Okay, I want to be honest with you. I've never published a graphic novel. I've written and illustrated some published comic stories, like 3 or 4, but never anything of great length. But blog titles like the above tend to draw more hits because people are looking for answers. Well, you may find some here anyway. I mean I'm not lying, this IS how I start a Graphic Novel cause I'm doing it now... at least recently.
On the other hand, if you want to listen to a voice of experience - I've been writing, drawing and in other ways, creating stuff in the animation industry for nearly 40 years. So go into the archives here and you'll find some good stuff, especially about pitching an animated series which is useful reading if you're trying to sell anything involving and illustrated story.
I'm in a great position to start a graphic novel because I'm technically nearing retirement yet still pretty spry for my age, mentally and physically. Notice nobody every uses the word "spry" when talking about young people? Plus I worked long enough for a single company that I've earned a pension so I'm not doing this out of a need to supplement my income. That's what Wallmart greeting is for. I'm not trying to make this a career. And if I can't find a publisher who wants it, I can just post it a page at a time right here. That's something that didn't exist a couple of decades ago. So it's not for money. I'm doing this project because I love graphic storytelling.
I love playing a moment over a series of panels, creating it out of not just what is in the panels but also using the relationship of one panel to another and from how the panels are arranged on the page. Brad Rader and I were in the kitchen at Bento Box Entertainment discussing this. Brad pointed out that if I'm going to publish digitally, the page doesn't matter, especially with people using smart phones. But that would rob me of a major piece of the fun. Check this earlier post about my thoughts on the comic page that uses examples by Mike Mignola and Neal Adams. So that's why. I just love this stuff.
First the story. Some of my first posts were about an idea of a supernatural character, originally named Spryte, now called Emmaryn, that I had carried with me for years. She's been a Faerie Detective, a pair of twins, a very young girl, once a teen, now a tween. I posted the story of an earlier comic version of her. A lot of the particulars of that story will find their way into the novel. Anyway, Emmaryn is my protagonist.
And here's a major tool I've been using to work out the story but let me tell you how I found it. Within the last six months we bought and remodeled a house. This is after three years of nomadic life and having lots of my stuff in a storage unit. Now I have an office. It's really cool, filled with books, comics, art and memorabilia but really small. I like it that way since I no longer need a big drafting table to work on. Small keeps me focused. Like writing in a submarine. However, I like working out my stories on index cards.
When I started at Disney features, we didn't work from a script at all. There was an outline, just astory spine that was constantly changing as the director worked with the story staff and the directing animators. The particulars of the story were developed visually with drawings pinned to boards. That finally changed in the 80's when suddenly scripts were written authored by people who knew stuff like theme, character arcs, structure and the like. But they worked in tandem with artists who explored the story visually. And that started the new golden age of animation. Story content became richer and more complex.
Storyboards are wonderfully flexible. I'm talking REAL storyboards: 4' x 8' boards covered with sketches. Sketches can be rearranged, expanded, ditched and replaced. And you learned to toss pushpins like darts. Glen Keane actually developed a technique where he could toss pins with his feet and make them stick. I've digressed. When working out longer stories, those boards were just covered with words. It was our beat outline in progress. But my current office is small with no blank walls for boards of any kind. So I started Googling for a program that would let drag virtual cards around and came up with SCRIVENER.
Scrivener is a word processing program designed for the creation of first drafts. Click on that link for a full description. Even better, download the free trial. And here's what's cool about that: it's a thirty day trail that only counts the days that you actually use it. Bravo to those guys for that! And at the end of the demo time limit you can export all your information even if you don't buy the program. That shows good faith, faith I'll reward with a purchase because I've practically worked out my whole story during the demo period. I think I have about two demo weeks left. The program's only $40 -$45. I'm still using the trial software just because I can. Makes me giddy.
There's a video tutorial with the demo that takes you through everything the program does which makes it sound way more complicated than it actually is. The key selling point is that it lets you write in a non-linear fashion. You can store notes, links, visual reference and even sketches. Of course, I use it for the index cards. Again, I'll let you go to the link for the sales pitch. Each of the index cards, like the one labeled, "The Party," in the top image can be expanded into it's own board like the second screen shot.
So here's how I'm using the cards. The top board are the main beats of the story, the equivalent of a scene in live action or a sequence in animation. Usually in a single location with a specific story or character point to communicate. Then in the subset of cards is the action that shows that storypoint. These may have panel ideas, snatches of dialogue or notes about things to be determined later.
Here's what I'm NOT doing. I'm not writing a full script for myself. I'm not with thumbnail pages like I've done in the past. I want to keep my thinking at it's most flexible until I start sketching out the actual page. I'm use to doing full scripts for my animation work and then rewriting and rewriting. On most shows, I remain open to improvements that happen as the artists work through the action but that's nothing like what I'm doing with this comic. This is more akin to waiting to give the actors their lines on the soundstage and then letting them improvise.
I can do this because I don't have to send in each step to anyone for notes. I wont' say I'm doing this for myself because you can't be a storyteller without telling your story to someone. I want a lot of people to read and enjoy this story. And if I DO get a publisher, I'll work with their editors to modify my "finished" work to make it better. But for now, I'm doing it this way because I want to keep it fresh for myself. So that I'm discovering moments and visual ideas until the last moment.
Because I just love this stuff. -- Tad