Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How This Happened, pt. III

I’ve been talking about how this all happened on the blog for a while now (see part I & see also part II) but I feel like it’s time to take this particular thread home.

This story isn’t about me.

Once I hit on that phrase, I felt like I had settled into the right frame of mind for the comic.  So though I had done all kinds of planning, though I had sketched out what I thought would be a 3 or even 4 issue plan, the actual process of working on my comic was in fact a process.

The new story of the comic wasn’t really a story at all, but a scope – sort of a growing sense of what I wanted out of it. 

I realized that I wasn’t particularly interested in a narrative or characters, though I was interested in how character gets communicated or changed over time & in response to events, & I was intrigued by the physics of narrative itself.  I also became obsessed with certain images (the leaf cracking under ice & how that might be a symbol for so much of my thinking on this subject, or the geese flying over the snow). 

For me, for this project, it’s hard for me to write about my intent.  So much of what happened seems to fall into place, like tumblers on a lock.  It all happened kind of at once & in a largely intuitive manner.

However, while I was working on it, I started letting my mind run a little bit to further explore some of the chains that were springing up.  To me, that was the real fun!

At this point (as I sit here typing this) I’ve got a really lose outline for issue #2 typed up.  If the process on #1 taught me anything, it’s that the outline probably doesn’t mean a thing.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this all takes me – if the loose plot from #1 gets resolved or if we just move on to something else entirely!

There are still copies of THERE WILL BE NOTHING LEFT sitting right here on this shelf to my left.  ONE DOLLAR (& fifty cents!) is all it takes to have one sent to you!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hulk Hair!

I've fallen behind in just about everything, thanks to an amazing trip out to California (where I gave a reading & worked with some talented high school writers) & just general busy-ness at the school where I teach.  But copies of THERE WILL BE NOTHING LEFT have flown all over the country (!) & people have been writing back to let me know their thoughts...which maybe I'll share at some point in the future.  All of it has me aching to get back into the groove of working on pages, trying to figure out where this story is leading me!

I'm going to take a break from my process posts (part I of which is here, with part II located here) for a little real time sneak peek at my sketchbook.  I doodle a lot, & make quick reference drawings.  But also, since I'm still training myself how to move a pencil so that what shows up on the page looks like what I want it to, I spend time copying things too.  I'll see a drawing & then try to do my own version so I can learn the shorthand & the motions.  For whatever reason, one of the recurring features in my sketchbook has become HULK HAIR! 

That's right - the Hulk...that strong green (or grey or red) behemoth.   Everyone seems to draw his HAIR just a little bit differently.  Anyway, here's a page from my sketch book (sorry for the poor reproduction) featuring some Hulk hair by Sal Buscema from DEFENDERS #10 (the first series, so we're talking November of 1973).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How This Happened, pt. II

In my last post, I alluded to some kind of epiphany that helped change the course of my early thinking about my mini comic (I was calling it “Winter Story” at this early stage).  Well, it wasn’t really an epiphany so much as a brick wall.

Again, everything sort of happened at once, so I’ll try to break down how the whole thing broke down:

I started getting tighter on my plotting for issue one, typing out what I thought might be some solid panel progressions & realized that, in order to hit the right notes & hit my 8 page mark, I was going to be using material that I thought would have carried me well into issue 2.  So my plots, & written breakdowns, were turning out to be worthless.

I also realized that much of what I thought would fill pages in issues 2 & 3 wasn’t really visual – I was writing too much & not connecting it to anything that could be dramatized. 

I did some rough thumbnail panel breakdowns for the entire 8 pages, calling out the sequences & blocking.  This led to my biggest mistake…

I started drawing the pages – but out of order, because I didn’t think it would matter.  However, as soon as I committed something to page 4, it set up page 1 or 2 or 3 or 5 in ways that were really constricting.  Maybe if my plotting had been expertly tight or if I had been committed to it, it might have been okay.  But I was more committed to riding out the process than filling out a spreadsheet.


