38 posts categorized ":01 Stop: Watch"

November 12, 2007

Why Physicists?

From the Desk of Jim Ottaviani


Calculus. Most people who end up like me -- nuclear engineer turned librarian turned comics writer -- took it in high school. I didn’t, though not by choice. I don’t remember it being offered, for one thing, and I wasn’t ready for it if it had been available to me, but entering college behind the curve turned out great.

I didn’t think so at the time, of course. Every other first year was ahead and doing well and having a social life while I was struggling to wrap my mind around limits and integrals, and doing while additionally being bored by the classical physics we all had to suffer through. Let me at the cool quantum stuff so I can finally lick this teleportation thing once and for all!

In the end, I actually looked forward to the problem sets. Learning stuff is fun; who knew? But by the time finals crashed the party I still didn't know whether I understood enough to make the cut. And when I sat down to the physics exam I was sure I was done for. In later classes you got to bring in a sheet of notes, on the (justified) premise that having them wouldn’t do you much good. But not so for that first, basic class. I showed up with my brain, a pencil, and a calculator that could do square roots(!) and trig functions(!) and delivered the answer in glowing red LEDs.

And I also showed up with an urge to cower, made more acute when I promptly forgot all the equations of motion and how to calculate energy and momentum. Completely blanked. All I could dredge up from memory were force = mass x acceleration and distance = rate x time. Cutting edge stuff…if you’re Isaac Newton in 1687.

And, it turns out, I could dredge up calculus too. Also cutting edge Newtonian tech, but if you know the force and distance equations and you know calculus you can derive everything else you need for a first course in classical physics. (Especially if you vaguely remember enough of what the results look like to recognize the formulae when you're done.) And on the fly, under pressure, I derived ‘em.

Even if I’d flunked out then and there I think this experience alone would have made college worthwhile. It’s certainly one of the few moments I remember from a whole lot more higher education than I like to admit to.

Oh yeah, comics. 

I can’t replicate that revelatory physics experience any more, at least in context -- those mathematical tools have long since rusted away in the damp back corners of my brain. But I can replicate the panic: I still get it every time I sit down to make a new book, because I arrive at each project with my brain, pencil and paper (or rather, their modern analogue, a keyboard and a blinking cursor), and no clue as to how to solve the problem of writing a comics script. But I can always dredge up that fundamental image or idea that got me excited about doing the book, and that eventually becomes words and those words describe dialogue and panels and pages and spreads and scenes. And all of a sudden (well, actually many months later, and thanks to heavy lifting by an artist) there it is, a new world, fresh for me to marvel at and enjoy as if I were discovering how gravity works, a la Isaac Newton.

Who I really ought to write a comic on, someday. First Second has me doing Richard Feynman’s cool quantum stuff first, though. And Mark’s letting me bring my notes.


November 05, 2007

5 DIY ways that i promoted my book

From the Drawing Board of Sara Varon

i have some favorite hobbies that i save for when i'm not busy making or reading comics.  a couple of these are printmaking, baking, and making little products, so i put these to use and made book-related projects.

1.  my favorite project was baking cookies in the shapes of my characters.  i cut strips of litho plates (they're thin flat aluminum plates used for printing lithographs), about 2 inches wide, and i bent them into the shapes of a dog and robot, to be used for cookie cutters.  then i went to my local cake supply store and bought several food coloring colors, to be added to my icing.  and i used the 'rolled sugar cookie' recipe from 'the joy of cooking' (the handiest cookbook ever).  and i went to work.  it took awhile to figure out how to do everything, but the results tasted and looked better than i'd anticipated. i passed them out at a booksigning.




2.  making buttons.  everybody likes buttons, and they're super cheap and easy to make.  plus people put them on their clothes and bags, so they travel around advertising your pictures until they inevitably fall off.  making these kinds of things is always cheaper and easier than you expect.  my favorite place to make buttons is www.busybeaver.net.  you can make all kinds of things.  other cool things you can make and places that make them are (1) pocket mirrors (www.myfavoritemirror.com) and (2) patches (www.american-patch.com).  plus your stuff looks so cool and legitimate when it's on a for-real product.


