I love when artists post step-by-step images of their process. In this case, it’s Kevin Nowlan’s cover for Superman Unchained #4, from roughs to finished cover.
I’m always curious about the working process (and tools) of various creators, although I’m usually very focused on comic book writers or artists. But I did enjoy this Lifehacker peek inside the working life of Clive Thompson, a journalist with gigs such as Wired and The New York Times Magazine.
“When I’m reading, I write tons of marginalia—again as much for sense-making as for retrieval. When reading in PDF format, I either use Acrobat Professional on my desktop or iAnnotate PDF on my iPad. My book reading is split probably 50/50 between paper and digital books. For digital books, I mostly read in Kindle or Stanza on my iPad or phone and export the notes and highlights locally. I use Project Gutenberg and Google Books a ton for reading out-of-copyright digital books; indeed, my reading probably has a huge pre-1923 bias because so much amazing stuff is so easily available before copyright laws tightened up.”
There’s an interview over at Comic Book Resources with Marc Guggenheim, comic book writer and executive producer of the “Arrow” TV series, and in this bit he talks about the factors that contribute to a character becoming “relatable” for the audience:
“The advantage we have as a television show over the comic book version is that we created a whole cast of characters around Oliver to help him be more relatable. Truth be told, in the comics Green Arrow’s basically had Black Canary, and that’s been the extent of his supporting cast — he’s had Roy, but we went to great lengths to give him a sister, a best friend, a mother, [and bodyguard] Diggle. He doesn’t have any of those things in the comics and when you talk about what makes a character relatable, I’d say it’s the people around him,” Guggenheim said. “If I were to tackle the comic book as a writer the first thing I would try to do is give him a supporting cast. That would help elaborate on his character.”
Here, he’s referring to the latest Green Arrow series (the “New 52″), which has already gone through 3 creative team changes in less than 20 issues. And I think he’s absolutely right. Whether you like the TV show or not, there’s no denying that they have built up a very strong set of supporting characters, through whose eyes we see Oliver in different lights. This allows them a greater opportunity to explore his different sides, and show his changing attitudes and motivations.
For you process fas, here are a couple of links to artist Aaron Lopresti’s blog, where he shows the process behind a few of his covers.
Green Arrow #15 – What I find interesting about this one is that personally, I think the “B” concept out of the four roughs is much more bold and features a more striking perspective, but hey, i’m not the editor.
Justice League International #2 – So if you were the editor, which rough would you have picked?
(Originally posted on the Ferret Press blog here)
Brent made this great process post over on my other blog, and I felt it should be shared here as well. Take it away, Brent:
I’ve just finished an amazing dream sequence for the upcoming graphic novel Persia Blues, written by Dara and drawn by yours truly. This is how I did it. (Not really a tutorial exactly but more of a show and tell)
First i looked at the script and i did my breakdowns and thumbnails.
Now I’ll show you all the pencils compared to the inks. These pages are done in the “here” part of the story, which is the fantasy world. So I’m using inks, inkwash, markers, and pencils.
I used a real photo of a persian rug for the rug in panel 2, tweaking it in Photoshop and dropping it in as a texture. Same thing with the stars in Minoo’s hair.
This is a double page spread. Added my standard cloud background and some spots for the White Demon. And some stars. but actually very little photoshop on this one. You may notice a few changes from the pencil stage to the finished art. Particularly with the warrior figure on the far right. i just wasn’t happy with the figure. So i fixed it. I’m happy with the results.
I drew the crowd scene on a different piece of paper and just added it in when I was done. Also used my standard cloud background. (Years ago I drew a full sheet of clouds in pencil and I was so happy with it and unable to replicate it that i just keep using it over and over again as a background.
Anyway that’s it. I’m lovong this project. All feedback is appreciated.
And y’all check out our Kickstarter project. Dara’s working on it as we speak.
Oh and as a side note here is my cloud background. Made it back in 2004 or 2005 for some unfinished project or another. I call it “stormy weather”. Now that you know about it, you will see it in my work ALL the time.
I haven’t posted a Persia Blues update in a few weeks, so I thought I’d show off some more artwork. This is page 3. Art by my partner in crime Brent Bowman, writing/lettering by yours truly.
