The brilliant Sophie Goldstein asked me last week to be part of a Writing Process Blog Tour. Sophie writes amazingly engaging sci-fi comics that never give everything away, and leave you wanting more. Her art make my hands feel like they are made of un-skilled jelly. She has the most amazing work ethic, it’s inspiring. Sophie’s post last week got me thinking about my love for science fiction and well crafted short stories. It even prompted me to seek out a short story collection I’ve been wanting to read (Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino, which I am thoroughly enjoying)
Okay, on to my process
1) What am I working on?
I’m currently working on a six-part story for my anthology magazine, Maple Key Comics. It’s called “Hale” and is a family drama focused on the three Hale siblings. They come together as 20-somethings after being raised apart.They each are at a crossroads in their lives and they try to figure out how to be a family despite constant obstacles. Inspired by classic Russian literature. You can see more about it here and here.
Most of the story is written, but I am always tweaking dialog until I ink the lettering (and sometimes after.) I’m still wrestling with the sixth and final chapter, luckily I’ve got several months before I need it finished.
I work best when I have multiple projects going at different stages. That way, when I feel burnt out on one there is always something else to get me back in the flow. So, I just finalized the script for my comic Long Division, after too many drafts to count (I kid, there were 19). The whole thing is completely thumbnailed and ready to go. I'm in the planning stages of a sci-fi story about a used up planet and a “new” planet unfortunately full of aliens. It follow three military recruits as they train, learn about the aliens and all kinds of political intrigue. Uh, if I can learn to draw machines.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I write mostly slice-of-life and sci-fi stories. I like to add a bit of the surreal to whatever I am writing, it helps me not take my writing too seriously and I think I can get at some deeper stuff by keeping things off kilter. I think my uniqueness will come from my love of science and math. I write about mathematicians, scientists, people who are fascinated with how the world works. This fascination (my fascination) is reflected in their perceptions, occupations and relationships.
Writers who inspire me include Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Arundhati Roy. Reading their stories is like drinking water, effortless and refreshing. Cartoonists that embrace that beautiful, flowing surreal feeling (for me) are Nate Powell, David Mazzucchelli and Glyn Dillon.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I tell myself stories all the time, I’ve done it since I was a kid with bad insomnia. When a story keeps going and takes on a life of its own then I write it down haphazardly. It doesn’t usually make it past this stage. The ones that I do continue with tend to contain questions that compel and obsess me. Like, recently: What destroys a family? How do you stop treating people like objects? How do you survive a mental breakdown? Where do you start and other’s perceptions of you stop? What does a moral government look like? How do you fight while powerless?
Only sometimes my own life becomes a kernel for a story, but I would not be interested in doing something completely autobiographical. I fictionalize it crap out of it, tweaking, turning, deleting and adding until it fits.
4) How does your writing process work?
When I first get hooked on an idea I grab a my sketchbook and write/draw anything that pops into my head. I make lists of events and character traits, or an amazing line of dialog (it usually turns out not to be so amazing later.) Doodle-writing, even if the story is going to be prose, really helps me get the feeling of the story. Then I mull it over, keep making notes, trying to figure out why I want to write this.
If it is a long story I take the time and make an outline of events and plot points. Then I try to figure out the goals of each character, what makes them morally flawed, what they would need to overcome their flaws (whether or not they do) and so on and so forth. If I throw a character into a situation I want to know exactly how they’ll act. I add the characters’ emotional and mental states to the outline of events. Which character is having a revelation, who is experiencing a defeat, all that good stuff.
I figure out the format of the story, How long? What are the dimensions of the final piece? Color?
Then I write. I plop a section of my outline I’m working on at the top and go from there. Thinking of scenes one by one gives me little goals and helps me write something big.
I go through several passes of edits. One pass I always have to do is add in contractions and streamline dialog. I lean toward the stuffy side, must’ve been those scientific papers in college. At this point I also send it to trusted colleagues for their thoughts.
When my script is done I’ll break it into pages, then do tiny panel layout thumbnails. I do pretty detailed thumbnails after this since I have found that it makes pencilling (my least favorite part of making comics) go much smoother. I can figure out what reference I need from the thumbnails and have it all ready to go. Pencils, inks, computer and done.
Next week Sasha Steinberg, Ian Richardson and Eleri Mai Harris will talk about their writing processes.
Sasha is a cartoonist who writes about LGBT issues and has a fantastic series of historical fiction about the Stonewall riots in the 60s. See his stuff here: ahsasha.com
Ian Richardson writes some seriously scary horror comics, we went to school together (along with Sasha) and I’ve had the privilege of watching him come into his own. He’s been killing it with watercolors and monsters lately. Check him out: solidempty.tumblr.com
Eleri Mai Harris is a comics journalist with mad watercolor skills and a fun style. She cartoons all over the web and covers politics, scientists, history and couch surfing. Eleri’s website:elerimai.com