Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Girls and Comics, part 5

Just when you think a series of blog posts is over, Publishers Weekly throws a great article at you.

In "Life in Comics: What a Girl Wants," Jennifer de Guzman shares her own comic-book-shop-creep-out moment, and her thoughts on comic-book-shop girl-friendliness.

However, towards the end she uses a turn of phrase that really struck me:

Comics have thrived, in their own way, on being insular and appealing to a closed circle of fans. Comics isn't just a medium for many people—it is a community. And, unfortunately, a community whose largest faction is very much a clique.

It seems to me that many members of this clique regard it as having a clear "no girls allowed" rule. They don't want to stop using their comic shop as boys-only clubhouses. They don't want their superhero comics to stop brutalizing and objectifying female characters. They don't want to take the time and effort to produce and effectively market female-friendly comics when they have a built-in audience to cater to.
Now, de Guzman is dead-on, but at the same time, the irony of the statement struck me as hilarious. What she's pointing out is that things have progressed so far in terms of mainstream culture accepting comic-book geekdom that comic book geeks are being chided for not letting people into their clique. I find it absolutely charming that people now like us well enough (remember us? the people that nobody liked talking to back in high school and middle school because we were too nerdy? the ones excluded from the rest of the world's social circles?) that they resent being shut out of our company!

She's also dead-on as to what the remedy to comic-book-shop creepiness is:
The solution to this? Ladies, we're just going to have to do this for ourselves. The last finding of Larson's survey was "There need to be more women creating comics and working in the industry as editors and publishers." I would add that there need to be more women working in, managing, and owning comics shops, too.

I doubt that my comics shop horror story would have happened in a store where women work or a store that a woman owns, and where it's expected that all customers be treated respectfully.
Outcompete those creepy dudes, ladies. Trust me—all the rest of us guys are creeped out by them, too. We'll shop at your stores in a second.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Graphic novel manuscript formatting

A very interesting post by Tim Stout:

Last summer, I worked as an Editorial Intern at First Second Books. One of my responsibilities was to read spec script submissions and I was floored by how many different formats were used for graphic novel scripts: screenplay format from a screenwriting software, stage play format written in Microsoft Word, prose outlines with sample pages of finished work…

I love reading scripts but sometimes the writer seemed to be making up the format as they went. I often found it difficult to make out what information was describing the action, what was a line of dialogue, who was saying which lines, what was background information unnecessary for the reader but potentially interesting for the artist, what was direction for the artist, etcetera.

Needless to say, reading those scripts was not fun.


Fortunately or unfortunately, a standard format for graphic novel scripts does not exist; at least, I haven’t found it. Depending on your intended approach to producing the comic, there are many accepted ways to approach formatting.
He goes on to detail a number of different writing/formatting techniques, ranging from the "Marvel Method" developed by Stan Lee to Alan Moore's preference for writing "pages of prose for each panel, describing every element of every image in perfect detail."

My sister and I use an entirely different process. Jenni writes using a modified storyboard format, where she breaks out the narration, dialogue, and scene description into different blocks for each "panel." (In essence, imagine a storyboard without the actual drawing of what the camera sees—you're left with the dialogue, stage direction, and voice-over. We developed this because Jenni was familiar with storyboards from her years in TV advertising, and because she can't draw.) [UPDATE: See below.] Then I create disconnected thumbnail sketches, and Jenni uses them to work out a layout.

Tim discusses his own method:
First and foremost, instead of using two or three script pages to describe one page of comics or one paragraph to describe five pages of comics, I try to have all of the panel descriptions and dialogue for each page of comics to be on each coinciding page of script. Everything that happens on page one of the comic is written on page one of the script. The same with page two and so on.

On the same note, I also arrange the pages during printing so that the even numbered pages (which are always on the left-hand side) are printed on the left-hand side and the odd numbered pages are on the right. This allows the reader to get a more accurate feel for pacing. For example, instead of imagining when the page turns take place, the reader actually turns the page on the page turns.

Second, I don’t separate thumbnails from the script. If thumbnail images are on a separate piece of paper, requiring the reader to turn their head back-and-forth to find the text that coincides with the image, they can easily get lost and frustrated. Having thumbnails on separate sheets of paper also requires more sheets of paper to be carried and kept organized. A 200-page script and two hundred pages of thumbnails is a lot of paper to lug around.
I find it interesting that Jenni and I seem to be the only people who create the layout (Tim's "thumbnails"—he's referring to a thumbnail-sized sketch of the layout of panels on a page) AFTER the manuscript and sketches are done. Maybe it comes as a result of our backgrounds outside of comics; to me, it seems vary much akin to Jenni's experience of gathering a bunch of film footage and then cutting it together after the fact (perhaps quite differently from what the storyboards suggested prior to shooting) or my own experience as a graphic designer, where you take what's already written/pictured and then figure out a way for it to look good and paginate well.

I sort of can't imagine working on the layout at the same time as the initial story. It seems very restricting, and seems like it would make rewriting and editing the story extremely difficult—to me, the editing stage is exactly NOT the time to worry about how the layout is going to flow. You make sure the story works first, and only THEN do you finalize the layout.

