Category Archives: Articles

Brooklyn Outdoors

It was a balmy day on the back blocks of Brooklyn. My homie Symmetry Thomas invited me out to a photo shoot he was doing in Tillary park near the Manhattan bridge. The venue Brooklyn Outdoors, a cacophony of modern sound from hot young talent, moving a sea of stylishly dressed people of color. Sym was shooting video for Da Boys From the Wood, being the hip-hop fan that I am, the landscape, bombastic drums, beautiful women and smooth ass bass lines were enough to remove me from my writing funk. Da Boy’s went on at 4 and from the few snatches of sonic symmetry I had heard, their set would be a promising one. The host tuned up the band who warmed up the crowd with some classic soul standards. The first acted offered up a neo-soul styling that reminded me of sleepless nights on the phone with a girl I’d never date. The act provided a fairly entertaining set of trap-music ballads complete with fake money throwing and complimentary stunting. The third act all but hopped into a time machine to provide the audience with a taste of rap circa 2001 before Brooklyn was gentrified and anything could happen. The lyrics and production transported me to a simpler time where visions of gun play and ski masks danced in the heads of timid city dwellers when ever the three syllable borough was mentioned. The four act was the complete and total opposite, a two person rock outfit akin to the White stripes, whose lead singer reminded me of Halley Williams from Paramore. When Da Boys got on the stage the crowd exploded, the kids from Queens attacked the stage with an energy and virtuosity that belied their borough of origin. From Shan to LL, NaS to Nore Queens was always home to lyrical heavyweights and from the looks of it these dudes were looking to pump some serious iron. It was getting late and so we decided to book it home, but I left festival with a reaffirmed faith in the new generation of hip-hop.

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.

Writer Up: Black Creators and Comic Book Writing


Disclaimer

I would like to start by saying I bear no ill will toward any independent creators, black or otherwise. Along the course of this article, some may assume I have the ‘crabs in a barrel’ mentality, but that is the furthest from the truth. My only wish is to see my fellow creators succeed and tell the stories that need to be told.

 

Building a Better Brand

     Comic book companies, such as Marvel and DC hire up incoming talent to write monthly books, which allows them to churn out a decent living by doing what they love. I’m not going to talk about why no people of color write for either company, but I will pose the question, why can’t they, people of color, have a piece of the pie? Besides them having larger marketing machines, they have familiar stories, and characters so beloved, that fans of the old stories end up becoming writers of the new ones. Despite the tales being similar, they assure that the same fun had in the past by most fans is enjoyed in the present. So what can the independent creator of color do to even things out, how can we possibly compete with 75-60 years of familiar storytelling? The answer is telling better stories, and no matter how good an idea you have, everything is in the way you share it. As with all groups, the world tends to associate black people with certain behavioral patterns, and those associations begin to stick over time. There are a number of good black writers, but a number of other would be writers who have great ideas, but poor delivery. This coupled with mediocre art, in some cases land black comics in the dark corners of local shops, if at all. If we want top shelf visibility, you need to produce top shelf quality and though the color of your skin shouldn’t matter as far as the product goes, it does.

Buying Black Because…

Buying black is the practice of purchasing goods and services from people of color because; the consumer is a person of color. While a great show of solidarity, a problem emerges when the producers of products take their consumers for granted and expect them to buy anything, regardless of quality. If a creator expects anyone to spend their hard-earned money on a comic then it is that creator’s job to show their best work. I don’t want to spend 2.99-3.50 on a story riddled with exposition and poor character development. Black creators have it especially hard because no one expects us to have literary ability, we don’t benefit by proving the stereotype right. The difference between our counter parts and us is, unless we’re stellar, our work is considered bad, they’re mediocre work can convince readers to buy another issue. What’s worse is that our penchant for creating stories and characters, which resonate with us often gives the comic book buying majority an excuse to dismiss our work as stereotypical or culturally alien. When other black people refuse to buy black they are usually said to be self-hating or unsupportive, which can be true sometimes but other times we’re not humble enough to smell what we’re shoveling.


We’re Not Crabs, We’re People

Sometimes people say or do things to undermine our progress. As black people we’ve gone through this in and outside of our community for many years, but we can’t always be the victim and in some instances must shoulder blame. No one who is black, white or otherwise deserves anything. We sometimes think that the world owes us something because of how our people were treated, but the universe is indifferent in most matters and everything has to be earned. I learned this first hand when veteran writer, Karl Bollers tore one of my scripts to shreds. It was the first time it had happened, and I couldn’t be more thankful that it did. A pat on the back is nice, but can lead to a false sense of accomplishment and stroke the ego. This bolstered pride can make a creator resistant to constructive criticism regardless of the source. Saying that people do not ‘hate’ on the dreams of others would be a bold lie, however that can’t always be true. If someone who has more experience in a particular field than you do offers advice, listen to them. There’s a reason we take writing classes in college and it’s not to pass the time, writing is a craft that must be studied, tested and honed. If a veteran writer reads your work and tells you, it could be tighter, test the observation and look at your story. When you’re writing, things make sense to you the writer, but the rest of the world isn’t behind your eyes, and they can be left confused. A good idea is worthless if it’s not conveyed properly and remember; you’re writing isn’t just a critique on you, but every other black comic writer out there. Read a book on writing, take a class, remember that all characters need an arc, and to show not tell. Take it from me, it’s better to learn your mistakes now and correct them, than to make a habit of it later. Lastly, having an editor is always a good thing, especially if they’re a writer themselves.

Haste Makes Waste

One of the most important things I’ve learned in my experience as a comic writer is, take your time. Black folks are a show me people, whether it be money, clothing or cars we always have to look like we’re about it. However, when it comes to writing, everything you do should be drafted and redrafted. Something’s make sense years after you think about them; others seem like the stupidest idea in the world once you give them some thought. Take my first published comic “The Hierophants”, I wanted it out so bad, to prove to myself that I was a writer, the main character’s first name wasn’t even mentioned in the issue. Looking back at it, I shudder to think that I was so oblivious of my own mistakes, but I was, and I’ve learned from them making me a better writer all around. There is no shame in taking your time and reviewing your work, because though quick release maybe satisfying in the short-term, it’s often hollow in the long run.

 


The Race Yet to Run

While many of us are still finding our way in the world of comic book writing, trying make a dollar out of fifteen cents, we need to make sure we’re above-board. We know we have to work three times as hard and twice as long to get anywhere near the other half. I won’t say we should beg for jobs, but I will say we need to give them some competition. I believe we can do it with a little care and a standard, one we create, by which our work can be judged.

Nerd up Report 03/20/2013 (Back dated)


Black Biting

I’ve got something I just wanna get off my chest. Recently I have noticed a few indie creators who have been attacking and back biting one another at random intervals, usually on Face Book (Which is why I don’t like to use the site often). I found this odd since most of the people attacking others used be friends with their targets and in some instances helped them build an audience for their product. Now while I don’t know both sides of the story or why one person would feel so slighted by another that they would send other people to sabotage their old associates business but it is indicative of a mind state that some people like to call crabs in a barrel. I think it would stand to reason that while you may disagree with someone you don’t have hate on them or ‘troll’ them as the saying goes. I would go so far as to say that a rival is a good thing for business old lions didn’t get where they are by being unchallenged.

Lastly I’d like to give a few shout outs. Shout out to Superheru Radio, Black Science Fiction Society and all those who tuned in.