FROM JUNE 8, 2017
Looking through my files today, noticed something I hadn't thought about. It was a year ago that I finished my long in planning, long in production graphic novel. Finishing the book was an accomplishment I really thought I'd never do.
I'm a longtime comics fan. I don't really remember a time they weren't in my life. And I'm in my 40s, so that's a long time. In my teens I started drawing my own. I would staple sheets of paper together and make my own. Of course, I wanted to draw or write for the big guys. But an interesting thing happened as I got into my 20s, I wanted to create my own characters. Fueled by all the great indy characters I had been exposed to (Nexus, Mage, Grendel, Grimjack, Madman), I wanted to come up with something near my heart and sensibilities. That's when I came up with the idea of making my grandfather, my Pop, into a masked hero. He had long been my real life one and it just seemed natural to make him one. I'd introduce a legacy aspect to it to include myself to a small degree and that was my story. This was 1995.
Life kept passing. Family ordeals, job stress and unhappiness, as well as, a massive self depreciating/ inferiority complex kept me from creating my book. I really thought it would never be a reality on many levels, especially after my Pop passed away.
But life can be funny. My friends who had been creating comics on the side started to become more and more of an influence instead of me being jealous of them. The hunger for producing my book returned out of necessity, maybe because I was finally ready for it. That was 2014.
I was coming off the longest period I had ever gone through without holding a pencil. To say I was rusty was being kind. But as I started it, I found myself not downing myself for what I was drawing. I was focusing on actually working on the book instead of whether I was ready or not. For the next two years, I would continue this journey through changing formats how I was going to present it, to the final graphic novel it became.
It's rough in places. A lot of it was created from years of plot points and thoughts never scribbled down and played in my head a million times. But I'm proud of it. I think when people see it sitting on my table I'm sure they have their own conclusions about it. That's fine. That's their right. I may not always explain it the best I can or be the salesman it deserves. How do you describe a life's dream? It's the story of a coal miner who moonlights as a masked hero, who does so until age makes him think towards the future and his grandson taking it over. From there it turns into a story about the pressure of growing up with a big responsibility over your head. A family drama much more than a masked one. See I can explain it.
By the way, those that have bought it, while a small group, have honored me by saying how much they like it. That is a feeling I will never be able to explain.
Just released a Prelude story that kind of bridges the graphic novel to the new series I'm working on. That last sentence still baffles me that I'm speaking in future tense for the book.
I know that was long and drawn out. It was just a spur of the moment musing of where I've been and how I got there. Thanks for reading.
From the start of all this, I haven't exactly ran this like a business. I have my graphic design biz so I didn't really want to consider this a business. But as I go on and on with it, I realize there are things, if I was to succeed in some capacity that is, I'm going to have to do.
My plan for the series was to offer new books as I did cons. But even with as many cons there are nowadays, I realized that it wasn't enough to keep me motivated to produce. And it would keep me very regional and might one day inhibit growth. So I thought about formal distribution, which for the comic industry is Diamond Distributors which practically has a strangle hold on the comic retail side. Even well know books have problems finding an audience with the current distribution model. So i'm not too sure how much I should focus on that.
Other than cons, digital distributions like Comixology, Indy Planet or Drive Thru Comics seem like viable options, if anything a place that I can regularly produce the series. I'm a print guy. I prefer feeling the book in my hand. But I think digital has some perks that I may partner with whatever other method I'm going to do the print comics in.
In constructing my plan of release, I decided I wanted to have a primer book that would allow me to tell a little story that takes place between scenes in the graphic novel. This story would give a reader who hadn't read the graphic novel a taste without spoiling the journey to Tommy's taking on the mask. They would get broad strokes but I won't reveal how Tommy came to his decision or the conflict within. Also within this PRELUDE, would be a character by character "WHO'S WHO entry. It'll be a mix of a bio and where I'm trying to position them as the series begins. Also going to throw in some behind the scenes notes of their creation and why I included them in Tommy's story.
This PRELUDE factors into my distribution as an entry point for those that have been hesitant to pick up a $15 graphic novel. It tells you enough to enjoy the series but allows for you to find stuff in the graphic novel I don't plan on retreading. The graphic novel was my quick origin of Tommy and his family. I focused on key events opposed to drawn out scenes. I knew I would lose some people of the price and length. As I've said before, the graphic novel was for me and if you enjoyed it, THANK YOU SO MUCH. The series I'm making for myself but also for those that have encouraged me to continue. With distribution, I just want to make sure I can reach as many as I can.
I respect all aspects of art that goes into comics. One thing I respect the most, is the function of inking the drawing. It's a completely different discipline than pencilling and just as important. After a long hiatus from drawing, after I started planning the graphic novel, I decided to digitally ink my pencils. I would draw the old fashioned way and then scan them in for drawing. I used a Wacom Intous tablet to do so. I think it turned out okay. But drawing on the tablet on my desk and then watching it on my screen, I felt a little disconnected. Once I finished with the graphic novel I decided to give hand inking another try. That's what I've been doing over the last 8 months, reteaching myself how to use inking tools before starting work on the comic series.
My hands are not what they used to be. 20-some years of working on a computer have taken their toll. I'm a marginal inker, but when you add the cramping of my fingers I tend to waver a bit. It's just not as crisp as I'd like it. I can't afford to pay an inker for the book. So I've decided to return to digitally inking as much as I'd rather not.
