February 2010

As I type, I’m looking out west along 42nd street, from 23 stories up.  I feel like I’ve mentioned this view before, because I really like it.  I can see all the way to the southern end of Times Square (where Seventh Avenue and Broadway intersect.)  I can see several of the trademark Times Square neon billboards (although they aren’t neon anymore, and haven’t been for a while – they’re basically gigantic TV screens), including a big one for a ginormous Walgreen’s. 

At the moment, however, I can see nothing past 5th Avenue. It’s like the world ends in one big, white curtain, like an incomplete set, or the edge of the world in… let’s see, how about Erik the Viking.  It’s neat, and beautiful, but I have to go out in it in about half an hour to make my way back to Brooklyn.  I am also scheduled to fly back to Michigan for the weekend tomorrow afternoon, and unless this storm stops, I don’t see that happening.  Or at least not without sitting in the airport for several hours wondering if/when my flight is going to get out. 

I’ve been trying to make my blog entries less… bloggy, and more timeless, so that my thousands of readers won’t have to have experienced the Big Storm of Late February 2010 in order to relate, but hey, I’m not perfect.

Let me see if I can move back to creative pursuits… 27 has been pitched to two different publishers, both of whom have expressed reserved (but I think real) interest.  The pitching process is pure murder on these things.  On the one hand, it’s great that I can make pitches myself, and I don’t have to do it through an agent, but that means that many, many other people can make pitches too.  Most of them will suck – that’s just a law of creative endeavor, I feel.  And so, in order to save their own sanity, editors and so on will ignore most pitches that come down the pipe, so they aren’t exposed to too much suckiness at a time.

I think/hope that the creative success I had with Strongman will help get my pitches looked at more quickly, and give me more of the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t say for sure.  A pitch is 5-10 pages of a book plus a 1-2 page written summary, and maybe a cover.  I tend to write complex, high-concept stuff, and distilling it down is very difficult.  But if you write enough of it, and enough of it is good (and makes it to print, of course), people can say, “Oh, okay, I know that Charles is good, and his work is good, and I know that this short pitch is just the barest glimpse for what will be a scintillating work of great beauty and elegance.”

But as it is, I only have one book’s worth of reputation to coast on, and while that’s better than the position I was in before Strongman came out, it’s still not a career.  I’m known, a little, but I am very, very, VERY far from KNOWN, if that makes sense.  All of that being said, I am loving how 27 is coming together, and I’m going to work as hard as I need to in order to make certain that it gets into the world.

Just for fun, I’ve included the first paragraph below of the pitch I wrote for Strongman, which played at least some role in getting me my deal with SLG.  It’s overwritten, and I think I would do something much leaner now (the one for 27 actually sings pretty nicely, I think), but why second-guess, right?  It worked, after all.

“The Dark Knight Returns of masked Mexican wrestler stories.

 Tigre, one of the most popular and successful stars of the Mexican “lucha libre” scene in the 1960s and 70s, disappeared at the height of his fame in 1972, along with his two colleagues, lithe weapons-master Conejo and the wily, brilliant Bujo.  Tigre was a film star, a wrestling hero, and a masked protector of his countrymen, and he left it all behind for reasons unknown.  Now, thirty years older, his muscles soaked in whiskey and hidden behind a layer of fat, he resurfaces, alone and depressed, in New York City.  After the entreaties of a young woman, Maria, he is spurred to investigate a mysterious crime wave decimating his neighborhood.  Over the course of an adventure that blends elements of noir, superhero stories and even a bit of horror, we learn the reasons for Tigre’s disappearance in 1972, and watch him rise above his past to reclaim his heroic mantle.”

See you soon – next post will probably be about getting ready for ECCC, or maybe about the final 27 cover (which will look AMAZING), or maybe about 1000 Ships, which is almost at the 100-page mark script-wise.  Stay warm (unless you read this in the summer.)


27 is a project in a strange place right now.  I am working on it full steam ahead, but there are parts of its release plan that I’m not sure about yet.  The book should be fully drawn by May, I think, which is amazing to contemplate.  When it will hit the stands is another question, but that will get sorted out.

I will be taking the big chunk of the book that’s complete with me to Emerald City Con in just about a month, which I’m excited about.  But as part of that trip, I want to have a cover to slap on top of the package.  I asked my friend Scott Forbes to put together a cover for me, and that’s coming along nicely.  Scott has an amazing art style, reminiscent of Josh Middleton but still very much its own thing.  He’s got an Image book on the stands now – Forgetless – and I imagine he’s going to have a long career.  Not to say he’s just a kid, exactly, but he’s still young, and if he’s as good as he is NOW, I am sure he’ll be blowing people’s minds for years to come.

