Post by davidhopkins » Mon Aug 29, 2005 7:27 am

With my first attempt in comics, I scripted a graphic novel (100+ pages) and it's still gathering dust on my shelf. With my second attempt, I scripted another graphic novel (144 pages) and it too is gathering dust. After that, I scripted a 24 page mini-comic and three months later... done, printed, and ready for consumption. Sometimes, it's better to start small, even a collection of shorter works that could eventual turn into some more substantial.

Everyone is different... depending on your employment situation, work ethic, abilities, etc. I tend to layout the story in two, four, and six page clusters. From there, I get more detailed.
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