Which brings us to the unfinished figures on the page. This may not come as a big surprise, but we’re planning on running a Kickstarter campaign soon for the book. Yes, we already have a publisher lined up, and to their credit, they’re actually paying us an advance on the book. But the reality of the current publishing landscape (especially for indie graphics novels not coming out from a major publisher) is that there’s not much money in it. Which means the advance is nowhere near what Brent deserves to be compensated for all the time and effort that goes into drawing a 100+ page book. Hence, Kickstarter.
Anyway, one of the incentives will be the opportunity to have your likeness drawn in the book, as one of the 3 mercenaries in the above scene. And you’ll also appear on the following three pages, in a knock-down, drag-out fight with our protagonists, Minoo and Tyler.
So keep your eyes on this blog, or the new Persia Blues website (still under construction, but almost ready), for details on when the campaign kicks off, and what cool incentives you can score.
Here’s another great process post for aspiring (and professional) writers. It comes from Cullen Bunn, writer and co-creator of The Sixth Gun from Oni Press, as well as a bunch of books from marvel Comics. The topic is time management, especially when you’re working on multiple projects and need to effectively and efficiently divide your working time between them all.
I use a cooking timer to keep myself on track. You can find software and apps to facilitate this method (Google “The Pomodoro Technique”) but I think a simple plastic timer and a cheap notebook work well. I divide my day up into thirty-five-minute segments. I call these segments “mods” thanks to a funny bit on The Office. The number of mods you complete in a day is completely up to you. I have a goal of completing 10–12 mods a day…
Click on the link above to read the rest of his process.
I have to say, I really like this method. I use a very informal version of this process for my own writing, but to be honest, I haven’t been doing a good job of it as of late. So I can see the advantages of really sticking to a concrete plan.
Sorry, I know this last part was a long time in the making. What can I say, busy, busy, busy. But let’s get to it…
When we sent in our last set of cover concepts, I thought we were pretty close to finalizing the design. However, our publisher had some misgivings about the emphasis on the architectural elements of the story, and our protagonist only appearing in headshots. He astutely pointed out that:
We need to have something more personal and focused on the heroine…don’t get tangled in story elements…
This made sense, especially given that with the book’s print dimensions of 6×9, we really did need a larger image of Minoo to catch the reader’s eye. But he did like the “tri-head” concept, so Brent and I discussed some more ideas and submitted another set of designs, this time featuring our protagonist front and center:
Terry liked this new design, so the finish line was finally in sight. Brent pencilled the final cover illustration, and before the painting stage we had a few more discussions with Terry about the final details. At this point, he wanted Brent to pay special attention to Minoo’s expressions:
A sense of urgency and the expressions on the faces are important…Danger/fear/resolve especially in her ancient incarnation, defiance in her present day incarnation…
Brent and I discussed some simple color schemes, and my better half (Wendy) provided us with a Pinterest board full of fashion looks for Minoo, and after months of hard work, we had an approved painted cover for Persia Blues:
I must admit, at times the process was frustrating and slow, but in the end I’m quite happy with the final design. And I can certainly understand the importance of getting the cover right, from our publisher’s point of view. Unlike a monthly comic book, Persia Blues will be primarily distributed through the book store market, and even with my limited knowledge of that trade, I know how much importance is placed on a cover image. This is a venue in which the corporate buyers for chains like Barnes & Noble have so much clout over the publishers, they can actually dictate cover designs right down to the colors used. As prestigious as NBM Publishing may be, they’re still a smaller publisher competing against the juggernauts for shelf space and recognition in book stores, which made this process all the more important.
Epilogue: so now that we had our cover, we needed a masthead/logo for the book. NBM’s art director, Martin, solicited some ideas from me before starting the task of designing the logo. I forwarded the working logos Brent and I had been using on the cover sketches, adding that ideally I wanted something modern looking, but with a Middle eastern vibe to the typography. An English font that borrowed stylistic elements from Farsi, if you will. Here’s Martin’s logo, which I totally dig:
So there you have it, an abridged account of how we came about with our book’s cover illustration. Believe it or not, the entire process took about 8 months, with the first batch of cover sketching going out on December 11, 2011, and the approved cover uploaded to NBM’s FTP site on August 28, 2012.
