You’re doing what?

That’s the typical response I get when I tell friends and family what I am up to these days.  While they are a pretty open group, when I share that I am writing a comic script, well …

I don’t remember you being a big fan of Green Lantern or Robert Crumb.

People know me as a lot of things, I guess. But fanatic graphic novel connoisseur is probably not one of them. (Not that I’m secretive about it at all. I just think for too many readers, the graphic novel is not a standard medium.)

To the outside world, I am a social worker who drives a classic American muscle car and am more likely to be sporting wrestling shoes than Christian Louboutin pumps any day of the week.

I meditate and teach an occasional class or workshop on the subject. I’m that person people just open up to — Grocery store clerks, hair stylists, IRS auditors … I somehow tend to draw out all of their deepest thoughts and stories. And I’m happy for it.

I’m an avid hiker. I love the mountains and become unnaturally upset when trees are cut down.

I’m happily married to the love of my life. And I constantly marvel at what wonderful people my children are blossoming into.

I am a good cook, and am always looking for time to share a meal with family and friends. I adore revenge movies, have a twisted sense of humor and read avidly. Art moves me deeply and I seek it out whenever I can. I have a solid eye for design and can make just about anything look nice if I put my mind to it. I sew, I draw, and get some of my deepest satisfaction in finding just the right gift for someone.

But none of that or anything else in my life would have hinted that one day I would be doing anything with the word “comic” in it.

I fell into comics backwards and have been falling for them ever since.

I will never forget the weekday afternoon years ago when I was waiting outside of my daughter’s preschool with a group of other parents. Classes had just started for the fall, and none of us were used to our kids being in someone else’s care. So … we all came early and camped out in front of the school waiting for our kids like the nervous new parents we were.

I was sitting on a low brick wall outside the school and reading Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I was completely lost in the pages of my story, and was therefore especially shocked when the book was ripped from my hands.

“OH MY GOD THIS IS AMAZING,” the book ripper exclaimed. “Don’t you just love him? Have you read Stardust? The Graveyard book? American Gods? Anansi Boys? Is this your first? How did you find him? Oh my God, I wish I hadn’t already read this. I am so jealous!”

I couldn’t place the perpetrating woman as I was still digesting the fact that my book was no longer in my hands. I quickly learned everything there was to know about this woman and her history with Mr. Gaiman. It was odd to say the least. It wasn’t until we had children in hand and were headed home that she said casually, over her shoulder, “I almost forgot, be sure and check out The Sandman series.”

The exchange was so strange and jarring that I couldn’t ignore it. For all I know I had just met Mr. Gaiman’s wife (or maybe his Annie Wilkes). But she was so passionate that I felt I had to heed her advice. So I picked up Preludes & Nocturnes. It was the first comic book I had ever read. I was expecting Adam West and Burt Ward. What I got instead was an invitation into a whole new world. And I was hooked.preludes

For longer than I can remember, I have had stories swirling around in the back of my mind. But words and I have never been very close friends. Grammar and I are hardly on speaking terms. Once I started envisioning these stories in comics, seeing what could be done in the medium … all these dispirited thoughts and ideas, snippets and wisps began to come together.

Comics were the world of telling stories in pictures. I had found my language! It was breathtaking. I dove head first down the rabbit hole. I was amazed at depth of the stories being told, the beauty of the art, the emotions that came through. I had no idea of the depth of stories in the genre. Something inside of me woke up, and cried out. I found my spirit’s voice.

Very quietly I began studying the art and craft of comic book creation.

I started with the basics, took classes and read anything I could get my hands on. I learned about writing, line art, inking, coloring, production, anything I could find on the subject. My first story was a tiny, five-page story about an elderly foster mother who dies, but stays on earth to hold and comfort recently-deceased babies and help their grieving parents. Since then I have written a twenty-four-page script, an eighty-eight-page, four-part mini-series and some stories in between. Those were all growing into and laying the groundwork for the graphic novel script I have now.

So here I am: Writing comic scripts and ready to venture into unknown territory again. Turning a script into book.

Conventional wisdom says not to start with something this size, but convention has never been my strong suit. Can’t wait to see what this leg of the journey looks like. I can at least continue to confuse my friends and family.

But why comics?

