Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.
— Neil Gaiman

Deadless Writer’s Notes 

I recently received my royalties for the premiere issue of Deadless, which has been on ComiXology through Alterna Comics since October. The sales unfortunately don’t justify more issues, so I’m moving on to other projects. But, as my way of saying goodbye, here are my writer’s notes for Deadless, to give you a peek inside creating an indy comic.

I really dislike writing something without an artist in mind, so I reached out for an illustrator before the story was written. All I had was the basic concept of a manufactured antichrist and an image of a Vegas intersection as a modern day crossroads.

Arisyarazad wanted to start drawing the day I hired him, so there was a slight scramble to accommodate his schedule. I wrote a quick description for the splash page which eventually became Page 2. That gave me about a day to write the rest of Anointed. When I decided Thomas was an addict, the story clicked. 

A notable editor told me that the contents of Page 1 should have been conveyed in one panel, but I disagree. I like the pacing of it, and think it’s a good intro to the character. It screams desperate.

A lot of narration in the last three pages, especially. I needed to get Thomas’ backstory out in prep for the arc that was supposed to start in Deadless #1. Wish I came up with something more engaging than a bunch of captions, but it was two years ago and I can’t change it now that it’s published.

Jesse Turnbull, the colorist, killed on this story. He’s an expert with lighting; the street lamps provide the perfect ambience.

Too much dialogue in Panels 2 & 3. I should have cropped that down since the information isn’t particularly interesting or relevant. The same editor who criticized Page 1 of Anointed told me that Juliette should have done something to call attention to herself, and that note I totally agree with. It’s less exciting this way, with a character we (probably) are not going to see again making an observation.

I really like keeping the word count low in places like Page 2. The actions don’t need any explanation, and dialogue or exposition would feel unnecessary. Cecilia did a different sort of panel arrangement with that arrow on Panel 1, but I don’t think it’s overly confusing. Besides, it was drawn beautifully.

Whereas Thomas gets an origin story, I wanted Juliette’ to receive a fable. She learns a lesson too late, and Cecilia’s art really pulls off the poetry of it all.

If I could change one thing, I’d name the story Eternal. Too late now. Oh well.

Most readers’ favorite story. I had a lot of fun formatting Unfriendly to mimic Casper shorts with a lot less dialogue to make it feel ominous.

I can’t say enough good things about both Sam Tung’s inks and Jesse’s palette. Sam captured the feel of a Casper comic without being a slave to the style, and Jesse nailed the vintage look.

The tilted Panel 8 on Page 3 was my idea, but an idea is useless without execution. Those last three panels are such great tragedy.

With Page 4 we break away from the Casper panel arrangement, for obvious reasons. This page introduces the Jas who will be in Deadless hereon out. I adore the scratchy panel borders. 

Some people say the last page looks added-on, which surprises me. It was always the plan. Ending the story with Page 4 would have been too abrupt, I think. 

This is the story that started it all. It was just meant to be a one-off with my friend Pat Loika, but it turned out so well I decided I want to tell more of Joseph’s story, which led to the rest of this issue. I think I succeeded when I let the images tell the story, but like with Anointed failed by telling rather than showing. Page 5 of Decrepit was an add-on, and an obvious one at that. But I don’t know if that could have been helped.

Thanks to those of you who took a chance on me by buying and reading Deadless. It was a cool experience having the story available on a wide platform for the first time through a publisher as respected as Alterna and a storefront as popular as ComiXology. I had big plans for the series (I had it outlined through issue 26) but such is life. I have more work in the pipeline but it takes time for artists to draw pages so there’s nothing in the immediate future. But I guarantee, there is more to come.

I love writing, but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, ‘You may have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over, Giftless. I’m not your agent and I’m not your mommy: I’m a white piece of paper. You wanna dance with me?’ and I really, really don’t. I’ll go peaceable-like.
— Aaron Sorkin
Now’s your chance to explore the cutting edge storytelling techniques my generation has only begun to understand. To find something new to say, and say it with a clear, strong voice. To create characters with inner lives so deep and outer appearances so varied and compelling, they take on lives of their own. Now’s your chance to tap into the emotional power of facial expressions, and the signs and symbols of the human body. Bring words and pictures together to create ideas and sensations none of us even dreamed comics could produce, and transport us to places we never dreamed comics could go. Whatever tools you use, whatever passions drive you to create — now is your chance to make comics that will leave my generation’s best work in the dust. If you think you have what it takes.

Trust in your Artist: Passion = Reliability 

A terrible experience for a comic book writer is for a collaborator abandon your project. It’s happened to me several times and it really sucks. I’ve seen a number of posts suggesting that paying an artist is the best way to keep him or her onboard. I vehemently disagree, for two reasons.

  1. The artist will follow the green: If someone comes along with a better offer, don’t expect your illustrator to stick around if money was the main motivator.
  2. Freelancers in all fields are notoriously unreliable. If you’re hiring a stranger on the internet, you have no guarantees of professionalism. I’ve had to wait months for pages I paid serious money for and was lucky if I got a lame excuse instead of a string of unanswered emails. 

One time, after multiple attempts to contact an artist, I emailed that I needed to find someone else to draw the five pages I hired him for. Two days later I received four pages in my inbox. Three and a half were clearly rushed, lacking the detail he delivered previously. The colorist was able to save the pages, but I still feel cheated by the experience. I paid good money for those pages, but money wasn’t enough to overcome unprofessionalism.

The best thing for a writer to do is get to know artists. Scour the internet for creators who impress you but aren’t known to the masses yet. Just sending one of them a tweet could lead to a friendship and, maybe, eventually, a collaboration. A friend has a much bigger incentive to follow through on a project you are doing together than a freelancer.

Another recommendation: even if you’re friends with the artist, pay him something. He’s putting a lot of work into your story, so reward him. A real win-win is to buy original pages from the comic that you wrote. 

There’s a whole lot more that goes into making an artist want to tell your story. For example, when I released a book through a notable publisher doors started to open. I’ll go into more detail on that in another post.