Serial fiction: Not just for webcomics | by Alana Joli Abbott

Serial fiction: Not just for webcomics | by Alana Joli Abbott

After reading Susana’s confession about how she came to comics, I feel like I should have a confession of my own. Here it is: I think I’m addicted to serial fiction. Not series fiction—those ten or twelve or how-ever-long-Game of Thrones-will-be-when-GRRM-is-finished—although I love those, too. I mean serial fiction, the type of fiction you can take in at bite-sized. The kind of fiction you get in webcomics, which have been doing it brilliantly for years, stringing along a story one day at a time and keeping the readers hooked with little claws of awesomeness dug into our brains. The kind of fiction that’s easy for reading online or reading on your phone.

The kind of fiction that’s becoming ever so much more popular for prose stories these days, as well as webcomics and episodic television series. I keep an ongoing updated overview of “The Best Serial Fiction You Should Be Reading” where I write over at Den of Geek. But while I’m waxing eloquent over the prose tales I’m loving to read, and listen to when the audio versions are available, I haven’t gotten into something I’ve been considering for awhile: how much serial prose fiction is like the webcomics experience—and how much it isn’t.

If you check out the philosophy espoused by Serial Box Publishing, which produces most of the serials I’m reading right now, you’ll see that the inspiration behind these serials is the television writing process. Each serial has a team of writers who storyboard, work out the main thrust of the story’s season, and take the head writing assignments for different episodes. The result is that the serials feel like television, except with all the action going on inside your head. The pacing is very much what you’d expect of an hour-long TV drama (or, in the case of Whitehall, a bit more than an hour, especially in audio, which makes them feel a bit like a PBS-run British mini-series; it’s appropriate for that story).

But, of course, reading prose has very little else in common with television. As Susana pointed out in discussing the difference between novels and comics, with prose fiction, all of the world and character appearance come from the reader, and no two versions of that world are going to be the same, because of the different details readers will focus on, and because of their own frame of references. While I’ve got a cast list to pitch for Bookburners if that ever got optioned for a television series, my cast list is probably quite different from the one the writers would create themselves! (I’d love to find out, though…) More than that, there’s no need for a special effects budget in prose, because the imagination of the reader has a pretty unlimited budget.

So why does that have me thinking about webcomics? I’ve always thought that comics were sort of a middle ground medium. When I first started writing comics, I took a screen writing course to get a better idea of how to create a script. The big difference between film and comics, in my opinion, is that the action in a film is continual. The action in a comic happens between the panels. The action in prose can happen anywhere, but a prose writer has a cheat: the prose writer can tell you what’s going on in the heads of the characters. The action can be internal. Not so with comics! The art has to show you what’s going on in that character development. So if serial fiction and television are similar storytelling experiences, the webcomics, with the art-prose hybrid, could be the perfect middle medium between them.

Generally, though, webcomics are a very different reading experience, unless you’re binge reading. If you haven’t ever read a page of Schlock Mercenary, for example, (and if you haven’t, where have you been?) you could be reading online for hours on end, devouring storyline after storyline. The volume arcs in a long-running webcomic like Schlock do feel a lot like a television season.

But if you’re all caught up, a webcomic gives you a tiny, bite-sized morsel of story every day, every other day, or even once a week. The best of them are able to make that small bite enough to keep your interest, to keep you wondering what will happen in the next post. In an age of binge watching, that ability to sustain a story without the ability to binge read it is an impressive skill, and I admire the webcomics creators who can maintain the kind of loyal readership that so many inspire.

Webcomics and serials both draw on earlier, similar examples. Webcomics come out of a tradition of newspaper comics like Prince Valiant and Spiderman that would give readers four panels a day of an ongoing tale. I always wondered how those readers would manage if they ever missed a day of the paper! Serial prose has been around since Charles Dickens and his peers, though the recent resurgence is closer in many ways to television (or TV movies: some of the bite-sized books are full stories in a single reading). And while they don’t share many similarities in how readers experience them, both webcomics and the modern prose serials are, when done well, masters of the art of keeping their readers coming back for more. That’s a skill that’s valuable for any writer!

