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Threshold Guardians

I was hoping you’d be reading this while I was still 30, but missing the mark as another year turns over seems a fitting start for what’s coming up. It’s not too long, and I hope you read it.

I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do with my life by the time I was twenty-five. That year came and went, and I didn’t worry too much that I wasn’t there yet, I just hoped I’d figure it out by thirty. I think I did figure it out a few weeks ago, and I’ve got news for you – it isn’t making comics. But that's not exactly what I'm here to write about.

If you look at the first post I made here, you’ll find I outlined the Plan – my attempt to calculate the easiest way for us to get the story told, based on everything I’d learned by spending months reading everything I could about making comics – from Scott McCloud’s brilliant books to heated arguments on Facebook group walls.

The short version of the Plan would go like this: "For this project to be a success, we need to get picked up by a publisher, so we’ll get a pitch together. If that doesn’t work, we’ll crowdfund to self-publish, so we’ll need a web presence. And if that doesn’t work I guess I’ll have to draw it myself."

It took me a long time to realize that with the Plan, I was placing at every turn something between me and the story and allowing it to say “No.” I’d littered my path with threshold guardians.

Publisher? Threshold guardian. Kickstarter goal? Threshold guardian. The need for Twitter followers, or blog views, or a rising brand? Threshold guardians. These are all just excuses holding the world back from being a world with this story in it.

I’d taken all of my advice from people who want to make comics for the rest of their lives. Who want to break into the industry. Who want to draw Spider-Man and do panels at conventions and make a career of it. I have never wanted any of that. I just want to tell this story, and it needs to be told in comics.

I knew from the beginning that comics need artists, so of course I believed that this story would not only take lots of time to tell, but lots of money too. But I’ve finally followed my realization to its conclusion.

I have always thought and continue to think that this story deserves a great artist. But I have also always said that in my ideal scenario, I would be a good enough artist to both write and draw the book.

“Good enough?”

Threshold. Guardian.

I’m not at all the artist this story deserves, but I am the one who can make it happen, and I have never been more confident in this project than I am since I truly realized that it rests entirely in my hands.

You’re not going to see it right away. We’re going to keep writing, and I’m going to keep drawing, and by the time we get through part one, I think I’m going to start making this comic. And I will not be great. I will be passable at best. But you know what? There will be no better instruction in drawing this book than drawing this book. And if anyone’s going to do it, it’s going to be me.

Neil Gaiman said in a 2012 commencement speech that he thought of his goals as a mountain and anything that led him toward the mountain, he did. Anything that led him away from the mountain, he did not do.

I’m thirty one today. I know what I want to do in life, and it is not making comics. But creating this story IS one giant leap toward the mountain. And I’m not going to watch any more years turn over without seeing it in front of me, getting nearer all the time.

- db

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Cearealizing Serialized Comics Pt 2

In the previous blog, I explained where I place my focus while I'm breaking a story. It was probably no surprise to anyone that the focus is broader at first and becomes more and more narrow as I go. In writing the last blog, I happened upon a metaphor that used a big ol' pile of Honey Nut Cheerios to explain how I'd divvy out my attention to the different parts of the story as I moved along. In this blog, I'm going to parallel the metaphor with the actual example of our outlining the Spooky Corps narrative so you can see how it works in less vague terms.

 

Three giant piles of Cheerios

Of course, we didn't have this light bulb of a story idea and immediately break it down into a three volume structure. If it were that easy with this story (as I'm actually sure it is with many stories), I wouldn't have two massive blogs talking about how I went about organizing it. But all of the material that is in our story developed over a decade of email conversations, and changed over time, and much was added, discarded, overwritten, or forgotten. We didn't have much structure in mind most of the time, but once we decided it was time to start writing it down in earnest and figuring out the purpose of the story, we did find it pretty easy to say "Okay, the meat of part one is this, and part two is this, and part three is this."

But finding the thresholds for the three parts took a little thinking. It meant finding four key points: the beginning, the transition to the second part, the transition to the third, and the ending. We have always known how the story starts, and we figured out a couple of years ago how the story ends. So we talked through our story and found the two places where the rules shift and the stakes are drastically raised. Two good extremes before the big finale.

I can't offer any advice on that discovery process in this particular blog, because this blog is all about focus and where to place it when you have a story that's ready to be organized, not how to come up with or structure a story. But once we knew these four points of the story, we had the dividing moments we needed which would allow us to place the multitudes of scene, character, and story ideas where they belonged - between the first and second, between the second and third, or between the third and fourth key points.

We wrote roughly one paragraph per part, each of which summed up the major events and character arcs over twenty issues. And these 90,000 foot outlines were pretty lacking on the details, but we understood the overall purpose and major events of each one.

Like the back of a DVD case, remember?

 

Twelve medium piles of Cheerios

Then we broke each part into arcs, writing at least one good paragraph per arc. In this stage, we covered all the meaningful plot points, character changes, and story resolutions of each four- to five-issue sequence, and ended up with a Cliff's Notes version of the entire narrative. We could get a sense from reading this version of the outline what the focus of each arc was, and why each movement has an important role in telling the overall story.

We did throw in some rough issue-by-issue breakdowns for the arcs that we already had pretty well figured out in our heads - typically toward the beginning. For the beginning of the story, some issue outlines were over a page long. Toward the end, most issues were outlined in just a few sentences if they were broken down at all. Otherwise, it was just generalized arc outlines (as in "Part Two, Issues 9 - 14" followed by a paragraph explaining the beats of that arc). All of this is part of that step I mentioned in the last blog where you make a rough estimation of how many Cheerios need to be in each medium-sized pile and move or eat the ones that don't belong where you have them.

And believe me, this was a vetting process. We found ourselves struggling to succinctly fit a particular story or character arc into the outline in a meaningful way, so we had to lose some things. Hard things. Things we liked but could see needed too much attention too early in the process to be considered a major part of the story.

Did we erase all mention of these things from our notes, never to be thought of again? No, of course not! But the important thing in writing an outline is telling a story that can actually be followed when you read it back. Maybe in a later step, you'll find a way to work it in. But doing these outlines with increasing details helps you focus on what is really important, what your major events and themes and character choices are. We knew then as we know now that actually scripting the issues will be a discovery process, and things will change as we go, and we wanted to allow ourselves that room to explore and not be forced to follow the plot on a rail. We could see that the more hard-and-fast details we wrote in this early on, the harder it would be to find room to wiggle later.

So at this stage, you need to start asking yourself some questions about these ideas you have. Do they serve the overall narrative? Do they add to the depth of the story? If so, great! Try to figure out how to fit it in here. If you can't... something to think about.

When we had the whole story outlined to this level of detail, we knew things about the end that we didn't know yet when we'd started. So we sat down to look the whole thing over and did a second pass, adding things into the beginning and middle that we knew we'd want to be mentioned so things that would come later on didn't just seem pulled from thin air. We cleaned up ideas that were bigger when we first thought of them but ended up being less important to the overall story than we originally imagined.

This second look helped us tighten everything up and consolidate some story threads to the point that we were able to decrease the issue count by about 25%. And what a relief that was!

 

Just the first few medium piles

Next, we focused just on part one and let the second and third parts remain less detailed. As I said already (and will say once or twice more), we wanted to allow the story room to live later, and allow the characters to make their own decisions along the way. Since we knew where the first part needed to end and where the second part needed to start, and since we'd done a second pass on the entire thing, we were able to put the latter two parts aside and trust our outlines of those parts were solid enough that we could work on telling the first part as its own story without mucking anything up.

So we looked at the arcs for part one and continued breaking down in the same way as we did the larger story. We wrote issue outlines for every issue, sometimes breaking them down page by page. Just like with the full narrative, the front of the story is more detailed, the end slightly less so. For example, the outline for the final issue of the first part was about 3/4 of a page long, but the first issue outline was about two pages. I'm pretty sure it came out to an average of about one page per issue.

I think this step took the longest. This is the stage where I was writing fifteen hours a week, often staying up until three in the morning three nights a week. Scripting is taking more calendar days to get through with my severely decreased writing schedule, but I definitely spent more hours outlining part one than I've spent at any other stage.


Just the first medium pile

Next, continuing the trend of treating part one as we did the full narrative, we focused on just the first arc, trusting that the other arcs were solid enough for us to leave them alone and trust we'd get where we knew we were going. This step wasn't so much rewriting what we'd already outlined as it was looking it over and defining / adjusting its structure as a story unto itself with a beginning, middle, and sort-of end that leads into the next arc.

