graphic novels

How to Make a Graphic Novel: reMIND reveals the process from web to print

Hey, let’s make a graphic novel! They’re the cool new thing and it’s easier than trying to turn a big idea into a movie.

Not so fast, Trigger. A graphic novel isn’t just a movie script and storyboards slapped together as a book. It takes a lot of time, commitment, and money. And there are a lot of difficult lessons to learn. What lessons? Ask graphic novelist/animator Jason Brubaker. He’s been learning, and sharing those lessons, as he makes his graphic novel reMIND, which will debut at this year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego. (Although I understand The Comic Bug in Hermosa Beach had some copies that sold out within a day. Check with them. Maybe they’ll get more before Comic-Con.)

His website reMINDblog.com has a Making Graphic Novels section that explains exactly that – great material for process junkies, fans of behind-the-scenes extras, and for people interested in making their own graphic novels. Learn how to make money with webcomics, how to design your book for publication, how to color and letter, whether to self-publish or go after a larger publisher, how to get a literary agent, selling on Amazon, the best website hosting and blogging services, web vs. print, how to make money online, how to advertise smart, how to win the Xeric Award Grant, how to make over $12,000 through Kickstarter, how to collaborate with others, and lots more. What’s great is that he is openly sharing his personal experiences with a startling level of transparency. And let me be clear. These aren’t just vague articles giving you the high points and a “go get ’em!”. He really gets into the nitty-gritty, explaining exactly what worked and why and to what extent, and how to do it, all in a very helpful and clear headed tone.

And it is that same spirit that he shares the first three chapters of his graphic novel online and it is great. These were originally posted over the last couple of years as they were completed, with the caveat that the final printed graphic novel may have changes and/or corrections. There are also some guest strips to tide us over while we wait for the rest of the story next month.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid – comics or not?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Here at CoreyBlake.com, we like to give you truly cutting edge coverage of the comic book and graphic novel world. That’s why almost exactly four years after its release, we’re taking a look at Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, published by Abrams’ Amulet Books.

OK, maybe this isn’t the CNN of comics, but where there may be a lack in timeliness, I hope quality and analysis picks up the slack. (Side note: follow me on Twitter, and you’ll see me comment on, tweet and retweet comics-related stories I think are worth a closer look, so there’s your fancy CNN breaking news coverage! Sorta.)

So yes, the first book in the series was released on April 1, 2007, and eventually topped the New York Times Best-Seller List. All subsequent books have done the same. Much like the Harry Potter books, each release has become a bigger and bigger deal. And two movies adapting the first two books have done very well. In fact, the second one was released just last weekend and dominated theaters. It was around then that I thought maybe it’s past time I check this out to see the big deal. I’m also considering buying a TV set.

Having read the first book, I’m not breaking the internet by saying that it’s a very enjoyable read. It’s fun and funny. It’s a light read, a quick read, and it’s very easy to get sucked into the pages. Jeff Kinney writes with an authentic voice for the main character, a middle school kid named Greg Heffley, and he has a charming cartooning style to match. It’s real easy to see why this became a big hit.

So now the big question: Is it comics?

My answer: Sometimes.

To qualify as comics, and not simply an illustrated children’s book, there needs to be a sequence of images with or without words. In the case of most illustrated children’s books, the cartoons or illustrations merely echo what is being said in the prose. They may add aesthetic information, but they are not a sequential moment in the story all their own. Sometimes this is the case with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but just as often, the cartoon drawing is the punchline to a joke or is a story beat of the story or adds details and information to the story that isn’t revealed in the prose text. And as is the case of the snowman scene (below), there is a series of drawings that sequentially tell the story at the same time the prose is doing the same, yet they aren’t completely redundant to each other. Both words and images are playing off of each other and forwarding the story with new information. In a sense, the blocks of text themselves become a part of the sequential storytelling of the images, almost like a comics panel. And I think in those moments, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is very much sequential art, or comic books (or graphic novels, if you prefer).

Part of the snowman scene (from BarnesandNoble.com - click to buy)

I believe there’s actually a level of formalistic innovation involved in those scenes. It’s not the first or only to try this hybrid form of prose and comics. In 2006, J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog released a short-lived series of books called Abadazad through Disney’s Hyperion Books. They were an adaptation of their earlier comic book series of the same name which sadly ended prematurely due to the bankruptcy of its comics publisher CrossGen Comics. Disney bought the company up at an auction because of their interest in Abadazad. Unfortunately the experiment didn’t work out or the marketing efforts fizzled or both, and the series of books ended early. Of course, Diary of a Wimpy Kid first appeared online in 2004 (slightly different from the published version), so it’s possible Hyperion and/or DeMatteis and Ploog were influenced by that in their attempts with Abadazad. Either way, the execution wasn’t quite the same. Abadazad more often than not switched from full comics pages to full prose pages. There were occasional illustrated pages to accompany the prose, like a children’s book. This back and forth might’ve been what kept the books from taking off. With Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the integration is visually consistent throughout with only the increased frequency of cartoons causing the sequential effect I describe above.

