Archive for the ‘Diary of a Struggling Comics Artist’ Category

150. DECISION TO TRAVEL A LOT

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Wow, fans! One hundred fifty diary entries! This entry marks the beginning of our own artistic hack Chris Wisnia’s decent in madness! Not literally – figuratively! This marks the beginning of his hardships as a father trying to create comics, the family stresses and difficulties, and his bitter battle with the evil criminal organization known as the Internal Revenue Service! And more! So stay tuned over the weeks for more excitement! -Rob Oder, Editor-in-Chief!

diary entry: January 6th, 2007

At San Diego, I spoke with a few fellow self-publishers about how I would like to try and hit a couple decent conventions before the end of the year, because I knew I’d be putting out a Dr. DeBunko collection, and two Doris Danger 16-pagers. I wound up hitting the Portland show, because it was so convenient to have relatives I could stay with. That got me discussing future con plans with my wife.

Elizabeth and I began realizing we have a number of friends in a number of cities, and all these cities have good comic conventions. We have two sets of friends in Atlanta, a friend and another friend’s family in Chicago, my cousin in Portland, a fellow comic self-publisher’s family in Seattle, tons of friends in Los Angeles. And our friends just keep spreading into new areas.

Also, Elizabeth pointed out, if we’re going to fly to cons, now is the time, because when Oscar turns two, the airlines won’t let him sit on our lap, and we’ll have to buy him his own seat. So we thought, if our airfare is less, and we can have a place to stay for these conventions, it could make the conventions theoretically not such a loss. It’s a smart business decision! Visit our friends, not pay for hotels, not pay for an additional airline ticket, write off the trip as business . . . So many good reasons to go visit friends! * (see important note below, employees of the Internal Revenue Service! -Rob!)

Upon this realization, we started looking for conventions we would like to go to this year, and next thing we knew, we had booked every other week from the end of February all the way through March. What were we thinking? And of course the bummer is, there are still a few cons we would have liked to have gone to, but we knew it was already way too much scheduling. We began dreading it more and more, as soon as I sent in the applications.

In the past, we’ve done usually five or six conventions a year, with two or more of them being very local (an hour drive away, and a stay either with my sister or one of my many close friends in the bay area). That’s basically two fairly far away places a year, and then the big, expensive San Diego trek. So this year, with seven cons on the calendar, and at least two more as yet unconfirmed but on our mental schedule, AND with a one year old terror to accompany us (my great, great son), it should be a hell of a year.

And then things would even get worse. (Writing now, in 2010) This would be the beginning of our worst, hardest times we’d faced.

* NOTE TO THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE: When Chris speaks about visiting friends and then writing off the trip … he’s actually using literary techniques such as “overstatement”, “embellishment” and “hyperbole”! He’s using “artistic license” to make for an entertaining, fictional, farcical exaggeration! You can rest assured that his every real-life business venture is, in actuality, wholly professional and legit! -Rob!

149. Understanding Just How Pathetic

Monday, June 28th, 2010

COMING TO UNDERSTAND, AND COPING WITH, JUST HOW PATHETIC I AM

diary entry, December 21, 2006

Now that Larry Young had posted a link to my site, referencing my sad self-publishing attempts to a whole new audience, I just wanted to get in touch with him. I wanted some form of validation. I desired to know what public perception of me was. I wasn’t upset with Larry. I was flattered that he would give me this extra press. I just felt I needed to hash out what exactly this debate was about, and what my role was in it, and indirectly, what my role was in this industry.

He wrote back and told me any press is good, and he was happy to send some hits my way. He wrote that he felt I was a good example of someone who’s doing everything right, in his opinion, and still basically having nothing to show for it. Getting no respect or attention, so to speak. He said the only thing he thinks I could try doing more of is getting in touch with the stores and letting them really know who I am and what I’m doing. And of course he’s right.

I asked if he thought I was humiliating myself for admitting my pathetic sales numbers, and he said he didn’t. However, he said I might not want to talk about all the companies I’ve tried to get work from, because I’ve tried to get work from ALL the companies, and that may read that I’m not good enough to get work from ANY companies.

I sat on that thought for a while. I re-read my blog entry. I noticed how I’d discussed my process of trying to introduce myself to one company after another, and get them interested in my work. I could definitely see his point.

But I decided something in the end here. This is my blog, and the whole point of this blog was to try and portray just how it’s been for me, trying to get into this industry. And all my failures of applying to EVERY COMPANY and not getting work from ANYONE, for years and years, has been a SERIOUS part of my journey. It’s been an enormous, and enormously important part of my journey.

When I decided to begin writing a comics diary, and as I began recording all these entries of my past, I looked at the blogs of a few famous comics artists (not a lot, but a few), and I looked at a few blogs of some of my friends and acquaintances in the industry, who are basically in the same spot I’m in. And what struck me was that no one (in my limited searches) had anything to say about STRUGGLING TO MAKE COMICS AND TRYING TO GET THEM OUT IN THE INDUSTRY. It seemed like people were writing basically spam mailers about what coffee shop they’re doing a signing at, or when their books will be out and how to order them, or that they did a commission of Captain America today and here it is. Or they’d discuss their thoughts on some current events, or a link to a funny image they found online, or maybe some goddamn dream they had (For some reason I’ve always had a dislike of hearing about dreams people had).

