Friday, July 1, 2011

Trimming the Fat on your Ideas

If you've followed this blog, you'd know I've had problems on the creative side. Making characters and stories which are the backbone to every comic. After fits of inspiration and depression these past couple months I think I'm beginning to understand how to deal with this problem.

To begin, my biggest problem is I end up blowing everything I come up with out of proportion. I'll take a simple idea like one I had last year about robots going crazy. A generic Sci-Fi plot, so generic I thought it would be easy to do. That wasn't the case. I questioned every little thing in that story. I proceeded to create a complex world complete with economics, ranks, titles, and corporate names. I was never satisfied and it never got it done. And that wasn't the first time.

I had another Sci-Fi idea that that suffered the same over planning. The same went for two fantasy ideas I had. None of these were great works of literature, but for some reason I never got out the planning the stage. I was under the illusion that the more I worked on each ideas individual universe, the better it would be. In the end I wasted precious time and the result left what I was working on feel condescending.

Maybe I got some bad advice at some point about Sci-Fi and Fantasy being hard. That in order for either of those to be successful you need better planning that goes beyond Protagonist, Antagonist, and Setting. The truth is I don't believe that to be the case at all. People aren't stupid, they can identify a Sci-Fi and Fantasy setting by themselves. The don't need a history of that world to understand a simple story, and the creator shouldn't have to go out of their way to explain every little detail.

In other words, the reader will have their own imagination and its up to the creator to decide what to leave up to interpretation.

Nothing is ever truly perfect, and sometimes the creator has to take a leap of faith that reader will make sense of the fantastic world they're being exposed to. What got me to this conclusion was He-Man. Its been on Netflix Instant and I decided to take a Doctor Who break and watch a few. Sure its cheesy, but the premise of it is so basic its genius.

The audience is made aware of whats going on the intro. Prince Adam tells the audience about his secret powers and the goal he is charged with. Protect the secrets of Greyskull from the evil forces of Skeletor. With that out the way we're lead to that episodes adventure, most of which deal with Sketetor having some plan to get into Greyskull. Add in a moral to the story and there you have it. They made 65 episodes of He-Man and they can all be watched out of order. No major plot. No overarching story. No real conclusion. In the end this is what comic books is to me.

In this day in age it seems the bar has been raised thanks to the rise in Manga. Most Manga's have overarching stories, long plot lines, and at some point a huge conclusion. In a way this makes me feel old. When I read my old comic books, huge stories were at most 12 issues. G.I. Joe ( one of my favorites ) would have small series throughout its run, but for most of it stories and adventures were limited to one issue. All dealing with Cobra trying to take over the world.

Deep down inside I guess we all want to make fantastic worlds with over arching stories, long plotlines, and end it off with a thundering conclusion. That really isn't the case. These past few months I've been sticking to Protagonist, Antagonist, and Setting. I've seen myself loose track of that simple concept, and even this week I wandered away from it. Even though I take a deep breath and just go back to those 3 simple concepts.

I've also found deadlines have impacted my decision making as well. Manga-Apps is having a summer contest I just learned about last week. I only have a month and half to make a 20-30 page comic book ( I'll be 24 pages because I'm a pagination whore ) but this deadline has made me better plan out the comic book I want to make. I'm confident enough with my skill that I know I can do 2 full pages a day which gives me more time on the creative side.

Even with that much time on my side, I've been able to catch myself when I've strayed too far away from the basics. Protagonist, Antagonist, and Setting. So far my idea has changed 5 times this week and is nothing like it was on Monday. Part of what's been helping me with that is not assuming the audience is stupid. By eliminating back-stories, using generic names for things, and making things look similar to other things I'm confident the audience can understand everything whats going on by themselves.

I guess I have to thank that Green Lantern movie. It tried so hard to explain everything going on it was boring. It was like I was watching something I would have written, and actually had, just a few months ago. I believe that movie would have been better if they threw all explanation out the window. I'm not even a big Green Lantern fan, but even I found it condescending at times.

When I do find myself wandering and making things more complex than they need to be, I'll just watch some He-Man, hell maybe even some Power Rangers. Say what want about those two properties, but they were successful despite the lack of quality they contained. And if you're a Comicker and got nothing to do this summer, check out Manga-Apps contests and see if it's something you might want to do. Hell you might come up with the next big thing by accident. Even you don't, at least you'll learn something along the way.

