Weekly Visions 12.15.16: SDCC and More 2017 Exclusive Announcements!

WV Generic

Welcome back everyone! Weekly Visions kicks back into high gear this week for our last regular update (we’ll be doing some special stuff for the holidays).

Below, check out some great reviews, our first spotlight, and some exclusive announcements about the coming year!

 

 

Deadlands: Thunder Moon Rising Reviews

Deadlands Thunder Moon Rising Cover Art

“Beyond Tuck Bringloe, who has a peach of a story arc, I honestly had little idea which of the cast of characters would become prominent and which would be ruthlessly killed off. I’ve been told by a couple of authors that every single character are the lead of their own story and they should be written that way. Mariotte does a fantastic job of doing that here, because even his minor characters are drawn well enough to invite us into their lives. It felt notable when they died and it felt important when those with a higher purpose met each other.” – Hal C F Astell at The Nameless Zine

“I couldn’t stop reading, the pages turned as fast as I could. What a mix the author treats us to. The book was different and refreshing. Something on the other side of the regular western read. I liked the fact that Tucker was used as the one to actually lead the search. It sent a message while giving the reader a character that you wouldn’t ever expect to have the guts and the character to do what he did.” – Gayle Pace

“This isn’t the Wild West, it’s the weird west. The author not only gives you the gunfighters of the west in Arizona territory but you get scientists that are on the edge of reality and then we get the unexplainable evil forces that exist everywhere. ” –Night Owl Paranormal

Now available on Amazon, and at finer bookstores EVERYWHERE!
Check out the Official Publisher Page!


Spotlight

We often get people thinking Visionary is primarily a publisher, but we’re actually not, we’re a production studio and transmedia development company. Which basically means we’re more focused on creating the great content and then work with partners in getting that content out there.

Our staff are primarily creators, writers, artists, editors, letterers and graphic design artists. We’re a little bit creator studio, a collective of creative braintrusts, and a lean mean transmedia machine!

Our imprints, Visionary Comics and Visionary Books are for the content we actually package and release through our publishing partners, great folks like Tor Books, IDW, and Image Comics for print, and Amazon, Comixology, iVerse, and Drive-Thru for digital. We are also in the process of launching our own online store you can find right on our main site that will soon be stocked with all our exclusive merchandise, both digital and physical, including comics, books, playing cards, prints and more! We’ll be relaunching our digital publishing initiative early 2017, so look for the announcement!

As a creative production studio our focus is providing high quality content for clients of all kinds! We’ve created a couple thousand pages of prose, several hundred pages of comics, and dozens of covers, illustrations and custom art in just the last year and will be doing even more this coming year. Some of those could be for YOUR PROJECT!

We’ve worked with Hollywood producers, top publishers, top creators, sports stars, celebrities, and other studios, as well as great non-profits, universities, museums and other educational organizations! We’ll be doing several spotlights on our various creative services and announcing new packaging deals early in 2017! Interested? Get our Services One-Sheet NOW!

You can also now find us at www.visionarycreativeservices.com!

Services Book Cover Image MCL / PB


Visionary Internship Program Update

Visionary has a long tradition of bringing new creators into the industry and doing our part to educate, inspire, and train the next generation of great talent. To that end we relaunched our highly successful internship program last year. Half of our current staff were promoted up from internships and we currently boast our largest class ever as of the end of 2016, with a total of eight active interns!

What do Visionary interns get to do? They hang out once a month at CCO C. Edward Sellner’s place, eat pizza, learn about making comics, being a professional freelancer, get to participate in comic awards, and get to work on projects as support, managers, and even do creative work! That’s the good news!

The bad news (especially if we just got you all excited about the program) is we are now full for the quarter. We may reopen applications in the Spring. Stay tuned to be the first to know! Spots fill fast! We’ll be introducing our final additions for the year soon!


SDCC

Visionary Returns to SDCC in 2017!

Hard as it may be to believe, Visionary is already prepping its 2017 show schedule, and our biggest announcement is we will be making our triumphant return to San Diego Comic Con International in 2017!

We can also already confirm the following shows for our 2017 Schedule:

And more coming soon! Check our Events page for details after the first of the year!

Visionary offers a complete slate of convention and events programming as well as our merchandise sales. Visionary staff do workshops with children, youth, fans, aspiring creators, and panels on numerous topics, from creating comics to crowdfunding, and all topics in between. If you’d like to invite us to YOUR event – contact us now before we book up!

My Comic Life Sundays: Contracts and Conventions!

MCL Banner

 

MCL_029

Catch up with the My Comic Life Comic Strip on our Reader>>

Catch up with the My Comic Life Column at our Archive and Resources Page>>

My Comic Life Column 011: The Contract!

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Welcome back, and let me apologize for the extra week away. We do try to keep those to a minimum, so hopefully, it won’t happen again!

Last time around we wrapped up a multi-part series on writing where we looked at script format, panel, page, and storytelling. You can get the whole back catalog of columns over at our always up to date Archive page, which also collects all the creating comic resource links I share through here.

In between longer series on creative work, I’m going to try and introduce a number of single column practical topics that can be just as important to aspiring creators and freelancers.

Today’s topic may not tingle your creative urges, but you may end up thanking me tremendously someday anyway.

Why a Contract Is a MUST!!

If you’re going to be a professional creator or freelancer it’s important you realize that professionalism is embodied in a lot more than simply talent or creative skills. It’s embodied in how you conduct yourself, how you relate to colleagues, clients, and employers, and how you present yourself and your value with any potential job opportunity. I’ll be doing a number of columns on important aspects of conducting yourself professionally and the many ways that’s important, but let’s start with one of the simplest, most basic indicators of your professionalism – the contract!

Contracts are legally binding agreements between two parties for the exchange of goods and services. They can be fairly simple and straightforward, or incredibly complex and labyrinthine. I’ve had one-page contracts and forty-page contracts. If you’re just starting out, simpler and straightforward is better. By the time you get in to more complex ones, you really should consider having an attorney at least as a consultant to review those.

But the biggest mistake I see new and aspiring creative freelancers make is the assumption they don’t NEED a contract at all. “Oh, it’s for a friend” or “it’s just a simple commission piece” or “they told me not to worry about that” are never good reasons to not have an agreement in place to protect everyone’s interests. Why, you ask?

First, the fact of the matter is that most contracts are never really needed in good, solid professional relationships. They are set out, agreed, signed, filed and maybe reviewed every couple years to see if they need to be renewed yet or not. That’s good, that means things are going well, that means there is dialogue, negotiation, and everyone is happy with the arrangement. Doesn’t that contradict the admonition to always have one then? Nope, because good relations are not what contracts are for.

Contracts are for when things go wrong. They are the seatbelt, the life-vest, the airbag, the backup parachute, the helmet, etc. for the professional – kind of annoying, a distraction, and maybe even irritating – right up until that moment that you end up REALLY glad you had it. And yes, hopefully, for the vast majority of jobs that moment will never come – but someday – it will.

If you are providing a service there is absolutely nothing out of place or inappropriate about asking for a contract. It is the norm, it is expected, it is a right. Now, your ol’ Aunt Nellie who asked you to draw a picture of Schloopy the schnauzer may look at you funny if you ask for one, and maybe for Schloopy you can let it go. But remember this, the only individual or company absolutely guaranteed to not want a contract in place is the one planning to rip you off.

Second, contracts aren’t magic solutions to every problem but they can be life-saving stop gaps or firewalls that can protect you and your interests. For a lot of smaller freelance jobs, the client not paying, would not even be worth the price of getting to a courtroom to sue them (which is why you put in place other protections we will talk about). There will also be times that despite limits set in contracts clients will push for more and expect it anyway. The beauty of a contract, however, is that, if nothing else, it empowers you to draw a line in the sand and stop things spiraling down. It gives you a signed, legal document where, if it’s written well, you can point to and say THIS is what we agreed.

Visionary, in our experience, has had maybe three times contracts became life-vests on a fast sinking ship. But those three times? We kept control of rights we otherwise may have lost and saved us collectively over twenty-thousand dollars. Glad we had them? You bet.

So, what should a contract cover? Let’s hit the highlights.

The 411

Contracts should include names, contact info, dates, and specific terms of the agreement. They should state clearly who will own the completed work, what rights if any are retained by the creator, and what services are expected, with specific guidelines, along with the costs and payments for those services.

Work-For-Hire

Usually, if you are a creator doing work-for-hire, in other words, being paid for your work, then the material you create is generally owned by the person or company paying you. Every writer and artist working on Marvel and DC main universe titles are doing work-for-hire, they don’t own those characters, those stories, or that art. But, there are exceptions to this general rule, such as the fact that with most standard agreements the artist retains ownership of the original art and the right to sell that original art for personal profit, but does NOT retain the right to print it in collected form and sell it. It’s a small concession, but for many artists with established fan bases original art sales end up generating a steady stream of income.

Workflow – Approvals – Payments – Deadlines

This is getting a little more into the details, but contracts should at least provide some answers to all these questions:

How and in what format or file spec will the work be submitted to the client?

This matters. Especially when getting into digital files it’s important specs be set out at the beginning to make sure all the hard work you put in as a creator is going to end up being work the client can actually use. Be aware, you may need to educate your client a bit on some of these things, but make sure you know their expectations up front and make sure those expectations are what is really needed.

How and on what timeline will the client respond with feedback regarding the work?

This also plays into deadline considerations. Just as it’s important that you as a creator commit the time needed to complete work, it’s also important the client commit the time to respond effectively and fairly quickly, especially in those cases where you can’t really do anything more until you do hear back. Setting limits on responding and noting that extended delays will impact deadlines is one way to help draw that line in the sand early.

What limits are there to corrections, changes, or ‘tweaks’ before additional fees should be charged?

Very important! It’s fair a client have some approval over the work they are paying you for. Build in steps to help protect your time. Doing a script? Submit a plot outline first. Doing pencils? Submit layouts for review. These steps help make sure you are moving in the direction the client wants before you finish something they won’t like. It’s also fair to set some limits so clients can’t just endlessly needle things to death. Allowing three revisions is common – any beyond that, means you get paid additional time for your work.

How will payments be made? How often, how will they be processed, what is the process to GET paid, etc.?

Many companies, Visionary included, require creators to submit invoices. Most clients will have a preferred way to send payments. Make sure tax forms are filed if needed. Have all this in place before you have a payment due to avoid delays once you’re counting on a check.

What deadlines are there, and what understanding is there for factors that could impact deadlines?

One of the biggest challenges for freelancers is learning how to gauge their work speed and amount of content they can regularly produce. Deadlines are important, but it’s also important to understand, by the nature of the work, that things happen. If you are a single creator and you end up in the hospital for a week, not much you can do about that work wise. Discuss this going in and have some backup plans or at least considerations in place for various possibilities.

Defaults

Perhaps the most important piece of any contract is the section that lays out options and limitations for what happens if either party fails to meet their end of the deal. (Remember? It matters the second something goes wrong.)

This is the section where it is spelled out what options the client has available if you fail to produce the work by a deadline. Likewise, this is the section where your options as a creator are spelled out if the client fails to pay for work, or fails to approve work. The reason this section is so important is because it limits the backlash, clearly states how the contract can be terminated if necessary, what can and can NOT happen. This section is literally the emergency exit. Give it careful consideration.

Negotiations and Protections

Part of the vital process of putting together a contract is negotiations. When negotiating anything, it’s important to remember the principle of the act is a sharing of risk and a balance of expectations. Good contracts are not exclusively in the favor of any one party, no matter how much more they bring to the table. Good contracts protect the interests of all parties and put in place steps and processes that assure that.

