Behind the Comic – Anatomy of a Panel

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One panel.

How much can we cram into one panel? It’s one moment of a story. Yet, in a medium where you might only have 5-6 of them on a page, and then perhaps only 20-24 pages total… there’s not a lot of room to waste. Every panel has to have a purpose within the story.

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The Gilded Age

At a time where the Industrial Revolution collides with the twilight of magic, the vaudevillian Branning Troupe, made up of actors and carnival folk, moves throughout Europe performing its acts. And each member has their own desires and secrets…

Issue #2

Page 4 – Panel 1&2

The Team

Pencils – Sheldon Mitchell

Inks – Rich Perotta

Colors – Tom Chu

Letters – Khari Sampson

Concept

A slight cheat, but as you can see, these two panels are really pieces of each other. Much like on TV or at the movies where I wanted to try to emulate that idea of transferring from a previous moment to this moment… here and now. Then we pull out to see this man: Silas Gideon. As much as anything else, and even though we see him on the first 3 pages, this is our real introduction to the man for whom this story is about.

So what do we see?

A gun, empty glasses, a mechanical arm, a long face, and scars… lots and lots of scars. This is a man who, as the previous pages would show, has been through wars. More than that, this is a man who is weary. Perhaps someone who has to find a bit of sanctuary inside the bottom of a glass. Someone who knows the way of the gun and is tired of it.

The Script

Page 4 Panel 1

Inset panel.  Close-up on Silas’s eye.  Now.  He is older (forty-something), so the years of service, battle, have aged him.  There is an intensity that occupies his face… his “being”.

Narration – Greece, 1881

Page 4 Panel 2

Pull back and see that he’s staring at his own reflection in a dirty old mirror (the kind that would sit on top of a dresser), the edges of which have already turned a milky white.  He should have his fair share of scaring along his chest, old bullet wounds, knife slashes, and other untold ones.

Here you can see what I wrote. These were the things I was trying to convey to the artist. I try to explain something more than just the image that I have in my own mind to the artist. My hope is to give them a glimpse of what I’m thinking. Technically I could have said “Close-up on Silas’s eye.” and that would have probably been enough. However, I need to add more (for my sake as much as anything). Talk about the battles. Talk about the intensity.

In panel 2, I’m trying to convey more about what is around him because panel 1 is about him (why I coupled these two panels together here). I spent most of my time with the scaring, because I believe, more than anything, this scarring is just an external image of what he is internally fighting for every day.

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The dialogue that was included in the image above is not in the script. Actually, it is in the script, but was listed under Panel 3. The letterer shifted it to this panel which is an interesting choice. Sometimes they’ll do that so as to fit my words on a page, but Khari Sampson is adept at reading the script, seeing the images, and acting as a final eye on the project. Here the shift adds to that little bit extra to a panel that might have been needing just a little bit more.

It’s spoken by someone off-stage (someone we’ll meet in the very next panel, in fact).

“Does it bother you anymore?”

What? Life? Death? All of it? That’s our question. That is a heavy line for a man who might not know what answer to give.

***

Comics at their core are collaborative. They must be. You take an idea, give it shape with words, the artist turns those words into a visual, the colorist blending colors in and out of the shapes, and the letterer finding a way to fit sometimes way too many words into the space of one panel.

Every piece needing to work in conjunction so as to build a story.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Convention Update – Atlanta Science Fiction and Fantasy Expo 2016

This past weekend was the second annual (assuming we haven’t all killed the Expo organizer yet after 2 years) Atlanta Science Fiction and Fantasy Expo. Probably the biggest thing that sets this little (though already more than doubled the number of vendors from year 1 to year 2) convention apart is the cost: FREE. You see, it is set up near the food court of one of the malls (North DeKalb Mall, just outside of Atlanta) and so anyone who wants to can take a stroll through the tables and maybe spend a little cash or just keep on walking. And while you certainly can’t beat the price, over the course of the weekend there were tons (I mean, I don’t have an exact number for you… let’s just go with tons) of people who had come for some shopping or the movie theater and found this weird little event going on right in front of them.

And while those random walk-ups may or may not bother to really read any of Terminus’s comics, it was still a chance to expose them to us, to some of the other indy comic guys from the Atlanta (and beyond) area, and to some of the novelists, costume people… all sorts of people really. People who might have tolled over their wares for years.