This is where I got a lot deeper into story theory than just looking at "beginning, middle, and end". This is where I started looking for weak spots, places where a beat needed to be adjusted because it was stuck in a series of "and then" moments rather than "but" or "therefore" moments. This is where I started to look at whether problematic moments could be improved when I considered the steps of the Hero's Journey, or the principles of Story that Robert McKee wrote about. And again, this isn't a blog about structure, so I'm not going to get into the details of that. The point is, the smaller the field of your focus becomes (like say 100 to 125 Cheerios rather than 1500), the more details you're going to pick up on. We're not at 90,000 feet anymore. Now we're looking down on a few city blocks from the top of a water tower. It's going to be a lot clearer from this vantage whether one of the houses needs to be demolished, or the yards need to be rezoned...

or to stay on-metaphor, if two Cheerios are... I don't know... stuck together, or redundant, or... something.

The page-by-page outline for the first six issues was about ten pages I think, and we discovered in that process that it only needed to be four issues.

 

And finally...

With this super detailed outline, we were able to move to scripting pretty easily - everything we needed was basically as it needed to be, just requiring page breaks and formatting. So with all of our planning and plotting and organizing done, we finally started scripting the first issue, and treated that much like we treated the full story, and the first part, and the first arc. I broke it down into a few chunks, then refined those chunks from beginning to end.

And we finished it. Then we finished the second, and the third, and just today we paneled out the last few pages of the fourth issue. And once we get a draft for all four issues, we'll look again over this first arc and adjust as necessary to make sure it's a solid story, and can move onto the second arc, give it a solid outline and structure unto itself, then script that arc one issue a time.

And we can continue on that way through the end, reviewing the full outline as we go and adjusting things if necessary. The good thing is, as I've mentioned plenty of times, it's NOT super detailed all the way through. There is plenty of room to adjust as necessary as we work through from the beginning. And it's a good thing. We discover something every time we sit down to write. Nothing so huge that we've needed to change the outline yet, but it's good to know if we ever need to, it'll be a matter of changing a few sentences or paragraphs, not a few pages.

Does it sound like a repetitive process? Well, it is. Is this process for everyone? Probably not. I know for certain some people just sit down and start writing page one, paragraph one. And good on 'em. That's probably a hell of a ride, and the right writer will make that work. But I don't regret it or think I overdid it. Not one bit. I can already see how intimately understanding the things that are to come have helped even in these early stages. In fact, in scripting the third issue, we had to dig into our outlines to make sure we got something right which will become crucial in a scene that won't show up for twenty-five issues or so. It's been a lot of work to get here, but I see it paying off every time we question a character choice or the repercussions thereof and find that, oh yeah, we wrote the answer in before it was even possible to ask the question.

Maybe every story doesn't need this much time spent in the planning or outlining stage, but I think the method can still work, even if you only have 50 or 100 pages to write. Basically, I'm saying you need to look at the big picture, break it into small chunks, look at those chunks and break those into smaller chunks, and look at your first chunks and start to mold them, now confident that you know what it is you're heading toward.

Now that I put it like that, it seems really unnecessary for me to have written as much as I have....

But hey, I hope someone out there eventually finds this to be helpful. And maybe by the time that person reads this, I will have found a much clearer and more succinct way to say the same thing... but this is the best I've got for now. So until that time, I hope someone at least finds it interesting to hear how much effort we are putting into making this story the best version of itself it can be.

Thanks for reading.

- db

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Cerealizing Serialized Comics

Quick update before I get to this post - we've just about finished issue three. It's scripted except for the panel descriptions. All the dialogue is written and the panels are broken down with a good idea of what they each should look like and what needs to be going on, I just have to go through and describe the visuals so someone who wasn't a part of the conversation can imagine it. And yes, some of that will probably change some of the paneling and dialogue a little bit. But for the most part, it's all in order.

Now, onto the blog:

A few days ago, a fellow member of a Facebook group for comics creators wrote a post explaining that she has this story epic that's been festering in her mind since 2005 and when she does the math in her head of the number of story beats she has and the average amount of pages each will take, it breaks down to about 1500 pages. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it? We started writing our story in 2005, and our first draft of the story came out to an estimated 1500 pages (including the covers). She asked if anyone had any experience with a story that large which needed to be organized. And booooy, did I have some experience to share.

I didn't expect to write as much as I did, but when I was done I realized my response could make a good blog post for my series of blogs about my learning experiences. So without any further setup or segues, here is a version of my response to her, revised for the blog:

OUTLINING

Right at the top, I'll tell you I am a STRUCTURE JUNKIE. I am also a painfully organized planner when it comes to stories.

To give you the short version right up front, here's how I went about it - I planned my whole story to take place over three large parts - call it a trilogy if you like, but I think of it as a very large three act story, or a beginning, middle, and end. Once I had the main sweeps of my three parts figured out, I refined the entire thing with a focus toward the beginning - that is, the first part... and when that I was done, I refined that first part with a focus toward its beginning - that is, the first story arc of the first part... then I refined THAT, and so on, until there was really nothing left to do but script the first issue.

It was a challenge getting everything to fit and make sense, because frankly, our story is a little heady and "out there". But now that we're almost done scripting the first arc, I'm able to say it was SO worth doing the work in order to know everything about everything through the end of the story before we began, because we're able to put things into the story very early that we know will come into play later, and we can write confidently, knowing what options we need to leave open so we don't write ourselves into corners or screw ourselves by making an important plot point impossible or improbable.

Does it sound like a long, repetitive process? Sure it does. It is! Does it make sense for everyone? Heck, I don't know. Probably not. But it makes sense to me, and I feel our story is going to be so much stronger because of it than it would have been if we didn't think it through all the way.

Now to help you understand (in case you don't already), let's make this analogous. Imagine my 1500 pages were 1500 um... I dunno... Honey Nut Cheerios. If you don't have 1500 potential pages to write, imagine a smaller number. If you have a seven volume epic to total 9000 pages, then imagine that's the number. It doesn't matter. What the Cheerios represent here is a giant pile of all the material I know I'm going to need to put my story together. Get me? So where do I begin?

MMM, CEREAL....

First, I roughly arrange my 1500 Cheerios into three piles of what I estimate are 500 pieces each. This is me framing my epic in terms of the three volumes it will take to tell it. And at this stage, it's rough, it's certainly not exact, but I've got my Cheerio trilogy summed up at least in back-of-the-DVD terms. Sweet.

Next, I look at those three piles of 500 and arrange them each into into three to five piles of what I guessed were roughly equivalent amounts. Hooray, now I've got back-of-the-DVD descriptions of each arc. It's all the same material I already had, but the pacing is a little more figured out. I might start to realize at this point that I need to borrow some of the Cheerios from the next part or the last to fill out one of these piles. Or that one pile might actually need to be bigger than the others to accomplish what it needs to accomplish, and that's okay. And yes, some of those Cheerios will certainly need to be eaten, because they aren't doing the story any favors and I'm not just going to throw Honey Nut Cheerios in the trash. Those things are delicious.

At this point, it's safe to turn my attention just to the first three or four piles - which represent the story arcs that make up Part One / Volume One / The Story Without a Subtitle - and start to scoot them around, making sure they really are fairly equal piles. This was already pretty well accomplished in the last step, but in divvying out the Cheerios from beginning to end, I might have some new ideas about structure, or symmetry, so it's worth another look. The big point here is that I'm pretty much done thinking too much about the piles formerly known as Cheerios #501 - 1000 and Cheerios #1001 - 1500. I trust that I will get to those piles later, and that they are figured out well enough at this point that I can work on JUST the first part and still end up where I need to be by the time I've written my way to part two.

So, Pile One / Arc One... let's do this. I'm going take that first pile of, I don't know, let's say 100, and divide it exactly into four piles of 25, because our first arc is four issues of 24 pages plus a cover. So this is me thinking about the arc as a story unto itself. Again, I already have all the material. I've spent more time thinking about this arc than the rest because thinking about what happens in this arc has been a part of every step so far. So now I'm breaking it down into four piles that all work together the way they need to work together in equally divided sections. "Pile / Issue One accomplishes this, but Pile / Issue two accomplishes this, but Pile / Issue three accomplishes this, therefore Pile / Issue Four accomplishes this to both bring closure to elements of the first three piles AND to move us into the 'but' of Pile Five, which will be the first Pile / Issue of arc number two."

Whew!

And at this point, finally, there's not much left for me to do but begin scripting issue one. So I move to the first pile of 25 Cheerios and, one by one, arrange each piece in a grid. And you might guess that I arrange my grid into six groups of four, or four groups of six, or three groups of eight... and you'd be right. That's me outlining the story beats of an issue. It usually starts as a four act or three act story (because an issue is a story AND part of an arc, which is a story AND part of a volume, which is a story AND part of a trilogy... again, see this blog for my thoughts of beginning-middle-and-end-centric structuring).

And of course, the very last step would be to look the Cheerios in this, my first and most organized pile, and describe each and every one in detail. And that, my readers, is called writing the script, one page at a time.

