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.