Comics I’ve been enjoying recently…
Lots of Rick Remender books. His Marvel work is always full of crazy, fun ideas. I gave Black Science a second chance in trade after falling in love with Uncanny Avengers. Looking forward to picking up Deadly Class.
Velvet by Brubaker and Epting. Reminds me of 2000AD’s strip Button Man in its mood. Great spy comic.
Ms Marvel. First arc was fantastic - a good mix of superhero comics with the type of character-driven story and cartooning I like from indie and small press comics. Didn’t like the Wolverine issue, mind.
Morrison re-reads. Read Invisibles for the 2nd time and New X-Men for a 3rd. Both still amazing - great to be able to get more and more out of a comic with each reading.
Planetary re-read. Not as good as I remembered, but still amazing. Fantastic artwork and great story with lots of fun in each issue.
Anthology collaborator/artist wanted
I’ve recently returned to the Paper Jam Comics Collective, the group of comic creators and readers that meets in the basement of Travelling Man Newcastle every couple of weeks.
I first started going to Paper Jam in 2009 and this got me started creating comics, going to conventions and running workshops for kids. I’ve returned to kickstart my creativity and make links with more potential collaborators and peers.
Paper Jam members put together anthologies every now and then, with the next anthology having ‘Food’ as its subject.
For this ‘Food’ anthology, I’ve written a short script looking at my relationship with my late Nanna and how food was central to this. People seldom say ‘I love you’ in my family, but they do put huge plates of hearty food in front of you.
Now that I’ve written this script, I’m looking for an artist to collaborate with.
Here are the details: - 2 pages of A5, 6 panels on each - Black and white artwork - No style preference - Deadline is not yet fixed - I can letter the strip - There’s no pay, PJCC sales go towards the next comic - Interested artists can email danielcliffordwritesATgmailDOTcom or tweet me
What have I done so far? - Written 5 issues of Halcyon & Tenderfoot - Written the 3-issue Sugar Glider series and wrote/edited 2 issues of Sugar Glider Stories. - Contributed to Dead Roots and Into the Woods - Contributed to Paper Jam anthologies Robots, Space Monkey and Art
Find out more about Paper Jam.
I was in a band called Squares a few years ago. We released an album, some EPs and played quite a lot of gigs but it eventually came to an end.
Since then, I’ve recorded podcasts and stopped doing that too. But I’ve continued making comics.
There’s something brilliant about making music that I’ve missed. There’s something immediate about it that you just can’t capture making comics or planning creative educational projects.
I’ve been frustrated with how slow things have been going lately so I asked my oldest friend and former Squares collaborator, Martin Trollope, (http://therailwayclub.bandcamp.com/releases and http://www.theunionchoir.com) if he’d join me for a day of writing and recording a song.
We got together on Friday 25th April to play a few warm-up covers before starting work on the song. We came up with this fairly quickly. Martin wrote the music, I came up with a tune, he recorded the melody with his guitar - smoothing it out and adding a few embellishments, I wrote some words and we got recording.
I’m pretty pleased with what we came up with. And we had fun.
Things I’ve learned so far… Part 3
Matt Badham, comic book journalist and writer, read some of my blogs a few months ago and we got chatting about the work I’ve done so far. I sent him some comics to read along with apologies like “I know they’re not perfect!” and he suggested I write a blog outlining the things I’ve learned from making two independent superhero miniseries. This is that blog. Or, at least, the third instalment of that series. See, I wrote approximately 10,000 words on the subject.
What follows are the conclusions I’ve reached or lessons I’ve learned from the last few years of making and selling Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot, and the few other comics I’ve been involved with. I might be wrong about these things, but they are my feelings, on collaboration, based on those experiences.
The first and second parts of the blog was a huge success - thank you to everyone who read it, shared it and gave me feedback. This one is a months later, mind. Sorry about that. I was writing comics.
Most writers either don’t want to or can’t write and draw their comics, but I find that most artists would love to both. This makes it difficult for writers to find an artist to collaborate with.