Happy Comicking everybody and good luck.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wally Wood - Wikipedia

Apparently one never stops learning. I been beating myself up mentally this past month because of creative issues ( Even I'm getting sick of my constant indecision's ) However one thing that's kept my spirits high is mingling with other artists. Not friends or family members, but total strangers who share the same passions as me.

One such stranger posted this pic and I thought this was genius.

This might seem embarrassing, but until I saw this I didn't know who Wally Wood was. If that sounds ignorant of a guy who loves comics, it really isn't. The amount of information one learns in their lives is nothing compared to the amount of information that's out there. It's impossible for anyone to know everything about anything. Even if it is up their alley. 

Enough science, back to the image. I read the Wiki entry on Wally and found it interesting that his 22 panels is a must have for any sequential artist. Because lets face facts. dialog scenes are hard to make look interesting. Sure you could just have people standing there, but that's not dynamic. It's also extremely boring. My last attempt at writing ended in complete frustration when I had one scene that was nothing but dialog for 8 pages. Half of the comic. Ridiculous.

Even though Wally's 22 panels is a life saver for those all too dull moments, it wouldn't have helped my story, so it was back to the writing board. Looking at this pic makes me realize what I really want my comics to look like. Let's face it, comics with one constant view and characters just standing around with hints of body language are a dime a dozen. With a variety of views and angles from panel to panel the overall work looks better, no matter what style one uses.

That's not to say it's the secret to a comic's success. A lot of the comics and manga I like rarely mix up the panels in such a manner and go for " the safe bet " when it comes to conversations. It's more common however in the web comics I read which is probably why 99% of them all look the same no matter what art-style the creator chooses.

I guess what I'm trying to explain is what makes a comic appealing to the reader is a good mixture of the 3 main elements that make a comic a comic. The Writing, the Art, and the Structure. The ladder being a combination of other elements such as composition and flow. Good art and writing is nothing if a comic has poor structure. Even in comics with bad art or writing, if the structure is solid, it can outshine the other shortcomings.

I see this all the time on the internets. I'll see an artist who's light years ahead of me with their art, but when they do something sequential it looks flat and boring, even though the detail in their art is phenomenal. Where on the other end I see someone who has worse art then me, but when they do sequential work it blows away anything I can do because of the structure. And then there's others who fail hard at both yet somehow make a living off what they do.

Its more about what I want out of the work I do, not so much what I have to do. The 22 panels are there as a safety net to make me the artist I want to be. They aren't something written in stone that every artist should follow. Like I said, people make a living off doing things boring by using the same shot panel after panel. That's not what I want to be. For me drawing and structure are two different things that have to practiced on their own. Same goes for writing.

As I write this I have an image in my head of what a comic looks like divided up. 33% writing, 33% art, and 33% structure. The other 1% being something interesting a reader might want to read. Those numbers might not be accurate, but a comic can't survive on one thing alone. It's a combinations of little things that make them come to life and challenge the imagination of both the creator and the artist.

At least that's what I think comics are, and that's what I want my comics to be.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Added my Graphic Novel Worksheet + Composition

I decided to upload my Graphic Novel Worksheet, something I put a lot of effort in last week before I started going through old sketches and modifying my old drawing board.

My goal was to make a 48 Pager in the hope I'd be able to sell one someday, but you know what? Writing is tough. Not the actual writing process, but coming up with something to begin with. While I've been brainstorming ideas I been trying out my modified drawing table. I like it, I like it a lot. I've also come under the StumbleUpon bug and have been wasting hours surfing Astronomy and Art pages. So much so that I've run into people who've done comics of stuff I wanted to do. So much for originality hey.

I figure I might come off as a "Mr. Know-it-all " here, but the real intentions of this blog was to throw my ideas out there in the hope it might inspire other amateurs to see things in a different way. The processes I laid out here are guides I plan to use at some point, they might work for me, but not necessarily everybody else. And if you follow this blog you'll see I'm at a creative dead-end when it actually comes to creating something. Why is that? I have no idea. It could be writers block, artist-block ( that's real folks ) or because deep down I'm depressed and have a chemical imbalance in my brain.

