Wading into the Universe of The Graphic Novel

A sample of how well my article was received in the comic universe.

A sample of how well my article was received in the comic universe.

I wrote a quick little article on my quiet little blog, not expecting, or desiring much attention. I write mostly for myself to check in with my own thoughts, for my own reasons. In the 10 years that I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve never had more than a couple dozen hits on a single article. I like it that way because writing for a mass audience fucks with my sense of being honest with myself, when so many people are watching.

Then yesterday happened. 973 hits from 735 unique visitors fed by Facebook and Twitter from 17 different countries. As of 9am this morning, I’m already looking at 94 hits from 65 unique visitors.

I did post my article on the wall of InkCanada, a writers’ group on Facebook. A handful of people there have very generously given me brutally honest feedback on my work, so that I may make it better. It’s a nurturing group, as much as it is a tough love group. We all want each other to succeed.

Most of us already have careers in the film & television industry, and so when I make a statement like, “I’ve been doing a lot of research over the past few days into Graphic Novels because I keep hearing how they can be a great way to prove a concept…” we understand that implicit in that statement is a shit ton of work, tears, collaboration, rejection, rewriting, learning, and maybe some measure of success after many, many months.

And then my article found its way into the comic book universe.

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 9.10.03 AM

I was hoping that “drown in hobo piss” might be how they invite you to a coffee meeting at Starbucks in Portland, but it very quickly became clear that I accidentally angered a whole community of dedicated, passionate artists and fans who live and breathe comics.

This community is fighting a stigma that comic books are somehow a lesser form of literature than other mediums. Screen writers come up against this stigma as well because some people erroneously equate a lot of white space on the page with ‘simple’ and ‘easy’.

When I wrote in my article, “It turns out that TV scripts convert easily into Graphic Novel format (you push a button in Final Draft). From there, you hire an artist to draw the novel – a process not much different from creating story boards for a feature film,” I can see how this community would erroneously attribute me with having a flippant attitude towards their art, but I stand by that statement because there’s a deeper implication to it.

If I were to rewrite that same statement for an artist from the comic book crowd, it might go something like this;

“Here artist creature person, this is my script. I’ve been living with this story inside of me for two years. I care deeply about these characters. I desperately want an audience to follow their journey. I don’t trust TV execs because these are the same idiots who cancelled Firefly after 12 episodes. I am passionate about bringing this story to the world.

To this end, I pressed a button in Final Draft. This script has now been formatted into something you can work with. I understand there will be more rewrites from here, as we work together to adapt this story from a television realm, to a comic universe. I understand that, and after looking at your portfolio and talking to people who know you, and spending time in Starbucks drowning in hobo piss together, that we share in a creative vision for how to make this story great.

I am placing my baby into your arms. I don’t know much about what you do, but I do understand that as we go through the process of wrapping your art around my words, in film terms, you are equal parts production designer, director, cinematographer, and editor.

I also understand that there will be many conversations through the prep phase of this project and that we are looking at several months to complete this. I also know that I’m looking at spending $6,000-$10,000 dollars to reach a finished product.

Do we have a deal?”

To anyone out there in the comic book world whom I offended, I humbly apologize. You are exactly the sort of people whom I want to work with, and write for. Your knowlege and passion for the work is beyond measure. I know that if I can work with you to create something great, our journey together will take us to amazing places.

To those who posted thoughtful responses on my blog, I thank you. To the rest, please stop saying mean things about me.

7 thoughts on “Wading into the Universe of The Graphic Novel

  1. Pingback: Self-Publishing a Graphic Novel to Prove a TV Concept | The Mind of Jarrett

  2. Jarrett I have to comment. The comic community are passionate about what they do, and I guess you’ve had to find that out the hard way. We deal with idiots every day that think drawing is easy and of less value than of just about anything else, so naturally when you come in with the kind of comments you did, ire was raised and you got the brunt of a great deal of frustration. That said I imagine you NOW have a better understanding of what happens and why, when an idea starts to form into a comic book. I’ve had scripts from amateurs and professionals and it has to be said that some pros haven’t a fucking clue either, so don’t feel too bad that this is all about you. While some artists will produce a colour page in one day from scratch, that is very far from the norm. I’ve seen it take me a whole day to colour one panel to my satisfaction.
    I’ll go by stating I’m curious about the final draft comment. Which button and in which program aids the artist? Interested to see what that statement means. Thanks for your time Jarrett.

  3. Hi Jarrett. I appreciate you following up like this.

    You seem to have gotten a sense of the way comics artists see all this stuff between writing these two posts, but let me go a bit deeper into the context here.

    There are a lot of places out there on the web where you can see aspiring comics writers posting something along the lines of:

    “Hey, I have an awesome idea for a 120-page graphic novel, any cool artist bros want to illustrate it for me? I can’t pay anything up front but once we sell it to a major publisher we can split the proceeds!”