So what do you think? Is Diary of a Wimpy Kid comics? An illustrated children’s book? Something else?

(As a side note, I was kind of astonished to learn that Jeff Kinney apparently still has a full-time job outside of handling the growing Diary of a Wimpy Kid empire. Considering the stellar sales these books have had and continue to have, and the big success of two feature film adaptations from Hollywood, I have to assume that he chooses to work because he loves it, and he’s not somehow trapped in some terribly restrictive contract where he’s only seeing a fraction of the profits he’s due. Anyone know more?)

The Ugly Truth About Comics: They’re Not Books

Batman reads a book, not expecting it to be a comic (art by Gene Ha, click for his website)

Kelly Thompson of the Comic Book Resources blog Comics Should Be Good is doing a study. She has reached out to 32 women to learn “specifically why women do and don’t read comics and what they do and don’t respond to as readers when they do read”.

You see, comics kind of have this reputation for not being all that welcoming to female readers. Maybe you’ve noticed it yourself. For a significant segment of the industry and its history, there’s good reason for that reputation. Superhero comics, often considered the mainstream of comics, are predominantly made by and for males. But for several decades there have been a growing number of comics designed to reach beyond the standard superhero demographic. And these days, the art form has never had a greater level of diversity, both in stories that could appeal to virtually anyone, and the people that make them.

Last year, Kelly did this experiment for the first time with 19 women trying out comic books: part 1, part 2, part 3. This time, she’s having 32 women try graphic novels: part 1, part 2. (Part 3 and 4 will post on the next 2 Mondays.) She gets feedback from each reader to see why they picked their comic book or graphic novel, what they thought of it, and also gets background info on their age, occupation and past experiences with comics. They’re long reads, but they’re worth it. Maybe you’ll relate to some of their responses.

It’s not a perfectly scientific study. Most of the women are progressive young women in their 20s or 30s. And they all come from Kelly’s network of friends, colleagues, and family. But I think it’s still very representative of people’s responses to comics, and some people’s resistance to comics, often regardless of gender.

One comment that came up several times was that some said they prefer to imagine visuals in prose novels than have an artist provide the visuals. I’ve heard this comment plenty of times to know that it’s not unusual. I think part of this comes from unfamiliarity with comics and the belief that reading a comic book or graphic novel should feel like reading a book, and that one should walk away from both with the same kind of feeling. But they are not the same art form or medium. This is not a 1:1 ratio.

Reading comics is not the same experience as reading novels. Even though it visually looks like you’re doing the same thing (holding a book in your hand or staring at a screen), your brain has to do different things for each medium. (And it’s important to note that “different” doesn’t mean one is better than the other.)

Despite the old myth that comics are for dummies, there’s actually a great deal of processing going on. Each panel on a page is presenting the reader with what first seems like two channels of information: words and pictures. But the two channels are permanently linked and are actually sending additional information based on how they interact with each other. The pictures aren’t simply just giving visual form to the words. The image is an artist’s vision of that chosen moment in time and each panel is rich with what I would compare with non-verbal cues when you’re talking with someone one-on-one. A character’s posture, facial expression, and clothes all provide information to the reader on a level that may never be explicitly stated. In addition, the environment that surrounds the character, the colors or lack of colors, the line weight and art style the artist is using, these all give information about the character and their world. Objects in the background or foreground that may not be essential to the story (and might not merit getting mentioned in prose) adds context to the character and his world. With prose, all of this information could be given in words, but being told about something by a writer’s carefully chosen words and seeing it through the filter of an artist’s carefully illustrated artwork are two different things. And the timing and duration of that absorption works differently. In prose, it can only be absorbed by the reader as they are reading it. In comics, all of this information can be presented simultaneously and consistently throughout an entire scene, as each panel reinforces an aesthetic or silent cue.

Another channel of information comes from the true magic of comics – sequential storytelling. Each panel creates a new dynamic between the one before and the one after it. While processing the information within each panel described above, your brain is also creating action, movement and/or the passage of time in the spaces between each panel. The brain is solving the problem of how the characters’ world changes so that everything matches up from panel to panel, moment to moment.

So all of that (and more!) is going on while you read what appears to be a simple comic book. That’s a lot of information to absorb on each panel, but fortunately the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. So it’s up to the task, but it might take some adjustment. Give yourself a chance to get comfortable with the language of comics before you write them off as “not books”.

