Thursday, May 31

How to edit a digital comic

WRITING CAN BE EASY for me depending on my level of creative energy but editing is often difficult. It requires a level of focus and attention to detail contrary to my nature. In today's publishing environment writers must know how to edit their own work. Here is a list of ideas to improve your editing:

Focus on communication. Good communication can be broken down into two steps; writing and editing. Writing is creating content and editing is refining content. Do one step at a time. Don't edit while creating content. A few good books in your library will help with the basics. My favorites are The Elements of Style, If You Can Talk You Can Write, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

Experience the writing in a new way. Read the manuscript out loud. Awkward sentences can be detected and a more colloquial feel introduced into dialog. Listening to someone read your manuscript is also a good way to detect awkward constructions.

Simplify. Most problems of communication can be resolved by simplifying complex ideas. Complexity is fine as long as clarity prevails.

There are two types of editing; content editing and line editing. When you edit content you use creativity to order and embellish existing ideas. When you line edit you use logic by following the rules of spelling and grammar Rules are irrelevant if you are communicating uninteresting ideas but correct grammar and spelling are still a part of good writing. 

In comics you can combine an omniscient narrative with first and third person narrative, add copious amounts of intricate dialogue including internal dialogue as well as incorporating flashbacks and dream sequences. Things can get pretty complicated. The more complicated it gets the more you need to edit for voice, organization, plot, pacing, and rhythm. If you use flashbacks I highly recommend drawing a timeline and adding events at precise moments on that line.

Mistakes will creep into your manuscript no matter what you do. Reading your manuscript backwards is a good way to replicate the mindset of a good line editor. If all else fails enlist the help of a friend with a gift for line editing.

Have fun and good luck!

Brad Teare June 2012

Tuesday, May 29

Adding a foreword

I RE-EDITED The Subterranean #1 (I had several typos) and am hoping Graphicaly will re-upload the corrected version (update: They were very happy to re-upload with no charge). Because making your project personal is a way to connect with readers I also took the liberty of adding a two page explanatory foreword, which you can read here:

The Subterranean first appeared in the pages of my graphic novel Cypher in 1997.

Cypher was an exploration of all things subconscious and The Subterranean was a metaphor for unexpressed anger. As a scientist The Subterranean had been in a terrible explosion at his laboratory and was now overly sensitive to light and had to remain in darkness. This ticked him off as did the fact that he never got what he really wanted. Somehow this rage propelled him into becoming a superhero against his will.

All of this was communicated in the graphic novel as a comic within a comic. A friend suggested that such a superhero would make an interesting comic book. I agreed with him but I was doing a more cartoon-like technique and found it difficult to imagine a credible superhero being rendered in such a style. I hadn't yet evolved the more realistic style I developed specifically for this project.

But when I finally embraced the idea and began writing the story I discovered the character wrote itself and sprang nearly fully developed from my subconscious. As The Subterranean evolved he split into two parts, Ferryl Maughn, super scientist, and Max Jeffries, ex-special operative. Cypher fans will note that the name Ferryl Maughn is symbolic of feral man. Apparently The Subterranean still has problems with anger management issues.

There are other influences, most of them passions I embraced when I was in fifth grade; Batman, of course, Sherlock Holmes, Supercar (the Sandhog is a low-tech version of that Swiss-Army-knife of vehicles), The Phantom (The Subterranean originally carried a pistol), and of course, Tom Swift (with his secret lab and weird science). And those are only the influences I know about! Much like Cypher, there are undoubtedly a freight load of subconscious influences about which I am completely unaware.

Enjoy the adventure!

Brad Teare May 2012

Monday, May 21

Blogging with Dynamic Views

When I started the Subterranean project my intent was to post every page of the 128 page graphic novel online. I didn't foresee that such ambition would create technical problems and make the story extremely difficult to read with any sense of continuity (since I only posted two pages a week).

A few months into the project Blogger introduced a format called Dynamic Views. I loved the Dynamic Views idea perhaps too much. It's proposed ability to scroll from page to page seemed perfect for comics. But it never worked as advertised as an online comic viewer.

The main reason I still find Dynamic Views interesting after having suffered so much with their beta version is that it works really, really well on the iPhone. If you haven't tried it you should check it out. Unlike other blog formats you can easily read and view everything on the small screen.

Another reason I stuck with Dynamic Views is the translate feature. If you're reading this blog and English isn't your first language try translating it into your native tongue by clicking the top tab on the right (on the home page). Note: translation doesn't work well on the iPhone.

