Your Mind is on Vacation

Something very interesting happened yesterday.  Also, something very gross.

Brian and I are still hard at work on our TOP SECRET project.  I am having a ton o’ fun with it and I am drawing the story faster than Brian can write it.  What I’ve been running into is that I am often finished with what Brian wrote before he has finished writing the next part and I am constantly asking him for more.  I imagine for him it’s a little like trying to keep a toddler preoccupied.

The way Brian and I work is a little odd, but I think all creative teams have their own creative process.  For Uptown Girl projects, Brian will usually give me a very loose idea as to what needs to happen in a scene (artistically).  For example, he might write:

“Uptown Girl and Ruby are at a cafe, in the background there is a very suspicious tiger”.

Well, he’s never written anything like that, but you get the idea.  After this direction, he will then write out the dialogue and I will break down the script into pages and panels.  It give me a lot of freedom to pace it out and play around with the layout.  For this TOP SECRET project, we’re working with what is commonly called ‘The Marvel Method’.  This was a common way to create comics in the 60’s where Stan Lee would give an artist a general idea as to what happened in the issue, such as “Spider-Man is tracking down the Rhino who was responsible for destroying a yarn store.  Meanwhile, Peter Parker is doing a story for the Daily Bugle about a suspicious tiger”.  The artist would then develop a story around this idea and when the art was finished, Lee would go and write the dialogue for the comic.

Of course, this is a very general description as to how this worked.  There is MUCH speculation as to how much Stan Lee actually did and what the artists contributed.

As for Brian and I, he gave me three paragraphs of the story, and I went and drew about 30 pages.  Soon Brian will go and write in the dialogue passed on what I drew.  It’s been a lot of fun so far.  I have random panels of two people talking and I am looking forward to seeing what Brain will have them say.

Anyway, this weekend Amy and I were going to have a little stay-cation with the kids.  Nothing too major, we had a hotel room lined up and we were going to take the kids to the Mall of America and go to Camp Snoopy  the amusement park.  Since I can never relax, I asked Brian for the next part of the story and I planned on working on the project at the hotel.  The next part of the story is supposed to have a lot of exposition in it, so Brian is going to write a full script for it.  It’s taking a little longer than the usual outline and it’s not ready.  Instead (and again, this is like keeping a toddler distracted) he said “oh, just draw an action sequence and we’ll hold onto it and I’m sure we can write a story around it and use it.”

Challenge accepted.

Back to the stay-cation.  Sophie had said her tummy hurt that morning but said she was fine.  A six year old is not going to admit to being sick when she has the chance to go on rides and swim.  But she was sick.  In my car.  And again when we stopped to use the bathroom.  So, back home we went.  Compared to other vacations I’ve been on, this was one of the better ones.

Evening rolled around and Sophie was better, but exhausted.  She and my wife went to bed early and I was still pretty awake.  I worked on an Uptown Girl page and then decided to take a crack at the random action page.  The pages for the project are simple, four panel grids.  The strict limitations of the layout took some getting used to at first, but now I love it.  I seem to do my best work when I have limits.  If someone asks me to draw a story about anything I want, I’ll stare at the paper for hours.  If someone asks me to draw a story about a missing diamond ring, a sarcastic snake and a lazy Girl Scout, though?  Watch out.  For me, making a story work with very firm parameters is a challenge, but one that I love.  With this layout, I have to tweak my pacing, storytelling and artwork.  I’m used to working on Uptown Girl and letting the characters do whatever they want and giving them pages and pages to do what they need to do.  I’ll play with the layout, panel structure, panel size and shape, but with this, I don’t have the freedom.  Also, each page must be more or less self-contained.  The first panel sets the page up, and the fourth panel has to either be a cliffhanger or wrap up the page.
Again, this will make sense when we roll out the project.

I sat down the draw the random action page and first drew the third panel.  Then the fourth.  Neither of these two panels had anything to do with each other.  Then I drew the first, and finished the page with the second panel.  I just drew and drew and tried not to think about what what was going on and avoiding trying to find a common thread in them.  And here’s what I drew.  I did block out the characters to avoid giving away the project itself, but also to avoid spoiling the story when the page is finally used.

edited random pageWow, the character in the third panel looks pretty weird, huh?  Don’t worry, he does have a head.  OR DOES HE?  At any rate, after I drew the page, my brain started to tie these images together and…well, I know exactly what happens in the story that leads all these characters to these situations.  Ever since I finished the page, I’ve been writing the story in my head.

As a cartoonist, I am asked where I get my ideas.  Well, sometimes they come when you’re trying not to think of an idea.  Shut off your brain and see what happens.  Even though I wasn’t on a vacation, I sent my mind on one.  In this case, I was trying very hard to NOT come up with an idea.  But I did anyway.  I am not complaining, story ideas can be elusive and I’ll never know when I will have my last one.




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