Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Workshop Guest Paul Cornell on the Unique Aspects of DC's Knight & Squire

Writer Paul Cornell joined the Comics Experience Creators Workshop Book Club recently, to discuss Knight & Squire, a DC Comics mini-series he produced along with artist Jimmy Broxton.

Knight & Squire is a unique story, in tone, structure and intent. During the session, Cornell discussed some of the elements that set it apart from other books, and made it a joy to work on.

Many of them, he noted, sprang from the characters' (and creators') British roots.

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Knight & Squire takes place in the United Kingdom, an ocean away from most DC stories. Because of this, Cornell was able to create many new characters, and build the world in a way that wouldn't be possible with many properties.

In part because of that, he said, it often felt like a more personal, creator-owned work, despite being firmly rooted in DC continuity.

"I realized that here we had a bit of the (DC Universe) that was kind of empty, that I could fill in in every direction," Cornell said. "It was a feeling of, 'Hey!' Like the dog being let out in the field."

He noted that writer Grant Morrison had established the mood of DC Britain, and some reference points, but that he and artist Jimmy Broxton could "just fill in huge waves of color and detail."

By the end of issue 1, Cornell and Broxton had already created around 50 new characters, a figure that would double by the end of the mini. In some cases, Cornell said, Broxton would simply draw a character in, and then tell Cornell what he or she is named.

Non-Violent Means

Unlike many Big Two comics, most issues of Knight & Squire would end with the heroes devising a non-violent solution. Even when violence was involved, it was also in conjunction with a non-violent tactic, or a strategy that curtailed the violence and felled the villain with minimal bloodshed.

"It's an aspect of Britishness that I wanted to define," Cornell said.

One of the stories main villains is Jarvis Poker the British Joker a rapscallion and troublemaker, but one who is clearly not violent or dangerous. On the other hand, several other villains could be quite dangerous, and quick to violence. Cornell said the diversity was intentional.

"Jarvis exists in a world that goes from cover versions like him, who are basically harmless, all the way up to very dangerous villains," Cornell said. "And I wanted to feature all of them.

"But I like moderation. One of the things I wanted to say was, this is a world where that very difficult concept of moderation applies. I think that's part of what the Knight stands for. That's kind of how his character has always been played. He stands for moderation and for not necessarily finding violent solutions to everything."

Shifting Mood

Finally, the mood in Knight & Squire shifts dramatically, from lighthearted early issues to an emotionally heavy finale. Cornell said this reflected part of British culture, in which comedy and drama are bundled up together, and where even the most awful tragedies will sometimes have elements of comedy.

He said this dichotomy was part of the "theme and substance" of Knight & Squire.

Cornell said that at times, Knight & Squire's stories -- which range from time-traveling British monarchs to an out-of-control suit of armor to a deadly-serious murderous rampage -- don't feel like the same world.

"I think that's okay," Cornell noted. The world, he said, is determined by how the characters are feeling at the time.

"But I wouldn't necessarily recommend that to new writers," he added. "Shifting the mood in the story is hard to achieve. It's probably a good idea to know how your world feels emotionally, as well as how it feels in the details."

These were just a few of the many topics Cornell discussed, including:
* How to break in to comics
* How Knight & Squire came about
* Breaking the rules of comics storytelling
* Crafting a one-shot comic
* The importance of good page turns
* Character design
* Making historical characters relatable to modern audience
* Creating the unique dialogue in Knight & Squire, including slang, dialects, and even iambic pentameter
* Writing team books
* Time management
* The differences between writing for television, comics and prose
Cornell also gave advice on responding to criticism, and working with editors.

"Your job is to seek out harsh criticism of your work and change because of it," Cornell said. "Boxers do not learn how to box by avoiding being punched in the face."

He said creators should work on "not just your technique, but your reactions."

He also urged creators to trust their editors, and said that distrust of the system is a sign of a "newbie."

"Above all," he said, "be amenable to notes."

For those interested in seeing more of Cornell's work, he is currently writing Demon Knights for DC Comics, and Saucer Country for Vertigo. In this creator-owned work, Paul and artist Ryan Kelly tell the story of a U.S. presidential candidate who may or may not have been abducted by aliens.

Creators Workshop sessions take place every month, giving members real-world knowledge that will help them succeed in their comics career. Additionally the monthly Creators Workshop book club sessions feature guest writers and artists discussing the craft and art of comics, as well as the business side of things.

There's still plenty of time to sign up before the next session. We hope to see you there.

-- Posted by Paul Allor

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