Our co-founder Jayel Draco recently teamed up with creator Mr. Abstracto on two awesome projects! 1) The awesome sample comic in our previous post (a call to submissions for our next anthology), which Mr. Abstracto drew from Jayel’s sample script, now available to the comics-curious right here! And 2) the following Q&A about the writing and editing processes, and, of course, Star Trek slug babies.
Mr. Abstracto: What would you say are the key components to consider when creating a comic with limited pages?
Jayel Draco: Well, your concept is your concept; that’s gonna come to you when it comes to you. The more practice you have with turning your ideas into finished works, the better you’ll get at that. I’d say the most important thing to consider about creating a short comic, like an eight pager, is to really consider how a single picture can be worth a thousand words, and a single sharpened line of dialogue can carry loads of context for the plot. Work those two things together and you can say a lot with just a few pages. Say the most important things, and imply anything else that isn’t vital. Just remember it’s a visual medium, so play to that strength.
MA: What is your process when designing a world that the readers will only get a brief look into?
JD: My personal process is to really drudge up what I know about the pop-culture zeitgeist. The more aware you are of what tropes are popular, the more you can use them to do some of the heavy lifting. For example, if people see the silhouette of a character in a wide-brimmed hat backlit by the sun, they’re gonna assume that’s the lone-gunslinger-type character, probably a drifter hero who despises themself for their sordid past, but really has a heart of gold. That assumption is built into that image. That concept can work with characters, places, civilizations, technologies, you name it. Now, you can use iconography to present tropes and still subvert them. Your audience will presume to know what trope you’re going for, and when you torque what’s expected of that trope, they’ll instinctively understand that you intentionally subverted it. Even if they can’t quite put it into words, it’ll come across. Trust your audience…most of us are smarter than we let on…and those of us who won’t get it are fairly used to not getting things but liking the pretty pictures anyway.
MA: What would you say are the things to avoid when condensing a story?
JD: Well, it really depends on what you’re going for. Some stories are meant to be poetic think pieces that convey a feeling more than a literal narrative… That said however, in conventional storytelling, where a literal narrative is what you’re going for, avoid the pitfalls of “The King’s New Clothes.” Don’t leave your audience feeling tricked into thinking that you are gonna wrap it up neatly when you have no intention to. It can come across as just pretending to be “such a good writer that the average audience wouldn’t get it.” Not a good look. When condensing and boiling down your story, make certain your key plot points make it into the final reduction.
MA: What is your primary focus during your editing process?
JD: If I’m in the writing process, that means I already have my idea for the plot, I already have my idea for the characters… I’ve already developed it in my head so much that I’ve decided to prioritize this project over the indefinite possibilities of other projects that I could be working on. So really, by the time I sit down to write, my focus is on creating a balanced flow from page to page. I have eight pages to work with—how does each page start on a beat and end with you needing to turn the page to feel satisfied? How does each page say as much as it possibly can without feeling stuffed? If I’m writing this, I’m already in love with it. That means I’m writing it for the audience, not for me. What’s gonna make this story feel fun, and comfortable for the audience? I’m gonna focus on that.
MA: What sort of techniques do you use for character creation?
JD: I think ultimately, once I imagine the character, I really try to get to know them, to understand them as a person. Then I can close my eyes and imagine them in a scenario and see what they would do. The goal is to let my characters be authentic while I do the hard work of recording their actions with fidelity. Of course, that record needs to be tempered with a sense of rhythm and flow or it just comes across as a report.
MA: Within the context of comics, do you prefer plot-driven or character-driven stories?
JD: For me, I have a really hard time when either overshadows the other. I’ve never liked when characters feel like little more than plot devices. Conversely, I can’t get into a story when the only meat is the character dynamics and the rest of the plot is just a cardboard cutout backdrop. The plot has to be part of the characters, and the characters have to be part of the plot for me to get into it.
MA: Do you have any tips for maintaining inspiration and avoiding writer’s block?
JD: Personally, I like what I’ll call “the crop-rotation method” of keeping things fresh. I’ve had several ongoing, long-term stories for many years now. To be honest, I’m not quite sure I could have stuck with it so consistently if I only had one. By the time one story feels like I’ve peaked past my limits and I don’t know where to go next and I need to digest what’s just been developed, I promptly move on to the next story, which I haven’t worked on for a couple weeks. I’ll push that one as hard as I can, and then move right on to the next. With this method I’ve been able to keep myself creating steadily as I switch from Children of Gaia, to PACK, to Tracy Queen, to Mr. Guy: Zombie Hunter, and others that I’m developing.
Mind you, in every single one of those projects, I’m working with a team to some degree. The lone-wolf concept has been overly romanticized for a long time now, but you’ll never see a lone wolf take down a full-grown elk; it takes teamwork. When one tires out, another takes the lead, while others remain on flank, etc. I truly believe that real collaboration will always accomplish more than the sum of what the collaborators are capable of on their own.
MA: What advice would you give aspiring comic writers?
JD: Make comics! No, seriously, a lot of people have their idea that they’re hoping to develop one day to make this great work when they get good enough. You will not get good enough unless you are constantly creating. If you really have a story that you feel is your long-term, nest-egg story, fine. Then come up with others in the meantime. Your first story is most likely going to be your worst one. You learn a bit each time. Keep going. In the wise words of Jake the Dog from Adventure Time: “Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.”
MA: What is your favorite Star Trek series, and why is it Voyager?
JD: Wooooooow. Okay. Well, first, let me start by saying I love all of Star Trek. However, if I had to take the stance that Voyager is my favorite, I could come up with a few reasons. First, I think that Janeway is an awesome captain. I love her character arc as the Voyager continues on its far-flung journey with little to no contact from the Federation. She in a sense becomes the Federation in the Delta Quadrant. She’s just badass. Also, I love Seven of Nine! Everything about her character arc is just tremendous! Which, btw, seeing how that character translates into Picard 21 years later is phenomenal.
Okay, I guess I could just name every character and say that they’re awesome. I love the fact that the main premise of Voyager pits the Federation crew of the Voyager against an insurgent Maquis vessel, who then have to team up to survive the unthinkably fraught journey back to Federation space in the Alpha Quadrant… All sorts of shenanigans ensue. Also, to this day I remain bemused by the notion that somewhere out there in the Delta Quadrant are Capt. Janeway and Lt. Paris’s slug babies doing slug-baby things… Whatever became of them? Are they slug working stiffs now? Are they in a slug-metal band together? I’m enchanted by the possibilities.
About Mr Abstracto:
Mr. Abstracto is a full-time freelance comic creator, illustrator, cartoonist, and a part-time student majoring in psychology. He started to teach himself to draw at the age of seven and had his first cartoon strip, Meathead, published by the Mid-Missourian newspaper in 1999. He is currently maintaining a slice-of-life cartoon, Borderline Nerdy, and is working on a science fantasy webcomic, Trek Support, for Webtoons.
Find him at allmylinks.com/mr-abstracto.
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