...

Wow, this blog post ended up being more than twice as long as I expected it to be! I'm going to save the rest for the next post. Come back later for part two, where I apply the Cheerios analogy to the real-life example of the outlining of Spooky Corps.

Stay tuned!

- db

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New Year's Resolve

It has been a while, hasn't it?  It's been kind of depressing to see how much productivity has slacked recently, so it feels really good to be back here writing at you all and catching you up.

I was just looking over Spooky Corps' Facebook page and the website's production blog, and that allowed me to be reminded just how much I got done. My New Year's resolution in 2015 was to write more, and boy did I! I spent more time writing and was generally more productive over the course of 2015 than I ever have been in my life. For interested parties, here's a summarized production timeline of the project:

  • March 2014 - After getting some professional quality character concept art, Jordan and I start working through our old memories of the story and try to rebuild it from beginning to end via e-mail.
     
  • August 2014 - The first rough outline of Part 1 is completed. We plan to create a detailed outline of the entire three-part story before we begin scripting the first issue.
     
  • September 2014 - First issue-by-issue breakdown of Part 1 is completed.
     
  • October 2014 - Jordan and I begin discussing the specifics of Part 2, re-imagining a decade of story development to fit with the newly-minted Part 1.
     
  • November 2014 - Jordan and I meet and outline the Part 2 story timelines on a whiteboard.
     
  • December 2014 - Facebook page launches, as does the production blog. We expect that within one year, we will begin pitching to publishers. This will require a logline, a well-outlined first arc, concept art, and eight completed sequential pages.
     
  • January 2015 - First issue-by-issue breakdown of Part 2 is completed.
     
  • February 2015 - First rough outline of Part 3 is completed. Time to start back at the beginning and make sure everything that needs to be in there is in there.
     
  • March 2015 - I start practicing drawing.
     
  • April 2015 - Sixty-issue breakdown of the entire narrative is completed.
     
  • May 2015 - We put out official open calls for artists and test readers for our revised outline of the first arc.
     
  • June 2015 - The new dot com is launched featuring professional concept art. The pitchable logline is written. Readers' feedback on the first arc is received and addressed. Character designs from multiple artists are in the bag.
     
  • July 2015 - Background artist hired for environment concepts. Legitimate scripting begins on issue one.
     
  • August 2015 - Environment art is in the bag. Issue one script is completed. I lose my job.
     
  • September 2015 - I begin to realize with no job, paying artists will be pretty hard. Having continued my drawing practice, I am now considering eventually drawing the comic myself. Scripting on issue two begins.
     
  • October 2015 - Still jobless. But it doesn't matter. A little math and research has revealed that the original plan was not a great one - if you can make your comic yourself, there are few benefits to going through a publisher. For what I hope to do, I realize self-publishing is a better option overall.
     
  • November 2015 - Issue 2 script is complete. I get a job, but holidays and a death in the family slow down our production at the end of the year. Still, scripting begins on issue 3.
     
  • December 2015 - Scripting continues, as does life's way of slowing things down.

And now it's January 2016.

2016 is the announced tentative release year for Spooky Corps, and it is no accident that this information is so unspecific. What does it mean? When in 2016 will it be released? And what constitutes a release?  Will the first issue be in your hands at some point this year? At the very least, will you be able to view page one of issue one some time before December 31st?

I think that's entirely possible. Will it happen? I don't know.

Plans changed quite a bit over the course of 2015. We set a pitch goal in December 2014 which we came very close to meeting, but we began to realize as the deadline approached that we might not want to do it that way after all. Incidentally, I lost my job and wouldn't be able to afford to pay for the last piece of the pitch package we would have needed (the eight completed sequential pages required by most publishing companies would cost vast amounts of either money or passion, and the only two guys with any passion for this project lack the skills necessary to put the vision on paper). But my point is this: I realize our plans may continue to change over the course of 2016 just as they did over 2015.

I have a hard time imagining there are any avenues left unconsidered at this point, but it is possible that December will come once again, and we'll have pivoted once again. Right now, the favored option is the one that gets you reading the story as soon as possible. Whether I get good enough to draw it myself or we hire someone else, I would like to post pages to the website on a regular schedule so you can follow along page by page, then release hard copies for sale once an issue is completed,.

But heck, for all I know we'll finish scripting the first arc and decide it needs to be read in a sitting or two, not serialized, and then who knows how long that will take to put together? I know I don't. But I'm not expecting to go that way either. I'm just saying I don't know what will happen over the next twelve months.

What I DO know is that I'm not stopping. Despite the rev-down at the end of 2015, it is still true that I have never worked on anything as consistently as I've worked on Spooky Corps over the past year and a half. Speed bumps have slowed us down here and there - the latest being my move to a new home which rendered me unavailable for scripting sessions and without Internet access even after the packing was done - but we are still at work on this thing.

Issue three is about halfway done, and I still have good reason to believe that issue four won't take as long to script as the others have. Once that's finished, we'll have our first arc scripted and it might be time to start making some serious decisions about how we want to proceed. Do we keep scripting? Do we start slowly paying to get the pages done so we can have an issue out by the end of the year? Do I hold onto this notion that it might be worth it to keep practicing my drawing in the hopes that I can do the book myself? Speaking of which, that's another thing - as much as my writing has suffered, my art has suffered that much more. Jordan and I actually have met several times in the past two months to write. My sketchbook, however, has seen very little action.

But I'm settled into my new place, I (clearly) am back online, holidays are over with, and I'm so, so, so ready to get moving again. And my wife is too. She is an artist herself, and her personal time has suffered just as much as mine. We're both ready to get back on our schedules and start producing again.

So hey, world. Nice to see you again. Nice to be able to let you know that despite the radio silence for over two months, we have still been working. Not as much as I would have liked, but as much as possible. We are moving forward. You will continue to hear about our progress. And Tommy Reppuhn - no matter what course this ride leads us down, once there are 24 pages of this thing completed, you will receive a hard copy of it, free of charge. You are not forgotten, Mister 100.

As always, I want to thank you all for being here. Thanks for reading. I won't tell you to stay tuned this time, but do keep your ears open. Because you'll be hearing from me again. I guarantee it.

- db

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Issue Two is nearly scripted

WHERE IT'S AT

It took us almost two months to the day to take Issue One from a blank page to a completed script. My rough math said that two-month script only received about forty real work hours, the result of resigning to work mostly when Jordan was available to write with me in real time.

As I mentioned before, the last two months have been less productive due to my unexpected unemployment and a death in the family... or so it seemed until I checked the dates today. We're coming up on two months since work on the Issue Two script was begun, and we're pretty close despite having spent less time together. Chatting over video instead of text really speeds up the discussion process, and after getting through the outlining stages (which I explain below), I scripted the first third of the issue in two days. If we can match that as we continue, it wouldn't surprise me to see the second issue also finished in two months, and the coming issues getting done even more quickly so long as we can stay on a consistent schedule for meet-ups.

THE PROCESS

Yes, the process seems to be working well. First, we start with the issue's big picture in mind, roughly break down the number of pages each scene will require, and figure out the page-by-page beats.

Once we have a sentence or two for each page, we start breaking page beats down into panels - usually six, sometimes as many as eight, and I think only a handful of times we've done five. It's pretty dense storytelling, so I don't think we ever have the option of using four panels or fewer.

These panel breakdowns often include rough ideas of dialogue, or at least what it needs to accomplish ("he tells her she's crazy," or "she lets him know she isn't happy"), but once our paneled outline is in place, we go back through and clean up the lines, trying to get it as close to working dialogue as we're able.

At this point, the outline is a very readable representation of the issue, so we finally take a fourth pass to try and write the final script. The panel descriptions have all the information an artist would need to bring them to life, the dialogue is almost always cleaned up even further, panel beats change as we begin to better visualize how one moment will move to the next, how a facial expression can communicate something we'd previously had as dialogue, or how a series of panels might need to be cut to put more emphasis on another part of the scene.

I am VERY much a planner. I believe in laying a very strong structure so that each stage requires less heavy lifting. As I add layers to the work, it's more and more about details and refinement, and I never have to go back and reset the foundation because I gave that the majority of my thought and my time.

You might think that this would reduce the opportunity for following a creative spark, but not so! It's often more likely you'll be creative in your choices when there are certain rules and presuppositions that must be followed. Doing whatever you want can be a real killer of creative opportunities. Not being able to go with the easiest answer will almost always lead you to much more interesting solutions. See any heist movie for examples of this.

MOVING ON

I thought I'd be able to catch up my sketchbook posts this weekend, but it appears I was wrong. Boy, I wish I had a scanner. So convenient, those things... As it is, I'll have to go through the slow process of photographing each page until my wife's camera's memory card can't take any more, uploading it to GIMP, and shrinking, cropping, and normalizing the sizes of all the files.

