Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The 45 Minute Comic Strip Challenge Crackin' Crits

Last month, we had great fun returning to The Mitchell Library, this time for the Young Writers Conference, which was part of the excellent Aye Write! festival. We've been doing events for the Glasgow-based book festival for the last 4 years in row, and this year was as fantastic as ever (you can read more about it and see other fab authors who were involved here).

The Scottish Book Trust invited us to conduct a workshop with 25 pupils and help them all to create one giant comic strip in just 45 minutes. Take off the time it takes for introductions and to settle down, and they really had under 40 minutes. It was a genuine challenge, but the pupils did manage to do it! See their multiple hands in action in the photo below. The wonderful people at the Scottish Book Trust also asked us to write a blog about our experience on their website:

In early May we also conducted four author visits for Crackin' Crits. In week one, we talked to two classes of P7s about our Louis graphic novels and how we work on them. The following week we returned and this time the groups were filmed interviewing us, each pupil having one or two (or sometimes a good dozen) questions. It's a fantastic format and was great fun to do! One of the classes had been so inspired by our first session that they spent the week creating their own one page comic that they brought back to show us. They were so brilliant we have to post a few here:

Monday, 20 May 2013

5 Tips on Getting Started Creating a Graphic Novel - Part One

We've been mentoring the artist Gillian Steel through the making of her graphic novel (see previous post here). It's given us the idea of blogging a few tips on how to get started making a graphic novel.

Whether you're thinking of writing and drawing the entire book yourself, or of working with a writer or an artist, it's a good idea to have an all round knowledge of how comics and graphic novels work.

Naturally, there are no set rules for creating a comic, and every artist or creator will approach things uniquely. There is no right way to begin a graphic novel story and there can of course be an exciting experimentational period of creativity before the exact direction of the story emerges.

In this initial blog post we'll look at 5 simple tips for writing a comic story.

1. Writing a script. For readability a story should have a direction and a structure, including beginning, middle and end. Writing a script first can be an important step in planning a story. The script should basically be made of dialogue, and where appropriate, and if you choose to write this way, narrative text. Cut back on descriptions. Or even better, eliminate them altogether (except the ones you write for youself as a guide, for example notes on image content). You can of course create preparatory sketches and get visual ideas down at the same time.

The above is obviously not a set rule. Some creators think visually first, rather than in words, and jump straight to thumbnails (see Tip 2), without writing a script. Some do a bit of both. A rare few might even "improvise" and jump straight to final artwork, drawing the story panel by panel without detailed advance planning: Chris Ware, for example has worked in this way. When we make a comic, we both have an input in the story and its content, but John writes the script, and Sandra works from it to produce layout or thumbnails.

Example of a page of script for our graphic novel Louis - Red Letter Day

2. Making thumbnails. Thumbnails, or layout, are basically a rough draft of your story in words and pictures. At this point the artwork is just made of sketches. This is a crucial stage in the planning, as it is where you can work out how the story is actually reading visually. At this stage you can also try out different versions of thumbnails, to find the best possible way to lay out your story. Sometimes we have made as many as 12 drafts of a thumbnail sequence before getting it right! This obviously saves an enormous amount of work later on: imagine you did 12 pages of final artwork, only to realise that the story doesn't read well and you'd like to redo it. Final artwork can be extremely time consuming to produce.

You can thumbnail chunks of pages at a time, or even better, the entire book. Thumbnailing the entire book has the advantage that you can then read the whole story and decide that say, the beginning needs to be reworked and improved, or that you need to add a sequence in the middle, or develop a character further. It gives you perspective and a better feel for the pacing of the whole story.

Example of thumbnails, or layout pages, for Louis - Red Letter Day.
Extract from the making-of section in the new hardback
edition of Louis - Red Letter Day.

3. Edit, edit, edit. Whether you write a script first or jump straight to thumbnails, don't be afraid to rework. And then to rework some more. Cut back on word count. A comic story takes a lot more space to tell than a novel, because the art takes so much space. This means that your story can very quickly expand to thousands of pages. Also, there's not much room in a comic panel to fit text, and, words and pictures work best together when they are balanced. What that balance is depends on your style, but a page heavy in text is likely to put off a reader, or even to lose them all together. So try to keep things succinct. Edit and change the words until they are as good as they can be. Edit and change the layout until you have found the best way to tell your story.