So all these things are fine. These are perfectly valid reasons to have a blog. But that’s not what I wanted to do with my blog. I wanted to tell it like it is. Like the industry is. I wanted to point out how much work it is, and how precious your work is to you and how much you put into it, and how no one even notices the love and hard work you’re pumping into it all. No matter the hard work and love and time and effort, you’re still a nobody, after years and years. And you work your balls down to little nubs, and no one sees that, or cares to compensate you for it. That’s what I wanted to discuss. That’s a story you don’t see in Hollywood very often.

I know someone who only sold ONE GODDAMN TRADE PAPERBACK AT A TWO-DAY CONVENTION, and when he got back, he wrote in his blog what a good con it was. THAT’S NOT A FUCKING GOOD CON. AND THAT’S SURE IN HELL NOT A VERY GOOD DESCRIPTION OF WHAT THIS GODDAMN INDUSTRY IS LIKE.

Ahem. And all of that’s fine. Anyone can write about whatever they feel like in their blog. They can use their blogs for whatever purpose they choose, and hopefully other people are getting something valuable out of these blogs, either because these blogs are written by their idols, or their friends or family, or it’s someone they met at a con, or they found their book at a local shop. Or it’s entertaining for whatever reason to them. Whatever. That’s all fine.

But that’s a different purpose than I intend with my blog. Goddamn if I’m not going to write about WHAT IT’S LIKE TRYING TO SELF-PUBLISH COMICS, AND LOSING MONEY EVERY ISSUE, AND LOSING MONEY EVERY CONVENTION I GO TO, AND TRYING TO GET WORK IN THIS INDUSTRY AND SOMETIMES THINKING I MIGHT JUST GET WORK BUT THEN NOT GETTING IT, AND MEETING ALL THE PEOPLE YOU MEET AND ADORING AND RESPECTING THEM, AND MEETING ALL THE PEOPLE TRYING TO GET INTO THE INDUSTRY AND IT BREAKING YOUR HEART HOW THEY JUST NEVER WILL, AND WONDERING IF YOU SHOULD GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAM, AND ALL THE PEOPLE WHO ARE PROFESSIONALS AND THE SAD, UNAPPRECIATED LIVES THEY’VE LED TO TRY TO LIVE THEIR DREAMS, AND TRYING TO COME UP WITH STORIES, AND TRYING TO DRAW THEE STORIES WHILE HAVING A DAY JOB BUT HONESTLY JUST NOT HAVING THE TIME, AND WISHING YOU DIDN’T NEED A DAYJOB TO SUPPORT YOURSELF DOING SOMETHING YOU LOVE, AND TRYING LIKE HELL JUST TO MAKE A LIVING AND SURVIVE, and your free time isn’t for watching tv or hanging out with friends or playing video games or going out with your girlfriend or wife, IT’S ABOUT JUST DRAWING EVERY SECOND OF THE DAY YOU’RE NOT EATING, SHOWERING, OR AT WORK, BECAUSE IT MEANS THAT MUCH TO YOU. And now that I’m saying it all like this, Yeah, I’m feeling pretty pathetic. And maybe some companies will decide to judge me or the quality of my work based on all this pathetic sadness that is my life, instead of looking at my work.

Sometimes I say derogatory things about my work, inside my comics, or even on the covers. Certainly in this diary. And I wonder if sometimes people see the comments, and instead of looking at the work and deciding for themselves, they just believe anything they read, and assume the work isn’t any good. I’ve decided probably some people do that, but if they’re that kind of people, they wouldn’t enjoy my work anyways. So I’m assuming companies that would judge that way about my work wouldn’t be good publishers for me in the same way.

But I can live with that. So be it. That’s the path I’ve chosen, and I’m finally beginning to get a few people writing in now and then, and telling me they’re really getting something out of hearing all these pathetic details in my blog.

Besides, if I ever do make it in this goddamn industry, it’s gonna look pretty impressive how pathetic I am and that all these companies passed on hiring me, don’t you think? That’ll make a much better Hollywood story. Isn’t that alone worth all the pathetic-ness. That Billy-Corgan-style of locking my self pathetically in my bedroom, shouting at my mom to leave me alone I’m not hungry, and just sitting angrily pent-up with my guitar, practicing my scales for nine hours a day, tears streaming down my face as I hate the world and think with vengeance, “They’ll all be sorry one day, when I’m a FUCKING ROCK STAR!”

148. THE PUBLIC CASTS THEIR VOTE: JUST HOW PATHETIC AM I?

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

diary entry, December 21, 2006

I check my tabloia.com emails every day. Every day there are ten or twenty goddamn email-clogging spam pieces of shit in my inbox to sort through. Usually, I get about half a dozen from different ‘people,’ with the EXACT SAME HEADER, suggesting I buy Viagra or Microsoft or write back to some ‘girl’ who would like to send me her ‘pics’. Regularly, I get two or three emails FROM THE EXACT SAME PERSON WITH THE EXACT SAME HEADER. The reason for this is my own fault: they send one to me, one to ‘Dr. DeBunko,’ and one to ‘Cleanie’ Santini (because I thought it would be fun to have all my different fictitious characters have their own emails). For this reason, I want to apologize if anyone’s sent me an email and never heard back from me. If your email name is only a first name, or if it’s not even a name at all, or if you leave some kind of vague heading, such as ‘hi,’ or nonsense sentences or a series of nonsense letters and numbers, I probably accidentally thought it was spam and deleted the message. But if I didn’t think it was spam, I try to write back to everyone, so go through your emails you’ve sent that I never replied to, and please resend them with a comics-related heading.