Whatever it is, it's something I need to figure out. That's not to say I've been wasting my time. Sure I got off the beaten path and made a video game. I didn't draw for a month. Nor did I even attempt to come up with any stories. I did however try out a new method of laying out panels. This happened when I was trying out my new table, and since I wanted to practice some inking and coloring I also wanted to do a little better job than I normal do when I'm sketching. So I drew out these pages.

Just like those previous sketches I uploaded these don't follow a story. I used one of my customized Page-Stencils I made from very thick stock paper, added some panels, and filled them out while I was Stumbling around on the web. I know that sounds weird, but flavors of the month get me hooked and I find myself in a constant tug of war between what I should do, and what I want to do. ( last December/November it was Pinball FX2 on the 360 )

These aren't that great, but they were quick compositions to get me feeling comfortable in drawing pages out. It was about half-way through page one I started to struggle coming up with ideas of what to put in the panels. I thought to myself " if I can't fill up these panels, what makes me think I can draw panels with a written script. " After all my goal is to write out a Grpahic Novel before drawing it out. Frustrated I took a long look  at what I was doing and started messing around with both the Triangle and Traditional Compositions.

It was working, but I remembered a tutorial on DA some time ago where another method was to lay out a grid on your working area. It follows the same rules as the Triangle and Traditional methods. Willing to try something new I went for it and this is what I did to those panels.

By added a 3x3 grid to each panel first. I started to get a better view of what I could occupy those panels with. I had ideas, but nothing to push me into doing those ideas. After I laid out those grids I thought of what kind of dialog may or may not take place in those panels to also have an idea where to put the subject. I also followed the 1/3rd and 2/3 rules to make those decisions. Will it have a lot of dialog? Will it have little dialog? What angle/shot will I use? These decisions were made easier by starting with a simple grid.

The example I got this from used a much bigger grid to break down the composition. That fine as well, but since I'll need to be able to do between 5-8 panels a page, I needed a simpler form of laying stuff out. I hate it when I sit back and think for minutes or hours stuck on one panel. It isn't going to be a masterpiece. It's going to be glanced at and then the reader moves on. Which brings me to the first panel of the first page I did.

Notice there isn't any grids? That picture I worked on and off for almost a day before I used the grids. Pathetic. I added the background at the end only because I felt like doing a little perspective ( and little it is, lol ). I  took some time on the last panel of that page, because lately I've been in a perspective mood. I needed to clear cob-webs slowly, but I liked the results.

In the end even though I was trying to come up with a story, plus characters, and everything else. I was getting myself back into the process. Now these might not look like much, but even with all the mistakes in anatomy and proportions these pages will look way different after they're inked, colored, grained, and lettered. ( The reason I add grain to all my pictures is now is because I have an extensive collection of scanned comic books. My favorite is 40 years of X-Men. The added grain or noise makes my pages seem like they were scanned in. In other words it feels like a real comic book to me )

So that's where I'm at. I'm slowly getting to that phase where I know whatever I plan to do is around the corner. I got my method, I got my tools, and I got my time. I just need ideas. So when I say writing is hard, it is. Don't take it for granted like I've done multiple times in the past. Take the time to really craft something people would want to read, and you would too.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Protagonist and Antagonist, kind of big deal.

My last post was rather beefy. I woke up with no plans today, so I thought it be best I just do whatever pops in my head to waste time. One thing I wanted to cover to some degree was Protagonists and Antagonist. I mention them a lot on here, but I sometimes feel I'm sending off the wrong impression of what those two things are. One view that comes to mind is Good and Evil. That's the most obvious pairing of the two, but I've recently learned that it doesn't always mean that, nor are any of my processes mentioned here specifically designed to make action orientated stories.

They can be used in any kind of genre. Romance, Comedy, Drama, and even a Hentai. Every genre needs the same structure. A problem, a protagonist, and an antagonist. Without those things, we don't have an interesting story. We have a perfect world where there aren't any problems and everyone gets along. BOR-ING!! No wants to read that, and no one wants to make that. To make something interesting we need to get our hands dirty and we need conflicts. And for that it starts with a Protagonist and an Antagonist.