For an example, I’m going to use the standard process we use at Visionary.

When a client approaches us for a job the first thing we have to do is assess – we have to discuss terms of a contract, we have to look into what resources we have to fulfill that contract, what resources the client has to make it happen etc. This can mean investing anywhere from three to thirty hours of effort that is essentially an act of good faith. No money is exchanged, no agreement is in place, but I’m already working on the client’s behalf.

At the end of that process, we then require a signed contract in place and a deposit paid to the studio before we do anything more. When someone balks at a deposit, I remind them we’ve already invested work to get the contract in place, plus, to move forward, we now need to hire creators, which means we will have contracts in place with them. We need to know we can pay our people timely, and to do that, we need the client to now make an act of good faith by paying a fair deposit.

Details vary depending on the size, complexity, resources etc. involved in any given job, but inevitably there are times the studio is in the hole and owed money by a client, and times we have an installment or payment from the client in the bank, entrusted to us to then pay to creators as they invoice for approved work still in process.

One strict art policy we follow in all cases is that finished work is never sent until the final full payment is processed. We will send lower resolution preview files for client feedback but not final hi-res files for print. If money is still owed at that point, it means it is money we now owe a creator that we will pay no matter what, else that’s on us and out of pocket. So, we don’t hand over the final product until that payment is in, because really, what reason would we have to NOT do so once that check clears? How long would we stay in business if we played those mind games? But, how many clients have failed to make final payments once they have everything they need? Enough to be common horror stories among freelancers.

In Closing…

Now, every creator and every job is going to be different, and there is no way I can write a single column that addresses every aspect of every contract. What I can say is this…

-Require a contract.
-Make sure it protects you as well as your client.
-Make sure it sets limits and boundaries for all parties.
-Make sure you’re fully prepared to deal with every single possibility and clause included in that contract, else don’t agree.

If you’re just starting out, it may feel like this kind of stance may rule out possibilities that could be your big break. It could, but it could also end up saving you a lot of time from con artists, cheats and thieves who will steal your work, your time, and your kindness. So, keep that part in mind also.

I’m including a template contract similar to the one Visionary uses. This is simple, basic, but solid and written specifically for freelancers and creative work-for-hire. The file is in WORD so you can download, add in your information in the highlighted sections, and use it yourself as a starting point. It can be used by you when you are agreeing to work with a client, or when you may be hiring someone to work with you on a project.

Download it here>>>

PLEASE NOTE: The author of this column is NOT an attorney and his advice here should not be construed as legal advice, just some common sense. (Basic disclaimer my attorney made me add…)

NEXT

Time to get back into creative stuff as I start a series on penciling! So, yes, pictures!!!

NOW DISCUSS…

My Comic Life Patreon Promotion

If you want more great content like this, support his Patreon campaign today by clicking the image!

About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!

My Comic Life Sundays: A Wrap on Writing!

MCL Banner

 

028 You Sure You're Not Lost

Catch up with the My Comic Life comic strip on our Reader>>

Catch up with the My Comic Life column at our Archive and Resources Page>>

My Comic Life Column 010: Writing Comics 101: The Story

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Welcome back as we wrap this round on writing (say that three times fast). Remember, this column looks at the entire process of creating and selling comics, so, I’ll focus on one arena for a series and then move into another.

Writers, you’re going to want to stay tuned to future editions simply because the more you know about creating and selling comics, the more skills you bring to any project you’re signing on for. Not to mention after the penciling series, I’ll be focusing on collaboration, then not too long and another writing arc for more advanced stuff. Ok?

So, we’ve looked at the mechanics of the script, the panel, and the page, now as we bow out on the art of stringing words together, let’s look at…

 

Telling the Story

There are tons of resources out there that can help you learn the basics of storytelling in general, from character development to plot, pacing, etc. There is also a good number that focus on storytelling and writing comics in particular. I’ve already started listing some great resources on our Archive page and will be adding to that a good bit before the end of the year with my own recommended reading for everyone’s wishlist this holiday season.  Any of those listed would be great resources for aspiring writers to check out.

For here and now, let’s focus a little on the specifics of telling a good comic story and some of the general principles you need to be aware of.

Beyond the Panel and Page

In previous columns, I focused a lot on the mechanics of the script as well as the comic book panel and page. I talked about how each of those represented ‘beats’ in a story and the potential and limitations for each. However, once you start linking those small beats of panels into pages, then those larger beats of pages into something more, then you’re getting into storytelling.

And just as I mentioned how important it is for a writer to be thinking visually at each of those levels, that becomes even more important here, because the broader story being told is one that is a meshing of word and art, a flowing sequence that will be breathed into life by art, so it’s critical that you as a writer are thinking on some visual level. You’ll see what I mean as we go.

There are several general factors a writer should be aware of when working in the comics’ medium, in order to make their comic writing as effective as possible. Let’s take a look at each.

1) Let the Art Tell the Story

A common mistake among aspiring and neophyte comic writers is when they feel the need to describe the action in captions or dialogue that could much more easily just be shown in the art. This includes settings, actions, even emotions. It’s true, a picture is worth a thousand words, which is what our medium is built on, so, when you can, let the art tell as much story as possible and get out of the way.

Double-page spread by Ale Aragon

Double-page spread by Ale Aragon

2) Make Sure the Art IS Telling the Story

The flip side of the above coin is when the writer passes up great opportunities to let the art carry more details of the story by failing to give proper direction to the artist. I can’t tell you how many scripts I’ve read that fail to include any body language, facial expression, or other visual emotional cues to the artist that can add depth to the story. The majority of scripts I read in submissions and from new writers mention WHO is in the panel, but only in the rarest circumstances mentions anything to give more insight into those characters.

Telling us our heroine is in the panel is fine, but pointing out “our heroine should be standing hands on hips with a broad smile on her face” helps carry the emotion, mood and depth of the story, especially in those times it may not be clear to the artist just what those feelings and emotions are. Only you, the writer, may know the deeper motivations of your characters so it’s on you to communicate those underlying elements.

c23_Theknight_ink_page04_sm

Page art by Ale Aragon

Now, if you’re working with a great artist who recognizes the importance of such subtle elements to the art, such as body language, expression, etc. then they may be great at adding it in anyway, but without direction, they may assign different motivations than you had in mind. If it’s a character you both have worked on a while, then even those deeper motivations and little character bits may come naturally.

But if it’s a new story, and a newer artist still feeling their own way, and you as the writer don’t share some of those cues, you may also end up with a bunch of listless, boring people just standing around, and that will be partly on you.

Beyond expressions and emotion, this kind of visual storytelling can happen on a lot of levels. Establishing a setting of ‘a city street’ is basic, but establishing a setting as ‘a city street in a bad neighborhood, with boarded up windows, trash littering the sidewalks, etc.’ sets the tone. Letting an artist choreograph a fight scene is best, but pointing out ‘one fighter is clear, smooth, skilled and simply defending themselves, while their opponent is desperate and savage’ helps the artist add layers of depth to that fight scene that will tell more story with the art.

You can even craft a story such that this ‘visual storytelling’ element is crucial to the actual story working. Some of the best comics, to me, are the ones that once you finish the story, you want to go back and read it again for all the little visual clues you missed. For example, if you’re writing a mystery, make sure certain props or features are clear in the art, so that they can be revealed later as the clues that lead to the solution.

Use of iconic visuals, as mentioned previously with Watchmen, also adds elements to a story. They can be specific symbols, or simply powerful, iconic shots that bring the story to a critical focus, such as a drop of blood falling into a pool of blood, a character sitting with their head in their hands, dejected and lost, or someone cradling the corpse of a fallen loved one. Think about some of your favorite comic stories and I can pretty much guarantee you there was at least one image somewhere in that story where the art told it all, no words were even needed, and that image stayed with you a long time.

Incorporate these things to add depth and detail to your work and help your artist tell the full story.

3) Use an Economy of Words

Because comics are a visual medium, you want to strike a fine balance of text and art. Make sure you aren’t overwhelming your story with narrative. Lots of words on a page make it look cluttered, detract from the art, slows the pace and tends to drag for the reader, increasing the chance they will get bored or frustrated.

Of course, there are going to be exceptions. There are times when there may be a need for heavier narrative. It may be an expositional scene to give necessary backstory or an important dialogue between two characters that explores their relationship, but these should be exceptions, not the rule.

4) Comics Are a Visual Medium So Make It Visually Dynamic

This is obviously something we will explore more in the art end of things, but it’s an important concept for writers as well. There is a reason the abundance of comics have over the top storylines that include lots of action, fantasy, and other visually dynamic plots. Simply put, dynamic, exciting visuals grab reader’s attentions and interest MUCH faster than pictures of people sitting around talking.

Yes, there can be perfectly good comics that do not include world-saving battles requiring two-page spreads for all the explosions. However, whether it is a use of setting, a purposeful focus on mood and tone to add dramatic tension, or any other tool, the more visually dynamic you can make a scene, the better it will play in an illustrated book.

For example, say you’re writing a scene where our hero is talking with his lady love about their relationship. It’s an important story element. It has emotional drama, people love the characters so they will be invested in it, but can you help make sure it plays out better? Sure. Do they decide to chat in her apartment? Or maybe he flies her to a mountaintop at sunset? Think about what choices you can make to give room to and ensure the art stays as dramatic and dynamic as possible, no matter what the content of the scene itself.

5) Comics Are a Visual Medium, Play to That Strength

As a comic writer, keep in mind you have multiple levels you can tell a story on. There is the narrative caption box, the actual dialogue, the internal monolog, and the actual portrayed events. Those portrayed events give you a whole level of storytelling you don’t have in prose so exploit it where and when you can.

For example, a prose novella I wrote, Legend of Fire-Mane, that was published in our first run with Visions, was later being adapted for a proposed original graphic novel. The opening scene in that story is a prophetic nightmare of the aged Dwarven-Lord in the story. In the prose edition, I had to focus on ‘painting’ the dramatic scene of crows feasting on mounds of dwarven corpses and the two elemental giants that then appear and fight. But, once the artist, Revin Denisya A Putra, illustrated those pages (seen above) and brought that scene to life, I didn’t need to use words to do it. So, I added the haunting words of a Dwarven funeral dirge that anchors the images, alludes to them, but adds more to the story.

Work on ways to maximize the story being told in the comic. Don’t include tricks for the sake of including tricks, but ask yourself how you can enrich or deepen the story by playing to the unique strengths of comics.

6) Write to the Format and Know the Limits

As I started this series I pointed out that one thing that makes writing for comics unique is the need for the writer to continually be mentally aware of the finished product. I kept a tight focus on that as I discussed the panel, the page, composition, etc. This also applies on a larger level in terms of the story as a whole.

Most comic writing opportunities are going to come with a set of expectations and thus limitations that will need to be considered in your approach to the story. This will often include having a certain page count to hit, which could range from 6 to 240 pages. It will also include the means by which the story is going to be released – serialized chapters, or a single collected edition, digital or print.

This will even be true if you’re creating your own thing alone, or with an artist. You’ll need to have a platform to release your comic, set up a schedule that can be met, and however those logistics play out, should then be considered once you begin writing.

The point here is that you need to know WHAT format you are writing a project for and write accordingly.

A stand-alone story should, obviously, be a complete story with beginning, middle and end. You’ll need proper pacing that will carry the story through the allotted pages, if that is a limitation in place. That story will also need a definitive enough resolution that the reader feels they got the desired payoff and the story wrapped up for a satisfying finish. Sure it can hint at more, set up a sequel if desired, but by and large, THIS story comes to a definitive end.