So while I check emails, I also check each day to see how many visits I’ve gotten to my website, and where these viewers came from. This is the equivalent of an ego search on Google, where I am scanning to see if my comics or website have been mentioned somewhere. And this is how I find out if reviews have been posted (since reviewers often don’t let me know they posted anything about my work). And this month, I kept getting all these hits from Warren Ellis’s The-Engine.net.

Now I recognize that I discussed this event in a previous diary entry, but it was something that moved and unsettled me in a way I am going to work my mind through it again here. (Not to mention I forgot I wrote about it and just rewrote it again here).

I would click over to the Engine, however, and it’s set up to only show the most current page and not where I was mentioned. So I would do searches for ‘Chris Wisnia,’ ‘Wisnia,’ ‘Doris Danger,’ ‘Dr. DeBunko,’ ‘Tabloia,’ but NOTHING would come up. I was dumbfounded. And meanwhile, more and more click-overs, every day, continued piling over to my website.

Finally, after a week of this, I started getting a ton of hits from ‘Newsarama.com.’ So I clicked over to see what was causing people to send THIS site to mine. Here I read about how Larry Young of AIT-Planet Lar has been generating a lot of heat at the Engine, due to an argument he’s been in with someone about self-publishers doing their own thing, instead of doing superhero comics.

The article then mentioned that it’s worth reading this argument, if nothing else, to get the link to ‘the interesting and sad story of Chris Wisnia,’ which was linked to my diary. Ah HA! THAT’S why everyone is linking over to my site.

But wait a minute. ‘Sad?’ Everyone is reading my blog because they want to hear a ‘sad’ story?

So then I began thinking back. I had gotten a few emails to my website, saying people were enjoying my blog. And THEY were saying how depressing it was too.

So now I had a link to the ‘the-Engine.net’s’ link to my site, and was able to see what was cooking. A young whipper-snapper had boldly, blatantly posted a link to his superhero discussion page, with an attitude of how ‘neat’ superhero comics are, and how people surely want to join yet another goddamn superhero discussion (which the Engine’s ‘rules for posts’ frowned on). And he was even frowned at by the moderator, who pointed out he’d done this repeatedly, and was pissing people off and better quit.

He was arguing that what he WANTS to do is make superhero comics, and he’s convinced his own stories are so clever and talented that they’re bound to be big hits. Larry was trying to explain to this poor naive newbie that he doesn’t have the slightest understanding of the comics industry, and that he’s setting himself up to get hammered and devastated. This is an industry you have to keep trying and trying and crying and busting your balls for maybe five or ten years before you get any notice. Even if Newbie’s story is any good, it will still be ignored by the public, because if the public wants to read superhero comics, they’re not going to read some shitty indie-comic they’ve never heard of, they’re going to go to the only two companies in the industry who every shop in America stocks, and who has money to advertise, and name recognition, and characters that people already know and like: Marvel and DC. People aren’t interested in superhero comics from anywhere else, if they know they can get reliable and decent superhero comics from the Big Two.

Larry was arguing that a new and aspiring creator should carve his/her own niche and try to instead ACTUALLY CONTRIBUTE TO THE MEDIUM in some way that isn’t redundant and worn out, and that’s his/her only hope of getting any notice in the industry. And then he/she can always get picked up by the Big Two and do superhero comics later on, which is inevitable, if the he/she has any talent and wants to ultimately make a living in the comics industry, instead of starving to death and losing money every issue.

Then, after Mr. Naïve made another clueless and go-getting reply, Larry said, Fine, and how are you going to avoid ‘this’ happening to you. I clicked ‘this,’ and found – ah HA! – a link to my blog! It was specifically, a link to the page I discussed all the pin-up artists I had in my comics, all the ads I’d run and what they cost me, and all my sales numbers for my five issue ‘Tabloia’ run, and what a financial disaster it had been.

And then I thought, Sure, this is nice to get a link, and some attention. And it got a fair amount of attention, too. That month, between the newsarama and this Engine link, there were 180 visitors to my site. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot of hits to a site, but for me, that’s considerable notice.

But did all these people just think I was a pathetic example of bad choices and moronic business sense? Would people assume this means I’m just a talentless hack, and my sales numbers prove it? Would people say, This moron has to quit wasting his time and money, and get a job bagging groceries at a supermarket.

To hammer the idea home even harder, I began getting visitors to my site from another amazing link (which I absolutely loved, but which did kind of sadden me at the thought that maybe people pity or tease me for my drive and lack of success.) It also didn’t mention my name. It just said, ‘Note to my crazy future self, If you ever think you want to basically be an insane crazy person in the gutters, pursue your art in this fashion,’ and then it linked to my blog.

So at this point, I was in a weird mood, and I decided I wanted to email Larry Young, arguably the man who on the one hand was getting me all this new attention, but on the other hand, who indirectly began me questioning my self-worth and how people perceive me as a struggling comics creator and artist.

147. ANOTHER EMPIRE COMICS SIGNING

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Welcome back, at last, fans! This is the first “Diary of a Struggling Comics Artist” post in twenty-three months, and are we excited to be up and running again!

Why, you ask, such a delay?! Chris was side-swiped by an evil agency of the government, around the time of that last post, and the resulting year-and-a-half-long legal battles utterly crushed and humiliated Chris’s desire to continue the blog, web comics, drawing, eating, or even bother ever making another page of comics ever again! But with therapy, a good shower, and a supportive fan-base (of six), we’re finally ready to attempt an albeit considerably “meagerer” go at this business of comics … AGAIN!

