Earthlock – a turn-based RPG game

As I write this, there’s only 4 hours left of the Earthlock Kickstarter campaign. And it’s already way past its goal.

Image

This means I’ll be writing Earthlock: Festival of Magic (and a digital companion comic) together with the great people at Snow Castle Games in Oslo. Can’t wait to get started! The guys down in Oslo just need a week of sleep first – a well deserved vacation after one nail-biting Kickstarter campaign!

I’ve already written dialogue for their alpha demo, which was a ton of fun, and you can download it here: Windows, Mac and Linux.

The Burning Church – a new project

Me, Michael DeShane and Jelena Đorđević are working on a new comic book project. A 4-issue horror mini-series to be collected into a nice, eerie graphic novel. Here’s some teasers.

sketch 03

The modern English word Hell is derived from Old English hel, and ultimately from Proto-Germanic *halja, meaning “one who covers up or hides something.

sketch 04

Crypt, from the Latin crypta, from the Greek κρύπτη, kryptē; meaning concealed.

sketch 11

Monster, from the Latin monstrare, meaning to show, to display, to demonstrate.

tree creatures

Devil, from Old English dēofol, via Greek diabolos ‘accuser, slanderer

More soon!

Creating a noir comic book – part 7

Parts I, II, III, IV, V and VI.

Onwards down the SPIRAL of comic book creation.

We’ve gone from idea and concept to outline and script, to finding the right artist and working on the visuals of the story. Now it’s time to look at some actual pages of Spiral. From script to thumbs. Pencils to colour. Then the final touches with lettering.

Here is the script for page 6.

page6

page6_suggestion

My layout suggestion.

I supplied Emerson with a stick-figure layout of how I saw the page. I make these for myself to better see how the script works, but they can come in handy for your artist when he/she interprets your script. Just make sure you ask first and don’t throw this along as some guide book. That’s insulting. Also, it’s important to mention that they are just suggestions. A good artist’s mind is more visual and knows the in-and-outs of the pace and storytelling of a page, so let him/her do their part.

Another good example why Emerson is a great artist to work with was his suggestion to remove the baton. Olivia’s already shown signs of bad temper and violence earlier, and it doesn’t need to be emphasized here. Which is brilliant feedback that makes the story better. Writers should always be open to listen to feedback from their artist(s), not just their writer peers. It’ll usually make the story a lot better. Again, this solidifies the fact this is a collaboration, where SPIRAL becomes OUR comic book/story, not just mine. The emotional bond, just like I talked about earlier.

Spiral006_Photoshop

Emerson, layouts

With a few very minor tweaks, Emerson nailed the layout on the first attempt. (My suggested layout above proved to be nearly right in terms of flow and pacing. Sometimes we writers get it right too!) The evidence of me making the right decision about choosing Emerson are piling up. Great flowing page, and even with the intentional jarring jump of scenes after the second panel, it reads really well. Notice how the inset panel of Olivia floats between two different times. How the glasses link it back to panel 2 and how her angry behaviour links it to panel 4.

Spiral006_Photoshop

Inks. Showing how perfect Emerson’s rough and organic style is for the story and genre. Include lettering, and this could have been a final page. Both the story and the artwork works nicely in b/w. But since Emerson is extra brilliant, he does colouring too.

Spiral006_Photoshop

Initial colours by Emerson.

These were the original colour choice, which we stuck with throughout all the pitch pages (7 pages) at first. After we saw the pages all together we decided to try a more moody approach. Although the sparse but diverse and clean colour choices here work, we felt we didn’t capture a real identity with the pages this way.

Spiral006_Photoshop

With a unison, more muted choice of colours, we knew we’d captured the real mood of SPIRAL.

Let’s look at page 7.

page7_suggestion

A very dialogue-heavy page, which I remind Emerson of in the layout suggestion.

Spiral007_Photoshop

Layouts by Emerson.

Again, Emerson takes a similar approach, but notice the different body language with the heads, which really sells the layout. Also, that big panel is made perfect by joining the two locations together. In the script this is obvious, but on a page it doesn’t necessarily explain itself. By using Frida and the back room as the frame for the interrogation room in that big panel, Emerson brought it all together.

Spiral007_Photoshop

Inks.

Spiral007_Photoshop

Original colours.

Like mentioned previously, we adjusted the original colours for something with more identity.

Spiral007_Photoshop

New colours. With shine.

The theme of yellow versus green was kept, but everything is muted and feels more in harmony. This was the first test, where Emerson added some shine effects.

Spiral007_Photoshop

Final colour choice.

Same muted colours, but without the shine effect. This was the page we went with, and the style of colours that we decided to run through all pages.

