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Thread: Week 63: Why Comics?

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 63: Why Comics?

    Welcome back, one and all, to yet another glorious Tuesday thatís filled with some Bolts & Nuts! No real intro this week. Letís just get started, shall we?

    This week, I thought Iíd ask a question and spark some discussion. Weíll get back into the genre stuff later. For now, though, I want to ask some questions and get your thoughts on them, as well as see if we canít point ourselves in a forward-moving direction.

    So, the question this week is simple: why do you want to do comics?

    Regular readers know my stance on creating comics. Simply put, itís damned hard to do, do it well, and have someone give a damn about it. You go out and spend an absolute ton of money to get your comic done, and generally you donít break even.

    So, why do you want to do comics? What is it about the medium that makes you love it so much that you just have to throw yourself in it to tell your stories?

    Donít tell me itís about the ďfame.Ē There is only ONE person made famous from doing comics, and that person is Stan Lee. As kids, we all knew his voice from the cartoons and such, and as adults, we can all recognize him on sight. Even those not into comics kinda know his name, even if they donít know what heís done.

    Outside of the community, there is very little fame in comics. Sure, WE all know who Alan Moore isÖbut do your significant others? Your parents? I doubt it. Highly. The name might ring a slight bell, as in ďDidnít you talk about him before? Something about a movie with Sean Connery? A League of Men? I dunno.Ē Thatís about as much as youíll get out of your significant otheróunless theyíre in the industry as well, or are really good at listening to you rant and rave over comics.

    So, please, itís not the fame. And I define fame as being recognizeable to the general public. Tom is famous. (Tom?) Yep. Cruise, Hanks, Arnold. No, donít turn up your nose. Tom is famous. You know their names, and can identify all three of them on sight. The general public can do that. Who knows the name of Brian Bendis and Marc Silvestri, outside of comics? Iím talking on a general level. Who knows the name of Gareb Shamus? Who knows the name of Will Eisner?

    People barely know Frank Millerís name, and heís had several movies done with his name in the title: Frank Millerís Sin City, Frank Millerís 300, Frank Millerís The Spirit. Go ask your significant other if they know who Frank Miller is. Ask your parents. The answer is going to be ďNo.Ē So, again, itís not the fame. Youíre not going to be famous doing comics. Not on a general level.

    On an industry level? Thatís quite possible. You work hard, you do good work, and you have the possibility of being well known within the industry. Iím talking Joe Quesada, Dan DiDio famous, where the general readership will know your name. How many know the name of Heidi MacDonald? Jonah Weiland? Khoi Pham? Andy Schmidt? Now, Iíll tell you that you should know all these names, and by the same token, you donít. But industry insiders do. For those that are in and working it, these names are well known. Theyíre not famous per se, but theyíre definitely names to know.

    Do you know what fame at the industry level means? That youíre in, doing the work, and people have recognized that you for it. Iím here every week, and sometimes people ask my advice about things. Doesnít mean Iím famous. Doesnít even mean my name is known in the industry. It just means that people ask my advice from time to time.

    But fame on the industry level might be it. It feels good to be recognized for your efforts, doesnít it? You told the hell out of that story, firing on all cylinders, and your peers recognize you for it. Iím not talking about industry awards or anything like that. Iím talking about real peer recognition. The kind that will keep you in work.

    So, what is it? Is it the need to tell stories in a visual medium? Whatís so appealing about it? As a writer, you canít control what the artist does with the script once itís done. You can try to mitigate it by picking an artist whose work you like and has sensibilities that are close to the story youíre telling, but thatís really about it. Unless you learn to draw for yourself, your comics are always going to be at the mercy of whatever artist you hook up with.

    And, letís face it: there are MUCH easier things you can do, cheaper ways you can tell a story, than in comics. The cheapest is prose, of course. Itís just you and the computer, for however long it takes you to write the novel, and then youíre done. You donít even need to go through a house to get published, either. While vanity publishing used to be looked down upon [and still is to a certain extent in the prose world], publishing houses cannot ignore the fact that some writersí direct sales are impressive.