Ugh.

I really ought to stop doing a month at a time and just get the pages prepped as I finish them. I say now that I'll try to get the pictures up tomorrow. We'll see what I do.

Followers of mine on Facebook will know that I spent October participating in the Drawlloween challenge. I drew 31 pictures (or was supposed to - some days I just posted a sketchbook page full of images for that day's theme). Those images and the practice pages and discarded attempts are what you'll be seeing for October. I've never done anything like that before, and I was impressed with myself for sticking to it and getting it done. My art improved over the course of the month, which was exciting to see. I was forced to draw things I never would have thought to draw. Some days it was definitely more of a challenge than fun, but I did it.

And now like a writer of sketch comedy, I find I don't know how to end this.

-db

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Today I will be writing.

After outlining Issue One with Jordan, I worked alone on much of the scripting. We'd meet once a week and get done what we could, but I'd spend a few days between meetings writing into the pages as much as I was able.

When I could, I tried working on the outline for Issue Two by myself, but then the next time we'd talk I would end up going over everything I'd written with him anyway, and because it was already written, it wasn't as easy for him to offer direction for a scene, and I don't know that we wouldn't have come up with something better had we been working together. So after seeing how much more productively and creatively things moved along when I waited to write with Jordan, I took to working only when we were able to chat.

However, a recent death in his family put the writing on hiatus for a short while, and while I like the fact that I've been spending a lot more time drawing (urry day, son!), I think I need to stop neglecting the script and see what I can get done on my own. So that's what I'm going to do today.

In other news - after seven and a half weeks looking for a job, I got three calls yesterday. One of them was a no-go - the pay was too low. One of them sounds promising but it goes through a recruiter and I'm not sure how many other applicants they might be getting. Today I have an initial phone interview with the third. Sure would be nice to have a job again. I like money.

I need to put up September's sketches, but my priorities are: writing a blog update (done), writing a few pages into the script, and doing today's Drawllowen sketch. I'll try to get to the sketchbook, but make no promises.

Off to write now,

- db

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The Future is... Later...

Well, I might just have to come to terms with the fact that I'm not going to be writing blogs all that frequently. The learning experiences aren't coming along as often now as they were before, because we're scripting, and scripting is just writing, and writing... well, I don't have any advice grander than what you can find from much more valuable sources more worthy of your ear. Or... eyes?

But that's okay! We're still scripting and the project is still moving forward even if I'm not talking about it nearly as frequently, and... well, we aren't losing any page likes yet, so that's... that's fine. And considering I don't have a product of any sort to push, it would be awfully difficult to bring in any new likes right now.

I set out with a different vision for the page than I have now. Before, I wanted to show people every step of the process in getting a comic made, and we've been doing that -- I just didn't expect progress would be so un-showable. I'm keeping you up to date as each chunk of production is completed, and letting you see the concept art, and heck, I'm even showing you every page of my sketchbook just for fun... or perhaps NOT?!

I haven't talked with Jordan about this yet, but now's as good a time for him to find out as any - I've been thinking about drawing the comic myself.

"But Daniel," you say to your device's screen as you read this, "You suck at drawing!" Yes, this is true... but I am getting better. A look through my sketchdump blog posts starting in March and the Sketchbook pages current up to the beginning of this month will prove that. I am improving. "But Daniel," you continue, "It might be a couple of years before your skills as an artist are close to the lowest bar you'd set for the quality you'd want to see in the art of your book!" To which I first have to say, wow, that's a cumbersome sentence, though it does contain a valid point. But here's the thing: artists cost money. Money takes time.

And have I mentioned that I lost my job last month? Well, I did. This puts an immediate halt on any funds going toward the project. Boo. I'm glad we got the concept art in that we did when we did, because I don't know how long it will be for me to a) find a job, b) stabilize financially, and c) start putting money toward Spooky Corps again. Now, I can't imagine it's going to take years for that to happen (and if it does, I have bigger things to worry about), but I do know that even if it happened tomorrow, it's still really expensive to get a comic book made. Yes, crowdfunding was always the backup plan to having enough money to produce the first issue on our own, but it's really hard to get a product crowdfunded when you don't have very much to show of it. Asking people to pay us up front for a product that we haven't even started on is... difficult. And likely to result in an unsuccessful campaign.

To be successful, it is recommended that a book be halfway done before launching a crowdfunding campaign to support its production. Did you know that? It's true. So even if we're thinking VERY optimistically and we're saying we could get one page completed for about $100, based on how quickly Jordan and I were able to put funds toward the project, that means it would take us about a year (in this optimistic scenario) to get half of the first issue produced. And that's starting from the time I get a job, build back up my savings, and get financially comfortable enough to start paying into the project again. So at that point, we could launch a campaign, perhaps be successful, and then spend another few months waiting on the funds from the campaign to come in and getting the remaining pages commissioned, finalized, printed, and distributed.

So starting today, it might take roughly the same amount of time to put a book in your hands at great cost as it might take me to improve to the point that I'm comfortable drawing the thing myself. And really, that is my ideal scenario - writing and drawing the thing on my own. And because it doesn't cost me anything to produce the pages myself, that means once I do start, I'll be able to get through them more quickly than I would be able to pay someone to do it. So even if it took me, I don't know, three years to get started, it would probably take less than a year to catch up to the point in the story that we would have been at if we'd been saving up to pay an artist as we went.

So this is something on my mind. I don't know that this is the way we're going to go - I'd really love to have a professional product, and to do that you typically need to hire a professional. I don't mind having to spend the money on it, and the dream is that even if we did fund the first all on our own, any profits from selling the first book (which are difficult to come by in this industry, even for the professionals) would help fund the second, and the continued sales of the first and second issue would fund the third, and so on. That still might be possible, and it still might be the most viable approach. I don't know. But doing it myself is on my mind more and more lately.

But regardless of how this goes, the current facts are that a) I am currently broke, b) story production hasn't actually slowed down, only the hiring of artists, and c) I am drawing regularly. Who knows how this will all turn out? Not I.

Onward.

Did you know that we've completed the first draft of the script for the first issue? Only a few family members have read it, but we haven't had anyone mention story issues. We will be giving it to an editor when the time comes - probably after we finish scripting the first arc and run back through the whole thing, tightening it up - but for now, it feels really good. I read that a professional writer should get through a script in about one week, which I assume is about 40 hours. Given that my losing my job has put my focus on staying home and watching my kid and looking for a new employer, I haven't put as much time toward the project in the last month as I had before... but by my rough estimations, it did take us roughly 40 hours to produce this script. Hard to say for sure because I usually forget to "clock in" on my home made time card, but again... rough estimations seems to say we're right on track.

We've also just begun video chatting while we work, which is a much quicker process than chatting and writing in a shared document online, so I'm curious to see how quickly we get through this next issue. About 2 hours so far, and we've outlined the issue's page-to-page beats and fully broken down two pages into panels. I imagine we'll only get better as we go, so it's looking good.

Thanks for reading, friends. We're still here, quiet though we may be.

- db

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Concept Art Round 2

It's been two weeks since the last blog, wherein I shamed myself for posting so infrequently. But hey, that time it had been a month. I've improved. Hooray! Anti-shame on me!

I've finally posted July's sketchbook pages. It's funny that only two weeks later, I'm already eager to get you past these pages to see what I've learned and improved on, and what I've been up to in the past week or so. As always, there's not a lot of great stuff, but I'm certainly getting better. Always getting better...

I've been talking with two more concept artists and working through seven new designs - three characters, four key buildings that each highlight a different class environment. I can't wait to get the concept art page up so you can peruse all the things at your leisure.

Ah, what the heck, I'll just go ahead and show you a couple of the roughs!

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On the left, you've got the slum neighborhood that our protagonist Ricky calls home. After the walls went up and the gates closed, the lower class and neighborhoods on the outskirts began to fall apart. Closer to the wall, things aren't so bad, but the closer you get to the Outlands, the bleaker it becomes. I think this image captures this environment really well.

On the right, you've got the other end of the spectrum: one of the Ministries - government buildings where the citizens attend mandatory services, participate in the annual census, and receive communion. The Law of this city is treated like religion, and it was a little tricky to condense both of those vibes into a single building design. But after a few rounds back and forth with ideas and references, he nailed it.

Again, these are just two of the four roughs from Scott Sackett. He is inking the finalized versions this weekend. Awesome stuff though, dont'cha think? I'm really glad to be working with him. The character designs from the other artist, I'll save for the launch of the concept art gallery.

Oooh, I'm so excited.

Jordan and I have also been scripting, of course. The other night we struggled for about an hour to get the turn on one page right, and finally figured it out in our last five minutes. It was a close call... almost felt like a wasted night.

