How to Make a Mini-Comic (Extreme Edition)

So, as you know if you are a regular reader, I managed to scrape together a mini-comic in time for last weekend’s Harbour Con-Fusion. I thought that some of you might like to know how the publishing end of it works, so here is what I did to make the “5 Seconds Summer Fun Special”:

1. Created the pages in Manga Studio. You can do this however you like, of course. You can create your pages digitally from start to finish, or you can draw them on paper the old-fashioned way and then scan them, or you can draw them and make your master pages on a photocopier, which is what I used to do. These days I prefer to do all-digital, because printing and photocopying and re-copying can result in lost gray tones. Plus, it’s the 21st century. :)

2. Laid out the master pages in Adobe InDesign, which is a publishing program. To create a booklet like a mini-comic, you need to arrange the pages so that they will be in the correct order once they are printed and stapled together. So if you have a 4-page comic on a single folded sheet of paper, the master pages will look like this:

Front – Page 4 (L) / Page 1 (R)
Back – Page 2 (L) / Page 3 (R)

The mini-comic I made was 12 pages, which means 3 sheets of paper with the pages figured out as above. An easy way to do this is to create an “ashcan”; take some sheets of paper, fold them the way your comic would be folded, and then write your page numbers on the sheets in sequence. When you’re done, unfold your ashcan and you will see how you will need to arrange your master pages so that you can duplex them (make double-sided copies) correctly.

3. Once the master pages were set up in InDesign, I printed them on my little laser printer. And here is where things got crafty. Because the style of the comic was meant to resemble an old Archie comic, I decided to print it directly onto newsprint. I found some newsprint pads at the art supply store; they were 9 by 12 inches, so I used my guillotine cutter to trim them to 8.5 by 12 inches, so the pages would be narrow enough to go through the printer.

4. Once the pages were printed, I collated them (combined one copy of each page in the correct order) and used my binding stapler to staple them in the center of the sheets.

5. With the comics stapled, I folded the pages in half. It looks like a comic now, but I’m not quite done; because not only did I want the comic to look like an Archie comic, I wanted it to be the same size as an Archie digest. So, back to the guillotine trimmer with the folded copies. I trimmed each to about 4 7/8″ wide by 6 1/2″ tall.

All done! I made about 50 copies altogether. If I ever do another printing, I don’t know if I will do it on newsprint again, but it was nice to make a unique object this time around. There are copies left, so if you want one, email me or leave a comment for details. I’ll be distributing some copies to Maritime comic shops and a few other places in the next few weeks as well, and eventually there will be a PDF available for download here.

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The Hidden

Why don’t I read more Richard Sala books? The guy is a genius, and I have liked everything I have read by him. The Hidden is an excellently paced tale with roots in a classic story, a lot of macabre touches and dark humour.

It opens with what appears to be the world ending. A bearded man hides in dark corners as bizarre humanoid creatures run amok, killing everyone they see. He manages to escape the town and suddenly wakes in a cave, his beard much longer and unable to remember much about his past. He meets a young couple whose car has broken down and offers to lead them to a rest stop that might be safe. As they travel, they meet another young couple and trade stories. When they arrive at the rest stop, it does prove to be a safe place – for a while.

Sala is, to my mind, the heir to Edward Gorey as the king of dark and creepy and wonderful comics; but Sala’s style is also more contemporary, comfortably depicting both monsters and cute college girls on the same page. He combines idiosyncratic linework and lettering with a muted colour palette to create what is a unique place in comics.

The G.N.B. Double C

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists is a sort-of-graphic-novel from the sketchbooks of Seth, who is probably as well known these days for his book and packaging design as he is for his comics. One of his passions is the study and celebration of classic cartoonists, so much so that his sketchbooks have become a repository for semi-fictional tales of their exploits. The GNBCC takes place in an alternate world where Canada once celebrated its cartoonists as Seth would, erecting statues and supporting regional headquarters that resemble gentlemen’s clubs.

Seth’s narrator takes us on a tour through the central HQ; the only one left apart from an archive in the arctic circle. The book ruminates on the passing of time and the GNBCC’s members, digressing occasionally to describe the achievements of some and failures of others. The discussion includes Doug Wright, an actual titan of Canadian cartooning for whom our national awards are named, and who is the subject of an enormous tome that Seth also designed.

