My Dream Career and The Things I Don't Know

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My Dream Career and The Things I Don't Know

Post by pH » Tue Mar 24, 2009 3:41 pm

When I was five, I created my first cartoon characters: Fat Hat and Dopey Head. Fat Hat was a circle with a hat on. Dopey head was shaped like a hotdog. They had a whole cast of friends, including Stink the Bink (a skunk), Banana Man (a banana), and Wibble Wobble (an amorphous blob with a face). I didn’t know how to write, so my mom wrote the speech bubbles for me.

I don’t know how comics got stuck in my head so early on. There was a boy at church who would draw comics during the service because he was bored. He was older than me, and taller than me, and everything he did was the coolest thing ever. Including drawing comics. So maybe I was inspired to draw comics by him.

I also don’t know how I managed to hold on to that passion for the next 17 years of my life. That boy from church is now a piano tuner, or an opera singer, or actually I think he might be both. I don’t know. But all this time I’ve continued to draw comics, and buy comics, and think about how I can draw comics that people will buy.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that (1) I’ve been single mindedly working toward this dream career of being a professional cartoonist for a long, long time, and (2) there are a lot of things I don't know.

One more thing that I don’t know is exactly when it happened, but sometime or another I suddenly found myself entering my dream career.

You guys might remember a comic strip I posted a while back called Mal and Chad. The post is here, but I think all the image links are dead. You can read the strip here if you'd like to get a taste of the work I'm talking about.

Anyway, an editor from a children’s book company found Mal and Chad online, and asked me if I’d be interested in creating a graphic novel starring these characters. I still don’t know how he found me, but needless to say, I said yes.

However, as many of you know, just saying yes doesn’t mean much in the publishing world. We’ve spent a year signing contracts and writing scripts and exchanging emails. I have yet to put stylus to tablet and start the actual drawing, so it’s been kind of surreal.

With only eight weeks left before I graduate, I finally received the green light to start on the work itself. My dream career has come. So has senioritis, ha ha.

I’m both thankful and terrified to be where I am, and I’m amazed at the mystery of how I got here. I’ve started to recognize a principle that answers a couple of my “I don’t know” questions.

Basically, I worked really hard to get to here. I practiced many hours and studied and thought a lot about comics, so that I’d be ready to grab every opportunity that came my way. But I’ve come to realize this is only half of the equation. All the good things in my life seem to have come from other people. That boy from church who inspired me to start drawing comics, my parents who encouraged me to keep on drawing comics, my uncle who wrote the html for my website to show people my comics, the editor who is now allowing me to publish my comics, and the audience who I hope will someday buy my comics, all these people make my dream job possible.

With the knowledge that I can only get halfway through the race on my own strength, I wanted to incorporate this reality into my approach as I begin this graphic novel. There are a lot of cartoonists and people that are passionate about comics on this forum that I admire a lot. Some of you guys I’ve talked to in person, some I’ve talked to through the web and some not at all. But I feel like anyone could have something useful to say that would help me be successful with this project.

One of the biggest mistakes I could make at this point would be assuming that because I’ve drawn comics for so long, I know all there is to making comics. There might be a list out there of all the things I should know for making comics, but the funny thing is, I don’t know what that list is.

So I just wanted to ask you all to be apart of my process. I’m starting this thread so that I can ask you guys questions as I work my way through the book, which is due some time this summer.

So far I’ve completed the script. I used a screenplay writing program called Celtx to expedite the process which I would totally recommend to anyone. It’s freeware and available for download. Right now I’m in the thumbnailing stage. I estimate the book’s going to be over 200 pages, and I’m a little daunted by the idea of thumbnailing that many.

So, do you guys have any advice? Anything you want to say?

What’s your approach to thumbnailing? I’ve been working larger thumbs with semi-legible speech bubbles so that I can get a feel for how it reads, but I’ve been thinking about working tinier so that I can work faster.

Do you think I should thumbnail the entire book first? Or could I get away with only a few chapters at a time? I’m tempted to start penciling and inking the pages now, so that I have something to show right away to the publishers, but I have a sneaking feeling that I should just draw the whole thing in thumbnails first.

And what does your comics work schedule look like? Since I’m getting ready to graduate, I only have a couple hours each day to give to the book.

And how do you handle the mental task of doing something like a graphic novel?

Hey, if you’ve read this far, I really appreciate it. I look forward to hearing what you all have to say.

Thanks so much!



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Post by Blom » Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:48 am

Congrats to you Stephen! ;)

It sounds like you have got a big project. There is A LOT OF THINGS that you should know about, and you can read about all the boring but very important stuff on . A very good site for information about how to fly!

About creation:
Find your work rhythm, it is different from everyone. But as you got a very big project on your hands I guess it is wise to have some structure on the work flow. Thumbnailing it is a great way to find ways to cut out work later on. And it is a nice way to know what your made. Oh, a good point in production is "A PROduction LIST" this is a list that tells you what you have done and how far you have come, this is also god if you work with others. AND it helps you if your working on different parts in different stages.
My thumbnails can be everything from a small 3x4cm pencil sketch to a water color illustration (see my mistgrim work). When you see that you got the idea you want your thumbnail is good enough.

About mental:
Do not think that your going to make 200 pages. (Info about this see making Prince Caspian. (also about thumbnails)) Think about the work your working on now.

Good luck with the work Stephen!
Tor Harald Blom

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Post by Mac McCool » Thu Mar 26, 2009 7:12 am

Congrats, Stephen!!!

I'm so thrilled for you (and not just about the graphic novel -- that's HUGE! But gearing up for life after college as an artist! Woohoo!!!).

You may already have seen the video of Doug TenNapel covering his graphic novel idea-to-page creative process on G4. He nicely breaks down the steps of his process with visible samples.

Another approach consists of taking your manuscript and drawing big lines through it to mark off each comics page. Next, use index cards and draw quick empty panels to already visualize the layout of each page. This approach helps you figure out if it all fits.

I'm a big fan of using small Post-Its, one for each panel, and jotting down just enough to know what they'll hold. Sometimes I only write the first two words of the dialogue that will go in the panel, other times a quick stick figure to make a mental note of a staging idea. Then, on small sheets of paper (usually on the back of scratch paper I cut in half and number to keep track of the pages), I stick my Post-Its and figure out the flow, the panel rhythm, the suspense points, the page-turns, and so on. And I can easily change my mind without having to redraw anything. Just lift and re-stick!

Blom's got it right about doing one page at a time, too! Else it's too daunting.

And try to preserve room for creativity thoughout the process, so that when you're in the later stages (like inking), you still have fun coming up with cool things!

Good luck in this new adventure!

Keep it playful 10 hours a day!

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Post by pH » Fri Mar 27, 2009 8:10 am

Thanks blom! That was a useful website.

And I'll definitely take a look at Doug's video. It's good to here from you Christian! Hope you're doing well!


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