3. silkscreened postcards. i work in an art school printshop, so i have access to printmaking facilities, but another way to make prints that is slightly different but just as cool and fun is a gocco printer.  there were rumors that you could no longer get them in the united states (i don't know if that's true) but i'm sure you can find a gocco printer on ebay.


4.  silkscreened tshirts.  also made at my job, but i think you can print on tshirts with your gocco printer too, if silkscreen isn't an option for you.


5.  offset postcards.  you can get these at 4x6.com or 4over4.com or a zillion other places, and they're pretty easy and affordable.  you just have to order a lot, like at least 500 (i think).  but you don't have to make postcards!  you can also make something promotional that is business-card sized (i did this for another book) or you can have your postcards cut in half and make them into bookmarks!

3 other (non-DIY) ways that i promoted my book:

1.  i did something called 'speed-dating' at the annual book expo at javits center in nyc.  i (and 19 other authors) spoke to 20 small groups of people (mostly librarians and book buyers), each for 3 minutes, making it a one-hour event.  it was kind of rocky at first, but in the end i was surprised how many different questions people could come up with in 3 minutes.

2.  booksignings at various stores.  so far i've been to portland, maine; nashville, tn; boston, and new york.  hopefully i'll go other places cause it's fun to travel.

3.  blogging on the first second site!


October 29, 2007

The Keene Pumpkin Festival

From the drawing board of Greg Cook






October 22, 2007

The Poetry of Comics

From the drawing board of Leland Myrick


“If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry”

Emily Dickinson

I took part in a panel discussion at last summer’s San Diego comic convention that started me thinking again about a subject that’s been spinning around in my head for a while—the relationship between comics and poetry, and whether some comics can be called poetry. It didn’t take me long, honestly, to come to the conclusion that many comics, though they might not have started out as poems, are in their finished forms closer to poetry than anything else.

During the panel discussion in San Diego, I got quite a few questions from the audience about the process I went through with my :01 graphic novel MISSOURI BOY. I had mentioned in my introduction on the panel that each chapter in MISSOURI BOY had begun life as a poem, none of which (except for the last chapter) were meant at the time of their writing to be anything but poems, poems to be put away in a drawer somewhere or possibly to be read aloud to friends and family at a poetry reading. Much of what I’d written around that time was about my early life in rural Missouri, and the poems that eventually became MISSOURI BOY were written over a span of almost ten years and were quite different in form, ranging from blank verse to haiku. When the idea finally gelled that I would take all these disparate poems and meld them into one coherent graphic novel, I began to think about the process of turning poetry into comics, and in thinking about the process, I began to feel my way toward the kind of book I wanted MISSOURI BOY to be when it was finished. What I did NOT want was a book of illustrated poems. What I wanted was a graphic novel that moved through time and in the end told one large story through a bunch of little moments strung together, the little moments fairly clear in themselves, but the larger story more indistinct as seen through the scattered lenses of the individual chapters.

One of the most important things that happened in the transformation from poem to comic was the loss of words. My editor, Mark Siegel used what became an important phrase for me in the early stages of the book when I was still struggling with keeping the language of the original poems intact—Let the words fall away. And so I did. In my head I saw the words falling away, floating leaves settling on the floor around my drawing table. And when I did, the transformations occurred for me, small enchantments twisting poetry into comics. When I told my friend Jane (who taught me more about poetry than anyone else) about this process, she said, “Oh...don’t let the words fall away! Let me have them.” One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received, and I’ll always love her for saying that.


When I finished MISSOURI BOY, I didn’t stop thinking about the connection between poetry and comics, because the chapters still felt like poems to me, and I began to think about the other graphic novels and comics I’ve loved, and I began to think about which ones felt like poems to me. And a lot of them came to my mind. And I decided that, for me, certain books are poetry, in the same way that MISSOURI BOY is still poetry. They feel like poems when I read them. The magic mix of the language, the arrangement of the words on the page and the pictures conjures poetry.


