Producing a Graphic Novel: Starting Out

I never…NEVER…thought I’d write a graphic novel. I knew they existed, and I’d read a few, but I didn’t know a thing about the process. It wasn’t until recently that I got a glimpse into the world of graphic novel production when I befriended Robert Burrows and Meaghan O’Keefe, who were both working on art for separate graphic novels. It turned out my assumptions were completely wrong–you don’t need a ton of money to get started; finding an artist doesn’t have to be a burdensome process; a graphic novel script doesn’t have a rigid and complicated structure; and you don’t necessarily need a publisher.

It struck me that there may be others out there interested in producing a graphic novel, who don’t know what that entails, so I decided to publish a series on Producing a Graphic Novel here on my blog. This is my first attempt so I’m sure there will be as many hiccups as successes to this process and, hopefully, there will be something to learn from both.

Before We Begin

Think of this as a case study, rather than a handbook. Take what you will from this series, but please don’t assume I’m saying this is the only way to go about producing a graphic novel or that what does/doesn’t work for me will/won’t work for you. Also, “Beatrice is Dead” is a creator-owned graphic novel, so you probably won’t find anything having to do with seeking a publisher here.

Starting Out

Really, it started with Rob and Meg and the insight I got from them about graphic novel production. Their work on Something Animal and Identity Thief, respectively, got me thinking about the possibility of writing a graphic novel script. This is where having talented and creative friends really comes in handy.

I started a conversation with Rob, who had just finished his work on Something Animal. I told him I was seriously considering the idea of writing a graphic novel. He was extremely encouraging and sent me some reference scripts by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis and Alan Moore. What surprised me most was the casual nature of the writing. The writers varied in their level of description and formatting, but they were all pretty conversational. No worrying about grammar and rules? Sign me up!

As the conversation progressed, I thought about an abandoned story I wrote years ago. I’d abandoned it because, at that time, I had no discipline and was on the all-too-familiar finish half a novel and then move on to the next idea kick. Also, I felt the story would work better in a more visual medium. I immediately thought film, but I had no interest in screenwriting so I shoved the MS in a dark corner and forgot about it. But here was this new idea. A visual medium unfolding with such promise before me.

I told Rob a little about the story and he showed some interest. He asked me to send him some scenes. Even with friends there’s a chance of rejection. If an artist isn’t interested in drawing the stuff you write, chances are they won’t accept the project. I braced myself for rejection but Rob liked the scenes I sent and suddenly we were collaborating on a graphic novel.

I have never written so quickly in my life. A few things helped me get that script out the door in good time:

  • having most of the story fleshed out in the old MS
  • the casual style of writing a script
  • agreeing to keep the novel short (the story is being released in short volumes if the first volume is reasonably successful)

I put that last one in all caps because, really, that one component was 75% of the kindling fueling the fire under my butt. Heaven forbid my collaborator get the idea that I’m a lazy procrastinator (which I certainly can be). I didn’t have time to be precious about every single word. Even though I still freak out about it once in a while, I’m happy it worked out that way.

At the moment, Rob is working on the art, and I’ve just begun to consider the marketing aspect. I predict social media (hey, did I mention the graphic novel has a FB page now!!??) and reaching out to indie bookstores and local comic shops will play a big part in marketing. I have another idea on the burner as well…

But that’s a post for another time!

P.S. I just got my panel tickets for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books being held April 21-22. I’ll be blogging about the event the following Monday!

4 thoughts on “Producing a Graphic Novel: Starting Out

  1. A nice piece of synchronicity here: I’m just starting a graphic novel based on my superhero romance Annie Brown and the Superhero Blues (actually adapting it as a script promises to solve some structural editing questions that seemed insoluble when I was thinking of it as a novel). I’m keenly interested in graphic novel productions, so will be following your blog with great interest!

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