On the weekend I put out a call for questions to do another Q&A here on The Farm and the response has been pretty overwhelming. So much so that I’m going to have to break it up into two posts. So, if I didn’t answer your question here, I’ll try my best to get to rest of them next week.
Okay, let’s begin with part one of this AMA…
I have two quick questions--from a writer who is looking to get into comics. First, what is your process for creating a comic? Do you start with a broad overview of what you want the story arc to be? (if so how far do you plan that head), and how do you then structure an individual issue?
Second, how much description do you provide for the artist? When you have some creative and unique panel design in your books does that often come from you? from the artist?
I feel like this question deserves as full an answer as I can provide and I may not be able to do it justice in this AMA format. So, if you can be patient what I would like to do is devote an entire post to my process in developing a series. My plan is to share examples from series outlines to scripts on a selection of my previous books. I’ll try to get to this post by the end of the year, but depending how detailed I end up getting I may need more time to draft what I want to share.
Thanks for doing this, Jeff! I have two questions I’m always curious about with creators:
1) How would you prefer your readers to consume your books in terms of pacing? Would you rather they study each panel closely to appreciate the art more? Or to read through at a fast enough pace to be immersed in the visuals without thinking about the technical aspects of the art?
2) Is there anything in particular about your writing or art that you’re proud of that you hope people will appreciate or find noteworthy?
Thanks for the thoughtful questions. Answering in order…
I think if the creator(s) of a book do their job well you won’t even stop to think about how to experience a comic, it just takes over and the comic dictates to you how to read it. You get lost in the story and don’t stop to notice all the details. In general, I try to immerse the reader in the world I create a very natural and careful pace using narration, or lack of narration, layouts etc. to dictate the pacing. I think the best comics just suck you in and you don’t even notice why or how they are affecting you, and then on subsequent readings you can stop to look more at the details and how the comic did what it did.
I think that there are things in each new project that I try that I am always sort of proud of, but it can change and evolve from book to book. In general I think there has been a lot of growth and change in my art over the years that I see, but sometimes wonder if the readers see it too. I guess it’s really hard for me to judge my work in that way or anticipate if the reader is picking up all the subtleties.
One of the many things I have enjoyed about your work is the emotional maturity. I read and hear a decent amount of people describing your work as "sad" with works like Mazebook, Royal City, and your run on Hitgirl specifically being about tragic familial relationships. How has your understanding of loss and grief and etc. developed writing these characters and these stories?
I often hear my work described as sad too, but most of my books are also quite hopeful. They often lead the reader and characters through dark or sad stories to bring them through to some sense of hope or redemption in the end. I have always been drawn to art that is emotionally intense and I often find that my favorite songs, films, comics, etc are sad on the surface, but that melancholy or sadness can lead to real beauty.
That said, we all experience loss and grief in different degrees and in different ways but I don’t like talking too directly about my personal life or how my own experiences have informed certain stories.
I loved Roughneck, as someone from a First Nations family, what has inspired you to write about First Nation people?
Thanks for the kind words on Roughneck. In future “From The Vault” posts I’ll get much deeper into the creation of Roughneck and Secret Path but for now, to answer your question, I had become known for telling “Canadian” stories like Essex County etc. but I started to realize that I, like many Canadians, was incredibly ignorant to a huge part of our country, and that is our First Nations and indigenous peoples.
Growing up a white kid in the 80’s I literally learned NOTHING about the history of First Nations or the terrible truths of residential schools in school. A few years back I began reading more books by indigenous writers and felt like it was something I needed to learn more about and the way I decided to do that was to explore it in my work.
But the truth is, that there is a really fine balance between exploring indigenous stories in my work and also crossing a line into telling stories that I have no right to tell as a white guy. While I am happy I did Roughneck and Secret Path I also now recognize that these are stories that aren’t mine to tell. I am better stepping aside by listening and reading more from indigenous creators and using whatever platform I have in comics to help promote their work.
With that in mind, I am excited to tell you that a very prominent team of indigenous Canadian creators will be doing a new Black Hammer story here on my Substack really soon!
Gideon Falls works so well as a comic, I'm worried it won't transfer over to TV/Film so well. Is this something that worries you (Alan Moore didn't want his books to be made into films), or do you feel things like Sweet Tooth have worked pretty well for you so far?
I used to worry a lot more about this. But the whole Sweet Tooth experience really taught me a lot about letting go and just going along for the ride. The truth is, I can’t possibly write all the film/TV adaptations myself and still have time to create new comics. So, I needed to learn to let go and do my best to help choose the right people to adapt my works and hope for the best.
Making comics is all I really want to do and the film/TV stuff is fun and exciting too, but it is never really a huge concern for me. If something gets made and it helps shine a light on the books, then that’s a win for me and my collaborators. I know that MANY people read Sweet Tooth as a result of the show who never would have otherwise, and even though they are very different in tone, many of those people enjoyed the comic as much or more than the show.
Having said all of that, of course I don’t just sell the rights to my books to just anyone. I am lucky enough now to be in a position to be more selective about these things and I do try and find the best fit for each book. But from there, there are just so many variables that go into creating a show or a film that you can never control how the final product is going to come out, so to worry about that would just drive you crazy.
Seeing this happen over the years has made me appreciate comics even more. In comics, especially creator-owned comics like I do now, we do control how the final product comes out and it is a much more direct medium where a few creators, or even one creator, can share their vision with the reader in a much more immediate and unfiltered way.
Have you considered doing one of the CGC or CBCS private signing events? Or even something like a subscriber exclusive mail in signing/grading opportunity through Cadence? Nothing beats getting to interact at a show, but this would be an awesome opportunity for collectors!
