Category Archives: Columns

Graphic Imagery: My journey into comics.

In 2008 I interned at Marvel comics in the X-men editorial office. Whilst there I learned how to edit, format and balloon.  These were things that previously had no knowledge of and assumed happened through some magic of the company. Along the way I learned that a knowledge of photoshop wasn’t essential for making your own comic but it helped if you didn’t have a lot of money, and editing your own work is never a very good idea. After leaving Marvel, I decided to strike out on my own, I was a man of color on a mission to tell a story about self discovery, heartache and truth. I would soon find out that everyone, who’s ever written fiction, not just comics wanted to do this and I’d have to figure out how to set myself apart. And so this is my journey into creating a graphic novel from the ground up.

 

 

  • Respect the Craft

 

 

When I was just starting out I took to writing interviews of comics, so that I could become more critical of my own work and try to understand what could and couldn’t work in comics.  Disclaimer: Now understand this, there is no secret formula to a successful book. writers like Morrison and Miller have had hits as well as misses. However there are certain principles that are adherent to when creating for the graphic medium, the first principle is respecting the craft. As a comic book critic I came across a number of people who thought that because they had read a comic and had a somewhat decent idea that they “should” create one. The end result were books rife with cliches, inaccuracies and boat loads of exposition.

The first thing that every aspiring graphic novelist should do, is be aware that no matter what anyone says, the medium that they are working in is still a literary one and has very similar tenants to screenwriting. That means, plot and emotional arcs need to be covered, that means at the end of the story all characters from largest to smallest have earned their ending (progressed to the particular conclusion) and that they must overall be relatable. For me, I always try to analyze whether or not my story needs to be told, and whether or not I really want to tell it. This means finding the conviction necessary to give the character’s, world, and story life otherwise I’m just day dreaming.

Now during my time at Marvel I had met writer Karl Bollers, (Emma Frost, Watson & Holmes). He would become my friend, mentor and first person to give me a wake up call that my work wasn’t that special. This was a blow to my ego, but he explained to me the problem didn’t lay in my story idea, but my structure and execution of it. After reading a few books he and a others had recommended * I began to approach my writing differently. I realized that if I was going to tell these stories, I’d have to make sure that all of the bases (which I mentioned above) were covered and that I wasn’t rushing my product, because of my desire to say “Look at me, I wrote a comic.” Something I had done previously, and to this day it stands as a lesson for me. Though it was received well enough for a first outing, It still had glaring mistakes and oversights which could’ve been avoided had I been more focused on crafting a good story well told and not a story told so I can say I told a story.

 

  1. The Art of Visual Storytelling.

 

After I’ve figured out what kind of story I want to tell, what the world looks like and who the people who live in it are, I figure out how these things should appear to the reader. I’ll either, illustrate it (Albeit poorly) on my own or find an artist. The way I determine this is usually based on the tone of the work, if it’s going to be wry and anecdotal in the vein of a newspaper strip or web comic, I’ll illustrate it myself. However if I’m looking to present a high-tech sci-fi world or a Tolkinen like fantasy world I’d get someone else to bring my idea to life. There are a number of sites, which can give you access to a number of artists, but keep in there are some things to watch out for. On my first comic (The Hierophants.) I was introduced to an artist by a mutual friend. Said artist had an interesting style especially when colored, however at the time I didn’t have the money to pay for full color so I opted for black and white, which was cheaper at first. The first pages came out great but as time went on the quality of the work wasn’t to my liking and while the project was finished the main critique of the books readership was the art. That experience taught me to be more critical of the specific art style I wanted for certain projects. There are certain artists I love but if they can’t tell the story I’m writing the way I envision it then it does neither of us any good.

An example of this is a friend of mine whom I have known since High School, I’ve always enjoyed his art style and relished the idea of him bringing my characters to life. But as time went on and his interests steered him outside of the graphic medium I begin to notice things in the work of full time artists that weren’t in his. The attention paid to certain angles or how they allowed the story to progress visually as well as his coloring process, which used less detailed methods than the ones I’d later see. That all being said, it behoves you to be discerning with whom you choose to tell your story. (Some great places to hunt for artists are  digitalwebbing.com, Penciljack.com, or Deviantart.com)

 

III. Not Just Pictures, but Words Too.

 

One thing that I thought I had easily at hand when producing my first comic was the lettering. I thought I can just find some free font program and boom, word balloons a plenty . So after fiddling with said fonts I posted a sample page for many of my peers to see, and you know what? I was wrong. We often overlook how much letters like Nate Peikos or the legendary Richard Starkings help stories flow smoothly without letters running into each other or making abrupt breaks in sentence structure. To quote a friend “You don’t know when a story is lettered well, but you surely know when one is lettered poorly.” While lettering is one of the last things to be done in the comic book production process, it is no less important than the art, as it is part and parcel of making your story coherent, clear and of course relatable to the reader. So after my not too rude awakening, I contacted my mentor and some other vets about seeking a professional letterer for the task at hand. The great thing about the letterers I have found is that they are relatively inexpensive but do great work and take pride in their skills. (These skilled crafts people can also  be found on digitalwebbing.com or Penciljack.com)