Emerson’s brilliance was now done. From layouts to colours. It was time to bring in the unseen force of comics creation. The letterer. I myself can letter, but very basic stuff, so I didn’t want to do injustice to Emerson and his art by slapping my mediocre skills on top of this.

Through my network I had a few suggestion for people to get in touch with. Although it’s the least thought of aspect of creating your comic, it’s also the aspect that shows if the project is good or not. Bad lettering sticks out like a sore thumb and can ruin the best of pages and stories. Simple advice: get/hire someone who can do it properly.

I got in touch with Crank! (Chris) and paid him to do the lettering for the initial pages of SPIRAL. And I was so pleased with the result, I hope we can have Crank! with us as we create all four issues.

Here’s how he made the finished pages look:

Spiral_01_006 Spiral_01_007

A lot of dialogue and balloons, but Crank! handled the page expertly.

Next time we’ll look at creating the cover and identity of Spiral, as we move into finishing up the pitch package. We’ll get to that too, so stay tuned.

Creating a noir comic book – part 6

Parts I, II, III, IV and V.

In the last post I talked about how to find an artist, and picking the right one. No matter how many precautions and good karma you put on the table, you’ll never know if you mesh as a team before you’re deep in the project.

So, luckily, it quickly turned out that not only was Emerson Dimaya quick, responsible and easy to communicate with. He also took what I had written and ran with it. Fusing it with details and decisions only a talented artist can.

We started pretty much that same week with character sketches and some concept work. Emerson hadn’t been in London, or South London where much of the story takes place. But I supplied him with a lot of reference photos he could pick and choose from.

Here are some of the concept sketches he did.

Alleyway BlockeyStreet

And some character sketches from loose descriptions by me.

Abdi Jawari Ruel Marudo Troy Scott

And then some study sketches of our leading lady, our vigilante character.

Olivia Jensen

Initial sketch

After the initial sketch, I suggested we’d make her blonde instead, and Emerson came up with one distinct aspect of her that makes her stand out. The glasses.

Olivia Jensenv2

Version 2

Emerson added the orange glasses, and I knew right away this was a hit. The only comment I had now was her skin tone. Which I wanted to be really white, British, so a few of the planned themes I had in mind would work well in the story.

Olivia Jensenv3

Final version

Olivia. From dark-skinned brunette, who was too much alike Lara Croft, to a female character that stands out in a crowd. We had found our lady.

Then, we needed her vigilante get-up. We talked a bit about the practicality of it. It had to be practical, but it couldn’t be all military black. I also knew how I wanted her face make-up to look. Here’s what we came up with.

Spiral02

Emerson continued the orange details, and we now had our main colour for the book. Slightly military in appearance, but also theatrical and wild-looking. This was Emerson’s first sketch with her get-up on. And it was a perfect match. I did ask for a couple of tweaks to the face make-up, but we fell back to this original sketch pretty quickly.

Spiral01

With night vision goggles and fighting staff.

Now, only a week and a half after we agreed to work together, we had the look we wanted, and all our (13) characters sketched out. Next up was to go into the script and make some brilliant pages.

Next round we’ll take a look at a couple of pages, from script to finished artwork. And further confirm that Emerson Dimaya was the perfect match, not just for the project, but for me as a writer, as well.

Until then, be vigilante!

When you begin writing, no one tells you…

… that you’ll feel guilty.

From the day you truly commit to your writing, you will feel guilt.

Guilt, for not joining your friends for a night out. For not visiting your old family more often. For staying up longer than your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband on the 6th day in a row. Guilt, for not spending more time with your kid.

Because you don’t have time. Because you should answer those emails asap. Because there’s a Skype call scheduled soon. Because something needs to come alive on page. Something needs to be written.

Guilt, because you’re not being with those you love. Not enough.

This, no one tells you.

You’ll discover it yourself once you’ve embarked on your dream. Be it screenwriting, dancing or building that company you’ve long wanted to.

And you’ll never be rid it unless you forfeit that dream. (But then who would you be?)

Only thing to do is start balancing it. Start managing your time better. Take the time you need off your dream. Not letting it consume you.

I doubt you’ll ever be rid of the guilt, but you’ll feel better. I try every day, but the gods know I fail now and then.

I guess the good thing about it is that guilt reminds you who you are and what (else) is important.

Creating a noir comic book – part 5

Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Last time we looked at writing the script and the first step of finding an artist, by placing an ad.

The ad for Spiral was placed on Digital Webbing, PencilJack and on ConceptArt.org. At the same time I went to Twitter and Facebook to push the link to the ad. The ad read like this:

Hi,

I’m looking for an artist for a contemporary crime/noir 4-issue mini-series set in London.