Serialized writing, such as doing issues of a comic series, or chapters of an ongoing webcomic, begins to introduce new elements to storytelling that are also important. Here, each issue or chapter becomes yet another beat to a still larger story. Oh, sure, maybe any given story – an origin, a specific conflict, or adventure in general – may end in any given chapter or issue, but the nature of serialized writing is that that ‘story’ then becomes part of the larger story for that series.

So, once you get into serialized writing of any kind it becomes even more important to be able to craft overlaying storylines, plots, and sub-plots, etc. that can weave in and out of the spotlight of the larger, ongoing storyline. It will also become important to be able to learn to write each chapter or issue to serve two very distinct purposes. First, each chapter or issue has to provide the reader sufficient payoff to make them feel the time invested was worth it. Second, and just as important, each chapter or issue in some way, shape or form, needs to provide enough of a hook to ensure the reader will want to come back for more.

And that will form the basis of our next writing series!

NEXT

We break next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, so HAPPY THANKSGIVING to everyone who will be celebrating! We’ll return December 4th for a one-shot column topic critical to freelancers everywhere – The Contract!

NOW DISCUSS…

My Comic Life Patreon Promotion

If you want more great content like this, support his Patreon campaign today by clicking the image!

About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!

My Comic Life Sundays: Writing Comics 101: Composition Workshop

MCL Banner

Heck of a week, huh? I understand, so, if you need to decompress, get your mind chilled out, later today, I am running my ever popular My Comic Life Panel at the Southern Maryland Comic-Con at the Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department, which is also Visionary’s last full convention of the year. Come join us if you can!

Get all the Details on our Events Page >>

I also want to do a quick shout out to the DC Authorfest from last week, I had no idea what to expect and ended up with a great crowd of awesome folks, very engaged, lots of questions, good dialogue – it’s just so sad these things only last an hour! But pretty awesome a bunch of us adjourned to a nearby room and chatted a bit longer. Loved it! Thanks DC Library and everyone who attended!

detail_1

I’ll be announcing some more ‘informal’ events for local fans I hope will spark interest soon, and Visionary announced our new Get Creative online feature debuting early next year, so lots of fun coming! Stay tuned!

Just a note, this week’s strip is a bit of a PSA from yours truly, something I felt needed to be said after some recent events in our industry (which were really just repeats of other events similar), triggered by a certain cover image…

I think anyone who knows me would know my general take on this, but, far be it for me to be subtle. Right?

027 PSA

Catch up with the My Comic Life comic strip on our Reader>>

My Comic Life Column 009: Writing Comics 101: Compositional Workshop

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Last time I focused a good bit on composition, a term used to refer to bringing various elements of an artistic work together in smooth harmony to better enhance the overall finished piece. We looked at how composition needs to be considered in the panel, the page, and touched on it in terms of the entire issue, starting with the actual script.

Believe me, this is a critical piece for good comics and I will do an entire series on it when I get to drawing the comic. However, as I mentioned last time, the composition of the comic is something a good writer is also going to be thinking of, to help ensure the script has lots of potential for the artist to run with.

Along with discussing all this last time, I included a number of pages from various comic series that incorporate very effective use of composition, meshing art and story together to create truly outstanding work.

Many of you no doubt noticed a number of these are by writer-artists as opposed to the more traditional writer / artist teams. Why? Well, that one’s pretty simple. An excellent artist who is also an excellent writer is going to visualize their story and knows how the art can truly enhance the themes and mood. They are going to have the easiest time in bringing all that together in a script that gives plenty of potential and room for the art to bring it to life.

However, it is also VERY possible for a writer and artist working together to bring this to the table as well, as can be seen in the Watchmen samples as well as plenty of other notable comic series that have been published. I’ll revisit this after we examine these pages and let all you aspiring writers in on a little secret that might literally change the way you create comics.

The Watchmen

watchmen3

Watchmen – Writer: Alan Moore / Artist Dave Gibbons – copyright and trademark by DC Comics

This series redefined comics on multiple levels. It was a brilliant collaboration between Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that showed just how powerful a story can be when told effectively in the graphic medium.

It is also very clear this collaboration started long before finished scripts were written. The world itself, the character designs, both the people and their costumes, the environs in general, every visual element re-enforces many of the themes of the series. There are also many visual plays and cues used throughout to tell the story on multiple levels, to illicit intuitive reactions and feelings that enhance the story. This includes the page layouts.

Throughout the twelve-issue run, by far, the nine-panel grid layout dominated (as seen in these sample pages). This layout is one that has been used many times in comics throughout their history. Keith Giffen is also quite well-known for his preference of this layout. However, it was used so much in Watchmen that it has since been seen as one of the identifying trademarks of it.

The grid layout has several strengths logistically. It is the easiest layout to follow, standard grid pattern allows the reader to very easily move through the page. In a way, it is a nice balance to a story far more complex on the intellectual and emotional levels. It allows the reader to use less focus in following the art, to give more focus on what’s happening IN the art and in the actual story.

The grid also allows a good bit of story to unfold with every page. It makes it easy for cinematic sequences, where the panels seem akin to animation cells, one following after the other in sequence. In a dialogue and character based story, it also allows for a wealth of dialogue, narration and story to unfold.

However, the layouts also enhance the story stylistically and emotionally. Watchmen is a dark, oppressive story, filled with violence, people trapped in various ways by their decisions, their lifestyles, etc. Many of the themes of the story revolve around some form of restraint or constriction. The rigid grid pattern enforces this. Even action scenes are often constrained in smaller panels making them feel almost claustrophobic.

When panels DO open up in that series, they contain something truly remarkable. I don’t claim to know and have never read any in-depth review on how Moore and Gibbons collaborated on this series, but it is clear the story focuses on visuals in a way that was brought in at the writing stage. The famous happy face with the blood smear, the ticking clock ticking down to doomsday, at the same time being a visual for WATCHmen, these are all ways the story was brought to life using visual cues and images that were an effective combination from writer and artist.

The Red Star

REDSTAR

The Red Star – Writer / Artist / Copyright and Trademark: Christian Gossett

This series, primarily from creator Christian Gossett, is another comic that has defined itself visually and compositionally from the outset. A sweeping, alternate history, fantasy-sci-fi epic, the art and story work together hand in hand to bring to vivid life a story well-crafted and well-executed.

Almost the opposite of Watchmen that uses a paranoia, clinging, restricting oppression to tell its tale, The Red Star is a sweeping epic that needs lots of room to breathe. My guess is this series has more two-page spreads than any series in history. Gosset defines this series visually in three ways. First is his own unique art style. Second is his blending of 3-D CGI images with more traditional art. Third is his use of page layouts and specifically 2-page spreads to enhance the storytelling.

His style itself is very energetic, dramatic, and emotionally powerful. His blending of traditional or ‘organic’ art for people and environs, but CGI rendered images for machines, ships, weapons, etc. is very nicely done. The people remain more dramatic, more ‘earthy’ and natural. But with the CGI images, he can add a level of 3-D, realism, depth and scale that opens the scenes up more. Pages that spotlight the Russian warships in the sky are truly impressive pieces that feel like they have a scale befitting a mile long, 20,000 crew floating fortress.

Part of what makes this work for Gossett is he allows the pages to open up to really show the scale, the size and scope of this epic he is telling. Very cinematic, movie quality images from that series make this world detailed, complex and feel very real, despite how different it really is.

While it might be argued the typical issue of The Red Star seems to have less content story-wise, there can be no argument that the story that is told leaves you with an impression. There is a sense of grandeur, a sense of the epic, even mythological levels of this story that want you to pause and stare at those wide open pages, and the art does just that.

Hellboy

INT_HELLBOY_WHITEth

Hellboy – Writer / Artist / Copyright and Trademark: Mike Mignola

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, like the rest of these, doesn’t really need much in the way of introduction. One of the most well-known creator-owned series ever and one that has successfully made the leap into film.

When Mignola talked about creating Hellboy, I remember him saying that he had been invited to do a creator-owned series at Dark Horse and decided if he was going to do one it had to be one that let him draw all the stuff he REALLY wanted to draw. He accomplished just that.

Hellboy is a series so defined by Mignola’s style that fans once found it hard to accept other artists, even very good ones, drawing the iconic adventures. It’s because Mignola succeeded in creating a character whose appearance and world seems only right when drawn by him.

If we look at how Mignola enhances his story through the art, his style in general is obviously first and foremost. He does not have a distinct layout pattern that defines his work or the series, as he varies it a good bit in keeping with more traditional graphic storytelling. However, he does add some of his own quirks that are purely Mignola. His use of shadow and light, minimalist approach, and some of his distinct camera angles and close up shots also help define the look and feel overall.

Did You Catch It?

Yes, I absolutely did pick one series each that shows key art composition where the story shapes the art at the panel (Watchmen), the page (The Red Star), and the larger, overall series (Hellboy).

Let’s look at a couple other examples that are literally world’s apart.

The Walking Dead

walkingdead

The Walking Dead – Writer / Copyright and Trademark: Robert Kirkman / Art: Charlie Adlard

Arguably one of the most successful creator-owned series ever, Robert Kirkman created a powerhouse in The Walking Dead. He originally launched the series with artist Tony Moore, who left after the first several issues. He was replaced with Charlie Adlard who has carried it ever since. While I love Tony’s art, and there is no doubt he is an incredibly talented creator, I think this was one of those lucky breaks in terms of the series. You’ve seen Charlie’s work in the samples above, now compare it to a single page from Tony.

the-walking-dead-comics-e1346441747177

The Walking Dead – Art by Tony Moore

Tony’s art, again, excellent, but his style isn’t as perfect a match with the story as Charlie’s who seems born to do this series.

Adlard uses a much simpler, minimalist style similar to Mignola, with stark light and shadow, very realistic looking characters, more gritty, grim, and haggard looking all of which creates the stark and forbidding contrast of this world.

Tony’s work has much more detailed linework, slightly more cartoonish bent to the characters and more going on in the art which dilutes the world to some degree.

Would the series have gone on to be such a major franchise if the change hadn’t happened? It’s obviously impossible to say, but any long term fans who’ve been with the series now for a while, without looking back at those original issues might find it jarring to do so and that says a lot about the power of art and story.

Mouse Guard

MGfcbd2

Writer / Art / Copyright and Trademark: David Petersen

Last but by no means least is David Petersen’s amazing series Mouse Guard. This series is printed in a square format, typical of children’s books, as opposed to standard comic dimensions. A very smart move for an all-ages series for a number of reasons. The shorter, stouter page leaves less panel transition over a longer, narrower spread for the reader to get lost in, which is good for a younger reader who may not be as versed in comic flow. David also keeps his layouts pretty simple and straight-forward. It’s also smart marketing – it looks more like the product a parent might typically buy for their child, targeting the primary demographic.

Now, this is another example of a writer-artist series, and David’s dream series of choice, but let’s ask an interesting question… What if David’s ‘dream series’ he wanted to do had been Walking Dead? Yeah, I don’t see it either.

See, the synergy between story and art, for a single writer-artist planning their own dream-series is going to start at the very first stages of conception. Artists who want to write are going to doodle, sketch, do designs, and the world, characters and story will start forming in their head as they go and naturally, that story will reflect the art, because that is where it was nurtured. One informs, shapes, guides, and fine tunes the other.