Now if you read my report from last year (go ahead, I’ll wait) you’ll see that I had very low expectations and then was pleasantly surprised throughout the weekend by the foot traffic we got. So this year I had hopes, expectations about the number of comics we might be able to sell. Of course we had a couple of new issues we debuted at the Expo (and that didn’t hurt):

Route 3 #3

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Gilded Age #2

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But that wasn’t all as we also had a rebranded cover of Terminus Team-up #1 (the comic featuring Terminus’s Amber Fox – a cross between Doctor Who and Laura Croft). In the past, for whatever reason issue #1 of that comic didn’t sell and therefore issue #2 didn’t sell (I mean, who is going to buy only issue 2… it’s all or nothing most of the time)… The new cover turned that around. So many times we had people grab the whole series (Team-up, Gilded Age, or Route 3) all in one purchase. And just that very fact meant that instead of only selling one comic to a potential customer you are easily selling 2 or 3.

Business Aside – I learned something more important than anything else I’ve mentioned in this post. You know how when you get gas there is always a $XX.X9.99 amount to it? Or when you go shopping in general and things are priced $10.99 instead of just saying $11.00. For someone with OCD I could see that possibly driving them nuts (or maybe soothing them, I guess, according to how their particualr OCD works). But the business people all swear by it… people get fooled and buy the item even though there is really no good difference between the price and something one cent more.

That also works just because… math, I guess. We had a sign which said: 1 comic for $4 and 5 comics for $20.

I’ll wait while you determine how much better that $20 deal is.

Got it?

Yeah, its the same amount. Obviously.

Actually, maybe not so obviously. So many people (not quite the tons of earlier… perhaps a different large number) ended up seeing that and buying 5 comics from us… I guess in order to get the “Deal”.

Note – we didn’t put the sign up that way to try and trick anyone. It was only after the other guys had put it there that I pointed out the difference (or the lack of difference between the prices). Still, it was a strange thing to think that maybe those $X.99 guys and gals might have been onto something this whole time.

End aside.

Atlanta Expo-1

Me and Robert Jeffrey II talking about our Funny Books.

 

So aside from meeting people and having a decent set-up, Terminus also was able to have a panel where we not only talked about our comics, but also we had someone from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to discuss some of our motion comic footage we’ve been doing for them. This was the project that seemed to really interest people as they started asking questions about the project, about the focus groups, and even about what things they might want to see (one thing I definitely think we’d do if we get to do more episodes). And a member of Shadeaux Media sat in to briefly touched on the Video Game they are developing (using Amber Fox as the star). Plus, if you click on the above link it will take you to their Facebook Page where you can see a little bit of the digital world

I’m not going to lie, shaking hands and… well, shaking hands and talking to people all weekend – you’d think that wouldn’t tire a guy out, but it certainly does. But I’m glad to have done it, and fingers crossed I’ll be there next year, ready to go!

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Atlanta Science Fiction and Fantasy Expo Recap

This past weekend, among the myriad of stores at the North DeKalb Mall in Decatur, Georgia, I got to hang out, meet people, sell books and comics, hold down the table, carry in pieces of the Tardis, listen to a Radio Drama based on my own comic, and feel really tired when Sunday night finally came.

Atlanta Sci Fi Expo Banner

This was the first (hopefully of many) year for this particular con, so I was unsure what exactly to expect. I’m sure that’s the feeling of everyone who journeys to a new convention/expo. How many people are actually going to show up? What types of things are they going to be into? Does any of that align with what I have to sell at the table?

And so on.

And I have to admit that I’m a pessimist when it comes to such things. I may not share these thoughts with everyone else, but I’m always wondering if something should just be done a different way. That old, what if no one cares we’re there? Should this Expo really be two days? Wouldn’t one be enough? Isn’t there a comic convention in Macon the same weekend? And isn’t that going to impact things?

But I have to admit… I was wrong.

Robert and I holding down the table at Atlanta Expo

Robert and I holding down the Terminus Media table at Atlanta Expo

Well, maybe not about every little thing, but the big stuff. Turns out that FREE to get in means that the $5 or $10 or $20 the con-goers have to spend to enter a con means they suddenly have less money for my books or Terminus’s comics. But with FREE… well, you just can’t beat that. And because we were in a mall there was a steady stream of people coming by the booth. Some because they knew about the Expo, some who encountered the Expo as a happy surprise, and then the other people… the “Normals” who gave us that look that said – “What the Hell is going on here?”

I think we managed to get our comics into the hands of a bunch of people who had never experienced Terminus Media before. And I know that with the quality of the work they will be hungry for more.

And I even sold a few copies of The Dark That Follows and Hollow Empire.

However, the biggest bit of excitement, at least for me, was seeing the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company (ARTC) do a radio presentation of the first issue of my comic The Gilded Age!

Gilded-Age-Atlanta-SF-Expo

They did two showings, and each probably was between 10-15 minutes, but it was definitely a different (very cool) experience. Stranger still that my inner critic began rewriting bits of dialogue I’d written in the first place… suddenly hearing something spoken out loud gives you a whole new appreciation for turns of phrase, clunkiness of comic dialogue writing, etc. It is something I started doing with some of my prose work as a final check. If you are stumbling over the words while reading it aloud, maybe there is a fundamental flaw in the text somewhere.

