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12 posts from April 2008

April 30, 2008

Vampire Month


Here at First Second Books, May is Vampire Month.

We got a bit tired of May being about flowers and springtime and small cute animals growing up (though all of those things are certainly very nice in their own place).  So we thought we'd inject May with some dark, broody, gloomy, sarcastic things -- namely, vampires. 

There will be some vampirically interesting things around the internet this month, and features on our blog of some of the world's lesser known vampires (vampire squid, anyone?).  Stop back by and check it out.   

[If you're a bookseller or a librarian, just click on the Vampire Month logo above for a kit to dress up your store or library vampirically.  And if you do dress up your store or library, send us pictures!]

April 24, 2008


As an offering to our young talent, and to anyone who might find this helpful--here and elsewhere, green or seasoned--I've asked a number of experienced authors to send a little word of coaching, encouragement or mentoring to them. We'll call this new category MENTORS CORNER. It will occasionally feature some authors who aren't with First Second.

Check back here on Thursdays every week for new offerings. If any of this speaks to you and answers a need or sparks an enquiry, do add your comment--who knows what dialogue may open up from it.

From Mike Cavallaro:

There are so many potential pitfalls encountered while working alone on a long graphic novel project that it's impossible to address them all. Sometimes it's just hard to stay focused and away from the Playstation day-in and day-out. Maybe you feel your own work isn't measuring up to the work of your favorite artists and that's making you panic and redo things. With so many wild tangents and distractions, it's hard to tell the right path from the detours and dead ends.

Fortunately, there are tools for finding your way. Two of the most useful are calendars and clocks.

Although some guys like Sfar and Trondheim seem to do a graphic-novel-a-week, the rest of us have to put in long hours for every page. The "free" part of "freelancer" is truly great, but it's still a job, and you're going to have to put in a real workday just like everybody else.

That work day should be something reasonable, like an 8 or 9 hour day.

In that time, you probably need to be penciling at least 2 pages. So get an early start, get that first page done, take a lunch break, and then get back to work.

This is where the calendar comes in. At the end of the week, you will be able to see the fruits of your labor in the form of 10 or so newly penciled pages. Progress!

If this isn't happening, you're doing something wrong. You're overworking your pages, getting distracted by tv, video games, friends, etc., or sitting there staring at a blank page.

Do yourself a favor, try to remember the confidence you had when you did the sample pages that got you the job to begin with. Art should be fun. Have fun with this, just stick to your schedule. It's possible to do both.

All these times and measurements have to be adjusted by your actual deadline. Two pages a day only works if it gets you done in time. Maybe you can do one page. Maybe you need to do three. It depends, obviously.

The bottom line is, drawing all day may be the greatest job in the world, but it's still a job and you have to treat it that way. All things in moderation. You still need to see your friends and goof off a little, but you also need to get this job done.

Put in a real work day, and work hard. Have a daily quota, and be sure to meet it. Watch your completed pages pile up around you. Don't waste time obsessively redoing things; you're getting better as you go even if you don't realize it. Let it happen. That's how it went for all the cartoonists you admire.




DAVID SPURLOCK: Is there any message that you would give to aspiring artists?

JOHN: If you're looking to make a living, open a deli! At least you won't starve (laughs)! Seriously, no matter what you tell someone, if they have the drive, they will do it. If you try to discourage them, they'll do it anyway. Others, you can give all kinds of encouragement, but they'll fail if they don't have that determination. When people ask me for advice, I say, "Do what makes you happy. That's the only way to go."

April 23, 2008

George O'Connor on the Lenny Lopate Show -- Reprise

Missed this? 


It's online!  Go listen now! 

Gene Yang and Derek Kirk Kim to Appear at Stumptown

Stumptown (Portland's indy comics festival) is this weekend.  First Second isn't going -- as much as we all enjoy the Portland comics scene, we're still recovering from the whirlwind that was New York Comic-Con. 

But two of our phenomenal authors will be there -- Gene Luen Yang, and Derek Kirk Kim.  And they'll be doing a panel on Saturday at 3 p.m. on their upcoming book from First Second. 


[image from Gene and Derek's upcoming gn]

April 21, 2008

Over My Shoulder

[From the Drawing Board of Leland Myrick]

Illustrating a biography is different from anything else I've done -- exhilarating and frightening at once. Usually when I am writing or drawing, I feel quite alone with my work, sitting or standing at my drawing table out in my studio. But the project I'm working on now, illustrating a biography of physicist Richard Feynman, is different.







April 17, 2008


As an offering to our young talent, and to anyone who might find this helpful--here and elsewhere, green or seasoned--I've asked a number of experienced authors to send a little word of coaching, encouragement or mentoring to them. We'll call this new category MENTORS CORNER. It will occasionally feature some authors who aren't with First Second.

Check back here on Thursdays every week for new offerings. If any of this speaks to you and answers a need or sparks an enquiry, do add your comment--who knows what dialogue may open up from it.

From Jessica Abel among many other credentials, co-author of DRAWING WORDS AND WRITING PICTURES:

"Get yourself a calendar, and schedule the work you have to do in there.