So one afternoon, I had the plot up on my computer screen.  The rest of my desk (which is actually an old Formica & chrome kitchen table) was covered with half drawn pages, a few panels that I liked & had clipped from pages I had already scrapped, & a few random sketches.  I thought, “This isn’t how the story is supposed to work.”  Then I thought, “This isn’t how ANY story works.”  I was trying to dictate how one thing moved onto some new thing & I was getting all twisted around. 

It was getting dark.  I stared out the window & saw a few geese honking across the sky.  That’s when I realized that even though I needed some autobiographical scaffolding to build this story, I was not writing+drawing an autobiographical comic book. 

This story isn’t about me.

What came next happened in a flash.  Literally.  But later for that.  As in, to be continued!

Friday, November 9, 2012

How This Happened, pt. I

I wanted to try to write coherently about how I started working on my mini comic There Will Be Nothing Left, but everything started happening at once.  My process for this wasn’t very orderly, though I tried like hell to make it so.  Actually, the further along I got, the more everything took shape & started to make sense.  But, in the beginning, it looked like this.

·      I drew faces in my sketchbook for an hour or so, for three or four days.  After that, I started drawing bodies.  I knew, sort of vaguely, that the comic would have two or three characters so I wanted to try out a range of styles (sort of cartoony to sort of realistic) & just get some practice at making things look the way I wanted them to look (happy / sad / surprised / incredulous).  I’m not a master of subtle facial expressions by any stretch (you need to check out Seth or Adrian Tomine).  But this became just another limitation that helped me define what I was going to do (ie, no panels where the meaning was communicated through a complexly rendered bit lip, or a slight eye roll).  But I did get to a point where, with just a few lines, I could suggest an emotional state.  Then, varying those lines only slightly, I could vary the emotion as well.  It was pretty cool. 

I'm not this good.  Adrian Tomine is.

·      I wrote out a bunch of material.  Sometimes I wrote out little scenes in a very minimal way (more like stage directions, no dialogue or narration).  Eventually, I settled on a kind of arc that I wanted to draw – just really broad strokes of a story that I thought would allow me to draw something things that I both COULD draw & which I WANTED to draw.  This rough plot eventually got split up into the action of 3 issues, & I worked at really fleshing out each issue.  I knew they’d all be 8 pages, so after I had general plots for each issue, I broke down the action on a page by page basis, just writing down arcs that I thought would pay off & layer themselves in satisfying ways.

At this point, I had not worked out any actual character sketches, had no real dialogue or narration, and most importantly, I had no real idea about what I was trying to accomplish.  Even though I knew I didn’t want to just present a sort of slice of life autobiographical story, that’s kind of what I had roughed out.

The story, at this early stage, was mostly something that happened to me.  All of the faces I was drawing looked like mine.  Luckily, something happened to change the way this was shaping up.

But that’s what comes next.  For now, please remember you can buy a copy of THERE WILL BENOTHING LEFT for only a buck!  Please do!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Out Now!

I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled process statement to let you know that my new mini comic, THERE WILL BE NOTHING LEFT, is now available to order!  It’s an 8 page, black & white all about stories & narrative, about life & how to live it, about what happens when snow covers everything. 

It’s only $1.00 (plus 0.50 shipping)!

Page 1, Panel 1

You can click the cover over there to the right or use this handy button right here:

There Will Be Nothing Left by Nate Pritts // 8 pgs. // B&W
$1.00 + 0.50 (s)

I spent most of my free time Tuesday & Wednesday finalizing the digital files, doing some test prints & making some last minute wholesale changes, but I was able to finish October with a big stapled stack of these.   

Page 3, Panels 1 & 2

I’m really happy to have these in a finished form; I learned a lot through the process, through pushing my creativity into some different areas.  Even though I can already see some things I’d like changed (creative things like panel progressions & perspectives as well as more mechanical things like how I scanned & laid out the artwork), I’m most excited about what comes next.