The moment near the end of Dave McKean’s CAGES when the artist and his love are talking about creativity and then walk out on the balcony to see the city rising beneath them—that’s poetry. The moment in Taiyo Matsumoto’s BLACK & WHITE when Kimura has a leisurely conversation with Suzuki and then kills him, Suzuki knowing all along that he’s going to die—that’s poetry. The moment at the end of Lark Pien’s LONG TAIL KITTY, when Long Tail Kitty carries the bunny-chewed shoe to the sleeping woman—that’s poetry. The moment in Keiko Nishi’s shojo manga, THE SKIN OF HER HEART, when Lin-Lin turns down an offer of marriage from the factory chief’s son and the rain stops. That’s poetry. And I think even if Dave McKean or Lark came up to me and pointed a finger in my face and told me absolutely not, their books are NOT poetry, I’d smile and nod, and they’d still be poetry in my head and in my heart.


This all may lead one to say that I am just playing with words. And that would be true. But, if I stretch my mind and try to come up with a definition for poetry, I can never settle on anything that strays very far from Miss Dickinson’s definition that I started with. Novels can be poetry, and graphic novels can be poetry, and films can be poetry, and sometimes, for a little while, people can be poetry. They may not be verse, the physical manifestation of poetry that usually starts on the left side of the page and turns back on itself. But poetry is not the same as verse. Not for me, and not for Emily Dickinson.



October 15, 2007

On the Ginormous Book Market

From the drawing board of Derek Kirk Kim

[This post was originally written in my private journal on 8-31-07, a couple weeks after my latest book, Good As Lily, had hit bookstores.]




I stopped by my local Barnes & Noble this afternoon to see how Good As Lily was doing. This particular Barnes & Noble is a mid-sized one with 2 floors and an escalator. It's mammoth. On my way out, I was coming down the escalator, gazing out at the endless battalions of shelves. As I was being slowly lowered into this vast ocean of books, it really hit me what a microscopic portion of this world I really was. What a pointless, insignificant drop in the bucket my little book was. Just another book among millions. Nothing special – a simple-minded diversion, at best. Am I so egotistical to believe that someone should choose my book over the hundreds and thousands of books in that store? Does my book even deserve to be read when someone could fill his or her mind, imagination, and spirit with The Catcher in the Rye or American Born Chinese or Carl Sagan's Cosmos instead? How can I expect someone to dish out their hard-earned, minimum-wage money on the drivel that is my writing when there are so many – SO MANY – books they could read instead. It's truly a blessing – a miracle, really! – that any of my books sell at all. It's easy to forget that.


Oh, and not one copy of Good As Lily had been sold, just in case you were wondering.



October 08, 2007

Old Dog, New Tricks

From the desk of Jane Yolen


I was a lover of comics as a child, though my parents — while big encouragers of reading and writing — wouldn’t let me give them house room. So I borrowed them from friends. Not for me the Archies or the Marvel heroes. I went for the dark side: "Tales from the Crypt" was my favorite. (This gives you an idea of how old I am!)

However, ballet, boys, horses, fencing, college, work as an editor after college, then marriage and children somehow weaned me from about thirty years of reading comics. The good stuff (and the not-so-good stuff) got away from me.

Three things brought me back: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I got to write introductions to two of the three, and that ain’t bad!

What was it about those three that drew me? They were adult pieces of work, with gorgeous writing and a sense of history and cosmology. They told stories with metaphoric and psychological underpinnings. I can always be seduced by good writing and subtext. These were not just comix, but graphic literature. I was hooked.

So for the last ten years, I've wanted to try my hand at writing a graphic novel. After all, a graphic novel would combine those things I knew and wrote best — picture books and novels, plus an occasional movie script.

I kept asking and asking, writing proposals and having lunch conferences, but no one — and I mean NO ONE — wanted me to do a graphic novel. My various editors, even those dabbling in graphic novels, all looked at me as if I’d gone crazy. Basically I was told: leave comics to the comics people. They seemed to be saying, why bother, since you’re already well known in the children’s and adult lit biz. My answer sounded like a child with a tantrum: "Because I want to."

Then, through Terri Windling, I was lucky enough to get to know Charles Vess . He asked me to write one of the ballad stories for his graphic anthology. (Neil Gaiman lent me a script so I could see the format, though I ended up making up my own!) Being an overachiever, I wrote two. And I was hooked again.