So you want to read Spider-Man comics

We’re in the thick of the holiday season. Shopping is probably inevitable for a lot of us. If you or someone you know thinks Spider-Man is pretty cool but is clueless as to what to read first, I’ve put together a great big list as a checklist or reading order guide.

Marvel Comics has been publishing The Amazing Spider-Man since 1963, so being a little overwhelmed about what to get is understandable. Peter Parker (right) is pretty confused by it all too. And he’s lived through it.

So, here’s my Reader’s Guide to Amazing Spider-Man with every graphic novel that’s been published from that comic book series, what’s inside, and in what order you should read it. I’ve also included cover prices and if there are alternate ways to get the stories (soft cover, hard cover, etc.). After the list, I’ve also included a recommended reading list if you’re only interested in the most universally loved material instead of everything. Please feel free to join in the conversation if you have any favorites, questions, corrections or suggestions.

Just a note for those of you Spidey-savvy enough: this list only focuses on the Amazing Spider-Man comics series from 1963 to present, and for the most part does not include spin-offs like Web of Spider-Man or the relaunch series like Ultimate Spider-Man or Marvel Adventures Spider-Man (both of which are great ways to read Spider-Man too but they exist in their own universe apart from Amazing Spider-Man, and as such, they’re pretty streamlined, self-contained and easier to figure out where to start – although if you’re not sure, post a comment or email and I’ll be glad to help out).

I’ve also got similar Reader’s Guides to Uncanny X-Men and Fantastic Four. And I’ll be posting more here as time allows. Any requests for comic book series to cover?

Kids Comics: still a struggle but worth the fight

The general consensus among mainstream comic book publishers is that comics aimed at kids, or all-ages comics, don’t sell. And sadly, they’re usually right.

Take for example the apparent cancellation of the endlessly charming Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee. Even an impending big Hollywood movie of Thor couldn’t generate enough interest to sustain the series past eight issues. Why? Maybe it’s because there are also about four other comics starring Thor or some Thor-like character and who can keep them straight? Maybe it’s because too many comic book stores cater to their established audience base of young-ish to older adults who aren’t interested in an all-ages comic book no matter how much praise and acclaim it gets.

So kids comics are doomed, right?

Not quite. Fortunately a growing number of comics stores actually do have enough business savvy to diversify their customer base. In support of this, Diamond Comics, the primary distributor for comics shops, has been amping up their KidsComics.com website, now with a handy-dandy order form kids and parents can print out to make sure their local store orders what they want.

And more effectively, and unlike ten or more years ago, there are now other ways for comics to find their audience. As examples, walk into a book store and see how long it takes you to stumble over a display of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Granted, they technically aren’t comic books (or graphic novels), but often not far from away are copies of Bone by Jeff Smith, Owly by Andy Runton, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz adaptation by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, The Muppet Show Comic Book by Langridge himself, and lots more. And they’ve all been selling very well. Yes even the Twilight graphic novel adaptation by Young Kim. And tons of manga too, plenty of it age appropriate (see Manga4Kids for recommendations – I’ve still got a lot to learn myself). The School Library Journal has a great blog to help find Good Comics For Kids.

There are also great web-comics for kids online. Two of my favorites are the whimsical Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl and the delightfully absurd Axe Cop by Ethan Nicolle and Malachai Nicolle (age 5!). LunchboxFunnies.com is a good place to start, although they sadly haven’t updated for several months now. Hopefully it’s just temporary. There have been a few sites attempting to track age appropriate web-comics but sadly most are over a year old now, basically ancient artifacts in internet time.

Plenty of the above mentioned comics have been released as digital comics on mobile devices and online through services like ComiXology. Although they have yet to parse out kids comics to make shopping easier, they do have age ratings, which helps a great deal. Much of Atomic Robo by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener is recommended for kids 9 and up, and it is regularly among the most downloaded.

So kids comics do sell. You just have to know how to get them to kids.

Motion Comics: Not Comics, Barely Motion

Since my dismissive comment about motion comics, I’ve received tons and tons of hate mail. OK, perhaps I exaggerate. Perhaps I made that up completely. In reality, not one person living or dead made a single comment about it. So either everybody was so enraged, they couldn’t focus enough to write a response, or everybody silently agreed. Or more likely, most people have never even heard of motion comics, never mind knowing enough to form an opinion.

If you are in that last group, you’ll be able to catch up pretty quickly because motion comics are still in their infancy. Put simply, motion comics are adaptations of comic books and graphic novels that use computers to animate the original comic artwork (or recreations), and then replaces the written word with voice actors, music and sound effects. Put way simply, it’s a mini-cartoon based on a comic.

While stylistically more slick, they are basically the old Marvel Comics cartoons from the ’60s.

But they’re not without their fans. The appeal and idea of motion comics is that it brings to life your favorite comics. It’s typically very faithful in look and story because they’re pulling straight from the original comics.

