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Some thoughts on creating comics
Wednesday 2 January 2013
While I do make new year's resolutions I don't tell anyone about them! Instead, I thought I'd offer a few new year's thoughts on creating stories, being a creator, and on comics generally.
These are extracted from a file I've kept on my desktop over the past three years or so that I add to whenever a thought occurs. Some are learned from my own experience, and some are from observing fellow creators. All of them should be taken with a pinch of salt, and none are any kind of gospel, or even necessarily true. They're just notes, but perhaps one or two may resonate with you as well ...


The best defence against failure, and the best ally of inspiration, is to make sure you're working on a project that you really love.

You can learn from anyone, no matter what their level of expertise, no matter what their age is. Stay humble and be generous.

When 'character development' is mentioned many people think of the creation and filling out of a character before they are used in a story, but you should rather think of it in terms of the way the character develops because of the story. The story should develop the character.

In a story, for a character to change their mind (or have it changed) something dramatic should happen.

I don't like stories that are aimed at kids or aimed at adults. I don't like films that claim to be for both but are just slapstick for the kids and double-entendres for the adults. I like the story to be true only to itself, and not written for some imaginary demographic.

When you end a scene you need to end it with a full stop, or maybe an ellipsis, and when you start a scene you need to start it with a capital letter. Not literally (grammar goes without saying), but visually.

Writing for kids is difficult, which is why I don't bother. I write for me and hope that others, including kids, will like it too.

People sometimes seem to think that a strong female character is simply a girl who acts like a boy - in which case I think they're wrong.

I'm an expert in how to make comics the Garen Way. As for how to make comics any other way, I'm rubbish.

As soon as you get a book deal don't sit back and hope the publisher will take care of all the marketing from now on. What you actually need to do is double and triple your marketing efforts.

Self-depreciation and false modesty are all very well but don't forget you're a one-person marketing force on your own behalf, so it's best not to constantly put out 'press releases' saying how awful you are.

"That's brilliant, I hate you!", "It's really good, but I must say it's not how I'd have done it", and "you're sickeningly talented" are not really compliments.

Stop thinking you're important and get on with your work.

Stop thinking everyone else is better than you and get on with your work.

Stop thinking the world is out to get you and nothing's fair - and get on with your work!

I don't mind not being original, in fact I think that may even be beyond me. But I do want to be authentic and true to myself. That is very important.

How many comic creators does it take to change a light bulb? One, plus twenty-two to sit around saying how the light bulb industry is dying and if only they made light bulbs like they used to in the 70s then everything would be all right.

There's nothing wrong with occasional wordy scenes - as long as the words are useful, important and serve the story. If a comic is light on dialogue it might mean you're just reading lots of running and fighting. Either way, just make it good.

Success can often have more to do with not giving up rather than being brilliant or lucky. It's about not letting obstacles defeat you. It's about overcoming them and carrying on.

People who draw only sexy girls draw brilliant sexy girls, but not very good telephones. Sometimes you need to draw telephones.

The UK comics scene is small. When someone has a success with their comic, it is a success for all comics.

If fight scenes or extreme situations are too commonplace then they can lose their potency, their danger. If, like in life, fights are rare, then when they do happen they have greater impact, especially if the result on the characters is serious. Too much death and it takes on very little meaning.

When I make comics I am not a writer when I write the script and I am not an artist when I draw the pictures - I am a comic creator with both tasks. Making comics is a single discipline with a single end product - the comic.

Don't sit there sobbing over everything that's wrong with a drawing you've just done. Go and do a new drawing and make it better.

Don't concentrate on what you haven't got. Focus on what you have got and develop it.

Don't respond to bad reviews of your work. Don't, don't, don't, don't don't.

Things in publishing aren't always great. When this happens, don't withdraw - you've got to keep engaged. Keeping engaged means opportunities will still come your way and things will improve.

It's very easy to spend all your time writing emails, doing interviews, attending events, dealing with admin - and not writing and drawing. Don't do that. Writing and drawing must come first.

People are fond of saying how comics are great for slow readers to hook them into reading. Then they complain when comics are seen as dumbed-down kids' stuff, useful only as a stepping stone to 'proper books'.

The greatest enemy of the comic artist is to think you're worthless. Don't think that, it's not true.

Wherever there are awards, there are arguments.

If someone says "I could do better than that", what they usually mean, probably without realising, is they think they could improve on what they have just seen or read - not doing better from a fresh, uninfluenced, start - a blank sheet of paper - as the original author did.

You don't find the time to draw comics, you make the time to draw comics.

Everyone thinks there's a clique and that they're not in it.

If a gun is used, it must have serious consequences. A gun must not be used to solve plot situations. Guns don't solve problems, they make them more complicated.

A drawing will lay bare your soul. No wonder artists are so sensitive to criticism!

When I type a comic script I'm writing with words. When I draw a comic strip I'm writing with pictures.

Successful artists suffer from a lack of confidence in their own ability just like every other artist does, the difference is that they don't let it rule their lives.

Don't write for children, write a story with children in mind. The emphasis is on 'write a story', not 'children'.

Talking heads are fine if: a) the talking is interesting, and b) the heads are interesting. Oh, and it doesn't go on too long.

Isn't it time we moved beyond the idea of girls' or boys' comics?

For a villain to be a threat they must be shown to do something with real and serious consequences.

You are not in competition with other cartoonists.

No book reviewer has ever found a fault with my work that I wasn't already painfully aware of. Where my own work is concerned, I am the Critic King!

The Three Excitements: Action, Tension, and Comedy. Try to use at least one in every scene.

There seems to be this idea that there's a tiny room called 'Comics' and only a few privileged souls can fit in it. Actually 'Comics' is a universe, and it's bigger than all the comic creators in existence, many many times over.

posted 02.01.13 at 1:19 pm in Comics | permalink |


Murray, on Wednesday 2 January 2013 at 5:39 pm, says:

Thanks for posting those notes, Garen. Very inspiring, and all the better for being so concise.

Garen, on Wednesday 2 January 2013 at 5:54 pm, says:

Thanks, Murray :-)

Michael, on Saturday 5 January 2013 at 7:59 am, says:

Excellent notes, Garen. A few of those are sage advice for life in general.

Garen, on Saturday 5 January 2013 at 10:09 pm, says:

Ta very much, Michael - appreciate it.

Matt Badham, on Saturday 5 January 2013 at 10:46 pm, says:

That is a very good post. Thank you for writing it.

Garen, on Sunday 6 January 2013 at 12:55 am, says:

Cheers, Matt!

Colin M, on Sunday 6 January 2013 at 10:24 pm, says:

Happy New Year Garen! Thanks for the inspiring insights, it can be too easy to defeat ourselves when really there's nothing better than writing and drawing comics and we need to remember that (and 'do the work' of course!) Keep having fun.

Garen, on Monday 7 January 2013 at 12:01 am, says:

Many thanks, Colin. It's stuff we all know, really - we just need to keep reminding ourselves! Happy new year to you too - I look forward to some new work from the Mathieson Studio (no pressure, of course - just make sure you enjoy it :-))

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