You see, with children’s picture books, the writer isn't allowed to talk about the pictures at all. That's considered the artist’s province. With novels, words have to substitute for artwork. You want a castle, describe a castle; you want a medieval house, explain wattle and daub. And with scripts for movies, though there is a bit more leeway suggesting the look of the thing, in the end it’s the director who makes the final decisions. But writing those graphic short stories, I got to combine all three. Surely — I thought, after writing the two ballads for Charles — I can get someone to take me seriously about a graphic novel.

No, and no, and no some more. My own editors continued to turn me down. I wondered if I was going to find an alternative universe before anyone would let me write one.

Then manga happened. A comics explosion happened. Graphic novels went Big Business. And I almost literally fell into First Second’s Mark Siegel’s arms — though I am old enough to be his grandmother, and heavy enough to flatten him if that had actually happened. But we met, had much in common, he plied me with his first list, and I sent him the start of a short story about my granddaughter who is a fencer, a story called FOILED over which the plot gods and I had previously had a falling out.

He said, "Send me a couple of pages as a comic and. . . ."

Old dog.  New trick.

FOILED (after seven hefty revisions for Mark’s freelance Editor Tanya McKinnon) will be out sometime in the next year or so. And I so want to write: CURSES, FOILED AGAIN. Maybe I will have to go into New York and fall on Mark all over again.


October 01, 2007

The Formation of Stories

From the drawing board of Nick Abadzis


“Where do you get your ideas from?”

This is supposedly the dumbest question a person could ask a storyteller – a cartoonist, a writer, a performance artist or whatever. But it’s a question that hints at the cluelessness any storyteller faces at the beginning of the creation of a new tale. A blank piece of paper, a blinking cursor on a screen, they both demand a first action: just dive in. In my experience, it’s better not to dwell upon questions. Where do ideas come from? Where do stories come from? Why, from living, from observation, listening and sometimes from the bones of other stories, dear reader, as you may well know. But what’s the process?

The most accurate and honest way of describing how a story happens for me is to say, ‘I make them up as I go along.’ Really. I may think I have a plan, but stories are so mutable they refuse to stick to it. Indeed, I wrote an earlier version of this blog entry where I followed a thread down a rabbit hole into a labyrinth where a shaggy dog wiser than I lives. I abandoned it on the grounds that it wasn’t really a piece of illuminating writing; it was turning into a story itself. One that was trying to say, ‘Dunno’ in an entertaining way. Saying ‘I don’t know’ in answer to that question isn’t being as disingenuous as it might sound; it’s more of a protective mechanism. I think part of it is that I don’t care to look, to find the source. You know, just in case there’s nothing there and it really is all done with smoke and mirrors. On the other hand, I have some weird sense of faith that if you have the smallest, dumbest, crudest and most insubstantial seed of an idea, then a narrative can accumulate around it, whatever the weather.

Still, I get asked that question and I suppose by now I should really have a ‘prepared answer’. I’m writing this over the Atlantic traveling from London to Washington DC and from up here the clouds look like the kind of fluffy thought balloons I imagine some of the askers of that question would expect a story to look like in its nascent form.

It’s a bit like asking where ‘thought’ comes from, I suppose. An idea in its raw state is an impulse, an apparently involuntary inclination that causes an action, a response to an upwelling of fresh, volcanic whim from some chasm that reaches down into the subconscious where there exists an ocean-wide magma lake of half-formed notions. From that Ocean of Notions (a real place in a children’s graphic novel I once authored) ideas come. One of them occasionally bubbles up to the conscious mind above, sometimes in reaction to outside stimuli, other times entirely at random. And, as mentioned, all of the stuff that exists down there has entered one’s psyche somehow either though observing, listening, reading. Human culture and the way we process our environment is the collective subconscious if you like, the place from where stories derive. The mind is the crucible in which it takes form, mutates, divides.