So, What Does All This Mean?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this series on writing, one of the challenges to the writer in comics, more so than any other medium, is how much the quality writer is going to need to focus on and visualize the finished product. That needs to start at the very beginning of the conceptualization of the series and run right through to the final editing of the script.

Which leads me to my closing point on this column: introducing the topic of collaboration, one I will explore far more in-depth after this writing series and the following penciling series.

I am continually amazed at how many writers fully visualize their comic, write story bibles, full scripts, character descriptions and bios, literally fully plot out everything, THEN go looking for an artist. They’ve just made their lives ten times harder than it needs to be because now they are looking for a single artist to match a singular vision that has to fit inside the box.

Don’t get me wrong, it can work, and obviously with longer running series, especially big-two series spanning decades, there will be multiple teams over time. But if you think about it, how many writer and artist (or writer-artist) team runs on those specific books REALLY stand the test of time as a milestone? Frank Miller’s Daredevil, Christopher Claremont and Dave Cockrum then John Byrne on X-Men, Byrne solo on Fantastic Four. More recently I’d add Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman run. That magic can be hard to capture when creators are stepping into a ‘thing’ already made.

So, if you’re a writer, thinking about creating a series you want to do, don’t build it out in exhaustive detail and then try to find an artist – find an artist you want to work with and then create something together. Ask them what they want to draw? Let their art shape the world, the characters, the story. You just might be surprised what comes out of it.

Next…

Now that we’ve explored a lot of the comic-specific dynamics of writing comics, we’re going to close out this series run with a focus on “Telling the Story” and look at some of the important aspects of telling good stories that work well in comics. Hope to see you there!

NOW DISCUSS…

My Comic Life Patreon Promotion

If you want more great content like this, support his Patreon campaign today by clicking the image!

About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!

My Comic Life Sundays: Family and Writing Comics 101

MCL Banner

Apologies for the delay on our Sunday post – our site was experiencing technical difficulties which prevented posting. We’ve now got the problem fixed.

Thursday, during our Weekly Visions post, we introduced our new staff and interns – Visionary’s biggest class ever! I actually got to spend some great quality time with all those fine folks over the last couple weeks.

Gary Cohn, our new Special Projects Manager was gracious enough to let me come stay with him in Richmond the night before the Hampton Comic-Con to help make the morning drive-in for the show a little easier. We got dinner with Aaron Riley, who’s done all the amazing covers for our Deadlands novels, then chatted about the future of Visionary. I also got the grand tour of the Cohn Archives, including original art from folks like Paris Cullins, Ernie Colon, Ron Wagner, Billy Tucci and others. Also got a chance to check out designs, sketches and other notes for projects that never were – but really should have been.

I then hosted our first full class Staff Workshop with our new interns Saturday. We did a training on comic-book coloring, self-promotion, and marketing, and talked about creative work for our new class, stuff we should be announcing something about by end of the year. What a crew!

So, while working in comics may just be the most fun job in the world, its also brought me a whole circle of wonderful people who’ve become such an important part of my life – from the full team at Visionary, to many of the great creators we’ve worked with, to the professionals whose work I’ve admired for years, that now invite me to their homes. That’s My REAL Comic Life and My Comic Life Family!

024 We Get Paid

Catch up with the My Comic Life comic strip on our Reader>>

My Comic Life Column 006: Writing Comics 101: The Script

C. Edward Sellner cropped

I’m going to use the next few columns to do a run on writing. Let it be said here and now, I’m doing this column for every aspiring talent, from the newest beginners to folks who’ve been at this a while. So, you’ll notice with every series, I start from a very basic viewpoint and get more into the fine art of each arena as I go.

However, as a word of advice, I wouldn’t skip reading a column and just assume, ‘oh, that’s pretty basic, I know all about that.’

I’m willing to bet there will be at least one nugget of wisdom in each that you didn’t know, even if you’ve been in this business a while. So, put that to the test and let me know how I do.

Writing: The Script

If we look at the most basic fundamentals of writing comics, you can’t get much more basic than looking at the form in which comics are written. You will find throughout the production process of comics that they have far more in common with film or television than prose. That commonality begins here. Comic stories are written in script format, much like screenplays, and that script, as I’ve mentioned before, will be the central tool everyone else on the team producing the book will use in their work.

Since this tool is so central to the production of a comic, there should be some care and consideration in how it is crafted. There is no universal rule of formatting for comic scripting but there are some pretty general and shared guidelines that you will find most companies either require or prefer. Following these guidelines not only makes you look better and more professional as a writer, it will also make things much easier for anyone working with you in producing the book, from the editor on down to the letterer. It will also help you in your own growth to focus attention on areas needed and be more cognizant of things you’re doing yourself – right and wrong.

All of which means any writer wanting to work in comics needs to have a good mastery of the technical form of the comic script. With that in mind, let’s look at the script and its format.

General Rules of Formatting

1. Keep your page margins at a healthy one to one and half inches.
Again, since multiple people will be using this, space for notations and edits is always helpful. Granted, a lot more editing is done on computer these days, still, an editor might prefer reading a hard copy and making notes in the margins to pass on to the writer. Likewise, many artists like having a physical copy of the script they can keep at their drawing board to use to jot notes on for ideas in layout, camera angles, colors, even thumbnails. Give them room to annotate for their own use.

2. Mark Page breaks in the Comic with page breaks in the script.
Most comic pages should not require a full page of text to setup in the script. Unless you’re putting a lot of detail into the art direction, or probably too much dialogue, most comic pages will only require a half to three quarters of a standard 8.5×11 letterhead page. You should still start a new page of the script for every new page of the comic. That way there is a clear distinction from one page to the next so that everyone else can see where one ends and the next begins.

3. If a page of the Comic runs over a single page of script, notate it accordingly.
In general, this is to prevent any confusion of what belongs on what page. If it runs over, the script page should have a note of MORE at the bottom corner, and a heading of PAGE # CONTINUED at the top of the next page, with the actual page number inserted. In these cases, hopefully the continued page will only be a small paragraph at best. Still start the next page of the comic on a new page in the script.

4. Use Numerals for Numbers to designate things in the script
PAGE 1 / PANEL 1
Never spell numbers out when using headers or tags. Using actual numerals makes it easier for artists and letterers to glance at them and get a feel for totals. The eye can pick out the numerals quicker than the spelled out versions.

5. Use Page Headers, include appropriate information needed.
If the script is a submission, then the main thing to include here is all your personal contact information so if the script is accepted, they can get in touch with you. If you’re doing the book professionally the company may have specific things needed, in which case, follow those guidelines.

In general a script Header should include the following:

  • Your name
  • Name of the series
  • Issue number of the series and total issues if limited (such as #1 (of 5))
  • Version or revision number or date (such as Draft 1, or Revision 3, or Revision 10/23/16), this can help ensure people know they are working on the most current version.
  • Script page number, and total script pages.

Pros reading this may think I’m being a bit anal in the amount of info included here, but, trust me, it doesn’t hurt. A well-established pro friend of mine just commented on his twitter that he needed to send an entire issue back to be re-lettered because it was done using an older draft of the script. Likewise, I’ve seen artists print a script, lose a page of it and not even realize it because of poor formatting and labeling.

Again, if this is a tool, then the easier you make it for everyone else, the smoother things will go. If any other member of the team is missing a page, or somehow jumbles the pages, and can’t determine what happened easily, it slows things down. Good, clean formatting can help people quickly figure out if something is wrong or make sure everything is indeed okay.

Breaking down the Script

The script, like a movie script, should properly be laid out almost in an outline form, so that various people know directly where to go for the information most pertinent to them at any given time.

PAGE 1

Every page of the script should have the comic page number clearly at the top and set off so it’s the most noticeable. Again, this tells each following person on the team what page they are actually working on and helps to make sure things flow smoothly.

If it runs over a page of text…

PAGE 1 (CONTINUED)

Again, always starting a new page of the comic on a new page of the script.

PANEL 1

Panels need to also be clearly designated so the story breaks at the appropriate moments, from penciling to lettering.

Now this doesn’t mean an artist might not add a panel, or combine two you mention, especially if they are strong storytellers themselves, but if they do, its usually for a good reason, and any script can be adjusted accordingly.

Art Description:

This is one of the key elements of a script and one of the main sections editors will look at to see how well a writer knows his or her craft. The art description should be formatted in more standard, single spaced lines, like a regular paragraph. It should also include full sentences that provide a brief, yet detailed description of the setting, characters, actions and interactions important to the telling of the story. These, obviously should focus on cues and details the artists need to know to include.

I generally like to describe the setting at the beginning of a scene…

Setting: This scene takes place outside, at night, on a street and a nearby alley in downtown Manhattan, one of the seedier parts of town, so some boarded up buildings, trash on the street, etc. Its pretty late, and no one except our characters are around.

This gives the artist the environment right away, let’s them picture the space the action is happening in so they can set up and lay out that space to use it effectively in the following panels.

Then each panel gets a specific art direction immediately under the heading…

PANEL 1

Our main character, Joe, is standing on the sidewalk, back to an alley, looking nervously up the street, waiting for his contact to arrive.

I will expand on this more when I focus more on the art of writing a good script, but notice the description very succinctly gives the artist the most important elements of the story:

  • Who? Joe.
  • Where? On the sidewalk next to the street his back to an alley.
  • Action? He’s looking up the street.
  • Feel? He’s nervous.

It also allows the artist to take cues in the script and add something of his or her own flair to help emphasize. Maybe Joe is sweating from his nervousness, maybe he’s tapping his watch. In other words, the art description should setup the scene, but not obsessively describe it to its most minute detail. Let your artist do some of their own storytelling, but do give them the cues they need so they know what will work and what won’t.

Obviously some scenes will require more detail if there is more happening than a character simply gazing up a street, but the writer should scrub descriptions down to the most basic level they can before moving on. Include what helps move the story forward and let the artist do the rest.

Now, sometimes a writer can include more specific visual suggestions to the artist as well. For example:

PANEL 2 (Largest Panel)

Joe is suddenly grabbed from behind by a huge, hairy werewolf!

Noting a specific panel is the intended focus of the page, or noting one panel should be an inset of another panel to more closely link the two beats are typical. Another good example of this is a more cinematic sequence where the writer suggests using two or more panels with the same camera angle, same view, but single, simple elements that change to really put the focus on that single piece of storytelling.

PANEL 3

We see the werewolf crouching over Joe, clawed hand poised to strike, as Joe is terrified, arms raised to protect himself.

PANEL 4

Same shot, same angle but the werewolf has paused, his arm half-lowered, Joe now looking up, his hands lowered as well.

The point here is most artists don’t mind some direction from the writer on layouts or camera angle, if there is a particular storytelling reason for it. To create a cinematic sequence that really emphasizes a critical moment, or a layout that makes a nice visual setup is something that a writer can include to help enhance the art.

The important corollary to this is that unless there is some specific reason for such direction, leave it to your artist. Let them pull together a layout, choose camera angles, how much or how little to include in the background. The better the artist, the better they will take what information you do give them and really play it out in a way better than you could have imagined.

I’ll focus more on this when I talk about the writer collaborating with the artist, but again, another good point to be mindful of.

Dialogue:

Under the art direction for each panel comes the dialogue section of the script. This section is set off visually to make it easier for the artists and letterer, but there are also several key things the writer should be focused on while drafting these sections.

