My last entry was one month ago. I need to update more regularly because a month seems daunting when so much has happened. So I’ll be (relatively) brief.
In between a holiday in the desert (a landscape I love more and more) and wonderful visits from friends, I finished Book #2. Woo hoo! After some feedback I will soon begin a session of revision.
I like that part: revision–smoothing out the rough bits. The sculpture is there, it’s on the table. I know what it wants to be, but it need a little buffing, some chiseling, and polishing. Hard work, but I can see an end.
(And I am so excited to share it with you!)
During this last month I also took a class on comic writing with writer Michael Moreci at the Newberry Library (this glorious library deserves its own post, but for now I say, “Go there! Where else can you see collections that “span the history and culture of western Europe from the Middle Ages to the mid-twentieth century and the Americas from the time of first contact between Europeans and Native Americans” for free? Truly a Chicago treasure. Go!)
I am inspired by folks like Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill and a handful of others who tell their stories the way their stories need to be told, whether that’s as a novel, a comic book, a poem, a film, a play, and so on. I believe there is a valuable lesson is recognizing that stories come in all shapes and sizes.
The class was wonderful for someone like me, unschooled in the craft of comic/graphic novel writing but eager to learn. Plus once a week I got to read books, do homework, and go to class (I haven’t done that as a student in nearly 2 decades).
Clearly the others in the class had read much more than I; my experience is limited to comics of my youth and college forays into Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, and a few others. I felt out of my league with these students who lived and breathed comics for the last few decades, throwing around issues and arcs in our discussions. But they were kind and allowed me to ask many (probably obvious to them) questions.
It was wonderful to break it all apart: read classics and new incarnations, learn about the process of crafting a series, a graphic novel, a re-imagined character. Joe Hill’s Locke & Key was terrific and Moore’s Swamp Thing blew me away, Wil Eisner’s instruction books are a great resource, and Moreci is a patient, informed, and generous instructor.
Then I had to write a comic script.
My brain broke a bit, in a good way, because when it came back together, I learned things.
Writing is a joy for me, even when challenging, but this was new and didn’t come naturally for me. There were so many new things to think about: Panels! Perspective! Words in captions that cannot go on and on for pages! Ah brevity, we meet again, and I have more to learn. Descriptions that will only be read by an artist! Panels! Pages!
In the beginning I was paralyzed. How many panels? How do I choose? Which perspective? Closer or farther? How do I say something in the most concise way possible?
*Here I thank Twitter for recent 140 constraints that have helped to teach me about trimming down my natural tendency to be verbose. *
It was writing, but a bit like learning a sestina or villanelle for the first time: it was work.
But I LOVED it! I loved having to stretch outside my comfort zone and take risks. I know I made mistakes, but I look forward to learning from them. We discuss the pieces next week. I can’t wait to read the other students’ scripts. It’s fun to have something so complex to learn and explore.
I tried to explain why I found it challenging to a non-writer friend. When I write, it’s almost like uncovering a sculpture from the marble (a la Michelangelo):
Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.
But with comic writing, it’s like trying to create a human body, with all those interconnected systems. The script is like the skeleton, and even though I am not going to make the muscles, skin, etc., I need to have an idea of what they are going to look like and give instructions for their construction. There’s so much to consider. It’s not just the form, it’s all that stuff underneath. Comic writing is about guts.
Now, of course I know that good writing is also layered and complex. I love allusion more than most. I also know that not all comics are that complicated. However, the metaphor helped when I tried to explain the way the process felt to me. The closest thing I could compare it to is the surrealists’ Exquisite Corpse exercise (and we’re back to the body metaphor.)
Good things on the horizon: a few more trips, some fun parties, and then glorious Autumn with her cooler temperature and the natural inclination to turn inward as the Earth prepares to slumber. Nice to remember as the temperatures soar: it is only temporary.
Soon the wheel will turn again.
I hope to write more and often again before then.