Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Ray Roche from Two Pugs Publishing. You can follow Ray and his comic book adventures on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Ray has kindly agreed to give everyone an insight into how he writes. He has also kindly supplied some artwork from his latest publication SOMA: Eden. Fiona Boniwell of Boniwell Graphics supplied the cover. The art is by Michael Arbuthnot.
Ray sells his comics via his Facebook page as well via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The comics are also available to buy at the following shops: Comic Vault in Cork City, Celtic Comics in Portlaoise, and Comicbook Guys in Belfast. Ray has a new comic coming out very soon. Dem Bones is about a pair of Detectives tracking a child abducting serial killer in Dublin, government and religious cover-ups and it’s a comedy.
THE READER IS THE FINAL COLLABORATOR
When someone asks me where I get my ideas I am always flippant. I tell them that when a Mammy-idea and a Daddy-idea love each other, they get married and I just wait until Mammy-idea isn’t looking and steal the baby-idea from under her prodigious rump.
The average person will either say that they couldn’t do what I do, or wow you have some imagination. We all have the ability to lie. Writers have the talent to think up a really, great lie.
Writing comics is different to writing prose, long or short form, but it is still writing. The rules of comics are odd, but they have a cog-meeting-cog feel to them that works. Follow them along the conveyor belt and what comes out of the machine is a story you can show to someone else and they might just like it. We call these people The Readers. They provide the final element in the formula, the thing that makes the alchemy work.
THE WRITING PROCESS or CRAFTING THE LIE
My process for writing is a little different to most others in that I start with an idea. I know, sounds tritely obvious but how many times do we overhear a conversation about a book or a film that goes like this?…
The new Stephen King book/movie? What’s it about?
Well, this killer clown preys on children in a small Maine town…
No, that would be the plot. Not an answer to “what’s it about?”
My process is simple. I look at things around me and make lists. Last year, I wrote my first comic. I made a list of genres that I wanted to write about. Top of that list was “Robot Love”. I made a free association game out of it, writing ideas on post-its, dozens of them. Then I read them again. I was very surprised to see that I had written “Grief” on one of those square yellow traitors. I like to think of my subconscious as a Mad Scientist’s lab, beakers and Bunsen burners and a Tesla machine in the corner making ZZZZZZT-crackle noises. I even imagine there is an electro-pop soundtrack playing as the scientist, who is wearing industrial strength black rubber gloves as he plunges his hand into a cauldron and hurls spaghetti ideas at the wall. He pauses each time and counts to ten. If the spaghetti sticks he scrapes it off and emails it to my conscious where I (like everyone else) check my emails every week or so. I asked myself what grief meant to me and it brought me to my Mother.
Mothers are wonderful things. They try to protect us, stop us falling out the nest, or being taking by baby-idea-stealing passers-by. Sometimes they refuse to accept that their sons need to grow up and make their own mistakes, their own path to whatever conclusion is waiting. I wrote Mother-Son relationship on a new list and made the decision that this story was about my relationship with my Mother.
Now I knew what it was about but what’s next?
I think of this as the tube of paint in the art shop step. I have the idea, but it’s concentrated, almost bitter, now I need to spread it on a canvas so other people can stand back and go “Oh, yeah… I see what he means.” The canvas I chose was a favourite get on a soap box and rant of mine: Manifest Destiny. Do we have the right go anywhere and take what someone else has, just because we can? And. AND, can we really justify it by saying God said it’s ok? We SHOULD take because it’s our duty to do it.
So, I was going to paint this Mother-Son story across a Manifest Destiny as yet blank canvas. I had to decide a few things first.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
I made more lists.
When is it set? Where is it set? When and where would be a Mutually Assured Destruction contract. I could set it in war-torn Germany at one of those bendy-metal gate camps or I could Moebius strip time and throw robots at the problem with nothing but the phonebook as a guide. When you make lists, they start to propagate themselves. I couldn’t decide, so… I made a list of my favourite robots.
It was about eliminating choices, seeing what was left. My robot list included the pre-Terminator girl from Metropolis, Captain Kirk’s old girlfriend now a shell of herself from the episode “What are little girls made of…?” and Rachael from Blade Runner. None of them seemed maternal. Even the Stepford Wives (the original) didn’t have that organically grown mother-specific love I was looking for. But, there was one character that did. I had written short stories about this character over 40 years ago and I remembered a novella with a robot’s internal monologue as she watches a team of surgeons operate on her surrogate son, Jon Sorrenson. This was Soma. This was kismet.
I needed to isolate them to forge that mother-child bond in the reader’s mind. I turned to space. Every decision seemed a practical one. The story needed this, therefore that must happen. A ship carrying colonist worked within the manifest destiny theme. Soma and Jon needed roles.
The colonists were going to land on a virgin planet. Their mission came from a deity in the sky – The Ship. The ship’s AI would scan the world before they landed. It knew all. It was God-like. The ship could approach the world but was forever kept from it. It needed an agent, to travel among the people, guiding. Soma was ubiquitous. Being a robot, she would outlast the generations of colonists. I shortened her life with the boy. She became a replacement, stepping (literally in the first panel) into the role of SOMA when her predecessor is destroyed in an accident. On her first tour of the ship she meets a mewling infant, newly born as she, and the bond begins to form. She is his constant companion as he grows into a man. With the limited space in a comic I had to show him age, grow into the position of colony commander. Within a few pages it looks as if he ages from his teens, to a 25 year old, to a 35 year old on the planet, now in command.
BEGINNING, MIDDLE and END
The greater story of the ship, Soma, and the events on the planet and afterwards is too big for one comic. I couldn’t tell it all in 24 pages (though, we added 4 pages at a late stage) so what I decided to do was (taking my cue and several billiard balls from George Lucas) jump into a point in the overall arc that had a self-contained mystery and end it after an emotional plunge with another mystery. The story would now run over 4 issues, with past and future events playing out in flashback and parallel narrative.
Everything in a comic has to serve a purpose or it is waste. My process is to write the last page first. That way I know how it ends and events lead up to a natural climax, not a manufactured “to be continued…” I work backwards, sketching out the plot, key points, surprises etc (a surprise in comics has to come on the left page as the reader turns it over). Then I put my characters into the situation, again working backwards. That way, things are foreshadowed. This requires a bit of juggling. Sometimes a character’s reactions do not fit, and the dialogue is switched to another character. Lastly, the dialogue. I read it out loud. If it seems stilted, it probably is. In a key scene on the bridge of the ship I use stilted dialogue to make the reader feel that something is not right here. This scene is an echo backwards and forwards in time. These people were involved in the events before the arrival of the present SOMA and will play a part in events after this episode.
I have a formula: Idea, themes, characters, location, events (plot).
When I have the formula set in my mind (and copious notes, written and on computer on everything from the character’s backstories to the level of tech used in the story) I sit down and write the plot in very simple language. No frills. A, B, C.
I give each scene a funny title. I populate the scene with the characters.
I go back, again and again over several days and fill in details under each scene heading.
I add. I add. I add until I have described everything in the scene, including intent and motive (not the same thing, I find).
I trim away the fat. In comics they say: “Kill your darlings.” Sometimes, the thing the writer is most happy with and just cannot do without is the thing that is slowing the narrative down or making it about something else, not the story.
Eventually, I break each comic page down into panels, with enough description to help, not hinder the artist, but enough to tell the story.
I rewrite, edit, rewrite, rinse, repeat.
When it feels right, I put my head in the lion’s mouth.
I show it to someone else. This is an important step in the process. The final goal is for someone to actually read the comic so it’s important to get another perspective.
Then, it’s sit back and accumulate the abundant accolades.