The Protagonist is of course our main character. They can be male or female. A warrior or a scholar. A kid or an adult. They can be whatever we want them to be and they aren't limited by the genre we want to do. The Antagonist is the Protagonist's counter. They're mostly known as the bad guys or villains, but they aren't limited to that either. The Antagonist is there to create conflicts for the Protagonist to overcome. The two could be friends, enemies, co-workers, family members, or anything you can imagine to fit the genre we want to do.

Let's take comedy for instance. Say we want to make a humorous story with no violence. We still need an Antagonist to keep our Protagonist held back from accomplishing their goal. The Antagonist could be the Protagonist's best friend who gives bad advice. They could also be a rival co-worker or family member. Whatever they are, they have to have their own goals as well. This could be something that involves seeing the Protagonist fail, or something the Protagonist doesn't agree with.  The Antagonist needs to be present to create the conflict our Protagonist will have to overcome to complete their goals.

I felt I needed to go more in depth with this because I didn't want to give the impression I'm only concentrating on Good Guy vs Bad Guy and every Climax involves an action scene. The basic conflict between the Protagonist and Antagonist is in every genre we know of. Even Romantic Comedies have the two along with some conflict to be defeated. It's not as serious as the Antagonist wants to take over world or kill the Protagonist, but it's there nonetheless in every piece of entertainment we read or watch.

Even light-hearted movies I grew up with have conflicts and antagonists. Most classic Disney movies from the 50s and 60s that weren't animated also contained those two things, and they were still family friendly. Comedies also have them, as they create situations for the protagonist that not only gets them closer to meeting their goal, but creates humorous situations for the audience without being violent.

That's why in my earlier posts I said the first thing we need is Protagonist and Antagonist to get the ball rolling if we don't have a story on hand to go with. The pairing of the two can create all sorts of crazy situations. Either humorous, touching, or action orientated, to create an entertaining story. When venturing off to do something new, start with those two. Brainstorm a bit to see which personality combinations will result in creating interesting situations. See which genre it might fit in best with. As a rule of thumb, the more ideas one comes up with with just those two characters is a sign the creator is on the right path.

Not every story needs a huge overall plot or detailed setting to be interesting. It could be as simple as just having the Protagonist and Antagonist being rivals in any kind of generic setting we could think of. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or Modern. It doesn't matter as long as you have the Protagonist and Antagonist playing off of each other.

So when the well in your head is dry, and you feel overwhelmed with trying to come up with something huge. Take it down a notch, just start with those two characters and go from there. You could stumble onto something bigger than you expected without even knowing it.

The 48 page One-Shot and Digital Distribution

I mentioned in some earlier post how the 16 page One-Shot structure I came up with can be expanded to make a larger book if one so desires.

As I sit here desperately trying to shake off the holiday hangover and getting back in the swing of things I've put a little more thought into that process. The catalyst for me to expand the structure beyond 16 pages was the Morning International Comic Contest I was made aware of in November by the fine folks over at Manga-Apps. The page limit is 50, so that got my gears grinding thinking I should re-evaluate my process and see if it will work for a 50 page comic book or manga.

After some tinkering around with my basic structure I found it will work, however I must be disciplined in keeping my page count divisible by 8. The idea behind this is to use the same process for a 16 page One-Shot and multiple by 3. That will give me 48 pages. I now have a total of 15 sections to fill up my story, but the reason I want to keep the finished product divisible by 8 is simple. Professionalism.

Now I'm going to wander into a little rant here, but lets face some facts. The comic books and mangas we all know today will be a different beast in the future. Either 5 or 10 years from now everything will be Digitally Distributed. Think I'm wrong? Well consider this. Digital Distribution cuts out the middle man. It allows more people who consider themselves to be amateurs to become professionals overnight. It drives costs down and is better for the planet since there won't be paper products sitting on store shelves. Did I mention anyone can do this? Well that's a plus since there will be more competition and cost will be driven down, but unlike novels and books, comic books aren't something just any average person can do. It takes determination, skill, and lots of practice to be able to make something that can be sold for $1.

If you consider yourself an amateur right now, think bigger. Because once there's a way comic book creators from all walks of life have a portal to sell their goods to the world you'll have to think like a professional, and your total page count will reflect that.