Specifically looking for:
– something that can work as B/W but also with some stylistic and minimalistic colours.
– someone who’s been published, or have good references.
– knows London and its suburbs/architecture, or someone willing to dig into visual research.

I will:
– offer a page rate for the pitch pages + character studies. ($70 per page, more for added colour. Negotiable, of course, so let’s talk about it.)
– pay less than 3 days after completion and delivery of high res files (tiffs or psds). Paypal or direct bank transfer. Willing to discuss some payment up-front.
– split I.P. with artist (and colourist if we need one)
– let all revenue from the 1st issue go straight to artist/colourist.
– split revenue equally on the 3 remaining issues, AFTER set page rate has been recouped by artist/colourist.
– aim this at a specific publisher. (But I also have back-up plans.)

So this is kind of a mix between a back-end collaboration and paid work.

The story is called SPIRAL and feels like Scalped, Daredevil and BBC mixed in a blender. In London. On my blog you can read a few pages of the script.

If you think this might be something for you, hit me up with page samples, your preferred page rate and some info about yourself at templadiaboli (A) gmail.com

Cheers!

Magnus
magnusaspli.wordpress.com
http://www.comixology.com/Magnus-Asp…s-creator/4944

Let’s just analyze it quickly.

I write down only the necessary information. I’m upfront about everything and, I think, clear about everything. I say I have a plan (which I did, and people seem to like creatives with plans), and I show off some pages of my writing, so they can see for themselves if the quality is there. Important points, but the most important ones are: 1) I offer a page rate for the pitch pages, and 2) I offer shared ownership. Money and shared ownership.

Money, because artists deserve to get paid for their services, like any other professional in the world. And it’ll get a lot more artist eyes on the ad if there’s a decent page rate. ($70 per page isn’t high, but it’s not insulting either, I think.) Shared ownership because that can (and probably will) lead to an emotional bond with the project. The feeling of being included, of having a say, of not just working on the project, but creating the project.

I don’t say much about the project/story, but I brag about how it could feel. Like Scalped. Like Daredevil. With a BBC touch. Big words, you might say. Yes. It is aiming for the skies. But that’s the ambition level I have, and what I want the artist to have. It’s the level I want to reach, it’s the level I must reach. And it’s the level we can reach.

This is a sales document and there’s no time for modesty. That said, the line between confidence and arrogance is a thin one. Did I overstep it? I don’t think so, but everyone else is the judge of that.

At the end I also show them who I am by linking to both this here blog and my comics on Comixology. That way I at least have a little clout. I show I’m not fresh out of the gates. I’ve reached the trenches. Been shot at.

So, the question last time was if I’d get any response on the ad. And yes. I sure did. Over 120 artists got in touch with me. A few didn’t have any sequential pages to show me. Say 10%. A chunk weren’t ready for a comic book with this ambition level. Say 50%. But about 40% were really good. I was blow away with the skill, quality and talent that many of the artists.

(Most came from DigitalWebbing, with a decent amount from PencilJack, and a small group from ConceptArt.)

I try to pay attention to everything that moves in the up-and-coming artist world, and I know there’s a lot of barely proven and unproven talent out there. But still, I was surprised at the number that replied to the Spiral ad.

Which presented me with a very nice problem. How to pick the right artist?

Slight digression: I’m friends with quite a few really talented artists that I could have contacted directly. So why didn’t I? A lot of them are busy of course, but maybe a few of them would have had time to commit to Spiral. The reason I placed an ad was to “see the talent pool” out there, establish new connections, and because I always find it exhilarating to work with fresh blood.

After a week, and e-mails kept ticking in, I started to sort the best from the good ones in my inbox. (As I look in that “best” folder now, I have 57 artists there.) Once I had done that I just had to use the elimination method. Things that counted in favour of artists were:
– sequential samples from several projects (not just superhero scripts)
– style that worked nicely as just pencils (which meant the mood was there)
– those that wrote in decent English (that I could say would have no problem interpreting the script*)
– those that sounded genuinely eager to partake in the project
– those that had a webcomic or short story or book published (even if by small press publishers, of course.)

Not to mention the obvious ones like a style that would suit the noir story, and strong storytelling skills on the pages, panel to panel flow, etc. etc.

*There are a brilliant amount of fantastic artists from non-English-speaking countries of course, and one day I will learn Spanish and French and whatnot so that I can confidently work with them as well. Unless they beat me to it with decent English. Fact is, interpreting a script, with the nuances of the written language, can be quite difficult if you don’t know the language. Pretty obvious, really. But that’s the way it is, and if we can remove barriers between us then the collaborative aspect runs much smoother.