Of note here, in this blog, perusing the entry editorially, is the fact that Chris met and hung out with Landry Walker four years ago! A now “fellow SLG-published celebrity,” appearing at numerous “SLG” conventions this year, our own hack Chris has determined Landry to be a real “best friend”!

When I approached Chris to confirm this historic meeting of “SLG pals,” Chris confessed he didn’t remember Landry at all! Although he remembered the conversation vividly, he swore he thought it must have been someone else! Chris thought they first met at an SLG Comics Fest in September 2009!

It’s great to be back, fans, we’ll be seeing you,
Rob Oder, Editor-in-Chief!

* * *

ANOTHER EMPIRE COMICS SIGNING
Sacramento, CA, December 16, 2006

Well, I keep thinking, now that my last of three rushed books have come out, and now I’ve got nothing to publish or look forward to, until the next big project, that I won’t have anything to write about in these diaries. But a couple things of interest just trickle in here and there.

I was surprised Ben at Empire Comics asked me to come out for another signing so quickly after his previous one, but I like to support the local shops if they ask me to. This one was billed as a horror signing. Daniel Brereton was listed to be there, but he didn’t make it.

Landry Walker (“Little Gloomy,” “Super Scary Monster Show,” “Tron,” and “Kid Gravity”), horror T.V. host Mr. Lobo, and Jen Feinberg & Todd Meister (“Little Scrowlie”) were there though.

The signing was pretty quiet, and I found myself visiting with all these folks.

I always have a nice time visiting with Jen and Todd, who drove up from the Bay Area (I felt bad for them, since the signing was so quiet), and who I met for the first time at a local A-1 Comics Small Press signing a couple years ago. They’re always really supportive of my work, and we talk about how they used to be in my shoes, before they got signed to Slave Labour. Todd told me he’d been shyly showing Dan Vado, head of Slave Labor, their comics for years. Finally one year he realized or heard that Dan enjoyed the book, and this time when he showed Dan the work, he added, We’d be interested in working with you. And Dan said, “Oh?” and began publishing their book.

Mr. Lobo was fun to visit with as well. He told me about a professional wrestling vampire movie, in which the vampires would punch and wrestle their victims. Sounds too good to actually watch, somehow. He joked, “It’s problematic combining these two elements – vampires and professional wrestling – because vampires are real.”

He told me about a comic he published a while ago about a boy who kept bombarding himself with radiation to become a superhero, and after suffering from excruciating ailments, such as his hair falling out, migraines, nausea, and impotency, he died. I guess I’m not doing the humor of this premise justice. He had me laughing really hard with this one.

Landry talked about how the comics industry is always complaining that no one is making any sales with their books. Landry has been getting published through Disney comics, which sell a million copies of each of their comics a month, and are in every supermarket around the nation. But ever since his Disney comics – creator-owned, by the way, he pointed out – people have treated him like he dropped off the face of the comics industry. “What have you been doing? We haven’t seen your work anywhere. What happened to you?” Well, I’m in every supermarket across the nation, every month, for one thing.

He pointed out that the Comics Journal complains that no one is reading comics and we as a medium need to find alternate means of distribution to get our art form into people’s hands. But the Journal doesn’t mention the million-a-month-every-month Disney comics. They also don’t acknowledge that Jhonen Vasquez took his comic “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac” to Hot Topic and got distribution completely separate from Diamond, and made a fortune off millions of teen punks, angsters, and otherwise-non-comics-reading kids. He also pointed out Manga, which is actually getting GIRLS reading comics, and which was perhaps the largest growing area for BOOK-stores (at this time), and I don’t mean just what comics are selling in bookstores, but that manga is the quickest selling BOOK in book stores. Landry pointed out what he saw as a hypocrisy to make excuses against or minimize the successes and so many really impressive readerships in the comics market, and suggested that some comics industry folk just want people to read THEIR books, and if THEIR books aren’t getting read, then “the industry” doesn’t have a good readership. I have to say, personally, I don’t think “the industry” has a good readership.

I ended up staying at this signing for a couple hours. Then I got antsy that I should be trying to get work of my own done, and went home to draw. Had a nice time though, as usual.

146. DRAWING DICK HAMMER, PART TWO

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

December 2006

So after five pages of drawing buildings that were never in the script, I got back to drawing the story that began the script as “page one”. Back to Dick Hammer in a road rage, careening down the freeway. The sequence was a few pages, and I tried to make the line work wilder and angrier and more out of control. Guiltily, I figured, Well, I can always go back and reference the Chester Gould style when Dick gets to his employer’s, and is sitting with him in the bedroom (Since the Chester Gould style was my original vision for the series).

And as I drew what was originally scripted as the second page, I realized that there was more text than I wanted to have on this page. This is something I’ve felt guilty about for some time. How much goddamn text I put on every page. How comic books shouldn’t have so much writing. How no one will have any interest in trying to read through all that, including myself.

I also realized, basically on the spot, that I wanted to spend some more time showing how angry Dick gets while he’s driving. To show people flipping Dick off, and him driving like a real prick, swerving between traffic, honking, and being a dick.

And I knew I wanted to have one entry as a big panel of Dick getting out of his car and walking toward the camera, looking cool. I began to sketch out the layout, and I’d accidentally drawn the car too big, so it wouldn’t all fit. So I went with it, and drew Dick a little too big as well, so that his head and legs weren’t in the shot. And I realized it was a perfect opportunity to draw him scratching his crotch, because that’s just what he does. But I still wanted to try to capture the shot I’d had in my head, so I drew a second one, with the car fitting into the panel this time, and Dick in the panel. So the story was getting longer and longer, but now a story was being told at the pace it needed to be. This is how these kinds of accidents were happening, and I was just including the entire process in the story.

