Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking forward to 2011

Jonah Weiland of Comic Book Resources asked me to write up my take on what I'm looking forward to in 2011. And this is by no means a complete list (most of this is just the first few months of the year), but I thought I'd just share my note with you good folks...

There's a lot to look forward to, Jonah. I think we're seeing a lot of really great things coming from the indy publishers and creators. I'm reading more non-superhero comics than ever before. It's not that the superhero stuff is bad, it's actually been quite good for the last several years. It's been enjoying a renaissance lately, and I think the other creators in the industry are responding in kind now. This is going to be a huge year for some folks. So here's my list:

More LOCKE & KEY comics! Simply the most horrifying and intelligent book on the market today (that I've read, I don't read them all, I'll admit). Writer Joe Hill seems to be the big draw to get people to pick up the book, but I'd be lying if I didn't say Gabriel Rodriguez's art isn't equally captivating. You just can't put this book down.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to the G.I. JOE event COBRA CIVIL WAR that launches with a new #0 issue in April. That's going to blow JOE fans away.

I'm very curious to see what newish writers Nick Spencer, Jim McCann, Nathan Edmondson are doing.

From Nick, more MORNING GLORIES, but I also want to see his INFINITE VACATION and I'd love to see more books like his FORGETLESS which seems a little more over-looked. Personal note, Nick is a Comics Experience alum, and we're all thrilled with his success!

Edmondson shows great promise with his diverse books like OLYMPUS, THE LIGHT, and now WHO IS JAKE ELLIS? which looks just fantastic.

I'm looking forward to more HALCYON by Marc Guggenheim. I think this is a really refreshing take on super heroes.

STUFF OF LEGEND by Mike Raicht, Brian Smith and Charles Paul Wilson III. It is kind of a TOY STORY for adults. Really great stuff.

Also, 2011 needs is going to kick some butt with top artists doing great work.

I want more KICK-ASS from Romita!

I'm really looking forward to the ICON book about Jim Lee's art of DC and WIldstorm. I think that's going to be great.

Let's not forget that we're going to get more great books from The Library of American Comics with more DICK TRACY volumes and more BLOOM COUNTY.

We need more PARKER from Darwyn Cooke, of course.

I can't wait to get my hands on BATMAN: EUROPA. I've known about this project for years. And now it's almost here!

Travis Charest's WEAPONS OF THE METABARONS book is finally coming out here in the states. That's coming outin January.

And I'm pretty stoked to read more of the talented Kirkman and Bendis dudes. Both THE WALKING DEAD and SCARLET have been excellent.

Anyway, just my two cents...


John Romita Jr. Could critique your art!

I'm thrilled to announce here on the blog that master storyteller, comics artist work horse and fan favorite JOHN ROMITA JR. (currently penciling AVENGERS and co-creator of KICK-ASS) is going to do a guest critique of a Workshop artist at the Comics Experience Creators Workshop.

Workshop artists are going to be posting their artwork all January long with all posts due on by January 22nd to be considered to win the critique! As many of you probably know, Romita has the record for drawing the most issues of Spider-Man of anyone else in history. When it comes to making comics, there's simply no one with more work under his or her belt.

Romita has been a huge supporter of comics as a whole and of both myself and Comics Experience for years. The day I learned the most about comics storytelling in my life was the day John came into the Marvel offices to meet with me and a young artist I had just hired to work on a book. The young artist was new--still learning--clearly had the raw talent but still had some growing to do.

So I asked Romita to come in and give the young fellow some tips. Well, a couple of hours in a conference room with together (and talent manager Chris Allo) were so freaking enlightening that I walked in an assistant editor and walked out feeling like a senior editor (promotion pending, of course!). John covered all kinds of storytelling building blocks, tips, tricks, and short cuts. He talked about how he set up his art table in his studio--and it just went on and on.

His advice was so complete, so freely given, and so encouraging that I felt like I could have drawn the next big book at Marvel. (I now blame John officially for my current attempt to draw my own comic...). In short, this is a tremendous opportunity for any comic artist--new or seasoned pro--to get a quantum leap ahead.

And this isn't a one-time deal at the workshop! Every month, we've got artist challenges that we post to help build and improve artists' skills. We discuss industry topics and give out insider information to help build careers and network. And we always have a guest pro like Romita give a critique once a month!