This time however, I've bought a Pen display. Now I can ink directly on the screen. I've been practicing and I'm liking the results. I think most might think the computer is doing it for me. It's not. It's still my hand doing the work. The program is just steadying the linework to keep it crisp. Here's an example both inked and then colored using the display. I think you'll like what you see.
Putting the comic together, opposed to how I put the graphic novel together, has altogether been a different experience. For one, the comic, while the same theme, doesn't have the same weight and baggage. I had 16 years of stray plot points I had to streamline and realign for my current sensibilities. On top of that, almost all of it was in my head. Occasionally I would put some of it to paper. But generally, it was all on the grey matter. When I started on the GN I wanted to not feel constrained by doing the work. My job is very deadline oriented. I knew that if I made the book like that, it was doomed.
All in all, the GN was improvisational. Once I came up with the timeline I would draw scene to scene as it struck me. The main problem of doing it like that, was that I left some things in the cracks I would feel I needed to go back and put in. So it took more time in the long run as I did so.
Not so much with the comic. The GN was a big process. I wanted the comic to be smaller in purpose. I did the GN because I had no idea what my output could be. With the comic, I have 120 (if you count all the pages I redrew or deleted) some pages of work under me now. I know what I'm capable of now.
I guess what I'm saying is that the comic is more structured because it has to be. I'm serializing different plots now and giving chunks at a time that still have to make sense on their own. I take that very serious. My art was okay and felt like it went with my story. I knew there was room for improvement. Because of this, I've spent the last 6 months trying to improve my presentation before tackling the comic. The storytelling in the GN was good. But I focused on it more than the "pop" or "wow" of the art. I wanted to change that for the comic. So I hope that will be noticeable along with the more structured storytelling.
I'm doing all of this not only for myself but for those that purchased and appreciated the graphic novel. We all deserve the best job I can do and I take that serious. As much as I'm having fun with it, the structure is actually making it more enjoyable as I get to enjoy the process. With the GN I always felt like I was behind and couldn't enjoy the behind the scene part. Now I can and I think you will notice.
Been trying to get ready for con season and the next issue. Wanted to show a new thing I'll have this year and I'll be putting up in the store.
Pretty happy that I've come up with a tshirt I can wear for con season. Doesn't look too bad. It'll be on a black shirt and by putting it up on the store, you can have one yourself.
As a reminder, I have a Facebook page now. Go by for better updates and "Like" me.
One of my resolutions for the year, was to be more productive. In addition to the comic, I wanted something I could produce a little quicker. So I thought about a comic strip. About 14 years ago, when I came up with my graphic design company's name, AMK Studio, I came up with a little mascot. I thought of my years playing superhero with a towel wrapped around my neck, so I wanted something in that vein. Thus was born the AMK Man, loosely based on my son, who would rocket through the house in somewhat the same dress.
I don't know how often I'll make a new one, but I'm pretty happy with this one. Also posted on my Facebook AMK Page.
Did you catch the new image on the front page? Yep. I just wanted to show off the cover to the upcoming continuation of the story started in EMERGING FROM THE SHADOW. Work is ongoing and the hope is I'll have the first story done as the new convention season starts. Wish me luck!
Before I started on the new series, I wanted to step back into the planning process to make everything feel new again. The new series doesn't directly start after the graphic novel, so it gave me some time to look at everything again through fresher eyes (that along with taken the time off after finishing it). While Tommy isn't necessarily changing things up much, I do want to preview one of the biggest differences my book had with other masked books, a changing outfit.
I just felt like Tommy needed to be flexible in his clothing items. Climate and weather would have to affect how he would dress. Also, there might be more times he needs to blend in a bit. I'm not going for realism in this choice. I just want to give the feeling it's not always necessary to be outfitted in work clothes, as well as, give me some variations to draw him in.
Now for other characters, most stay as they are. The Colonel had two costumes in the book. The last one I designed a long time ago (10+ years). Going with my promise to myself to present the book as I had developed it over the space of time, I kept the cumberbund around his waist. To be honest though, that addition didn't fit too well with my current sensibilities. So I've decided to alter the outfit a bit, without a belt design. When we catch up with the Colonel in the book, he's hitting some rough times, so the sketch reflects that. I mentioned in my Facebook posting that from his creation to the publication of the book, my opinion of the Colonel's temperment and attitude had changed. Call it aging or whatever, but there's a part of me in the Colonel that I had never envisioned when I came up with him and his place in the book.
Happy New Year! As such, it's time to start rolling out what's next in my Man in the Mask series. Although if you haven't picked up the graphic novel, what are you waiting for? Go to my store now and order a copy.
Anyway, I wanted the graphic novel to have it's own feel, tone and look. For what comes next, it needs to follow it's own path. Here is the logo for the continuation of the story started in the graphic novel. There's some familiar connection in design but something that sets it apart. More to come.
I truly wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays etc. 2016 was such a turning point for me. It had it's really low lows and extremely high highs. I finished a comic project I had been dreaming and daydreaming about for close to 20 years. I went out on the convention trail with it and met some very nice people along the way. A big thank you to those that purchased the book and stopped and talked to me for awhile. It means more than you will ever know. Sometimes it's hard for this 44 year old to get everything done for the day so that he can live the life his 12 year old self dreamed up. But when I get a chance to sit down with my imagination, it's always a highlight. Thank you.
Going to try and keep this and my Facebook as current as possible in the new year. If you haven't yet go to my AMK Comics page and like it or friend me at Mike W. Belcher.
A lifelong comics fan, Mike W. Belcher is the writer/artist of MAN IN THE MASK. A story he's had with him for over 20 years.