I struggled to find a collaborator when I was getting started. Most artists I approached were interested in deviating from their own work and the interested ones were put off by the scale of the projects I was suggesting. I decided to change tact. Instead of approaching artists with my ideas, I approached Gary Bainbridge with an idea for the superhero character he had drawn at a comic makers meeting. Getting an artist excited about a project they’re already invested in is a far better approach. We entered into a very equal collaboration that resulted in around 200 pages of Sugar Glider comics.
It’s a lot easier to find collaborators once you’ve made a comic that is seen as being successful.
I don’t see how offering potential collaborators a share of the profits from a project being very appealing - because you probably won’t make a profit. Going into a project as a genuine partnership with both parties investing their time, money and enthusiasm is the best way. But this is only likely to work with a collaborator at the same stage in their career as you and with the same level of enthusiasm for the project.
Your preferred collaborator will work on the project with you if they really want to. They will invest their time, money and enthusiasm if they’re excited by the project. I don’t think that paying a potential collaborator from your small amount of savings will make them more excited about the project. From my experience contracting artists for difficult projects, they’ll probably just see it as badly paid, uninspiring work.
Make sure when checking through thumbnails/artwork that you’re not just checking to see if you like the artwork. If you’ve written vague panel descriptions and only check the artwork to see if it’s nice, you might miss something important. There’s a panel in Sugar Glider issue 1 where I wrote, “Susie looks around” as the panel description and missed out ‘for clues’. When I checked the artwork, I really liked the panel Gary had drawn of Susie looking around at the reader over her shoulder. But for some reason the page didn’t flow the way it was meant to. I shrugged it off. It took me months to work out what had gone wrong.
There are some comic book pages that take a lot of revisions before the artists arrived at something that really worked. Asking for revisions isn’t something to feel bad about if the page doesn’t communicate the story to the reader. I revise the story, outline, scene breakdown and script based on feedback from the artist. If you’re going to have input into your collaborator’s work, you must welcome that input into your own work too.
When I started writing comics I tended to ask for revisions just so the artwork would match what I had imagined while writing the script. This is wrong. Decisions should be based on what’s best for the story and the reader, rather than ego and ‘how I want it to be’.
Don’t assume, like I did, that a collaborator who has never really read superhero comics will understand the atmosphere and style you’re going for when you say words like Bronze Age and Silver Age. It took a long time to nail the designs in Halcyon & Tenderfoot because I wasn’t speaking the same language as Lee Robinson. With other projects, this wouldn’t be as problematic but with something where the fee, idea and theme was very specific, it really would’ve helped to create a Pinterest board of images that evoked the spirit I was looking for. I’ve done this for a project I’m working on at the moment, and it’s also a great tool to reminding me what I’m going for and for inspiring story ideas.
If like me, you care about representation and what you’re saying with your work, having no female creators working on a female-led comic anthology will make you feel uneasy.
Handing over my characters and loose storylines for other creators to work with on Sugar Glider Stories made them feel more real to me than the other issues. Probably because all the comics I read as a child were Lee/Kirby/Ditko characters interpreted by anyone but Lee/Kirby/Ditko.
Having other writers interpret my stories and fill in the gaps between stories I’d written was incredibly rewarding - they added things I never would have thought of.
I won’t be staying awake through the night ‘in solidarity’ with artist I’m working with again. It’s a nice gesture, but I go from tired to exhausted very easily due to anxiety issues, which results in shakes, sweats, panic attacks and an upset stomach. I don’t think comics are important enough to lose sleep over. But they are important enough to schedule time for.
Lee draws comedy very well, so I tried to write some funny stuff for him to draw. Probably not as much funny stuff as he’d have liked, mind.
If you find the right colourist, they’ll make great artwork look even better.
We came up with a great system for doing Halcyon & Tenderfoot. Lee would thumbnail the issue, we’d talk about it, he’d draw roughs straight into Photoshop, I’d letter the roughs and stick panel borders on and then he’d do the final art. This meant that there was enough room for the balloons in every panel and it also meant that if Lee did work throughout the night at the end of the deadline, I wouldn’t have to rush the lettering in the morning and/or stay awake all night to letter as pages were finished.
