Pride in the Blank Page

Writers and artists talk about the fear of "the blank page".It is the anxiety of getting started. That sea of white perfection staring back at you waiting for you to fail. Before it is begun, the project is a perfect concept existing in the brain-o-sphere. And every pixel or drop of brings the concept closer to reality... and potential imperfection. The un-begun page cannot be flawed. Every mark is a potential flaw.

That can be a pretty frightening prospect, especially if you are unsure of your ability to realize this projects potential. The cure is to train yourself to believe that getting it done is better than getting it perfect. And, the more you get it done, the more you will trust your ability to get it right (not perfect, right).

Recently, the confidence I have gained from conquering the fear of the blank page has led me to its opposite, pride in creating the blank page.

Last week, my Rapid City Below Zero artist, Shawn Langley, submitted a completed page on which he had not drawn a single line. He did nothing but fill the entire printable area with blackness. He was happy to get his usual page rate for a page that likely could have been completed with about 4 mouse clicks. And I was happy to pay him to do it. He nailed it. That was exactly how I wrote the page.

Because that is what the story called for right then.

Nothing to see here, folks.

A page of blackness.

A less confident writer might reason that a reader is paying good money for 22 pages of writing, and a blank page is not delivering. A less confident artist might also worry that blank pages are not what readers are paying their money for. What I know is that readers are not paying for every individual panel and word. They aren't even paying for every individual page. Readers are paying for 22 pages worth of story. Handing over that three dollars is a way of saying "I trust you to tell me a story". And showing that blank page... that all black page... is my way of assuring that reader "I've got you. I know what I'm doing. I'm going to tell you a story."

I am not trying to say that my confidence in that moment and that technique is fully earned, I am just saying that I feel it.

And, apparently, Shawn feels it as well. He cares about this project and this story, but when I told him draw a page by literally drawing nothing he happily obliged. And, not just for the easy page rate. He gets the power of the blank page. It is similar, in the world of comedy, to the pause before the punch line. It takes real confidence to own that stage and let that set-up just float out there over everyone's heads. And it is scary. Because if it doesn't work then it's just wasted time, or wasted page space.

Is it? We'll see. But until then I am proud to have written it, proud to have it in my comic, and proud to have paid Shawn for a page on which he didn't draw a damn thing.

"F**K YOU, PAY ME." "No, f**k YOU."

You remember that from that scene in Goodfellas.It is the scene where Ray Liota's mafia guy explains how he and his cronies make their money. In it, he flips the bully/victim relationship on its ear. This speech is villainously empowering. It makes it feel right to do the wrong thing. It makes claiming what's YOURS feel like claiming what's MINE. When applied to non-villain people, it can become a mantra of legitimate empowerment. "Give me what's mine." I saw this great video a while back. It is for and by graphic designers, but a lot of it applies to any creative venture which involves money.

Making comics is a creative venture that involves money. But it isn't exactly a bully/victim relationship; nor is it exactly a client/contractor relationship.

This came up in an online discussion group about collaborations among comics creators. One artist drew the line in the sand "Never work without getting paid". I get where this position comes from . Historically, in big deals and little deals, artists have been taken advantage of. An artist ho enters into any kind of agreement with his defenses down in a fool. Too many artists have been promised to get paid "on the back end" someday only to find that someday never comes. Also, too often the visual arts are taken as fun little hobby that an artist can just whip-up at the whims of other parties. This generates a defensive default in the artist. It is a matter of self-respect. the work you do is worth something. You deserve to get paid for it. All of this is absolutely true.

However, there is one huge factor that has been overlooked. In the above situations, the artist is in a client/contractor relationship. In that relationship, the goal of the artist is to get paid to apply his or her skills at the direction of the client. This is not the goal of the comics artist.

The goal of the comics artist is to make comics. Better, to make good comics. If your goal as a drawer of comics is to use your skill to make money, then you are not a comics artist. You are contracted pencil-mover who has been hired to draw a comic. And that is fine if that is what you choose to be. But if that is you, then this is where you exit this discussion.

The artist who makes good comics has more to consider than whether or not paychecks will bounce. The artist who want to make good comics must consider whether or not a given script is a good vehicle by which to advance their art. This artist must find a good story to draw. That good story... that is part of your payment. And your good pencil work? That is part of your payment to the word-and-story artist who has crafted the piece of script-art from which you are drawing. That rule that artists should always get paid... well it applies to writers as well.

That is the specific point where the comparison to the client/contractor relationship breaks down. It is more like a slightly unbalanced client/client relationship.

As I write this. a more valid relationship comparison comes to mind... and the earlier scripted exchange still fits.

It isn't the aggressive, confrontational, meaning of "F**K YOU!". Rather, it is the more cooperative meaning which is the opening volley of every successful collaboration. It is the slightly more literal meaning which says "Let's get into bed together and see if we can make something great happen."