But speaking of that page, I should probably get to scripting in the little time I have left tonight.

Yes sir, things are moving right along.

Come on back for continued goodness.

- db

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Okay, I think we have some time.

I have not done well to keep you updated this month. Five or six brief Facebook updates, but only one blog post since the site launch?

This is unacceptable.

The good news is, I haven't much time to write about the process because the process is keeping me too busy to do it.

In my early days, I picked up a good amount of information from Jim Zub's  tutorials and a lot of inspiration from Jason Brubaker's reMINDblog.com and podcasts, but an article eventually led me to a Facebook group called Connecting Comic Book Writers and Artists, and it was the discovery point for most of what I've learned so far about just how much it really takes to create and print a comic book. It has really been a great resource of discussion and information. I mostly lurked for about seven or eight months, but in writing my last blog post, I realized that I needed to place a job posting in the artist's group I frequent, and I did it that day.

We were looking for two things: an artist who can draw environments and help to build the world, and a character designer to do our second round of named characters from the first arc. We received twenty-eight applicants.

Holy crap. Twenty-eight.

I spent the first night looking at everybody's art to get a feel for the spectrum of possibilities, then collected them all into an email to Jordan with links to their portfolios and my immediate impressions. When he got back to me with his opinions, I went one-by-one down the list, writing a personal message to each artist.

Nearing the end of my writing time for the night, I saw that I'd only sent eight messages

Ugh. This would not do.

I knew that I'd be far more efficient if I grouped the messages I needed to write by the course of action each needed to contain ("Compliment", "Consider for later", "Request rates"). I spent half an hour creating a spreadsheet with each artist's name, portfolio link, my impression, Jordan's impression, a course of action , and a current status. Lastly, I sorted the list by the course of action, and was ready to go for next time.

And it worked. I spent my next work day sending the rest of the messages, then sat back and waited for the rates to roll in.

It took us a surprising two weeks to receive everyone's rates and narrow down our choices. We had a very tough time deciding between three artists for the character designer position (others I liked just as well were a bit too pricey for our current stage of production), but finally landed on one guy - Luca Cichitti - and sent the message. I don't have a link to a public portfolio at the moment, but I'll see if I can get that to you. Definitely want to give this guy some traffic if I'm able - he has very strong stuff!

Finding a background guy was comparatively easy. I waited until we'd also found our character designer to send his "You're hired" message, but we knew almost immediately who we were going with. His name is Scott Sackett. He mentioned in his response to the job posting that he was a former architecture major, and linked to some examples of sketched environments which I thought were really tangible and somewhat interpretive.  He's already delivered some really cool progress shots, and we're very excited see what else he can do. I can't wait to show you the world.

I'm very happy to say that professionalism has been the name of the game on all fronts. Everyone I had to turn down took it graciously, congratulating me on finding the talented artists we did, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't a total a-hole about it, so we all seem to be on good terms. Which is great for the future, because I really liked a lot of these artists and would be interested to see if we're ever able to do something together.

Yes, It's been a long month of spreadsheets, correspondence, and taking care of business. But it's hasn't been all work and no play, no sir!

Halfway through the month, having outlined the beginning, middle, and end of the first issue, Jordan came over and we stayed up to the wee hours of the morning doing a rough page layout from beginning to end. I taped the pages together and ended up with something like a twenty-four page comic book.

It was a very exciting moment for me. As I said on Facebook - thirteen years ago, this seed was planted. This was the most legitimate the endeavor had ever felt.

And still, it continues on. Artists are giving us art, and after all these months of planning and outlining and studying and connecting and revising and hiring and corresponding and documenting... we've finally begun to write it. Like, actually write it.

There are at this moment words, phrases, and perhaps even paragraphs in a document that will certainly be a part of the finished product. This must be the first time the actual thing itself has existed in any form.

I mean sure, a comic isn't a comic until it's got art as well, but a comic script is certainly a thing unto itself. When we gave our arc outline to readers, a few of them reminded us throughout their questionnaire responses that the thing they were reading was not a story, but a summary. Which we knew... but this script will tell the entire story: what you see, and what you read, exactly as you will read it.

We blasted through its twenty-four pages over a couple of sessions, mostly turning our outline and page layouts into a legible format (with a little help from Fred Van Lente, to whom I was of course directed by Jim Zub, as I imagine many an aspiring comics creator have been). We moved along at a pretty good pace with me running through the pages, getting down a description of our basic panels and incorporating the notes Jordan had taken while I was sketching them out that late night in mid July, and him coming up behind me fleshing out the first draft dialogue. It's  mostly all there. It's good enough to move forward.

Last Thursday, I spruced up the first four pages, actually flexing my writing muscles for the first time in a long time. The last time I wrote something worth reading was when I was putting this site together and before that, I can't even tell you. So for three hours the other night, I really worked to paint the word pictures and get the dialogue closer to something good enough to keep.

Ahhh. Writing. Really writing.

Feels good, man.

And now I've written a blog post! Hoorah for getting back into the swing of things. I'm putting together the gallery for my July sketchbook pages now, so you can expect that very soon. Maybe today or tomorrow, even.

Oh, and one more note - we reached 100 likes (and more) on our Facebook page! Hoorah for that too. It's kinda funny - we were stuck at 95 for possibly a month or more, and then in just a couple of weeks we got almost twenty likes. A few were referred thanks to a friend participating in a tiny contest we had, and I really can't be sure where the rest came from or why - but I'm glad for it!

I hope not to take so long to write another - and hopefully shorter - update on production. I also still have another feature in mind for this site, I just have to find the time.

Thanks for reading,

- db

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Scripting Begins

Facebook followers have already been made aware of the new feature. See the Sketchbook link at the top of the page (or in the menu for mobile user). There I'll be posting my daily sketches (though probably not posting them daily) along with notes about what improvements I'm seeing and what I'm seeing that needs improvement. I'm not sure who this is for other than myself, but I do think it's worth keeping track of.

A couple more minor updates on the site - I made a favicon to replace the SquareSpace icon and I changed the website's logo to include the "TM" and exclude the "production blog" tagline. I hadn't initially expected the front page to be the marketing material it turned out to be, and it seemed odd to keep "a production blog" at the top of every page when there's a page dedicated to that specific aspect of the site.

I also mentioned on Facebook that Peter Aymard Cacho, the artist we'd hired to do some concept sketches, finished his interpretations of the five most prominent characters from the first act of the story. You can see three of his designs right now on the front page of SpookyCorps.com. Being a freelancer, his time with us was temporary, and he has moved on to another job. We're happy with what he gave us and have been preparing to widen our net for artistic interpretations. We're going to need other characters drawn as well as world-building images such as buildings, clothing styles, and technology.

Plus, we need to be on the lookout for someone to actually draw the pages themselves. Halfway through year already! Wow. We're going to want to have six to eight completed pages for the pitch and I haven't even started looking for an artist for the book, or at least I haven't looked in a while.

Time keeps on slippin'.

I guess I should go ahead and put up a job posting today.

Jordan and I were happy with all the feedback we got. There are still a number of people who haven't replied, but at this point we were just itching to keep moving forward, so we went ahead and paginated the first issue. We know what we'll see and what will be said on each page. It came together really easily. Surprisingly easily. That's our reward for working so hard on outlining everything  - we know the world and what needs to happen so well, there are no plot issues to work out while we figure out how to fill the pages. And the cool thing is although there's little need for guesswork, there's still lots of room for creativity. Scott McCloud categorized the choices we're making into these five categories:

Choice of Moment
Choice of Frame
Choice of Image
Choice of Word
Choice of Flow

So even though we've decided what needs to happen to advance the plot within each 24-page chunk, deciding how the story gets told from panel to panel is still all up in the air, and it's fun to work it out. For so long, we've just been tweaking all of the pieces to make the puzzle fit. It's fun to actually write again. It's like before, we were putting together a jigsaw in greyscale. Now we're deciding how to color it. How to achieve the tone and emotion we imagine each beat bringing. It's fun stuff!

I really like writing with Jordan. I have a very strong sense of our world and story, and how even small changes might effect issues to come. I also have a pretty good grip on more formal storytelling components such as structure and closure, and some of the more format-specific considerations such as pacing, compression, and using words and pictures interdependently. But I think Jordan has a stronger sense of what a reader wants to see, or how to package something to make it interesting. I can say "In this scene, we need this, this, and this, and it needs to feel like this," and he'll give me the line or an image that accomplishes all of those things. I'm theory. He's action. Sometimes his action doesn't work with a major part of the theory, so we work the action until it's theory-compliant. Sometimes his action is too good to leave the theory as it is, and we rework the theory until it all fits. This seems to be working for us so far. I think we'll keep doing it.

