As you might recall, sometime ago I mentioned organising a face to face with Paul Gravett; author of more than one text in my research and a renowned figure in British comics publishing with three decades of experience. Given the relevance of his work and reputation I had no doubts how valuable such an opportunity would be but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t extremely nervous. With the image of a formalised Q & A session in mind I prepared a concise set of questions and travelled to London’s Royal Festival Hall as arranged last Wednesday to meet at the Comica Social Club.
Thankfully my worries and unease were quickly dispelled on arrival as Paul turned out to be far more approachable than I’d guessed with the meeting being an informal discussion rather than a rigid interview. He spared a remarkably generous amount of time talking with me and while he was complimentary of my work he gave me frank criticism and advice as to how I might do better. Meanwhile my planned questions went largely neglected as I found it ironically more straightforward to improvise.
Initially – in line with aims for the Practice in Context module – I outlined the genesis of my graphic and the use of this blog, along with my plan to begin uploading to webcomic sites for greater publicity and broader feedback. He approved of all this a great deal and had plenty of suggestions as to how I might promote myself on the web; in particular emphasising the importance of interacting with other creators online and participating in group events, cross overs and other sociable activities. He also recommended work on presentation of the material and attached content, including page backdrops, summary and character profiles. Essentially considering interaction, polish and accessibility.
Moving on I explained my influences in depth, citing inspiration from regular cyberpunk sources along with my exploration and assimilation of the genre’s roots in detective fiction and film noir. Again Paul seemed to agree with the relevance of this to my main graphic with a few of his recommendations actually being ones I’d already looked at (though I’d do well to research the suggestions I haven’t.)
Here, he became curious about my planning and work methods so I explained that I have a complete (albeit still developing) script but he was most interested in how I roughed out the draft pages themselves. As an alternative to doing these one page at a time in detail, it was suggested that I consider the approach used by Alan Moore of drafting a work through to the end in basic thumbnails. This approach has the benefits of not being overly time consuming while providing a realistic overview of an entire project and how many pages will be required in total. As an inarguably superior way of managing my project compared to ploughing ahead blindly I’ll definitely set about using this technique once I’ve prepared my 3rd (and likely final) draft of the script.
At this point I should mention that I’d cautiously brought printed versions of the Branch’s finished pages and some concept art with me, being somewhat uncertain whether it would be a good idea to show them prematurely. Ultimately it proved fortunate that I brought them along as they prompted some of the most important feedback I received.
On the positives; Paul approved of the chapter cover along with much of the general style and the dialogue, citing page 6 and the conversation about ‘the C word’ as being especially good. On the negatives; the largest criticisms concerned moments of uneven pacing and clunky scene changes, specifically page 7 – this page was something of knee jerk reaction my tutors’ call for more experimentation in the visuals and in this regard I consider it a success, on the other hand, as Paul highlighted it enters the station interior prematurely being more confusing than it is compelling.
Back in planning I wrote a lot about the importance of establishing a credible setting and a great deal of this could be a result of how its introduced. Looking at the progression of pages following Curt’s journey onto the station, it would make far more sense to follow the airlock scene with a grand reveal of Branch’s interior, rather than undermining it with a restricted back alley scene which adds little to the main narrative. Out of context I like the page a lot but I can hardly ignore a professional opinion or the bigger (and far more important) picture, after thinking hard about it I’ve decided to cut it from the main narrative and relegate it concept art in favour of a more suitable introduction.
On a related note, Paul also criticised the angles used suggesting more large scale panels; depicting views further back to create greater awareness of the setting and allow the scenes to breathe. This is a weakness I am reasonably aware of and have been attempting to address with more establishers, but I must admit I’m still falling back on face closeups and the like a little too often, creating more claustrophobia than warranted and resorting to what is ultimately an easy way out over more complex compositions. I’ll be sure to remedy this in future.
He made one last suggestion about the artwork, telling me I should be more adventurous in my use of colour. I’ve consciously been quite muted thus far, sticking to brown/grey, orange/blue palettes but again it’s a fair point. If I take risks and step out of my comfort zone I have a better chance of producing eye-catching pages which leap out at the viewer rather than simmer quietly. As with the other elements I hope to ramp the colour scheme up alongside the story, developing it in accordance with the narrative tension.
Finally, I concluded my questions by asking what sort of approach I might take towards publishing and distribution in the near future. His response to this was suggesting self publishing options; essentially setting up shop at comic conventions and selling print versions of my work from a table. In particular he emphasised the importance of selling complete works as opposed to fragments or issues as buyers will always find a complete narrative more appealing – its something which enforces my longterm decision to complete the graphic outside of the MA if necessary, delivering a prototype for my final assessment rather than rushing something fundamentally incomplete to a finish.
One last matter Paul covered was that of logos and general iconography, making memorable images and symbols readers will associate with my graphic. I have thought about this to a degree but I must admit some reluctance to forcibly pursue this in my work, I’m certainly aiming to form some reoccurring motifs – primarily relating to cyborg enhancements – but my hope is that they will emerge gradually rather than being heavy handedly emphasised. Still, it’s definitely something to keep in mind throughout production. In summary the goal of such activity would ultimately be catching attention and getting noticed by publishers; establishing oneself in the amateur scene before taking a shot at the professional one.
Anyway, that should cover all the major points. A massive thank you to Paul Gravett once again for taking the time to talk to a complete stranger, with any luck my project’s been nudged closer to the right track with a greater finished result and greater long-term prospects.