- This all started as a Twitter and Plurk novel of only dialogue. What inspired you to experiment language and story telling in that way?
Alex:I’d been on Twitter, Plurk and some other social networking services for a couple of months and was amazed with the variety of uses for these networks. One day I had come across someone trying to write a novel 140 characters at a time and I thought, “Wow, that’s a great idea, but it’s a little clunky.”
After some research I found that a lot of people attempted to write a novel on Twitter but no one has really finished it because of the commitment and the slow speed. The thought occurred to me that you could make the story move faster if you used the medium as it was intended: communication between people. But in this case instead of people I had an account for each character and used only dialogue to tell what was happening to them.
- What challenges did you face by when limiting to dialogue of only one hundred forty words?
Alex: The biggest challenge was the lack of descriptions. I had to use techniques I learned as a novelist and within the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction program: Genre Covenants. Readers in each genre take for granted certain things, like in science fiction there are certain things you find on spacecraft, etc. It’s these covenants that allowed me to infer things in dialog and allow the readers to fill in the details within their own imaginations.
The second part of that challenge was word economy. I had to find ways to have my dialog sound both natural and communicate what I wanted to say without going over 140 characters. This is where I applied some nanofiction techniques I’d picked up as well as the experience gained from spending extensive time on social networks interacting with people. The positive side of this was that the resulting sentences were very tight and did exactly what I wanted them to do.
- Why now turn it into a web graphic novel?
Alex: Well, after I’d completed the story on Christmas day 2008, I realized that I had in essence written a script which could be easily converted into a comic. It seemed a natural extension for the story since with an added visual element it would give Calling Home the descriptions it lacked as a dialog-only story. Not to mention I love comics and the thought of having something I’d written turned into one as an exciting prospect.
- There is a large difference between drawing from a comic script and trying to get the essence of a short sentence in a panel. Does Alex provide a script of reference for you to use or does he give a lot of free reign with the artwork?
Leila: There isn’t too much of a difference between drawing from the Calling Home script and getting the essence of a short sentence in a panel. The way Alex set up this story was with one panel per message, so it’s been pretty easy to concentrate on one panel at a time and making that panel interesting.
As for how tightly he manages my artwork…We’ve actually been communicating pretty extensively about what the images should include lately. In the beginning, for panels 1-12, I just sent him thumbnails and he okayed them and told me to make minor changes. Recently, I’ve been running into the problem of correlating the images to the dialogue, so I’ve been going to him for more visual ideas. I’ll explain more when I answer the next question, since this pertains to it.
- What challenges do you face when you are drawing any of these panels?
Leila: The main challenge to illustrating Calling Home is….. Well, this question is challenging! It’s hard for me to explain the answer to this question, so if it’s confusing to read, I apologize. Here goes:
Greatest challenge: coming up with interesting actions to go along with the dialogue. Sometimes there are multiple lines (or panels) that have the same action. I have to figure out how to make the images interesting and non-redundant so that the pacing isn’t too slow or the images too boring. Sometimes there is so much action in one line (panel) that I have to choose which action is most important. Recently, Alex and I decided to break the initial rule of one panel per line/message. We concluded to add panels between panels or to have multiple lines within a panel just so we can preserve the pacing and storytelling of the comic.
Second most challenging challenge: I’m still learning how to draw everything better. Not knowing how to draw things sucks because it takes more time and brainpower to learn how to draw something than it does just to do it. But I’m hoping that by the end of this story I will be a complete badass in the sci-fi space genre!
- After looking through some of your samples on your site and the panels already up on the Calling Home site, I saw the influences of Terry Dodson and Adam Hughes. Has the work of artists you like or admire helped you in anyway while working on Calling Home?
Leila: Oh of course! I go back to my artist influences on a regular basis to see how they draw and to get inspiration. I look to Zach Howard for general inking examples, Adam Hughes I use for anatomy and inking (and if you enjoy goggling at large breasts). Terry Dodson…guess I haven’t looked at him yet for this comic. I also have been looking at Mike Mignola a lot for his use of lights and darks and Doug Chiang’s work in the Art of Star Wars books has been very useful for metal objects.