Last little note before I get out of here - I wouldn't say I had any learning experiences to write about in this post, but I can say that when we sat down to script, the first thing I did (as advised in this blog post) was break it into three parts - beginning, middle, and end. Each part, each arc, each issue, each scene will need to have a beginning, middle, and end. So armed with the "three act" story flow of the issue, we further broke those three parts into pages and decided what each page needed to accomplish. Next we'll fill those pages with panel descriptions and dialogue, and we'll have ourselves a script.

Though I don't know the exact words that we'll use when we write it, I do know that so far, it feels really solid and well-paced.

It feels like a great start.

- db

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Site launch!

Sorry it's been so long since th elast update, but as you can see, I've been hard at work on the new dot com!

There are more features to come in the future, like a concept art gallery as well as a sketchbook which will act as a sort of visual blog of my progess with sketching.

The pages are built, but I wasn't able to get all of the content in before I leave for vacation (Vegas, baby!) in... about six hours. So that's something you'll just have to come back for later.

Wish I had time to say more at the moment, but I'll get an update in sometime in the next week after we get home and settle back in. Hopefully I'll be coming back with millions of dollars to completely fund the project.

Either way, I'll talk at you later!

- db

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Sketchdump

I somehow messed up the dates in my sketchbook. At first I thought a bunch of pages came loose and got shuffled by my two year-old son, but a series of bound pages jump around in time. I'm very confused. Once I get that figured out, I'll post another blue-line sketchbook.

In the meantime, take a look at this! It takes a really long time to cut out all the things I'm not embarrassed to show you and make a collage of the not-completely-horrible sketches, so I'm just going to throw a bunch of pages up here and you can look or not look at whatever you want. I've been drawing with ultra fine, felt-tipped pens. Working with ink seems to make me looser. I haven't erased a single pencil mark yet, but the absolute permanent feel of the ink somehow helps me not torture myself over every line. If I make a bad mark in pencil, I'm going really softly and can slowly sculpt the right curve or angle out of the blank paper. In ink, if I make a bad move, it's there and I just have to keep going. I move faster and get the same results, it seems.

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I'm starting to get faces. Still no real consistency. I still don't know anything about hair or necks. The shapes of short hair on men are more easily observed and absorbed. Girls... I don't know about girls' hair. Girls need work. Jawlines...

Is there a style a-brewin'? Hopefully not a bad one.

There's some good stuff from an actual artist sitting in my inbox right now. But you know what? You can't have it. Not yet...

 - db

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Loglines

Several people have provided full responses to the questionnaire, each one providing useful feedback. None of it was painful, but these were all responses from friends and family. We'll see what happens when strangers get the full questionnaire. Two of the three readers who I found in the Facebook group I mentioned also got back to me, but not by sending their responses to the full six issues. The first guy only got through one page, and the second only read a paragraph. Still, they each had lots of useful feedback. It was tailored more toward the outward appearance of the book and not the story, but it was useful.

The first guy stayed up with me until 3:20 in the morning going over his initial impressions, and the other and I had a long back-and-forth about the logline and the questions I needed to answer through it to bring out the story's most interesting and essential elements.

One thing both of them mentioned - Spooky Corps is a bad name. "Spooky" is a light-hearted word, and "Corps" will be confused with "Corpse."

There is an in-narrative explanation as to why the book is called Spooky Corps, but Jordan and I have been aware for some time that it might not work in the end. When we first started developing this story in 2005, it was going to be a concept band made up of fictional character singing songs about their epic adventures. The characters included ghosts, vampires, and the living dead, and they were called Spooky Corps.

We were young then.

But we associate the titular group of Outlanders and indeed the entire project so strongly with the name, it's difficult to imagine using something else. So here's the plan - if an editor at Image or Oni or wherever picks it up and wants to publish it on the condition that we change the name, you better believe we're chucking the title. But if things work out the most realistic way, we'll end up publishing this ourselves, and the name is probably going to stay. As for the logline.. this was a learning experience worth sharing.

LOGLINES

In the first email response from the editor (as in guy who actually gets paid to edit), I got this: "Your logline is very bad!"

Here's what I started with:

 


Within and beyond the only city on the planet, two groups of rebels struggle to survive and free themselves from oppression as the nature of life and death and the very fabric of reality unravel around them.


 

Jordan came up with that a long time ago, and it's not bad. Tells you where you are, who's in the action, and that something big is going down. From what I understood, this was a satisfactory logline.

The editor pointed out that there's no mention of a protagonist, no clear antagonist, no time frame, and no twist or hint of irony. He also pointed out that while all of these things may not be necessary to creating a solid logline, having as many a possible sure helps.

I immediately read up a little bit on loglines and decided to answer some basic questions. The first question, which should probably be the easiest to answer actually made me stop and think - who IS the main character? This is tricky, because there are several main characters over the course of the narrative, with some coming in and out of focus from arc to arc. Since we’ll be pitching the first arc and not the entire story, I decided to step away from the vague suggestions about the overall story and instead focus on what takes place in the first six issues.

 


Within the walls of a planet’s only city, a young revolutionary must inspire the citizens to overthrow their war-waging government before a growing army of superstitious outsiders demolishes society itself.


 

This is better. Instead of two groups of rebels, we now have a young revolutionary to imagine experiencing the story through. Our two groups of rebels are better identified – citizens in revolt, and an army of superstitious outsiders. One may have a better idea of the conflict triangle occurring in the story. I sent this on to the editor, and he came back with even more tips. What makes the revolutionary different from the next, other than the fact that he is young? Can I personify the antagonist? Why does it matter that the outsiders are superstitious? And where, oh where, is the irony?

These are all good questions. I let it tumble around in my head for about a day, and finally came back with this:

 


In a society where law and logic have been sanctified, a printer’s apprentice risks an indictment of blasphemy to report on a growing cult of savage outsiders whose leader’s vision of a supernatural relic providing the government its power drives them toward the destruction of the city.


 

Whew!

- Specific protagonist? Check.. Our young revolutionary is a printer’s apprentice.

- Personified antagonist? Check. The cult’s leader is a more immediate threat than the amorphous “war-waging government”.

- Time frame? Check. Their army is growing and has the protagonist’s city in their sights.

- Stakes? Double check. The printer’s apprentice must choose between speaking out and becoming a criminal in his society, and keeping quiet and being indiscriminately butchered by the outsiders for the sins of his government.

- Irony? Check. The cult’s suggestion that the logic-centric government’s power is actually derived from some supernatural relic is not only ironic, but brings some of the story’s seemingly disparate elements together, hopefully generating more curiosity in whoever reads the logline.

So it hits all of the elements that a logline might need. But boy, is it a mouthful! Next, we started cutting away some incidentals. Some words can just be cut without removing any information. Some phrases can be replaced with a better word choice. The editor came back with his own version which stripped away the personified antagonist and irony – two things I’d included specifically to satisfy his questions. My knee-jerk reaction was to point that out, but I realized that even if some of this stuff ends up being taken back out, asking all of those questions still led me to writing an incredibly dense explanation of the story which included the more interesting and unique elements of my story versus any other rebels / empire story. I’ll probably continue working on the logline up to the point that we actually submit a pitch, but for now I think I’m going to stick with a slightly lighter version of what I’ve already written:

 


In a society where logic has been sanctified, a printer’s apprentice risks blasphemy to report on a growing cult of savages whose leader’s vision of a supernatural relic empowering the government drives them toward the destruction of the city.


 

It still feels a little mouthy, but again, I like how efficiently it communicates so many thing about the story.

And I suppose that's all I have for now. The concept artist we've hired has completed two character designs and is about to start on a third. I'll be revealing his work very soon, so stay tuned!

- db

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Finding readers and Non Disclosure Agreements

When I started the production blog, I imagined intentionally sitting down to write two separate types of posts - briefs about how far I'd come since the last entry and what I was working on at the time, and tutorials explaining how I was going about each step of the long journey to a finished comic book. Conceptually, I knew that I would come away from each step knowing something I didn't before. It somehow didn't occur to me that because each step would be a learning experience, each step would double as a teaching opportunity as well. I imagine many of the upcoming updates will contain an educational element by accident at least. As the previous post stated, we have been on the search for charitable readers and character designers for hire.... And as I wrote that sentence just now, I realized that the call to action made no mention of the fact that we were not looking for artists to indefinitely dedicate themselves to our passion project! I never said that we are simply looking for character designers who can make a quick buck for spending a few hours doing what they love. I had been so excited to be able to offer people money (which somehow seems to legitimize the project), it slipped my mind to actually explain what we expected them to do to earn it.

There, I've updated the Facebook page to clarify. See? We're learning things already. Clarity is key. And a serendipitous segue, to boot.