What comes next?  I’ve got some ideas, for sure.  But, here on the blog, I’ll back track a bit & jump into a series of posts about my writing & drawing process for THERE WILL BE NOTHING LEFT.  Soon!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Solution Made of Oil!

I’m supposed to be documenting my work on making my own comic book, but so far all I've done is a lot of talking.  But, well, for me that’s how things get done – talking to myself, really thinking about what it is I want to do.  And in the actual timeline of how all this came together for me, I might have bought some pens in late September but I hadn’t at that time figured out what I was actually going to do with them.

In the last post, I talked a bit about the idea of FORM vs. CONTENT in comics.  In my more traditional writing practice (poetry), everything I do is fueled sort of equally by parameters applied to both the form & the content.  They’re linked up.  What I want to say in a poem is determined, at least partly, by how I think it might look on the page.  So, in the process of making this comic, my decisions about what I was going to write & draw were bound up in my initial decisions about format.

I’ve been making zines since I was a teenager, & in fact my whole poetry publishing empire (ha!) started as a single ditto’d zine.  When I started this new project, I knew only that I wanted my comic to be something I could photocopy & staple myself because a part of why I was doing this was to get my hands dirty & have that kind of physical connection to the book itself.  A recent book, Mark Todd & Esther Pearl Watson’s Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine? brings together some great thoughts on the physical & ideological construction of a zine.  It’s really a great clearinghouse for some of the best thoughts on every aspect of this, & there are some great comics in there as well.

But, actually, all my problems / question were solved in one fell swoop when I discovered Chuck Forsman’s Oily Comics.   

I endlessly trawl the internet for indy comics, & I knew Chuck’s high octane slacker series The End of the Fucking World through some issues I had picked up who knows where.  But I never thought to track back to Oily Comics, which Chuck runs.  What you’ll find there is an amazing array of comics, most of which are a buck.  ONE DOLLAR.

I got my first delivery just a few days after I ordered.  They’re all quarter-sized, side-stapled, black & white.  It goes without saying that the books themselves are terrific – James Hindle’s Close Your Eyes as you Let Go is detailed & full of character depth with great use of black & Max de Radigues’ Moose is clean & whimsical magical realism with a desperate heart.  But even more than the content, what impressed me was the way Chuck had made a whole mess of design/business choices, had solved all these problems, & had created an amazing new platform.

For my own comic, I was leaning toward the half size fold but after seeing these Oily Comics, I knew I was going hardcore black & white at the quarter size.  I loved the feel of these books in my hand.  Making this decision – a very foundational decision that would dictate the look & tone of the art, as well as the overall size of the book – I was freed up to start thinking creatively…to write, to sketch, to start to figure out what the hell I was doing.

But that’s for next time.  I actually just got some of the new October books in the mail today, so I’m going to stop writing this & start reading.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mystery in Space!

When I first started reading comics, I was a kid & I was struck by the things that might strike a kid – dynamic art, interesting characters & story arcs, fantastic locales. 

I loved the Fantastic Four both for their group dynamics, the way they seemed to complement each other, and the epic scope of their adventures (I guess here I’m talking about the John Byrne run, which was my first & still dominant impression of the team).  I remember devouring any scrap of Adam Strange material I could find partly because I found the (admittedly repetitive) plot contrivance really satisfying.  But it’s fair to say that these examples (& the many many more I could list) all center on the CONTENT of the comics.  Aliens & cosmic cubes / other dimensions & unexplained phenomenon.

But I want to step away from the fanboy talk for a minute.  At the risk of oversimplifying, I want to talk about the FORM of comics as separate from content.  Because to me, it’s only through an understanding of form that I ever really thought I could approach comics as something I could do myself – not just a form of entertainment (or enrichment even), but as a method to explore my own drives. 