    What does prose cost you? Nothing but time. Creating a single issue of a regular comic can run you the amount it takes to buy a cheap used car or a down payment of a house. But prose? Prose costs you nothing. You sit down and type until the story is done. [If only it were that easy!] If you decide to publish it yourself, youíre still going to come out way ahead, because you donít have anything blowing up the cost, like interior color art.

    We already know itís not the money. Hereís a few stories for you.

    A friend of mine just got a publishing deal with a mid-level company for his comic. The dealís in place, and he found an artist that he likes that is willing to go back-end on it. Nice, right? But the guyís still working his day job, and is doing his comic stuff on the side. (Steven, thatís ALL of us! Say something we donít know, huh?)

    Another friend of mine is a novelist. Heís writing the novelizations for Ben 10. [Yes, THAT Ben 10.] Heís also recently gotten a deal to write a series of childrenís books of his own creation. He also wants to do comics, and with all of that, heís still struggling with money. Weíre talking about a man who has contacts within the novel industry, whoís spoken with representatives from Brad Pittís production company, and who is a working novelist. Heís had to go back to traditional jobs a few times to make ends meet.

    So, itís not the money.

    Again, I ask, why comics? Why are we here? Why are YOU here?

    Itís not fame, itís not money, and itís not because itís easy. So, what is it? The love?

    I can write anything I put my mind to. My ex-wife was after me to write her a romance novel. My current wife wonders why I spend so much time and energy on comics when I can do my stories in prose and be done with it. I write short stories every so often, Iíve written some erotica, and people often come to me to ask me to look over something for them. With the written word, I can do almost anything.

    So, why comics?

    Iím going to be truthful in my answer.

    Itís the money, itís the fame, itís the challenge of doing something so well that your peers can only look at you and say ďgood job!Ē Oh, and the groupies. Canít forget the groupies. (Money and fame?! MONEY AND FAME?! You just spent time telling us that it wasnít it! You said you were going to be truthful!)

    Fine. Settle down. The truth is, for me, comics call to me. Words and pictures are extremely powerful tools that cannot be ignored. They are a language all their own, that is really hard to quantify. And like it or not, comics are invading and permeating the public conscious more and more.

    Commercials like the current Charles Schwab ones have a colored look to them that evokes cartoons and comics. Thereís another commercial making the rounds that goes so far as to use panel borders and word balloons in it. If you buy something that gets put together, there are generally instructions with pictures that tell you how it should be assembled. I donít know about you, but to me, when I see words and pictures, Iím seeing comic books.

    Like I said, words and pictures are powerful, and thatís what draws me in. I believe you can tell a more powerful story with words and pictures than with either alone. There are few of us who are conscious enough to look at it and want to experiment with it.

    Alan Moore. Neil Gaiman. Warren Ellis. Grant Morrison. These are writers who push the envelope of storytelling, knowing the power of words and pictures and the language used to create something special. They know how to get their story across in a way that is generally unparalleled. Even though they are commercial successes, they also do ďthinking manísĒ comics.

    Comics are a calling for me. A vocation. Being able to tell a story differently is something that is important to me. You can take a single panel of an X-Men comic book, and write it in prose, describing the action and the weather and the charactersí thoughts, and spend a page or two doing it. Thatís for a single panel, and you STILL lose the nuance of whatís actually in the panel: the layout, the construction of the page, panel size, border distance, time, color, and wording, going so far as to talk about word balloon shape and fonts.

    For me, comics gives a more naturally visceral reaction than just words or just pictures. And I want to use that to tell my stories.

    So, why do YOU want to do comics?

  2. JohnLees Guest

    Wow, this is actually a tough question! I'll try to answer it, but forgive me if I repeat some of Steve's reasons.

    First off, all my life, for as long as I remember, I've wanted to be a writer. It's the only thing I've ever really been able to see myself doing. i've always been fascinated by the power of storytelling, and the subjects I pursued through university - English Literature, Theatre, Film & TV - were all about methods of telling stories. But since graduating from university, and realising that part time jobs and temp work would now have to give way to what I actually want to do with my life, I've discovered just how hard it is to convert a lifelong passion into a tenable career.