 

  1. Printing, (Self)Publishing ,and Putting it out there.

 

One thing that creatives are never taught about, is publishing. Most people assume that unless you are signed with a major publishing label (Marvel, DC, Image ect.) your graphic aspirations will just be another pipe dream, you think about to while away the hours at school or work. Some years ago that would have been true, however we live in the future, which just so happens to be the present. One great thing about the present is the ability to easily copyright and trademark your work. Of course there are cost attached to doing this but it’s something you can do alone nowadays. I myself created an imprint, simply by creating a logo and registering my work at the copyright office and in truth (though it’s not always advised) Once your piece is published under your name, you own it. Fair warning though, If you haven’t registered or trademarked your properties/brand; you cannot stop someone from copying your work.

There are a number of printing options which will allow you to get physical copies on a budget and may even allow you digital sales. Ka-blam is one such option through their connection to online retailer indie-planet they allow you to not only print your work but sell it. I myself use them and they’re a great help, however a number of indie creators work through indie-planet so you will have to stand out in the sea of self published comics. Physical copies though at times expensive are typically more rewarding than that of digital or print on demand comics. Putting your book in a store almost ensures that people can get your product and utilizing social media can ensure that you build even a small fan base. Frequently your LCS (Local comic shop) will help in your journey, as sales rep’s whom you become friendly with will be more likely to push your work.  (Tip: Pushing your work isn’t a bad idea either if you’re a regular and make small talk with enough people, they may be inclined to check you out if they’re looking for something new to read.)

 

  1.  Final Page, Last Panel:

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my experience in the comics industry it’s that everyone’s story has a place. With larger companies now focusing on movie and t.v., we live in the best time to tell stories, which they neglect to tell, that leads to diversity and more voices being heard. This being said make sure that when you put pen to paper or ink to board you are making sure that you’re about to unleash the world you want to see on the page. Do it justice and you will see the rewards paid back to you ten fold.

What’s the Word: Mark Millar’s ‘MPH’ and Racism

Last month I brought into question the marketing for Mark Millar’s upcoming comic MPH. After weighing in the comments and opinions of comic fans and writers alike, it was a brief twitter conversation with journalist David Brothers that caused me to go back and reassess my issues with the original marketing.

David:I read the piece & I can't call the story till I see it. As far as marketing, the CREAM , reference read as tongue-in-cheek to me.”

Me: Yeah, I guess I could see that, maybe I'm off base.

David: "I get your concerns and you aren't wrong to question them, but you don't have a lot of evidence one way or another right now.”

Mr. Brothers was very correct on this point. Despite how things appeared I couldn’t make a judgement without having read the comic. Since the book comes out in May, I decided to give it a break.

 

MPH

So I went back on the Internet to look for more info on the series in order to prove my fears unfounded. Since it’s not out yet, maybe I’d find something that would make me want to buy it besides controversy.

What I learned was that MPH, as described by the mini-series’ creator, is supposed to be a view of the American Dream, which can be a nightmare for some. The main character, known as Roscoe, a young black man, is going to use these superspeed-granting drugs to go on a global crime spree.

In the preview, lyrics from the famous rap song C.R.E.A.M by the legendary Wu-Tang Clan were quoted to illustrate what the main protagonist's motivations were through the use of drugs. This latest statement about the American Dream brings to mind rapper NaS’ song Street Dreams as well as the whole of ‘90s Hip-Hop, which in many ways embodied the idea of fast money whether through music or illegal activity.

I’m not saying that drug use in the U.S.A doesn’t exist, and I won’t say that black folks or anyone else for that matter don’t use and sell drugs here. But a lot of what I’m getting from this comic reads like “what I know about black people I learned from rap circa 1994”. None of what I just mentioned helps the fact that this budding super-criminal is a man of color, a group already associated with illegal activity and bad intentions nationwide, if not worldwide.

The fact that Mark Millar is a white writer could make this bad look for him in many eyes, and he really should’ve known better at least in terms of how sensitive of a subject this could become. I’m not going to throw out any harsh words at him, or brand him anything, (I’ll leave that for Black Twitter). My fear that this comic has racist undertones stems from the fact that the main character is a man of color from Detroit, a city already beleaguered with crime and gang violence, and he chooses to add to that crime when granted the ability to lessen it.

I don’t know anyone from Detroit except for a few creators who all seem like nice guys, and by no means am I saying that everyone in Detroit is a saint. But with all the white heroes throughout the years who have stumbled upon great power and acted completely responsibly with it, or even just got fed up and donned a mask to protect the streets, this lone black teen has to use his powers to commit crimes? Couldn’t he be a noble soul, tired of seeing senseless violence and watching his people slowly kill themselves?

I’m asking these questions because I really want to know why this couldn’t have been the case? Is Miles Morales enough to cover that base of “good black teen” while countless Caucasians with powers do the right thing? Are we as readers to believe that one group of people are inherently more noble than the other where the realm of fiction is concerned?