While no artists have approached us in response to the post, there is no thumb-twiddling here. I received interest from a number of readers. Three people I work with have had the outline forced upon them (he said, mostly joking...), one is a co-worker of Jordan's, and five people are related to me. Only two have answered the questionnaire as of this writing, but one gave birth to me, and the other probably just feels obligated because I once gave her a last name.

The other three readers offered their help in response to a post I made on a comics creators' Facebook group I frequent. The post wasn't actually asking for readers, but explained that my friends and family were going to look over the outline before I hired an editor, and one of my biggest concerns was whether the story read clearly. I was seeking advice about the types of questions I should ask about the reading experience that would herd them toward useful feedback rather than supportive pats on the back. In my experience, friends who read stories tend to say they liked it and fail to say that there was anything they didn't understand unless asked about specific sections and what they thought about it. As such, I'm glad to have several uninterested parties throwing their hats into the ring.

The first reader is a writing hobbyist who edits his friends' works and fancies himself as being of reasonable talent in spotting story issues, weak or uninteresting characters, poor dialogue, and general sentence wonkiness. The second reader is an old-school, long time comics fan. His reasoning was that plots in comics were less complicated when he got into them than they are now, so if a young, amateur writer like myself could communicate an interesting story which he could follow, it would be a vote of confidence for the clarity of the narrative. The third reader is a magazine editor, gaming creative consultant, and writer. He offered a free round of critique to give me an idea of what I would get out of hiring him for later editing work.

I began my conversation with each of these generous readers by explaining that I already realized the standard advice when a first-time comics creator pursues a project of this size is to set it aside and work on something smaller instead - something more likely to be completed in a reasonable amount of time. If the ultimate response to my endeavor would be to not pursue it at all, I'd rather save us both some time and just not send them the story. All three said they were still interested, so I moved to the next step.

Non Disclosure Agreements

It is very difficult to protect a story idea. Ideas have very little value on their own and with stories, it is the execution of that idea which has any copyrightable merit, not the concept. See every genre out there for examples of this truth.

Even still, there are horror stories out there and contradicting advice as to whether one should worry about protecting their work in writing even at an early stage. Because my outline is so detailed, it do think it could qualify as being specific enough to warrant protection, so before I sent it to anyone I didn't know and trust, I found a boilerplate NDA and copied it over to an email.

The first reader applied his digital signature immediately, and we were on our way. The second advised that the document I used was very general, made no mention of me specifically, the story title, or its medium. It was basically a sweepingly general list of clauses saying "I've got ideas and you can't steal them," which was indeed the point, but wouldn't protect me nearly as much as the example he provided. Nice guy. I updated it, and he signed it. I sent the updated version to the professional editor, who pointed out that the clause denoting the purpose of my providing the outline to him was for his review to determine his interest in its commercial exploitation. He responded saying that while an NDA is pretty useless at this stage (as I've described above and already knew), he didn't mind signing it except for that clause.

So what's the lesson here? Well, we're back to clarity. In my haste to get feedback from as many willing, capable readers as possible, I didn't study the wording closely enough and misinterpreted what it meant in its use of the word "marketability." I rewrote the clause to read: "Recipient agrees that this disclosure is only for the purpose of the Recipient’s evaluation of story quality and provision of criticisms and concerns relating to its clarity, appeal, and suitability to the comics medium."

He was fine with that, and he's reading the story as I type.

So - this probably goes without saying, but just as you should be very careful about reading and understanding every word of a contract before you sign it, the same is true before you give it to someone else. Especially a professional.

How embarrassing.

He did offer two criticisms of my introductory email before getting started. One has to do with an informational blurb I provided along with the outline which summarized the story in the same way the back of a DVD might. It isn't worth getting into here - basically, I gave the blurb a label which means something other than I thought it does. I'll get back to you once I read up on those labels and figure out the right way to do it.

The other criticism was about the name. As another reader pointed out, "Spooky" is a light-hearted word and may give the wrong impression. Jordan and I have been aware since the story took a much more mature turn away from its origins that the name might not make it to print. The original idea was far more light-hearted and a little bit silly, and we had to do a little work to figure out how we could carry it forward into the current narrative. We now have our in-narrative explanation as to why this group is so-named, and it isn't because it's what they call themselves. Still, I know it might not work, though others have told me it is very catchy.

As for "Corps," he and another reader have also pointed out that many people might think the word is "Corpse," and wherever clarity might be muddled, a change is advised. And if they're right, that is a shame. Many people have responded well to the title "Spooky Corps." I believe and have been told it is catchy, unique, and perhaps most importantly, unused. It might be the case that it will catch the eye of a publisher and they will tell me it needs to change to go to print, and I certainly won't argue with that.

But if things go the way I imagine they will, I'll be producing this myself, at least for a while, and I can take a gamble on whether or not people will pronounce it wrong.

More has already happened since I wrote the majority of this post, but I think I've written enough for the moment.

Thanks for reading! I'll check back in soon.

- db

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Readers and Artists - WE'RE LOOKING FOR YOU

Two weeks ago, I said that we'd finished writing the story and were working on a second pass which resulted in an alternate version of the first arc. I also said that while I liked the ending more, I wasn't sure if I liked it more as a whole. Well folks, I'm over it.

I really like this new approach. It's a little less noir and a little more adventure, which is what I wanted for the story in the first place. Where the first version relied on a flashbang beginning and serialized cliffhangers to keep you invested, this version hooks you more throughout the individual issues, keeping you occupied with the action in front of you and depositing curiosities in the back of your head along the way to keep you coming back for the explanations. Of the two approaches, this seems to be the right way to go. After all, every page turned is a new opportunity to lose the reader, right? Right.

This is all very exciting, and things are about to start moving quickly. Really quickly.

However, we can't move into the scripting phase right away. You see, we know everything there is to know about the story. We know what secrets are in our characters' heads and what the future holds for them. Add that to the amount of time we've spent in this world pushing things around, tweaking minutia, and rearranging story beats, and it results in the fact that our understanding of the big picture could be blinding us to fundamental problems in structure and clarity. Sure, WE get what's going on, but would it make sense to someone who doesn't know thing one about this world or its inhabitants?

We have no way of knowing. We're going to need an editor.

But before we go throwing money at someone in the industry who has an understanding of and experience in the medium, we're going to let some of you normies who are completely unfamiliar with the story read this opening act and give us your brutally honest opinions. Now, we won't be giving it out to anyone - we want to be sure that the people who read it will be willing to give us PLENTY of specific information about what they think works and what doesn't. We're looking for people with a passion for stories who feel they have a good grasp of narrative structure, especially (but not necessarily) those who read and love comic books. We've come up with a 22 point questionnaire for those who want to devote a little bit of time and a lot of serious thought to it. So drop us a line on the Facebook page if you're interested!

And while we wait for our alpha test readers (some of whom have already received the outline) to get back to us with feedback, there isn't a lot of progress for us to make in terms of the story. While we wait, we're going to hire some concept artists to breathe a little bit of life into the material, both for pre-production and promotional purposes. So here's a second way to get involved, you lone reader, you!

Are you an artist? Do you know any artists who might be interested? If so, again, hit the Facebook page and let us know! Direct your friends there as well. We have been (and will continue to be) scouring groups of comics creators, websites, and forums for artists whose styles we see fitting well with the story we're telling. We'll be contacting them for rates within a few days. If you're interested, get on in there! You might get in on the ground floor of something that has a lot of commitment, passion, and many, many hours of serious work behind it.

And hey, money is nice to have, isn't it?

That's just about it for now. Those are my two calls to action. I know updates have slowed to a trickle over the last few months, but I promise you, this isn't because we haven't been hard at work. As I've said before (or at least I thought I had, but I can't find it now), there's only so many times you can say "Still writing, stay tuned" before it loses all meaning. But now that we're here, you can expect to see more frequent and varied rundowns of what's happening with the project.

Also, for anyone who may remember, I'd intended to use this blog to not only track production, but to explain step-by-step how exactly we were going about it. For a long time, we've been in the story development phase which I wrote about here. Now that we'll be finding and hiring talent, networking, and doing more than converting the things tumbling out of our brains into text, I'll finally have something new to say in terms of how-to articles, even if those articles consist mostly of the many trials and errors it will take to get this thing off the ground without any prior experience in doing so.

If you're still reading this, you've probably been here for about seven months, and I am so grateful to have you along for the ride.

I can't thank you enough for your support.

Real content is coming, and that right soon.

Stay tuned.