    My ambitions have been spread out across various mediums. Like most, prose was the first type of creative writing I worked on, and over the years I've written a whole lot of it, a whole lot of short stories or the odd novella, albeit nothing publishable. I have done active research into the short story market, which in a lot of its own ways is more closed-off and barren than even comics. I'd love to go further and write a novel, but I just don't know if I have an idea good enough to sustain 200-500+ pages, a style of prose to match the eloquent wordsmanship of the best authors, or indeed the resolve to see the damn thing through to the end - my previously discussed problem of self-doubting my ideas into oblivion is compounded on the occasions I've attempted to embark on a novel-length project.

    Hoping to expand my skills, I began writing in script format, learning first in my high school years the format for playwriting (I wrote and directed a short play at a festival a few years back), then in my time at university some of the tools of screenwriting, and more recently the nuances of writing the screnplay's cousin, the teleplay. If there's anything I've loved as long as writing, it's cinema. Movies (and sometimes TV) have the advantage of being able to say more with an evocative image than a book can in a whole chapter. But while I have an interest in directing, that path leads down a more technical route that almost becomes more science than art, and I realised that again it was the writing behind the image that really caught my aspirations. If I were to be involved in film or TV, I wanted it to be as a writer first and foremost.

    As such, over the past year or so I have devoted quite some time to writing up various short films and even a TV pilot to submit to various competitions that I've kept track of. But sadly nothing's came of them. At one point I scripted a short film, and set out to direct it myself and get the thing made - I budgeted for it, got together cast and crew, storyboarded it out, looked into hiring equipment and getting a shooting schedule in place. But family circumstances outwith my control halted that project, and it was a case of timing being everything, and all the elements on it fell apart.

    Lately, I've embarked on a course on writing for publication, which has helped change some of my views on the world of writing, as well as opening my eyes to new avenues available to me. Writing non-fiction seems like a possibility now, which could segue into journalism - I don't know.

    But enough of my life story! Sorry, that "introduction for context" ended up turning into a rambling essay! I hope there's a point to it, as I now go on to answer the question: why comics?

    See, for a lot of people who have career aspirations, particularly in the entertainment industry, they have role models, people they draw inspiration from and want to emulate. An aspiring actor might look up to DeNiro and Pacino, or an aspiring director might look up to Scorcese or Spielberg. But as an aspiring writer, with plenty of knowledge of writers in various mediums through my study, what writers do I draw inspiration from? Geoff Johns. Ed Brubaker. J. Michael Straczynski. And most of all, Grant Morrison, not just for his ideas, but because he's proof that a genius writer from Glasgow isn't an oxymoron.

    I think comic books have the best of every medium at their disposal. Like prose, they remain at their heart about the writing, the writer is the one who shapes the book's identity. Like cinema, they can employ images to say more than words ever could, and moreso than cinema because there is NO limit at what images you can use beyond the talent of the artist. Like television, an arc can steadily build over episodes, you can craft mysteries and cliffhangers, truly immerse your audience in the world and the mythology. I look at comics and graphic novels as the best artform in the world, or at least the one that connects with me more than any other.

    And this is where I return to that earlier rambling. Those scores of unpublishable short stories? They were unpublishable because they were sprawling adventures featuring the heroes and villains of Marvel and DC. From the earliest age, these characters have fascinated me and fuelled my imagination. Lifelong passion for cinema? Tim Burton's Batman is one of the first films I can remember loving. Batman: The Animated Series changed the way my young mind viewed television. From Batman to Spider-Man and beyond, these universes of larger-than-life characters have always been there in my life, getting me through good times and bad (god, that sounds like something out of a soap opera!) growing and changing and evolving.

    And this is something else that I think is near unique to comics: the level of symbiosis between fan and creator. It's theoretically possible that someone can read Superman comics all through their childhood, then grow up to write them himself, in turn inspiring more children to grow up and do the same thing. I've long dreamed of being a part of that cycle. Of course, that's the ultimate, long-term ambition, rather than anything I expect to attain right away. But though many won't admit it, I'm sure I'm not the only one who's kept the outline for a Joker story on file, an Iron Man story, a Green Lantern story, touching up the idea and improving on it as the years go by and my skills improve, hoping to one day be able to dust it off and show it to the world.

