Monday, March 14, 2011

Comic Book Panel at the Tucson Festival of Books

This weekend the Tucson Festival of Books was held at on the University of Arizona campus. It was estimated that approximately 100,000 people attended. It was a beautiful day out and what made it even better was the panel Building Comics from the Ground Up.  The panel consisted of Eric Esquivel, Jeff Mariotte and Terry Moore. The panel was moderated by Mike Camp the owner of local comic book shop Heroes & Villains. If you missed it, we posted a transcript from the panel below. 

Eric Esquivel is a local author, editor and publisher of underground comics.
He self-published Horrible Little People and Awesomenaut.

Terry Moore is an author, graphic novelist and illustrator.
His work includes Echo and Strangers in Paradise. 

Jeff Mariotte is an award winning author and novelist.
He created Desperadoes and Graveslingers. 

First off, the blend of Eric, Jeff and Terry was perfect for this panel. Eric may be considered a new comer when compared to Jeff or Terry, but he shared experience as a self-published comic book author was insightful and inspiring. Since the panel was about Building Comics from the Ground Up, Mike Camp tailored his questions to the idea phase, writing phase, art phase and getting the comic on the shelf.

The following are questions by Mike Camp during the panel and the respective responses.

In coming up with an idea for a graphic novel, is it any different than what would it be for a prose writer?
Eric Esquivel: I think you have to think about it visual. Graphic novels are told through the panels without dialogue sometimes. You would think more like a screenwriter than a novelist. I think of big giant scenes  of images that you want to convey like a movie poster.
Jeff Mariotte: Because I do write both [comics and novels], I often have to go through this process when I have an idea for a project of trying to work out the elements and do I think it is going to work better as a prose novel, comic or graphic novel.  Is there going to be a lot of internal stuff that is hard to get across on the comic page but is easy to do in a prose or are there  more splashy monsters that would be more fun if you got to see in pictures. Sometimes I go back and forth for a long time. Then there is a commercial consideration of what will be easier to sell.
Terry Moore: This is really apropos for me because I'm one issue away from finishing my series Echo. Then I have to solicit a new series on Monday. I thought I was ready but I keep pitching ideas to my wife, Robin, and she keeps saying no. Just like when we were dating. It's amazing in talking to Robin, I've run a ton of ideas by her in the last two weeks and how many book titles come up and we would say no that sounds like a mystery novel or movie, it doesn't sound like a comic book. We think that if you go into a comic book store and you see the wall of comics, what will stand out. How in the world will you compete against X-Men or Spiderman or Batman. You don't want a comic book cover with a photograph cactus plant and says 'Into the Night', but if you had something there that said Dead Girl... I'm in. There is a trick to it.
When you are coming up with your ideas, do you find yourself sketching?
Jeff Mariotte: I try not to think about what it's going to look like. I would rather let a professional artist think about what it's going to look like. I don't suggest costume designs. In a comic, I will describe the type of characters I need and let the artist create.
Terry Moore: That is the difference between us. I picture a movie and all I am doing is copying the movie from my head.
Eric Esquivel: I do two things before I start the actual project. I thumbnail, like a crazy person which means I draw these tiny little squares and block out panels. I try to control the pacing of a book by drawing what squares are going to go where and then I won't really draw characters in them but I will write sad, happy, question mark, excitement or buzz words. This helps me control the flow of the book.  I also do what's called a series bible. 
So when you guys actually get to writing, do you write in long form, script, or long form then adapt?
Terry Moore: I start off with a page of notes. I just put all the ideas down because I think in abstract and not linear. I get all the ideas and buzzwords, then I take those and start a script. I have to lay things in front of me and then I know how to fix the puzzle. 
Jeff Mariotte:  I guess my prose background plays out in this too because I write an outline in prose so I know where it is going. For me an outline is a roadmap that tells me where I'm starting from and where I'm going to and the basic route I'm going to use to get there. But if along the way I see something over there that looks interesting, I can still choose to go explore that and come back if I want. It's not an outline that is set in stone, but it is still a solid outline. Then I go to script from that.
Eric Esquivel:  I found that all the things that teachers taught me was absolutely correct and necessary. You have to do the outline and all the character branches, basically everything I hated doing in middle school and high school but it was completely necessary for me. It's really do whatever you want and succeed however you can. Everyone breaks in a different way and writes a different way. As long as your artist knows what you are saying. If anyone's ever read From Hell by Alan Moore. Alan Moore writes these giant novels with 40 pages for one panel description. His artist Eddie Campbell comes in and knows how Alan talks and so he just highlights 'okay there is a clock and it is black' and then skips over the pages. So however you feel comfortable, however you want to tell your story with comics you can do that with your script.  

This wasn't a question but Eric brought in a nice tangent about Alan Moore.  Now who doesn't love a good Alan Moore story? Here are stories about Alan Moore told by Jeff and Terry. 

Jeff Mariotte: I've edited Alan Moore and I can vouch for that. The complicating thing is that Alan Moore hates computers. He will fax in his 800 page script. When Alan's fax comes make sure there is plenty of toner and paper and wait because it will be awhile. 
Terry Moore: Alan has a lot of stories in the industry. I drew a story of his one time and I had questions because he made references to several European things. I got his phone number and called his house. He answered his phone, I introduced myself and said I was reading his script and had questions.  He interrupted me and just started reading the script from page one to the last page. He has this super low baritone voice. I listen to the story being read for 20 minutes and at the end he says 'So that should settle things, don't you think? Good luck and just draw what you like.'  So I did. 
Jeff Mariotte: I have to tell my Alan Moore story now. There was one occasion I was editing a story for Alan back at DC.  He wrote a script and it included a reference to Hello Kitty wallpaper and DC's lawyers had a problem with that because Time Warner is a huge company, they make a lot of money. Sanrio is also a huge company, they can afford the lawyers to sue DC comics if they need to and they would. So they [lawyers] had me tell Alan and it was going to be a painful conversation. I put it off and when I finally called him, I told him the lawyers won't let you do Hello Kitty. He said 'alright... Hello Hitler. It's Hello Hitler wallpaper.'
We have all seen the Hollywood depiction of the writer, director, actor dynamic. It sounds like we find that here in the comic book world too. Is that pretty common place?

Jeff Mariotte: Unless you are a renaissance man like Terry, it is very much a collaborative effort. What you get at the end of it is never what any one person thought it would be at the beginning of it. In the best case, you combine the talents of different people and come up with something that's way better than any of them could have done by themselves. What comes out on the page, never is what I was thinking when I started. 
Eric Esquivel: I've had a lot of artistic collaborations fail on me. That's what happens when you break out in the indie industry. You want to partner with as many folks as you can and try to get as many books out. The hardest thing for me is to manage those relationships and finding people I really click with. 
Terry Moore: I'm a huge believer in band dynamics. I think if you get the right three or four people together they will make something better than they would have made alone. I regret not being able to get into a band dynamic with my work. People are always saying right about what you know and do what you do naturally. I have found that to be terrible advice. If you do that, then what you have done is tapped into what you have in common with everybody else. There are only interested in that if you have some insight on it. I don't write about things I understand. I write about things I don't understand. I write about women and I'm trying to figure it out. 

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