Next, I’ll share a few more pages of interior art…
Dark Horse editor Scott Allie has a great post on his blog about storytelling (and the lack thereof) in comics. Here he gives an example of a simple conversation scene that is rendered less subtle and less interesting by the artist’s poor choices:
“In another story, negative space and closeups have become so much a part of the composition that specific actions—simple things, like a character picking up a drink (which he later hurls to the ground), or the fact that the characters are sitting together at a table, are lost because we’re so close on the characters that the table only shows up as a thick line across the bottom panel border, if at all, and the drink disappears for an entire page at a time because we’re too close to see anyone’s hands—even though the very succinct panel descriptions say things like, He gestures with his glass, or He leans across the table. The scene is not about the table—but the table provides important context that makes the scene make visual sense. If the panel description is that short, and the table was important enough to mention, it’s probably worth putting the table in the panel.”
There’s also a good Alan Moore anecdote from his days at Wildstorm.
Writer Joshua Dysart has a nice bit of writing process posted on his blog, titled How I start writing (and eventually finish) a story. I particularly liked this bit:
“Let’s talk about the Editor’s Mind vs. the Writer’s Mind. You have two modes when you write. The Writer’s Mind: where everything you write is awesome! You can do no wrong. You’re a genius! And the Editor’s Mind: where everything you write is open to scrutiny and can, nay… must, be improved. These are the two hemispheres of your process. And you have to be careful with them. When the Editor’s Mind is employed too soon or in concert with the Writer’s Mind, creative blockage can occur. But if the Editor’s Mind is disregarded altogether, bad writing will most certainly occur. The two modes are equally important, and you must struggle to keep them separate.”
Here’s what I wrote in the comments section, which I feel is worth re-posting here:
“On my part, the most difficult time I have is shutting off my “Editor’s Mind” in the beginning stages of writing a story. I constantly want to edit and perfect, worried that I may forget to do so later, leaving some of the crap in.
At some point, I had to just embrace the fact that this is how my mind is wired, and trying to fight it is a losing battle. So instead I tried to work with (and around) it.
I start with a pencil and a notebook. Old school. Somehow, knowing I’ll eventually have to type this all up, makes me feel that at this stage it’s ok to just go with the flow and put all my ideas down on paper. Also, psychologically, I somehow feel less intimidated staring at a blank piece of paper, rather than a blank screen. So I info dump and write choppy sentences and (in the case of a comic book script) doodle pages and panel breakdowns. Then I refine and edit a bit, erasing or crossing stuff out, until my Editor’s Mind feels better about the whole mess.
Only then do I sit down at the computer and start typing. Of course, the story still needs a lot of rewrites and edits at this point, but at least I’ve tricked myself enough to not be paralyzed by the over-analysis.”
While I’ve certainly had my share of unsuccessful pitches, it’s fun every once in a while to spotlight one that actually got picked up. Who knows, maybe an aspiring creator can pick up some pointers from reading through these things. So anyway, here’s another of my successful pitches, this time for a short story that appeared in Dark Horse Presents #4 (vol. 2), which was published in September of 2011.
I think I first saw the news about the return of Dark Horse Presents to print in late 2010/early 2011. The original black-and-white DHP anthology that started in 1986 was amongst one of the first indie comics I ever bought. During its historic 162 issue run, the book featured pretty much anyone who’s anyone in comics, and introduced me to so many fantastic creators and characters, most notably Paul Chadwick’s Concrete. Needless to say, I loved the original series, and was excited about the possibility of being involved with the newest incarnation of the series.
There were no submission guidelines for DHP on the Dark Horse website, but I remember reading an article where publisher Mike Richardson mentioned he was personally editing the book. So I drafted a brief inquiry email, introducing myself to him and asking if he would be open to a story pitch. This was in February, 2011. Mike responded promptly – honestly, much to my surprise – and indicated he was willing to entertain a pitch for a creator-owned story.
At this point, I had been collaborating with artist Victor Santos on a couple of successful Witch & Wizard series at IDW, and really enjoyed working with him. So I dropped him a line with an idea for a short autobiographical story, and he was game. He drew and colored the first 2 pages on spec, I lettered it, created a PDF file containing the story summary and sample pages, and sent it to Mike.
Here is the pitch:
A DHP proposal by Dara Naraghi
Art by Victor Santos
An 8-page autobiographical story set shortly after the tumultuous Islamic revolution in Iran, “The Protest” is a remembrance of my childhood during uncertain times, a school bully, and the unspoken bond between us in the face of a vile school principal.