Dynamic Views never worked as a comic reader as I hoped it would because Blogger never got the page-to-page arrows to work properly. But someday when page-to-page scrolling works it will be an excellent comic reader. Until then I will continue to publish The Subterranean to Kindle Fire, Color Nook, Kobo, and the iBookstore via Graphicly. I hope you enjoy the adventure as much as I do.

NOTE: As of 7 September 2012 I have reverted back to the regular, non-Dynamic Views blog format. Blogger never got the comments to work properly, a feature I decided I couldn't live without. So as of this date Dynamic Views is still not ready for prime time.

Brad Teare May 2012

Thursday, May 17

Making a digital comic book

I received new information about digital publisher Graphicly. It turns out that panel mode works with the Kindle Fire but not with the iBookstore offering (not that it needs the panel mode. I think the comic reads well on the iPhone and it works perfectly on the iPad). Also I can update my ad copy on-the-fly at via the Graphicly dashboard.

Here is a brief overview of the Graphicaly conversion service:  For $150 they convert your PDF file and make it available as a digital book on iBookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo (a lesser known reader that nevertheless has a significant market share) and Google Books.

The Subterranean #1 and #2 are now listed on iBooks for iPhone and iPad as well as on Amazon for the Kindle Fire. Issue #1 is also available on this blog and my Facebook Fan Page and are available on the Color Nook, and coming soon to Kobo, and Google Books.

Graphically has an additional option of making apps that will work for the iPad/iPhone and the Android. I will probably experiment with the app option when I publish the entire graphic novel at a future date.

If you want to make a comic book and convert to digital via a company such as Graphicaly here are some suggestions:

Edit thoroughly. My experience is that once you commit your PDF file to the conversion process it's difficult to change. If I had known that the upload was more or less final I would have been much more diligent with the editing process and not allowed my enthusiasm to rush the upload. Graphicly has been very accommodating to change to re-upload but it is still time consuming.

After uploading your PDF file you then "direct" the comic, meaning that you specify the panel-by-panel views. There is an edit button at this phase of the process and it gives the impression that after you direct the panel-by-panel views you can go back and tweak the cropping at any time. My experience suggests its best to crop the panel-by-panel views right the first time (and on the largest screen possible). There were a few panels where I didn't quite get the cropping right and other places where I might have directed the panels differently. But again, I let my enthusiasm get the best of me. I kept thinking I would go back at some point and re-edit. But before I knew it the comic had been uploaded to Amazon and iBooks and there was little I could do to correct the situation except ask Graphicly to re-upload a revised PDF.

I would be more diligent writing the book description. I basically wrote a single sentence describing the comic, like a logline. But I should have written something much more interesting and descriptive, like good ad copy with teasers but no spoilers. Amazon and iBookstore copy this directly into their pages and it will be the only description readers have when they purchase your book. After waiting nearly two months for Amazon to vet my book I assumed they would do something to help sell it. Although I now know I can edit this after the initial upload I think it's best to get it right the first time. 

There are other things I regret. I didn't put my blog address anywhere in the first two comics. In retrospect that's an insane omission, especially with the first comic being free and having potential to redirect people back to my blog (to become fans of future issues. Note: Amazon won't allow free sales unless the book is exclusive with Amazon so issue #1 at Amazon is $.99.) I was also remiss not adding an introduction or at least a postscript giving readers some background and letting them know where the project was heading (note: I have since re-uplaoed a new version with an afterword).

Although I would do some things differently overall I'm pleased with the end product as well as the process. The people at Graphically have been attentive, quickly answered my questions and solved problems. I think their conversion process is both visionary and practical. They have gotten so much right and promise to add even more features in the future. 

I applaud Graphicaly for setting a price that is very competitive. I wish them the best and hope they continue their project well into the future.

Brad Teare 2012

Tuesday, May 15

The power of passion

A boy came to his father and said, "When I grow up I want to be an artist." The father answered, "Pick one son, you can't do both." The father, obviously an artist himself, understood the basic premise that maintaining creative passion requires a child-like perspective. Picasso famously stated, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." 

Some psychologists suggest that as adults we retain many of the insecurities we had when we were twelve years-old and that remembering this insight will allow us to feel equal to all regardless of social status. In a similar vein some suggest the passions we had as twelve year-olds are the most telling about our personalities. I'm not sure about the scientific credibility of this idea but it is an interesting exercise. It certainly can give insight into our current passions. Most likely we are simply culling through our memories and remembering the ones that really excited us. But the result is the same; a treasure trove of seething enthusiasm.