Not that I was too picky. And that is all on the writer’s end (i.e. “ME”).

When I’m at the tables talking to people about the comic, one of the things I always come back to is that my job as a comic writer is to not screw up the art with my WORDS.  And in a way, that’s the thing I was hoping the whole time I listened. Luckily for me, the ARTC did an amazing job on it! Bringing the characters to life in a way I would have never thought possible. When Elias Gladstone first started speaking, I just started nodding to myself – yep, that’s his voice.

And as a first for them, they had images from the comic projected alongside them as they read through it, so not only could you close your eyes and imagine what was going on, you could sneak a peak at the art from the issue to see how close you were.

In theory (fingers crossed), we have a video of it, so once it is online I will be directing traffic in its direction… if only because it is a fairly unique thing (at least for me).

And again, to those who were able to come out and share in the experience with me, I appreciate it. Thanks again!

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. Each episode is only $0.99. But you can go ahead and purchase the full novel (all 6 episodes) right now for $4.99 with the above link!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Behind the Comic – The Gilded Age

 

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This week over on the Terminus Media LLC’s Facebook page this week is The Gilded Age week (available at Amazon and Comics Plus). So I thought I’d provide the blog with a little bit of how this little project came to be.

GildedAge_Front Cover-tessera

It all started with a convention in Orlando a few years ago. My buddy Egg either had a table or was sharing a table or something (it doesn’t much matter). The important thing was that while he was down their he met an artist by the name of Larry Watts who was looking for a project to work on. For some reason Egg thought Larry and I could match up on a project. Larry has since gone on to work on a Zenescope Comic called Robyn Hood (found here).

The only problem was that I didn’t really have any ideas that were artist ready.

Now I certainly had a handful of ideas, but I had no finished scripts that were just begging for an artist. So when faced with the prospect of working with an artist and you have no solid ideas I cheated and went onto his Deviant Art page to check out his stuff and see if anything “inspired me”.

And there it was… a shot of a old western gunfighter… with a metallic arm. In that instant, something flipped in my brain and I had the barest bones of an idea. What followed over the course of the next few days would end up becoming a pitch called Machine Heart.

Now Machine Heart was ready, but I believe that Larry was no longer available to work on it (I probably missed my window by not being prepared with something). So I filed it away on the computer, just waiting for the moment to spring it from it’s prison.

A year or so later Terminus Media was beginning to look towards doing something more than just anthology stories. They wanted to have something that could be 5 or 6 issues to start. Something different than what was on the shelves. And that little voice popped up in my brain and I mentioned my “Steampunk” story. A couple of meetings later things began to crystallize and suddenly it looked like things were a go… there was just one problem.

With an indy comic there is always the risk that there will be a delay between issues. You might have production problems, money problems, printing problems, and who-knows-what-else problems. But here we are wanting to tell a story over the course of 5 issues… what happens if people don’t want to wait that long? What happens if someone stumbles onto issue 2 and can’t find issue 1?

So what was the answer? In a perfect world you would find a way to have a regular schedule. We, however, live in the real world (one populated with superheroes and the like, but real enough) where delays are going to happen…

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Iron Man doesn’t like Daylight Savings Time either.

And then it hit me –  I could build this world from the ground up by telling single issue stories about a variety of characters. And what better way to ensure that there are plenty of characters to choose from? Have the stories take place in a vaudevillian carnival where you could have all sorts of weirdos running around and no one would bat an eye. Plus, the other bonus was that I could tell a variety of stories (adventure, horror, heists, etc.) and they could all work because of the characters involved.

There was only one more problem… a title. Machine Heart didn’t really apply to this particular story, so I needed to come up with something better than “Untitled Steampunk Comic”.

Enter Mark Twain and his coining of the phrase “The Gilded Age”. Now his applied to the late 1800s corruption occurring within the US government, but I saw something that could apply to this new world. There would be corruption (there always is), but it also rang true somehow for the comic… I can’t explain it completely, but it “fit”.

gilded age by twain

While Machine Heart’s plot-line no longer applied, the characters of Hannah and Elias still worked for me. An actress who is new to the carnival, bright eyed and innocent, and the stage magician of the crew who would need her help acquiring an item for his next performance. So I made the first issue about the two of them, giving the reader a complete story in 1 issue, but hinting at a much bigger world that I’m hoping to explore more and more of.

Issue 2 is still in the process of being finished, but that gunfighter with the metal arm that inspired it all… well, he’s getting to tell a story of his own…

Gilded Age #2-004-small

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.