I don’t know my Canadian comics history as well as I might (though I do know some), so I cannot always be sure about the references, but it seemed that there were passages about Richard Comely, the creator of Captain Canuck who was also a little wacky about politics; and I wonder if Henry Pefferlaw is supposed to represent the late Martin Vaughn-James.

Like much of Seth’s work, The GNBCC is a smart and well-drawn, charming and aloof tale with some dark moments. He dedicates it to “honorary Canadian” Joe Matt and enshrines his other close friend Chester Brown within this fictional society. I was about to write “sadly fictional”, as if it is a shame that the GNBCC does not actually exist, but honestly, I’m not sure that it is. The GNBCC was a nice place to visit but I don’t think I want to live there.

Anya’s Ghost

Sheridan alumnus Vera Brosgol hits a home run with her debut YA graphic novel Anya’s Ghost, about a teenaged Russian immigrant who has worked hard to assimilate but still feels like an outsider. Anya discovers that things could be much worse when she falls down a hole in a field and lands next to the long-lost remains of Emily, a girl who died under sinister circumstances during World War I. Emily’s ghost haunts the skeleton, unable to stray far from it, but when Anya is rescued she accidentally sweeps one of Emily’s small finger-bones into her backpack and brings Emily with her. Not surprisingly, Emily does not want to go back, so she promises to help Anya with her problems, fetching answers for tests and finding out how to attract a certain boy. The more Emily does, however, the more Anya starts to suspect that Emily is not as helpful as she appears.

Brosgol, herself a Russian immigrant, constructs a smart and well-paced script around familiar YA themes of self-discovery and ethical choices versus wanting to fit in. Anya is a (literally) well-drawn character with family and friends that we can easily identify with. The art style is very polished, reminding me a bit of Craig Thompson and Hope Larson, but by no means derivative. And while teenaged girls are the obvious target for Anya’s Ghost, anyone who loves great comics would be well-served to check it out. My congratulations to Vera Brosgol, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

The Abyss Gazes Also

Katherine Wirick recently wrote at The Hooded Utilitarian about how we could interpret Rorschach, every fanboy’s favourite psychopath, as a victim of rape. She points to the incident where two older boys threaten to take down young Walter’s pants, supposedly so as to molest him, resulting in Walter taking out some of his considerable rage on the boys. Walter was emotionally and probably physically abused, by his mother and perhaps her clients; but not raped.

I see no reason to add rape to Rorschach’s motivation or backstory when there is no real evidence for it, and a more obvious answer is literally staring us in the face. It is in the mask and the name that Walter Kovacs chose to fight what he calls crime. The Rorschach ink blot test is a psychological device designed to reveal aspects of the patient’s personality indirectly, through their own impressions. In Watchmen, it reinforces the fact that Rorschach is our window into that world, through his journal and otherwise. He is our avatar, our abyss to gaze into. For those of us used to reading American superhero comics, he is the closest (albeit warped) thing we have to the uncompromising good guy who wants justice.

What drives Rorschach is indeed the violence and sexual issues recounted by Wirick; but I have a feeling that all of those details are in Walter’s history not to paint him as a revenge-seeking victim, but rather as a Freudian superhero. I think that one of Alan Moore’s goals was to posit Rorschach in this way against Ozymandias, who is arguably the Jungian superhero: creative and self-actualized, “making himself feel” the wrongs he perpetrates in the name of the greater good. Jungian ideas (especially synchronicity) also permeate the character of Dr. Manhattan, and Jung is quoted at the end of Manhattan’s dialogue with Laurie about her origins.

If you look at Watchmen through the lens of psychology rather than trying to bend the characters to mainstream superhero archetypes, an assortment of motivations and disorders is readily apparent: megalomania, sociopathology, parental issues, repressed memories, sexual dysfunctions and more. It is not only Rorschach who is his face; most of these people are “functional” only in costume, whatever form the costume takes. The Rorschach “birth scene” where he kills the child rapist, which Wirick views as indicative of Kovacs’ own history, is more likely the kind of catharsis-through-psychosis described by R.D. Laing, whose book Knots is also depicted in Watchmen (at one point being torn in half by a minor character, as a visual echo of Ozymandias slicing through the Gordian knot).