1. Don’t overwrite – let the art tell as much of the story as possible and get out of the way.
The biggest mistake from most aspiring comic writers is some deep rooted need to fill a page with captions, dialogue, and text, sometimes to the point of cramping the art almost out of existence. Comic scripting is an art of minimalism – include what is needed to move the story forward, give the characters their own voice, and set the scene when needed. If something can be done in the art, use the Art Direction to set that up and let it work its magic. Much better to have the artist draw Joe as nervous than to have him say he’s nervous.

2. Be mindful of how much text you are putting on a page and how that impacts the room for art.
This kind of spins out of the first point, but needs to be considered for a whole page as well. You can’t have nine panels on a page, each filled with multiple speech balloons and captions. The more text per panel, the bigger that panel has to be.

This is important to the artist as well who needs to be aware of how much text is going in a panel in order to leave sufficient space for balloons and captions in the actual art itself. Lettering cannot go over key elements in the art, so, an artist will make sure there is enough ‘dead space’ to include the dialogue. A writer who is keeping that in mind as well makes it easier.

3. Be mindful of the sequence and flow of the dialogue and how that will work in the art.
For example, if you have three characters in a panel, and they are each talking, the ideal layout would be to have the characters go from left to right in the sequence they speak. So, if Joe speaks first, he’s to the left, then Mary second, so she gets put in the middle, and John speaks last, so he goes to the right, that way the sequence flows left to right with the reader’s eye. As a writer, make sure you aren’t giving conflicting cues for the artist to have to figure out.

Lettering:

It’s also the main focus of the letterer who will be translating the dialogue from the script to the actual comic page. Like the other sections, it should be setup to help make their work as easy as possible in order to help ensure fewer mistakes.

Lines of dialogue, narration and sound effects should be indented and double spaced between each, so they are clearly set off from one another. Each line should start with a tag identifying the source in all caps, and the text in normal type, like so…

PANEL 1

Our main character, Joe, is standing on the sidewalk, back to an alley, looking nervously up the street, waiting for his contact to arrive.

1 CAP:         New York, 10:30pm

2 JOE:        Man, I wish he would get here already.

Notice, I number my lines. This is not as important, but I like to do it so the letterer can easily glance and see how many lines, balloons, caption boxes etc. go on a page. It’s also a good reminder for me, because if I get up to 7, I know I’m starting to crowd the page and probably need to shut up more and let the art talk.

The tag at the beginning is set off by being IN ALL CAPS, identifying it easily so the letterer knows what the source of the line of dialogue is. Having the actual dialogue indented from the source tag and double spaced from other lines makes each bit clearly visible at a glance, so the artist and letterer can more easily picture the space needed and where to place lettering.

Also, note in the actual line of dialogue, some words are in bold, sometimes instead of bold, you’ll see words in ALL CAPS. These are called Stressors, and however they are noted in the script, the Letterer will then make those words bold in the final book. When we read a line of comic dialogue, we tend to emphasize the words in bold. By choosing certain words to be stressed, we help the reader create a rhythmic tone and lilt of voice that makes it sound more conversational or ‘spoken’ in the reader’s mind. This is a standard motif in comics that you don’t find in other mediums as much.

An alternative layout is more along the lines of how dialogue is noted in screenplays and works just as well.

PANEL 1

Our main character, Joe, is standing on the sidewalk, back to an alley, looking nervously up the street, waiting for his contact to arrive.

CAPTION:
New York, 10:30pm

JOE:
Man, I wish he would get here already.

I’ve known a number of writers who feel the formatting and layout doesn’t matter. They often put single line spaces and breaks and everything clutters together. The writers who feel that way are often not writer / artists, and usually are less visual in their thinking. Part of the reason behind the spacing, especially in dialogue, is that it helps an artist to glance at dialogue and get a feel for how the spacing will work in the drawn page. The more set off each line is, the easier to picture it in a balloon on a comic page and then leave enough room for it in the artwork. Same for the letterer as they are figuring how to approach placing these words in the art. When everything runs together, this becomes more of a challenge for both.

The source tag is important to the letterer for obvious reasons, such as ensuring the dialogue balloons point to the right person, but they also provide a wealth of other information for the more subtle aspects of lettering. Let’s review some common source tags.

CHARACTER’S NAME: Indicates the person speaking.

2 JOE:        Man, I wish he would get here already.

CAP: Refers to a caption box for narrative or internal monologues.

1 CAP:         New York, 10:30pm

CHARACTER NAME CAP: Distinguishes when more than one character has captions or any kind of narrative appearing in a caption. Letterer’s will often use different shades of color or effects in the captions to distinguish them so readers can more easily track who is talking. This motif is often used when the reader is hearing a conversation taking place somewhere other than the scene visible in the panel, or if the narrator of a story shifts during the story.

CHARACTER NAME (OP): Usually refers to when someone is speaking, so their voice would be heard in that scene, but the character is not visible, thus Off Panel. It will usually also include, either in the art direction or here, some indicator of where that voice is coming from so the letterer can place it.

3 WEREWOLF (OP from the alley shadows):         GROOOWWWWL

CHARACTER NAME (SHOUT) or (whisper): Indicates the voice tone of the character speaking, shouts are stressed with bold or all caps, whispers in smaller fonts.

SFX: Indicates the line is a sound effect. Important note here, and a distinction from screenplay work, it’s the comic writer’s job to give the actual sound effect (BANG!) not the classification or source of the sound effect (gunshot sound) as that shows the Letterer how they want the effect to actually appear.

DEVICE (Electric) or CHARACTER NAME (Telepathy): Such notations here help to distinguish when a voice is coming through a device, like a radio, or when a character is using telepathy. In these cases, it’s important to note, because the letterer will most often make the balloons for such dialogue distinct to stand out.

There are many others that can be used. Basically, the point I’m making here is that the source tag is a handy way to alert the letterer as to what they are doing with that line of dialogue. Is it a sound effect? Is someone speaking in a standard word balloon? Are there dialogues off panel that need to stand out in unique caption boxes? Is a specialized balloon needed to show the dialogue is different than normal conversation?

Clearly noting such things helps ensure the letterer can easily track what they are doing and plug things in accordingly. It’s also common practice to use abbreviations, or simpler notations if something is used often in a certain book. For example, PROFESSOR XAVIER could be tagged as PROF X, or XAVIER. A book that has telepaths reading each other’s minds might have a note at the beginning saying that an * next to the name tag means it’s telepathy. The important thing here is to be consistent and clear to make the letterer’s life easier.

A writer who leaves such to the guess work of the letterer can’t really complain when it comes back wrong.

And just so no one leaves worried for Joe…

PANEL 3

We see the werewolf crouching over Joe, clawed hand poised to strike, as Joe is terrified, arms raised to protect himself.

PANEL 4

Same shot, same angle but the werewolf has paused, his arm half-lowered, Joe now looking up, his hands lowered as well.

4 WEREWOLF:          Joe? Is that you?

5 JOE:                           Harry! You made it, you old dog!

In Summary…

Basically as a writer, keep in mind your script becomes the central tool for your entire team to create this comic book you’ve written. The more care you put into crafting that tool, the more professional you appear and the more the people working with you will enjoy the process. Not to mention the less chance of complications in the process.

When you’re reviewing a script you’ve written, try to look at it as your penciler, then as your letterer. Are things clear? Laid out neatly to be picked out easily? Is everything noted so they don’t have to go back and infer things? The more care you take in your scripting, the less likely mistakes will happen down the road!

To get a better feel for scripts, check out the Comic Book Script Archive, a site that hosts a huge collection of scripts from numerous writers. Its a great resource, with a simple caveat…

Everything I’ve mentioned above is the basic introductory tools for any writer to use when drafting a script, especially if doing so before an artist or letterer is even attached. Any creative team who works together on a regular basis will develop a number of mutually agreed shortcuts between them that are fine, because they know what those shortcuts mean. Don’t make the mistake of reviewing a script written by a professional writer, who knew the team doing the book a script is for, had worked with them for years, possibly on that very series, and thus took a lot of shortcuts in formatting, presentation etc. that his team would know, and think that undermines my advice above. Different beast.

NEXT:

We’ll start getting more into the actual mechnics of comic scripting, and start applying some of these basic principles.

NOW DISCUSS…

What are your thoughts on comic scripts and script styles and formatting? Is this what you expected, or were you surprised at the mechanics and logistics of the process?

My Comic Life Patreon Promotion

If you want more great content like this, support his Patreon campaign today by clicking the image!

About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!

My Comic Life Sundays: Big First Steps…

MCL Banner

14680588_1345986008767586_726365877438162852_n

So, I just got back from the Hampton ComiCon and WOW! What a show! I don’t think we had 20 minutes total at the booth all day without someone stopping by, buying art, checking out our stuff, and asking questions. More often than not there were multiple people at either end of our corner booth and both Mike Munshaw and myself chatting up all things Visionary. Lots of families, lots of younger kids enjoying our special kid-friendly prints and prizes, and some pretty super-fans who kept coming back and buying more each round.

It was the first show in Hampton sponsored by the same fine folks that put together the Tidewater ComiCon, another of our favorite conventions every year. So, many thanks to Mike Federali and his whole crew who know how to do shows right!

So, who’s ready for another dose of My Comic Life?

023 Let's Call It Visionary

Catch up with the My Comic Life comic strip on our Reader>>

My Comic Life Column 005: Building Up Finale: Those Big First Steps…

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Alright, if you’re still here despite all the bubble-bursting and doom and gloom I’ve spread, you must really want to create these things called comics… Fantastic, welcome to the party, hope you survive the experience!

If you did miss any of my previous columns and want to get your wake-up call before you go any further, you can catch up on all of them at the Archive.

Since you’ve made it this far, I’m now going to tell you something that may at first sound like it goes against pretty much everything I’ve said up to this point: the most important thing you need to do now is CREATE!

“But, wait a second, I thought you said all this other stuff needs to happen first…” Ah, but remember, this series wasn’t about creating comics, but about starting your journey on building some kind of career in creating comics. Whole different beast and a very important distinction.

In my second column, The Breaking In Myth, I said that if your only goal was to create, you should just go and do, then circle back later to get the lowdown on the actual creative process (which is coming up next). I then focused this series on the whole strategy of setting those professional career goals and how to start pursuing those in a more realistic, strategic way.

Why start there? It kind of goes back to some of what I’ve mentioned before and that is my experience of meeting aspiring creators with very unrealistic expectations, and no idea of what they are really pursuing, much less how best to go about pursuing it. I thought it important to dispel some of those myths, ground those unrealistic goals, and give everyone a chance to start with a better view of the process as a whole.

But if you ask me what is the single biggest challenge I find with aspiring creators who want to get into the business? It’s probably going to surprise you, but, pretty universally, it’s the actual act of creating.

Image result for creating quotesCreators Gotta Create!

There are a lot of folks who want to make comics, they talk about making comics, take steps to learn how to make comics, pursue opportunities to make comics, and yet time and time again – end up not making comics. Others never really think about the goals or the bigger picture, but just do, they sketch, they write, they do little comics in their notebooks, on their blogs, on napkins, and constantly have ideas for new stuff in their head. The person who has the absolute best potential of being a professional creator (again, the focus of this series remember) is the person who finds that magical balance of setting goals and working toward the goals all while creating every step of the way.

When Visionary first launched, we started as a Teaching Studio. We recruited aspiring creators who showed talent, had that creative spark and had a desire to launch a career in comics. Needless to say, that was incredibly popular with a lot of folks pursuing that dream; we were flooded with great candidates. We selected close to twenty creators we felt had a good start, that we felt we could help get to the next level. We then worked with them, got plans together for the titles they would work on, and were ready to move forward on the actual process of creating comics.