 

MPH

 

The origin of his powers are also another issue for me, and bring to mind two other characters. The first is former Young Avengers leader Elijah Bradley, a.k.a. Patriot, who gained his powers initially from Mutant Growth Hormone (MGH). Eli wasn't a villain, but he almost became one after a drug-induced rampage forced his team to stop him.

The second character is Jasper Jenkins, a.k.a. The Bounce, who is a drug addict with superpowers and who oddly happens to be a hero. Why isn't he robbing banks to get money for his habit?

So I spoke to my friend and mentor Karl Bollers, writer of the Eisner-nominated Watson and Holmes, a comic where though the heroes are black and though they have issues they do the right thing. While he thought the concept behind MPH was sensationalist and exploitative of prejudices, he also wondered if Millar was being satirical. That got me thinking about Millar’s unique view of America as a Scottish person.

When I watch all those infomercials…about how you can become a millionaire in your spare time, I get it! And I love that about America

Mark Millar

If this is indeed satire — or just Millar’s take on the American Dream or a version of it — then it not only says something about how he may see black people, but how he sees Americans in general. The notion of the quick win or easy money is something that is at play in this book and while it still can be seen as offensive, it may also be a dark mirror shown to the face of American ideals and what they have become.

Crime has always been the original easy money scheme, and in a society where people can and have become rich and famous for nothing, someone using their powers for personal gain may not be far fetched.

Karl also reminded me of the story of X-Men and Alpha Flight member Northstar, who used his super speed to win in the athletic field. Here is another instance of a person with the same powers as Roscoe using his ability to get ahead but not in an explicitly criminal sense. Why couldn’t Roscoe use his abilities to build things quickly or improve his lot in life without need for a crime spree?

I can see why some folks wouldn’t find this offensive and before anyone starts with “If a black writer did this…” I’d be even more concerned because they should know better, I talk a bit about that in an old article I wrote here. This may not hit home for the majority of comic book fans, but I don’t need any more reasons for people like this to try and exclude or lampoon me from the realm of comics.

MPH

 

Racism still exists in comics, folks, and all the black heroes in mainstream comics — most of them rarely used — won’t stop the culture from latching onto something and having ill-intentioned fun with it.

Do I think Mark Millar is a racist? I don’t know him so I can’t make that statement, but I do know that he does things for shock value and while that could be the case here, somethings you just don’t need to do or must be careful about.

That being said, I’m still going to pick this comic up on the off chance that it is indeed a satire of the American Dream, or turns out to be something entirely different than I thought.

Tune in next time when the Word is…

What’s the Word: MPH

While surfing the internet, looking for new comics to read I ran across an Image comic introducing more of Mark Millar’s work to the imprint, following on the heels of a scene in Kick-Ass. This book was called MPH and is about a group of inner city youth from Detroit who find a drug that grants them super speed. But the youths don’t wanna be heroes, no of course not because there’s “Dolla, Dolla Bills to be made ya’ll.”

The fact that the cover features a young Black man and that this is defined as an high-octane “urban” adventure makes me ask two questions. The first is: who thought this was a good idea? There is nothing fun or funny about this, the fact of the matter is it’s pretty (wait for it…) offensive. What provides powers to these “urban” adventurers has to be a drug, and of course instead of doing something noble with it they use it to make money… this reminds me of a statement I read a while back when Miles Morales first appeared stating that he couldn’t be Spider-Man because he was black and wouldn’t care about saving people. I’m paraphrasing but that is the first thing that popped into my head when I read that.

So before the collective voice of mainstream comic book fandom accuses me of being overly sensitive. I’d like to come to my second question, which is: for whoever came up with this blurb (I’m not gonna throw Millar under the bus, because this maybe all Image’s doing), how many African-Americans do they know personally and how many — if any — of them speak like this?

There is a general consensus in the media at large (Thanks to the “rappers” who have abandoned the honorable path of the emcee) that Black folk have an eye for money and anything that can get them more of it. But the media also has a tendency of being more sensational than Spider-Man in the ‘90s, which is what the above quote from the Wu-Tang clan song C.R.E.A.M reminded me of.

It’s 2014 and, though the media isn’t aware of it, there are number of Black people doing things that don’t involve selling drugs  — from creating new technology to becoming the youngest certified Mac professional. None of these things are hard to find if you googled them, so why is this, the already derided person, of one group of people what the Kick-Ass scribe chooses to write about?

Is it laziness? Shock value? Personal bias? It could be none of these things but it just makes me wonder what a creator who thinks that comics aren’t for women thinks about Black people?

Could I be completely overreacting about this? Of course I might be, but I expect a seasoned vet like Millar and a company like Image to know better. Again, I’m not attacking them, but who gets behind marketing like this? I doubt companies are doing group studies on what does and does not offend various underrepresented demographics, but come on, do they even care?

Have people become so unimportant to the industry that what is said or how they are portrayed doesn’t matter anymore? I would hope this isn’t the case and if it is, well, thank Anansi for indie comics. Regardless, I’ll keep my eye out for this comic as it gets closer to release, and hope that all of my outrage was ill founded.