How OE changed my perception of Comic Books

How OE changed my perception of Comic Books

As I told you on the first article of this new segment, I Was a Comic Book Fan All Along and I Didn’t Know it for quite a while.

Things sort of slowly became clearer during my college days, but it wasn’t until starting to work in the biz that I truly began to dip my toes back in the dynamic comic book waters.

I still remember the moment of opening the folder with all the projects in the pipeline and flying through them all. One of the stories that was more developed at the time was Ithaca. I read it all in one go and was hungry for more.

At Outland Entertainment, I was presented a huge array of creatives each one with a very unique voice, be it as a writer or an illustrator. Mars 2577, Nightfell, Blacklands, Aegisteel, these are all projects that showed me the different facets of comic book creation.

It wasn’t just sci-fi or violence: no, there was room for a multiplicity of genres and visual styles of every kind.

When some of our IPs started coming out as webcomics on a weekly basis, I had to do some market research of what was going on in this field. That led me to multiple webpages like HiveWorks. And there I was baffled by the choice! So many artists, so many genres and styles of writing and artwork.

It was a big turning point: no longer did I had to rely solely on my friends reviews, but I had first-hand overview of so many projects! I got to interview all the creators from O.E., here for the blog. I have always loved the backstage! How someone became who he is professionally? Where did the idea of the story come from? And I was lucky enough to ask all these questions. In return I dare to say that my knowledge of the comic book universe increased exponentially!

And where has that lead me? To a huge appetite for reading more and more comics, of course! It wasn’t instantaneously, but I found myself perusing the comics section of the bookstores not only “out of professional interest” but because I found them inspiring.

This must be obvious for most of you , but before starting at Outland Entertainment, I didn’t know how similar the cinematographic language was to the one used in comics. They remind me of a really fancy and detailed storyboard. I know, I know! They’re much more than that! They’re an artistic medium of their own. But through the eyes of someone who came from an audiovisual production background they really hit home.

I suppose that being a transmedia creative producer also feeds this need. I’m now itching to work up a universe where a comic book will help explore things even further. And if you ever attended a book fair, you’ll see that all of these artistic forms are connected nowadays. Take the London Book Fair, for example. They run the London Book and Screen Week simultaneously. You have professionals from game studios at the actual fair and lots of extra events that join this two worlds, once so further apart, of pages and screens. Comics are finally being increasingly recognized for the dynamic and expressive format they are.

 

But I’ll talk about these changes further along the line!

Now, take a moment and check out the interviews I mentioned! There are a lot of creatives: authors, illustrators, designers…whose stories will inspire you.

And if you haven’t read the first post of this series give it a go and learn how I Was a Comic Book Fan All Along and Didn’t Know .

S.G.

I Was a Comic Book Fan All Along and I Didn’t Know

I Was a Comic Book Fan All Along and I Didn’t Know

If you asked me, I wouldn’t probably say I was a hardcore fan of comic strips or comic books…but I was. No, I wasn’t ashamed of my hobby, I just had the wrong assumption that only the people who read those big famous names like “Superman”, “Spiderman” or “X-Men (the ones I saw as animated cartoons every weekend on the clock!) were worthy of being called “comic book fans”.  Only now I hear how ridiculous this sounds.

Although I did not read the mainstream superheroes or indie obscure comic books, I started by devouring one series: “Turma de Mônica” by Brazilian cartoonist Maurício de Sousa. I loved those simple stories about a small group of kids: Mônica with her anger management issues, Cebolinha always trying to take her iconic blue bunny away and failing miserably, Cascão with his fear from water, Magali eating a watermelon with two bites and all the pastries she could, and of course the other characters that came in comics from the same author. Penadinho, a nice ghost not too different from Casper, Bidu the intelligent and slightly sarcastic dog or Chico Bento from the inner state area who was written with the distinct Caipira accent – which means “bush cutter” accent.

"Mônica" reading "Turma da Mônica" - It's inception!

“Mônica” reading “Turma da Mônica” – It’s inception!

Yes, you get it: I was deep in Brazilian kids’ lingo, knowing what their words meant back in Portuguese from Portugal – it might seem all the same too you, but believe me, there’s quite a difference. Think American vs British English.