Because just look! Look at these amazing stories. The art, the composition, the blend of pictures and words woven together to create compelling narratives. Narratives with the  power to move, entertain, challenge, inspire, scare, comfort and even befriend you. Because the more I read the more I am compelled to, because I can’t not.

There are so many wonderful comic books and graphic novels. The books shown above are ones that have more than just spoken to me. They have reached out, screamed, grabbed ahold and won’t let go. These books anchor in and help illuminate the path I am following as I work on my own stories.

My Art.

In those precious few moments between writing and life I try to eek out some time to draw.

My deepest wish is to one day be able to illustrate my own work. Who knows if it will happen, but the more I learn about art, design, composition and that world, the stronger my writing and communication with artists will become. If nothing else, all this learning will hopefully help keep my neurons firing a little longer.

Hero’s Journey

 

 

 

I have always been drawn to mythology, history, story and archetypes. Anything in that realm will always catch my attention. Some of my favorite reads on the subject are by Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Christopher Vogler and Clarissa Estes. I love the personal interpretation each adds with their own insights and interpretation of the machinations behind the veil of story — of life, really. The more I learn about story and the hero’s journey in writing, the more I see it mirrored in my life. And that is ultimately why it endures and is so powerful.

As I progressed on my own journey — like the heroes in these tales — I came to a place where I was in need of a mentor/guide/supernatural aide to go any further. I managed to find an incredible mentor in Andy Schmidt, founder and creator of the Comics Experience program.

The very first class I took with Andy was Introduction to Comic Book Writing. I watched the course open and close for enrollment twice before I got the nerve to sign up. I look back on that class and think of all the things that could have given me an excuse to bail.

I felt like I was on different planet than the other kids in the class. Most were looking to pursue careers with the big two, and I didn’t even know what the big two were at that point. Others had these fantastic and elaborate, wild sci-fi stories they were burning to tell as indie writers. And then there was me: a mom, a social worker, and completely clueless about anything relating to comics. But like my classmates, I had a deep desire to tell a story.

And then there was Andy. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t what I got. As the class unfolded, he was genuinely interested in my life as a social worker, in the fact that my husband and I adopted our oldest child out of the foster care system, and about parenting and navigating the world of social services. And the greatest part for me was that he didn’t dismiss my ideas as completely bonkers. He was gracious, encouraging and — best of all — he had a wealth of knowledge about his craft that he happily shared. I learned so much. In that first class I wrote a five-page story about a foster mother who died and her spirit stayed to help grieving parents and babies that had passed.

The experience of telling that simple, short story was genuinely cathartic. I had been running around with bits and pieces of that story for so long. I had a compulsion to tell this story, but I lacked the tools to put it together. When I started gathering up notes to write it, I was shocked at how much time I had spent on this one little story.

I was so excited after I wrote it and had it illustrated that when that story came to life it freed up this huge space in my mind. I had told my tale and set it free into the ether of myth. Of course once that story was free, another began to gather around the edges. Thankfully there were more classes to take.

And I had so much more to learn. Over the next several years I took many writing and art classes in the Comics Experience program. Steadily, I learned about the industry and the process in a holistic way. I had come into the industry as an outsider, and through this program I learned enough, as they say, to be dangerous.

I finally ended up working with Andy directly as a mentor on my current project. One of the happiest days of my life was when he called to say he liked my script and I had something here. My e-mail to him with the script attached had said something to the effect of, “I appreciate your encouragement and tutelage, but I have reached a point where I need to know if this is a thing. Please tell me if I need a new hobby because I don’t know if I can fundamentally do better than this.”

I was being ridiculous, but I had worked so hard and really needed a reality check before going onto the next steps, finding an artist, production, pitching, etc.

Andy was great though. He said the value of his experience was in his honesty, and that he would be doing a disservice to both of us if he were anything other than objectively critical of my project. And he said I didn’t need to find a new pastime … at least not yet. He said he really enjoyed the story and saw its potential … which was was immediately followed up with twelve pages of notes on things that I needed to fix. But at the heart of his message: I finally had a real story and one worth pursing.

I have truly felt called to tell this story — for reasons bigger than me. And in answer to that call, I have worked hard for a long time and continue to do so. But I couldn’t have done it on my own. And Andy gave me the tools to do something I could not figure out on my own.

The Comics Experience program took me from a comic consumer with wild ideas and no clues, to a creator. And for that I will be forever grateful.

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