Archive for June, 2011


As I work on issue #1 of The Happy Samurais, I start to consider the scope of the series.  I plan on it being a series of mini-series (aka, the Hellboy business plan) and currently have ideas for 6 volumes.  But then I start to wonder just HOW LONG will it take me to draw all those issues and minis?  How many pages do I need to draw per year?  Per month?  Per week? What kind of schedule can I realistically release it on?

So I started looking around at other creators to see what kind of productivity they had and how many comic pages they drew in a year.  I’d keep track of whatever numbers I came across.  I’ve got a fair number of these stats to share, but instead of releasing them in one big chunk — where you start to get overwhelmed by all the numbers and they lose their significance — I’ll release them one by one over a period of time.

A disclaimer.  These numbers are just approximations based on whatever info I could find on the internet.  They don’t take into account other projects the creators were working on concurrently, or covers drawn etc.  Plus, it’s entirely possible my math is off.  So don’t quote anything as fact!  It’s just ballpark numbers.  First up is Bryan Hitch.

For those of you unsure of  how many pages the standard American comic is, currently most Marvel and DC comics are 32 pages long, with 20 pages of story and 12 pages of ads. From the mid’s 80’s on, most Marvel and DC comics were 32 pages long, with 22 pages of story. Only within the last couple of years (probably 2010) have they trimmed back to 20 story pages an issue. For quite a while in the 70’s, both companies were running 17 page stories.

6 Issues a Year Artist
– Probably 75% of comic artists currently fall into this category
– 6 issues at 20 pages per issue
= 120 pages per year
= 10 pages per month
= 3 pages per week

12 Issues a Year Artist
– Probably 3% of comic artists currently fall into this category
– 12 issues at 20 pages per issue
= 240 pages per year
= 20 pages per month
= 4.6 pages per week

Bryan Hitch
– 1999
– 12 issues of Authority (= 264 pages roughly)
– 1 issue of Wildcats (22 pages roughly)
– 3 short 12 page stories (36 pages)

= 322 total pages in 365 days
= 27 pages a month
= 6 pages a week 

– these stats for 1999 were according to Bryan. I can’t remember where he mentioned them exactly, but I think it was twitter.

– The Ultimates
– 13 issues all penciled by Bryan
– March 2002 – April 2004
– That’s 762 days or 108 weeks

= 360 pages of pencils
= 180 pages a year
= 15 pages a month
= 3.75 pages a week

– The Ultimates 2
– 13 issues all penciled by Bryan
– December 2004 – May 2007
– That’s 880 days or 125 weeks

= 380 pages of pencils
= 158 pages a year
= 13 pages a month
= 3.25 pages a week

Note: Bryan Hitch responded on twitter after I posted this, that yes, my stats were a little off and that “it’s also worth noting that since 2006, with exception of 2010 when I did 6 issues and new baby, annual average is 230+ pages”

 

 

 

Picked up The Art of Doug Sneyd today at my local comic shop.  It’s a 9″x12″ hardcover from Dark Horse Comics that comes in at about 250 pages (photo above gives you a sense of scale compared to a regular comic).  This book is drop dead gorgeous.  Just like Sneyd’s women.  And right now you can get it for $21 from amazon, so there’s no excuse not to pick it up.

Picking up where we left off last time then, my goals when planning out The Happy Samurais #1 were to try and do what the first issue of a good manga does:  introduce the world and characters, setup the status quo, introduce some story problems/conflitcts AND get across the series premise/hook.  On an even higher level, I wanted to craft a story so strong, that if someone picks up this new series from an unknown creator, they’d not only enjoy the first issue, but be compelled into picking up the ENTIRE series.

Now, that’s a damn tall order in your typical 22 page comic.

That’s why my plan was to do what I mentioned previously and go with a double-sized first issue.  Somewhere during the writing process though, that double-sized issue became a triple-sized issue and the final page count is pushing 60 pages. (Now whether a 60 page first issue is an idiotic idea or not is a discussion for another day, but I will say the whole point of making this comic is to make it exactly the way I want and fuck everything else.)

So The Happy Samurais #1 has ended up feeling somewhere in between a single issue and a trade paperback (most TPBs collect 5-6 issues, which would be 120-130 pages).  I’m used to working on 22 comics.  It’s familiar.  The finish line is always in sight and that’s a VERY comforting thing.

Doing a long form comic though presents it’s own unique set of challenges.  And I will admit that 60 pages BARELY qualify as long form –especially if compared to say, Craig Thompson’s 600+ page Habibi (which I had the privilege to read last fall).  But 60 pages is still half of a standard trade paperback and it feels radically different from a 22-pager to me.

And that brings me to the point of this post.

As I draw The Happy Samurais #1, I kinda feel like I’m only making progress on the project when I see the finished page count tally rise.  For whatever reason THAT and ONLY THAT seems to be how progress is measured (maybe because it’s the simplest quantifiable way?).  I might do six character designs, three location designs and five pages of layouts over a couple weeks, but because I didn’t add any pages to the tally, I feel like I didn’t accomplish a damn thing.

And feeling like you’re spinning you’re wheels (even though you know that’s not true) can depress the hell out of you.

One of the biggest factors in seeing things through to completion is handling the inevitable ups and downs that accompany a project that requires such a long period of work.  Day to day and hour to hour, you’ll go from believing you can slay dragons, to convinced you’re so awful that you need to find a new line of work.  For me, the surest way to feel good about myself again is to draw pages and add to that tally.

But making comics isn’t JUST drawing pages.  Well, at least for ME it’s not.  Even though finishing pages is the only way you feel like you’re getting closer to your goal, you can’t jump the gun and rush to start them.