Make sure the calendar is the type where you can see a day or a week at at time (not a month at a time), so there's room to write under each day. Then, mark in any regular commitments you have. If you meet a friend for lunch every Wednesday, or just this wednesday, make sure it's in there. If you go to the gym three times a week (or just mean to...), put that in there. Write down your breakfast, shower, lunch, dinner times. Commuting, if you have to do that. Mark down sleep. Mark down playing video games, if you must.

Once you've got all that there, you will be able to see how much time you really have to work (and if you need to make adjustments to your daily activities that aren't work). In the time you have for work, assign yourself very specific tasks--like "lay out pages 56-60" for half an hour, then "rough pencil page 56" for however long it takes you--maybe 2 or 3 hours, then "letter page 56" for an hour or whatever.

Taking a little time to get all this in your book will do several things for you. It will become clear to you how much you can reasonably get done in a week. It will become clear where you might need to shorten your daily activities to fit in more drawing. And, most importantly, it will give you concrete goals, so that when you finish what you set out to do, you can cross it off and feel good about yourself, and you can also stop working, sometimes the hardest thing to do for a freelance artist. Knowing when you're on and what you need to get done makes your free time, once you've accomplished these goals, truly free, guilt-free. And that's the most important part of learning to make a life as a working artist.

Once you get good at all this, you don't have to be so detailed about it, of course. But it really helps to follow this discipline throughout one project to get yourself in the rhythm of it. And even once you get more comfortable with your schedule, it still helps to make detailed to-do lists for a given day so you have something to cross off when you're done. Half the battle is tricking your brain into feeling that sense of accomplishment you might get if someone on the outside were praising you for a job well done.

Good luck! "

April 14, 2008

George O'Connor on the Lenny Lopate Show


New York based readers of this blog may already be familiar with the Leonard Lopate show, the popular news/talk show on local public radio station WNYC. This Thursday, April 17th, our own George O'Connor will be a guest on the show to talk about his First Second graphic novel Journey into Mohawk Country. He'll be joined by Mr. Charles Gehring, the man who originally translated the diary of 17th century Dutch explorer Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, that serves as the text for the novel.
If you're interested in hearing what George sounds like, local listeners can tune in at 1:00 pm to either FM 93.9 or AM 820. For those more remote or the wired at heart, check out wnyc.org for mp3s and other listening options.



There's No Such Thing as a Graphic Novel

[From the drawing board of Cyril Pedrosa]


That was probably a bad way to start my blog entry. I already regret it bitterly. I would've been better off talking about the arrival of spring or rambling about French trains. Telling you that I'm uncomfortably seated on seat 27, aisle side, heading towards a small town on the Atlantic coast of France where, with the pretext of signing some copies of Three Shadows at the local bookstore, I'm mainly hoping to stretch out as much as I can the pleasure of having lunch at a restaurant facing the port, praying that they'll still have some room for smokers on the terrace…

But what can I say, I got myself stuck in this argument about graphic novels being non-existent.

Before Three Shadows came out in France, I was a comics artist in the specifically European sense of being an author of bandes dessinées. For most people, especially in France and Belgium, that would mean that you tell stories in 46-page oversized (8¼" by 11.7") hardcover books produced on high-quality paper with beautiful colors, and that the main purpose of these stories is to entertain readers.


And for a long time I too believed that my job consisted of telling colorful and entertaining stories in that format of 46-page oversized hardcover books. Perhaps it was because I had fond memories of escaping as a kid in the pages of Asterix, Le journal de Mickey or Gaston Lagaffe, or because my studies were in totally different fields (mathematics, advertising and animation), but whatever the excuses the sad truth is that, when my first books came out, I hadn't given much thought to the form of comics.

I had no particular viewpoint, so I focused on my drawing, wanting to make it as pretty and attractive as possible, but with a hint of originality that would mark my territory and create a style of my own. I produced books the way a carpenter might produce chairs, with a love of good craftsmanship. In the eyes of my French-speaking peers, I was a comics author, since I published nice attractive books in the format I've just described. But I saw myself more as an illustrator of comics, something in fact quite different, though I didn't realize it fully at the time.


But as I worked on my first books based on scripts by my old friend David Chauvel, I was carefully following the work of Blutch, Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, David B, Nicolas de Crécy, Emmanuel Guibert, and many others, and I had to admit to myself that I was an idiot — a nice, friendly idiot, I hope, one who worked on his books with care and diligence, but an idiot nonetheless.

Those talented, thoughtful, inventive people had an artistic maturity far greater than mine. They burst out of established forms and came up with a wealth of innovative ways of drawing and radically new subject matter. In the end their books changed my life. They managed to make me understand that comics are a language, a language with rules that you can and should break, and in which you can and should invent your own words, your own syntax. A language that can encompass everything, as long as you take the trouble to think things through until you find the form, new or old, that suits what it is you want to express — a language that doesn't want to be confined to any mold, like that damn 46-page glossy hardcover format.