The only change I’d make to that plan is for lettering placement to be incorporated into the thumbnails. We’re doing that a little now, but it still needs developing slightly. Lee is also developing the process to the point where his thumbnails are also his roughs.
It was really fun to draw two pages of Sugar Glider Stories written by Gary. Switching the creator roles gave us both an understanding of what each other had to do to make a good comic. I really enjoyed drawing those two pages, but it took me two weekends and I wouldn’t draw a comic again.
Working Marvel-method for a silent comic strip can work wonders, and it lets the artist really enjoy themselves.
Collaborators who don’t return emails and who make decisions about the work without any conversation are the ones you know not to work with again.
It’s important to write for the artist you’re working with. I learned this while making Sugar Glider Stories issue 1. One strip was written for a novice artist but then a veteran ended up drawing it, the script was far too long and cluttered for the veteran artist and ended up making them miserable.
On the same point, writing for Gary meant I could include lots of real life locations, knowing that he could pull off an expert likeness because architecture is his speciality. Lee’s artwork conveys a lot of emotion so you’ll notice that I write a lot of sad characters and events in comics we work on - because it really hits home with the reader. Writing for Martin Eden meant I was free to come up with a really zany story and I knew it would be believable on the page.
Having a scientist friend really helps when coming up with the conclusion of a story that hangs on a character being very intelligent.
Writing the strip for Martin Eden really changed the way I thought about writing comics - they have to be fun. That doesn’t mean they have to be silly or funny, they can still be sad and serious and deal with real world events, but they should be fun to write and fun for your artist to draw. Use comics as cleverly as you can by writing things that couldn’t be achieved as well in other mediums (you could do this by including a diamond prison or by changing the way you play with the passage of time or storytelling methods).
Google maps and the massive amount of photo material that can be found online means that an artist from another country can accurately represent areas of Newcastle they’ve never been to.
Sometimes you’ll search for reference material to give an artist and they won’t use it. You’ll just have to accept that that time was wasted and move on.
No matter how many times you say not to, some creators will always draw their female characters with large breasts.
I don’t think that two people can successfully edit one book like me and Gary did on Sugar Glider Stories issue 1 unless you have a plan on how that is going to work beforehand (splitting stories up between the two of you?). Otherwise, you’ll both end up giving different feedback on the same things. That isn’t helpful for other collaborators.
If you have people working on an anthology for you and they aren’t being paid, they should be getting something from it. At least one copy of the comic and some kind of offer on any more copies of the comic they want to buy. And you should go out of your way to really push their work to your friends and contacts.
I’ve written a lot of scenes that call for crowds. This always winds artists up. But when a comic is about the public opinion of superheroes, etc, you will need to see the public. I’m not going to write comics about this kind of thing as much in the future.
Artists don’t seem to like drawing cars or bikes. But some artists will grow to love drawing those things. However, it isn’t really the writer’s job to force them to learn to love drawing something they hate.
I never thought Gary would go for the idea I had for the Don Quixote character in Sugar Glider issue 2. Gary was often concerned with making the comic believable and I wanted to take his old swordsman character and make him a delusional librarian who shouts ‘DEMON!’ at everyone. But the idea was a fun idea with lots of story potential so he went for it. I took the risk of it being shot-down and it paid off.
Not having an editor means some less important details can be lost or forgotten about. In Halcyon & Tenderfoot, The Glory Guild HQ would have benefitted from being filled with trophies from their battles - this would have communicated the group’s history and their ruthlessness to the readers, but I completely forgot to mention this to Lee in the rush to get this issue out. We do have an amazing version of this page in the pitch for a Halcyon & Tenderfoot collection.
There are quite a few things in Halcyon & Tenderfoot issue 3 that we needed to fix when we went through and made the collection pitch. We did the whole comic in just under a month with no editor so there were a good few things we missed. However, I think sometimes you just have to do the best job you can in the time you have. It’s never going to be perfect. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to make it as good as possible, but I think there’s something to be said for accepting your work based on your ability and the timeframe available to get the work done.