You have to have something to say in your pages.

You have to build the pages on the foundation of your world and the story you want to tell in that world.

If you’re in too big a rush to draw the pages without laying the proper groundwork, they’ll ring empty and hollow.  You can’t just toss stuff out there.  If you want people to notice, if you want to them to give a shit, you have to world build.  And that means thinking how one character, one object, one prop, one location etc. is going to affect EVERY other thing in that world.

And to do that right takes time.

Don’t get distracted by things you WANT to draw (design that one character, setting or maybe that promo image that you’ve been dreaming about for years) and make sure they’re things you actually HAVE to draw in order to get the next page done.  That’s always a good test for me.  Do I HAVE to draw this model sheet super-tight to make the next page work?  Or can I just do it medium-tight and still have it work?  What’s the “endgame” for this piece?

The pages will come.

You’ll add to your tally.

Just keep plugging away.

Complete each step.  Move on to the next and stop worrying about how close you are to the finish line.

As discussed a few weeks ago, you’ve got to enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

 

Note: click here to read a couple of Craig Thompson’s thoughts on long form comics from my time at ACA with him.

Late night design work for a supporting character in The Happy Samurais.  For a lot of my character design work lately, I’ve been doing the preliminary idea sketching at my computer desk until I figure out the basic idea for the character (overall shape, silhouette, proportion etc).  Then I’ll compile all the specific reference I need to do the final design, print it out and head over to the drawing table to do the final model sheet.

I mentioned it on twitter last week, but I think the first time I REALLY start to understand a character’s personality is when I design their outfit — whether that’s jeans and a t-shirt type of design, or some latex and shoulder pad getup.  As I’m writing the script I’m creating the character’s back-story, their motivations, their goals etc. and I THINK I know them backwards and forwards.  But really, once I start to design their outfits, a lot of that changes pretty drastically.  “Would kind of person wears ‘that’ kind of outfit?”.  It takes takes some balls to wear some of the ridiculous outfits you see rock stars or hipsters wear.  Balls or stupidity I guess.  Take your pick.  So is that something my character would wear, or are they too self conscious?  Or is that not ostentatious enough for them?

This specific character is the manager of the series’ main rival and he’s just a colossal asshole.  Not physically intimidating in any way, but he’s so conniving that you have to be aware of him at all times.  And one thing I’m starting to learn is that I LOVE designing the asshole characters 10x more than the “good guys”.  A large part of that has to do with that “what kind of person would dare wear an outfit like this?” question.  And the answer is usually, “an asshole”!

So ridiculous outfit = asshole = fun to design.

In the future, I think I’ll probably work back and forth a little more when creating a character.  Always starting from the story point-of-view — what is their purpose in the story? — and then working on visuals at the same time as motivation, goals, etc.

Most new manga in Japan launch with double-sized stories (somewhere between 30-40 pages).  The page count is high enough that it leaves room to establish the world, setup the status quo, introduce some story problems and ultimately get across the story premise or hook.  Sure, the series might not really hit it’s stride for a few issues or even volumes — it personally takes me 2-3 volumes before I’m really sold on a series — but you have a pretty decent idea what the story is about and where it’s headed based on that first story.

Contrast that with the first issue of most new American comics.  You’ll read the first issue (generally 20-22 pages) and basically only be introduced to the world and/or the characters. You have NO idea where this story/series is headed.  I’m rarely COMPELLED in any way to pick up the next issue — because there was no series premise/hook or even just an issue-hook to bring me back.  They kind of just say, “here is this character, and here are some of the people he interacts with but that’s all we’ve got time for this issue.  Come back for the next few issues when we’ll explain just what the hell this character wants and what’s standing in the way of him getting it.  Just trust us…it’ll be worth it!”

Usually then, I’ll only pick up the next issue based on the creative team — they’ve got a proven track record of work I like, or the creators are doing something that seems like it has potential and I’m gonna give them a chance.  But it’s not that I’m COMPELLED to come back because the story they setup was SO AMAZING that I just HAVE to see where it goes.  And honestly, I think that’s an essential part of the job for the first issue’s story.  Introduce things, but also HOOK the reader with that issue.  MAKE them came back for #2.  Don’t just HOPE they come back.

Often times, even the best comics fail to do this.  Take Invincible by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley (current artist) and Cory Walker (original series artist).  I picked the series up initially because I love Cory Walker’s work.  I stuck with it and gave it a chance because Walker’s art was so badass — not that Kirkman’s story was bad (it was actually pretty good), but it didn’t MAKE you pick up the next issue.  At least not until the stuff happened with Omni-Man, which was probably issue #10 or #12.  That’s when Kirkman and the team started to hit their stride and they MADE me pick up the the next issue to find out what happened next.  I’m not trashing Invincible.  I think it’s one of the best comics around.  Just talking about it failing to hook me with issue #1.

I’m trying to remember what the last #1 that DID hook me for the whole series was.  Not sure, but probably Jonathan Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 from Marvel.  After reading that first issue it was just about impossible NOT to buy the subsequent issues.

Maybe just how important it is to hook a reader with the first issue depends on what kind of “name” you have in the industry though.  Someone like Brian Azzarello (random choice) has a strong enough track record with his past work, that he probably doesn’t HAVE to hook you with issue #1.  You’ll probably give him 3-4 issues before you make any decisions on continuing to pick up the book.  But when you’re an unknown creator like myself, I don’t feel I have that luxury.  I think I’ve gotta hook you right off the bat and MAKE you come back for the rest of the series.  If I can pull that off remains to be seen, but that’s the goal of issue #1.


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