So, hours of elimination later, I ended up with a top 5 list of the artists I really felt could work with the story. They were Graeme Howard, Robert Carey, Ariel Zuckerbrull, Emerson Dimaya and Joshua Horn. All of them with their distinct style, brilliant talent and all of them about to be discovered by the big players, I’m sure**.

It wasn’t easy to choose, which I told all of them, and I sure hope to work with all of them someday. But after a weekend of back-and-forth my choice landed on Emerson. A Filipino artist that simply ticked all the boxes (see list above).

grysborne_01_by_emersondimaya-d6gqkjb

Emerson Dimaya

blob_02_by_emersondimaya-d6gqcb0

Emerson Dimaya

Letting the others go was hard, but I felt going with Emerson was the right call. But with new, unknown blood there’s also a risk of ending up with the wrong person (for a number of reasons), and wasting both your own time and the artist’s time.

How it went, I’ll let you in on soon, in part 6.

**Publishers/Editors/Writers – hire these good folks before it’s too late!

Creating a noir comic book – part 4

Earlier I have talked about the seeds that turn into an idea, and a concept. I’ve talked about outlining the story, and breaking it down with format and plot in mind. And I also pondered a bit about what noir means to me.

Now, it’s time to talk about scripting. And how to get an artist.

Now, there’s no true right or wrong when it comes to comic book scripts. In screenwriting there are hard and fast format rules to follow, it has an industry standard. Not so in comics. Here every writer’s format and scripting style is usually different. But there are similarities and key points to consider when writing a comic book script. I won’t turn this blogpost into a how-to for newbies, but I’ll say that I find scripts that have a concise format, to-the-point descriptions (not too detailed) and where the writer breaks it all up into easy digestible paragraphs are better than the opposite (the so-called Alan Moore way). Concise, clear and lean mean a lot of “white space” to the page, and – as long as you’re not too sparse with the description – makes it easy for the reader to extract information. Because it’s a blueprint. Used for building a comic book page/story. So the reader, which will be either an editor or an artist, must be given an easy time in terms of info extraction. Finding that balance between too little description (clarity) and too much details takes a few years of practice, and attempts at putting art to your script. Also, the writer/artist relationship in comics is different from pair to pair. Some artists love a lot of details and suggestions from the writer. Some prefer it to be as lean as possible, so they can pull a lot from their own creative brain. But with Spiral, I wrote the script without having an artist already attached. In such situations – which are quite usual – I’d say those years of practice and finding the balance are crucial.

But I’m digressing a bit. Back to Spiral and how the breakdown turned into a script.

With each breakdown note intending to represent a page, let’s look at two pages in the beginning of the script. Note #7 and note #8, which are page 6 and 7 in the script.

On note #7 all the info I have is “Gabe and partner pulls a neo-Nazi over. Ammunition.” Looking back at my outline and the other breakdown notes, I knew this meeting with the neo-Nazi was part of a returning storyline, but all the visuals and dialogue bits were just swirling around in my head. I tend to keep those bits in my head rather than to write them down. Do so at your own peril. I find that if the dialogue exchange or visual element is good enough, your brain will hang on to it. If it’s not good enough, it’ll slip away from memory. Also consider that your second pass at writing the page/panel/dialogue will likely be twice as good as your first attempt. So don’t worry about forgetting or losing anything. The good stuff will surface.

This is what ended up on the page after a a second revision:

page6

Things to note:

– I give a few page layout and camera angle suggestions to the artist. Different artists will take this differently. We’re all different. Some might find it patronizing. Some really helpful. I feel comfortable enough putting them in, because I’m a very visual writer. But when moving a script over to an artist, I always explain that any “art department suggestion” is just that. A suggestion. It’s important that an artist feels like a co-director, and not just a camera man. In comics, there should always be two “directors”.

– I’ve changed the main characters name from Gabe (Gabrielle) to Olivia.

– I’ve merged a previous scene into this page. The morning/wake-up scene. It doesn’t do much, but has two crucial elements: mood/atmosphere, and establishing Troy, Olivia’s husband, so that he doesn’t just suddenly pop up in the story later out of the blue. Also, it makes the transition from the 2nd to the 3rd and 4th panel slightly confusing, and playing on what was said by Olivia on the bed.

– My format, which is a tweaked format from an existing Final Draft template. This image is two pages. Notice I try to leave it as concise as I can, making the page breathe. Which welcomes the artist (or editor) to soak up the information more easily. I also establish the location quickly after the panel numbering. Since in this comic book I jump from scene to scene quite a lot, I found it nice to be able to see that location change right away, before one reads the panel description/action.