After a brief overview of the Iranian revolution of 1979, the narrative shifts to a first hand account of my trials at middle school, navigating a new world of religious studies, unqualified educators, and our class bully, Hassan.
Then one day, our entire school is unexpectedly called into the yard. The principal informs us that we are to be shipped downtown to Azadi Square to take part in a large anti-West protest. As with all things dictated by the system, we have no choice in the matter. As we are lead to the main street where buses await us, my best friend and I talk in panicked whispers. How long will we be at this rally? What if we get lost? What will our parents think when we’re not home as expected?
Into our crisis comes an unexpected savior: Hassan, the bully. “Find a place to hide,” he mutters, before running out of line and directly into the middle of traffic. Cars screech to a halt, horns blare, and the principal and teachers run into the street to retrieve him. In the ensuing chaos, my friend and I make our move. He dives under a parked car, while I duck into a nearby storefront. My heart pounding, I stay hidden in a corner until I hear the sound of the buses departing. Emerging from our hiding spots, we both run home. All the while, I wonder what drove Hassan to help us like that.
The next day at recess, I press Hassan for an answer. He merely shrugs, calling the principal an idiot, and mentioning how he hates it when teachers push us kids around. The incident was never spoken of again. And while he still bullied us around, it seemed to me that it was almost half-hearted. Looking back on it now, I’d like to think helping us out on his own terms, and having earned our gratitude, he liked the feeling. And we, in turn, had gotten a glimpse into the reality of his life, constantly berated by parents and teachers who considered him a failure.
But in the end, we were all just kids, trying to make sense of a world that had turned upside down on us. A victory was a victory, even one where the bully saved the day.
As you can see, I tried to keep the summary brief, since it was only for an 8-page story. Still, I think I could have probably pared it down some more, but so it goes. I’ve never been good at knowing how much is too much and how little is too little. Luckily, it seemed to have worked for Mike. Also, I included a brief “list of credits” along with the summary, to help sell ourselves better. Here it is:
Creative Team Selected Bibliography:
Dara Naraghi (writer)
• Lifelike OGN (creator-owned, IDW)
• Fractured Fables (Image)
• James Patterson’s Witch & Wizard (IDW)
• Terminator Salvation movie prequel (IDW)
• DC Universe Holiday Special 2010 (DC)
Victor Santos (artist)
• Filthy Rich OGN (Vertigo)
• James Patterson’s Witch & Wizard (IDW)
• Mice Templar (Image)
• Roshomon (pitch to Chris Warner at Dark Horse)
And finally, here’s the first of two pages that I included with the pitch:
After about 3 weeks, I sent a brief and friendly follow up email, and then another several weeks after that. I finally heard back from Mike after about 2 months, and he indicated he liked the idea and would like to use the story in DHP. The next step was to sign the contracts and for Victor and I to finish the remaining pages. Once I got the pages uploaded to their FTP, I figured it would be months before we were slotted for an issue. But as luck would have it, another creative team missed a deadline, and since our story was ready to go, we got scheduled on short notice for issue #4.
Aside from being really proud of how this story turned out, I have to say that it was quite a thrill to be published in a series that was hugely influential in my early comic book reading days.
Writer Sam Miller attended the famous Clarion Writer’s Workshop, geared towards science fiction and fantasy writing, and had this to say about it:
“Last week, I graduated from the 2012 Clarion Writer’s Workshop. And everything people tell you about it is true—it’s incredible, it’s transformative, it will make you into the writer you were meant to be, it builds unbreakable bonds with a ton of other brilliant writers. AND you’ll be devastated when it’s over.”
But more importantly, he jotted down a ton of advice from instructors and fellow students alike, and has shared it on his blog here. It’s a copious amount of pithy statements, and your mileage will vary, but it’s worth perusing. A few favorites:
“TV/film’s lean mean 5-page scene doesn’t work in fiction—you need depth, fiction is what’s below the surface. As fiction writers we can’t use Hollywood shorthand.
In-cluing, AKA Heinleining, is when you don’t infodump, you just show the tech or whatever working.
In a short story, you get ONE of the following three things to be complex: structure, character, world. Unless you’re [FAMOUS AUTHOR]. [FAMOUS AUTHOR] gets two.
A complete shit would be someone you can at some point ALMOST identify with, who’d then surprise you with some heinous shit.”
That last one is a particularly good description of great villains.