As a writer, how did you find the process of getting started in comics?
For me that’s where the problem lay, getting started. I’ve always been writing in some shape or form, but I hadn’t written for comics in a long time. I’d talk about it, jot down notes about potential stories, but I’d never get stuck in properly. There was a lot of messing about coming up with excuses not to write, but once I did actually put pen to paper (or more often than not ink in the printer) I got a lot of work done. It’s amazing what a good creative kick up the ass can do, so I have to thank last year’s Small Press Day for that.
The process of learning the craft of comic-making was an interesting one. Most of what I had done before comics was prose work. I had written a comic back in Transition Year as part of a workshop organised by Cork City Library (it’s terrible and with all hope shall never ever again see the light of day), so I knew about the format of scripts etc. As well as that, I used to do quite a bit of comics critique and reviews online, so breaking down why a comic worked or didn’t was nothing new to me, but some of the technique, tools and tricks remained elusive. Luckily, it’s easier to learn this stuff than ever before. This is a subject that has been written on by Scott McCloud, Jim Zub, and many others. So I looked to them and worked from there. Strip Panel Naked was just kicking-off properly and Hass’ breakdowns were of a massive help.
I was lucky as well that just as I finished my first comic project; Lex Iniusta, that a comic storytelling class opened up in the Irish Writer’s Centre with PJ Holden (artist extraordinaire and world’s nicest man). If you have the opportunity to do one of those courses or any workshops of the kind, it is fantastic learning experience. It provided me with the momentum to keep going and I haven’t stopped since.
You’ve worked with a lot of different creators; what’s your process in finding the right person for each story?
Oh man, there are so many factors to consider. I used to write scripts blind and find an artist that suited them later, but I’ve found that to be less rewarding an experience for all involved. It’s just the wrong way to go about it in Small Press and I’ve learned from each subsequent project. Nowadays, I start with a pitch which will include a logline and general outline of a story. I also typically have a first draft of the script prepared. I may have an idea at this point of who I’d like to collaborate with from the people I know through the scene, friends, or from the various online portfolios that get shared about on Twitter from time to time. How do you know if someone is right for a project? Well, you look at the emotional heart of the story and the feeling you are hoping to invoke, look for collaborators who fit with those.
When I find someone I am interested in working with I reach out to them via email, explain who I am if I don’t know them personally and pitch them the story. I keep it succinct and to the point. People don’t need your life story in these initial exploratory emails. I’ll always link to my portfolio so they can see work I have done in the past. You’ve got to be professional about it from the start. If they are interested, I talk with them about the story a bit more, find out what their schedule is like and see what ideas they have. It’s at this point if I have a first draft of the script that I’d send it to them. Meeting up with people to hash out a story over coffee can be very useful if possible. I’ll nearly always do another draft of the script with the person in mind once they are on board.
There is no point in denying it either, you have to look at your budget (if any). You should ideally be paying your collaborators something, even when they are people you are friends with. It may not be a full page-rate, but it should be something. Be open and frank about what you can afford. Your collaborator is going to be your partner for whatever project you are bringing to them and the foundation of a good creative relationship is honesty. You’d be surprised what opportunities can present themselves when you approach someone with a plan. I’ve been lucky to get the chance to work with some of my favourite artists on the scene because of this. Again, it is all about being professional and presenting yourself as such. You are asking people to take time out of their lives to work on a project with you. It’ll take way more time for them to draw your script than it did for you to write it. So be conscious of that fact. You should approach any discussions as to deadlines with the same honesty and frankness.
Ultimately, it may come down to one question. Can you afford to do this story with this artist at this time? Sometimes the answer is going to be no and you’ll have to adjust accordingly. The truth is that it is going to be hard for you as a writer in comics. At the end of the day, you are the project manager. You are going to have to pitch yourself to people. It is rarer that people will come to you looking to collaborate. If it does? Great, you are well on your way, but you’ve got to bare that in mind when approaching potential collaborators. What I say may seem like it just applies to artists, but it goes for colorists and letterers too.
How do you approach the storytelling process throughout the production of the comic?
