Saturday, July 11, 2009

Working a Graphic Novel System

I have a lot of people who have asked me over the years why it takes so long for books in the Eye Witness series to be published, (about 24 months). The answer is quite simple...because I perform most of the work myself.

For those of you not familiar with the way larger comic/graphic novel publishing companies work, think of companies like Marvel and DC like an auto assembly line...where each person on the line has their job to do and does it in order. This creates a very efficient system if your goal is to publish books from concept to shelve as quickly as possible and is critical for juggling multiple sequential titles and keeping them on schedule.

Example: The writer writes an outline or fully developed script; that goes to the penciler, who does the pencil illustrations from the script; that goes to an inker (or for you fans of Kevin Smith...a tracer) who inks over the pencils; that goes to the colorist who takes the black and white line art and makes it pop in full color; that goes to the letterist, who now adds the dialog, narration, thought balloons and any special sound effects; that goes to the editor, (or multiple layers of editors) who does all the things editors do...who then may refer it back to any of the previous people in the chain to make corrections and/or additions; and then it goes to the printer. Granted this is just a basic outline of the structure and depending on what company you will work for, it will deviate...but you get the idea.

This kind of process guarantees that everyone in the chain can be working on something simultaneously to insure the book is produced in the most time efficient way possible.

Indy publishers, like myself, are more equated to the old world concept of "hand made automakers," where each car is meticulously worked on till it's totally constructed and another one is not started till the first one is completed. There are many reasons why this second type of system is used in publishing, but most I'd guess deal with either lack of production capital or just a desire to be a part of every facet of a book's production. For me, it's a little of both. But needless to say, I can only be working on one aspect of the book at a time before going on to the next.

Neither system is "the right" way to create comics or graphic novels, but they are just systems used to achieve a common goal and utilized based upon the needs and goals of the particular creators or publisher. Just like in the film industry there are "studio" pictures (with large budgets and hundreds if not thousands of people working on them) and there are "indy" films (which are the vision of one man...or a handful of dedicated professionals that are driven by their creative juices rather than a paycheck). Think about for a moment the number of people needed to produce a movie like Watchman, versed the number needed to produce a film like Juno or Good Will Hunting. Neither is the right way to make a movie (though I'm sure you'd get a lot of heated discussion on that point) but both are used based upon the size of the project, it's projected budget, it's level of financing and it's potential for box office.

Here's a outline of what it takes for me (time wise) to construct one of the Eye Witness graphic novels (of approximately 100 pages):

1. Construction of original draft of the script (developed from out outline)...1-2 months.

2. Illustrations (that is, the penciled and inked images...which in a 100 page book will number approximately 600 individual frames. During this process on many pages I will be revising the script based upon the space I am creating on the pages)...10-13 months

3. Coloring (assuming I'm doing all that work myself...done with Photoshop on my computer)...1-2 months.

4. Lettering (where I basically will do a third draft of the script....done with Illustrator)...1 month.

5. Editing and pre-press production (creation of the final cover, back cover and non-story related pages)...1 month

6. Advanced marketing of the book to distributors, retailers and the media...2 months

So as you can see in this breakdown, to get the books to the shelves of your local comic or book store (and in the warehouse of online retailers) takes anywhere from 16-20 months...and that's not counting any of the marketing and personal appearances that then take place once the book is released (which I've typically dedicated 6 months to)...and assuming I can keep to a regular full time production schedule with no disruptions due to personal or family reasons...which has never happened yet!

Could I speed up this process by bringing in people to help pencil, ink, color or letter the book? Absolutely! But this series for me is very personal...kind of my personal quest if you will...and though it is both physically and mentally taxing, I enjoy and prefer to stay on top of all areas of it's projection...a sentiment you will see quite often among indy film-makers also. This is my baby!

R. J. Luedke


Richard Pulfer said...

Hey Bob,

Coming from the other side of the spectrum, the best thing about the "assembly chain" model is it can allow for more specialization. For example, if you're like me . . . and you can't draw worth a stick a person . . . you can really specialize entirely on writing.

But I think the ideal would be a model where both artist and writer function as a team, handling both their individual tasks and splitting more complicated tasks like marketing - which can be a consuming task even for a whole team of people!


R. Luedke said...


I cannot disagree with any of your thoughts on this.

Yes, the assembly line system does help open the doors to the medium to many individuals extremely talented in specific tasks (re: writing, inking, coloring)...and yes, if you have the luxury of a pair or small group of talented creators working together on a project, it provides for deligation of the tasks involved, making life much easier.

But also, I've seen real good concepts never get off the ground because in those types of groups either nobody took of the mantle of leadership, vision and/or direction (which any organization must have), or those within the group didn't want to recognize one person's leadership or vision for the project. Either way great potential is trumped by poor execution. But that's the way it goes in any of the creative arts...we've all seen people who's concepts/talent blows us away, but they never seem to "achieve launch velocity", so to speak.

But back to my original post...this was more my manifesto for how one person, (if they have the inspiration, ability and desire), can bring a comic, graphic novel to life outside of the corporate comic/book publishing community.