Eighty percent of those folks ended up producing nothing more than a few ideas, a few script pages, a few sketches or a handful of half-finished pages.

When I taught a non-credit, college-level course on comics I always gave each class a challenge – to take the weeks we met to work on a portfolio they could submit to me weekly for review on their progress, and to then incorporate things we were learning in class as they progressed. All with the end goal of having their best ever portfolio by the end of the session.

Out of multiple students, in multiple sessions, I had maybe two who actually completed any portfolio.

The most important thing I can stress in this series, and the most important single piece of advice I can give to aspiring creators who are starting out – is to totally let go of your expectations, your aspirations and goals toward the big-time, and to first, just focus on the act of creating. Yes, by all means, be intentional in your efforts, be realistic about where you are as a creator, educate yourself about the art, history and business of comics, do all that, but do it with an open mind and open purpose of just improving yourself. Then, turn all that off when you actually sit down to create and just create.

Image result for creating quotesNo Pressure…

The worst thing a creator can do is sit down to create with the primary purpose of getting a job, getting a good review on a portfolio from an editor, or finally creating that best-selling epic that will take the market by storm. That mindset creates an incredible amount of pressure to succeed, to meet someone else’s expectations, or make it perfect the first time out and that can be paralyzing.

Create for the sheer pleasure of creating. Create and let it flow and see what comes without pushing direction or setting up goals to hit on quality or quantity. Take that blank piece of paper or blank screen in front of you and just dive in to see what you can make. If you need to, literally start by telling yourself you are doing this for you and need never show it to another living soul, much less the top editor at Marvel. Doing this takes that paralyzing pressure to succeed off your shoulders. It lets you tap back into those creative energies kids have so naturally, and we as adults stamp out with purpose and intent, goals and expectations.

Practice, Practice, Practice…

The first discipline you need to develop as a creator is to set aside time as regularly as possible to create. Try your hardest to make it a daily activity, even if it’s a half hour a day to begin with. If you can do more some days, great, but  don’t fall into the trap of saying you’ll just spend double the time tomorrow, or spend all day on the weekend, that’s the beginning of NOT creating, and tomorrow becomes the next day, and the weekend becomes next week.

Everyone knows the saying, but let’s take a look at why this is so critical.

Image result for waiting for inspiration quoteFirst and foremost, daily practice is one of the key disciplines that will help you throughout your creative life, especially as an aspiring professional. Starting now, even if it’s that half hour, will mean you are conditioning yourself to create EVERY day, even if you don’t feel like it, even if you’re sick, even if you have a million other things to do, you do it. Once that window of time begins expanding, to an hour, a couple hours, or when you start working in the business, to a full eight-hour day, you’ve built on a good foundation of daily practice.

Second, by taking the time to create daily, you begin to condition your brain, just like any physical exercise conditions the body. The creative areas of your brain will begin to get more active, your creative energy will begin to increase, and your ability to slip into a creative mode will get easier, meaning that time spent, no matter how little, will get more and more productive.

Third, if you are also taking the time to learn about creating comics, and you’re taking time regularly to actually do that creative work, you’ll find your brain making associations between what you’ve learned and what you’re doing. You’ll start noticing areas where you can improve your work by applying what you learned, tips and pointers that you may have struggled with in the abstract will become clearer in the application, and you’ll start polishing your work more and more.

Fourth, you’ll also find yourself making more intuitive leaps on how to do things better. That can range from the smaller logistical things to the bigger picture creative things. Daily use of whatever tools you use to create, will make them more familiar to you, and as you get comfortable using them, your brain will then start seeing relationships, or shortcuts to doing the actual work better and faster. That may be as small as suddenly realizing a whole series of steps you do in your art software can actually be setup as an automated action you perform with a single click, to realizing you’ve been choosing similar camera angles in every panel and need to shake it up more.

Fifth, when you’re doing this regularly, you’ll find yourself pushing your own boundaries, trying new challenges, taking risks. Especially when, again, you remove that pressure to make perfection, or to work to someone else’s expectations, you’ll start setting your own expectations, your own goals and reaching for them and, more and more, meeting them.

Before the Good, There Must Come the Bad

This is critically important for the new creator, the person just starting out in doing the work. No matter how talented you are, your first finished script or finished illustrated pages are going to be bad, accept it, embrace it, and roll with it. When you start out, you will not be ready to submit anything to anyone, so don’t pressure yourself into thinking otherwise. This is another reason I chose to open with this series as it stands, because if in shattering those false expectations of breaking-in, I get you to slow down and allow yourself to just create, to grow as a creator before you try to succeed as one, then that is a true gift.

Everything Else From This Will Flow

If you keep your focus on actually creating, doing it as often as you can, disciplining yourself to doing it regularly, and also putting in some time on learning the craft to help you grow – you will. It’s really that simple. Everything else we’ve discussed so far in this series – making your own comic, doing work with a fellow creator, doing paid work, to even being the most successful creator in the history of comics, all stems from you creating something… every day.

RESOURCES CORNER

As promised, beginning with this column, I’m going to start including resources for everyone to explore. These will range from websites, to books, to online courses and all between. We’ll be collecting these onto a central resources page, but new ones will always be listed here first.

Creating Comics is a clearinghouse of resources about every arena of comics, from creative production through to publishing. Created by Dave A. Law, the site isn’t updated anymore and some of the links no longer work, but plenty still do, and they go to numerous articles, series, books, and tools for every aspiring creator.

Making Comics.com is another clearinghouse site of resources, covering every topic from creation, to production, marketing to selling and even legal advice. It’s more current, with new updates regularly and also includes a number of links to other resources online, such as reading lists, and even recommended software.

About.com has a dedicated section on it’s site all about creating comics. They also include links to outside resources, with a focus on different areas of creative work and more practical topics.

NEXT:

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get focused on creating comics! We’ll track a comic all the way through production, looking at some of the more important aspects of each piece of the creative process. This is where the fun begins!

NOW DISCUSS…

What resources have you found in your journey, online or otherwise, that have helped you get more focused and learn about comics in general, or as a creator?

My Comic Life Patreon Promotion

If you want more great content like this, support his Patreon campaign today by clicking the image!

About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!

My Comic Life Sundays: Getting Serious!

MCL Banner

Thanks to you fine folks, our little Sunday feature is gaining some ground! Please feel free to share links and recommend our little weekly get togethers! Also, please, by all means, feel free to comment, share your experiences as a creator, or ask questions. That’s the whole point.

Let’s get to the fun stuff!

021 It'll Never Work

Catch up with the My Comic Life Comic Strip on our Reader>>

Catch up with the My Comic Life Column at our Archive and Resources Page>>

My Comic Life Column 003: Building Up 001: Getting Serious!

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Last week we broke down the myth of “Breaking Into Comics.” There was weeping and gnashing of teeth, ashes, and sackcloth, rending of flesh and bone. Fun for everyone, and something you should check out here if you were lucky enough to miss it.

This week I promised I would start a small series on developing a much more realistic approach to building a career in comics, one aimed at providing the fundamental necessities and important steps to help improve your odds. Far be it from me to let you down on that.

And again, I want to stress, this isn’t a how-to on making comics and being a comics creator, it’s about shooting for a part-time or full-time career of creating them. Worlds apart, but we’ll get to the fun of creating the little buggers soon, promise.

 

Are You Serious?

If you're getting all my pop-culture references in my column sub-headings - you're on the right path!

If you’re getting all my pop-culture references in my column sub-headings – you’re on the right path!

Comics are cool; we get it; which means that 99% of folks who enjoy comics have, at least once, thought about how great it would be to work in comics. For a majority of those folks, it never moves past that fanciful thought; they simply get back to life and move on. For many others, unfortunately, when it does go beyond a mere fancy, it leaps straight to dreams of the big time, giving no thought of how to get there. Everyone wants to create the next “Walking Dead,” but most folks have no real sense of what it takes to do that, or the odds against it happening.

As a professional who runs my own studio, and a professor of comics for non-credit college-level courses, it amazes me how many people express a desire to work in comics, and yet have obviously never seriously considered just what exactly that entails. Chalk it up to the “breaking in” myth we talked about last time, or the challenge many creative types have with being practical, but still…. Yes, it’s comics, not rocket science, but any pursuit you plan to dedicate a majority of your waking life to, and hope to be able to support yourself and possibly a family doing, much less one with such intense competition, is one that you should really come to understand if you plan to pursue it seriously.

I say this, first, as someone who has proven I have that level of commitment and who made it happen for myself, so I know the importance. But I also say it as someone who has had the opportunity to be that gateway for others to start their journeys as professional creators, so I know the importance of those considerations, and how challenging it can be when someone doesn’t.

Beyond raw talent and skill, the next biggest filter most talent scouts and editors use in deciding what aspiring creators are worth the time to invest in, is if those candidates are serious about their intent. I’ve had many promising, talented people approach me at conventions, or via email, show me their work, and tell me their hopes for working in comics. Sometimes, by the second sentence, I can already tell they aren’t taking it seriously, which means no matter how great the portfolio, I’m not interested in working with them, and most likely no one else who knows what they are doing will want to, either. When I hear a stream of serious misconceptions and unrealistic expectations, I know they have no idea what they are getting into and very possibly will disappear as soon as reality sets in.

I’d much rather work with someone whose portfolio is rough, and needs definite improvement, but who shows a strong, well thought-out and intentional plan to pursue a career in comics and is genuinely seeking the kinds of critical feedback they need to grow. Why do you think recruiters for comics use that grooming process I outlined last time? Again, we don’t look for just a spark of talent, but for the makings of a true professional.

Okay, So How Do You Get Serious?

Whether you feel you’ve been serious about it or not, here are some critical first steps to take.

First, Step Back and Check Yourself

bd9936817c2a897faa74038b50191711I think the biggest and most challenging stumbling blocks for many creators are personal issues involving their perceptions of themselves and their work as well as the relationship between the two. I’ve seen it go to both extremes, positive and negative, and neither extreme is going to help you make it.

On the negative side, I know creators who have talent, and could develop the skills to do great work, but because of their low self-esteem, and them seeing any critical feedback as a total rejection of themselves as a person, they aren’t able to handle the process. I feel for those folks because that can be a huge challenge in life, and one that will impact a lot more than just a hopeful comics career. But, the simple fact is that any creator who can’t take criticism, sometimes harsh criticism, and not step back, separate themselves from their work, and take it as an opportunity to push themselves to improve, isn’t going to cut it in the industry.

If you’re one of those who wrestles with this end of the spectrum, the first step is to realize and acknowledge it. The next step may be to focus on that underlying low self-esteem and its causes, then work to realign your relationship with your craft. It can be a big challenge, but an important one on so many fronts.

On the flip side – and these are the folks we in the industry deal with more often because they keep coming back – you get folks who are overly enamored of or invested in their work. They can’t step back from it and put it and themselves in any real context or perspective, sometimes to ridiculous extremes. Yes, I’ve had potential creators present themselves to me as my good fortune they are giving me the shot to work with them, and in doing so, I should pay for everything, all in order for them to develop their ideas into mega-series telling their magnum opus. Seriously?

Now, most aren’t that bad, but yes, I’ve had folks approach me with pretty out there requests. Writers want to write prose or loose outlines for some lowly editor to adapt into a script; artists expect production folks to massage their page art to the right specs, all of whom are genuinely stunned when I say ‘not interested.’ I’ve also had portfolios put in front of me and the second I start offering critical feedback on challenges and areas of weakness, they either zone me out or argue with me. Others I’ve offered to try and help, who, when I send critiques for them to review and incorporate into their work, instead send me new material, as if maybe this round, I will see the perfection in it.

