Sunday, October 21, 2007

Up and Running part 2

Well, so now you have worked out the basics of what's called a "creative team". Any comic can start with a writer and a penciler committed and on board. It is this relationship that has to be a strong working relationship for the project to stay intact through production. IF either of the two aren't communicating or feel they aren't being treated professionally then the project is done, and you are back at square one. So I cannot stress enough choosing the right artist, and creating that productive working relationship.

Once that partnership is in place, you have a solid foundation to build on. From there as work is being completed you need to find a reliable and capable inker and colorist for the book. (assuming it will be in color) Now I add that as an assumption, because a full color comic book is nearly 3 times more expensive to print than a black and white book. That will be addressed more completely when I talk about the finances of producing comics later.

So you need an inker. I have worked on a project, my first in fact, where I had penciled 22 consecutive pages and couldn't have been more proud. It was a work for hire gig, and I was getting paid per page, without any say on the production of the book. So an inker was hired without me having any say in the matter. An inker was hired, and it was his first work as well. Now let me say right off that the work I did on that project makes me cringe to this day, I was at the beginning of my career and still in school. That said, I was incredibly disappointed when I saw the inks come in.
It wasn't a matter of being nit picky either. Entire backgrounds were left out, faces were redrawn when they were smaller figures, and there was no sense of depth through the line weights. An inkers job is to embellish the art, define the art. This is accomplished through many techniques, including adjusting line weights from thick to thin to define depth, and texture to define mood, variation, and perspective. This is no easy task and is most certainly an art all it's own. A professional inker can literally save a book, but the inexperienced inker can do just the opposite. As a creative team you need to find an inker that best compliments the style and mood you are looking for in your book.

After your inker is on board and working on pages, finding a colorist is the next step. Again there are a few message boards that you can go to and put up ads that you are looking for a colorist. Typically, you need to have funds to pay the colorist upfront for their work. As with the inker, a colorist can really make or break the look of your project. In colors, you can very much expect to get what you pay for. By paying a colorist a page rate upfront you will have a much better chance at landing a capable colorist who will treat your work professionally.

A colorist will take the black and white line art and apply the last step of art to the finished page. They add separation and definition to the page that black and white art can only suggest at . Especially when it comes to "effect" heavy books with superpowers and explosions. But there are many other subtle benefits to the coloring step when it comes to the mood and setting. Whether it is morning or night, in the city or country side, indoors or outdoors, these places and times can be clearly suggested with the line art. But all of these settings can be instantly recognizable through an effective color palette. A colorist will use the theory of color to help clarify or embellish the story you have drawn. When you treat the colorist with respect and professionalism they will most likely be willing to work with you on creating the color palette and style that best supports your story. It can be a tedious process that often isn't found at once. In the beginning of any project there are many revisions that require a lot of time. If you communicate well, this can be relatively stress-free.

So you have the writer, penciler, inker and colorist all on board and working on various steps of the process. If you are already at this point you are way ahead of the game! Seriously, I have only been a part of two out of nearly a dozen projects that have gotten this far. And this is all before even landing a publishing deal. After you have the art finished, and I use that term "finished" loosely as to not offend any letterers, then you either have the book lettered by a freelancer or the art goes to your publisher for pre-production.

Pre-production encompasses many things and shouldn't be taken lightly. At Marvel, DC and other larger publishers they have on-hand staff that incorporate the art into a format they use for printing. If you compare a standard Marvel book, to DC, Dark Horse, or Devil's Due product, they all have a different "look" or feel to the book. This can be attributed to their "house" style of pre-production. This can include lettering the books (dialogue and sound effects), title pages, page size, page numbers, ads, letters pages and many other elements that come together to get the book ready to go the printer. You need a masthead or Title Logo for your book, usually a company logo, Issue # and date, Artist credits and sometimes a UPC all on the cover. Who does all that?.... Pre-production staff at your publisher. This also means that if you decide to self-publish, all that work falls on your lonely shoulders.

Like I said though, some of that work (like the letterer) is often farmed out to freelancers. I have worked on a couple projects where the pre-press was freelanced out before sending it to the printer on self published books.

So those many steps of the process all come together to get your project to the printer. If you are working on a "monthly" book, that means there is a very tight deadline to accomplish all this work in. Often the death sentence of many books is their untimely schedule and blown deadlines. If there is a major hold up or delay in any one of these steps, there is a very real chance that you miss your publishing deadline.

It usually takes a penciler working full-time 8-12 hours to pencil one comic book page. So with an average 22-24 page comic, you need to plan on at least a full month for the penciler to finish one issue. The inker should be given at least 3 weeks for a comfortable deadline, even more if it can be spared. In a perfect world you could even give the colorist that much time, before the book goes to pre-production. On that time-line it would take nearly 3 full months to create one monthly book. Obviously that math doesn't add up and you would get behind pretty quickly.

That is why most publishers expect at least 3 full issues completed before they even consider soliciting (making the book available to order for retailers) the first issue. On that schedule with 3 issues done by the time your book is coming out you should be working 3 issues in advance of the book on the shelf. Again...that's in a perfect world.

Sometimes artists have lives, and life gets in the way of deadlines. When the writer is slow getting a script approved, or to the penciler, expect that to ripple through the production schedule. More times than not, that delay comes from the penciler for various reasons. It becomes a very rigorous schedule for a penciler to consistently pencil a whole page every day, month after month. This is often why you find "fill-in" issues through most books. Either the penciler is so far behind that it has accumulated to over a months worth of lag time, or they just need a break. It is easy to get burned out creatively on that kind of schedule.

This applies to each step of the process when there are delays. But usually the burden of blown deadlines gets laid on the backs of the inkers and colorists to pick up the lost time. Inkers are forced to crunch 3 weeks of work into 2 or even 1 week. I've seen this and been a part of these expectations far too many times. I've seen colorists forced to crank out 20+ pages in 3 days, due to blown deadlines just to keep on schedule.

It ain't pretty when that happens, you end up with a disgruntled and burned out creative team that can't possibly create their best work.

There is no clear cut solution to the deadline problem. If there were, you would have a lot more comic book artists out there. It is a difficult and stressful job when working on deadline. The best thing you can do is plan ahead. Start working on your project WELL in advance of your first solicitation. The more lead time you have before a project, the bigger window you allow yourself for the guaranteed mishaps that cut away at your production schedule. So plan ahead, and have a back up plan of what to do if you are late in any one step of the process.

Well that's enough for now. In the next installment I will address proposals to publishers, and the many options you have for publishing.