If you're an artist and serious about improving your work quickly and having a great time doing it, I encourage you to join the Workshop and give it a go. I think you'll like what you fine. Jump in, start posting work and critiquing scripts as well as artwork, and watch how quickly your storytelling skills improve. And it's fun, too!

I can't wait to see the feedback that John gives to the winner at the end of January. And of course, members will have access to the message board where all guest critiques get posted! So hurry up and join now!

Okay, that's it from me for now. I'm too excited not to blog about this!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Comic Book Budgeting

Had our workshop meeting tonight. I went over how to budget a single issue comic, a mini-series, and a trade paperback. We covered creative costs, advertising, shipping and printing, and all major costs associated with producing a comic book and how to calculate out what some one is likely to make.

We covered how to accurately (as much as anyone can, anyway) estimate sales of a comic throughout a series. And we calculated the profit on trade paperbacks.

And the more I talked and plugged numbers into this lovely spreadsheet, two things happened: It became increasingly obvious that making money while making comics is darn near IMPOSSIBLE. But the other thing that happened, was that every person in that workshop started to feel more driven and more empowered. And more ENCOURAGED to pursue his or her dream of making comics.

And here's why, I think. Prior to tonight's meeting (and you should join us, we meet every month online to discuss these kinds of things), the budget was a real mystery. How much do you pay Diamond to place an ad? How much of a discount do retailers actually get (meaning, how much do I actually make per unit sold)? and so on.

Simply gaining the knowledge--having the insight--you could see that the obstacles before our heroes became clear. And with that clarity, that meant they could start to plan around them. The group was able to look at the problem--seeing the problem as a bunch of solvable puzzles instead of one lump puzzle made of nonsense. It's now real to them. And in that reality, it is made up of component parts. Each part is manageable on its own. And that means that the problem as a whole--is ultimately solvable.

Okay, now I feel like I'm talking in riddles, but the gist is this. The creators in the Comics Experience Creators Workshop got one heck of an advantage now that most creators don't. They're armed to know what they're in for, and their clever enough to make it work.

And the best part is they have each other to help out--to check their calculations--to make sure their estimate of how many units they think they can sell is honest. Together, these creators are going to make great comics, and make money. I'm confident of that now.

If making comics is in your blood, I recommend you join our workshop. Signing up now will allow you to still access tonight's session as a recording and we'd love to meet you on the exclusive message boards and start reviewing your work!

Check out the Workshop and sign up today!


Monday, December 27, 2010

My Own Book: Step 2

Christmas was awesome at my house this year. New bike with training wheels for Cale. He is taking to it very easily. And roller skates, too. Those are a little tougher it seems, but pretty funny to watch him flail about!

Me? I've already started diving into Ken Bruns's BASEBALL documentaries. I'm two innings in and so far, I'm not disappointed! But really, we're just waiting for baby #2 to arrive in January. So, that's the big thing on the horizon for us.

Oh, right, and what did I do with that time off? Well, I started working on that project I mentioned a week or so ago. So, I started with the initial idea. I expanded on it by fleshing out my characters a bit. Working out their relationships and how they evolved through their lives in a way that was dramatic and made sense.

Then I plopped them into a situation that forces them to work out their differences, or at least confront them. And I'm really torn over the ending. I don't know that it would be possible to have a clearly upbeat ending, but it could have a real downer. I wrote a couple different quick takes, all of which made sense from character perspectives.

Since the work is about something thematically that I feel a strong attachment for, I decided to look at my theme more closely. I developed it a little bit and that helped me figure out how these characters would resolve the situation.

So, like I teach in my classes, I started with an idea, fleshed out the characters and the plot simultaneously and then started moving into the full on plot. Which, is where I still am tonight. It'll probably take me at least another week to get the plot into real shape so that I can start going to script.

Meanwhile, since I'm stupidly going to draw the thing myself, I've started going over different artistic approaches I might take and I think something's starting to gel in my mind. Whether or not I'll be able to even remotely be able to get what's in my head out onto paper is a whole other issue entirely).

Anyway, thought I'd give the quick update on that!

Also, I thought I'd mention that new courses are listed on the website starting up again in March! Great courses with proven track records. If you want to make comics, click on through and sign up for a class today!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas and Comics!

Why aren't there more Christmas comics? I went to the store today and DC Comics put out a Green Lantern Christmas special. Did I miss the rest? Do comics people hate Christmas? Or is it that it just feels like Christmas every Wednesday when we go to the shop for a new stack of awesome?