And next thing I knew, what my script described in two pages, I’d slowed the pace, and enjoyed the journey, and taken thirteen pages. Five pages I made into city scapes, and five just of Dick getting out of his car. And it didn’t matter if the page count was too high, because this wasn’t a comic that had to fit in twenty-two pages. If it took thirteen instead of two, then that’s what it would be now. And I was really pleased with everything, even though nothing was turning out the way I was visualizing. I guess sometimes things just work out okay.

So then I got to the sequence where Dick would see his employer, and where I assumed I could pull out the Dick Tracy style. And the next thing I knew, I STILL wasn’t going to that style.

I thought, I can use his compositions, or his use of cross-hatching. But I haven’t even done that now. I haven’t looked back. I haven’t even flipped through any Dick Tracy strips. I think all that stuck with me is Gould’s use of Tracy in all black. I’ll keep that for Dick, but if anything else comes out referentially, it might be a miracle.

What I did instead is just draw a few headshots of each character. And for the first time, I’m going to do cut-and-pastes, rather than redraw each face, each time you see them. And for some reason, I think it will work okay this story. I wouldn’t do it just any story.

We’ll see what everyone else thinks.

While drawing the faces, I began drawing outside the borders, because I figured, by recycling the same images, that will give me more cropping options, and I can change up the panel compositions that way. And looking at them, I thought, Fuck it. It looks good being out of the borders. I’m going to use them that way too.

I’m getting really excited about this project, and I’m only a dozen pages in. I think I have enough of a head start to begin posting it now. I’m anxious to hear how other people feel about it, once it starts going up.

[IMPORTANT! Weekly readers…Please be sure and read note 7 (seven, below!) ABOUT OUR DICK HAMMER: THE DAILIES ENTRIES]

* * *

Whoops, fans!

In our general neglect of our “Diary of a Struggling Comics Artist” entries, we accidentally posted part two and three of our Dick Hammer: The Dailies entries (numbers 145 and 146), discussing the creation of the artwork, without first posting part one (number 144), on the creation of the story! And on top of that, we were two days late to post part three! Please accept our apologies, by allowing us to post part one and three in the same week! BUT…be sure to flip BACK to part one, (as we went BACK and inserted it chronologically, for posterity), or you weekly Diary-readers will have missed it!!

-Rob Oder, Editor-in-Chief!

 

 

145. DRAWING “DICK HAMMER: THE DAILIES” December 1, 2006

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

I decided to do a web comic, because I knew whatever “next” project I would do, it would be a big one, and therefore I would be out of the published eye for at least a year. Even if working on a web comic, in addition to my regular projects, would slow down my major projects, I felt it was worth it to keep myself publicly visible during this interim. I also liked the idea of exploring this new medium, in which each short entry would need to be self-contained, while contributing to the larger story.

I hoped to produce one four-panel entry a week. This seemed like a light and realistic enough expectation, which would give me time to continue working on whatever project I felt like working on. So for example, when I first began Dick Hammer, I was still finishing pages for the second Doris Danger humongous treasury. For the most part, I was able to do one Dick Hammer strip and one Doris Danger page a week. When I finished drawing Doris Danger, I tried to continue doing one Dick Hammer entry a week, while editing, page-cleaning, lining up letters and title pages for Doris Danger, etc.

However, with trips to comic conventions every other week taking away so many weekends this season, as well as the fact that we have bought a house, need to pack, move, unpack… and have a kid…I quickly fell behind on my hoped-for schedule. Rats. But I hadn t begun publishing anything to the web yet, because I wanted a head start before I did, so I was only letting down my own expectations.

On November 30th, I drew a logo/cover image. The format I chose was horizontal, like a comic strip, rather than vertical, like a comic book. My original vision was that I would publish the strips like a typical comic strip collection, with two or three or four strips on each page, in a column. Over the months of creating new panels, as I began breaking the borders, changing the widths, and expanding spaces out from panel to panel, I realized stacking multiple strips on a page was no longer aesthetically possible. I decided I would use the comic book-sized page proportions on each page, but horizontally instead of vertically, with one strip on each page. That strip would only fill about half that vertical space (usually), centered with a lot of dead white border around it.  So it became a lot of unused space, but necessarily and eye-pleasingly so.

On the logo/cover image, I used bold thick lines, and retro shading. I was trying to reference the iconic profile of Dick Tracy. I was pleased with how it turned out. But then for some reason, from the very first panel of the very first page, which I began on December 4th, I threw my original idea of a Dick Tracy parody/Chester Gould artistic style out the window. A frenzied sort of spastic line style just developed that I felt encapsulated Dick Hammer s personality. Sort of a pent-up rage and hostility of line. I visualized Bill Siekiewicz s line work, or Simon Bisley s or Sam Kieth s, although I feel ashamed to even say it, since it s so unachievable with these hands of mine.

The first page I drew was not the first page of the comic, although I had intended for it to be. It was of Dick on the freeway. In the script, this was the first page. I fell into my style of line work due to the frenzied, road-raging feel I was trying to achieve during this sequence. When I d finished, I thought, it might be nice to build up to this page, rather than just jump right in. I should draw a couple cityscapes, to establish the “Crude Bay” setting. Give the readers a feel for the location the story takes place in. I found a few photos of Los Angeles (because let s face it, Crude Bay is just Los Angeles), and scribbled out a three-panel page of cityscapes.

