23 September 2013

Creating a Comic Series is Hard.

Image (cc) by Michael Maggs
I've been really lucky, I think, to have had the opportunity to study comics creation in both an academic and workshop setting, learning from great artist-authors like Paul Hornschemier and Wayne Wise.

Because otherwise, I'm pretty sure I'd be completely lost on my project, Son of the Siren. Now I'm only mostly-lost.

Son of the Siren sprouted from my brain in March right when I was finishing up my novel, The Name and the Key.  I was SO TEMPTED to start working on it then, because I was nearing burnout mode on the book, and I wanted to make something else. But I held off.

After graduating from SHU and sending out queries to agents (and beginning the next two books in the series), I did reach full burnout mode and decided to temporarily shelve work on the trilogy. I figure if you're starting to hate your books, you need to pull away, fast.

And thus I began work on Son of the Siren--a project to keep my brain creative, my fingers moving, and fill the nothingness of my schedule while I wait for agent responses and potential employer responses.

I remembered the importance of drawing thumbnails (storyboards) the art for the comic from a three-hour comics module I took with Wayne Wise. I grabbed a GIANT artist portfolio notebook ( 12 x 8 inches), flipped it on its side, and got to work.

At first, I wanted to draw characters that looked like characters. That was the perfectionist in me trying to take over. But I realized when you're storyboarding and plotting, little sketchy shapes will do just fine. It took me a few squares to figure that out, but once I got over myself, (and got messy!) I started working faster.

Starting to ink in Manga Studio, whee!
Image (c) KEB.
After drafting 45 thumbnails, I got a little antsy and tried to get a full-fledged page completed.  It took me about twelve hours to do this, because I am a total newbie and honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing most of the time.

I am unable to draw people without using references for their body, so luckily deviantArt has Senshi Stock, a resource of photographs with different poses for artists to reference. I'm pretty sure until I get better, my comic series will be full of Senshi Stock people.

When I draw, I have more of an interest in people than I do backgrounds or scenery. I also am incapable of drawing realistically or clean on any level. For a bit, I beat myself up about this, and being unable to understand things like perspective or anatomy (d'oh!) that "real" artists understand.

But then I remembered Paul Hornschemier's words from the Thurber House workshop: you don't have to be a great artist to create a comic. You have to have a good story. 

Because my self-confidence has taken a bit of a hit lately, I felt like I needed this concept to be validated by my artistic peers. I ran a poll on my deviantArt page asking what people look for when they pick up a comic. 81% said it was the promise of a good story that ensured whether or not they'd give a comic or manga a chance.

I found that data to be very encouraging, which gave me enough of a boost to get the series up and running. I'm happy to say I just completed the first page of the story, which only took... uh...ten hours, maybe? And although I can look at the art and realize that I've made technical mistakes a pro would be able to overcome,  I have to tell myself that I've got a great story here, and my artwork is a bit more stylized, and totally how I do things. Since the comic is a fantasy, I figure I can get away with a little bit more. :)

I'm happy with the first page of the comic. If you're interested in keeping tabs on the story, click the picture and it'll take you to deviantArt, which is where I'll be submitting it. If interest increases, or if enough of the comic is posted, I'll probably expand it to a place like SmackJeeves or Manga Magazine (for free). 

I'll keep you updated on the creative process, and if there's any resources or tips I uncover while I work on this, I'll let you know. 

07 September 2013

Rejections, Rejections

Pikachu knows how it feels.
gif from Kotaku 
Well, readers, the time has come for responses to come in from all of the initial query letters I sent out to agents.

As a recap, my novel, The Name and the Key, doubled as my graduate thesis for my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill.

When the iron was hot I re-proofed the entire manuscript, then fired off a few queries to agents; specifically agents who allowed pages from the book to be sent along with the query.

My first agent rejection was the creme-de-la-creme. Believe it or not, there is a bizarre hierarchy of rejections to receive (since rejections are almost an automatic in the publishing business, especially when you're a newbie), and my first rejection letter was amazing because of the following:

  • The rejection was personalized
  • The rejection contained compliments on the manuscript
  • The rejection contained reasons why it was passed over
  • The rejection contained advice on what to do to as I continue to submit to other agents
The rejection was also sent to me about two weeks after I submitted pages to the agent, which is really fast! After a rejection like that, I felt high as a kite, because this is a "good rejection." It means that the agent was engaged in the work; it means, "you're close, but not quite." For a first rejection, this blew my mind, and I automatically thought, Things will only go up from here!  Poor, naive me started actively believing that life goes in a straight line, and since I got a perfect rejection, an agent would come knocking soon. Writers, please don't be this silly. Try not to expect anything.

