This post is all about how I got from the starting point of having the idea for a graphic novel memoir about growing up with a brother with autism to where I am now: holding my first draft manuscript of part one of Oh Brother. Here's the step-by-step process.
Step 1. Filling your belly with tasty beverages.
A good drink to start the day is important to me and my brain processing. It gives you a chance to sit and think about what you've written, a chance to ponder. Also the act of making a cup of tea (boiling the kettle, steeping the leaves) helps to get my brain in the right frame of mind.
Talking about what stories I want to tell or discussing what I'd written that day over a cuppa with a friend helped me to figure out if the story made sense or hit the right emotional tones.
Step 2. Setting up shop.
The first thing I did was pick a colour for the notebooks and sketchbooks that I would be working in. Colour is important to me and having all my notes and stories, sketches and ideas about Rob and autism in books all the same colour just makes me happy. They look so good on the shelf together.
When setting up what I was going to write, I decided to make a list of different types of stories or things I wanted to talk about in the book. Each category had a different coloured post-it:
Yellow // Happy or Funny stories
Dark Blue // Sad or Fearful stories
Lime Green // Questions I have or Questions I get asked
Red // Over-arching story themes
Purple // Stories about carers or Rob going into care
Light Blue // Misc. stories or facts about me and Rob
This was a great starting point, just getting all the stories I possibly could down and then expanding on them when I started...
Step 3. Writing 15 minutes every day.
To start off with I found it hard trying to get myself to write. I would also be put off by 'not being inspired' or expecting to write for hours at a time. But I soon realised that wasn't how I worked. I like to do things in little fragments of time and waiting to be inspired to write just meant that I was also drawing other silly nothing comics. So after a recommendation from Mentor Pat to do my important brain work in the morning, and reading someone else online talking about forcing yourself to write for 15 minutes no matter how bad you think it is , I started a new routine.
The first thing I would do after I got to the studio each morning (after making a cup of tea, obvs) was to sit down and write for 15 minutes about whatever stories I could think up about Rob. Sometimes I barely managed to scrape in the 15 minutes, really struggling to get ideas out, and sometimes I would write for up to 40 minutes.
Sometimes the ideas were terrible; sometimes awesome. Sometimes they were okay and the next day I would use my 15 minutes to re-write the passage, having had a day to think about and refine what I was trying to say.
Step 4. Drawing one illustration every day.
As well writing something every day, I drew something every day. I wanted to fill the book with diagrams that would demonstrate what it was like living with Rob and help to illustrate his cheeky personality. You can read my previous blog posts with diagrams here, here, here and here.
While writing things down helped to get the stories clear in my mind, drawing the characters and places helped to figure out how I was going to portray my brother and parents. (I've already drawn myself a bunch of times and I'm all over that).
Step 5. Writing a script. With, you know, words.
After a few weeks of writing every day I thought I should start collating the stories into a script form. I found that the stories generally fell into three broad categories: 1) Communication; 2) Obsessions; and 3) Fears. I decided that these would be good section dividers for the book and I would focus on part one, Communication.
Having never written a script previously (because I always draw my own work and my previous comics have been so short that I only needed to jot down a few dot points at most), I had to sort of play it by ear - I had no idea what I was doing.
But I needed to have something written down as I was heading on a two week trip to learn from my mentor Pat about his process and he was going to need a script to read, give feedback on and help me edit.
Step 6. Editing the script and learning about Pat Grant's thumbnailing process.
When I got to Wollongong to meet up with Pat all I had was twelve pages of written words and a few character illustrations. In the first couple of days Pat read, pulled apart and discussed my script.
I took a notebook along with me with a heap of questions for Pat about comics making and in particular how to do thumbnailing. He kindly obliged by responding in comic form.
Thumbnailing, for those who haven't heard of it, is the process of rough drawing the comics panels generally smaller than the size they will be printed at so you can get the general idea of what image you need in each panel, camera angles, characters, layout etc.
By the end of the first week of hanging out with Pat I had fully thumbnailed my script using Pat's method of drawing all over the printed page with lots of arrows and reference numbers. I love this method of thumbnailing. I'm never looking back!
Step 7. Drawing a first draft manuscript (or readable thumbnails).
Once I got back from visiting Pat with my new thumbnails under my belt, I was pumped and ready to start the readable thumbnails. Readable thumbnails to me means taking my script and thumbnails and turning that into comics pages, so a reader can get the general idea of what the final book will read like. It's a mock up of the final story.
I found this process very interesting and surprisingly easy. It wasn't a walk in the park but having already done preliminary thumbs it was fun working out how the individual panels worked on the page. Also knowing that this wasn't the pencils or final art meant that I didn't have any hang ups about whether it was the best thing I'd ever drawn.
I didn't let anyone give me critical feedback while I was writing the draft as I didn't want to put any doubts in my mind (battling my own double talk was enough). But the moment I finished I opened the floor to anyone who wanted to read it to give me feedback.
After a little while I realised I was having trouble with showing different emotions for the main characters in the story, so I created an emotion guide for each of the main characters. This has already been useful in this first draft so I'm sure it will continue to be in the next two chapters.
Here are all the pencils I used to draw the 100+ pages of chapter one.
Step 8. Finishing part one, bound and ready for feedback from pals.
Then, 6 weeks later, I had the very first part of my very first graphic novel. I keep all the pages in this folder to keep them safe from harm. It's also pretty exciting to hold a big folder that holds all my comics. It reminds me how much work I've put into this book so far. Also this neat folder looks exactly like something from Harriet the Spy, so that's another win.
I scanned and edited the pages ready for printing (with formatting and proofreading help from Owen). After a little mis-printing mishap at Officeworks, I now have 7 bound copies that I will send out to mentors and some family members and then await feedback.
When the feedback comes back, I will edit anything I need to and then start the final art for the chapter. Which is both awesome and scary.
And that's it. That's how I got to this point.
Phew, that was a long post.