There’s a page in Halcyon & Tenderfoot issue 2 that Lee thought I would hate. He threw out the idea of the grid and created something closer to a collage. But the page is still completely readable/understandable and communicates the ideas and feelings I had written. He took the risk and it paid off.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but Lee loves gross-out humour. I bet he loved drawing those smelly feet and that out-of-date milk carton at the end of issue 2.
Lee draws very good sad moments and perfectly translates what I write when it comes scenes that are meant to be touching. But I think he does get sick of drawing tears.
If you need to say something difficult to an artist, it helps to ask another artist about the best way to approach the situation. One of the strips submitted to Sugar Glider Stories really wasn’t up to scratch and I didn’t know what to say. But a short conversation with another artist really helped to solve the problem as best as we could.
Every collaborative partnership will be different. You have to do the groundwork to get it to be as good as it can be, and then accept it for what it is. I’ve spent a lot of time wishing collaborators approached things the same way that I do but that’s just wasted energy. The reason you collaborate is to bring different elements to a project. You have to accept the other commitments and responsibilities your collaborators have and the time and skills they bring to your project. I have to accept the people my collaborators are, and they have to accept who I am - a worrier, a planner, very honest. If you can’t accept the personality and working methods of your collaborator, you shouldn’t be working with them.
Collaborative relationships should be an equal partnership. I’ve often been afraid that a collaborator would bail on the relationship before the project is complete. But I think this has a lot to do with a lack of confidence in what I was bringing to the table, and putting too much stock into comic book projects. Now that I have more in my life than comics (a house with my girlfriend and a challenging day job) I’m not putting more importance on my comic book projects than my collaborators are. And I’m more confident in my abilities to the point that I know I’m contributing something worthwhile. If the partnership isn’t equal, it isn’t a partnership at all and it will cause you head, and heart, ache.
Establishing shots are very important. But not all establishing shots have to be exteriors.
I decided establishing shots were important when writing issue 3 of Halcyon & Tenderfoot. Before that, I’d had too many characters and too much story to bother with anything like setting the scene for readers.
If you create a really cool character design like Gary did with Sugar Glider, you won’t need to solicit for the reader’s drawings - people will just draw the character because they think it will be enjoyable. We got loads of fan art.
I never thought I’d write a scene including a giant robot and I bet Gary never thought he’d draw one. But I’m very glad that we did.
I must have known the story of Don Quixote deep down, because the back-story I had for our Don Quixote character had so many parallels to the book it was unbelievable to me. Originally, I just thought the name seemed like a good fit for the character designs Gary had shown me.
Halcyon & Tenderfoot issue 4 took absolutely ages to get finished (about 6 months) but it was worth it because the comic looks great. Sometimes you just have to accept how long things take - especially when you have lots of paid work going on at the same time.
I think too many first issues are just teasers for the series. First issues need to be packed with story to give the reader a chance to understand your central idea and character - but also so you give them something exciting to get them to come back.
But with the issues in the middle of your story, you have some space to show some smaller moments and give more of a glimpse into your character’s lives.
I always loved that thing about 90s Vertigo books from people like Grant Morrison where you’d get a story that seemed completely separate from the main issue as an introduction. I’d love to do something like that at some point.
I have no idea how Lee reached the decision to reverse the colours in a panel of Halcyon & Tenderfoot issue 2 (black is white and white is black) but it really worked to make this moment of the story seem like a hammer dropping to the floor.
Sometimes the easiest things are the best things. They’re instinctive and full of energy. But sometimes the hardest things are pretty brilliant too. The cathedral full-page panel in Halcyon & Tenderfoot issue 2 took ages to get right and it’s bloody great. So there’s no fixed rule on things that are hard being better/worse.
If your character designs aren’t 100% working, I wouldn’t be too worried about tweaking them between issues. We did it on Halcyon & Tenderfoot and no one noticed. At least, no one mentioned it.
