Sunday, September 14, 2014

How to Make a Graphic Novel (One Example)

Many people look at the credits to the book: “by Frank M. Young and David Lasky” and assume that Frank wrote the story and I did everything else.  The real story of how the graphic novel came to be is so much more complicated that I think it deserves an explanation here. 

Frank and I had a very evenly divided partnership, which is a little unusual for comics, where often the writer turns in a script and leaves the artists to do the larger share of the labor.  Because I have writing skills, we co-plotted the story (which was based on real life events) and created a chapter-by-chapter outline together. Because Frank has drawing and computer graphics skills, he was able to draw half the thumbnails with me, and color the entire book (except for a handful of pages I colored, based on Frank’s guides, and a few that Jim Gill colored).  Frank’s coloring, which evokes 1930s comic strips, does so much to enliven and unify the pages, I considered it the most important visual element in the book.

I drew the print-sized rough draft of the book (with Frank helping out on a chapter), and at the same time, Frank began to write dialogue based on how much space was available. Frank would later go back and revise all of the dialogue. In the thumbnail and rough stages, we also did a lot of editing together, to make sure the story moved along at a good pace and had all the information we wanted to include.

When the whole book was roughed out, I then penciled and inked all of the oversized finished art (with help on many of the pages from background inkers Sean Michael Robinson and Carl Nelson, with additional support from Tom Dougherty, Dalton Webb, and Vince Aparo).  As soon as I would finish inking a batch of pages, Frank would scan and color them. He would also lay out the pages and add my letters to the word ballons in InDesign.  From there, the fantastic design team at Abrams ComicArts prepared the pages to go to press. Our editor, Charles Kochman, who was checking in with us over the course of the project, gave the text a thorough edit before it went to press.

Because this was a historical book, we both did research, often at the same time as the book was being written and drawn.  Historical facts had to be checked for accuracy.  Visual elements had to look right for the era being depicted. At one time, Frank had worked as a journalist, and brought those skills to the book, conducting several phone interviews with scholars and relatives of the Carters and Peers. We also managed to track down some important archival interviews.  My friend Susan spent a weekend researching at an archive in Chapel Hill, NC for us. And in one crucial act of research, Frank tracked down some public domain sheet music that allowed us to use a good portion of lyrics that were important to the story -- without fear of copyright infringement.

There was no easy way to say who did what, which is why you see the simple credit: “by Frank M. Young and David Lasky.” It was a true collaboration, where we accomplished something that neither of us could have done on our own.


jamie said...

Thanks for posting a great sample process page, and showing to what extent collaboration, to whatever degree, can result in a creative work. It points up how this is such a unique aspect of sequential art, one that you rarely, if ever, see in other mediums.
It's always such a fun project to introduce in a classroom setting, and see how playing off the relative strengths + weaknesses of a group of students can wind up with a much stronger, cohesive piece in the end. Collaborative comics can be a crock-pot that the writer, penciler, inker, colorist and editor (teacher) can all contribute ingredients for some tasty work.
That said, what you describe between just yourself & Frank did dispel an assumption on the breakdown of the workload (also reminded me of a variation on the Lee/Kirby/Ditko method). And spot-on with the palette being a perfect touch to evoke a sense of time + place.
A couple quick questions: you say "oversized finished art" - how big were the original pages? And what'd you use for inking?
Also of course love to see a possible posting in the future sometime of a couplefew more sample process pages...
Just beautiful work to see unfold, above and beyond turning the pages of my own copy - thanks bunches again David.

Lasky said...

Thanks for those comments, Jamie!

To answer your questions:
The size of the final art pages varied. THey were usually 12 inches wide, so the art was maybe 10 inches wide. I drew the final pages in thirds, so scanning would be easier.
I did most of the inking with a dip pen (a holder and a nib) because we wanted to the art to have the look of old fashioned comic strips as much as possible. When the deadline got to be too much for me, I did some of the inking with Pitt Artists Pens (high grade felt tips) because they were faster than dip pens (no dipping!)...