Hey TAY! I've been working on a personal project of mine and wanted to share some images and thoughts on it. Because it's a personal work, I'm posting to tayclassic (though if someone thinks it'd be of interest to main TAY, I don't mind a share, ha ha).
It's called Dr. 2 and I've been working on this with a buddy of mine, James Chiang, who I first met when I was working at LucasArts. He was an animator there and we used to talk about movies all the time. A few years later, when he moved to Sony, we talked about the idea of doing a graphic novel. For my part, I've loved good story-telling no matter what the medium and we both enjoy a good murder mystery. The result of countless meetings and long overnight phone conversations was Dr. 2. In a nutshell, it revolves around a bizarre series of murders that take place between New York and Shanghai. Dr. 2 is a specialist at unusual cases, particularly with his background in both Western and Asian medicines. Eventually, chaos breaks out as he gets entangled in a crazy plot that threatens the whole city of Shanghai. (this is my paraphrased version of my original paraphrase for Dr. 2, ha ha)
The interesting thing for me was how it changed me as a writer. While I've had lots of short stories published, writing for a graphic novel was a completely different experience. First of all, what looks like a short sentence in text actually takes up a huge amount of space in the paneling. It forced me to embrace and literally dwindle down what I wanted to say to a sentence or less. Conveying emotion was much easier for me with a cluster of paragraphs than if I had to do it all in the space of a bubble. Here's an example of an original paragraph I wrote versus what it finally became:
"It's the stench that always gets me… When they're dead, they stink to high hell. Doesn't matter how beautiful they were, doesn't matter how affluent or wealthy. The bowels go loose, shit pours out and stains the ten thousand dollar suit the exact same way it does the laced g-string. You get used to the sight, you get used to the noises, you get used to everything except the smell. Which is why I'm surprised when I enter the apartment. It smells like blueberries and peaches and maybe teen spirit, the tightly compacted habitat of a careless bachelor."
In the final manuscript:
"The thing with dead bodies is that they stink. The sights. The Sounds. You get used to everything. Everything except the smell. Which is why I'm surprised when I enter the apartment. It smells like… blueberries."
Both convey similar ideas, but with a graphic novel, as you have the imagery conveyed through the art, you want to take away the text descriptions as they detract from the experience. On page, the words sounds overly simple, but complemented with the imagery, it works much better as there's less clutter and the two work seamlessly together (at least that's the aim).
The second interesting aspect, and this really forced me to grow a lot as a writer, was working so closely with a partner. While James is the artist, we developed the story together. That meant every word I wrote was carefully edited in terms of how it'd fit with the paneling and we just kept on chopping away at the script together. This was great for me because while I've worked with lots of editors, this was a level of scrutiny I'd never experienced. It exposed some problems with my writing right away (like if I overused a word or had narrative crutches I relied on too much). I wrote at least 50 drafts of each of the two volumes and even now, that's changing, but the iterative process was very educational for me and many of the lessons I learned are ones I still apply. I know you have to have tough skin when it came to critiques. Our collaboration forced me to iron my skin into rock and be open to anything. I'll admit, there were times I disagreed with some of James's suggestions, though I made the changes. Later on, I had to admit I liked some of those changes much better.
Third, the research I did for the book taught me a lot about- how best to put it - life, ha ha. A lot of the research was on the Pacific side of WWII, learning about Japan and China, and it was scary finding out all the horrible things that happened as I delved deeper. The issues were incredibly complex and some of the things that happened back then are still having ramifications now (as evidenced by the tensions in Asia right now). One of our favorite filmmakers is Miyazaki and part of the reason why is because his characters are always multifaceted- there's rarely a character that is completely good or evil. Closer examination reveals relatable motives, even if the outer manifestation may be repulsive to us. One of our biggest tenets was imbuing the characters with those complexities to make for a more interesting read. Even we didn't know who the heroes and villains were until we reached the end.
Finally, it instilled in me an all new sense of awe and love for comics. I've been fortunate to meet some very cool comic book artists and writers, many of whom I've admired since I was growing up. It's amazing how all of them have a completely different workflows and they're some of the most generous and thoughtful people I've met. I love going to comic book stores and finding new comics- but more importantly, discovering new worlds and new stories.
For me, Dr. 2 has been a labor of love. We just released the first issue free on Amazon for this week as a preview for the first volume which we hope will come out sometime next year. We've been fortunate to get some really cool reviews and an amazing agent as well. It's been a rewarding journey and though I don't know where it's going, the main thing is it's been a lot of fun. Thanks for reading this far! If you're interested in checking it out, I'm including the link below. I'd love to hear your thoughts TAY as we're still open to any suggestions! =)