Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Four S's for Finding a Penciller

In the next couple of days, I will have some stunning artwork to show off from my first comic book story. But today, as I was reading some comments from other aspiring creators, it struck me that as writers the biggest thing standing in our way of making comics is finding somebody to draw them. Yet, in my short comic-book-making journey, I've already learned four easy steps to finding a penciller to collaborate with on a comic book. Let's call them The Four S's: Sift, Sort, Study, and Seek Out.

1. Sift: This should be the easiest step, but it's also time consuming. Go to Pencil Jack or digitalwebbing (you've joined those forums already, right?) and start looking at artists' portfolios. Sift through the many, many postings to find art you like. I say that this is the easy step because if you have script ready for drawing, you probably have a firm idea of the art style you're looking for. Don't like manga? Click and skip. Want something realistic or fantastic but not cartoony? Click and Click. You get the idea. Skip through until you find a style you like. (And remember, different stories might call for different styles. Also, a penciller's portfolio might draw you in, even if it's not the style you thought you were looking for.) Bookmark those portfolios.

2. Sort: Once you've found some potential collaborators, sort their portfolios by good, better, best--ranking them by talent/skill. There's a couple of things you want to look for. Pinups are awesome, but unless you are telling one-panel-per-page stories, you want someone who can do sequential art--i.e., someone with comic book page layouts; someone who is telling a story. Rank all the artists with sequential samples. At the same time, this doesn't mean you write off someone who only has pinups. If you dig their work, contact them and see if they have a sequential art sample.

3. Study: By this time, you should have just a handful of artist candidates. Study their sequential pages, really examine them critically. On second and third review, is their work as good as you initially thought? Also, read the posted "crits" from others.

But here's the main question you need to ask yourself: Do you have a good idea of what the story is without the dialogue, captions, etc.? A good comic book should be able to tell its story without words. Does this sample do that? Can you follow the story? Does your eye naturally flow from panel to the next.

On a secondary level, you should also see whether they showcase both action and "talking head" scenes in their work. You want to see both to see whether they can do dynamic action sequences and imaginatively stage a conversation. Also, look at their backgrounds. What's going on behind and around the main characters? A lot of artists will do nice figure work but then totally skip out on setting or they draw really bad cars or trees or whatever (as a result, they will not draw those in their samples).

4. Seek Out: Okay, so now you've picked the one or two artists you think will do the best with your story. Now you need to seek them out and contact them. This may be hard for some people--but it's the only way you're making comics, so you have to do it. As I've written before, comics are a collaborative effort. It takes a team to bring your story to life.

Write them a short e-mail. Tell them you like their portfolio. And here's the big part: don't just say, "Your Spider-Man pages were cool." Be specific. Tell them specifically what you liked about the pages. Reference their work, compliment them, etc. Let them know you are serious about creating comics by speaking in the language of comic storytelling. Then cut to the chase. Tell them you have a script you think they'd be good for, etc. Offer to give them a sample of your work, etc. It's all easier than it sounds. If they turn you down, and you will have people turn you down, move to the next person.

So there's your Four S's. Money, scheduling, setting expectations--are important, too, and I'll get to them in later posts. And at some point, I'll get around to elaborating on the above points as well--because if you want to make comics, these four items are key.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Waiting part 2: patience and persistence

As predicted, waiting for my first comic story to come to life is very difficult for me. I knew it would be hard, but that doesn't make it any easier. But in my short journey, one thing I've learned is that patience and persistence are needed if one wants to make comics.

Making comics is a collaborative art form. Books are brought to life by a team of artisans: writer, penciller, inker, colorist, and letterer. You might work with someone who can double-up on duties, say an artist who inks their own stuff or a colorist who also letters, but unless you are a multi-talented writer/artist, you're probably working with at least three other people to make your comic book. And these people have lives (meaning: responsibilities) and quirks (meaning: differing personalities and ways of working) of their own. If you want to make comics, you need to figure out how to navigate and coordinate the work of all these people. You're going to have to fit your comic into their schedule. And then of course they need time to do their part on the project. By definition, this means you are going to do a lot of waiting. Get used to it. But if making comics is your goal, you need to persist.

I had some scheduling setbacks recently. I had hoped to be preview some story pages here in June. But just when he was about to start my story, my penciller received a bit of paying work and needed to focus on that. I understood completely--but, man, did it sting. After slaving over my story and working to find just the right collaborator, to be delayed right when we were on the cusp of certain greatness. ... Ugh. It really sucked.

But I wasn't going to be deterred. (Really, if you're going to give up after a delay, you might as well not start.) So if the scheduling of my story was out of my control, I would focus on something I could control. My other stories. I decided to keep working on my next couple of stories.

And, boy, have I. I worked out a nice quick-paced 5-pager and then I turned my eye to an original graphic novel I've been toying with on and off for a few years. While I was doing that, my artist finished his other gig and e-mailed me some character sketches and then some page layouts (which I will preview soon). And suddenly, the story was back on and I need to confirm the schedules of my letterer, etc.

So be patient and keep plugging away. And write, write, write.


Has it been a month since I last posted? Now that I have a few things percolating, I plan on posting more regularly. And stay tuned for that preview art.