Thursday, December 31, 2009

Finding an Artist

If you're thinking about publishing your own comic book, or even if you're putting together a pitch package, you'll need an artist. And if you don't have a contact or friend who is willing, available, and whose style fits your story, then you're probably going to be looking for an artist on the Internet.

For Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit, I used the Internet and posted a classified advertisement on three websites: ConceptArt.org, DeviantArt.com, and PencilJack.com. If you'd like to try using these sites, here's where to post (as of the time of this writing):

On ConceptArt.org, you'll want to use the "Employment" listings in the Forums, down near the bottom. Be very careful to use the right category -- for example, small freelance jobs under $500, or non-paying job listings, etc.

On DeviantArt.com, fish for the Forums link under the "More" menu item along the top, then look for the "Employment Opportunities" categories. Again, make sure you get in the right category - and my understanding is you should *only* list paid positions here, under the category of "Job Offers". It appears that "paid" includes the dreaded (from the artist's perspective) "back-end" royalty deal -- where everyone only makes money if the book actually gets printed and sells. But the site emphasizes only "serious" offers should be posted.

On PencilJack.com, you'll want to scroll down to the "Bulletin Board" topic. Since this forum isn't quite as focused as the topic threads on the other sites, I didn't have quite as many responses from here.

Based on my own experience, and what I saw on the forums, here are a few suggestions when posting a classified advertisement seeking an artist:
  • Describe your project in some detail -- not necessarily the story details, but at least the type of story. Will the artist be drawing two talking heads in a bar? Or mythological beasts? Or both?

  • Keep in mind that even if you are paying up front, to some extent you are "selling" your project to the artist. You want them to be interested in doing their best work on your project, right?

  • Be clear about the final work product you're seeking -- sequentials? how many pages? pencils only or pencils and inks?

  • Consider mentioning the kind of art style you're looking for -- Realistic? Manga? Standard super-hero? Some artists have more than one style; others may feel they are only suited to, or only interested in, certain types of stories;

  • How is the book being published? Is it self-published? Is this for a pitch? Print or web?

  • Be very direct about payment. If it's a back-end deal, say that. If it's for pay up front, say that as well. Many artists, with good reason, do not really consider a back-end deal to be a "paying" gig;

  • If you have specific marketing or promotional plans, this might be worth mentioning. Some aspiring artists really value exposure;

  • Ask those who respond to send links to their samples rather than attachments, or else you may overrun your mailbox size limit;

  • Ask to see samples of sequential pages. Fantastic pin-ups will not help you determine if the artist has storytelling ability;

  • Provide some ballpark idea of the deadline, or if the deadline is flexible, state that.
I'd also suggest sending a courtesy reply to everyone who responded to your advertisement, letting them know you received their email. Once you have found your artist, get back to all the other people who applied with kind and courteous rejections. Following up is just professional. Based on the grateful replies I received even to my rejections, it seems like getting back to people is (unfortunately) the exception, rather than the rule. It was a hell of a lot of work following up with everyone who applied, but it was worth it in the end.

Following these suggestions, I had great results from all three websites and ended up with more than 50 serious responses. Of these, there were many artists I'd be interested in working with in the future, depending on the project and the style needed, and I told them that where applicable. Even though I could only choose one artist for my current story, more than one of the artists that contacted me ended up working on other stories in our Comics Experience anthology.

In short, I hope my artist search was a reasonably good experience for everyone involved. And I hope what I learned can help you, if you're seeking your own artist in the future.

Next up, I'll talk about the talented artist who signed on to the Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit project.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Panda Dog Press at HeroesCon in 2010!


I'm pleased to announce that Panda Dog Press will be exhibiting at Heroes Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina from June 4th - 6th. It's official; we're registered! I've traveled to this well-attended, friendly convention for more than a decade as a fan, but this will be my first appearance there as an exhibitor and I couldn't be happier. Look for us in the Small Press area.

We'll have the aforementioned Comics Experience anthology available for sale, jam-packed with some great stuff including the first Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit story. We're also planning on having a preview comic of AC:SCU available as well. Work on that story is already underway.

