I am not a writer. Sure, I’ve written things, but I am a cartoonist. I rarely have an idea for a story that is not based on what I want to draw or about a character I want to create. In the original Uptown Girl comic series, I did an issue with a character named Halloweenhead. I did this issue because I had a cool design for the villain. Another story had Uptown Girl attacked by a robot Tyrannosaurus. Flimsy story, but man, that was a fun story to draw. The visual aspects of a story always comes first. When I sit down to write a story, I usually have an idea as to how the story will go, and it usually works out. When I was writing the monthly comic, I became used to writing stories that didn’t usually exceed 24 pages. The stories usually weren’t too complex, so I rarely had a problem with writing myself into a corner. And if I did and needed to start over, I wasn’t that big of a deal to start over since it was only 24 pages. Normally my writing “process” was along the lines of “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if Rocketman had a catapult for some reason?” And I would sit down and start drawing the story, usually without a solid idea as to what would happen exactly. I don’t like writing scripts. I am not a writer. Avoiding scripts allowed me to be surprised by the story I was creating.
When I moved to doing graphic novels, I knew I’d be doing entire stories that would be hundreds of pages long. Luckily Brian Bastian wrote the first graphic novel which was one huuuge story, almost 300 pages. The second book was a bunch of short stories, some written by me, some by Brian. Things were swell. But that reprieve was short-lived when it was time to make the third graphic novel. I offered the book to Brian, but he passed on it. So, I’d go it alone. I knew it would be a big story, probably just as long as the first book. I knew what I was going for thematically. I knew I wanted to feature the King of Birds. The biggest mistake I think I made with this book is not having a written script, or at least a plot that I could use as my guide. I was used to writing 24 page stories, I was not prepared for writing something over ten times that length. I ran into plot holes, clumsy dialogue that needed to be rewritten and at times some clunky exposition. Rewrites and starting over plagued the book. But I finished, for better of for worse. I’ll find out soon, when the fine people who are proofreading the book return it to me.
I vowed to never run into this problem again, and I promised myself I would at least write a plot outline before I tackled anything longer than ten pages. So I wrote a plot for a story that will appear in the NEXT Uptown Girl book, out in 2015, God willing. It’s a long story, probably a little over 100 pages. I wrote the plot and surprised myself with how much fun I had doing it. It gave me some ideas for some funny moments I probably wouldn’t have come with if I hadn’t done the outline. Like I said, I’ve avoided planning too far ahead so I could have some spontaneity in the story. But there was still plenty of fun surprises in writing the plot as well as when I started drawing and scripting it out. So, win win.
The problem that I just ran into really surprised me. The story, without giving too much away, involves someone who does something really dangerous and could hurt a lot of people. But when he begins this little adventure, his heart is in the right place. I’ve never watched “Breaking Bad” but according to my wife, my character is not too different from the lead character from the show. Great. But there’s no meth here, but there will be…well, I don’t want to give anything away. This character was meant to be pretty one dimensional but I was surprised by how much depth and heart he had. This in it of itself is not a problem.
Although I am not a writer, writing Uptown Girl and her friends is pretty easy. I’ve been creating stories about them for over ten years. I rarely have to think too hard about what they will say or how they will react. Their motivations are usually pretty clear. When I wrote the plot, Uptown Girl, Ruby and Rocketman all had a very specific “job” in the story. Rocketman’s “job” was that he would eventually give the bad guy the inspiration he needed to start down the path that would cause him to turn evil. Rocketman wasn’t going to do anything BAD, mind you. Basically in the original plot, Rocketman would show the guy a drawing that he did, and the drawing gives the guy an idea. Without Rocketman, he might not have thought of the idea.
The story has multiple story lines that would all merge at one point in the story. But all the characters start at the bottom. I needed Rocketman to become an artist so he could create the drawing. But Rocketman just can’t be an artist, so I had to have a few scenes which gives him to motivation to do so. By the time he becomes an…um “accomplished” artist in the story, the bad guy also needs to be at the moment where he is ready to turn towards the dark side. Here’s where the problem is: The bad guy is a lot smarter than I intended him to be. The idea that Rocketman was supposed to give him, he comes up with on his own. Through his rants and frustration, he thinks of the idea all on his own. It floored me. I loved it. It felt natural and organic. In fact, if he DIDN’T come up with the idea at the moment he does, it would make him look kind of stupid for not thinking of the obvious. The problem is…well, now there isn’t a reason for Rocketman to become an artist, because he doesn’t have to do his “job” anymore. Typical Rocketman, always getting out of work. There’s really nothing for him to do in the story. All these multiple story lines were meant to be merge at one point. The problem is what do I do with Rocketman? What is his new role in the story? How does he tie back into the main plot? I’ve no idea. It’s a good thing I like to be spontaneous and like to be surprised by what I create, because man, whatever Rocketman ends up doing will be a complete surprise to me.
The last few Uptown Girl books have lacked a lot of new characters. The first book was re-imagining the origins of Mr. Roboto and the Walrus. The upcoming book does the same with the King of Birds. But I am happy that the story I am working on now includes four new characters. Well, three new ones, one the characters popped up in a pretty obscure Uptown Girl story a few years ago, but I don’t think he was named in the story. Maybe he was. I don’t know.
Anyway, here are the new and sort of new characters: