I’m getting the feeling people don’t like Writing Rules, they don’t want a rigid structure of how it works to get worlds out of your brain, and they certainly didn’t warm to those laid down by Jonathan Franzen, but I’ll admit, I find them fascinating. A word I choose carefully.
I want to know what the masters think we should hold in our highest esteem, I want to know it from my peers, and nascent writers, and plenty of others. I want to look into everyone’s head and see what roads they follow. I won’t necessarily follow those rules, or even care about them, but the process of having them to read absolutely fascinates me. It’ll tell me more about the person’s mindset and style than it will about any universal truth of writing.
I dig books about writing, I dig blogs and podcasts and tweets about writing. I use them like I’m building up a pantry, but when I write I’m just cooking. I might have everything stockpiled, but I’ll only take out what I need for a specific recipe when the time comes. You dig?
But, in the spirit, I wanted to attempt to carve out my own ten tips, just suggestions, just from me, and then I could see what I thought rose to the top, so here goes:
The RKL Top 10 Writing
1 – Your story must be about stuff. And that stuff isn’t just a list of the things that happen, it’s why those things will matter to the reader, the truths beneath it all, the theme. Your writing will be amateur until you have something of meaning to say.
2 – Write so 1000 people will absolutely love you, not so 100,000 will think you’re kinda alright.
3 – Write about whatever gets you excited to sit down and write.
4 – Set small writing goals. 500 words/2 script pages a day. Then blast through them, sometimes.
5 – Have only one tab open while you’re writing.
6 – Think on paper.
7 – Are all your default lead characters straight white dudes? Why?
8 – Write whatever you want. Any genre, any length, any format. You might not find a paying home for it, but you’ll be true to yourself.
9 – Be inspired by your heroes, but don’t ape them. Let them fuel you with the courage to be yourself.
10 – Recharge your brain so it has more to write about. Read comics, watch movies, study the world, live life.
These points are very clearly by me, for me, and just for me. If you find them interesting, I’m glad. If they help you sharpen your own Top 10, fantastic. If your 10 are the polar opposite of mine, fill your boots, I bet we can still be mates.
I write about stuff like this all the time in my newsletter, statistically, there’s a chance one of you will like it, so here’s the link – tinyletter.com/ryanklindsay
Wait, bad translation – trust in the process.
Dan Hill has been saying this to me for years. And he’s been right every time. Chuck Wendig just now, at that link above, chimed in. The writing process is a hell of a thing, and it feels designed to break you, for some unknown reason. Every time you stumble, falter, it feels like the first time.
I think writing is like love. In hindsight you see the good, you see the bad, you see it all and you don’t die for every part of it. But in the moment, oh man, I’m a mess. I catastrophise, I glorify, I obfuscate [even from myself], and I have no clue. I’m lost, like it’s my first time, and I can’t get a clear view. And I don’t think I’d have it any other way.
I’m constantly hitting a wall in my stories where I’m absolutely certain I’ve borked it. Sometimes it comes early, sometimes late. Right now I’m breaking a story with an artist, and I’ve already gone through this phase. Right now I’m also writing a script for a #6 issue and I have the same feeling. It’s ridiculous, but it’s only because I want the best story possible.
I say this a lot, but a story can work, the acts can all be in the right place, and the story clicks – but that doesn’t mean it’s worth a damn. A character wanting something, being unable to get it, and then overcoming something to get it is a story, but it won’t always be a good one. So I dig deeper, I try to better understand all the elements, and the more I discover, the less I know what to do with it all.
But it always seems to come together in the end. I remember NEGATIVE SPACE #1 had, I think, nearly a dozen drafts, which takes me to a direct quote from Wendig:
“The first draft — and in particular the first 5-10k of that first draft — is just me chopping vegetables. It’s prep. It’s learning the recipe. It’s dumping out the puzzle pieces. It’s wandering through a new house in the dark, learning its layout, its topography, and how not to break my pinky toe on the fucking coffee table.”
Those first issues are where all the hard work is done, it’s all set up, and from memory NEGATIVE SPACE #4 only had like 3-4 drafts, because by then you’ve got the story and tone and voice and other conventions sorted. Then you just make the magic happen.
So when I’m breaking a story, I just have to give myself permission to go wandering in it. I’m discovering the landscape, slowly mapping it out, and to respect what I find I’m going to need to take my time.
You can find content like this, sometimes, on my weekly newsletter: tinyletter.com/ryanklindsay
I’m also making comic book study guides on Patreon!
I read a great newsletter recently which linked me to a great article that I think was paraphrasing another great writer’s quote, which was:
Think on paper.
And I could not agree more.
I love digital citizenry, I work in Google Docs, I have lists on Keep, I’ve got apps for one thing, and extensions for another.
But there is merit to the thinking that we think differently on paper. Our brains work better, I believe, with the open wild canvas of pristine paper. Or not pristine, gnarled up old napkins, grid paper in a notebook. Whatever works for you, but I think when I step back from the internet machine, and I just pencil in thoughts and words and connections and questions, my brain opens up more.
Which is why I plot in a notebook.
But I think subconsciously I thought I’d get “better” at it, it would come quicker, the story would only take two iterations in a notebook to come together.
I still make pages and pages of notes. I still write the synopsis out a dozen times, in different formats – sometimes a linear blurt of events, sometimes broken into subheadings of issue numbers, and sometimes in character columns.
This is how my brain pieces it all together. I have to think “out loud,” as it were, on the page. Then I can ask myself stupid questions, and scribble things out, but still keep one eye on them, and draw lines between things and add question marks when I’m not certain.
I’ll eventually form it all into boxes, one per issue, and all the pertinent info is there to then beat up a page by page breakdown, but that thinking process, I have to trust in it. It feels laborious, I’m going through pencils like it’s a bad habit, but it’s my path to wherever my stories end up.
Getting better at this doesn’t mean getting the story right and completed in the first draft of the plot.
Hell, getting better probably means more pages, making it better, over more time, and asking more dumb questions.
I’m not going to get faster, but I can hopefully get better. So that first plot outline I attempt, man, it’s just the wire framework. The hard work hasn’t even begun, and if I remember that, I won’t feel like a failure, and I won’t stress as much, and I’ll go in a little looser. We should always stretch before vigorous plotting, and it’s okay to get loose.
Looking above, this post isn’t amazing, I typed it straight into the online box, there was no thinking on paper. But I can’t get you to subscribe to what I pencil into my notebooks [though with a rocket journal, maybe that could work…hrmm?] so I guess this’ll have to do.
These types of thoughts usually also appear in my newsletter, give it a sub for weekly thoughts about writing, and the writing life, if that’s your jam.
And I mean writers should write lots. More than they ever publish.
I wrote many complete comic minis. All before I pitched a publisher. Some before I pitched to an artist. And all of them never made it to the page. I would never do that now, why did I do it then?
Because I was young and dumb. Dumb enough to believe I’d get those stupid ideas made. Young enough to think I had the time. Dumb enough to think I had to do it. Young enough to think an artist would come on board.
I’d never script a full 6 issue mini now. But I did a decade ago. And I’m damn glad I did. Writing those issues gave me an appreciation of story structure far beyond what a plot document will. It showed me how characters fuck with your plot outline, how they won’t behave. How by the time issue 4 is ending, you know everything better, with gather clarity, and you know certain elements have to change.
We tell people not to write ahead. And we tell people not to write for free. But we forget sometimes to tell people that writing is a skill you practise. And you won’t practise with every page published, you don’t want to do that, trust me, so you want to practise in the shadows. You want to practise so when you do emerge, you’re pretty decent. Maybe close to good. Probably serviceable.
I tell people all the time about all the scripts I wrote before I self-published my first one. It was about 60 scripts. A ludicrous amount. But it all helped me understand how story flows out of me better. That I can trust the process that plots change, characters change, and you will have different strategies to figure out the hard stuff.
I think back and remember just banging away on these scripts like they were the most important pages in the world. And I still want to approach everything in that manner. I want my pages to still feel like the most important pages in the world to me. Because they kind of are.
And I always enjoy writing every damn word of them.
Take time to enjoy your writing. It’s a fool’s pursuit, done because we love it, and if you’re in for the ride then really throttle into it and give it everything.
I was honoured to be asked to attend the launch of UC’s FIRST: Voyages anthology book – a place for uni students to get their first publication. The book was a ripper, so many great examples of emotion and truth on the page, so I was happy to speak to the crowd and give away whatever small amount of wisdom I have.
Below is my speech, typed, but I’m not a TED presenter, and I notoriously tangent, so this isn’t 100% exact what people heard on the night, but it’s as close as the history books will ever get. I hope you enjoy.
Hi, I have to start by saying:
Thank you to every person who contributed to this book. Thank you for stepping up, for putting yourself into ink, and firing yourself off into the world as yet another book of blood, because as Clive Barker says, that’s what we are, and wherever we’re opened, you better believe we’re red.
It is a heartbreaking and delightful and insane and passionate thing we do to put our words into the world, and it makes our lives better and worse than others, but it also means we are truly living our lives. So thank you, can we give everyone in this book a round of applause, please? :]
It’s invigorating to submerge into an anthology so rich full of passion and erudition. You don’t start a journey over mountains and through the shattered dust of stars by tiptoeing forward. No, you dive, man, you just have to because if you pause, you’re DOA. Writing is a passion, it’s a drug, and it’s a monkey on your back for the rest of your life. And you either learn what your monkey likes and you placate it forevermore, or you invest in good gardening equipment and you bury its body in various locations to live a very free, though much more mundane, life. These are your options.
Which is why I want to tell you to please keep writing. I mean, you’re obviously off to such an amazing start, why stop, right?
But know that writing isn’t going to ever get easier. Writing isn’t going to do what you planned. Writing is one big problem you keep in your skull most of your life, and sometimes it aches, and sometimes it itches, and sometimes it stops – which can be the most scary of all the symptoms. But writing will complete you. I know it will, because I see the talent in you. I know that fever, and I know the soothing balm of seeing your words in print. I know it feels good – even while it kinda feels terrifying, right?
I won’t ask for hands up, but I guarantee at least one contributor already hates their work, and others would love another pass to juuuust get it right. Someone has looked at someone else’s story and now violently hates them because they see how good that person’s story is – don’t be afraid of competition, it’ll make you sick, but it’ll also make you better, I promise. I know this, and I know it’s stupid. You’ll know it soon, too, but knowing isn’t a cure. I’m sorry.
You are all now officially writers, and the only way is up. Up, up, up, because, technically, even a 1 degree incline is up. And you have to stay the course, even when it feels like a downhill tumble. You have to write through the blizzards, and the afterparties, and droughts, and the mazes. You have to write, because you are writers, you know this, you’ve stated it right here in the book.
I declared I’d be a writer in Year 3. I wrote my first 2 short stories that year. The joy of completing them was wild. The thrill of reading them to my class was exhilarating. The shame of looking back years later and realising how bad they were: priceless.
Honestly, one was called Volcano and it was about a guy who decides to climb a volcano. So he packs his bag – I go into full list mode to detail all the muesli bars and snacks he takes with him, it’s like half a page. Then he starts walking. And keeps walking. And keeps walking. Then he sees a wolf. He says, “Hey, there’s a wolf.” To no one in particular, and hopefully not the wolf, unless I was writing existential animal identity crises back in 1990. Sorry, where was the story, oh, yeah, he keeps walking. Then he gets to the top. He looks in. He sees some lava. Then he walks home.
He doesn’t even touch a single goddamn preciously bagged snack from his bag in the entire story. Maddening.
And when people tell you that your first writing will suck, it’s easy to point to those juvenile words and say they were your formative years, as if I wrote anything of greatness when I was 18. Or 22. Or 25. Or last week.
So much crap over the years. But the common theme was I kept writing. Brian K Vaughan once wrote that you have to get 10,000 pages of utter shit out of your system before you start getting good. That’s when you start getting just good.
So keep writing. Because I went from writing fanfic to really awesome break up poetry to four novels of questionable quality to online comics journalism to hot takes on twitter in 2009 before the Nazis and the trolls occupied the underside of every bridge and then I went and I got my first publication out into the world and then started getting good. Just good. And it still wasn’t as good as what you’ve done here.
But I kept at it. I wrote a baker’s dozen of short stories, I wrote about 60 issues of various comic projects that never went anywhere. I wrote so much, and finally the tide started to shift. Soon I was signing my first publication deal with a publisher in the States for my first comic miniseries. Then I was winning the Aurealis Award and Ledger Bronze Award for my comic about suicide and emotion eating monsters. I was selected in a group of 8 people out of 1500 people to be in a comic writing class run by DC comics.
I’m currently sitting on 3 comic book deals with a US publisher, and in the midst of my sixth successful comic Kickstarter campaign, and I’m writing every damn night. I’ll go home and write tonight. Because not only is that what it takes, but that’s what I want. That’s what I need. I’m a writer, it’s no shock I go home to write.
So, please, write. That’s the obvious lesson everyone imparts. But let me gift you two more horses and you can elect to look in their mouths or not.
You will fail. A story will suddenly dry up. Or a story will not find an audience. Or a story will suuuuuck. Or you’ll have the chance to finally pitch the Ninja Turtles and you’ll drop the ball…or y’know, some other vague possibility not ripped from the headlines inside my brain.
You will think you’re crap – which is just as dangerous as the family members who tell you you’re amazing – and sometimes you will be crap, and you won’t know sometimes, and you’ll have doubt, and you’ll worry and overthink, and stress, and miss parties, and learn what a sore neck really feels like. Writing is going to add some hardship to your life.
But a real writer finds the greatest hardship to be not writing. So…yeah, I don’t have any great solution to that, sorry, welcome to the club, it’s gonna kill ya :]
Each failure in the club is there to teach you a lesson. Whether it’s story structure, or humility, or taking editorial notes, or swinging for the bleachers, or selling out – learn why the failure happened, and factor it into the new 2.0 version of yourself, the true Writing Intelligence Supreme of 2020.
Just remember why you write – because it’s a way to take the truth you know, and marinade it, and make something more out of it.
I’ll tell you about two of the best things I ever wrote. One was in Year 10, it was a recount of the morning we found my father’s dead body. Looking back it was the sort of bunt hit an angsty teenager writes because he knows it’ll get him on base, but I also wrote it because this was a truth I’d lived with for a decade and I needed a way to get it out of my head. So I did, and my teacher loved it, and wanted it for the school’s annual magazine, and I politely declined. Because it was out of my head, but I didn’t need it into the heads of others. Not yet, anyway.
But nearly two decades after that, I wrote a story about a writer who sits down to write his suicide note and gets writer’s block. Which is a pretty shit thing to do to a character, but it’s great narrative fuel. And this was me tackling the same themes I’d sophomorically slapped on the page in Year 10, but now I had a way to use my truth as an ingredient, and not as the recipe and whole dish. I’d mastered subtext and theme and subtlety, and so I explored my feelings about suicide again, also with added decades of reflection to even better understand it.
I truly believe that’s why NEGATIVE SPACE sold so well, and won awards, and became my entry into what modest limelight I’ve afforded myself. It’s a book with truth in it. A truth only I could write.
You’ll no doubt have already heard that you should “write what you know.” Which I always took to mean, well, Stephen King writes alcoholic teachers-cum-writers, and John Grisham writes lawyers, and Dan Brown writes intellectual middle aged white dudes absolutely sizzling in turtleneck sweaters. I thought it meant write what you know how to do, which is essentially writing who you are.
This is not what that advice means.
Write what you know should focus on the word KNOW – what you know is your truth – you need to write your truth. Which is why fiction is so amazing – every person has their own truth. One person can know and believe the world is a wonderful place while another person can believe the world sucks and will most definitely try to smash you into pieces. Both of those truths can exist, because they stem from experience.
Your job is to find your truth, by living a life, by doing dumb things, by avoiding those now discovered dumb things and choosing the smarter things. A life lived, is a brain informed, is a writer with something to say. And if you can say it in a way no one has read before, then you’re gonna be fine. You have to work out how to make your truth palatable.
Which I know you can do because so many of you mastered this in the book.
The truth of what a railway line means in the many stations you stop in through your life. The truth that you’re only gonna get better, and that knowledge can’t be applied retroactively – not even with time travel. The truth that your wits will keep you alive, but only if you let your wits navigate for you as well as react for you, even centuries ago on a sinking ship. The truth that the devil’s right, even if only about the fact his opposition is wrong. The truth that souls are precious and need rescuing, but you can only ever do what you can. The truth that the ocean represents all we should fear in this world, and yet we dive back into it constantly. The truth that it only takes one person to do absolutely everything they possibly can for humanity to be saved. The truth that your tolerance will always be met with intolerance and sometimes you see what happens when an unstoppable force collides with an immovable object. The truth that the world is constantly twisted up in sex and shame and stupidity and all you can do is accept your place in it and hope you get better at it all.
Those were some of the amazing truths I took away from this book and they floored me, each one, each time. A fabulous way to read a book, so thank you.
I do want to highlight 3 specific stories that really stuck with me, and all because they offered a truth, and in a different way. One with clarity, one through obfuscation, and one through a warped sense of acceptance. These three stories are everything I love to read, on personal and technical levels, and I want to call each person up to receive a gift voucher as a small token of appreciation for sharing these words with us.
DAD was an utterly amazing gutpunch, so can Jasmine Braybrooks please come up.
This illustration of a parent changed is done with such honesty and humanity that it never feels brutal, nor salacious. This is a spirit laid bare on the page and I kept thinking that these intimate nothings etched out in careful words are going to give Michael Chabon a run for his money one day. Thank you for letting us all read this.
READ RECEIPT REQUESTED was a gripping and funny and ultimately horrifying story, so can Susie Ellis please come up.
This story feels funny, and genuinely is funny, and I was entranced from the first word to the last. Your style and pacing are near-flawless as you toe the Hitchcockian line of absurdity and tension. But, in the end, this story is horrifying because beyond the cute charm, it’s a story about society, about how easy it is for idiotic men to rule on a whim, and about how easy it is for women to disappear. It’s the best kind of statement, in that it never states it at all. But it’s there, and that’s a gift, so thank you for sharing it with us all.
And the final story I want to mention is ANNIE & I, a short pitstop into a mentality of strange acceptance by Jerzy Beaumont.
It would be easy to write this story off as a mere twist reveal at the end, were it not for how amazingly acute and true it is in every line. The twist unpacks a whole new narrative and once you know who Annie is, the line “and when we make love we do it like iron maidens; the nails are in-side.” becomes this haunting and harrowing and yet still somewhat hopeful proclamation.
I hope a million people read this story because it’s the sort of thing that shows you how to access your truth, and how to manage it, and how to touch it fondly and often until you no longer have any fear in what it can hold or do. This story is the kind of thing that will stick with readers for a lifetime and beyond, and that’s the greatest outcome any fiction can ever aim for, so thank you so much for creating a better world with this story in it.
Please join me in giving applause to all three recipients of these gift cards tonight.
Now, I want to leave you with one last piece of wisdom, so I’m actually going to steal it from one of you.
Write every day, about things that matter to you, across all genres. They say every statue is in the marble waiting to be unearthed, and the same is true of every story around us. You job is to go out, touch, observe, carve, polish, stand back and think, start again, and discover the world so you might best synthesise it. There’s a lot of stuff out there, to write about, to ignore, to immerse yourself in, to know, and forget, and you’re all just the right age to do it all and use it later in your next great works.
Or, better put by Lara Hazel Thompson as she muses on how you, writers, might see the world moving forward – “These people, my friends, recently became really fucking boring, so I’ve taken to details.”
Take to every detail you can find, you’ll find a story for all of them eventually, I promise.
Beautiful Canvas is a comic from Sami Kivela, Triona Farrell, Ryan Ferrier, Dan Hill, and myself through Black Mask Studios.
Issue #4 is on shelves right now and it’s our final issue. We started a tale, and now it’s done. Read the Murder Book rap sheet below.
Below are my annotations. An inside look into my brain as I reflect on our making of this issue, and a chance for me to unpack what I’m seeing in the work now, and how I feel it connects on a broader spectrum. I hope you dig, and find something that’ll help your mind think/make comics in the future.
THE COVER – SAMI KIVELA
You’d almost be fooled into thinking this cover was simple. There’s so much black, and white, and only 3 real elements, but it’s all about the composition of this one for me. Lon’s body language is, as always, perfect. The flame trail just represents so much, and we went through a few colour scheme to get this just right, and this is definitely just right. Then the skyline caps it off, the city she’s saving now something behind her. It’s saved, but she’s walking away.
And that skyline is gorgeous, got shades of Frank Miller in my heart, and I love it so.
This cover might just be my favourite; it’s up there with #2.
This opening panel was so easy for me to write, and I’m a bastard, but hot damn it’s worth it to see Sami draw his own version of a helicarrier. That design, Tree’s amazing colours on the vehicle as well as the sky, and then that one caption, and this panel stands alone as something I think we nailed 100%. It sets a tone I’m really happy with for the events of this issue.
We then cut to Milla in a moment where she seems like she’s breaking the fourth wall. She’s not, but I love that it seems that way. Because she’s right, we are indeed entering the final act of the main narrative.
The reveal of Milla in her ship with Asia and Alex was a time jump I know is a gamble. We left things with Lon shooting Alex and now we’re moving forward in time. We explain what happened, in rough terms, but this is my big fear that it’ll throw people off. But I like playing with time. Issues #2-3 actually went back a few seconds between the end of one, and the start of the next, the flashback notwithstanding. But this jumps hours ahead. I hope people don’t mind missing the “action” in between, because it was actually just boring stuff and as such i didn’t want to write it. Showing your pieces move across the board isn’t always as exciting as revealing the pieces in a dangerous situation.
These fluid filled tanks from Sami/Tree are gorgeous. Milla would absolutely have this weird stuff on standby.
I had to get across the idea that Asia is there keeping Alex alive by subduing his mind while the fire has just about consumed his body. I do this by having her monologue at a comatose Asia. I should have had someone else in the room with Milla. Another wolf soldier. Someone to ask pointed questions as to what they could do, so I didn’t need to have Milla stating things outright, which I really tried to not do here so I know it’ll be oblique to those not reading deeply.
I love Ferrier’s balloon tail in that second panel. Subtle, but amazing.
Panel three has Milla continue her monologue ,which I do enjoy, and she lays out her plan. This is everything she’s going to do. Simply because she’s nuts. Like some kind of Willy Wonka Bond Villain. Hence the “We will be the makers of music.” line.
I scripted new dialogue over this page a million times. Literally. I hit 999,999 times, and then did one more pass.
This was more fear that readers wouldn’t get what had happened with the time jump. This was in response to reviews saying the book was great, but wasn’t laying out answers with clarity. So I squeaked some info in here as to what’s happened since the last issue, and I wonder how it’ll land.
This page is Lon and Eric in the midst of it. Everything is jumping off and they need to launch into the final fray. Eric knows how to do this, which becomes really clear in the coming pages.
Eric triggering some new marks is the big play on this page, but the underscore is Lon’s look at him, and the look on his own face. She doesn’t trust him right here, and he’s beyond caring. He’s enjoying the road as he feels like it’s maybe leading towards an end.
I know there’s a lot of violence in this book, and maybe we’re desensitised to it, but Eric killing these two is a complete dick move. Lon’s reaction is my reaction, she’s the only person left in this story who’s still a normal functioning human, which is funny because she was a hitwoman not long before this.
Time changes you and your outlook on life. Sometimes you don’t even see the change sneaking up on you.
And Eric drops an open sentence for the page change two in a row…
The dropship coming down is an opportunity for narrative movement. Eric’s way of handling entrance to it is a character moment. The wolf soldiers coming out of the dropship is a gonzo moment.
I like that they loom at the bottom of the page, bringing such weird threat with them, and then we deal with them in one big moment next page.
Eric using his power here to throw the car isn’t an insight to us, but it is to Lon. We have to remember that. This is a moment where not having captions left me out in the cold a bit, haha.
This whole moment is Eric’s Raiders of the Lost Ark moment where Indy shoots the guy with the sword. Why drag shit out when you can be efficient and effective. The look on Eric’s face at the end sells it all. Good ol’ Sami and his facial expressions, always the best in show.
Okay, this page is a masterpiece. This is the sort of thing that comes from knowing your collaborator, and collaborating with Sami Kivela. This page gets me excited to read comics, no less make them.
Realistically, there was a lot to unpack here, and showing lots of intricacies was going to clag up the whole works. So I asked Sami if we could do something fun here and he’s always down to be the best creator on the page, so he ran with it.
The overall layout is a thing of beauty, but it’s the little things, the details that prove Sami is the GOAT on this one. The panel with Eric using his hand wave to twist a wolf’s head around is genius, and the panel of the wolf being shot back and we see the cockpit behind it is insanely good. Sami is always thinking. His geography is flawless.
Our two leads then step into the cockpit and Tree changes the lighting, and thus the mood. Spectacular. And here, finally, Lon decided there’s a moment for them to talk and work out where they are standing. She’s been put onto uneven ground and she needs to get stability back to her world.
It’s interesting to note that Eric starts off by telling the truth. That stuff is all real. Then he starts to swerve, obfuscate, and straight up lie. But we do learn that the hit troupe from #1 was orchestrated by Eric, so that’s one Q A’ed. Then Eric gets back into the truth, that Alex represents a beginning, he’s the fuse, and it’s all about to get big.
The final line is really the summation of Milla’s plan. People looking deeper won’t find anything, this is just her expressing herself. As humans want to do, and are usually allowed to.
I love the geometrical design of this page. It’s kind of an inverted triangle, but the point at the bottom is an explosion of Milla’s full form. And the top is actually not a straight line, it’s wiggly, it’s erratic. It all reflects Milla getting things sorted, getting her place in line, and then it all points to her. It’s all for her.
This page IS Milla Albuquerque.
By this stage of the story, I’ve truly doubled down on Milla’s propensity to monologue to herself. She thinks theatrically, she lives that way, despite the lack of an audience, because she is her own audience. This is all for her, no one else. So you can’t silence a voice that doesn’t need to be heard, and you can’t hide her away or muffle what’s coming out because that’s not the point. Milla is all about doing it and enjoying it, the expression means much more than the reception.
Which is actually a good way to create art. Being dependent on the reactions of others is a dire way to put things into the world, but being able to be satisfied yourself in what you’ve done is wildly liberating. It’s insane, and also misses the point of art on so many levels, but it would also be so so much easier.
As Lon and Eric fight closer to her, she waits and honestly looks forward to it all. She has no idea what’s going to happen, but she’s down for whatever.
I packed so much into this page and Sami handled it all like a boss.
Milla is honest, she really does love what she’s created with these two.
Then she lets slip the big news moving forward – she can’t be allowed to die because it’ll awaken every pyrokinetic sleeper agent on her books. Which we know is a lot.
The escalation from entrance to the shot nearly hitting Lon’s head is too quick, I think, but it’s what we’ve got, and the rest of the pages all flow a lot better, so it gets us where we need to go and be.
And Eric finally reveals himself a little more. He’s not just here for the good times, he’s here to turn on Lon and kill Alex. Initially when he pinched off her suit he was going to crush her arm off and she’d be left with a bionic arm at the end of the story, but it didn’t work well for this scene to have her bleeding out insanely from the loss of a limb, so I scrapped it.
Then we end the page with the truth all tumbling out. Because Milla knows all about it…
Eric’s daughter is already dead. He’s lied about her. And if you paid attention to when Eric searched for his daughter, Eve Robinson, in the camera, you now know why he wanted to drop everything and watch that footage so much.
Was it worth discovering this now and then a reread will play that scene differently? Well, I hope so, ha.
Milla gets words and Panel Five is clearly too wordy, but I liked all the words, so bugger it – in they remained. So Milla explains it all to Lon in a page, and she also drops the fact that Eric’s daughter is also her daughter, and the way we do that means, yes, I want you paying attention. Read. Every. Word.
The final panel is all about Milla finally making a connection with Lon – she’s hinting that Lon’s daughter is a sleeper agent also. Again: I’m not gonna have her state it all in so many words. I just can’t bring myself to do that, but I hope people jump into this with me [my rally cry since issue #1 – I want people interrogating these pages].
Also, that negative space in the bottom is the best. Love how empty it is, and where Ferrier drops the caption.
Eric slings the bullet away and reveals his inner truth – he feels like they’re all damned. He feels this because Milla made him something else, and that caused the death of his daughter, and I was never ever gonna show you what happened, because the idea of it should be enough to give you chills. What a horrible turn of events, and I hope it sticks in your guts.
At this stage, Asia has awakened – presumably the shooting at Alex jolted him which caused reverb back into Asia, so she’s here, and she leaps at Eric’s back like Voorhees coming outta the lake in Part I and she floods Eric’s mind with Eve. This is what pauses the whole situation, which also allowed the pause off Alex. Unfortunately.
Lon screams for Asia to return to Alex, because she knows this will kill him, and she’s torn on that front, but Asia is resolute, and she’s making the bigger decision that Lon hasn’t been able to.
All points converge through Lon’s POV as she sees the three things before her, and must choose what will live and what will not.
Excuse me, the FOUR things before her.
Then Lon makes her decision, in as few words as possible. Again, trying to keep things clean and not overexplain. Let her actions speak more than anything else. So into the uncontrolled fire goes Eric. And so too does Lon, hoping she’ll survive.
The thick white section is time passing and that’s the kind of thing you can script all you want, but the whole team has to work to pull it off. Thankfully, Sami changes up the angles on the shot for the next panel, and Tree dominates with her colours, and the result is a very clear transition of time.
That movie caption came very late in the game. I wasn’t listening to the song though, I promise.
This final panel is so well laid out, so much space around the characters, so much world still out there hogging the frame. And their words are going to be true forever and for everything moving forward.
I scripted this page as a conversation. I had to get it all out. Then I edited it. Then I broke it across panels. Then Sami wanted to kill me. But then he came around on this stupid over-panelled idea. And then, once drawn, I edited the script again. Thinking about the truth of the moment, the stuff that was Capital N Needed, and also thinking of Ferrier on letters, ha. These are the beautiful moments of collaboration.
I also dig how that final panel runs full down into the bleed, as Lon looks back into the zephyr. That’s art storytelling well beyond my pay grade.
This kind of summarises how to combat trolls, and how to fight against the world, and how to stay upright through the resistance. Tl;dr – fear is for fools, and fear is their tool.
Lon is completely resolute here in this sequence. My idea is that ever since she found out she’d be a mother, Lon has grappled with violence. She wanted to step away from it, she wanted to rise above it, be better than it. A parent protects.
But, the thing is, protection can be a violent game. Retribution can occur, and you can’t always remain passive. We hope and wish for such a thing, but it’s just not true. It sucks, but it’s not always an option. Lon finally understands that, she realises violence doesn’t mean you aren’t protecting, and parents aren’t a passive shield. So she steps up to make the world a better place, for her kid, but also just in general.
This page is the culmination of Lon’s growth.
The zig zag of the final tier of panels is glorious as it focuses on Lon, and the movement, and not the actual violence.
And so Milla becomes the one with the metal plumage now. That whole throne, her death, everything was built to this moment of flipping the intro.
The rest of the page is Lon dealing with the cathartic pain of what she’s become, and the world in which she has to become in. And Sami handles it all perfectly. The absolute carnage of Alex and Eric, and her one delicate hand says it all. She’s accepting, but that’s still a painful internal transformation to undergo.
Beside Lon, always with her, is Asia. Accepting, supporting, they are a team. As good parents should be. While the world twirls around them, they must hold fast. Their one true goal is the same, and becoming violent, seeing the world vastly change with these sleepers awakened all around, this changes nothing for a parent.
A parent protects their child, that’s the job. Protect, teach, lead, love.
The future is safe. It’s unsafe for man people, but the actual concept of the future, the time ahead, is safe now. Things can still be amazing.
That part is probably just wishful thinking from me. I’m happy to cop to that.
This final image is the close of the story, really. The zephyr floats above, the city burns below, and will only get worse, and our two ladies are allowed a moment. Because if you pull back enough, you’ll see the world is a melting pot of emotion and action, and yet we endure. We find a way to move forward and find a way. We have to, there is no other option.
You search it out, you carve your own space, and you make a little piece of the universe yours. This is what Lon learn and hopefully we do, too. Keep moving and defend yourself, your ideals, and your love forever. Because on the horizon, you’ll find your island.
Okay, Coda time.
I always love a good coda. And I came up with the brainchild that because it’s a coda, we could use a different storytelling method. So we were allowed to use captions. But not just any captions, we could go crazy, use big arcs of words like BWS did in WEAPON X. man, I loved writing these pages.
This coda is Lon applying her lesson, showing us she’s going to be alright, she hasn’t forgotten.
It also teases out what’s happened in the aftermath of this mess: people are hunting the names of the sleeper agents, because some have managed to go dormant, and that scares people. But should it?
Isn’t acceptance the key, much like Lon told Milla. Fear is the problem, so remove it’s teeth. So Lon wait, ready to act, if needed, but happy not to if she can avoid it.
Also, dig that bear design, obvs influenced by Weapon X as well.
PAGE TWENTY ONE
We get the time frame now because we see Asia’s belly. We can see months have floated by, and the world is still there. Lon and Asia are still there.
Asia gets to describe the flipside to Milla’s beautiful canvas, which makes the title of the story take on a new meaning now, I hope. Every person’s beautiful canvas is the life they create, that they foster, and respect, and love, and craft for the future.
As these two bicker, as lovers are wont to do, we see Alex as a spectre, but a rather content one. This is the personification of Lon’s state of mind. She’s able to come to grips with her past, all of it, and understand it all in a broader lifelong, worldwide context.
Which builds us to the final page…
PAGE TWENTY TWO
I love playing the end against the beginning, and I’m 100% happy with how we’ve done it here. This is a wheel turn, but the wheel has advanced, so it’s the same, but it’s different. This is life.
I also can’t overstate how much Tree’s colours bring this whole moment home. They are such a difference from the opening page of 31 – and that blue horizon behind them calms me and makes me smile every damn time.
The book on the table is another Argento jam. I’ll let you google it, but know it’s not chosen for specific reference to story moments here, but more as just a neat bookend, and important because Lon has put that book down. She’s moved onto something new, a little less violent and horrific. But the book is still there, ready to be picked up, if needed.