So, in that sense... Comics artists, F**K YOU! And you if you do a real good job at it... here's some cash to cover your supplies.

No respect for the format

I write my scripts for Rapid City and other comics projects using a free script formatting software product called Celtx.It is the free version of the more popular (and more expensive) Final Draft. Celtx handles all of the formatting stuff involved in making a comics script look like a comics script. Side note: If you are one of those writers who scoffs at formatting software and says "I just do it myself in Word"... you haven't tried it. The fact is it save a lot of time and energy. Establishing clear, consistent, and readable script format is not a part of the creative process. It is a tool. But that's not my point here. My point is that I have been raving about Celtx for years. After a very small learning curve, your scripts just cook. It is very intuitive. I bought the pro-pack that has a few extra writing tool and have subscribed to its cloud service in the past. You might be able to detect that I am about to bitch about this great product. You are right. I am.

Ok, Celtx offers a variety of formats. Movie scripts, stage plays, audio-visual, comics, and radio. Maybe some others. Each format has function that generates a "typeset" which is a complete PDF version of your script. It includes your information on a formatted title page. It is a nice, professional-looking, document.

Every format, that is, except comics. Every other format takes the script as it appears in the composition frame, and pretties it up for the PDF by adding page numbers and such. I know almost nothing about coding, but it would seem that taking something from one format and outputting it in a nearly identical format would be a fairly simple. I know that this must be fairly simple because Celtx does it for (almost) all of their formats.

When you use the typeset function in the comics format it outputs some absurd spreadsheet. It is laughable. Or, if you actually used it, humiliating. I feel bad just thinking about the comics writer who just blindly trusts that the coders at Celtx know what they are doing and submits a great script to a publisher in that silly looking format.

Here's a recent script I wrote in Celtx for which I generated a PDF by printing straight form the script. And here is the same script in their silly typeset format.

I should also add that it is an industry near-standard to include page breaks in a comics script at the end of every comic page. Celtx does not allow you to add those breaks.

I have been bringing this issue up with them for, literally, years. I know that sounds crazy, but I have been polite about it. Just asking if those features might be included some day.

They have a support forum when their staff answers the questions that users have. I posted a question about exactly this problem earlier this month. Most other questions posted around then have view counts as high as the mid-30s. My post hit more than a thousand views. It stops counting at a thousand. I have more views than any post I have seen in my cursory scrolling of their forums. And no answer. Still, no answer at all. I searched the post tags for similar questions. I found some.. and still I found no answers.

So... what the hell? It is hard for me to be objective and take this as anything other than an open disrespect for this medium I love so much. I love Celtx, and I love comics, but Celtx seems to hate comics. So, can I still love Cletx?

Ok, so now I have filled a whole blog post bitching about the shortcomings of a free program. That is weak.

So, here is the larger view. Maybe this is a symptom of a wider cultural disrespect for comics... and the writing if comics. Early in my quest to get Celtx to adopt a more universal format, I was assured by one of their people that "there is no standard for comics". Just because there is no SPECIFIC industry standard does not mean that anything goes. I doubt that anyone would take such a cavalier attitude toward a more respected medium.

This is part of a bigger problem.

Josh Dahl

Open Studio 7/22/2013

What is The Open StudioShawn has been working on some initial character designs for Rapid City: Below Zero.

Claw Hammer

Shawn, I just love this vision of Claw Hammer. I never really pictured him to clearly as I was writing it, but this just nails the character. I can't wait to see what you do with those claws we talked about. -Josh

[I just pictured a man that loves his job. :) The "basher" types always seem to enjoy cutting loose, and I just picture this dude wearing armor/padding so he can move, and looking like he's having fun destroying people/things.]

Funny. That is almost the opposite of who Claw Hammer is in this story. Of all of the villains, he is the one who can see that what they are doing is wrong. He is the only one who feels some remorse over what they are doing, but he feels trapped in the life he has made. What you have drawn here is YOUNG Claw Hammer. Back when he did enjoy it. -Josh

Coil

Coil is looking great. Maybe thicken up his neck pieces a bit. Also, lots of thin wires squirming around might look good. But, also, be hard to draw. -Josh

[He might be the most fun character to draw in this. The wires are gonna suck. :D ]

Icicle

And Icicle! She is looking great. Her face is looking too cute. She should be pretty, but not cute. Not to be too cliche, but she should be thin-lipped and icy. She should look like a girl who would have been quite pretty, but has spent just a few too many hard years. Not haggard and rough... but certainly with a hard edge. -Josh

[Yeah, just ignore the face. I didn't like how that was turning out, so I'm just gonna flesh out the rest and skip the face on this particular pic. ]