But I still had some cityscape images that I had found and kind of wanted to draw, so I thought, what the heck. I ll draw some more of them. And I realized that even though I didn t use a ruler for any of them, they still looked more architecturally sound than I had envisioned, so by the fifth drawing, I was trying to muck up perspectives, and make things more shaky, ominous, and nightmarish. More like these decaying, corrupt buildings could collapse on top of its inhabitants at any moment. Could crush and destroy them. And I figured, this will work fine story-wise. It will be a descent into madness.

And I was enjoying drawing these cityscapes so much, I then decided, I should have a terrifying two-page spread of them, crashing out of the borders. I would throw perspective out the window. I wanted just a hellish Cubism-looking mess of nasty architectural chaos. I planned to draw two pages worth, side-by-side, but as I began drawing, the buildings stacked higher and higher on top of each other. So I decided, Why not? It s still a two-page spread, but the two pages are stacked rather than side-by-side.

And of course it s in the back of my head to draw another city scape at some point later in the story. But that one, I might make a two-page spread horizontally, since I d wanted to do it and haven t yet. And maybe I ll draw it in more of a Dick Tracy style, since I was getting farther and farther off that track.

Now I had pages and panels (which ended up being the first four or five pages, depending on how you count them) of city scapes, and I was pleased with them, even though nothing I d drawn so far wound up as I d imagined. And now I had all these new pages I hadn t originally even intended to include at all. But sometimes you just have to see where the project takes you. I liked the idea of letting the project tell me how many pages it needed, rather than telling the story it has to fit into this much space. I m my publisher, so I ll give myself permission to make it as many pages as I want. It doesn t have to be exactly six issues with exactly 22 pages per issue here. I d let the project dictate what needed to be shown and said.

144. THE IDEA FOR A DICK HAMMER WEB-COMIC

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

December 2006

 

Because I have yet to find a format for anything I do that is catching on, I continue to try new things.

 

I’ve tried a 32-page comics series, which was cancelled after three issues (but which the distributor allowed me to publish through the story’s completion, a giant-sized issue five).  I tried a humongous treasury-sized format.  I tried a trade paperback.  I tried sixteen-page formats.  I tried writing a blog.  I tried signing up at myspace.

 

So a natural next thing to try was a web comic.

 

I had envisioned a “Dick Hammer: The Dailies” comic book some time ago, although I hadn’t ever conceived an actual story for it.  All I knew was that I wanted to draw it in a Chester Gould style.  I owned one hardcover volume of Tracy reprints, spanning from the first strip and into the 1950’s.  While in Portland for Stumptown, I found a second hardcover volume of just the 1930’s at Powell’s Books.  I planned for these to be research material, and to reference them similarly to how I reference Kirby’s work for the Doris Dangers.

 

I also thought it might blend to reference DC’s Golden Age Flash Comics, which was an era before there were supervillains every issue, because the writers hadn’t come up with them yet, so the superheroes just fought gangsters with tommyguns.  In a few more years, all these same superheroes would begin fighting Nazis or the Japanese, or Hitler himself or Stalin or Mussolini or whatever Red Enemy was hot in the news.

 

I had one idea for a story element, which came to me years ago, after watching “Out of the Past” with Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas.  In the film, Kirk Douglas described how he had been shot by his girlfriend and nearly killed, and now that he’d recovered, he wanted private detective Robert Mitchum to find his girl, who he claimed he still loved.  I found this idea hilarious, and decided I wanted to reproduce it, but with each time the girl was brought back, continuing to make attempts on his life and disappearing again, and the masochistic, love-torn guy continuing to love her and repeatedly re-hire the detective to find her and bring her back, again and again.

 

But that’s not enough to make a full-bodied story off of, so I let the project sit for a while.

 

The actual story idea came to me after watching the film “Somewhere in the Night”.  And when I say “came to me,” what I mean is, I found the story I wanted to steal from to make my own story. 

 

The more I brainstormed, the more elements I wanted to throw in, and the more complicated it all became.  It had to be an amnesia story.  Then I realized it needed two separate cases of amnesia.  I should have Rob Oder and Tabloia Weekly Magazine.  I wanted my characters, The Dirty Stinking No-Good Back-Stabbing Rats, who I created some time ago and who I planned to feature in a different Dick Hammer story that hadn’t come about yet.  I wanted a politician who’s gone missing.  Could I fit The Lump’s private detective, Lance DeLaney into the plot? 

 

I always planned to use a daily comic-strip format.  That was the fun of the whole story.  But now I was realizing that this would be the perfect format for a web comic as well.  I could post it as a comic strip online, and then collect it when it was finished.  And that way, I will still be available to the public, even though I’d be between projects, with lag time while I worked on things.

 

At the San Diego Comic-Con 2006, on a whim, I sat down on my hotel bed with my laptop one morning and scripted the first five strips of the story. 

 

Coming back from the trip, I grabbed out some paper and tried to sketch out a chart of all the different plotlines.  I’ve got a few of these attempts on paper dated 7/3/06 and 7/24/06.  But they would quickly fill up with scribbled notes and I’d run out of space to continue writing. 