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Sketchdump

If you're following along, you know we've finished the story and we're doing a second pass from the beginning. Last week, we dug into the first arc together and came up with an alternate path to cover all of the same material. I wrote the two versions down so we can compare them tomorrow and see what works best. I have some issues with the new version, but I like the ending better. I think the problem is I've had the other version in my head for a year, and it's hard to brush away all of the details. Moving the big blocks is easy, but the little things... It's hard to lose them so I can start with a fresh perspective. I've been spending more time drawing that writing lately. Still don't expect to be able to draw the book by the time we're ready for pencils, but feeling that time approach and seeing myself improve little by little is motivating me to continue. I'm all over the place, stylistically. Struggling to get an ingrained sense of the structure and angles. Every seventh or eighth drawing looks pretty good. Everything in between is just another junk drawing I have to get out of the way to get to a good one.

I'm not using references to draw. Just trying to learn from observation and lots of practice. I'm relying on my imagination to tell me whether something is right or not... which may not be the best way to go about it. Some instruction may speed up the progress, but it feels great when I learn something on my own, and that's a big motivation too.

I do have trouble with eyes, though. And hair... haven't spent a second looking at how to draw hair. I should maybe do that. Rudimentary proportions and gesture seem to come to me fairly naturally. Not sure how my anatomy will do when I start adding muscles.

But why tell you when I can show you? Here's most of the stuff I've put in my sketchbook since the last sketch dump:

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sketchdump-150502f

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Up to the date

Yesterday for the first time ever, I saved a copy of a document that lays out the entire narrative from beginning to end. Well, a little bit of a rushed end, with the outline of the final four issues doing very little to explain themselves to someone unfamiliar with the story. But it is all there. I know this sounds a lot like my February 25th update - but that was just the rough outline. The full story is now broken down into issues. The final few lack detail because much of what happens in those last moments will be emotional resolutions, and those will be more writeable after we've given life to the details of the character's journeys leading to that point.

There is also much to put into the earlier issues that we came up with in the writing the later parts of the story, and doing so add some colors to the narrative that the specifics of the current ending don't acknowledge.

Once we can draw cleaner through-lines from the beginning to the end, It'll be written into a digestible version of the story for some volunteer readers who are into giving feedback. Once we work out any kinks in the overall story, it'll be time to start producing.

So for now, we're going back through from the start, finding what we're missing, taking out what we don't need. Simplifying. I'm done a rough pass of the first of the three parts of the story, and it was pretty easy. It feels like the hard part is all done, and now it's just smoothing out the edges.

Seems like we're on track for release in 2016. The wonderfully unspecific "2016".

What's not terribly on track is my drawing. I really wish I could become good enough to draw the book a year from now, but it's not looking likely. And I didn't expect it in the first place. But artists are costly. Shucks.

I am improving, though. Sort of. I'm still better than when I started, and I'm probably learning more than I feel like I am. My heads are still all over the place, but my gesture sketching seems to come pretty naturally. I'm doing everything without reference (which may not be the best plan, but it feels like it will make me better). There have only been a couple of poses I've imagined that I wasn't able to put down... one of which is an archer. Observe!

sketchdump150425a

sketchdump150425b

I thought I would have time to post a sketchdump tonight, but it's not looking good. I'll work on that on Tuesday.

- db

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Sketchdump

Well, it is as I said it would be. Jordan and I spent about four and a half hours running through the whole backstory which is brought to light by the end of the narrative and talking out the final remaining issues, curiosities, and uncertainties. All that was muddy is now clear.

Now sure, once I start writing it out and trying to put the ideas on paper, I'm probably going to run into minor issues. But I think these issues will mostly be about finding the correct pacing and delivery, not finding solutions to problems in the story.

I really think we're completely done developing the story. Now I just have to /write/ the story. And I'm already more than 2/3 of the way there.

These are exciting times, my friends.

The last time I posted, I said I might post some progress reports on my sketching. The thing is, I really hope I'm not going to be the one to draw this comic, and if my sketching isn't going to end up having anything to do with the art in the comic, it seems a little odd to post it on SpookyCorps.com, as it's not Spooky Corps related. I mean really, that would be as perfect as it gets - writing and drawing the story myself, with nothing lost in translation between me and an artist - but I seriously doubt I'm going to be up to the skill level I want to see in the book's art by the time we need to start making pages. IF it comes down to it, I'm going to do it, because I need to get this story told, but I'm still expecting to find a collaborator with mad skills who either wants to be on the team just because it would be cool to make a comic book, or whose price I can afford to pay. So... to post my sketches, or not?

My wife thinks I should. She appears to be holding out hope that I'm going to become amazing in the next nine months and end up drawing the book. Seems to be a foregone conclusion to her. I'm holding out hope that I can make this book even better than what it would be with me manning all stations.

I talked it over with Jordan, and he suggested that if I'm going to keep practicing, I might as well practice designing our characters. That way I'll keep honing my skills and generating relevant content for the site at the same time. I think that's a good idea.

I still need some practice before I can design any characters though. I'm still not sure I can replicate one face over and over. Also, I've mostly learned how to draw guy's faces, and that's just about the only thing I've become somewhat comfortable with. My girls were still all over the place the last time I checked, and while I had some winners in the sketches I've done so far, there's zero consistency in style. I can draw something pretty good and something pretty terrible one right after the other without realizing what I did differently or where I went wrong. I did figure out how I like to draw ears just today, so... that's something. But I've got only the tiniest grasp on facial expressions, and everything from the chin down has gone completely ignored thusfar. I still haven't even begun looking into how to draw hair, and I'm still seeing very inconsistent results with eyes and mouths.

Maybe I'm practicing wrong. I don't know. There's a lot to work on in the faces, and I'll be starting from scratch on anatomy whenever I get to it. But I am getting better.

I've decided to go ahead and do an initial dump of most of my sketches so far. It probably won't be a regular thing until I'm able to get some character designs going, as I mentioned. And after I get there, ideally I'll be able to point this hypothetical future artist to my stuff and say, "It's kinda like that, but better. Like YOU do it." But if all else fails, maybe it'll end up being a record of how the guy who drew Spooky Corps learned to draw.

For now, here's this - roughly three weeks' worth of face sketches. You can click to enlarge, or not. The worst ones are the hardest to see, and maybe that's okay.

Enjoy.

- db

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News!

We'll skip the excuses. It is now day eight since my last post. Sorry about that.

Jordan and I have been chatting and exchanging emails for five of those days, and digging into the final part has been a blast. We've known so much of the story and where it was going for so long, but had a lot of dots to connect. Now after all these years, we're filling in all of those remaining answers and details and finally putting down some of the oldest ideas into the outline. It's a little insane to finally be wrapping up the story in a readable form, rough though it may be.

And we're here now because a little less than a year ago, a girl I'd hired at my day job drew a piece of concept art. You've seen it. It's this one:

HankHangman

Once I saw that, I finally believed without a doubt that telling this story was a real possibility. Like I said in my first post - You don't need film equipment or studio time or a cast, crew, and venue to make a comic book. You only need a few talented, creative people.

Trish drew between fifteen and twenty images for us, and we came close to committing to a partnership, but as you can see, she is very talented. And because of that she has a real job doing art things. So though she believes in and really likes Spooky Corps, she is unable to commit the time that she feels the project deserves. And that's okay. I'm so pleased that she contributed anything at all, and I wouldn't have started taking this so seriously and come as far as I've come had it not been for her. So thanks, Trish. Maybe your sketches can be an incentive on the crowdfunding campaign or something.

Anyway, as a result of this turn of events... nothing has changed. There is still a good amount of time between now and the vague, tentative release date of 2016. We're still several months out from scripting, I think, so it will be a while before we actually need an artist to draw a page. I plan and hope to find one who is talented and affordable.

Incidentally, I've started to practice drawing again. Six days straight so far, and I've made... interesting progress. I've started with female faces because I've never been able to draw those before. I've never /really/ tried to look into it, either. I've definitely gotten better, but not in a consistent way. Every face I draw looks decent now, but none of them look the same. They're decent in different ways. Different styles. But they're always better.

Maybe I'll post some progress reports.

What else?

I haven't been blowing up your news feed every other day with more of the same updates. I'm not sure I should say "I'm sorry" or "You're welcome" for that, but I lean toward the latter. Having said that, the website is back up. As you know.

I'll try to practice restraint.

And hey you - you didn't have to click the link and read this. Thanks for doing it. I think you're going to like this story, and it's cool that you're following its creation.

I'll talk to you later.

- db

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[Facebook Update]

Visit not the dot com. The host appears to be down. Sorry 'bout that.

I was in an Oscar-nominated-film-watching frenzy last week and took some days off to catch up. Still wasn't able to see them all, but we /had to try/.

Anyway, I made up for the time off by finishing the outline for part 3 tonight. So now I technically have an outline of the whole story where the the last part is /reaaaally/ rough and missing a lot, and completely lacking in emotional resonance.

But it's a full outline. And that's pretty cool.

- db

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