Who can say for sure? What I do know is that the comics community is very awesome. And, unfortunately, it's also very small. The industry stands on the shoulders of freelance artists who have genius-level brains and creativity, but don't always have the gift of clairvoyance. Some plans don't pan out and some retirements don't either. Or an illness can clean a man's savings out.

That's what HERO INITIATIVE is for. The homepage describes the initiative this way:

"The Hero Initiative creates a financial safety net for comic creators who may need emergency medical aid, financial support for essentials of life, and an avenueback into paying work. Since inception, the Hero Initiative has been fortunate enough to benefit over 40 creators and their families with over $400,000 worth of much-needed aid, fueled by your contributions! It's a chance for all of us to give back something to the people who have given us so much enjoyment."

I think in this time of giving, it's worth also considering "giving back." I grew up reading comics from the guys currently needing help. They've given to me with their hard work and their passion and helped fuel my own hard work and passio
n. If you get a chance, and you've got a spare $20 or $50 or $100 or $1000, take a trip over to the Hero Initiative and become a hero yourself.

And of course, Happy Holidays to everyone.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Working with Others

Seems like I spend more time giving advice to writers than to artists in comics. So, here's something for both. Working with others. You see, for most of us (despite my last blog saying I'm going to do everything myself...), comics is a collaborative process. That means we have to work with others. Here are a couple of things to watch out for:

1. As a writer, you may know what the shot or scene looks like in your head. Getting a layout or final page that is different than you imagined is very common. And it's not necessarily a bad thing. As long as the story is getting told effectively, let the artist do his or her thing.

2. Your script may not contain all the information you need on every panel description. If you can, read the script through twice before you start putting pencil to the page. Make notes on your script. If you see something on page 5 that affects page 3, note it on the script on page 3 so you're sure to include it. As the artist, the bulk of the responsibility of the story actually getting told falls on your shoulders.

3. Color and lettering notes in the script often get missed or ignored. Be patient with this, or if you can, email the whole team separately to make sure they get followed. As the writer (on creator-owned work in particular) your work and involvement does not end when you hand over a script. Be proactive, without being annoying to your creative team. Offer help.

4. If there is a disagreement between creators, if you've got an editor, this is a great time for him to step up and settle (or even better, prevent) arguments. A key role for the editor is to prevent the creators from getting agitated at one another. If you don't have an editor, remember this, don't email angry. Getting angry doesn't do anyone any good and blurs whatever the issue at hand is. Calm down, then write a tactful email.

Remember, this is a partnership of storytelling. Treating everyone on the creative team with respect, and considering all of their ideas, is always a good thing. As the writer or the artist, you probably have a clear vision, but that doesn't mean that others aren't talented or invested. In fact, the more they're considered and appreciated and their ideas are incorporated, the more "into the project" they become. And that's a great thing for everyone involved and the reader, too!

So there you go! If you're working with others, a lot of problems can and probably will come up. Keep these things in mind as you continue to work through them and you probably WILL work through them. Many a good project have met an end by creators arguing. And that stinks for everyone.

Happy holidays, everyone.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Undertaking

I'm not going to lie--this probably won't happen. But, two nights ago I wrote a one page treatment for a story that I intend to write (no big deal there), pencil (yikes), ink (this will be messy), color (I can do this, I can do this), and letter (Thank you, Dave!).

My intention is this: a full story that's mine 100%. I got a great taste of working on something personal to myself and something that I own with "FIVE DAYS TO DIE" and I absolutely loved feeling like it was mine (because it is--with Chee, of course).

Also, if I'm teaching all these things (or offering classes on them), the least I can do is give it all a try personally, right? I don't want to seem disingenuous, after all. I'll give periodic updates on the blog of how progress goes. As I'll be doing this completely in my spare time (what spare time?), I imagine that this will take me the better part of two years for a single issue. But hey, I can play
the long game!

Right now, I'll be work shopping my premise and outline into shape and then crafting the script. The story revolves around baseball, so I've got a bit of research to do before I dive in
to it fully, but that's research I should enjoy since I like baseball.

But I've also got to start looking into things like:
  • What pencils and brushes or pens am I comfortable using?
  • What's the best kind of paper for me to use? 3 ply, 4, 2? I've got a lot of experimenting to do.
  • What ink should I use? Should I experiment with a wash effect?
  • I'll probably need to get an artist table to do this.
  • I'll definitely need a scanner, and I will be making copies of all my pencils for when Iinevitably ruin them with my horrendous inking.
  • I need to start building a color palette in Photoshop for coloring work.
  • And I need to pick a font or fonts and start building caption boxes and such.
So many questions, so much to do. But I've found a story that I think will
be a lot of fun to work on. And I grew up talking baseball with my dad, so even though this isn't based on my childhood, it's still got a personal nature to me, so I want to take care.