I saw a tweet a few weeks ago that asked about the amount of time artists spend making art compared to the amount of time they spend consuming art.
Last year was probably my least productive. I found it hard to juggle writing and making comics with facilitating workshops and working at an arts organisation. Most of the work I ‘completed’ was for pitches. Most of which were unsuccessful and, therefore, will never be completed.
So, yes, I spent a lot of time doing other work and getting pitches in. But I think an important factor in my lack of output was the lack of input. I simply didn’t read enough or see enough theatre or watch enough films.
I’ve been quite productive this year, though. While also fitting in time to read a lot of great comics. And I’m sure that reading these great comics has inspired me to sit down and write more and get things done.
So here’s what I’ve read and loved:
Scroll through the pictures above to see our lead characters, Bianca and Freddy, in various stages of development and some practice sketches. Because creating comic book characters does take some time and hard work - they don’t just spring onto the page fully formed!
Tracks, a four-page biker story, will feature in The Phoenix issue 112. On sale Friday 21st February at all good comic and book shops. You can subscribe to The Phoenix through their awesome website.
I’ve self-published a good few comics and had some short strips in anthologies but, next week, my first professionally published work will appear in The Phoenix!
I’m really excited about this because The Phoenix is doing all of the things I’ve been talking about for the last few years, putting out great comics for young people and doing that important outreach work and promotion to get comics into young people’s hands. Me and the comic strip’s artist Lee “Long Hours” Robinson love The Phoenix and are big fans of the amazing creators that work on the comic each week.
You’ll be able to pick up The Phoenix issue 112 featuring TRACKS from great comic shops, and some branches of Waterstones and Waitrose from Thursday/Friday next week.
If you’re based in the same area as me, you’ll be able to pick up a copy from Travelling Man and Waitrose in Newcastle. And you can pick up copies of The Phoenix from their awesome website!
Things I’ve learned so far… Part 2
Matt Badham, comic book journalist and writer, read some of my blogs a few months ago and we got chatting about the work I’ve done so far. I sent him some comics to read along with apologies like “I know they’re not perfect!” and he suggested I write a blog outlining the things I’ve learned from making two independent superhero miniseries. This is that blog. Or, at least, the second instalment of that series. See, I wrote approximately 10,000 words on the subject.
What follows are the conclusions I’ve reached or lessons I’ve learned from the last few years of making and selling Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot, and the few other comics I’ve been involved with. I might be wrong about these things, but they are my feelings, on writing, ideas and feedback, based on those experiences.
The first part of the blog was a huge success - thank you to everyone who read it, shared it and gave me feedback. This one is a slightly different beast, though.
Writing, ideas and feedback
Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot are essentially the same story. Kid wants to be a hero, gives it a try and it goes wrong. The kid quits but they’re forced into temporarily putting the costume back on to deal with a problem. They beat the problem and realise that they are meant to be a hero. Both are tempted to, or accidentally, do something villainous. If I ever get to do a superhero comic again, I’ll try not to tell that same story.
Although the stories of Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot are the same, the comics are not. Having set Sugar Glider in real-life Newcastle, I felt like I was tied to some version of reality and couldn’t stem too far from what was explainable by our science fiction. With Halcyon & Tenderfoot, I wanted to do something that didn’t have to be explained. We made the decision to set this comic in a fictional city and to leave a lot unexplained. I have no idea how our heroes have powers and I don’t want to know. It isn’t important. Setting something in a fictional world is a lot more fun, in some ways. Future projects that are set in the real world will have vague settings and timeframes (“Mid-twentieth century Europe”). Because I hate being tied-down by the truth when all I want to do is tell a good story.