I then started reading the strips launched online, so I guess one might say that was the first time I dwelled the webcomics world as well.

 

I also read (even though I wasn’t mad about them) the Disney Adventures: pure Portuguese, pure classical Disney characters from Mickey to Donald Duck, and, of course, Scrooge McDuck and the quests of his three grandnephews Huey, Dewey and Louie.

"Scrooge McDuck" and his famous pile of money

“Scrooge McDuck” and his famous pile of money.

 

After a while I upgraded and started reading “Garfield” by Jim Davis . After tons of books about the conundrums of the fatty cat and lasagna in landscape format, square format, A6 format…the stories all started to sound pretty much the same.

The different sizes of "Garfield".

The different sizes of “Garfield”.

 

So it was time to read about the universal questioning “Mafalda” written and drawn by the Argentinean cartoonist Quino. The comic strips count with the scathing tone of a precocious 6-year-old girl talking to her parents and her friends about Global problems and, why not, the big issue of having to eat soup.

mafalda_quino

The dilemmas of “Mafalda”.

The dilemmas of "Mafalda".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was only when I got to college and made new friends that I truly saw another side of the comic book universe. “V for Vendetta”, “Cat Woman”, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”: a world of adaptations and expansions of TV and film sagas as well as original stories, in such a more dynamic way than a novel. I discovered the shops and little bit of the collector’s culture. You know? The one where each issue is carefully stored in a specially-for-this-purpose-only plastic folder? No sweaty fingers allowed in the vicinity.

And when I got into the Outland Entertainment team THEN it all expanded multiple times. The work our artists had already done, the works (some still under wraps I’m afraid) we were going to be a part of and be involved in their development. The webcomics, the awesome gripping, eccentric, fantastic characters. And, when attending a book fair I’d be more open to hear talking about comics and you know what? I love them! It’s an amazingly dynamic and expressive format for narratives.

"Nightfell" by

“Nightfell” by Nicolás Giacondino and Jeremy Tolbert.

 

"Aegisteel" by Mat Nastos and Jeremy Mohler.

“Aegisteel” by Mat Nastos and Jeremy Mohler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So please, do join me in this new path of discovery. I’ll be pouring my “Newbie” views on the comic book Universe right here every fortnight.

How about you? What was the first comic strip/book you read? Is it still your favorite?

Let us know in the comments below or via our social media channels (Twitter or Facebook).

S.G.

 

P.S.: Featured image from this page.

Steven Dudley – Nightfell Producer

Steven Dudley – Nightfell Producer

Down to earth, but with a flare for fantasy, Steven Dudley explains how he got himself producer of a fantasy webcomic.

How did you find yourself producing Nightfell?

I was approached by my friend Jeremy MohlerHe’d asked roughly a year before the Nightfell project began if I was interested.

 

Did you always envision it as a webcomic?

Not always.  Jeremy told me the project would be presented as such early on.

 

There’s a whole debate around comics becoming digital. Do you think webcomics are the gateway for this new digital world?

Yes.  Everything is going digital.  With that said, I don’t believe web comics will ever phase out hardcopy, but, will act as an extension – a compliment.

 

Do you find yourself more driven towards a specific genre(s)? Which one(s)?

Yes, I lean towards fantasy. 

Why?

I was the typical kid who was awestruck by the Hobbit.  I do like other genres though, but, yes, fantasy is my favorite.  I’d also started playing D&D early on and so many good memories from that.

 

Was it always your intention to work in this creative field?

No.  I never thought I’d be a part of a project in this way.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised since I have so many very talented artist friends.  I feel lucky.

 

What was the first book you ever read (or was read to you)?

A book about bigfoot.

And comics: which were your favorite ones?

Spiderman and Batman.  I’d also read the Savage Sword of Conan from time to time.

 

Nowadays, what can we find you reading?

Books regarding the nature of reality and primitive living skills.

 

Are you a person of idols?

If you mean “do I idolize people”…. Nope.  But, I admire great art and people can be great works of art if they choose to be.

 

Who were your childhood heroes?

My dad, my grandpa and my uncle.

