The decision to make a graphic novel to accompany my web series Raptured wasn’t one I was expecting to make. In fact, it all came from a conversation with an artist who loved comics and wanted to get back into drawing again. I was telling him of my experience at comic con when the British Web series team invited us to be on a panel and how I would have loved to have been an even bigger part of it. The idea of making my own graphic novel was born!
The concept of creating a graphic novel with a TV series as part of the storyline isn’t a new one. I heard Tim Kring speak at SXSW in 2009 and he talked about multiplatform storytelling (which is what led me down the rabbit hole). When one of the actresses on season 4 of Heroes was shooting a movie, he made her character go on a mission and she continued that in an online comic where the writers introduced the carnival that became part of the main storyline in season. If Tim Kring could do it...
So I embarked on my current 7 month journey. It’s not moved forward a great deal but it’s given me a lot of research time and experiences of a few dead ends! For the first season of Raptured, I shot it in London and released it at the end of 2011 and it has had over ½ a million views to date. In season 2, we're going to be in New York and in London but we never see what happens in New York when the Rapture occurs. But how do I show what happened in New York from day one? A series of comics! Two 24 page comics in fact. Or at least that’s what I figured would work for the story. That way I’d reach a new audience, keep my current audience engaged until I shot season 2 in 2013 and I’d get to fulfil a childhood dream. It wasn’t Marvel but it would be mine.
So I reached out to an artist I love the work of to try to create a comic starting on the first day of the Rapture with the New York characters (who will be in the filmed series) and how they deal with it, how the government cracks down, the fear, the problems, etc. In that world, America is scary - at first it seems fun and exciting and bewildering - but then it turns sinister as the government starts rounding up anyone who can Rapture for experiments. This would lead up to where the filmed show will continue. And if there is interest in the comic itself, then hopefully the partnership could continue following some of the side characters as they live in a post-apocalyptic world of love, sex, danger, mystery, and a bit of sci-fi.
Of course, what I thought would be straight forward was not… and here are a few things I’ve learned and you should consider when deciding, as a non-artist, to embark on creating a comic.
1) READ, READ, READ
Read all the comics/ graphic novels/ web comics, you can get your hands on. Comixology often has free comics on offer and you can get previews of comics you may want to look at and for the most part you can get a good feel of it straight away. DO NOT embark down this road if you have not done this.
2) Research your Idea
Has anyone done this? Have they done it better? You want to stand out from the hundreds and thousands of graphic novels out there. Why put in all your time, effort and money into something that no one will look at?
3) Finding/Working with an Artist
There is much debate on paying vs non-paying. I believe in paying those who work for you (Alex Woolfson is adamant about this) but sometimes at the beginning of projects there’s no money there to make that happen.
So my first artist and I made an agreement for him to work at a reduced rate for me. This meant I didn’t get to eat out or drink coffees any more but I thought it would be worth it. I knew he was busy but thought we could balance it OK. Turns out his other work took all of his time and I only got one initial page after 4 months of back and forth.
It was exciting to see a first page but that’s as far as it got. At the same time, I was at the London Screenwriters Conference and heard Tony Lee speak and he encouraged anyone who wanted to create indie comics to look for a partner. Then you were in it together. And you both worked hard to create the vision. That’s exactly how I like to work so I started looking around for another artist. As the first page my first artist drew didn’t quite capture the essence of New York, I felt like I had to find an artist who lives there. I also created mood boards using Pinterest (I like having my process as social as possible because why the heck not!) so I could share my vision.
The problem with working on an indie comic is that both parties are doing it for potential gain so it gets put on the back burner. It takes 10+ hours to work on a single page so you really have to want to do it. And have the time for it. My next artist was super stoked but couldn’t commit to my timeline as he was so backed up with freelance work.
So I’m back to the drawing board…literally.
This is extremely important to work out. This helps determine what kind of artist you want and how you want to script.
Warren Ellis has put together a post outlining a few cool comics that were made just for the web and what you have to think about in terms of web. But you have to also think, do you want to print this? Print comics always have reveals on the even number pages as you build up on the odd number of pages and make them flip the page for the reveal. Clever huh?
Originally I thought about doing a single page but then people who have to scroll could find this annoying as that format is not built well for tablets, etc. Then I saw this and my mind was blown. I so wanted to do this but a shorter version of it so maybe 4 official pages but there would be movement between them. I loved it as it reminds me of a flip book. It made me think that those 4 "pages" (which are really thirds/ halves of a page) can then go together to create an actual page when we put this all together and put it out as a complete story. It could work.
By understanding scripting formats, you can actually give the artist the right information they need to get your comic made as you don’t want any of their time to go to waste. I’d have everything scripted and worked out before a pen goes to paper. It’s very similar to film writing but you have to think of every panel as a single thought or action. You can’t have two things going on at once, so you have to really distill your idea and make it move.
Think – can I tell it in 7 panels, in 4, in 3, in 1? You have to motor through and make people want to flip through the pages. This is a great blog post about different script formats and is a must read. I also recommend people look at Rucka & Burchett’s Lady Sabre and the Pirate of the Ineffable Ether. What’s brilliant about it, is that they also include the script with the comic so you can see the initial concept and the finished product.
6) Getting your work out there
Alex Woolfson wrote a post called Advice for a Potential Webcomic Writer. This is where I found out about Project Wonderful. This site is both a place to advertise your comic and generate income. As web comics specialists, this gives you a great place to reach an audience. A lot of comic readers also go on Comixology and Graphicly. Graphicly is also a great place (though costly) to publish your comics on all tablet/phone/ web.
So my journey continues. If you are an artist looking to create a comic/ web series world with me, do give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org As a new comer to the world of comics, it will take some time to make the right connections but I know if I keep looking, I will find the perfect partner.
Want to learn more about writing for comics and graphic novels? Take the course with the award-winning comic-writer Tony Lee.
Heather Taylor is a writer and director based in New York and London who is currently working with Econsultancy, where she writes about digital marketing in North America. You can follow her on twitter – @HeatherATaylor – and check out her company Red on Black Productions and her projects, Raptured and her latest When the Lights Went Out – a transmedia project about Hurricane Sandy.