I think that some of the best ideas are the silly ones. The ones that make you laugh and smile and think, “I could never get away with that!” The trick is working out how you could get away with it. If it’s that fun an idea, it will probably be interesting to your readers and, hopefully, they’ll give you the leeway you need. I love Prince and David Bowie. I love it when David Bowie wails on Wild is the Wind and when Prince screams on The Beautiful Ones. These are totally over-the-top moments that make me laugh and smile and get me excited about listening again and again. To be clear, I’m not laughing at these amazing artists, I’m laughing in response to the original and out-of-the-ordinary place they go with their ideas. That’s what I’m striving for now with my comics.
If you spend 9 months writing character biographies and creating the world your character lives in, chances are the world will seem real and the characters will be believable. But you’ll probably get caught up in these extra ideas and crowbar them into your stories. A few readers will find this helps them feel more immersed in the story/world… but most will be frustrating that you kept ignoring the main character and plot.
With Sugar Glider I did this by including the Vigilance super-team subplot (I hoped to spin them off into their own comic). And with Halcyon & Tenderfoot I did the same by including Halcyon’s old team and his current enemies, The Glory Guild. The Glory Guild would be a big part of issue 5 or a second volume if we ever get to make them. My plan going forward is to concentrate on telling the story I’m meant to be telling and limit any hints at the future to just hints.
If you have a character that runs at super-speed or a character that can glide through the air, you really need to write some scenes where these characters use their special abilities in interesting ways. The reader is coming to your comic to see something interesting - whatever is interesting about your character should be there on the page. I don’t think I thought of that often enough when writing Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot.
There’s a lot in the pitch for Sugar Glider that was there in the pitch for Kick Ass. But it’s a totally different series. There’s no point in worrying about your ideas being similar to other people’s - just make your comic and invest a lot of yourself into it, that will make it original and interesting enough for readers to enjoy on its own merits.
I’ve written two superhero press conferences scene already and I’ve only written two superhero comic series. That’s probably enough for a lifetime, never mind two series.
People communicate by Twitter, Facebook, email and text in real life. But it’s difficult to represent this very successfully in comics. Panels focussed on screens aren’t usually interesting.
I really enjoy seeing the same event played out from lots of different perspectives and drawn by different artists. It’s fun to write and interesting to see these different interpretations, but I’m not sure that interest translates to the reader.
Basing your villains’ plot on a fairly obscure European film about anti-capitalists might not be the easiest thing to pull off. We nicked the concept of The Edukators for the story of the villains that appear in Sugar Glider 1 (and then reappear in various stories). I’m not sure this was as ingenious a decision as we thought it to be at the time.
SPOILERS: Introducing robot versions of some minor characters near the end of Halcyon & Tenderfoot was probably a bit confusing. I recently pitched a strip to a publisher where the first page saw a bully winning a race before revealing that he never really started the race, so it was all just a scam and he didn’t win. I think a lot of new writers needlessly complicate stories - perhaps as a result of hearing act two described as ‘increased complications’.
We couldn’t fit the almost-romantic sub-plot of Sugar Glider into issue 2, so we did a mini-comic focussing on that story. I love that little comic and it led on to so much (Art Heroes and Halcyon & Tenderfoot were a result of this collaboration) - but if the subplot doesn’t fit in one of the 3 issues in your series, it probably shouldn’t be in any of them.
I kept putting “Where did Susie get her suit from?” in promotional material for the Sugar Glider comics in an attempt to make one of the minor story elements that bit more exciting to readers. The result was the readerships’ high expectations for what was set to be a very low-key reveal. I could have decided to change my plans and come up with a better place for Susie to have found her costume, but I decided to stick to the original plans and risk disappointing some readers rather than change plans and risk making a complete mess. However, I did decide to make the original owner of the costume a bigger part of the story than originally intended. Hopefully that balanced things out. But, really, the lesson is to not blow things out of proportion in your ‘Next issue…’ teasers or in press releases.
You have to make a decision about whether you want to achieve your own aims with a story or if you want to satisfy the reader’s expectations. Some readers probably didn’t expect, or want, Sugar Glider issue 2 to have a subplot about superheroes fighting a big robot… but that’s what we wanted to do and we needed that to set-up issue 3. However, I do think readers should be able to look back at the beginning of your story and see that you set-up the huge robot and superheroes. If you didn’t, their gripes might be justified.