    But as much as I LOVE comics, as much as I viewed it as a dream job to be able to write them, until recently I never saw it as a possibility. I viewed it as something vague, abstract and unattainable, something I could never achieve, and so I spent time focusing my energies into the other avenues mentioned above.

    And that's where Steve Forbes' columns have (getting cheesy again, and I don't mean to be hyperbolic) changed my life. I know his intention a lot of the time is to remove people's illusions and even dissuade them from writing in comics if they're not serious about it, but quite the opposite, Bolts & Nuts has opened up the world of comics as something real and feasible, something that's hard - VERY hard - but not unattainable. By pulling back the curtain and taking apart the mechanics of comics creation, I've only found my love for the medium taken to whole new heights. I've thrown myself into the steep learning curve of writing comics scripts, and I love the challenge, the way they're told. It's an adjustment, writing in a series of images, but there's something about it that just feels right, like it's something I can actually do and maybe even have a vocation for.

    While before I might have viewed writing comics as a blind alley, the comic book world something I was only ever going to be able to admire from the outside, over the past year it has become THE thing I most want to do with my life. I don't want fame and fortune. The respect of peers and readers, and enough money to support myself and in the future a family would be living the dream for me. And it's not just about writing for Marvel or DC either. I have ideas, original ideas, just like I always have, but now they all seem to be coming to me in comic book form, and somehow that makes them more palpable to me, more natural to write. It sounds sad, but few things make me happier than writing comics (or, indeed, writing about comics) and above all I want a career that brings me happiness and fulfilment. In all likeliness I'll find myself in a job that's less fulfilling in order to fund my "career", but reaching a stage where it's my career that pays the bills? That's the stage I eventually want to reach, and I know it's going to be a long, hard road to get there.

    Sorry, that was probably waaaaaaaaay more than what Steve was looking for in an answer here, but that's my story.

  3. Join Date
    Jun 2008
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    John, did you just respond to Forby's column with another column?
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  4. JohnLees Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by SebastianPiccione View Post
    John, did you just respond to Forby's column with another column?
    I....think I did. :confused:

  5. drgerb Guest

    I'm an artist. There's the answer in short.

    I like the challenge. As Steven said, it'd probably be a lot easier breaking in in any other entertainment industry. I was in a band for a while, went on tour, but we broke up. I wanted to write movies but that industry felt too hard to get your foot in the door. Playing in the NFL, being a porn star, what have you. But that all seems almost *too easy.* Joking.

    Just the idea of reaching that pinnacle in comics is so alluring.

    Comics, to me, seems like one of those things that's really easy to make a comic, real easy to get it out there, on the internet, self publish, and get noticed.. Like if you're so inclined, you can have no talent but after a year you could have a failed webcomic, a few self published projects, all that. It's so easy to do, as an outsider looking in. But the catch is it's so HARD to do good. And Steven mentioned it, and this jumps back to my previous bit... If I could do anything GOOD, I'd like to do one of the hardest things in the world good. Anyone can be a brain surgeon, a nurse, a rocket scientist with the right teaching, learning and studying. With adequate time, anyone can be a politician, a lawyer, a teacher... But not anyone could be a successful comic book creator, whose comics are both beautiful and meaningful. I think that's one of the bigger reasons for me. The challenge.

    That and the whole art medium. People have been drawing pictures as symbols for so long; Writing and pictures on the cave walls.. Comic books, as an aspiring writer, almost seem like, 'Duh! Why NOT?!'

    A friend of mine had a black shirt with a white image on it. The image was a character shooting himself in the head, the blood splattering up into the air behind him, and the white smudges of blood slowly turned into birds flying in the nearby sky. Like you couldn't tell where the birds started and where the blood ended. That one simple image on a tee shirt is so impactful: Imagine a GREAT comic book with images ten times as good as that, and with words equally as powerful. That's the allure of comics to me.