    Obviously you weren’t doing anything this egregious, but it gives you a sense of how warped people’s attitudes are towards comics artists. It’s a career that requires a great deal of talent, skill, knowledge, and above all, hard work, and there are far, far too many people out there who devalue it, from the clueless outsiders I just described to the major comics companies (who tend to treat their creative personnel as interchangeable, replaceable links on an assembly line).

    Furthermore, I believe this attitude is harming comics as a medium (one that I care about passionately). It’s great that writers like Alan Moore and Robert Kirkman are becoming household names in some quarters, but again, there’s a sense that they’re overshadowing the artist in many people’s minds. Heck, a lot of people seem to believe Stan Lee single-handedly created the Marvel Universe and may not even know Jack Kirby’s name. This leads to people focusing intensely on the script and thinking of artists as being just there to execute the writers’ vision. It is true that sometimes the writer is the true “visionary” (again, someone like Alan Moore really understands comics from the inside out, including the visual sensibility, which is reflected in his scripts) and it’s OK for the artist to take a backseat, but comics, like film, are a visual medium, and it’s actually surprisingly rare for writers, even professional comics writers, to have a full handle on this. This is where the artist becomes crucial as a partner.

    An analogy for TV might be the writers vs. the directors, where, unlike film, the writers tend to be the guiding creative forces and the directors are technical craftsmen. But a good director obviously plays a huge role in making a show great–no one would argue that Vince Gilligan wasn’t the heart and soul of Breaking Bad, but look how much was contributed by directors like Rian Johnson. And it was in cooperation and partnership that the writers and directors were able to elevate that show to greatness. There was an understanding of what both did on either side.

    Hopefully this gives you an idea of why your post was met with such hostility. While comics and TV share a lot in common as visual media, there are some very significant differences as well. Chief among them is TV’s tendency towards “talking heads”–not to devalue the strong visual component of a lot of shows, but it’s often a necessity due to budget that shows have to rely on dialogue-heavy scenes and more subtle visuals. At the same time, TV can rely on the talents of its actors to make these scenes work. In some ways it’s still very close to theater, as a medium.

    In comics, however, the “special effects” budget is effectively infinite, and indeed, it’s generally more productive not to think of it that way at all; comics can portray a sort of bizarre parallel reality much more casually than TV or movies. Think of something like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which would have been old hat in comics even in the 80s. And it’s not a coincidence that a lot of movie adaptations of comics, like Sin City, Scott Pilgrim and the Tim Burton Batman, have a deliberate “otherworldliness” to them, a whole expressionistic sensibility that’s markedly NOT like other movies. As such, this is far more than just a formatting issue, it’s a question of what is more naturally suited to a particular medium. If you write a TV script and hastily convert it into a comic, you’re going to end up with a lame, watered-down comic that’s not going to excite anyone enough to make them want to adapt it into a TV show anyway.

    In other words, long before you hire an artist, you’re going to have to rewrite your script. And if you’re going to rely on the artist to adapt your TV script into a comic (which is certainly doable), get ready to pay even more.

  4. I’m a professional TV, prose and comics writer.

    There is no button that can “reformat” a screenplay such that it magically transforms into a comic book script. There is no such animal because, as I said in response to your first post on this subject, the two are WHOLLY different.

    The dialogue “rules” are different. The scene description rules are WILDLY different. If your page count on your screenplay is 54, you may find that your comic book script page count is considerably higher as will be the page count of the final product. NOT considering this will kill your project.

    Many writers on both sides of this divide are pulled up short by the difference.

    Each panel in a comic book script depicts ONE moment of action. That single distinction has wrecked many an arrogant screenwriter who thought the translation would be easy.

    I’m not saying you are that screenwriter but you are clearly glossing over some fundamental issues that will bite you on the ass laster.

    So think about it now and adjust.

  5. How similar are scripts for animation and the theatre? They’re clearly related, but to write either well, you have to understand the form and its relationship to execute the script well. Live action TV is considerably different from comics. As another commenter pointed out, TV is passive entertainment, comics are active entertainment. Comics lack real sound or an effective control of time. Character performances with nuanced dialogue isn’t gonna happen in a comic book since dialogue needs to be read, not heard.

    When done well, the differences unique to comics make for the best comics. On your road to considering your project for an adaptation you may have to face the truth your good for TV idea may suck as a graphic novel — once the pages of snappy dialogue isn’t delivered by actors but sits there in cramped word balloons, once the splashy special effects are drawn, coloured, and given a specific sound effect in a static image, once that hovercar chase isn’t a blur of cuts but a series of small, underwhelming panels (honestly, writers are embarrassing themselves writing a car chase into a comic).

    Comics pros are continually approached by outsiders trying to make a graphic novel of their idea (that they really want to be something else) and it nearly always turns into a bad experience for everyone. Comics are too expensive and time intensive to do them as a proof of concept, particularly if the comic ends up good, since it doesn’t prove the story would work as a series or film.

    If you want to make a comic, come up with a comic idea and go for it. You’ll find lots of encouragement and help. Start talking about making a comic to sell your TV show and you’re starting off by insulting people who take the medium seriously.

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