I found writing issue 3 of Sugar Glider very daunting. We had received a lot of praise for the previous issues, after all. And I had written all 4 issues of Halcyon & Tenderfoot between Sugar Glider Stories 2 and Sugar Glider 3, which made me feel like I wouldn’t be able to write in the correct style or in the voices of the characters anymore. Writing those 4 Halcyon & Tenderfoot comics in a row was a much better idea.
There was a lot I felt I had to make pay-off when writing issue 3 of Sugar Glider. We’d introduced so many characters and subplots that would never get their own comics (as I had originally intended) so I felt I had a responsibility to the readers to make them pay-off in some way. This also made the script very daunting to write. And the comic ended up 38 pages long.
I want to suggest that the world of my stories existed before the first issue began and will continue to exist after the last issue ends. I’ve attempted this by setting up new conflicts in the final pages or by leaving some minor subplots unresolved. I realise that this might lead to confusion or disappointment in the reader, but my intention is to get them to continue the stories in their head.
There are lots of little Easter Eggs in my comics that, hopefully, don’t detract from the story. For instance, Jackdaw attacks an arsonist called Denton Burn in issue 3 of Sugar Glider. The arsonist is trying to burn down The Mitre building. The Mitre was the set of the BBC’s Geordie teen-drama Byker Grove. In the series, the kids who attended Byker Grove hated the kids who attended another youth project called Denton Burn. Graham and Maxine Pearce suggested the Denton Burn character). In Halcyon & Tenderfoot, the character Jenny Wren is intended to be an alternative reality version of Sugar Glider (if you read closely you can spot the similarities and differences between the realities). Two characters with cameos in Halcyon & Tenderfoot are comic book super versions of two comic creators we know. I do this sort of thing a lot, but it’s just a little joke for me. I don’t even know if anyone has ever noticed.
I decided a while ago to stop trying to spell out exactly what I wanted to see on the page in my scripts. Since cutting down panel descriptions to as brief as I can manage, I’ve found collaborators far more likely to deliver what was in my head to begin with - or something much better! Choosing the right few words can be the difference between getting the sort of comic you would want and really confusing/annoying the artist.
You’ve got to make sure your panel descriptions aren’t too concise that they’re too open to interpretation, though. There’s a panel description for Sugar Glider issue 1 that reads, “Susie looks around.” when I meant, “Susie looks around for clues.” Those are just different sentences and we’ll come back to this in a later blog.
In my imagination there are a lot more completely silent pages in comics than there really are. There are quite a few silent pages in my comics. In part, this is to balance out the dialogue-heavy pages and to force you into reading the image instead. But I also couldn’t work out why you would have dialogue or captions on a page that features just one character in action.
I’ve realised now that captions can be a really good way to help the reader understand what’s happening or what the character’s motivation is when your page features just one character in action.
You can find a lot of advice on how many panels work on a comic book page, but I don’t think there’s a hard-and-fast rule. 1-panel pages can work. 9-panel pages can work. 14-panel pages can work. It all depends on the action portrayed, the layout, the amount of dialogue, the reaction you hope to illicit, etc. Some pages in Sugar Glider issue 1 probably do have too many panels for what we’re trying to get across, but I still happy to write a page in issue 2 with 14 panels - because it worked best for that part of the story.
There are fewer panels per page in Sugar Glider issue 2 than issue 1, but at the same time, there’s a lot more story. My writing had improved between those two issues to the point that I could say more with a single panel. I think I may have lost that skills again - or perhaps I’m more interested in making sure that the story is understandable for the less comic-literate audience that Halcyon & Tenderfoot has.
Fight scenes should tell a story. And not just the story of one character overcoming the other. Something deeper and more interesting needs to be going on. Unfortunately, it’s a bit tricky to come up with that deeper story and I seem to have written the same fight scene in Sugar Glider 3 as I wrote into one of the later Halcyon & Tenderfoot issues.