For the moment I will ignore the unsightly Boston Bruins logo in your avatar and try my best to be civil. Ahem…so, I have never really considered doing one of these sorts of signings. In general, I hate charging people for my signature when they have already spent their own money buying the books. Maybe you all can tell me, is this something any of you would be interested in me doing?
Will you be doing any cons in 2022 in the usa?
I sure hope so. I really, really miss travelling and meeting you all. At this point I don’t have a definitive schedule for next year. A lot of that depends on the timing of the Essex County TV show shoot and the Sweet Tooth season 2 shoot. I’ll need to schedule any cons between those things and those shooting schedules are still not quite locked down yet. So, I’ll update you all early next year on any con appearances.
Would you ever dabble in Auto-Bio comics?
I don’t have a lot of interest in doing straight auto-bio comics. The truth is a lot of my work has a lot of auto-biographical and personal stuff in it, but it is just filtered or hidden in different genres and characters and fictions. That’s really what I love about writing and making comics, taking things I am dealing with or that I’m concerned about in my life and processing them through fiction. That’s what I love to do.
Can you talk about what you have cooking with Dustin Nguyen? Come on, Jeff!? Spill it! 🤓
The new book with Dustin will start coming out in March ’22 which means we will need to announce it in December. So, just a couple more weeks and we’ll drop the news and reveal the first cover here!
With the global state of printing at the moment, do you have plans for an Ascender hardcover?
We will definitely do an Ascender hardcover to match the two Descender volumes, but as you said, with all the paper shortages and printing issues at the moment it may take a while longer than usual to get that into stores.
Hi Jeff - you were announced as part of the initial lineup of creators to work with Bad Idea Comics. Are you still working with them on a project?
Unfortunately I just got too busy to work on any Bad Idea books. I am really good friends with Warren Simons from my Valiant days and I had initially agreed to do a story for him, but my schedule just got too busy, so I won’t be sadly part of Bad Idea after all.
Hey Jeff 3 questions really quickly. 1) If you could have any super power which would it be and why? 2) How does it feel writing Dick Grayson? 3) What’s your take on Daredevil? I think I saw an old tweet saying that you and Sorrentino almost had a run on the character but that was a long time ago so I could very well be wrong.
Answering in order..
Flight is the easy answer. Who wouldn’t want to know what that feels like?!
It was really fun. I was a huge Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans reader as a kid, so I have a real fondness for all those characters.
Andrea and I never had any plans to do Daredevil, nor were we ever approached to work on that character. Honestly, I feel would have a really hard time coming up with anything for Daredevil. There are already so many incredible runs and stories involving Matt Murdock that I wouldn’t know where to begin in adding to his characters legacy.
When you take an idea and start to really flesh it out and turn it into a story, is there something you tend to set your compass to, like a core theme, question, change arc, or even structure for the project, to help you not stray too far off the path?
That can vary from book to book, but in general there is a certain “feeling” or emotion you get when you first think of a story. And that little feeling is sort of like a delicate flame you have to shelter and protect because it’s the compass for the story. I know that sounds vague, but it really isn’t ever anything specific, it really is a feeling more than anything.
Having said that, as you get into a project it really is the core emotional relationships or journeys of the characters that are the thing I always build around. Themes etc. all come out of that and are sort of a by-product of that.
I don’t think I have ever gone into any story with a theme in mind. That’s stuff sort of reveals itself later as I get into the story or even when I finish the story and can see it all with some perspective.
Hey Jeff! One of the things I’m struggling with is not wanting to write too much narration if any so I can leave more room for my drawings to tell the story. How do you balance this in your work? I love that you let your art speak for itself without words—especially with fishflies. I feel odd not wanting to write so much in my panels but I feel like the drawings say enough and words might overstate what’s happening. Thanks Jeff! You’re the man!
For me less is ALWAYS more in terms of dialogue and narration. The joy of comics is that it is a visual medium and the artwork, layouts etc. are actually part of the “writing”, so they are all equal parts of the storytelling. I think the ability to let the artwork tell the story becomes even more of a possibility when you are both writing and drawing your own comics.
When you are writing and someone else is drawing, there tends to be a tendency for comic book writers to let their egos get in the way and they can overwrite as a way of making sure they feel like a bigger part of the process or to make sure their “stamp” is on each page. But when you are drawing your own stuff, it’s all from you, so it’s a lot easier to let go of that and let each aspect of the storytelling shine.
One rule of thumb with narration, which may seem obvious, but something I still see some comics guilty of still doing, is you never never describe in the narration what is actually happening in the panel. That is totally redundant and unnecessary. Narration should only be used to create mood, enlighten the inner landscape of the characters, and when necessary to clarify something the art is not properly communicating on its own.
I hope that helps.
Thanks for a another great AMA and be patient with me as I get around to posting part two.
As always, Tales From The Farm is a reader-supported initiative. Your subscription directly enables me to make more comics, hire more creators, and tell bigger and better stories. I really appreciate your patronage! - Jeff
This was insightful and fun. Thanks for doing it, Jeff. I'm sorry to have to voice a no-vote for the signing at the grading companies. I'm a firm believer that comics are for reading. When collectors encapsulate a book they think they are capturing its value forever. My unpopular opinion is that if you can't turn the pages you have stripped the book of all its value. I could go on ad nauseam upon this subject. I have your signature on quite a few of your books because we both went to the same cons (in Maine, sponsored by the great Casablanca Comics, remember?). I can still open those books to read myself, and/or entice someone with the contents if I want. Since you asked, my opinion is for you to just keep doing what you've been doing and leave the grading companies out of it.
On the topic of a private signing, I would be interested if sketches/sketch covers were offered since there is usually less time for sketching at cons.
I certainly prefer to meet creators at cons though. Especially if I can avoid upcharges for CGC books.