Since then, little by little, book after book, I try, with varying degrees of success, to be less an illustrator of comics than someone who plays with the language of the comics medium. In that, I’m convinced that graphic form has to contribute as much to storytelling as do the well-known narrative tools of angles (close-ups, reverse angles and so on) or the skillful use of ellipse. I think we need to subject our drawing skills to intense questioning, not with the thought of “what’s my way of representing reality?”  — which only points you to something a bit vain, called a “style,” that’s usually nothing more than a fancy name for our tics and bad habits in drawing — but rather “taking into account my limitations, my tools, my knowledge, my ability to invent and improvise, what would be the best way of representing reality in that scene, at that specific moment, with that specific emotion?” That language, that subtle interplay of forms, that delicate and invisible art of placing as much in the empty space between two panels as in the panels themselves — called comics or bande dessinée —  is something I treasure, and it’s the only one I know how to use to tell stories.


Being an author of comics is just that: telling stories through the use of that language. But it's not less than that, and I hold the language and those who use it with talent in very high esteem.

But in the past few years in France, as soon as a book of bande dessinée is something other than the 46-page color hardcover format I described, the book gets called a roman graphique, borrowing from the US term of graphic novel. I don’t know who the clever marketing whiz was that came up with the idea, but it’s clearly designed to lend a stamp of cultural approval by associating with novels, i.e. with “serious” literature for real readers, those with brains. 


I can’t judge whether there’s same association in the US, but in France the term is used very consciously, by publishers, salespeople, bookstore owners, critics and even sometimes the authors themselves, to highlight to potential readers that this book is a quality product that will stimulate their neurons and not some trashy little comic book. Since Three Shadows came out, I’ve been awarded, probably temporarily, the title of graphic novel auteur. One reporter who interviewed me explained that the book had to be a graphic novel, since its layout and number of pages gave it "the look of a novel." I replied that I could show him some cookbooks that look a lot like Three Shadows, but nobody’s suggested calling it a “graphic cookbook”!

Saying and thinking that gives the idea that this constantly evolving language we use is not enough, that it isn’t rich and elaborate enough, and that it needs some literary stamp of approval to have full value. It’s true that it’s easier to say that than to explain how Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan is a “total comic,” to highlight the complex representation of time in the work of Frédéric Peeters, to describe the interplay of abstract and figurative representation in the books of Hugo Pratt, and so on. Yet these “graphic novels,” as the term is used in France, owe nothing to the novel or to literature. They are pure, and often beautiful, comic books: the language they use, regardless of how inventive the forms used may be, is the language of comics. That’s what gives these creative works their power, and that’s what explains the very distinctive pleasure that their readers take in the process.


So, as far as I’m concerned, there are comic books – good or bad ones, ambitious or mediocre ones, small, thick, large ones, Japanese, Korean, Belgian or American ones. They might contain a lot of pages or just a few, color, black & white illustration, paper cutouts, digital pictures or whatnot. But all of them draw upon the same language, a language so subtle that a number of readers will only stay in the doorway of those books and won’t see the jewels inside.

But there’s no such thing as a graphic novel.


April 10, 2008


As an offering to our young talent, and to anyone who might find this helpful--here and elsewhere, green or seasoned--I've asked a number of experienced authors to send a little word of coaching, encouragement or mentoring to them. We'll call this new category MENTORS CORNER. It will occasionally feature some authors who aren't with First Second.

Check back here on Thursdays every week for new offerings. If any of this speaks to you and answers a need or sparks an enquiry, do add your comment--who knows what dialogue may open up from it.

From MIKE MIGNOLA, who hardly needs an introduction... A few thoughts worth treasuring:

"There is so much great young talent out there these days, but I'm afraid to work with anybody who hasn't been in the business for ten years, someone who's been mistreated by all the major publishers and has a mortgage and a family to support. What I wouldn't give to be able to insert a work ethic into people. So, don't know what to tell you about that end of stuff.

I CAN pass on something that Frank Miller told me when I was about to start Hellboy--It's as good advice as I've ever gotten on this subject. He said something like "just do it, do the best you can, don't drive yourself crazy, just KNOW that when you look back on it you're going to hate it. It can't be helped. The next one will be better." I don't know if that really helps here. Your problem is that you're dealing with GRAPHIC NOVELS and they are a lot scarier than comics. They're sold in bookstores and are going to be in print for a long time. The beauty to doing comics in the old days was that you did a shitty job, it came out, and then it was gone. Now everything is collected and we have to live with our mistakes--Of course that also means we keep making money (which is good) and when we DO finally do a job we're proud of it stays in print. I wouldn't want the old days back, believe me, but it was easier to learn as you went, knowing that your early work would be forgotten.

For me the only thing that works is having a lot of projects lined up so as you are working on one, and it's not coming out quite as well as you'd hoped, you can always say the next one will be better."

April 07, 2008

How I Write Non-Fiction Comics

[From the desk of Jim Ottaviani]

People sometimes ask me how to get started, and how to finish. So, because in comics it's better to show than to tell...


click for a larger version


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