The action scene at the climax of Sugar Glider issue 1 seemed to disappoint some readers, due to the lack of solid action and our skills at pulling off our very first fight scene. Our intention was to limit ourselves with this fight scene in the knowledge that Susie’s fighting skills and the threats she opposed would build up in issues 2 and 3. But I do think there’s something to be said for making sure what you’re building up from is an exciting enough place to start that journey.
One of the biggest names in comics is well known for writing brilliant dialogue, but is also criticised for writing characters without distinctive voices. Hoping not to make that mistake, I’ve tried to create distinctive speech patterns and lexicons for my supporting characters. However, some of these characters have prompted complaints of unrealistic dialogue from readers, reviewers and collaborators. My main feeling is that I haven’t mastered dialogue as much as some of my early reviews would have you believe. But I also feel that unless the dialogue is different in a very obvious way (something like the Hulk’s voice) you have to make sure the character is on the page long enough for the reader to adjust to this rhythm - because I really feel like one type of dialogue/voice is so ubiquitous in comics that readers see that as ‘naturalistic’ and ‘correct’ rather than just being one way for someone to speak.
I wouldn’t use something like “&£@&**@@” instead of swearing again. I think you have to commit to the swear word or leave it out. You’re having your cake and eating it here and it just comes across as really childish. You’ve suggested the word to your reader, anyway. I squirm whenever I see this used in comics that feature characters kids watch in cartoons and films.
Once you have a character name that works, you’re pretty much stuck with it. We wanted to change Halcyon’s name when I discovered a comic with that name. But nothing else worked. We had the perfect name for the character we created… even if it was a name difficult for kids to read/pronounce.
Some readers didn’t like the characterisation of the Halogen Man, the antagonist in Halcyon & Tenderfoot, due to him flip-flopping between arrogance and fear/desperation. But I think that’s a realistic representation of an egotistical chancer. In issue 1, he’s arrogant. In issue 2, he’s desperate. In issue 3 and 4 you see him flipping between the two, fulfilling what we’d set up in the previous issues. But I can see where the problem arises for some readers and I think it’s illustrated by something I read in Peter David’s Writing For Comics. He says it would be entirely realistic for a moral character like Mr Fantastic to accidentally knock someone over and then flee from the scene in fear and confusion, but that, in fiction, readers wouldn’t find it believable. Fictional characters can’t act impulsively ‘out of character’, even though people do that everyday in real life. Personally, I’m happy with the way we handled the Halogen Man character - he’s a weak villain with the same amount of arrogance and fear as (me) any egotist.
I feel a responsibility to the people I represent in my stories. Portraying characters who aren’t usually shown in comics (or any other medium) is very important, but I also think we have to be careful about those representations. Imagine seeing a character you identify with - the first character you really identify with - and then seeing them portrayed completely unrealistically or totally negatively. It would be disappointing and could be very hurtful. I’ve tried to make sure I have protagonists who aren’t all male and that all my female characters aren’t sex toys. I’ve also written two characters with physical impairments in Sugar Glider. In retrospect, I think the portrayals were too negative - with one character driven over-the-edge due to the treatment she received at the hands of her employs due to an injury, and with the other character shown as a hard taskmaster for his superhero students (although the genesis of this characteristic is shown as being his charges not responding well to a more carefree approach). I’m not saying that these less-represented characters can’t be as flawed as any other character, but putting two not-very-nice physically impaired characters in the same series was not the best plan.
Having a female character with some masochistic tendencies can be very problematic. Especially if you don’t have a lot of time to flesh-out the other facets of their personality.
Think about what your reviews and feedback are really telling you. We received lots of praise for Sugar Glider issue 1, but most singled out the characterisation and dialogue. I took this as a sign that the actual story wasn’t a strong enough element to be praised - and, let’s face it; the story is the most important thing. Another review said the soap opera elements were great but once the superhero story started the reviewer just wanted to be back in the soap opera. For me, this didn’t mean we had made the wrong decision in telling a superhero story, it meant that we hadn’t told a good enough superhero story and needed to improve that for next time.