Here’s the rough of the 27 cover he just sent me.  There will be a lot more to it once it’s finished, but I think it’s fun to look at pictures, even in incomplete form.  I hope you agree.

Art by Scott Forbes.

The angle of the guitar splits the page in half, which is perfect for the theme of the book – which you’ll just have to wait to read about.  Trust me, though, it works.

When comics are drawn, at least these days, the word balloons aren’t drawn with them.  They’re a completely separate part of the process, overlaid on the art, often as a last step.  In the olden days, the artist would hand draw the balloons and hand-letter them – sometimes there would be a separate letterer, but the point is that every letter in every balloon was done by hand.

These days, like everything else, it’s all computers.  Most letterers I know set up the balloons and text in Adobe Illustrator, and composite that layer with the art in Photoshop.  I lettered Strongman Volume 1 myself, and that’s how I did it.  It’s not a bad method, but I really learned as I went.  I think I lettered the entire book, start to finish, three times.  Many, many many hours were spent fiddling around with balloon placement, fixing typos, editing text, etc.  I think it’s a valuable skill to have, and I don’t regret learning it, but I have decided that my time can be better spent writing and shepherding projects along.  So, on Strongman 2 and 27, I have acquired the valuable skills of one Shawn DePasquale as letterer.

I’ve known Shawn for a while – he’s not just a great letterer, he’s a very solid writer as well (watch for his series Space, MN coming from Arcana comics later this year.)  Shawn takes my scripts and does a first pass (and often a second, after I have comments and realize that my original script wasn’t right).  Then, I might make some last-minute tweaks on my own, if necessary.  It really saves me time, and frankly, Shawn has ideas on lettering that I either wouldn’t, or wouldn’t be able to properly execute.  For example, I asked him on a passage he’s lettering for 27 to make a character’s balloons “ghostly,” and he didn’t blink an eye.  I, on the other hand, would try 50 different approaches before choosing one that sort of, maybe, worked.

So, to celebrate Shawn’s work, I have decided to attach two versions of a single panel in 27, where he had to fit an awkwardly large amount of text into a relatively small space.

His first attempt, which I think was mostly just to lay out the words and see what he was dealing with:

A first pass at laying in well, too many words.

And a more advanced version.  Note the way a big blob of ungainly words has been given a nice flow.  It almost makes sense now!

Much better!

And in the second one, you can see a few teases of additional snippets of dialogue, if you’re interested.  This project is really coming together fast, and I think you’re going to like it.

If you’ve been following the development of Strongman 2, or you’re a fan of Strongman 1, you know that the creative team thus far has been limited to two folks – myself on words and Allen Gladfelter on pictures.  Allen, as part of his fabulous work on the book, has been handling pencils, inking and a last-step process we’ve come to call “toning,” which involves watercolored greys to add texture and depth to the inked pages, as well as a set of tiny dots that are reminiscent of an old technique called Zip-A-Tone or Screentone.  The pages, as you’ve seen, look gorgeous (just scroll down, or check out the book’s Facebook page, which has a number of preview pages from both Strongman 1 and 2.)

Between the time Allen and I finished Strongman 1 and started to work on Strongman 2, he was tapped to provide covers for the Boom! Studios book Cars, under their Pixar license.  I believe he’s done every cover for the book so far, which started as a 4-issue mini and has been given the green light (ha!) to become an ongoing.  The guys at Boom! asked Allen to take over interiors – I believe the first of his issues hit the stands last month, actually.

Of course, running interiors for a book, even if it’s “just” pencils, is still a lot of work, and trying to carry the workload for both Cars and Strongman 2 was starting to destroy Mr. Gladfelter.  So, we came to a new arrangement, whereby he’ll continue on pencils and I’ll track down another artist to handle inks and toning.  A day later, I found the perfect guy – Rob Saywitz, who you may already have read about on the blog in connection with the “Sal & Chrys” story he’s been working on for me.  (Again, scroll down or click the link for samples.)

As it stands, I’m hopeful that this will only be a minor hiccup in the book’s production, and once Allen and Rob get a nice assembly line going, it might even speed things up.  It’ll have to get faster, anyway, if we want to make the book’s release target.  And if anyone reading is concerned that the look of the book will change, or change in its second half (or so) at the transition point between Allen solo and the Allen/Rob team, don’t be.  Pencilers steer the look of a book – Tigre’s still going to look like Tigre.  Rob’s job will be to take Allen’s pencils and make them seamlessly integrate with the stuff he’s already done for V2, plus, of course, V1.  I’m not concerned at all – Rob’s a real pro, and I think this will work out very well.

I should have a final cover to show you soon, too – and more from 27!  Plus, exciting news about Strongman v3, believe it or not!