And today? Who do you look up to?

I can’t say I look up to people.  I can only say there are a few I highly respect.

 

What was the first thing you ever wrote?

A short story about a mech warrior.  I’d written it for a programmer friend of mine who was getting some of his code placed in a magazine back in the 80’s.  The short story was published with it as an introduction.  Was an exciting event for me since I was only a kid.

 

What kind of games do you play? Board or Computer games?

I play both.  Not big into first person shooters though I’ve played many.  I’m looking more for computer games that create randomly generated worlds and can be delivered from private, dedicated servers.  I’m bored with the way marketing has dictated how computer games are created.

As far as board games go, I own many and like various kinds, though War of the Ring and Battlestar Galactica are a couple that have me hook-line-and-sinker.

 

So… can you tell us what project(s) are you most looking forward in the short run?

NightfellIt’s the only project I’m involved with at the moment and I think it’s an absolutely great story.  The world needs Nightfell.

 

Thanks Steven for telling us about your story!

S.G

P.S.: If you enjoyed reading this interview take a look at the other ones we have from illustrators to writers, passing through game-designers and authors.

Jeremy Tolbert – Co-writer of Nightfell

Jeremy Tolbert – Co-writer of Nightfell

Writer or scientist: Jeremy Tolbert joined both on his science fiction works. Now venturing into fantasy and time travel, Tolbert is writing for a range of different audiences.

 

Where did you come up with the concept for Nightfell?

The core of this project from the beginning was a handful of concept sketches that Nic had prepared, along with a title.  They had some general ideas about something involving the undead, and Nic had some great sketches of undead warriors.   This was our starting point, and from there, it was up to me to build a larger concept.

For me, the main thing I wanted was to do somewhere where the undead weren’t the bad guys.  Traditionally, bunch of rotting corpses, you think, okay, yeah clearly these are the evil dudes.  This time, I wanted a story where it made sense that the zombies and what-not were fighting for the side you could get behind, at least at first.

But as I thought about that further, I realized I don’t really like the typical black/white morality of the old school epic fantasy.  In the post-Game of Thrones era, you can’t just paint one side all good or evil, so I started thinking about my other side, the berunmen, and from there, a lot of the other concepts of the world, such as the Nightfell itself, developed.

 

How is it to collaborate in the creation of a story? Is there too much compromise?

My ideas are not that precious, and I basically saw my role on this project as a collaborator who brought a certain expertise with story to the table, but beyond that, I was willing to listen to any feedback.  Nic’s made changes here and there to page layouts and so on, but in my opinion, he’s improved the project every single time from whatever my lesser vision was.

Collaboration for me has been a wonderful experience, overall.  I really hope to work with everyone involved more in the future.  As a short story writer, I spend a lot of time in my own head.  I find working with others to be refreshing.

 

Did you always envisioned it as a webcomic?

I wrote it to be structurally flexible.  The 9 panel grid we used lended itself well to the webcomic format, but I also structured it in 10 12 page chapters so that it could either be collected as a single graphic novel or broken into 2-chapter issues.  Our goal was have some flexibility there.

 

There’s a whole debate around comics becoming digital. Do you think webcomics are the gateway for this new digital world?

I’ve been reading webcomics since the early days of Sluggy Freelance back at the dawn of the internet. I think comics don’t care what the medium is; sequential art can tell a story on a cave wall or a digital screen equally well.  The medium might present some interesting challenges here and there, or even some new tools or advantages, but fundamentally, I think comics can survive and thrive on anything.

 

Do you find yourself more driven towards a specific genre(s)? Which one(s)?

I’m more of a science fiction guy than just about anything else.  I’m a pretty logical thinker so even in my more fantasy-ish worlds like Nightfell, I tend to think in very scientific ways about the world-building and so on.

 

What was the first thing you ever wrote?

I wrote a 20 page “book” of the adventures of a elf wizard and his sentient cougar sidekick in the 1st grade.  I’ve wanted to be a writer for about as long as I can remember.  I also wanted to be a scientist.  So science fiction was a natural choice.

 

What was the first book you ever read (or was read to you)?