 

On October 4th, 2006, I opened a new file on my computer, and began typing all the various story elements I wanted to include.  If I felt inspired enough by a particular scene, I might jot down some of the scripted text.  The story was always on my mind, I was always trying to find ways to make it all work somehow.  On evenings walking the dog with my wife, I would try to explain the story to her, and she would shake her head at how confusing it all was.

 

But it was so complicated, some things still weren’t lining up right.  I had the elements I wanted, but now I had to boil them backwards to figure out a way that they could all work in one story.  I began simplifying, and that seemed to work out most of the problems.

 

Finally, I just decided I knew enough general stuff about what was going to happen and what needed to happen, that I went to the very beginning and began scripting.  Once I’d scripted about twenty-five entries, I began to draw it. 

 

143. TRYING TO PROMOTE THE DORIS DANGER 16-PAGE PAMPHLETS

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

November 26, 2006

I had just put out three comics on a monthly schedule. It was too much work for me to get the work produced AND try and promote every issue, so I promoted the first, Dr. DeBunko, and then waited until both Doris Danger 16-pagers were out, and then I sent both issues to all my usual reviewers. Now that it’s been over two years of doing this technique, I’ve been collecting a larger and larger list of people who are willing to say something about my works online. I honestly don’t know if I’ve cracked the printed review world, but I doubt it, because I haven’t seen anything written about my comics anywhere. But I do continue to send out copies to these magazines as well.

About a week after sending review copies, I begin doing periodic ego-searches of the books’ titles on search engines, or ego-searches of my own name, to see if anyone is saying anything about the books. Dr. DeBunko did pretty well with reviews. People online were wanting to do interviews, sneak peeks, and reviews. New reviewers who hadn’t given me reviews before spoke out about Dr. DeBunko. That was nice, and I assumed it meant I would get all these same reviewers looking at the Doris Danger books. But for some reason, the Doris reviews didn’t seem to pop up so heartily as Dr. DeBunko’s. And they were slower to appear, as well.

One common theme people mentioned in Dr. DeBunko AND Doris Danger reviews was how the stories are just “one-gag” jokes, building to a punchline. That had been one of my insecurities with the Dr. DeBunko stories, enough so that I even joked about it in the introduction to the issue. But now, are people saying it in reviews because they feel the same way I do, or are they just unclever, and read that I had said it, and believe everything they read? Or they believe anything the writer says about what he writes? The reviewers tended to agree with me, though, that it’s still a good joke, and you just have to read it in small doses.

But then I got a first review suggesting that the reviewer felt that the Doris Danger stories were “one-gaggers” as well. And that’s beginning to get me a little defensive, even if that IS all they are. Because Jesus Christ, aren’t we talking about comic books here? And aren’t ALL comics just a crappy goddamn one-gag joke? And I’m not just talking about flaccid vapid newspaper funnies (which are HORRIBLE DAILY one-gag jokes, year after year). I’m talking about mainstream comics. Superhero comics. Don’t they all just have the same goddamn character fighting a couple thugs on the street as an intro, then finding out a plot from some asinine villain that’s the same as all the others, then fighting them, then beating them, and then moving on by repeating the whole simplistic formula again? Isn’t the entire MEDIUM just one goddamn “one-gag” joke??! Doesn’t it HAVE to be, if you want to keep using the same goddamn character over and over, EVERY MONTH, for forty or sixty years for Christ’s sake?? So why should my characters be singled out?

Except that, of course, I’m being pessimistic because I love superhero comics, all the more if they’re no good. And also, of course, MY stories are pretty formulaic.

142. BLOG PROBLEMS, November 26, 2006

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Last week, my blog hosting site announced that they had a newer update for the hosting, with all these upgrades and new features.  I loaded it up, and then learned that not only could I not edit any of my previous posts (which I do constantly, whenever I find formatting errors or remember something I forgot to mention).  I also learned I could no longer post a new blog at all!

So I fucked with and fretted over this for a week, and tried to figure out how to get it going again.  Finally this morning, I deleted my entire 65-entry blog, and began a “new blog,” in which I reposted my previous one in its entirety.

What a project, but I’m hoping by tonight, that means I’ll be caught up and able to continue sharing my saga of self-publishing.

I found a mention of my blog at Warren Ellis’s “The Engine” site.  A discussion was going on about how self-publishers should stay away from superhero subject matter, and carve their own niche, because that way these creators will have a voice, and eventually, if they’re good enough, superhero companies will recognize their talent and see their individuality, and hire them to do superhero comics anyways, in the same way they eventually collect up all the talent.

Larry Young from AIT/Planet LAR was supporting this theory, in his arguments against some cocky young upstart, eager to try self-publishing superhero comics.  Larry mentioned my blog, and said, “What makes you think this won’t happen to you?” and he added a link to my “falures of Tabloia” blog, in which I stated all the pathetic numbers my book sold, and how nothing I tried got me any sales or recognition.

The debate became so heated, that Newsarama picked up the story, and said that checking out the argument is worthwhile, if for nothing else, then to read the “depressing true story of Chris” self-publishing, or something like that.

This is all really the first press I’ve noticed about my blog.  It was nice to see some people were beginning to talk about my blog.  But on the other hand, I didn’t realilze everyone considered my blog so depressing.  I didn’t know I was the perfect sample of a pitiable, pathetic, loser in the self-publishing industry.