Or maybe stories form like planets do. Imagine a vast cloud of dust and rubble floating, a great mass of impulses. Some mysterious force somehow attracts two or three to each other, they stick, and the core of something greater is formed. An idea. The process continues, more particles join the core and there is an agglomeration of disparate elements, things foam and fuse together in new shapes.  Eventually, you get something roughly spherical. No, hold on, that’s planets… and we were talking about stories, weren’t we? Well, there’s a parallel pattern in that rather ramshackle metaphor somewhere. The point is, without wanting to romanticize it, there is something mysterious about the whole process. When I’ve finished a work of any kind, I can never really find the same path back to the germ of the idea and understand it backwards. When I’m in the tumult of creating something, I know when it’s working, but afterwards I seldom really understand how I did it.

Getting an idea isn’t really that difficult. The storyteller’s initial problem is really taking that pesky idea and charming an outline of its final shape from out of that vast cloud of possibilities. This is where questions actually do help as you ask yourself, ‘What’s it about?’ and ‘What am I saying here?’

If it’s a good day and you’re lucky, you’ll get an answer. From out of that cloud, a shape may form. Sometimes this can be pretty scary, and it can feel like this thing is choosing you to tell it. Stories are contrary and individual beasts and you need to either tame them or allow yourself to get caught up in their nature (I generally go with the latter option). Every single one demands its own set of solutions to narrative problems. If you happen to be working on a story that is drawn from real events (like Laika), the discovery of a new fact can radically alter your perception of a story’s outline – but I’m getting ahead of myself there. The backbone of a story can mutate and flex into an entirely different shape from what you expected. But this is enormous fun: let it do this. If you’re being honest with it, characters will begin to introduce themselves to you. These are more shapes from the murk, voices from a glimpsed place that will become clearer the more you listen, faces that will cohere and solidify the more you focus. They’ll begin to populate your story. At this point, they are little more than ideas themselves, quirks of creativity that may randomly spark and begin generating their own subset of tales. It’s a never-ending process.

‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I’m not sure if I really answered that question. I suppose another answer would be that I have nothing to say on the matter. But it seemed better to just riff on it rather than to say that; to provide a few descriptions of how the process can feel and what the potential results of it can be. With any luck, it may have inspired or provoked or calmed you in some small way; enough that you get one of those impulses of your own that you can translate into something fine that can live in the world.

One last thing: you know that old anecdote, 'Truth is stranger than fiction?' A wise man* once told me that any artist worth their salt has an aerial picking up signals from the place where ideas come from. I agree with him, and this whole blog entry has really been a descriptive essay about that. But here’s an illustration too, about the way coincidence can inform a thing you create. It gives you the idea that there is a world out there larger, richer and much wilder than the one we see.

I spent years of my life working on Laika, which of course is based upon a true story (or, more correctly, several true stories intertwined with a few of my own). One of the characters that introduced herself to me along the way was Yelena Alexandrovna Dubrovsky, who was very, very loosely based upon a woman who worked with cosmodogs at IMBP some years after my tale takes place there. My character rapidly changed as I wrote the story and lost all connections with that woman; she became her own character in service to the story I was telling. So I thought. After Laika was published, I had a conversation with the author Chris Dubbs whose earlier book on the Soviet cosmodog program Space Dogs had helped me research Laika. With Colin Burgess he has also just published Animals in Space, an excellent and exhaustive work on all those experimental animals who were launched into space, including Laika. We tell a very similar story of course but Chris and Colin had come across a photo of two cosmodog carers in the course of their research that I hadn’t seen before:


The woman on the right is spookily similar to my fictional character Yelena Alexandrovna Dubrovsky. I thought I was making her up, but maybe I wasn’t. The aerial’s tuning itself OK, then.

Thanks for the use of the photo, Chris.

Nick Abadzis (over Montreal now) 27th September 2007

*Brendan McCarthy, in point of fact.


September 28, 2007



Starting this coming Monday, we'll be launching a new regular feature called FIRST SECOND/STOP: WATCH with contributions from current and upcoming First Second creators.

The material will range from short cameos and pictures to more extensive essays and comics pieces.

Come visit every Monday for thoughtful offerings about all aspects of comics -- from comics creation, to graphic novels in libraries and schools, interesting events, from business and marketing to matters of the creative life unique and personal to the individuals contributing. Some very talented people coming your way.

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