If you truly want a shot at a career in comics, you need to step back from your work and be able to view it objectively. You need to recognize you, more than likely, still have a long way to go in developing your skills and talent and be willing to work on doing just that. If you’re the exception to that rule? We need to tell YOU that, not the other way around.

Second, Step Back and Check Your Expectations

creativity-picture-quote

Yes, there have been creators who have done extremely well and made a lot of money in comics. Yes, there have been plenty of folks who have made full-time careers of comics, working for publishers, selling their own work, etc. But one doesn’t get to the top of those mountains by only focusing on the peak itself.

You need to do some serious reflection on what your goals are in comics. You may also need to step back in order to provide yourself the opportunity to find other goals or to achieve all the goals in between to get there. For example, a writer, or artist who is determined to write or draw the top-selling book from the top publisher, and keeps submitting pitches and portfolios solely for that position, is going to be disappointed, because that’s not how it works. Likewise, any creator who develops their own project and thinks it will surely be the next MEGA success, selling hundreds of thousands of copies and getting the movie and TV deals right out the gate, are going to learn otherwise very quickly.

You first need to reach a whole host of goals in between!

These range from very simple, initial goals, like actually learning the process and mechanics of the job itself in order to produce work in the right formats and specs. From there, to actually producing a body of work on your own or with collaborators, all with no pay so that you can get it out there yourself, on a webcomic, blog or copies you print up directly and sell at local shows.

From there working your way up to getting your work published anywhere (other than FedEx Kinkos) and having any company invest anything in your work at all, and by that, I mean working with you, putting their brand on your work, shepherding you, etc. not necessarily paying you money. Most comic publishers do not pay creators unless they are working on properties the publisher owns. Marvel and DC being the most obvious, but smaller companies with in-house properties and licenses also pay creators. But no smaller publisher is going to pay you to produce your creator-owned series, especially if you’re untried in the market.

wake-up-with-determination-go-to-bed-with-satisfaction-wake-up-quote-share-on-facebookPush hard enough, long enough, and you might start getting shorter term gigs on much lower profile books from smaller publishers or studios, or getting out some of your own projects in a finished form, for the digital, or small press markets. Keep pushing, and you might then level up, getting steadier and actual decent paying work, maybe even finally getting your foot in the door at the company of choice, or getting a project that starts building a little buzz, then slowly moving your way up further, to MAYBE finally hitting that peak.

All along the way, you have to work hard on improving your skills, finding multiple opportunities to gain practical experience and training. Hopefully, some of those will include working with those more experienced than you who will push you to up your game. Through it all, you’ll be taking a lot of beatings, disappointments, and stall-outs along the way.

You may even realize, on this particular odyssey, that you want to do something else entirely than what you started out to do. I’ve known plenty of folks who started out wanting that big job with the top two, only to find they really enjoyed the little niche they carved out for themselves along the way. Others I’ve known, and many you can point to in the industry, have reached that goal of working for the big boys, and then decided to leave that to blaze their own trails back in creator-owned.

When I originally thought about getting into comics, I wanted to be a writer for Marvel or DC. Since writers have such a hard time getting noticed, I worked on my art skills, thinking that would be my ticket. Later, I found since I had pretty solid business acumen, I was able to get my foot in the door of the industry by offering management, marketing, and business work to smaller (often desperate) publishers. That then turned into what has become Visionary, my own creative production studio, where I get to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do in comics, on my own terms. It’s been the best possible outcome for my journey, and one I never imagined when I started.

Keeping an open mind, looking for opportunities, and working steadily on improving your comic skills, including some you may not have known you had, will open doors for you moving forward that you would miss otherwise. Stay too focused on one goal, and you will miss a ton of opportunities that may end up being a better fit.

And Then?

Truthfully? Once you’ve gone through the above steps, you may change your mind about working in comics – period! You certainly may change your mind about the specific goals you want to pursue. You may find opportunities you didn’t know existed. Heck, you may even find yourself far more invested, intent, and willing to do what it takes to make it, and now, having a better understanding of what that means, having a better shot at being able to do just that.

This is a good thing; it means you’re seriously coming to terms with your overall goal of working in comics, it means you’re processing the various factors it impacts, and specifically how it will impact your life. It means you’re serious!

NOW DISCUSS…

This week, while you all are waiting for my next pearls of wisdom, feel free to discuss this column. Start doing some serious reflection on your own goals in working in comics, and maybe ways you now realize you need to make some changes. Feel free to share your stories and revelations, and let’s see where it takes us!

NEXT:

Now that we’ve got that out the way, next time we’ll start laying the foundations for this career we’re building. Get practical, real-world resources to help you reach your goals! Right here!

About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!

 

My Comic Life Sundays: Breaking-In and Cons Galore

MCL Banner

Hey all, we’re back. I’ve been on the road a lot with many, many Visionary shows, and it’s thrown the schedule a tad, but we should be consistent from here!

Speaking of shows: we’ve had a great time at shows like Baltimore Comic-Con, Maryland Seafood Festival, and Annapolis Comic-Con this month. And we are live right now at Baltimore Book Festival at the Inner Harbor – in the Geppi’s Comics Pavilion right in front of the Maryland Science Center! We’re here until 7pm this evening, come by and check it out!

MCL019

Catch up with the My Comic Life Comic Strip on our Reader>>

Catch up with the My Comic Life Column at our Archive and Resources Page>>

 

My Comic Life Column 002: The Breaking-In Myth

C. Edward Sellner cropped

As someone who’s been in the industry a while and who now heads up my own studio/digital publisher, you can imagine I’ve come into contact with a LOT of people who are wanting to “break-in” to comics. It’s a phrase we hear a lot, in a lot of different settings. There are books, articles, columns and blogs online about it, and usually a couple of panels at any decent-sized convention focused on it. It’s an entrenched, mainstay phrase about comics, as well as other creative media.

And I hate it.

 

 

 

 

Breaking… Bad

See, I’m a writer; I love words. As a writer, I recognize the power words carry and how they shape our perceptions. Likewise, I know how a bad phrase can seriously misconstrue those perceptions. As Mark Twain said, “the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” To me, using the phrase “breaking in” does no one, on either side of the industry, any favors.

When I hear that turn-of-phrase, I think something fast, and then it’s over and done. It sounds like a process that is more an impulse than a thought-out plan. It feels fast and furious; it also sounds final, as if it represents the beginning and ending all in one.

Now, clearly, folks in the know don’t intend for that perception, but I often hear many shades of this mentality from aspiring creators. So it’s apparently at least some of what they hear in that phrase and now, on some level, believe that’s how it is as they seek that elusive magical formula.

005 Breaking In

Not how you Break-in to Marvel…

The truth is NONE of that has much to do with working in comics, on ANY level.

While there may be those who truly “break in”, my guess is you could count them on one hand and still have fingers left over. When there are creators that seem to burst literally onto the scene as full-blown, full-time pros? Chances are there is a large body of work that preceded their “overnight success” that you never heard of, much less read. While every creator has a unique story of how we got where we are today, most all of those stories have common touchstones, common themes that clearly show comics are anything but a “breaking-in” business.

Nevertheless, we foster that mentality in a lot of ways, from our use of the phrase itself to settings that lend themselves to quick reviews and polite feedback instead of in-depth, critical input, all the way down to a skewed media and marketplace that focuses primarily on the upper tiers of our industry. It seems at times as if all the laboring little guys, struggling to make it happen, don’t exist, much less form the vast majority.

Now obviously it’s the responsibility of any aspiring creator who wants to pursue it to learn how truly to go about “breaking- in” to comics. That said, what are the specific elements of the myth that we can dissect and counter with the facts as we better come to understand this process?

companiesThere Is No Simple “IN” or “OUT”

People’s perceptions of what it means to be “in” comics vary tremendously, and those layers of meaning make a huge difference to many other areas of life that often get overlooked.

Am I “in” comics when I make my first comic ever? Yes. Making comics, making sequential art, means you’re a comic creator. It’s a starting point and the only true “breaking-in” point because it fits. A person becomes a comic creator the second they create a comic, even if it’s a single panel doodle. By this definition, I’ve been a creator since about age 5, and started big time, with Superman. Not bad. However, simply creating comics, in itself, is most likely not your ultimate goal, right? If it is, awesome! Go, do, stop wasting your time reading this column and create! (Keep checking back, though, else we’ll miss you!)

For the rest of us, the problem is the second we move past this starting point, defining when someone has “broken in” becomes a lot more complicated. Is it when they’ve produced a complete issue or story? How about when they’re producing comics on a regular basis? Is it once they’ve established a solid fan base? Is it when their first work is published digitally or in print by an actual publisher as opposed to on their own or a vanity press? Is it when they start making any money? Is it when they’re making enough money to cover their costs for making comics? Is it when they are making enough money to support themselves? Is it when they are working full-time in the mainstream industry?

There are folks who would define “breaking-in” to be at any of the above points, and more in between, and none of those points are always inclusive of all the others before it, except mostly for that last one. There are plenty of creators who produce work regularly, or have a solid fanbase, may even be fairly well-known for their work, with books from top publishers, who essentially operate at a loss to produce those books. Or if not, certainly don’t make enough to support themselves, much less a family.

Jim Zub, creator, and writer of Skullkickers and Wayward, has posted a lot of discussion and detail on creator-owned publishing from Image – Check it out here.

Zub

There’s More Small Steps Than Big Breaks

Again, “breaking” gives that image of fast, done and over. A career in comics is much more about taking small steps, one at a time, and then having to push through multiple challenges to take the next small step. That feeling may never quite end no matter how long you’re in the industry. To use another analogy, it’s not a sprint, but a trudging marathon uphill in mud to your knees, carrying a 50-pound pack on your back.

There is no single moment that it all comes together, but lots of smaller moments when you realize you’re making headway. And yes, there are those “big breaks” along the way, but they mostly come to the folks who are steadily taking those small steps, landing them in front of the right connection at the right time, and representing a payoff of long hard work as opposed to strokes of luck or brilliant talent.

Folks who think their first positive portfolio review will mean an instant job, or who think their first paid work automatically means steady work, are in for a surprise because none of that is a given. C.B. Cebulski, perhaps the best-known talent scout in comics, has worked over a decade recruiting talent, and once commented on Twitter that he’s only hired a small handful of artists on the spot.

CebulskiHe also regularly gives AWESOME advice to folks wanting to work in comics – FOLLOW HIM!

At best, creators whose work really makes an impression will usually start a process of grooming that in itself could take months or years. Any decent talent scout or editor will look for much more than just a nice portfolio. First, they will do their research. Has this creator done actual, published comic work? Do they regularly produce new content? Do they conduct themselves professionally online and at conventions? Etc. etc. If what the editor finds hits the right marks, then the creator might be asked to do tryout pages. If the first round is solid, most often, those pages will be returned with comments focused on areas needing improvement and another round will then begin. All the while, the editor will stay up on what that creator is doing elsewhere as well, tracking their progress and growth.

In short, editors are looking for far more than a spark of talent. They are looking for skills, consistency, productivity, professionalism, persistence, growth, and dependability, as well as the ability to work under direction. They test, sometimes for extended periods, before making any offer, which means even getting on the radar usually still means a long road ahead.