I notice one grammar mistake right away, and needless to say, they should be eradicated before the script goes to the next person. And before you put it online in a post that shows your noir comic book creation process.

And note #8, which is page 7, had this information: “The interrogation of Brett.”

Here’s the scripted page, after a few revisions:

page7

This is a very tight page, meaning there are quite a few panels with a lot of information in them, particularly dialogue. Again, a layout suggestion and some visual suggestions (framing inside a panel with the chair’s legs, for instance.) These I things I consider artists usually have a different and better idea about. But as long as you’re up front about it, it doesn’t hurt to offer visual suggestions. Might trigger something in the artist brain that leads to a brilliant choice, which might not have been triggered if you didn’t write down that visual suggestion.

These are just two pages to show how sparsely I plot out the story before going into script. I refrain from writing down dialogue snippets and such until I’ve reached the script stage. Might work for some, it does for me. But it might not work for everyone. I find it saves time, and that marinating things in my brain usually leads to better output than if I jot down too much. Once I jot something down, I tend to be a bit locked by it.

But each to his and her own. Try everything, and find your sweet spot.

So, I finished the first issue script for Spiral and had the outline and breakdown notes for the remaining 3 issues. Typed those up on my laptop so that everything was there for once I needed to start scripting issue 2. The way I see it, once you reach a certain point you can’t be bothered to write too much script on spec. Write enough for the project to be presentable, then focus your energy on getting the project out there. This will work on most projects, but there are a few exceptions where the details in the script are crucial throughout the whole story, where you might have to write everything up as a script before your move on. But with Spiral, I was now ready to find an artist.

The easiest advice I can give if you want to get a good artist with you on a project: offer them something worthwhile and which leads to an emotional bond with the project.

Knowing I couldn’t pay a page rate for the whole project, and that I wasn’t looking at Spiral as a gold mine or my magnum opus that I couldn’t share, this was the ad I posted on a few sites where a lot of artists hang out:

Hi,

I’m looking for an artist for a contemporary crime/noir 4-issue mini-series set in London.

Specifically looking for:
– something that can work as B/W but also with some stylistic and minimalistic colours.
– someone who’s been published, or have good references.
– knows London and its suburbs/architecture, or someone willing to dig into visual research.

I will:
– offer a page rate for the pitch pages + character studies. ($70 per page, more for added colour. Negotiable, of course, so let’s talk about it.)
– pay less than 3 days after completion and delivery of high res files (tiffs or psds). Paypal or direct bank transfer. Willing to discuss some payment up-front.
– split I.P. with artist (and colourist if we need one)
– let all revenue from the 1st issue go straight to artist/colourist.
– split revenue equally on the 3 remaining issues, AFTER set page rate has been recouped by artist/colourist.
– aim this at a specific publisher. (But I also have back-up plans.)

So this is kind of a mix between a back-end collaboration and paid work.

The story is called SPIRAL and feels like Scalped, Daredevil and BBC mixed in a blender. In London. On my blog you can read a few pages of the script.

If you think this might be something for you, hit me up with page samples, your preferred page rate and some info about yourself at templadiaboli (A) gmail.com

Cheers!

Magnus
magnusaspli.wordpress.com
http://www.comixology.com/Magnus-Asp…s-creator/4944

Then, the waiting began. Would I get any replies on such an ad? I’ll let you know next time, and then how to pick the right artist.

Seppuku 2013, initiate 2014

I could write a long blog post about 2013. But I feel time’s better spent on this new one, this two-0-fourteen.

2013 was a special year. A year with a lot of joy, and challenges. I became a father. To Loke, who is now 6 months and missed Santa on the Eve of Yule, but saw his first fireworks last night. So far he hasn’t turned into any kind of arch nemesis.

My creative goals for 2013 didn’t quite pan out, although, in hindsight, we did really strive to make it. A lot of hard work was put down, but overall I’m not exactly where I hoped to be come January. But we’ve managed to launch two, I repeat, TWO Outré anthology issues. (They’re available free, right here, so no excuses now.) I’ve been in (electronic) touch with a lot of prominent people in the comic industry – because living up in the Arctic, e-mail’s the name of the game – and 2014 is a year for business. I had a fantastic time at Raptus in Bergen, meeting a lot of great people. A screenplay I co-wrote with Robert Klecha came to the finals in a prominent competition, which was rewarding. And I have a few really strong comic book projects on the go.

But now’s a time for the horizon ahead. And the sun’s burning over there. (Figuratively speaking, since it’s nearly pitch black all the time here in Norway these days.)

Before January’s over I’ll write down my goals for 2014, and we’ll see how that goes by the bells chime for 2015.