I’ve written a lot of things in my twenty plus year career. Novels, Novelettes, short stories, screenplays, articles and blogs. But the one thing I’ve always wanted to write since I was a kid was a comic book.
I was talking to my friend Mike Williams, artist of the Deak Sledge comic strip on Twitter and he suggested I try to write a graphic novel. Now I believe I could write a graphic novel; I’ve been told the Isis series books like Amari’s Revenge, Isis: The Beauty Myth, and the first Isis book read just like comic books.
Writing a comic or a graphic novel has always been something I’ve always wanted to do since I was 13. In fact, one of my life goals is to publish an Isis graphic novel or series of graphic novels. But there have always been two issues:
While I’m good at designing costumes and characters that most people find visually attractive and translate well from artist to artist, I can’t draw panels for shit,
I don’t know how to write in the format for comics.
Now the drawing I can possibly get around the art issue, by working with an artist like Mike Williams, Terry Beatty, Josh Howard, or a Bill Walko, but the writing well in the format is the challenge. I’ve always been a pretty solid storyteller when it comes to novels and screenplays, but writing comics is different from those mediums. Comics are a different storytelling medium from what I’ve previously worked with and making my style of storytelling fit within the medium would be the challenge.
From what I’ve gleamed from Mark Waid’s script pages in the Kingdom Come trade the comic medium is a uses some elements screenwriting when it comes to dialogue, and the descriptions of scenes are quite similar to the short prose style I use in my stories such as those in the Isis series. I believe my writing style would be a good fit for comics, because I use a high visual style that allows the reader to imagine a scene in their heads, but with a minimal economy of words.
The big challenge for myself working with an artist is translating the images in my head words that can be described as pictures. Comics tell stories in panels, and I kind of see things like a movie in my head. And each chapter in a story I write is like a scene in a film. There are some chapters in my novels that I know would make for some powerful scenes in a movie such as when E’steem reveals her demon form to John Haynes in The Temptation of John Haynes. The way I imagined that scene was her standing near the balcony with the moonlight cascading down on her as she changed from human to demon with her face filled with anguish and guilt. As she looks over at him to gauge his reaction to her monstrous form, I imagined John’s impassive expression as he sat on the sofa. It’s powerful sequence filled with lots of emotion; the irony of the demon changing to tell the truth about herself showing readers how human she truly was.
While I could easily write that same scene where an actress like a Salli Richardson-Whitfield (Inspiration for E’steem) could easily understand the emotions that would be needed to be conveyed if it were written as a screenplay for film, translating that same scene into a series of comic panels would be the challenge. It’d take a lot of skill for me to write that scene so it would convey the right emotions for the artist to translate into a series of pictures. That climatic scene in The Temptation of John Haynes is very dark in tone and mood, and it’d take the right type of panel setup to tell that part of the story for an artist to translate it into pictures.
In contrast there are action sequences I write like those In Isis: Wrath of the Cybergoddess. Those would be a bit easier to translate into comic panels because the sequences are a little simpler for me to describe as single images that fit into panels. There are chapters in the story I can easily see as comic panels in that story such as Isis’ flight from the South Pacific to New York and her teleporting to get back to the city. And I can easily see the selfie she takes to taunt Raheema in the reflection of the glass of the Freedom Tower and Raheema’s reaction sitting on a bench in New York’s 40th Street Public Library in her disguise as she tells the compubitch to upload hers. And I can easily see the final confrontation between the battle damaged Cybergoddess and Isis in the rain as comic pages; it’s a powerful sequence of panels filled with emotion.
The second challenge of putting together a graphic novel besides the writing is finding the right artist to tell the story. Writing a novel or the first draft of a screenplay is a solitary process that’s done in solitude. However, writing a graphic novel requires a writer to transition from being a solitary individual to being part of a team. On a Graphic novel project, a writer isn’t just working alone, they’re working with an artist too.
To tell the story effectively to readers have to find the right artist to work with to tell the story with, one that has a style that fits the characters and one that can tell a story with pictures in the same way I do with words. Creatively we both have to be on the same page. Because now this isn’t just my story, but theirs as well, and they have a right to have some input on the final product. I’m sure I could work well on a team with an artist, but again, it’d be a learning curve to make things flow smoothly.
The third challenge after writing the graphic novel would be publishing it. Publishing a novel like The Temptation of John Haynes or an Isis series novelette like Isis: Night of the Vampires is fairly cheap with CreateSpace, Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop Elements, but putting together a graphic novel requires a completely different set of skills. After writing the script and creating the panels, there’s fitting the dialogue into the panels so it flows with the ar. That’d mean I’d definitely need to buy Adobe CS4, 5, or whatever it is or PageMaker to create the .PDFs to create the novel. Lots of long nights as I figure out the learning curve for laying out that kind of book and publishing it.
The final challenge would be financing the whole project. Artists don’t work for free, and their time is money. It’d be a lot of hours for us both turning a 64 page story like a Isis: Wrath of the Cybergoddess into a 96 page graphic novel or an even greater challenge turning a 400 page novel like The Temptation of John Haynes into a 200 page Graphic novel. That kind of project requires a minimum of $15,000 to $20,000 finance if I’m paying $120 or so per page. Yeah, there’s Kickstarter, but there’s no guarantees I could raise that kind of money. Or even if the book would sell if I got the project off the ground. No one spends that kind of money to lose, and I wouldn’t want to come that far to fail when it came to sales.
I definitely would love to write a graphic novel. It’d make me proud to see Shawn James on the credits on the splash page and credited as one of the names on the front cover. I may even try to take a hand at translating one of my old Isis stories into a comic for fun; years ago after I published Isis and while I was writing The Cassandra Cookbook, my sister gave me a copy of Syd Field’s Screenplay. Learning how to write screenplays on my own I wrote All About Marilyn, the critically acclaimed screenplay that’s loved and praised by readers all over the world. I think I could produce a graphic novel of that level of quality if I learned the format for storytelling used in comics.
Readers, would you buy a Shawn James Graphic novel on the SJS DIRECT imprint? Let me know; because it’s a project I’d love to bring to you.