There’s a process?! Why didn’t anyone tell me? My approach isn’t anything revolutionary, it is all about tweaking as you go. Everything starts in a notebook for me. I just find it easier to hash things out once there is something on a page and I’ve found that hand-written stuff works best for me. It’s easier to break story when it is a tangible thing that you can scribble out or add to in the margins. I start with a premise or character and work from there. At that early stage, I’ll have an idea about the theme of the story and maybe some of the key visuals or pieces of dialogue. The first draft of the outline will be handwritten and include a detailed page-by-page breakdown. This is easier to do with shorter stories. This will be refined once I commit the outline to soft copy. I use that as the basis to begin scripting and edit as I go. Once the first draft is does, I circulate to a few trusted friends for their feedback. I’ll tweak things here and there once an artist is on-board, sharpening the dialogue as the linework comes in so that the lettering draft reflects the linework.
What’s been most helpful to you, as a writer, when working with different creators?
It certainly helps that I’ve gotten on well with all of them. I’ve had the honour of working with some incredible talented people over the last year, much more talented than myself. What I love most about collaborating with them is the passion and creativity they’ve brought to each project. Apart from being delightful to work with, they’ve each taught me something about the craft that I didn’t know before. So what’s been most helpful has been their insight and approach to the medium. Each project has been a masterclass in comics storytelling and my collaborators the greatest of teachers.
You write in several genres. If you could only pick one to write a book under, which would you choose, and would you expand on an existing story you’ve already written?
It would have to be science fiction. It’s a genre that I love precisely because of how broad it is and the storytelling potential that it offers. From space fantasies to high concept narratives, you’d never feel stuck for choice or limited in anyway. All of the short stories that I’ve written are made to be read as standalones rather than backdoor pitches. However, part of the draw for me as a storyteller is building these worlds for your characters to inhabit even for the short amount of time you may spend with them page-wise. A story needs to have a definable world. In my head I have additional stories for some of the characters or worlds featured in Mixtape, and maybe someday those stories will be told, but I am much more interested in exploring and creating new worlds. As Edna Mode said “I never look back darling, it distracts from the now!”.
You’re relatively new to the Irish small press scene; how has it been for you so far?
It’s been phenomenal. This is something that anyone with a passing knowledge of the scene is aware of. What I love about the Irish comics scene is just how open and inclusive it is. Ask anyone with a passing knowledge of the scene and they will tell you how tight a group it is. Everyone knows everyone (cliché, but no less valid), they all go for drinks together and support each other’s work. They are just really nice bunch and a pleasure to be around. I’ve been lucky to make some really good friends over the last year which has made integrating into the Big Smoke a lot easier.
What’s your one tip for people wanting to make a start in comics?
Don’t wait for permission. Shut up, get out there and do it. Indie comics is punk rock, there are no gatekeepers. Find likeminded people and let your voices be heard. I can’t promise you it’ll be easy, but if you want to tell stories in any capacity you’ve got to take that first step.
What’s next for you in the world of comics?
Now that Mixtape is going to be out into the world for everyone to see (screams internally), I have one or two more short projects that I am working on with some killer artists which I should be able to talk about soon. Other than that, I’ll be doing what I have been up until now. I am going to keep writing and developing ideas, aim at completing some longer projects. Last year at Small Press Day, I set myself the goal of having a book out for this year’s event and I managed that. This year, I’ve set myself another goal, but that would be telling. So I’ll be working towards honing my craft and putting myself in the best position to be able to achieve that.
On the Limit Break Comics side of things, I am going to be working on the Panel Addicts initiative. We have so much talent here in Ireland across the all aspects of the comics creative process. I want to be able to showcase those people and provide a central hub for their work. Twitter has become the de facto home for the comics crowd to promote their work and over the past year, more and more creatives have been posting short comics/sketches there. A more permanent home is needed to archive this material so that it isn’t forgotten. So we are taking inspiration from the Sketchblogs of yesteryear and putting together a regular blog that will feature comic art and short stories. More importantly, what the blog will provide is a forum for a collective of Irish Small Press creators. We going to start out slowly, but we hope to be able to expand it over the coming months and open up submissions in the near future.