Strange Animals / 2021 / #4: Slates and Plates

Beginning / Forgotten Writing / Eternal Working / Night-Time Listening

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On Cal Newport’s recommendation, I’ve ordered Beginners by Tom Vanderbilt, and in the meantime, I read this article written by the author that introduces this idea of “adult beginners”, and one thing I really took away from this is the way kids are better at learning because they just do things, rather than looking for the why of every step, to avoid failure. Adults learn a new language by learning its grammar – kids learn by speaking. I’m looking forward to reading the book, but in the meantime, I want to try and be better at learning through failure.

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Books released last week with my lettering:

Dark Detective #2, with a lead story written by Mariko Tamaki, art by Dan Mora, colours by Jordie Bellaire, with a Red Hood backup by Joshua Williamson, Giannis Milonogiannis, Jordie and Troy Peteri, edited by Paul Kaminski and David Wielgosz, from DC Comics. I continued to do some fun glitchy sound effects in this one. 

The other new release was The Department of Truth #5, written by James Tynion IV, with art by Martin Simmonds, design by Dylan Todd, edited by Steve Foxe, from Image Comics. This closes out the first arc. We have two guest artist issues coming up – by Elsa Charretier and Tyler Boss – after which we’ll have another arc drawn by Martin.

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I’m slowly starting work on new font designs – just in my spare time. One of my strategies is going to be to collaborate with some of my favourite artists to create typefaces based on their lettering, which you’ll be able to buy when I launch my store in the next year or so. The first of these artists has sent in their lettering sample, and it’s going to make a lovely font. With their permission, I’ll keep you posted on developments in this vein.

Forgotten Lives has finally reached readers after a few hiccups with the printing and deliveries due to the UK’s recent lockdown. Daniel Tessier wrote a lovely review of the whole thing which you can read here. They said this about my story:

Aditya Bidikar has a unique voice within Obverse Books and Doctor Who fiction and it’s always fascinating. “Valhalla Must Fall!” is a strange and intriguing tale that covers things from millennia-old virtual lives to a sentient mountain. In amongst these mind-bending concepts (careful, your brain case might explode) is the Graeme Harper Doctor, and the character has never seemed more otherworldly and mysterious. Each of these Doctors has their own parallel story in Hanley’s illustrations, but with Harper’s it’s truly a whole adventure, as Hanley not only discovered a remarkable truth about the director’s appearance in that odd costume but (with a nudge from Cody Schell) made this Doctor less gender-specific than we might have thought. Bidikar’s story goes out of its way to never refer to the Doctor by any pronoun – they’re always “the Doctor” – and so salt-of-the-earth bloke Harper becomes the face of a genderqueer incarnation.

This pleases me thoroughly.

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I did a thread about this recently, and I thought it could use some expanding.

So I was talking to an artist about how they could schedule better, and after the basic stuff like actually counting how long it takes you on average to do a page, and making sure to include thumbnails and revisions into your schedule, we started talking about “page budgeting”.

The idea here is that readers don’t actually look at each and every panel in detail, so the artist doesn’t need to – in fact, in most cases, shouldn’t – approach each page and panel with the same level of detail and rendering. This actually flattens out the reading experience. So you should conserve the virtuosic rendering and detail for panels/pages which need this – where you demand the reader to stop and look.

Secondly, because readers don’t spend nearly as much time looking at each panel as you think, you can actually get away either reusing art, or asking your colourist to do the heavy lifting in places.

At the time, Eternals #1 had just come out, and Marvel released a behind-the-scenes edition of it which consists of all the pencils (except for the last page) without the colouring or the art substitutions. It’s called the Never Die, Never Win Edition, and you can read it for free on ComiXology here. I maintain that this is essential reading for creators to compare with the final book and see how Kieron and Esad approach page budgeting and how they choose where Esad needs to go all out.

And you never notice it in the final comic.

Page 1, for example, is scene-setting, and since it needs to establish the tone of the world we’re in, it’s as elaborate as it gets. Fully rendered, because it needs to give you that epic feel on Page 2 – a sense of scale.

To compare, here’s page 4. Panels 1 and 3 have backgrounds dropped in from elsewhere to cut down on the work, while panels 2 and 4 are all foreground, no background.

But when we need to focus again, because Something Important is happening, the rendering comes back. (Any examples I can quote here are too spoilery, so let’s just say this is much of the back half of this issue.)

As pointed by other folks in the thread, Esad also reuses his own art from elsewhere, as with Ultimate Hawkeye (1 and 2) and Ultimate Comics Ultimates.

All of this works, because he understands where the reader will look, and doesn’t spend extra time on rendering every single panel.

I see a lot of new artists not getting this. Comics art is, first and foremost, storytelling. Storytelling doesn’t involve shouting at the reader all the time. It requires quiet moments mixed in with the bombast.

Kieron has previous form on this, and you can see him talking about this in his writer’s notes for The Wicked + the Divine (which are essential reading for fans of the series as well as process nerds).

He’s always working backwards from what he knows his artist can do, and he’s structuring his issues to work with both how much time the artist has, and the boundaries of their bandwidth. It’s like a director who works backwards from the budget so they don’t end up with something extra-janky because they spent too much money on a scene that didn’t need it.

This is the kind of approach that gives us something like the remix issue of WicDiv, which was mostly put together by Kieron/Matt/Clayton with as little work as possible from Jamie, but which reads entirely like a new issue.

Keep this stuff in mind. Budget your time. Work smart.

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been taking midnight walks (useful for my hip as it gets better) and I’ve found horror fiction podcasts to be great company – particularly prose fiction readings. The best of these is probably Pseudopod (though I also enjoy Nightlight and Horror Hill), and in looking through old episodes, I found Mysterium Tremendum, a novella by one of my favourite horror writers Laird Barron, serialised in three parts, read by Jon Padgett.

It makes for a fantastic listen that exemplifies everything I love about Barron’s writing – the flawed humanness of the characters, the mundanity and mystery of the American landscape, the growing sense of not-quite-specific dread, and the vicious grandeur of his “carnivorous cosmos” as it stands revealed.

You can listen to it here – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

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A thing that’s genuinely really bugging me right now is that I had three absolutely solid ideas for new graphic novels/serialised comics over the last three months, and I have not had any time to write them. I know I said I wouldn’t set any goals for writing this year, but honestly at this point it’d just relax me to write some of these down, and nope, no time yet. Just gotta pat myself on the head, and go, “Soon, soon.”