Should I finish the project myself and think it's really worthy of publication, I may have to hire someone else to pencil and ink it for publication, but that's okay, and frankly, that's not the point. I've wanted to do this for a long time, and there's not time like the present (or so I'm told).

Anyone interested in making comics should consider a Comics Experience course or the Creators Workshop.

So, wish me luck. I'm going to need it.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to budget your comic book

I love making comics. As an editor, a writer, and hopefully one day, as an artist. I love everything about the creative process about making comics. I love to create characters and create superheroes, and I love to draw comics. But you know what I don't love? Budgeting a comic...

And you know what? I don't know anyone who does like to budget a comic. In a publishing house, the process of budgeting a comic is called the P&L Process. P&L stands for Profit & Loss. So, the idea is simple, do a search for similar or comparable projects and see what they roughly sold and then look at yours so you can get a pretty good guess.

There are a lot of factors that go into how well a book is going to sell. Just as an example, the exact same project published by Marvel is going to sell higher than if it were sold under, say, the Dark Horse banner. That's just the way of the world, folks. But there are tons of other factors to consider: creators, concept, characters, marketing opportunities, price, etc.

Once you've got an idea of what it's going to sell, then you need to figure out how you're going to make money on the project, and that's not always that easy. First issues sell better than second issues, and second issues sell better than third issues, and so on. So, you need to factor in the right kind of sales decline (I hate that term).

You add up your creative costs, of course. What are you paying people for producing the pages of your comics. Your advertising and listing costs if you've got those. Your printing costs (and that can be tricky, too).

You mix it all up and you come up with a number at the end of your oh-so-awesome-spreadsheet. If that number has a minus sign in front of it, it's time to look at what you can adjust. If you're in the black, you ask how you can make it even more profitable.

Now, that's just the basic overview. If you want the opportunity to ask questions, see one of these sheets in operation, and go in depth in how to do all this, then you've got yourself a cool opportunity coming up in just under two weeks. I'll be hosting the live and online session of the Comics Experience Creators Workshop in which I'll be spending the better part of two hours going over exactly this.

It'll be a great opportunity to get learn how to make comics, and not just make comics, but make profitable comics.

So, hop on over to the Workshop page and sign on up! Not only will you get to participate in this workshop, but you'll have opportunities to really grow as a creator--writer or artist or colorist--participate in monthly challenges, compete for critiques on your art and writing by professional comics creators, and much, much more.

Here's a link to read more! I hope to see you there!


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

John Layman and Rob Guillory join the book club!

Sorry for my so lame lack of posts lately, but I kind of have to talk about this. Hot off their Eisner win for best series, John Layman and Rob Guillory joined our book club last night to discuss their ongoing series called CHEW.

Now this is no ordinary comic. It's about a cannibalistic detective... sort of. It's about a woman so gifted with her writing skills, that when she writes about food, the reader can actually taste what she's talking about. It's about aliens in space doing weird things. It's about a bird flu epidemic that made the FDA the most powerful government agency on Earth.

And can you believe, no one wanted to publish it?

Layman and Guillory have certainly proved their detractors wrong with the huge and home-grown success of CHEW. And it's because it's a project they believed in--even when no one else did.

And that's a lot of what they talked to the Comics Experience Creators Workshop about in last night's book club meeting. Sure, we talked about all the clever stuff in the book, like how being vomited on was used as an ultimate declaration of love, but we also talked with John and Rob about how they got started, why they pursued this book in particular, and why, oh why, did John agree to join us when he was headed to New York the next day for signings (knowing all along he would be in big trouble with Mrs. Layman).

These two creators managed to be both informative and inspirational with our workshop members and we're happy they came.
If you're interested in the Workshop and book club (now combined into the workshop together for one price), check it out. Our next guest speaker is going to be Jason Aaron and we'll be discussing his book SCALPED. And before that, we're going to discuss Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, and SCOTT PILGRIM.

If you love comics or are interested in creating them--or both, I hope you'll consider joining us soon. This is too good to pass up!

And in case it wasn't clear, we all want to thank John and Rob for stopping by!