The Biggest Break is at Best a Crack

This mindset is something I find even among folks who’ve been in the industry a while, and it is a set of expectations seriously skewed to the reality. Anyone who thinks their first gig for Marvel will be the X-Men, or for DC, Batman, or in fact any ongoing monthly, much less a high profile top seller, hasn’t been paying attention. Creators who get that shot at the big time will first land a short story, or an annual or special, or at best maybe a mini-series, something to “test the waters.” These provide a first opportunity to work together and to show an editor they can deliver. It also provides a gauge of how fans will respond to the creator’s work, with a limited risk investment from the publisher. Once completed, some creators then sit back and wait for the steady work to roll forth, and it doesn’t, which is why many then quickly break right back out of comics.

Visionary_CollageOnce You’re “In, You’re Just Getting Started

I’ve heard it said that as hard as breaking in to comics is, staying in is even harder, and it’s very true. No matter what level of the industry one might reach, falling by the wayside is always a possibility. I’ve known some creators whose work I grew up with and respected tremendously, who now are often struggling to get any paying work in comics at all. Some make a comeback; others don’t. Some move on to other creative fields by choice, others end up taking regular jobs just to get by. Far too many end up being the tragic stories we hear of creators whose work inspired us, who end up spending their golden years in poverty.

I’ve noticed among my circle of professional friends that the ones who keep working the most are the ones who are constantly selling themselves. They’re the ones promoting their work, doing conventions, looking for opportunities, getting their foot in any and every door they can so they can have a variety of options for ongoing work. They recognize the need to have many irons in the fire to keep steady work coming in. They know that you’re not competing once for a career with job security, you don’t get handed the chance to write the X-Men for fifty years then get a gold watch. No instead, you’re competing for every gig you will ever get, often against more experienced, connected, and published creators than yourself, so you best be ready to prove yourself each and every time.

Even once established, chances are, a majority of leads a creator encounters will end up never materializing. A fair number of others will end up being far less than originally promised. Even that elusive ongoing monthly? Well, books get canceled all the time, right? So, it’s important always to have multiple options to help ensure at least one pays off. All of which means it is an ongoing process to “stay” in comics, and one that requires regular effort and attention, and always includes a gamble.

Now That I’ve Burst All Your Bubbles…

Take heart! Because if you’re willing to shift your mindset and change your way of thinking, next week I’m going to start telling you the secrets of NOT BREAKING in, but instead BUILDING UP your comics career. Because if you make the right moves, you will vastly increase your odds of reaching your dreams. You’ll start your first lesson this week – be patient and wait to read the next column. In the meantime, go, soak in Cebulski and Zub, and tell ‘em I sent you.

NOW DISCUSS…

Do you hate me? What was the hardest pill to swallow here? If you’re a comics pro or aspiring talent, share your own experiences. If you can prove me wrong with your story, go for it! If not, what has been the story of your journey? Let’s get some stuff rolling on the conversation front!

About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!

My Comic Life Sundays Debuts!

MCL Banner

We are experimenting! No, don’t worry, no mad scientist kind of experiments – at least not yet. We want to expand and spotlight our weekly content, to better engage our fans, build interest in our properties, and give folks a chance to connect with our creators in ways other studios and publishers don’t.

To that end, we’re introducing My Comic Life Sundays! A chance every week to connect with little ol’ me, Visionary’s CCO C. Edward Sellner. Every Sunday I’ll debut a brand new My Comic Life comic strip. I’ll also be rolling out the My Comic Life Column, a weekly column on building a freelance career. Hopefully, together, we’ll build a public forum for aspiring creators to learn and discuss, as well as a place for fans and myself to connect other than conventions.

 

020 Ingenious

Catch up with the My Comic Life Comic Strip on our Reader>>

Catch up with the My Comic Life Column at our Archive and Resources Page>>

My Comic Life Column 001 – It’s a Comic Life After All

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Welcome!

“A COLUMN?!?” I remember saying rather acerbically. “Yeah, been there, done that.”

“And it was a good thing, so you should do it again,” replied Charlie Hall, my business partner and one of the few guys I trust to run Visionary, my little creative studio paradise.

It was another of our conversations about raising the profile of the studio and myself as a creator, and about getting out there in the media focused on our initial industry of choice. All of which was well and good, but I struggled with what exactly I could wrap a weekly column around that would be a worthwhile contribution to the comics world in general. If it couldn’t be new and different and stand out from the rest, as far as I was concerned, what was the point? Beyond that, where would I go with it? Where could I set up my little corner of the internet to feature my ongoing rants?

So I started thinking about it and trying to come up with a different angle on things, something others hadn’t done before, at least not in the same way. The more I thought about it, I realized the most unique thing about my comic life experience… has been my comic life experience.

Main Banner Visionary 2.0 Generic

The Point! 

I’ve read a lot of columns that talk about a professional creator’s road to “breaking in” (I’ll talk about why that’s a lousy expression next time). Others share reflections on various experiences along the way, and still others dig into different creative aspects and focus on the “how-to” of making comics (which I did myself for a while). I’ve also read a lot of opinion columns that focus on different aspects of the industry, from indie, to digital, to retailing, etc. But most all of them feel like pieces of a larger puzzle that don’t even try to fit together into a whole.

These approaches, by themselves, never seem to incorporate the broader perspective, to show how things do indeed fit together. The creator is all about creating, the business guys all about the numbers, the big guys about a scope and scale beyond most of us, while for the little guys, it’s just the struggle, and never shall any meet in the middle. At worst many seem either blissfully unaware of other aspects of the bigger picture, or at the least, they rarely discuss how all those other pieces should tie together.

On one level, this is understandable given people’s varying expertise and the format of a weekly column. But on another level, I’ve often thought it would be nice to see something more holistic and integrated, which might focus on a given topic in any given column, but would do so in a way that encompasses more of the totality. Something that over time, brings many of those disparate elements together to paint a complete image of the comic industry, one that peers into all the little corners and brings them to light, and even more important, in focus in relationship to one another. The simple fact is, especially for us ‘little guys,’ we need to understand most all of it because we aren’t just a creator, we’re also our own agents, marketing team, legal consultant, etc., etc.

I then started thinking about my journey on this road and realized some things. First, my story ain’t like any other story I’ve ever heard about getting into comics, which, truthfully, all of us in the industry can say to varying levels. Sure, it has its touchstones that are similar, but overall, it’s been a unique path that falls a little further outside the norm than most.

Second, I have something of that broader perspective because I’ve been involved professionally in so many different aspects of the business at so many levels. I’m a published writer, colorist, artist, and editor. I’ve worked indie and have credits from major publishers, on my own work, as well as collaborating with others, and also been a paid professional working for hire. I’ve worked with brand-new creators doing their first paid work in comics, helping to bring them up in the fold, and with literal legends in the industry. I’ve also worked the business angle for a few companies, doing everything from marketing to management to licensing work, so I know both sides of that coin as well. Now, with Visionary, working from scratch, I’ve built a growing studio and digital publisher, which has created its own niche in the industry and made an impact. No wonder I want a column that tries to connect the dots to all these different aspects of the industry, and no wonder I find some of the others out there narrower in their perspective than I like. Don’t even get me started on our move into other media and now balancing multiple industries in our daily operations.

Third, I’m walking this path at a time the comics’ industry is at several very major crossroads. In many ways, NOW (I don’t think Marvel has trademarked that yet) is probably the most exciting time in comics since their original inception. A lot of what I’ve done COULD NOT have been done just five years ago. A lot of the opportunities that Visionary has jumped on—sometimes even led on—have been new opportunities that didn’t exist for long before we were there. In a couple of those areas, I like to think that we helped light the way for those who came after us.

What we’re doing at Visionary is different, it feels different, and it’s working for us, as our recent expansion announcements make clear. It’s opened incredible opportunities and allowed me to look back and realize that somewhere along the way, by my means of measurement, I’ve become successful in comics. By that, I mean I’ve accomplished a lot of the goals I originally set out for myself when I started pursuing this career. As we roll into the rest of 2016, I realize that this year marks the point where I can focus on the work I want to be doing, be picky about my jobs, work with an excellent team of top professionals, and have a blast on everything I’m doing. All that, and still make more than enough to support myself responsibly as an adult without outside employment or assistance. Imagine that!

Services Book Cover Image MCL / PB

It’s All About Success Baby! 

Now, maybe you define success as working for Marvel or DC and having everyone in comics know your name. Fair enough, I’m not there… YET. Which may be one reason you’re wondering if I really have something valid to say.

But if you consider success to be multiple published credits, from multiple publishers; multiple current projects doing writing, coloring, and art; each of which is a book I’m invested in as a creator, love working on, and getting paid decent page rates? Then yeah, been there, doing that!

If you consider success being able to focus more and more of my time on my creator-owned work from a foundation that gives it a good shot to phase in as my primary source of support within three years while making enough as a freelancer to live comfortably? Looks that way from where I sit.

Or if you consider success as having worked with some of my idols in comics, working with top publishers and having a lot of friends throughout every level of the industry, many of whom have made a point of telling me how much they enjoy working with me and admire my work? Bagged and tagged.

If you consider success as having enough paid work to pay all your bills and do what you want, having work lined up for the next four years, and having launched a studio that has generated well over a quarter of a million dollars in contracts and investment? Yep, done that too.

So, column? Yeah, I think I can come up with something to say every week, something to share that will come from a different angle. Some will focus on my personal experiences; some will be my take on new developments or various aspects of the industry. Others will focus on looking at a solid path of getting into comics (actually the next few will do just that). Some will spin out of questions from you readers, or hit topics suggested by you. Some just might be random rants. But all of them will paint a bigger picture; all of them will look at any given topic and how it relates to the whole. I’ll also no doubt develop features and additions as we go, just to liven things up. Feel free to make suggestions, by the way. I’d love your feedback.

Hopefully, these forays will be insightful and entertaining. Heck, hopefully, they’ll be unique and a little more holistic ways of thinking about comics as an industry. As for where, well, that became obvious, right here on Visionary! Now we’ll get to see how it goes, and if anyone finds my ramblings worthwhile. (NoI’mnotnervousatallthankyouverymuch.)

I certainly hope you’ll continue to join us and join the discussion that I hope will grow out of it.

NOW DISCUSS… 

What do you mark as measures of success in the comics industry? When is someone successful or not? What would you like to see this column focus on? Share your story or add your thoughts. Let’s make it lively but respectful, because if I can’t get you people talking about stuff I’m not doing what I set out to do.

NEXT: 

Not for the faint of heart! I dismantle the myth of “Breaking Into Comics!” There will be bubble-bursting galore! Read it Now!

About C. Edward Sellner 

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!  

The Power Scourge Has Begun!

Power Scourge KS Banner

Visionary has launched our MEGA Kickstarter project – Power Scourge!

What happens when a superhuman plague sweeps the planet,
thousands of people gaining powers but those powers are all out of control?

Visionary launches the Visionary Creation line with an origin story done as an epic crossover! It’s not the origin of a single hero – but of a universe! Join superstar creators in an EVENT series in one powerful volume!

Click on the campaign for all the details!


Our CCO has also shared his latest My Comic Life Column – first in a series of columns about building a career as a creative freelancer in the comic industry. This will be one of the last public columns before it goes exclusive to Patreon!
Click here for this week’s edition >>

My Comic Life The Comic Strip is also nearing the end of its special promotion dailies run! Enjoy the latest below!
Check out the Visionary – Madefire reader here to catch up >>

My Comic Life, Visionary Comics

Our regular Weekly Visions will return this coming Thursday with updates on Power Scourge, Deadlands, and more!
Subscribe to get updates >>

Pin It on Pinterest