UPDATE (06/22/2010, 10:22AM):

Just saw this very apropos The Comics Reporter interview with Gene Luen Yang, in which he discusses this very thing, and how he and a collaborator changed technique for a recent book:
SPURGEON: I'm really fascinated by the use of white space in "Urgent Request." Supposing that was your contribution, is there a thematic component in terms of the isolation the character feels, or were you perhaps more interested in how that imagery floating in space read? How cognizant are you of page design and the quality of the experience of reading that you're offering an audience?

YANG: Man, I wish I could take credit for that, but the white space was all Derek. I write in thumbnails, and the script I gave him was basically laid out on six-panel grids. He told me he wanted to try out this technique that was inspired by Chester Brown, where he'd draw all the panels first and then lay them out on the pages. He thought it would make for more controlled pacing. He was right. In that story, the white space becomes a part of the storytelling voice.
(Gene Luen Yang link via @editorgurl.)

UPDATE (06/22/2010, 1PM):

One last update, I swear. Managed to track down examples of our storyboard technique. Here's a page from the manuscript of BABYMOUSE: QUEEN OF THE WORLD (click to enlarge):

Girls and Comics, 4

This is hardly as full-featured a post as the previous ones in this series, but I thought it would make a nice coda to add a link to the recent web comic, "Live Nerd Girls," by Lucy Knisley. Some highlights:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Girls & Comics, 3

More on Hope Larson's Girls & Comics Survey (I'll just keep posting these links and reactions as they trickle in), this time from Stephanie Villareal:

Thoughts on the girl comics market (a dissertation, ha!)


I have been seeing a lot of articles and interviews lately about a new Marvel line called Girls Comics. Sprouting from this has been the debate about what is best for the girls comic/graphic novel industry. While there are good (and really bad) points being made on each side, whether from a female comic creators, female comic readers, or male comic readers, I am concerned by one thing: Why are people speaking for those who are not present in this debate (girls who have not yet discovered comics)?


One issue that has been lighting up the Internet girl comic debate is a survey on LiveJournal done by graphic novelist Hope Larson.

Larson seems to be the name coming up everywhere (along with Raina Telgemeier) and even though I disagree with her survey (and feel that it doesn’t describe me as a comic reader at all), she is definitely succeeding in one thing: getting people to talk about what the graphic novel industry must do to reach tween/teen girls.

I know you are wondering, "How can you disagree with a survey?"

It is not so much the survey I disagree with but with some of the given suggestions/answers provided by some of the survey takers. The top ten responses were compiled as a list of "What can authors, publishers, retailers do to better serve teen/tween girls?"

The problem with the survey is that it was taken by mostly (if not all) girls/women who are already well established in comics. Looking at the comments, it seems that they have been reading comics for some time, some even making their own. In a survey trying to figure out what girls who have never read comics want from comics, why are we asking those who don't need convincing?
[bolding mine]

Stephanie has a lot to say on the subject, which is great. She also has quite different reactions to some of the suggestions noted by the survey respondents, especially concerning comic book shops (which are nearly universally decried as being dens of creepiness) and what sorts of subjects she thinks tweens/teens actually choose to read about ("Tween/teens as a whole - or mostly - in general, have no taste," Stephanie says, citing Twilight, Gossip Girl, The Cliques, and their ilk. "I know this comes off as crass, but really, think about it.").

I think, though, her reaction that she "disagrees with the survey," is misplaced. The thing about a surveys and statistics is that you have to recognize what their limits are—what each survey's limits are. Hope was quite clear that her survey was (1) a polling of a group of women and girls who were already reading comics and (2) nonscientific. This is a small sample size, and a self-selecting group of respondents. Nothing wrong with that; it just means it can only answer certain questions, and not others.

A better response to Stephanie's frustration with the fact that the survey did not answer the sorts of questions she has is: "We need another survey, only this time with a population that includes non-comics-readers, so that we can figure out why these girls aren't reading comics."

It looks like Hope may be working on another, more ambitious, survey:

KELLY THOMPSON: ... Has anyone approached you about expanding your survey in a more academic way as you discussed?

HOPE LARSON: My agent and I are working on this now!

Perhaps she can address some of Stephanie's concerns in the new survey.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hope Larson's Girls & Comics Survey, part 2

Discussion of Hope Larson's Girls & Comics Survey continues online. Kelly over at CBR did a very long and in-depth interview with Hope on the whole subject. (Be warned, though—the comments are a bit troll-filled.)

Reading more on all this, I think it reinforces a realization that I was coming to in my first post on the survey: Direct Market comics publishers don't know how to market to female readers. (Or, for that matter, to young readers!) Book publishers, on the other hand, have both categories down to a science. I think we're just seeing more and more of the gradual decline of the Direct Market publishers. In time, I think they'll get swallowed up by bigger entities (a la Disney/Marvel), and new management will eventually impose outside strategies upon them.