I'm not sure we'd be doing this, but for the encouragement and friendly advice from Chris Flick, creator of the hilarious webcomic Capes N' Babes. (If you're not reading this strip, go check it out. In fact, check out this one specifically, where you'll discover why showings of Avatar keep selling out -- ha).

Chris, thanks for all your help on everything from publishing to planning for conventions -- and especially for encouraging me to give HeroesCon a try from the other side of the table. I owe you a beer, for sure!

Also, thanks go out to Brian Shearer and Reilly Brown -- two very friendly pros who took the time to chat with me at length and gave lots of great advice during the Virginia Comicon in November. I appreciate it, guys...

Hope to see everyone in Charlotte!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Print Anthology -- Coming in April!

As my classmates and I were finishing up the Comics Experience writing class, one of our members -- I think it was J.D. Oliva -- "chatted" a suggestion that we really needed to keep our momentum going and publish the stories we'd created. Pretty much everyone piled on saying they were on board for the project.

In email exchanges later, George O'Connor volunteered to act as project lead/coordinator, and making the project even sweeter, Richard Clarke (a professional, published artist in his own right) offered to do the cover. Finally, Andy Schmidt agreed to write a Foreword. We were on our way!

In the ensuing weeks, we've coordinated and shared progress via the Google Group we used during class. The opportunity to work with the group after the class ended, and the experience of putting together this anthology, has been a big (and unanticipated) bonus to the class itself.

Plus, with a group of about a dozen writers, spread all over North America, we'll have the opportunity to promote the anthology at conventions around the country, starting with the Boston Comic Con on April 10th and 11th.

After agreeing that Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit would be in the print anthology, the next big challenge for me was finding an artist. I'll talk about that experience, and what worked for me, soon.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Comic Book Script Format

One thing I've heard again and again -- and still find hard to believe -- is that there's no accepted format for comic book scripting. You can find examples of various writers' scripts on the Web, and we certainly reviewed some good examples of quality professional scripts during the Comics Experience class, but when you begin creating your own scripts, the only real rule is that the format is clear, easy to read, and set up in such a way that it's easy to focus on, say, only the panel descriptions, or only the dialogue, if you so choose.

As part of showing the production process of Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit, I thought I'd share the script format I used. The image shown above links to a PDF of page two of the first story.

Specifically, here are the features of the format I used:
  • Page breaks are clearly defined (caps & underlined);

  • Number of panels on the page is listed at top;

  • Clearly defined breaks between panels;

  • Bolding of descriptions and everything else except for dialogue;

  • Dialogue/word balloons numbered sequentially on each page;

  • Speaker of dialogue set off in caps and indented for easy reading;

  • Underlining used to show bolding (because caps or actual bolding would be lost when converted to all caps and text for lettering);

  • Contact information on every page -- the original contained my phone number as well; and

  • Plenty of white space.
Personally, I prefer to keep the panel descriptions pretty sparse. For example, in Panel 5, I mention a Panda Dog, but I don't really describe it. The description of the Panda Dog was provided during the (later) character design stage in emails to the artist. Other characters were described separately in their bios outside of the script. Separating out these details allows me to keep the focus of the script on the storytelling.

This is just what works for me. Everyone seems to do it a little different. Hopefully, you'll find something useful in it.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Comics Experience - Writing Classes for Comics!

Last post, I mentioned that Andy Schmidt has a lot to do with Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit finally seeing the light of day. Let me explain why.

For a number of years, Andy has been running a teaching business called Comics Experience. Andy is a former Marvel Comics Editor, a freelance writer, and, currently, is a Senior Editor at IDW Publishing, where he manages the GI Joe and Transformers product lines. He brings his wealth of experience in the industry to classes on comic book writing, art, and coloring. I had been wanting to take Andy's writing class for many years -- and had even attended one of Andy's lectures in person at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2008 -- but the six week course itself was only offered live, in New York City, too far from me in Virginia.