The downside is that the animation is really limited because they’re trying to animate static images that were only ever meant to represent movement, not actually depict movement.

My main problem with them is that they really aren’t comics at all. The comic book industry and art form has been stuck with inaccurate terms for decades upon decades. Comic books aren’t necessarily comical; they more resemble magazines than actual books. Graphic novels aren’t necessarily graphic in content but do use graphic design and imagery; they don’t have be a long narrative like novels. So I suppose adding one more misnomer to the pile shouldn’t matter.

But it’s worth noting: motion comics are not comic books. They do not use the language of comics. They use the language of motion pictures (film, animation, etc.).

This past weekend at King Con in Brooklyn, Act-I-Vate founder and writer/artist Dean Haspiel debuted his attempt at a motion comic with Billy Dogma in “Sex Planet” [warning: adult content, so I won’t embed it here]. His goal seemed to be to include more of the language of comics while pulling back some on the animation. That’s a direction that interests me more than the above example but the finished product is mixed. The voice acting is lacking (Haspiel himself provides the voice of Billy Dogma) and there’s a weird timing issue with having finished read the text and waiting for the actors to catch up, but there are some cute visual gags that have well-timed reveals. See The Beat for more on this.

Clearly motion comics are just getting started. So, “To Be Continued…”

Barbie at Comic-Con

Yesterday I spent the day at Comic-Con International in San Diego serving as Barbie’s professional photograher. I’ll let her walk us through these and provide captions. Take it away, Barbie!

Thanks, Corey! I’m sure a lot of you are wondering what a super-cute and cool chick like me was doing at “Nerd Vegas”. Normally I wouldn’t be caught dead there but that all changed this past weekend!

This is My Comic-Con Adventure!

It all started Friday night… I got back from shopping early and found Ken reading something weird. Like, gross weird.

That’s right, he was reading PORN! (And I think he was doing something with those big green fists, too.) (more…)

Liked Iron Man? Be a Hero and Help Out

So, how ’bout that Iron Man movie? Pretty cool, huh? You bet it was!

It’s, like, totally over 90% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. It MUST be awesome.

It is so totally the best superhero movie ever in the history of ever since ever first started.

Way.

Yeah, it was tons of fun. You know what’s not fun? Liver failure.

Sorry, I know. Bummer seque.

Sadly, one of the comic book artists that made Iron Man so memorable for hundreds of thousands is suffering. His name is Gene Colan.

Yes, yes. Funny last name. Go on, get it out of your system. I’ll wait.

(*snicker*)

Yes, okay, where were we? That’s right, Gene Colan.

In late 1965, Gene Colan took over drawing the Iron Man stories in an anthology comic called Tales of Suspense. He replaced Iron Man co-creator and artist Don Heck, who is credited in the Iron Man movie along with fellow Iron Man creators Stan Lee, Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s younger brother) and Jack Kirby. Gene Colan’s time with the character proved so popular, that in 1968 the character graduated to starring in his own comic book series, The Invincible Iron Man.

Gene Colan also had a significant run of drawing Daredevil in the mid-1960s to early-1970s, but most people don’t really have fond memories of the Ben Affleck movie, so we’ll just gloss over that part. He also made his mark on Howard the Duck, which was an even worse movie, but the comics were great satire.

Anyway, on May 10th, writer Clifford Meth announced that Gene Colan was sick and because people in comics back in the 1960s and 1970s didn’t get health insurance or 401K plans or anything else beyond a simple flat rate per page, Gene and his wife are facing immense medical bills. As the Iron Man movie rakes in over $200 million worldwide, it seems a shame that some of that financial gratitude can’t be passed on to one of the first artists to portray the character. Without his hard work and talent, it’s possible the character never would’ve lasted long enough to make it to the big screen. So, if you would like to help out in some small way, there are a few ways you can help:

  1. Donate to The Hero Initiative – This not-for-profit organization exists for the sole purpose of helping establish a safety net for comic creators like Gene Colan who did not financially benefit from the success of the comics and characters they worked on. And there are many. Make a donation and ask that your contribution be directed to help out Gene Colan.
  2. Bid on a fundraising auction item – Writer Clifford Meth has begun an auction to help raise money for Gene Colan. The auction started today and includes (or will include) lots of fun stuff by Stan Lee, Harlon Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Gene Colan himself, and lots of others.
  3. Buy cool Gene Colan stuff – Marvel Comics and The Hero Initiative have teamed up to help raise money for Gene Colan. If you’re going to any comic book conventions this summer (I’ll be at Comic-Con in San Diego), be sure to look for limited edition art prints. Additional Gene Colan-themed items will be released by Marvel in August and September.

Okay, that’s my spiel. And if you haven’t seen Iron Man yet, go see it!