I wrote a quick email to Larry, and he was so sweet writing back.  He said that he was just trying to point out that he thinks I’m a perfect example of someone who’s done everything right, and how it’s still just so difficult to get any attention or success in this industry.  Larry pointed out that he might not personally have written about all the comics companies I had tried to apply to, to get work from, who had turned me down (himself included), because it might look like my work isn’t good enough for any of them.  It’s a hell of a valid point.  So I mulled it over and decided, you know, this is what has happened to me, and maybe it is pathetic.  Maybe it doesn’t look good that I keep trying to get work, and no one has hired me.  Maybe that DOES mean my work isn’t good enough, or maybe it means I’m perceived that way.  Who am I to say?  But this is my story, and that’s part of my story.  I’m telling my own version of how I perceive things to have happened, and that’s the whole point of this blog anyways.  To mythologically share stories, about the fun, pathetic embarassments, and hell I’ve gone through over all these years. 

I feel like I must sound like a drunk lush, upsetting a chair, all of a sudden raising my voice and shouting out, uncomfortably loudly in a public place, my bitter disappointed frustrations at my world turned sour.  “Fuck it, FUCK IT, bunch-a no good…Sho no one will hire me, sho what?  I’ve got my pride!  I’VE GOT MY PRIDE!”  Slurring my sentences, wiping the saliva off my mouth and toppling, unbalanced, into a pile of trash in the gutter and spilling my bottle before the embarrassed, pitying eyes of all.

And who knows, maybe I’ll keep at this self-publishing for years and years, and maybe I’ll be able to make a name for myself eventually, and then all this pathetic depressing shit that happened to me won’t look so pathetic any more.  Maybe then it will all look ironic, that I worked my ass off, so hard, for so many YEARS and YEARS, but it all worked out eventually.  I’ll be an inspiration, like Jack London who had hundreds of rejection letters before he was published or whatever.

I’m being sarcastic, of course, but JESUS, this industry!  How can someone make it here??!  As long as I’ve been self-publishing, my mind is consumed by this problem.  I find myself not getting any sleep nights, because my mind is racing, trying to come up with ways to just make it in this godamn industry.  It is so bitter and cold in the world of comics creating.

My wife used to joke, if anyone ever asks how I started making comics, that I should just tell them, “Oh, I just decided it’s something I wanted to do, and I just did it.”  And just promote the myth that I was this instant sensation whose work just shined on that first, initial excursion.

141. NO COMMITMENTS CONTINUED, November 27, 2006

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

 

2. Second priority.

I’ve been working my ass off and really enjoying scripting the new Dick Hammer web comic I’m planning.  I’ve got the entire back-story lined up, which is a doozy to sort out, because it’s so complicated.  I had to get the back-story figured out, and then the actual comic story timeline begins AFTER the back-story has run its course.  So then I started trying to figure out the plotting, and when and how you, the reader, will learn which facts, so that it remains a mystery, makes sense, paces all right, and is hopefully an enjoyable read.  After spending maybe a week on this, and it going difficultly, I decided, screw it, and just started plotting.  I will figure it out as it goes.  I will let it reveal itself to me at its own pace, and I’ll go in and re-work the plot threads as needed, as they flesh themselves out.

This web-comic is going to be in the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip style, and I will only do four panels per entry, and I’m thinking realistically, I probably won’t do more than one entry per week.  I’ve finished the scripts for almost a year of installments, at that pace, and I’m barely into the story at all.  My concern is that many of my stories pace slowly, and there’s a lot of dialogue.  So I’m making a conscious effort to minimize the text-per-panel.

 

Overall, it’s going to be a big, slow project, but I’m really looking forward to it.  It’s gonna go along slowly, and then after that year mark, you the reader are going to realize something is going on, and even more slowly you’ll begin to piece together all the craziness.  It’s going to build to a huge film-noir-style climax, with lots of crazy plot twists.  I’m excited about the story.  I’m excited to begin something new.  I’m hoping to begin drawing this week.

 

3. 3rd Priority

Once the Doris Danger book is completed, I’d like to jump back into my religious story, “Limbo Cafe,” which is long overdue.  This was the first comic script I wrote, years before I began publishing my other comics, and I drew about thirty pages of it a year ago, then got side-tracked. 

Originally I envisioned this project as a seven-issue mini-series, but now I have an idea to also produce five or so similarly-religiously-themed mini-comics, and then later include them in the overall big picture.  Once again, this is thinking marketing-wise about releasing products while tied up producing bigger, slower projects.  This is why I decided to do Dick Hammer as a web comic- so that even though it’s a huge project, it will be something people can enjoy along the way, instead of waiting for three years or whatever it takes to finish it.

So the re-visualization of Limbo Café is that these between-chapter installments, which I will release as home-printed mini-comics beforehand, will be “behind-the-scenes, absolutely true stories of the New Testament Bible,” which will be my own atheist’s version of the Jack Chick-style pamphlets. 

And then Limbo Café, I’ve decided to fuck single issues and just put this goddamn thing out as a graphic novel.  As a package, it will be fine, but from a marketing standpoint, I just don’t think I can justify trying to do single issues again.  I haven’t had the luck for it.  Every time, sales have been so horrible.  So I hate myself for it, deciding to make the move to graphic novels.  Because I despise graphic novels, and I love comics, and I wanted to resist as hard and for as long as I could, but I see it so clearly now…it’s futile, futile…

So these three priorities (the second Doris Danger giant book, the hundreds-of-pages Dick Hammer Web Comic, and the 150-or so page Limbo Café), in all likelihood, could keep me busy for two or more years.   Which is a shame, because I’ve got SO many more stories I want to tell.  All I can do is pump everything out as fast as I can, and look forward to the next one.