  6. JonHParrish Guest

    To sum it all up to a modern hip-pop rhythm:


    It's more than that, but the most direct reason is because I have this nagging, gnawing feeling in my brain that won't let me do anything else but want to write comics and make music. I mean, two of the most saturated industries where there is very little chance of actually blowing up and I have something in me trying to make me do both. I could go old school and just say "I do it for the love", but I'm not quite that old. I guess the best answer is "I don't know, just do".

  7. DJKeawekane Guest

    Yep. I think I'm on the same page as Forby. It speaks to me. Calls me. All that. I understand the language, live it (well not literally) and love it. It's part of my internal wiring I think. I think for all of us. It's just the way we were programmed. I think I'm the only one I know (in real life outside comics) that is trying to get into the industry. Most people don't get it when I talk about it, but once they see my drawings they understand.

    One time I was reading a "Write Now" Magazine and was into this phase of reading as much as I could on breaking in and this pretty girl I work asked me why was I doing it. When answered her she looked at me like I was from a different planet. But now she understands why because I'm always drawing and she understands it'll take me a long time before I get there.

  8. venusianfurs Guest

    To answer the initial question, I could say: 2000AD. Cause that was the comic that sparked interest in me further back than I can really recall (but from way too young an age in fact, I mean single figures)
    But then really all kinds of visual stuff had the same effect (usually just as violent and macabre as well!) so there is no one defining thing or work that made me want to write comics, it's just the endless need to create, and to have your creation seen by others, and to inspire reactions in them, whether good or bad - interest, amusement, puzzlement, fear, horror, revulsion, outrage, it's all good!
    It's really the same as any creative medium I think, you want to do it because you have things to say, you have an imagination (and more than a little vanity too, prob) and you have to share this with the world.
    I write prose as well, which basically means building a picture in people's heads with just your words - for a long long time I drew exhaustively (as in from before I first saw 2000AD, single-digit age) but sort of lost the compulsion to draw as my literary skills grew, I found a different way to create stuff, and may or may not return to that.
    But comics allow a different and pretty unique way of telling a story or expressing ideas, by combining your creative ability with that of an artist. I guess it's like making film, but without the distance and dissassociation of a TV screen between you and the reader, you can involve them by drawing them in the same as you would (same as you would have to) with prose. The phrase "armchair-theatre" spings to mind when I think of comicbooks - it's how a guy in the UK RPG industry called Steve Jackson described roleplaying games, and I think it's a good way to describe the appeal of comics as well.
    Maybe all that sounds pretentious but that's how I see it, it's what makes me want to do it.
    It's certainly not the money, I've got no illusions there (I've got a mundane student job tho I'm no longer a student, and stretched between writing towards a distant goal of getting published and earning, and recording music for an equally distant goal, I'm not gonna give it up! I gave up university to do this, I've got to give it my all) but money comes second to wanting to get my ideas into print.
    It's not the fame either - though I'd argue Alan Moore is by now pretty much a household name (here in the UK anyway) depending on the house, that is mostly due to the films of his work and so the LAST thing he'd want to be famous for! Eg one of my biggest influences is John Smith, and not even hardcore comic nuts usually recognise his name. So it's just as well I'm not after fame for this.
    Anyway, my point is it's the creative itch for me, plain and simple, and kind of like vanity cause I love the idea of people seeing something I've conceived of and reacting to it. That's why I want to write for comics.

  9. JeffHaas Guest

    Its about the idea. Comics off a chance to add perhaps to a legacy, but always a chance at creating a mythology. Since the days of cave painters there have always been people who have an idea that they believe would not only want to hear but would be thankful for the priveledge.

  10. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    I think in pictures. Writing a comic makes more sense to me than anything else.
    Besides, the fact that I SEE THE COMIC in my head, TRANSLATE THAT IMAGE TO A SCRIPT that I then pass on to an artist whose job is to RE-INTERPRET THAT BACK INTO A COMIC amuses me.

    I also like the serial nature of ongoing comics.

    And comics are truly a dynamic medium. The possibilities are endless.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

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