The learning process begins

The project leading me to create this WordPress account is an OEL (Original English Language) manga. Every writer sometimes has an idea that springs out fully-formed, or nearly so; that’s the case with this project: The Dragon Core, or TDC. I literally had 80% of it developed and visualized within three weeks (!); unfortunately I hadn’t planned on just how difficult it would be to pull off. A brief list of responsibilities for creating a serial comic (or, for that matter, any comic) follows. (You may already know this; if so I apologize. I’m displaying my own process, not teaching people how to create comics.)

  • Writer. Someone needs to write the story. For a comic, this is a script.
  • Artist falls into two categories.
    • Penciler. The pencil artist creates pencil sketches of the scenes; these are not the final drawings but the basic artwork of the panel.
    • Inker. The inker finalizes the penciler’s work in ink and cleans out the artist’s guidelines. A good inker can hide a shaky penciler’s art; a poor inker can ruin great art.
  • Letterer. The letterer creates captions, sound effects, and the content of speech balloons, deciding on fonts and placement in collaboration with the writer and artist.
  • Colorist. The colorist works with the writer and artist to determine colors and is responsible for “staying in the lines” (it’s more complicated than it sounds).

There are other aspects of comics that cross responsibilities, such as panel layout (the shape of a panel should enhance the mood, timing, and pacing of the story), gutter size (are panels separated by a lot, or do they bleed into each other), and other considerations.

I can already write reasonably well; the other tasks I am learning on the fly. Fortunately, I visualize well; I can see in my head what a good layout for a given page should be, and as I learn more about it I get better at it, which in turn helps my scripting.

What I am very unsure of is coloring. The pencil sketching concerns me a little too, but at one time I drew pretty well, so I’ll get over that soon enough. Inking is a bit more of a concern, but if I’m careful with my pencil sketches my inking should be all right too. On the other hand, my color sense is lacking. Not that I don’t have any, but I have no experience understanding how it works. To start, then, I’m doing black-and-white; I can shade well enough, and with all of the other things I need to learn I think I can leave coloring until last.

Now, on to the process.

I’ve got the first eleven chapters scripted, storyboarded, and ready to draw; those chapters total 157 pages and 778 panels. That might sound like a lot; it is, and is not. The more webcomics and manga I read, the more I’m realizing my initial guess at what is big and what isn’t has changed. I am currently reading a comic that’s run for 5 years and over 700 pages; it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Another, newer, comic has gone 4 years and 55 pages, introducing the two main characters and only hints regarding the deeper plot. I’m not going to criticize anyone’s work, for good or bad; those two examples are merely for comparison purposes. TDC’s first 75 pages have completely introduced four of the five main characters, introduced the main plot, and set up two of the three secondary plots. If anything, I may be rushing things – but that’s typical for me. Obviously, writing isn’t the problem.

Drawing is the problem – or I thought it would be. Not that I don’t think I can get half-way decent, but with the vision of the “10,000-hour rule” in my head, I often get discouraged. Then I saw this video, which explains the 10,000-hour rule applies only to expertise in an ultra-competitive field, and to move from knowing nothing to “pretty good” may take only 20 hours – that’s 45 minutes a day for a month. Wow, what an eye-opener – and a confidence builder, too. (Can you hear that sigh of relief? I knew you could.) Judging by some of the drawings I’ve seen across many manga and comics, I know I can do fairly well.

So the real problem is something that’s bothered me my entire life: lack of confidence. I know my story’s good because I’ve had people read it and tell me it’s good – and yet I still have my doubts, almost every day. This is a particularly pernicious problem. Nevertheless, I’ve never felt as strong a desire to do something, and finish it, as I have with this project. The story is there and fighting its way out; it’s almost an obsession to get this done. I think that’s what’s going to get me over the hump: comparing the misery of giving up versus the misery of worrying about something that may not be true. OK, so maybe that’s not a constructive way of looking at it, but whatever works, right?

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