- How did this partnership come about?
Alex: When I decided to do Calling Home as a comic, I put a call out for artists on all of the social networks I was on. It turned out that Plurk came through for me. A friend of mine, Claudia H. Christian on Plurk said she knew someone who would be interested in working on a science fiction comic. She put me in touch with Leila and from there the partnership was soon born afterward.
Leila: I think that my friend Penney was working at a coffee shop and overheard two of her customers saying, “I need to find someone who draws science fiction. Do you know of anybody?” Penney said, “I do!” and handed the people my card. My info was then passed on to Alex and he contacted me shortly after that.
- How is it working out so far?
Alex: I’ve worked with a couple of artists before, and Leila has been the best by a wide margin. Before we started working we set out expectations for each other and also our talked about our work styles so there were no surprises down the line. We communicate swimmingly and I think that puts ahead of the curve when compared to other comics out there. I look forward to working on other projects with Leila once we get through Calling Home.
Leila: Considering the history of my art career so far, Alex has been a fantastic art director/author and I think we’ve done a swell job at communicating and figuring out how the hell to do this thing. This is a perfect project for me while I continue to improve my art skills and my storytelling abilities.
- Time for the “Get to know you better” segment of the show. What drove you to your respective arts?
Alex: I started writing when I had just turned thirteen, and I remember the impetus: the school literary fair. My English class teacher forced us to submit an entry to it and after looking over the categories I saw one that piqued my interest: The Novelette. I wrote a thirty page story and after that couldn’t stop writing. Later on, I realized I wanted to take my craft further and after going through some formal education in it, I finished my first novel and now I’m working on my next. I also found webcomics and loved the idea of story telling to a large audience in a visual medium. It wasn’t until I found the right partner that I was able to finally realize this dream.
Leila: I began drawing when I was about four years old in order to fill the gap that was created when my family moved away from my grandmother and best friend. Years later, I spent many a day reading books. The visuals I gained from books made me want to create them two dimensionally so I could show everyone how I imagined the stories I read. I soon discovered online comics (which were free!!). After this, I realized that comics were the perfect combination of picture and story. It still took me years after that to realize that comics were the area of art I wanted to specialize in, but I still went to art school for Illustration.
- How do you find the impetus for projects?
Alex: Writing is a creative outlet for me, and I love to tell stories. Every time I see something on the news or even just listening to music thoughts about other worlds come to my mind. From these thoughts I write my stories and build my worlds. I’ve found that listening to the right music can help bring about the right words.
Leila: Right now, the biggest thing that’s giving me impetus is my Day Job. I need to get better at art so I can stop working these pointless, soul-crushing jobs that have nothing to do with my interests or what I think is important in life. I have a tendency to move from job to job because they get boring, or the management is unprofessional, or because I’m just tired of caring about an industry like food or hospitality that doesn’t care about me in return. The only job that I can see myself enjoying long-term is art, so I have to keep going because I can’t NOT keep going.
- All artists hit a block, or dry spell, or ebb of creativity. How do you try to keep your mind going to avoid that? What do you do if it unavoidable?
Alex: Any writer who says they’ve never experienced some sort of slow down or blockage is one who is kidding themselves. For me, I find that switching projects can help jump start the creative process, but if that doesn’t work, then powering through a difficult section or just jumping ahead to a part in the story you want to write also works well. Self-imposed deadlines also work well, I’ve found.
Leila: I take a little break from it. Just yesterday I took a personal day to dig in the garden and space out to some movies. I have a bad habit of worrying myself into a block, so the best thing for me is to disconnect from the art worry and then come back to it later when I’ve calmed down a bit.
If I’m on a strict deadline where someone is paying me or if it was for a class, I would just press through it. Sometimes the work was my best ever, other times it was shlock.
- Any last thoughts comments, thoughts, or shout out you want to say or give? The stage is all yours.
Alex: If you’re an agent or publisher looking for some great stuff to publish, then I’m your guy!
Leila: Hey everyone! Pay me to do art for you! So I’ll starve less!
Thanks again, Alex and Leila, for that great interview. Check out their ongoing project, Calling Home, where they update every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.