Here's a scenario. A person wants to make a comic book to be sold online. They spend nearly a month making it the best thing they've ever done. Once finished it comes out to 13 pages, or maybe 11. Worse yet the comic book is mostly an introduction and then a complication comes up only to end on a " to be continued " which may or may not ever happen. Sound familiar? It does to me because this is the kind of comic book I use to make when I was a kid. No story structure, probably no plot, and because it took me so long to make a measly 11 or 13 pages I gave up trying to continue or finish it. Plus they also wanted to justify the time it took to make it, so they sell it online for $5, which is ridiculous. Believe it or not, I have found DD comics like that, and it's insulting to the rest of us.

Here's another scenario. A person wants to make a comic book, but they don't want it to be an on going series. They want it to be a self contained story, but 16 pages just isn't enough. At the same time they don't want it to be too large and they want to keep the finished price reasonable. The make a 48 page comic book, all self contained and properly organized. To be competitive they sell it for $3. How long it took this person to make it is relative, and that's something we all have to learn.

One cannot simply price a comic book on how long it took to make it. Page count will always determine your price. And if they're being sold Digitally, we have to ignore the price of hard copy to compare. Digital copies aren't printed and shipped. That's where most of the cost in hard copies come from. The easiest way to price a comic is to latch on a $1 for every 16 pages. However a 160 page comic book ( or manga ) will be $10 according to that. Then you use this rule, nothing over $6. It's foolish to think a digital copy can be equal to a hard copy, but that's exactly whats happening right now. And digital copies aren't selling like they should because of the illusion most people have in pricing.

The best option is to sell low, especially for the digital world. $1 is nothing to most people when it comes to digital transactions. So sell a 16 or 24 page comic for that. Not enough money for you? Well then you have to make another issue and sell that for $1. In other words, your now a professional. The only thing holding people back from that is their dedication. If they find it's a waste of time, they'll drop out. But if they're determined, they'll hit it hard and keep going because they're doing something you love. That's what separates the amateurs from the professionals. Not who you work for or how much you got published, but how much time you spend doing what you love. You could be a professional right now and not even know it.

For most people who want to venture in the DD world, keeping up a 16 page comic book might not be realistic to them. They might have a real job or a family to think about, and just want to do this on the side. That's where a 48 page self contained comic book comes in, or a Graphic Novel if you prefer. They can work on it for as long as they want and sell it online for $3 or $2. It totally up to them. The advantage of this is they could still make a considerable profit on it and not have to worry about finishing the story since it's all self-contained.

For me the 48 page comic book is something I'm considering for that Morning International contest. I may or may not enter, I don't know yet at this stage since I already missed out on another contest because I didn't know what I wanted to do. It got me back to tinkering with my process to expand it to 48 pages, so before I show that let's review the structure as it is for 16 pages.

Introduction pages 1-3
Problem pages 4-7
Solution pages 8-11
Climax pages 12-15
Ending page 16

Those are the basics of my process. Now to expand that to 48 pages I just repeat that same process 2 more times and it looks like this.

Section 1

Introduction pages 1-3
Problem pages 4-7
Solution pages 8-11
Climax pages 12-15
Ending page 16

Section 2
Introduction pages 17-19
Problem pages 20-23
Solution pages 24-27
Climax pages 28-31
Ending page 32

Section 3
Introduction pages 33-35
Problem pages 36-39
Solution pages 40-43
Climax pages 44-47
Ending page 48

This is how it looks by simply multiplying. However I got 2 more introductions and endings that I don't need. For anybody who's studied writing structure this next step will be obvious. What I've done is created a set of goals for my protagonist to accomplish before they get to the final Climax in the 3rd section. Consider the goals side-quests that help the protagonist get to the final Climax. Just like an RPG quest that needs 2 other quests completed before you can finish the main one up. What we'll do next is reorganize the 3 sections so that they are all connected together. Section 1 and 2 will contain small goals in them, while Section 1 will be connected to Section 3 to tie the whole thing up.