Watchmen itself is a Rorschach test, filled with imagery and ideas that we can choose to interpret as we wish. Does Rorschach’s journal get found and reveal Veidt’s lies? Does Dr. Manhattan create a different world to try again? Is the recurring imagery of the smiley face button evidence of some creator’s plan, or merely the kind of amazing coincidence that Dr. Manhattan admires? The way we answer reveals aspects of our personality as much as any inkblot could.

Watchmen, Citizen Kane, and Legend-Building

If you are one of those like myself who has the unfortunate affliction of following comics news, you may have read the long interview with Alan Moore that was published online last week in which he discusses the origins of his discontent with DC Comics and how that has led to falling out with Dave Gibbons and so on. He was praised by many and derided by some afterward and I am here to do neither, really, apart from to say that I respect Alan Moore and his position and I enjoyed the interview. Since it was published, various blogs have interpreted or expanded upon Moore’s words to speculate as to whether or not Watchmen is the “best” comic book ever published. I think that kind of discussion is ultimately pointless, the kind of fanboy bickering that people substitute for actual analysis.

That said, I am hard pressed to think of another comic that has penetrated the public consciousness, and stayed there, the way that Watchmen has. It is the Great Gatsby (or better yet, the Catcher in the Rye) of comics. The only other candidate I can think of that even comes close is Maus. Now, what do Watchmen and Maus have in common apart from their superior execution and marketing and other attributes? Why are they the canon in every right-thinking person’s bookshelf and not, say, Asterios Polyp, or Blankets? Their scope. Watchmen is a mixture of nuclear apocalypse, a scathing critique of America, and deconstructing the American superhero; any of which would be a huge topic on its own, much less combined successfully in one book; and Maus is a recollection of the holocaust.

So is it any wonder that works like this loom larger in the public mind than the more personal stories of Harvey Pekar or Los Bros Hernandez, both of whom Moore has praised effusively in the past? Is it really surprising that there hasn’t been “another Watchmen” (or “another Maus”) when most of the best American comics since then have been of a much smaller, more personal scope? Personally, I think that Love and Rockets is the quintessential American comic, one of the high watermarks of the art form for any nation; but it does not have universal appeal. Not because it is about latinas, or because it has no superheroes; because it is not an entry-level comic the way that Watchmen or Maus are. If Watchmen is The Great Gatsby, Love and Rockets is a Pynchon novel. It’s what you read when you have some experience with reading comics under your belt.

I’m probably reading too much into a comment that Alan Moore made in what was probably meant to be an offhand manner. It’s not like Watchmen was regarded as a classic the moment the last issue hit the stands. Back then it was still the property of the fanboys, and a lot of them hated that ending. A lot of them thought it was a big letdown after the buildup of the first eleven issues. A lot of people hated Citizen Kane when it was released too. The myth and the legend of the high watermark takes time to grow and solidify. Maybe one day there will be a film that supplants Kane as the automatic answer to the question of the best American film ever made, and maybe one day there will be a comic that supplants Watchmen in its field. When a work is known for its innovation and influence on all that follows as much as it is for its story, it’s hard to catch it up, much less pass.

American Vampire

American Vampire is an award-winning series created by Scott Snyder, with an origin story by Stephen King and artwork throughout by Rafael Albuquerque.

The obvious question is: why read another vampire story in a world that already has too many? Of course, any old monster can be interesting again in the right hands, as Stephen King’s early career demonstrates. What makes American Vampire interesting is the concept of class warfare within the vampire world set against periods of American history. The first story arc alternates between Hollywood on the verge of the talking picture and the last days of the wild west, with a new vampire created in each: aspiring actress Pearl Jones and clever criminal Skinner Sweet, respectively.

Skinner Sweet, as the original American vampire, discovers that he has an advantage that the older, European vampires do not: he can walk in the daylight. As the old guard tries to reach a truce with him, they also build wealth in the human world by investing in and influencing projects like the Boulder Dam. Sweet sees them as weak and decadent, like an ambitious gangster that wants to eliminate the old mafiosi. Meanwhile, a few of the humans who understand vampires have created their own elite corps of slayers, and don’t mind working with some vampires in order to eliminate others.

While I’m sure having King’s name on this book didn’t hurt sales, it is Snyder who has developed a compelling series here; and while I don’t always feel that Albuquerque’s artwork is well-served by digital colouring, it does work more often than not. Skinner Sweet is one of those charismatic villains that I perversely root for. If like me you have grown weary of franchises that are past their sell-by date like True Blood, American Vampire is an excellent replacement.