Ending with “This has been THE BEAUTIFUL CANVAS” was something I thought up and then couldn’t not do. It brought it all together for me.
And that’s the story. Many have asked if I will do a sequel, and you can see here that people survived, so I really could, but I don’t have anything to say as yet. Lon’s lesson is so important, and is so complete here that I’ve certainly closed the door on this. But I’d be interested in coming back to the characters a decade later, as the wheel has turned many times, and see how they are coping, how the world has transformed as it’s moved on, and what their daughter is like.
Hell, I’d give her a sibling, without this curse, and see what family drama that breeds.
Now that I think about it…hrmm…
Truth, Beauty, Erudition – choose one
Fun, as always. And always nice to gush about your amazing team when they so clearly deserve it.
Okay, this one was a beast. I don’t know what I expected when Dan Hill and I entered a room to talk about Matt Fraction. Maybe we should have limited ourselves to just 1-3 books. Maybe. But probably not.
Matt Fraction looms over most of my work, and not always in ways you might expect. I just dig his work ethic, his devotion, the fact he’s busy as hell and manages it, and his quality. I don’t specifically want to write books like him – I don’t think I could, nor should, nor would. I want to write RKL books, but I want to always strive for more, so he helps me think of what that ethereal more might look like.
There’s too much to cover, but this might be my favourite Jam Session we’ve done yet. Or maybe it’s the worst, I don’t know. But I enjoyed it, and I hope you dig it, and if it gets you to try out one Fraction book you hadn’t before, then it’ll have all been worth it.
Also: daaaamn, that Kivela illo. Love it, as always.
Fraction took all the space, so we scrapped this. But I have one written. Maybe we’ll put it in the tpb.
And that’s us done. How sad, how wonderful. If you came this far, especially with the annotations, you are wonderful. Thank you.
There will be a tpb collection of BEAUTIFUL CANVAS at some stage. I know when, but can’t confirm just yet – set phasers for 2018 and some present buying for your smart friends, though. I will tell you when I can, because you should buy 5 and give them out at birthdays and for Xmas and such because it’s probably a safe bet your friends didn’t get it already, and if they are your friends then they are probably smart enough to get it and good looking enough to love it. Just like you are.
But until then, thank you.
My newsletter lands in inboxes every Monday, delivering an update about my writing life, as well as considerations on making and writing comics, links to good fuel for your brain, rapid fire thoughts on the latest media I’ve squeezed into the week, and if you’d dig that kind of round up then click the image to go to the subscription page and get yourself a treat to start every week.
This week was The Smell of a Number Edition – here’s a sample:
“I know I know, I’m being political. And this is a newsletter about writing, right? So here’s something:
Be political. Be informed, be active, be angry, be as right as you can as much of the time as you can.
Because then you’re living a life where you’ve got shit to say. And the best stories have shit to say. Fence sitting/hand wringing isn’t a story, and it won’t drive your characters through to the end. I want to write stories about suicide and the diamond forming pressures of parenthood and the galactic failure of idiocy to lead and the infinite self-absorbtion we’re facing as a people. I want to stake claim to ground in those fields, and I want to do it by synthesising the world around me, and hating things, and wishing for things, and for being engaged.
The moment you shrug and let shit happen, well, you’re already dead. And so are your stories.”
To read more, be sure to HIT THE LINK and subscribe.
My newsletter lands in inboxes every Monday, delivering an update about my writing life, as well as considerations on making and writing comics, links to good fuel for your brain, rapid fire thoughts on the latest media I’ve squeezed into the week, and if you’d dig that kind of round up then click the image to go to the subscription page and get yourself a treat to start every week.
This week was The Whispered Mentions of 2018 Edition – here’s a sample:
“Listened to Bryan Cranston on the latest Nerdist and he mentioned two major things that stuck with me and made me think about story planning and creativity.
He mentioned that old chestnut that Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman was only supposed to last a few episodes, he was Walter White’s plausible “in” to the world of meth. But then Paul slayed it in the role, and he got to stay.
And, that’s pretty cool, force of will, chemistry, and talent got me half a decade’s work, rather than just a few weeks.
But I got to thinking about what they did to the overall plan of the show for Vince Gilligan. Because the show is about Walter White breaking bad, but it’s also about Jesse Pinkman becoming unbreakable. That dual narrative is the entire heart of the show, and it clearly wasn’t there from the very start. Which is crazy, and kinda awesome.
And the other thing Cranston said was he worked with some professors to get into Walter’s head on that level, but he didn’t want to study cancer because he wanted to discover it with Walt, which is an insane idea, but is actually something I think rings true. I find I have to script a little to discover the characters and the world first, and it’s why characters start to break away from their plot outline because you’re now discovering the plot beats as they discover them, and seeing it as you better know them after inhabiting some page real estate with them.
Creating worlds and filling them with populations is some kind of wild alchemy, and I’ll always be wary of it.”
To read more, be sure to HIT THE LINK and subscribe.