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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