Thinking about form was the key that helped me to take a constructivist approach, a way to think about the process of making comics, which in turn allowed me to start in.

One of the first times I ever thought about form in comics came in 1984, Larry Hama’s ‘silent’ issue of GI Joe (it was #21).  It only took me a few pages to catch on to what he was doing, letting a whole issue run with no dialogue, no narration.  I “read” that issue over & over (ironically, many more times than I read other contemporary stuff that was packed with prose), & I was aware that certain choices were being made in how the comic was unfolding, the actual construction of it.  It was like seeing behind the curtain, understanding that certain deliberate choices were at work.

Sure, artists & writers always make a lot of choices but, either because I was a kid or because I was blinded by content, I was unaware of those choices – panel perspective & coloring, plot twists & characterization.  But here, in this issue, the FORM took precedence over the CONTENT (which was pretty awesome, actually, as Snake-Eyes busts into a Cobra Temple alone & takes on Storm Shadow).

There were other examples of FORM coming to the forground in my pre-teen & adolescent reading:  that hardcover Silver Surfer graphic novel by Stan Lee & John Buscema where every page was a full panel splash, the cramped & obsessive 9 panel grids that Keith Giffen used on his Legion of Superheroes.... 

Then, obviously, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics played a big role in first opening my eyes to the mechanics of the page.  Also Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story, which demonstrated the methodology of selection & perspective & tone. Also, hundreds more books of this type, & also also probably every comic I’ve ever read has influenced my thinking on this.  I wish I could provide a clear trajectory or a simple reading list, but it gets pretty messy.  And maybe that’s the point.

I think there’s a huge difference between seeing the comics medium as one that is primarily motivated by entertainment or seeing it as a viable creative outlet where a certain set of common parameters help dictate the larger set of open parameters a practioner might employ.  It’s the difference between neat & messy, between easy & difficult.

Next time, I’ll get into some of the more direct inspirations for my comic – those that are more CONTENT based as well as those that are more FORMAL.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Secret Origins!


For my birthday this year, I went to the big art store here in Syracuse & bought myself some pencils & pens & paper.  I decided I was going to try to make my own comic book.

Aside from a few high school art classes (the regular crop of studio classes & one focused on cartooning), I don’t have any real training in how to draw.  Of course, once upon a time I didn’t have any training in how to write poems, or how to run a magazine or even a publishing company but that didn't stop me.  So I wasn’t too worried about a lack of training.  I was worried a bit about lack of talent, I guess, but I plunged in anyway.

I’ve been reading comics my whole life.  And though I have favorite characters & series, favorite panels & creators, it’s probably fair to say that I love the FORM of comics much more than I love a specific iteration of that form.  Meaning, maybe, I’m endlessly energized by what’s possible when you combine words & pictures, when you get to show something & say something & map it all out.  It was only natural that eventually I'd want to try my hand at making my own.

I’m going to use this blog to document a bit of my process working on this comic (& hopefully others in the future!) – partly from a practical standpoint & partly in a more theoretical manner.  But we’re still here at the beginning, so I don’t want to jump ahead too much.

Having only a vague sense of what tools I was going to need if I was  really going to try to do this in a “professional” manner, I started scouring online sources.  I found information all over – about what pens to use & where to buy the right paper.  I’ll talk more about my own materials eventually, but really the biggest help to me initially were these two blog posts / by John Porcellino.

(John’s comics have been a big part of my life for a long time.  I was lucky to get a chance to talk to him a few years ago about his Thoreau book.  If you don’t know his King-Cat Comics, there are many entry points – you can start with one of the collections (like Perfect Example) or just order the newest issue.)

My first trip to the art store netted me a handful of Micron pens & some Prismacolor pencils (including John’s recommended non-photo blue).  I didn’t buy an eraser, but it was my first trip, & I am new at this!  I had to go back a few more times over the next few days…

But that’s for next time!