4. The important information goes in the text. Every reader reads a graphic novel novel differently. Some absorb all the information, text and images, carefully. Others skip over the pictures and only read the text. So make sure all your important story elements are in the dialogue and or narrative text, not only in the images, as they may end up being missed all together.

5. Give your brain time to incubate. Leaving a story aside for a few days or more is sometimes necessary. You can come back to it more objectively, take stock of what you have produced and see what needs to be changed much more clearly. Your brain is doing work for you without you knowing about it. Problems can be solved when you stop thinking about them for a while and come back to them afresh.

In our next post, we'll look at thumbnailing and page layout, so stay tuned.

We'd be interested in hearing how other people approach their own creative process. How do you work and create your own comics? Do you have any tips? You are most welcome to leave your comments below this post!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Graphic Novel Mentoring

We are mentoring the artist Gillian Steel through the creation of her graphic novel project.

Gillian is an eclectic artist, a graduate of Glasgow School of Art, her practice includes short films, animations, video art (you can see her videos here), hand-crafted objects, printing and drawing. She has a day job as a cultural coordinator in Ayrshire and is also a mother of three. With so much already on her plate she has managed to produce a lot of script and final artwork in the three months since she started her book, which is extremely admirable! She lives with BAFTA nominated filmmaker Kevin Cameron, who is currently making a documentary about writer Alasdair Gray.

We actually first came across her work in the mid 90s when we were making one of our first comics Strange Weather Lately. At the time we used a local printer, Clydeside Press, and they also happened to print a comic that Gillian was involved in called Dead Trees. More recently, she invited us to conduct a series of workshops in Ayr with young women assisting them in a comic project called Come Back (you can read a blog about this project here).

And now Gillian has asked us to mentor her through the making of her full length graphic novel, Destination Detonate. For this, she received funding from Creative Scotland.

In our capacity as mentors we have met Gillian a couple of times already, and she has been talking about her project and showing us what she has done so far, as well as sending us the first draft of her script.

The first advice we gave her was to edit and cut away a lot of her text particularly descriptive text, as she would probably have ended up doing thousands of pages of comic otherwise. At the same time as editing, she has been developing some drawings to get a feel for the best way to tell her story combining words and pictures, and finding a narrative rhythm.

We also recommended she make some thumbnails of pages, rather than jumping directly to drawing final artwork. This will save a lot of work later on, as it is much quicker to rework thumbnails than finished pages, if and when she discovers that a sequence of panels doesn't quite work.

Thumbnails can also help one see the story arc and stucture more clearly. On reading her text at the begining, one thing that struck us was that it lacked a clear direction in the storytelling. Of course stories can be experimental and there is no right way to create a graphic novel. But Gillian was feeling things out still and wasn't quite sure herself just how to order the different scenes, or if they should be re-ordered at all. Perhaps what she lacked at this early stage was the ability to sit back from her story and look at it objectively - which can be an extremely difficult thing to do indeed. Hopefully thumbnailing has allowed her to find this perspective and clarify the story direction.

Gillian Steel's script and try out sketches

So she has been producing thumbnails, not for the entire book, but in chunks of pages, and creating her final artwork, while she thumbnails another chunk. It's quite an organic way of developing her story, and she is finding her feet as she is working on it.

Gillian Steel's thumbnails
Much of her final artwork is rendered entirely in pencils, and she has created some very evocative and beautiful images. But as yet she hasn't shown us her revised script. Next on the to-do list is to receive and read her first chunks of scanned pages so we can give her some feedback on storytelling.
Gillian Steel portfolio of final artwork
We'll be posting more on mentoring Gillian over the coming months, as she further develops her comic, so watch this space...

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Re-Mit by The Fall Review

John here has been listening to The Fall since the group released their first record Bingo-Master's Break-Out! back in 1977 and has been a constant fan. Recently, more and more, their music has formed a backdrop for working and has provided a source of inspiration for writing.

Re-Mit, their 30th studio album will be released on Monday by Cherry Red.
There is a great Pebbles’ acid garage feel to parts of the album and a real tightness to the playing: this is the fourth record the current incarnation of the group have made together.
Naturally, it isn’t really possible to properly review a new record by The Fall as first impressions rarely reveal the true depth of the songs or the hidden structures of the whole. Only over time do little, psychedelic masterpieces (like Early Days of Channel Fuhrer or Inevitable or Birthday Song) begin to emerge and burn their way into your mind. As with much of the group’s body of work this sounds like a grower.

