Several years ago I stumbled across the then-legendary, now-defunct Warren Ellis forum while drunk and surfing the Internet. I was immediately taken with the place. It was full of likeminded people, most of whom seemed to be interested in making comics. What's more, a fair few of them actually seemed to be doing it.
Making comics was easy, or so it seemed. You just needed the right amount of commitment and the right people. Anyone could do it.
I'd had some small success with a short story in the NEVER MIND THE COMICS minicomic anthology that debuted at the Comics 2001 festival in Bristol, and a one-page strip featured in the HEROES charity comic at the same venue. I felt confident that I should now be able to move on to bigger projects.
'Making comics was easy. You just needed the right commitment and the right people.' I realised pretty quickly that I wanted to make a graphic novel, although I wasn't sure what it should be about. I wanted it to be different from the usual action-type genre that seems to pervade the industry as a whole.
Early in 2001 it hit me. I would write a semi-autobiographical story dealing with the subject of self injury. It was a subject quite close to my heart, so by extension I thought it would be something I was capable of writing about. I set about planning the book.
After about three months of constant planning and near-obsessive note taking I managed to plot out an overall direction, having changed the concept quite radically from the initial ideas I'd had. I felt I had something to work with, so I set about finding an artist.
That's where the trouble began.
A lot of people seemed to be finding collaborators online. But I wasn't keen on this idea, mainly due to the personal nature of the story. Fortunately I knew a lot of graphic artists and art students, so I decided instead to ask around in those circles and see if I could find someone who was interested.
I approached several people about the book, which I had by now christened TRIGGERS, and started to collect art samples and sketches. But no-one seemed to have quite the right style for what I was looking for.
I was about to give up and start searching online after all when I remembered a friend, Justin, who had absolutely no interest in comics, but did have the art style that I was looking for. I approached him, and much to my amazement he agreed to draw TRIGGERS. So I set about writing the script.
I felt that the best way to go about selling the book to potential publishers was to create a five page preview, which could be packaged together with the proposal. I completed the preview script in October 2001, and Justin set about producing the art. Things were looking good.
Too good, as it turned out.
About this time I was asked to write a twenty-two page single-issue comic, for which I would again have to find the artist. As I was already working with Justin, I asked him if he would be interested in doing this other comic, mainly because I thought that the experience would be beneficial for him - getting him used to page layouts and other comics-specific skills.
'Things were looking good. Too good, as it turned out.' Again he accepted, and by January 2002 we had completed a whole comic - a first for both of us. We were quite happy with it. Sadly, the publishing arrangement promptly fell through. The comic was consigned to limbo, where it remains to this day. (Though plans are now afoot to release it as a minicomic. We're both tired of it sitting around clogging up our hard drives.)
The experience had still been a good one. So Justin and I took a month out, intending to return to TRIGGERS after what we felt was a much needed rest. But events overtook us (work problems, moving house, personal problems, etc) and it was April of 2002 before I managed to return to the script writing process. Justin hadn't been working on the preview art either, so I vowed to get us both back on track.
I spent three caffeine-fuelled months writing the complete first draft of the TRIGGERS script. It finally weighed in at one hundred and twelve pages, slightly longer than I had originally envisioned. That was one hundred and twelve pages of longhand script, by the way, which now required typing up and editing.
I then discovered that Justin had been waiting for me to finish writing the script before continuing with the art. So now that I had finished it, I harassed him back into action and left him to it. Meanwhile, I went about typing up the script.
This process took much less time than the original process of creation had, which naturally pleased me. I had the whole thing typed up in a month, rewriting passages and tweaking dialogue as I went.
The script was finished, and typed up. Justin was beavering away on the art. I should have guessed that something was about to go wrong.
The laptop on which I'd typed the script died a hideous death, taking all my hard work with it. To make matters worse, I hadn't created back up copies of several of my files - including TRIGGERS.
I was now without a computer and without a script. I was somewhat disheartened, to say the least. It appeared that Justin had been acting out of sympathy for me, and now stopped almost all art endeavours on the preview.
The project languished in a kind of creative limbo, while we both pursued other interests - myself within comics, Justin outside. We still talked about TRIGGERS occasionally, but nothing much happened in the way of completing the preview, let alone the whole book.
So it came as a surprise to me, shortly after Christmas of 2002, when Justin announced he was once again working on the art for TRIGGERS. He'd decided he would quite like to have a go at being a comics artist after all, and was going to give the art another shot.
All well and good. We had some meetings to discuss art and page layouts, drinking a lot while planning what we would do.
'I was now without a computer and without a script.' But yet again the project fell by the wayside, due to other work commitments and another bout of house moving. Once again, TRIGGERS is in creative limbo - an artless script sitting in my drawer. (Well, on my hard drive. "In the drawer" sounds much better.)
So what have I learnt from this experience?
First, when approaching any project make sure you have a plan for the work you're intending to produce; a minimum page amount per month and a solid plan for submissions or publishing.
Second, don't work with close friends. While it makes the project fun and easy to deal with in some respects, it also makes it harder when things start to go wrong. I have finally decided to search for a new artist, as Justin just doesn't have the time to complete such an ambitious project - but because of our friendship, it's taken me close to six months for us to accept this fact.
Almost two years after I first had the idea for TRIGGERS, I'm no closer to the completion of the book, let alone a publication date. I know in my heart that one day TRIGGERS will see print, as it's a book that I believe in and won't give up on. Unfortunately, at the current rate of progress, that could likely be the end of the decade.
Making comics is easy, they say. They just shouldn't say it around me.
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