Last time, when I posted the conclusion of “The Case of the Renegade Refrigerator,” I said I wouldn’t post the remaining stories in Multiverse Comics and Stories.
I lied. Or actually, I just changed my mind. For more on “The Invasion of the Bozobots,” click to visit blog posting no. 22. The rest of the story will follow these four pages in future postings.
Last time I thought I was just about ready to finish the first issue of my next comic, “Pause & Reflect Comics.”
Was I ever wrong! My wife, Cameron, generously allowed me to pin all the 32 finished pages up on one of her studio walls. (As much as I love my studio, it doesn’t have enough wall space.) This is a great way to literally get an overview. You can see how the story progresses visually and how facing pages work together as design.
It was a revelation to me! I started seeing problems after problems –and not just with drawing, color, and design. The overview also made me aware of the story progression. There was far too much explaining instead of showing. Too many characters, too many subplots, and too much complexity.
Worst of all, there was not enough fun and silliness!
Buddhists and many other students of human nature are aware how we are biologically and culturally conditioned to see problems. It’s an important survival strategy that our species has benefitted from, but at a cost. We often have trouble seeing the wonders of the world because of our obsession with the problems. I think there’s some good stuff in those 32 pages, but for a while all I could see was a glaring, neon-lit, cavalcade of festering troubles.
Cameron’s feedback helped immeasurably. However, it took time and putting some mental distance between me and the project before I was able to acknowledge the truth of the problems. I was clinging to the seductive notion of nearly having the first issue of P&R done. This is the kind of clinging that can cause enormous suffering!
I need a fresh start. I won’t be starting from scratch, but will have to use the hard work I’ve done as a launching pad for a reboot.
A bit of serendipity is involved here because Cameron and I have been reading Jessica Able‘s nonfiction comic Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. This is a black and white investigation into the process involved in specialized radio and podcast programs. (Jessica Able is co-author of the two comic book how-to textbooks I’ve already praised: Drawing Words and Writing Pictures and the sequel, Mastering Comics.)
I often listen to music while I work –mostly my eclectic iTunes collection of jazz of all kinds (mostly instrumental with a heavy 60’s slant) and weird classical stuff (but also lots of Bach). I don’t listen to talk radio, not even NPR. I find it distracting and it feels a bit manipulative, but there’s obviously fascinating stories being created under tight deadlines and I found Able’s description of the whole production process intriguing. A “Show Guide” at the end of the comic lists all the programs included in her book. There’s a lot of emphasis on This American Life, produced by Ira Glass, who writes the book’s forward. Other shows described are Radiolab, Planet Money, Radio Diaries, 99% Invisible, The Moth, Snap Judgement, and Transom Story Workshop.
The shows have different themes, goals, and approaches, but one aspect that is common is “edits.” This is not about actual sound editing of content, although that’s usually a part of the process too. What they mean by “edits” is when all the staff group-critique the person who is creating a particular show. It reminds me of when I was studying art in college in the B.F.A. and M.F.A. programs and all the students and teachers would look at a painting one of us was working on and figuratively tear it apart. It could be a brutal business if you took it personally and since in a way you were displaying your guts and soul on a canvas, it was difficult to avoid taking it personally.
Out on the Wire shows this brutality on a story-creator and its benefits as well in ultimately forming a better work. In many cases people are under enormous stress to come up with a special ear-grabbing product in a very short time involving many hours of hard work.
It also describes several litmus-test formulas for determining if a story is worth pursuing. One is “I’m doing a story about X. And what’s interesting about it is Y.” Another more elaborate example is “This happened _________________, then this ______________________, then this __________________, and then you wouldn’t #$%&*! believe it, but _______________. And the reason that is interesting to every single person walking on the face of the earth is _____________.”
Radio or podcast listeners are likely to be easily distracted (who isn’t?) and the story maker needs some compelling “hook” to keep the listener engaged.
So, the continuing feature story I’ve planned for Pause & Reflect Comics is “Edzl’s Awakening, Or Yes, We Have Some Nibbanas.” (“Nibbana” is the Pali term for the more familiar Sanskrit word, “Nirvana.”
This is a story about an extraterrestrial, a being from another world. And what’s interesting about it is that he gets into Buddhism, the teachings of a human who lived 2500 years ago!
Does that grab you at all? How would you improve on it? (At this point I won’t even try the second formula.) I know I don’t want it to be evangelistic or to “sell” Buddhist philosophy and I’m sure whatever version finally emerges, there will be plenty of silliness and sci-fi weirdness. Can I modify the formula with these aspects?
I’m glad I’m not under the pressures these folks have to deal with, but it’s not hard to see the importance of attracting a reader’s interest. My whole approach has been mostly to please myself, but OK, I’m maybe a bit peculiar. All kinds of notions are buzzing in my bonnet.
I’m thinking about doing it as a black-and-white webcomic first, then as a full-color comic later (probably involving considerable editing). But since I don’t know squat about webcomics, I’ve got some learning’ to do! “Comic” confusion ain’t so funny from where I sit!
Near the end of Out on the Wire, Jessica Able describes her own process of creating her comic. It involved many rewrites and reworking of a huge amount of research and she’s frank about the difficulties. It’s an inspiration to keep at this and not settle for version one.
In the meantime, I’ll post the rest of Multiverse Comics and Stories every once and while and I hope you tune in to the “Chimera Spoor” station!
Multiverse Comics and Stories is available in hard copy and Kindle versions here>>. This is a full-color, 106-page comic that includes all kinds of goofy characters including a cyberdog, winged bunnies, and flying bananas.
Asteroid Stu and the Mind-Duel is a 54-page, black and white comic that also has a cyberdog and Edzl, the extraterrestrial and is a prequel of sorts for MC&S. It’s also available in hard copy and Kindle versions. See more here>>.