With twelve songs, including the recent, vinyl-only, singles Re-Mit on initial listens seems very well balanced: it’s tuneful and less vitriolic than the previous release, Ersatz GB. Guitar and keyboard melodies appear throughout in unexpected places and in innovative ways. The clear production is an excellent match for the songs and there’s a great mixture of Dada noise and playfulness throughout.

Opener No Respects (Intro) is bright and speedy with a surf-punk vibe and a welcome clarity: the keyboards bring to mind the early Stranglers as much as The Fall.

Next, recent Record Store Day 7” Sir William Wray recalls classic Fall singles High Tension Line and Theme from Sparta FC  #2. It sharpens the sound of the album with a hard edge.

Although there is no cover version on this record, Kinder of Spine started life as Spider live, and the lyrics reference Spider and the Fly by The Monocles. Hittite Man with its pounding bass and squirting acid guitar is bookended by the shorter experimental electronics and vocal strangeness of Noise and Pre-MDMA Years. No Respects Rev has a poppy bounce: tuneful  keyboard lines counterbalance equally tuneful vocals and chiming guitars.

With 37 hard-working years of experience it shouldn’t surprise when Mark E Smith and The Fall create something astonishing like Victrola Time. Building on an electronic and rhythmic bass and drum intro, the song is an event in itself. When they finally arrive the vocals are deranged: utterly demented and almost unrecognisable! The vocal delivery is then multi-tracked, treated and gradually settles as the song emerges through layers of keyboards and locks into a hypnotic groove. It is clear that this is music made through a genuine love of 70s German bands like Can and Neu!

Irish works edgy guitar against a stream of consciousness vocal delivery, growls and hisses, over rhythmic hops and skips and sits well beside Jetplane where multi-layered vocals create textures and relate a surreal story song over a marching tempo.

Jam Song has the most unusual structure and is nothing like a jam: keyboards interact with guitars, constantly shifting, and once again vocals are used as instruments and the melody lines reveal themselves gradually.

Loadstones is fantastic and closes the album on a high. Another earworm from The Fall: working its way into your brain.

The total of 30 albums is somewhat misleading and live releases: Totale’s Turns, Seminal Live, 2G+2 and The Twenty Seven Points all contain studio tracks while other live albums (like Austurbaejarbio or In the City...) are so utterly brilliant they deserve to be counted on their own right. Stone classics like Grotesque, Slates, Hex Enduction Hour, The Wonderful And Frightening World Of..., This Nation’s Saving Grace, Bend Sinister, Fall Heads Roll or The Real New Fall LP continue to attract new fans but it is LPs like Levitate, a compelling and intense creature (akin to Sister Lovers Big Star’s third album), or The Marshall Suite that really repay repeated listenings.

Mark E Smith intuitively understands that rock and roll music is something mysterious that can’t be pinned down. The modern sounds the group create blend influences and innovation: avant garde classical music like Stockhausen; early Sun Records rockabilly; experimental free spirits like Lee Hazlewood or Link Wray; The Mothers of Invention; The Stooges; off-beat reggae and weird dub like Lee Perry; garage punk groups like The Monks and The Sonics; country and western, esoteric electronic music like the Irdial label; swaggering techno; drum and bass and jungle to name but a few, all feed into The Fall world to create something new and unique.

Live The Fall can be mesmerising. Occasionally they can disappoint but then you cannot have a maverick conformist. Like a jazz band The Fall are a working band and can never be underestimated.

The Infinite Corpse

We're delighted to have been invited to contribute to the new, exciting, online comic The Infinite Corpse.

The chain comic currently has 213 artists contributing, among them no less than: Art Spiegelman, Paul Karasik, Matt Madden, Tom Hart, Aaron Renier, Paul Hornschemeier, Alison Bechdel, Nate Beaty, Lewis Trondheim, Peter Kuper, Michael Kupperman, Gabrielle Bell, Craig Thompson... and the list goes on!

The Infinite Corpse is inspired by The Narrative Corpse book by RAW from the 90s, and by Scott McCloud's idea of The Infinite Canvas (an online comic doesn't need to be limited by page count). The story of The Infinite Corpse, in fact, has no beginning and no end. Each artist has contributed 3 panels to the story using the main character of "Corpsey", following some basic rules. The story is also now open to submissions.

Below is our own contribution, which you can also see here as part of the story:

The Infinite Corpse is a brilliant website and features outstanding work. It's also a fantastic platform for artists to have fun outside of the usual constraints of the graphic novel form.