Intrigued by the idea of recovering my youthful zeal I decided to put The Subterranean to the test and excavate for its cultural roots. At age ten I was given an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories. I was enthralled by the hyper-rationality of the detective which was amplified by my fascination with books such as the Tom Swift series (which focused on futuristic, weird science). I remember spinning yarns for my best friend Dan Stark about how my dad worked at a secret laboratory. I knew Dan didn't believe me. I didn't expect him to. I suppose it was an early example of my storytelling compulsions manifesting themselves. Dan and I spent countless hours in our basement drawing on a huge blackboard my dad scavenged from his lab (he was actually a scientist. He just didn't work at a secret lab). I drew schematic versions of a hybrid machine that could fly and go underwater. It was a lot like Supercar I suppose but my vehicle was definitely a precursor to the Sandhog with its low-tech, kludged together design.

I was a big fan of comic books, of course, especially pulp-like offerings such as John Carter of Mars that blended weird science and proto-steam punk. It should be no surprise that I loved Batman comics and his fingerprints are all over The Subterranean. They both have an affinity for rationality, have no super powers but their wits, and both work best at night.

Pablo Picasso made another interesting observation, "Bad artists copy. Good artists steal". Which is a funny way of putting it but concisely sums up the fusion of cultural elements of successful popular fiction. If you have a creative project that needs more depth take a trip down memory lane and excavate the passions you held as a fifth-grader.

Brad Teare May 2012

Thursday, May 10

Overcoming a creative block

There are few things as frustrating as the inability to press forward with a creative project. I recently had a bout of creative block and was unable to move forward with The Subterranean for several weeks. It prompted me to reflect on why we get creative blocks and how we can overcome them. Here are some ideas that might help you snap out of it:

Creativity is disruptive. Don't be afraid of down time. It's part of the process. A fallow period is one way to recharge your batteries.

Creativity can take time to surface. Allow yourself the luxury of leisure. Relaxing and taking a break will allow your subconscious mind to take control of the project. Read a few chapters of a good book or take a few hours and submerge yourself in your art library.

Creativity works best when distractions are at a minimum. Sometimes you've got to be a hermit. Turn off the TV. Stop Facebooking. Turn off the radio. Boredom can be an incentive to entertain yourself and entertaining yourself is one of the roots of creativity.

Forget how old you are. Lighten up a bit. The non-completion of your project is not going to be the end of the world. Engage in some creative play.

Cope with fluctuating energy levels. One reason you have a creative block is probably because you are out of energy. Think of a way to recoup your energy and you probably just solved your creativity problem.

Change your location or your activity. Clean your studio. Go for a walk. Take a trip to the zoo or library. Anything to jolt you into a new and positive way of thinking.

Rearrange and combine things into something new. Allow yourself to borrow ideas from others, even if this starts as a blatant rip-off. Your ideas will evolve out of these borrowed ideas and become something new. Don't worry about the evolutionary roots of your work.

Trust your subconscious mind. It knows a lot more than you do. You are defeating your most trusted ally with all your internal negativity. Relax and let the subconscious mind do your work for you.

Start somewhere, anywhere. Sometimes you just have to start. Make yourself sit down and tell yourself that after a half hour of work if things aren't moving forward you'll just take a nap. Most of the time you'll keep working because you want to keep the creative streak going.

Creativity is an expression of energy. The more energy you have the more creative you will be. Most likely the reason you have a creative block is you've been pressing too hard. You've tackled a difficult project and you're simply running out of energy. Find a way to regain energy and you've solved your problem. Eat better. Sleep more. Exercise. Relax.

And finally, remember that creativity is an act of courage. Sometimes you just have to reach down deep and find the courage that first prompted you to become an artist. Creativity is one of the most noble and beneficial acts you can engage in. Keep that in mind and press forward taking one step at a time. Break your project down into small steps, listing each step on a scrap of paper, and the impossible will begin to seem possible and you are back on your journey once again.

Brad Teare May 2012

Friday, May 4

Read pages 1 to 25 here!

Read the first 25 pages of The Subterranean using the awesome Graphicly interface. You can read full screen if you have a large monitor or read in panel-by-panel mode for smaller screens. Use your arrow keys and the navigation panel will disappear. It is a fun way to read while still preserving the comics visual experience. Let me know what you think. I appreciate your feedback.

Brad Teare May 2012