Step two, sketchbooks.

Friday, July 1st, 2011

What started that June in the kitchen did not stop. I’m not sure what it was that set this project apart from others I had attempted, but despite having no final vision or driving story, I let my ideas wander in real time and slowly began to fill up a sketchbook with my original storyboards. One sketchbook wasn’t enough, so I filled a second one (and thus decided the story would be structured in two parts.) As for my writing process, some days I was very intentional about my narrative, and then some days I was completely aimless and often surprised by what I came up with. The results of those two markedly different approaches somehow twisted together to form a story, though not without its holes. Going forward, I had no idea how the story would end, and as I drew closer to the final pages I was very worried that I’d dug a hole I couldn’t get out of. The only guide I had was my characters, and many writers will tell you that characters can really get out of hand quickly.

At some point in the first twenty pages or so I attempted to give myself a parameter, or maybe it was more of a prompt. I decided to shoot for nine chapters, and loosely base each chapter on one of the fruits of the Spirit. That is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Not that I wanted to write a Sunday School lesson, but rather that these virtues might be among the underlying themes of each chapter. However, this idea began to fall apart around chapter five (kindness) and eventually I felt I was fighting the natural progression of the story for the sake of one of my self-imposed parameters, so I let that idea go. Traces of the “fruit” may still be evident in the story (in fact, I hope it is) but subsequent editing may have chopped up and diluted that concept even more.

While this sketchbook process did set the groundwork for the story, much of it changed in rewrites. Still, I think it was an incredibly valuable part of writing, because it got me very familiar with my characters, and even the environment that they would inhabit. You don’t spend 9 months drawing someone and not come away better acquainted.

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How it All Started

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

It was June, 2008.  I was 26 years old, living in Madison, Wisconsin. I had been drawing some form of comics for over 15 years, and had been dreaming of making a graphic novel for the last 10 of them. In college I had taken a few stabs at it, but it was a daunting task, to write and illustrate a feature-length comic novel, and by then I’d become inured to my growing collection of incomplete projects. Still, the work of graphic novelists before me inspired me, and the comic storyteller inside me would not relent, and so one summer afternoon I opened my sketchbook to a blank page, mindlessly doodled a strange dinosaur-man, and the story began.

I was in my kitchen when this happened. I looked at the doodle and wondered about him. What would life be like for a man with such reptilian features? What would his relationships be like? Would he be bitter? Angry? Self-pitying? Or would he be relentlessly optimistic? Kind and fair in spite of the hand(s) he’d been dealt (so to speak)? I couldn’t simply imagine what would happen to him, I had to visualize it. So I began sketching a scenario in loose comic format, where the man was at a gas station attempting to purchase a snack that was just out of his reach. What else would I have him do – I was in the kitchen, presumably eating. I immediately introduced him to another character, a young woman without physical handicap, who helped him reach his snack. Such a simple action, but it impressed the man I was now calling “Rex.” The two began an improvised conversation, in which I began to figure him, and also her, out. It eventually turned into Picket Line’s introduction, after a few revisions, and you can read that here.

That’s how it all started, one little doodle that grew and grew. More on that process to come. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more behind-the-scenes content and sneak peeks. Eat ’em up!


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