I honestly can’t recall the first.  It was probably something by Dr. Seuss.  I do know the very first science fiction book I read –Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey.

 

And comics: which were your favorite ones?

I was late getting into comics. Most of my reading growing up was via the library, as we were very poor and didn’t have a lot of money.  So I was in my late 20s before I started actively reading comics.  My gateway drugs were Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis – pretty much anything by that guy floats my boat.  Y: the Last Man was another big deal for me early on.

 

Nowadays, what can we find you reading?

I get a handful of comics every week – I’m the kind of guy who likes to pick up the first issue of just about any series with a concept I find interesting, so a lot of Image books.  I am also reading 365 short stories this year, mostly science fiction and fantasy, so you’re likely to find my nose in the pages of a science fiction magazine.  Figuratively speaking – I read everything that’s not comics in electronic formats these days.

 

Are you a person of idols?

Sure.

Who were your childhood heroes?

Charles Darwin,  Arthur C. Clarke, Anne McCaffrey,  Gary Gygax, and so many others.

And today? Who do you look up to?

Anybody who works for a living, honestly.

 

What made you enter the comic universe of storytelling?

I was fascinated by the opportunity to have an artist interpret the pictures in my head and draw them.  Collaboration between different artists is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I really love the more cinematic storytelling style of comics, as compared to regular prose work like I usually do.

 

Of all the projects you’ve worked on, is there one that stands out from rest? Why?

Well, as my first comics project, Nightfell stands out for sure.  Working with everyone, watching as each new page from Nic has come in, has been a dream come true.  I hope my story work can live up to the amazing artwork!

 

And now a peek into the Future. Can you tell us what project(s) are you most looking forward to?

I’m really looking forward to a young adult time travel novel I’ve been working on for several years.   It’s kind of like Jurassic Park meets Treasure Island.

 

Thanks Jeremy for letting us get to know you a little better!

S.G.

P.S.: If you enjoyed reading this interview take a look at the other ones we have from illustrators to writers, passing through game-designers and authors.

Andy Poole – Colorist on N0.1R

Andy Poole – Colorist on N0.1R

Poole is a British artist who enjoys playing with conventions when it comes to coloring comics. Drawing from a young age, music and sports played a big part in this talented artist life.

 

There are a lot of preconceptions, even rules of how a noir work should look. 

How is it to work on such a setting?

Noir was always something I’d evaded in the past, it always seemed so boring to work in black and white or greys. I’m a Colourist, that means I work in colour, the fun stuff. What a naive attitude, I’m sure it stopped me from being involved in some of the most interesting projects I could ever work on.

The truth is, noir is ruled by the story and characters, not the visuals, and I should have realised that earlier on. People focus on film noir when they think of noir as a genre, and that’s just not how it is. Blade Runner is a noir, and that was a visual spectacle, not the black and white cinema people expect. Knowing that, I’ve come to be a lot more open and am able to enjoy noir work. I no longer constrain myself.

With a project like N0.1R, I’m able to take those preconceptions and turn them on their heads. It has that traditional atmosphere from pre 50’s cinema, the black and white visuals, but then when the story hits a climax, I’m going to be injecting colour and light that should change people’s perceptions the way my own were. It’s very exciting.

 

Did that put any different kind of pressure onto you?

I’m not feeling any other pressures outside of the usual, as I’m working with a supportive team who are offering guidance when they can. The line artist, Nicolás, has been especially helpful, the rendering style is somewhat styled after his own work too.

 

What attracts you most about being a colorist?

That’s not a question I can give one answer to. I love the creativity, the collaboration, the story telling and the challenge. I also love seeing black and white art brought to life with colour, under my very hands. It’s unbelievably satisfying.

 

Do you have a genre you look for in your projects? Why?

I’ve not been in the position to pick and choose what projects I work on, that’s an unfortunate reality for many independent artists. Given the choice however, I’d love to tackle some hard science fiction, particularly with a focus on space. I’m a sucker for spaceships with flashy lights and pulsing engines. If I could paint a nebula or render a planet for the characters to explore, I’d take on that book every time.

 

When did you begin to show your artistic capabilities?