So, in 2009, when Andy announced his first online version of the class, I signed up immediately. The class is taught "live" via WebEx one night a week for two hours, and it was worth every penny. Not only did Andy guide the class through a methodology for creating a script (from a story sentence, to synopsis, to page by page descriptions, to full script) and give his feedback week-by-week, but via a Google Groups discussion forum the members of the class were able to interact, share, and critique each other's work as well. Both the weekly deadlines and the feedback from Andy and the group were invaluable. The class was motivating, inspiring, and just plain fun. And most importantly, it got me writing again.

For the first time, after a number of stops and starts over the years, Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit came together as a cohesive whole. Now, the first 5-page story will be appearing in a print anthology coming in the Spring of 2010. More on that soon.

Bottom line, if you've always dreamed of writing comics, do yourself a favor and take this class.

Oh, and thank you, Andy.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

So You Wanna' Be A Comic Book Writer?

When I was a child, my grandfather used to read me the comic strips in the Sunday newspaper. The Sunday comics -- and later comic books -- were the reason I wanted to learn to read at all. And not long after I learned to read, I started trying to make my own comics.

I still have some of those comics, featuring The Liquidated Man, who, despite his name, was not involved in bankruptcies, foreclosures, or everything-must-go auctions. Instead, he was made entirely of water, which meant that he had the singular advantage of being an easy-to-draw amoeba-like blob. This suited my artistic abilities at the time perfectly. My drawing has not improved since that time.

So, from an early age, I decided I would be better off trying to write comic books rather than draw them. I say "trying" to write because many years passed with words being put to paper only intermittently. This is as common as dirt, I know.

Andy Schmidt, Senior Editor over at IDW, was recently asked during an iFanboy interview what the biggest mistake was that an aspiring comic book writer could make. Andy's answer was:

"There are a lot of would-be writers that I meet who really don't write. They think about stories a lot and they'll write a pitch for a story and then outline for a story, but they won't actually sit down and write the story.... If you're a writer, you should be writing. And if you've got a full-time day job, I do, too. I've got a two-year old, I've got a teaching business on the side. I'm a busy guy. You've just got to find that time and sit down and write whenever you can, even if it's just 5 or 10 minutes at a time. So, I would say, honestly, the biggest mistake I see from writers is they're not writing."

Guilty.

So, now I'm writing again. Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit is going to see the light of day in an honest-to-goodness printed comic book this Spring. Andy has a lot to do with that. And I'll explain that in my next post.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit

Panda Dog Press -- as it says at the top of this blog -- is the home of the comic book project Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit (AC:SCU).

AC:SCU is a concept that has been rattling around in my head for about a decade, at least since the year 2000, when artist Eduardo Kac convinced a French geneticist to create a "transgenic" rabbit by injecting a rabbit egg with jellyfish proteins. The resulting white rabbit, named Alba, glowed green when exposed to blue light. This is a true story, and things have gotten quite a bit weirder since that time. But even back in 2000, the artist, Kac, was trying to make a point -- perhaps many points -- and he created a lot of controversy amongst everyone from ethicists to animal-rights activists.

It seemed pretty clear to me that this transgenic thing -- whether for art or commerce -- could pretty quickly get out of hand. And that got me wondering: once the sound and fury die down, and designer pets become common, who would be cleaning up the mess?

The idea sharpened in my mind due to my other passion: animal welfare. I've spent a number of years volunteering here in Virginia at the local open access "No Kill" animal shelter. I mainly walk dogs at the shelter and especially love working with shy dogs and pit bulls. But my interest in animal welfare in general has led to a lot of reading -- and study -- of the state of sheltering in the United States. And that got me thinking a bit more...

So, AC:SCU is about the Animal Control Officers (ACO's) who are trying to do their job -- and survive -- a number of years after a boom in the business of transgenic pets has swept the country.

What's it like being an ACO when you're as likely to be dealing with a Panda-Dog hybrid as a Rottweiler? And what if the "urban legend" down in the sewers is now a transgenic 'Gator-Snake?

Read AC:SCU to find out.