The other agents to whom I submitted pages described on their websites that their average turn-around time would be eight weeks or so. After I submitted queries along with pages (larger samples this time: 25 and 50 pages, woo!) I twiddled my thumbs and got back to work on various projects: plotting the rest of The Step and the Walk, doing additional research for the other novels and at last, correcting The Name and the Key for continuity errors,since it will be part of a trilogy. Later I rewrote the ending to The Name and the Key because I wasn't happy with it. And after that, I took my manuscript and had it bound and printed (privately!) as a manuscript just for family members to read since they had been waiting since APRIL to read the book, and most don't have access to digital files.

For proofing The Name and the Key for what feels like the nine billionth time, it didn't matter that my book-bound version of the manuscript looked professional and lovely. Everyone in the family has found a ton of errors I never caught. GRR! After learning of this, I immediately got paranoid that I turned inadvertently sloppy work to agents, and that it possibly could cause me rejections.

This paranoia erupted right around the eight-week mark, where I knew I'd start to get responses from agents. First response back: a rejection. A form letter rejection. On the hierarchy of rejections, this is at the bottom. It means, "thanks, but no thanks." So I started laughing, because now I've experienced the very best and very worst of rejections, and I thought that the next rejections coming should be right in between the two. Writers, please don't be this silly. Try not to expect anything.
(c) Graphic Stock

Actually, I'm still waiting to hear from more agents, so I have no idea what they'll say. This is a healthier way to look at it, I think, instead of trying to predict responses. And usually I take criticism and rejection well, but I'm feeling a bit down because I'm also being simultaneously rejected in another area: employment.

So, Kristina can't get an agent and can't get a job at the moment. When you put those two together, I think my feeling dejected is pretty reasonable.

What's my advice to counter all of this? STAY CREATIVE, STAY BUSY. And maybe weirdly enough, DREAM BIGGER. 

Since I'm sick of my book and have been proofing it and tweaking it far too much, I've stepped away from it. I should be getting on with The Step and the Walk, but it involves the same characters, so the thing feels like the same old, same old. I'm a bit burnt out. It's probably why I keep missing really obvious mistakes in my manuscripts.

To keep myself busy, I'm working on The Son of the Siren, an enormous project that will take up a lot of time because it's a comic series. That means I'm drawing and writing. It's not my book, but it's still creative, and drawing well (including ink and color) takes me much longer to do. I've been working on the book cover, and so far I've devoted ten hours to it. I'm nowhere near done, but it's taking up my free time, helping me concentrate, and keeping me excited with the creative process.

I'm still looking for employment, but since I've gotten rejections for work I thought I'd be really good for, I thought, As long as I'm getting rejections anyway, I should apply for jobs that are a little bit crazier. A little bit more adventurous. There are some writing fellowships I found that I'd like to apply for, which would help me nab the opportunity to teach as well as write. But the most ambitious job I'm considering is teaching English as a foreign language. I signed up for TEFL courses in preparation for this, and my ultimate goal (or maybe just my first goal) is to apply for the JET Program: The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.

Applications aren't available yet on the JET site but nonetheless, I've been preparing myself. I've been studying the history and culture of Japan; researching alumni experiences from JET teachers; talking to friends from SHU who have experience teaching English abroad; and I've been trying to learn to speak Japanese with some friendly iPad apps. And with the help of watching tons of subtitled anime (Yeah ATTACK ON TITAN!). There's enough repetition in dialogue that I can pick up words and phrases on my own. I don't know if I'll ever be able to read anything in Japanese, but I at least want to be able to speak enough to get by, and learn how to read numbers at the very minimum.

Creating a comic series + learning a foreign language + continuing to apply for work in a variety of jobs = STAYING CREATIVE, BUSY, and DREAMING BIGGER.

So, fellow writers, when rejection gets you down, keep your brain moving, your dreams big and your spirits high.  Just keep working!

As always, I'll keep you updated on the agent search, the job search, and the JET program, as well as all of my creative endeavours. Thanks for reading!