Section 1
Introduction pages 1-3
Problem connected to Section 3 that requires Goal 1 & 2 to be completed first pages 4-7
Solution creates Goal 1 pages 8-11
Climax of Goal 1 pages 12-15
Ending page 16

Section 2
Introduction pages 17-19
Problem pages 20-23
Solution creates Goal 2 pages 24-27
Climax of Goal 2 pages 28-31
Ending page 32

Section 3
Introduction pages 33-35
Problem pages 36-39
Solution pages 40-43
Climax of Problem form Section 1 pages 44-47
Ending page 48

Now this is started to look more like a flesh out story. To solve the overall problem our protagonist needs to accomplish Goals 1 and 2 to find themselves at the ending. We still have those pesky introductions and endings to deal with. Not only that, but because this is a larger book, we can expand our Climax and Ending in Section 3. We can also expand the overall Problem in Section 1. This allows us to treat the overall plot with some importance while Goals 1 and 2 are toned down. Right now it's too symmetrical and we need to make some parts bigger than others. We also need to keep our sections into 4 page sections for scenes and Pagination. So let's go over it again and see how this might look.

Section 1
Introduction pages 1-3
Problem that requires Goal 1 & 2 to be completed first pages 4-11
Solution to Problem creates Goal 1 pages 12-15

Section 2
Climax of Goal 1 pages 16-19
Problem from Section 1 reintroduced with Goal 1 completed pages 20-23
Solution creates Goal 2 pages 24-27
Climax of Goal 2 pages 28-31

Section 3
Problem from Section 1 reintroduced with Goals 1 & 2 completed pages 32-35
Climax of Problem from Section 1 pages 36-43
Ending pages 44-48

This is just a quick mock-up. In reality the length of each section is up to the creator. They might want a long section to display the overall problem in Section 1 or a short one. The same goes for the final Climax and Ending. In haste I left 8 pages for the final Climax and 5 pages for the ending. This is more than enough time in the comic book to give the reader a proper send off. There's also areas where one could add more content, shave some sections off to add to others and so forth. The idea behind this is to show that with more pages, we are able to do more things. Pages equal time in comic books. The more pages we have, the more detailed the story can be.

It's also key to keep in mind the Pagination when doing anything. As always, the first and last page will always be by themselves. With every page in between being connected to another page. Keeping those Paginations with in 4 and 8 pages keeps the comic book organized and guarantees it to be a page turner ( The reader turns the page either expecting a continuation of a scene or a new one ) We could also trim it down even further to add 2 more goals. The possibilities are endless, but anymore than 4 Goals will require more pages. Lets see how a 4 Goal story would look like if we want to keep all our scenes down to 4 pages, but keep our comic book to 48 pages max.

Section 1
Introduction pages 1-3
Problem that requires Goals 1, 2, 3, and 4 to be completed pages 4-7
Solution to Problem creates Goal 1 pages 8-11
Climax to Goal 1 pages 12-15

Section 2
Goal 1 completed creates Goal 2 pages 16-19
Climax to Goal 2 pages 20-23
Goal 1 and 2 completed creates Goal 3 pages 24-27
Climax to Goal 3 pages 28-31

Section 3
Goal 1, 2, and 3 completed creates Goal 4 pages 32-35
Climax of Goal 4 pages 36-39
All Goals completed leads to solution of Problem from Section 1 pages 40-43
Climax pages 44-47
Ending page 48

With this structure there's little room for some down time after a Goal is completed. However with 4 goals being hammered at one after another it could be a tour de force that will keep the reader hooked in for the 10 minuted or less it will take them to read it. Any more Goals and we'd have to add more pages. We could also reshuffle the amount of pages for each section to expand the final Climax or Ending. Or even remove a Goal to give us more options.

This kind of planning should be the back bone of every comic book no matter how many pages it is. In nature it's easier to take away than to add, so it's best start big and trim it down until it feels like a solid product. With this kind of planning we can determine our page count ahead of time. We'll have an idea of how much work it will take to finish the comic book and allow us to manage our time to complete it. This is important for those who have other commitments in life, but want to spend their free time doing stuff like this.

As I've said before everything I type on this Blog isn't written in stone. The overall message I'm trying to get through is we need proper planning. If you want to just dive in and start drawing and writing, go ahead I won't stop you. The more you plan out ahead of time, the better your product will be. No matter how good you write or draw, proper planning will make it even better.