I know many of you love to read about process and, as you probably know, I have no fear of being transparent about how I create. So after pulling a George Lucas and reworking a few pages in Chapter Three, I thought some readers might be interested in an exhilarating behind the scenes story.
One of the things that I like most about posting a weekly comic is the immediacy of the feedback and commentary that I receive — an experience in complete contrast to majority of cartooning history. In the golden days of comic books, it would be months after deadline before letters from readers began to pour in and the comic strip artists of the same era were usually months into the next story arc before a strip landed in the funny pages.
I’ve often imagined that doing a weekly webcomic is as close to the experience of performing for a live audience that a cartoonist will ever have. Having done a little bit of stand-up back when my hair was fuller and less gray, I can tell you it can be either exhilarating or demoralizing depending on — well, let’s just say it’s the luck of the draw. I find that stage experience isn’t much different from waiting for the first readers comments to come rolling in, but without the shaky knees and sweaty palms.
I like to call Red’s Planet a “graphic novel-in-progress” and for a long-form comic, it’s been invaluable to be able to judge how my audience is perceiving the story as it goes along; are the characters ringing true, is the plot point clear, am I revealing too much in a subplot that won’t payoff until act three, etc. And, occasionally, I find out that the way I set up a scene or gag isn’t playing at all. And that’s when it’s time to figure out how to fix it.
Working as a writer and story artist in animation, my scenes are constantly deluged by notes from the producer, director, or even an executive. It’s my job to take their concerns, fix the story, hopefully plus it, then pitch again in a week or two. At which point, more notes come in and we do it all over again until someone dies or they run out of money.
The great thing about notes are, in most cases, the story becomes stronger. With Red’s Planet, I think of my online readership as playing a key role in that note process. And when a scene doesn’t “play” and there’s a bit of a hint in the comment section, that’s a pretty good indication that I might need to step back, reassess, and maybe go back to the drawing board.
When comments started coming in on Chapter Three page 37, I began to realize that my concept of a large metal box with pre-dented edges that just happen to fall around Red’s legs without dismembering her, really wasn’t working. Not only did it become
a distraction for many readers, it drew attention away from the most important thing: the story.
So after, a little brainstorming (usually while taking a shower), I decided to rework pages 35 thru 37. The reworked pages not only make more story sense by replacing the metal monolithic box with a teetering pile of junk, but they are much more visually interesting as well. I’ve replaced the pages in the story, but I’ve included the original pages here for comparison.
Making changes is just part of the process. The story can always be stronger, and you should never be afraid to change something. Unless you’re George Lucas. Then, of course, you should just leave well enough alone.