In a broad sense, very early on. I loved to draw from as far back as I can remember, I took up music before I hit my teens and started writing not long after. I’d tackled the major artistic forms before there were hairs under my arms. I’d also lost interest in those things only years later. It wasn’t until college that I found my creative feet again. And later still, I hadn’t discovered comic book colouring until my early twenties.

 

What’s your favorite childhood moment related to comics or drawing?

Comics weren’t the cultural giant in England as they were in the US, my interaction with the medium was with comic strips in the papers and with children’s comedy books like The Beano or The Dandy. I didn’t seek out American comics until later in life when the internet introduced me to them where my friends and family could not, it just wasn’t a part of the culture.

Drawing on the other hand, that was always present. My favourite memory has to be from my school days. All of the classes in my year had gone on a trip abroad that my family couldn’t afford to send me on, so I was left to be handed around other classrooms with a blank pad and the task to create anything I wanted as long as I filled each page. I loved drawing, I loved nature and animals, so I wrote and drew my own nature book. It mainly contained birds of prey, sharks, crocodiles and the occasional poisonous insect, all of the cool animals of course. When my teachers and classmates returned, they really didn’t show much interest in what I’d accomplished, but I was proud enough to hold on to that book well into my adulthood.

 

Growing up, did you read a lot of comics or were there other activities that you preferred?

Like I said, comics weren’t big where I grew up. Football (soccer) was the biggest cultural pass time, and still is today I suppose. I hated it, still do. I was able to escape it all with computer games and drawing for the most part. Discovering Japanese animation through bootleg video tapes and terrible televised translations also helped me zone out and find enjoyment outside of a culture I didn’t feel much a part of.

 

Did you always want to work on this creative field?

As a kid, I secretly wanted to be a policeman, then a soldier. In high school I wanted to be a graphic designer or architect. When I was at college age, sixteen to eighteen, I started writing very seriously and wanted to become a novelist or a comic book author. But at the time I was already studying new media and web design, which then led on to digital art and then I kind of just grew into becoming a colourist. I love digital rendering, though I still want to be a novelist… Or an astronaut…

 

Is there one project that stands out from the rest?  Why is that one different?

In my professional career, a short comic book fantasy called King and No King stands out most. It was my first time colouring on a project that would be published by a big publisher, this being Image Comics in their Popgun series of anthologies. I was working on Ryan “Wya” Ottley’s artwork, it was right up my street. It contains my favourite comic book panel that I’ve coloured to date and is a benchmark in my career, bridging the gap between amateur and professional.

Personally, I wrote a short experimental comic called The Last Man, with artwork being a collaboration between me and an artist called John West, who is now a good friend. I took up the major art duties, painting backgrounds and environments, and John produced the design and lines for the lone character of the piece, in his style that I enjoy immensely. It was proof to myself that I could make good looking artwork and collaborate with people without the pressure of finance over my head.

 

From deciding color palettes to applying the last smear of color what is your process? Is it a painfully strict plan or a more organic process?

My very first step is deciding on the rendering style. Am I painting everything on the page? Do I tackle it with cell style shades, or do I go with the anime style that inspires me, fully painted backgrounds with cell shaded characters and objects?

Either way, I flat everything and then render the backgrounds with either my own pre-set colour palettes or new palettes when needed. Character colours come next, and then any lighting and effects that seem to be my hallmark, or so I’m told.

I mostly stick to that process, but lately, working on projects with Outland Entertainment, I’ve had to tackle artwork with rendering and colour styles that I never have before. I’ve had to be much more adaptive and let the process develop organically with these projects.

 

So… can you tell us what project(s) are you most looking forward in the short run?

Outland’s N0.1R is something I always like to work on, it is both easy and fun, the perfect combination. The project titled Star of Mourning is very exciting for me, it is a challenge, heavy on digital paints that are quite time consuming and requires a lot of experimentation to get the look and feel the creators desire. However, it looks very good and I look forward to each new page that comes my way.

 

Thanks Andy for giving us a small peek into your creative world!

My pleasure.

 

S.G

P.S.: If you enjoyed reading this interview take a look at the other ones we have from illustrators to writers, passing through game-designers and authors.