Well, I started. Interestingly, I started work on my new interactive comic project the same way I began work on The Second Untrue Trilogy, last year: in Vegas, while my wife was attending an educators conference… I had three days where, during conference hours (roughly 8-4), I had almost literally no distractions from my work and nothing else I needed to accomplish and virtually no internet access, and I started from a blank page on a project I expect to take a huge chunk of time and effort. The final aspect of The Second Untrue Trilogy’s work wasn’t completed until almost a full year after it began, with the posting of the final episode of the audio version of Book Six on Podiobooks.com, and as I expect to explain in this post, the project I’ve just begun will probably take me even longer.
By the end of the first day, I had basically nailed down the core idea and the story structure I wanted to use, as well as some detailed characters and settings, some of them well-visualized for the comic. I had ideas about exactly how the possibilities of multi-touch interaction combined with some limited animation and the infinite canvas could be used to more fully immerse the reader in the story while also being invaluable to conveying the inner lives of the characters as well as the exterior spaces which represent such a significant part of the protagonist’s journey. The next two days were spent filling in the story details, outlining, doing research on recent history and on interstellar physics, plus some preliminary sketching, and by the time Mandy was done with her final session I had a plan for every “page” of the comic, good ideas about the “panels” they’ll each be composed of, and excellent ideas about the transitions / interactions between them.
Since then I’ve been mostly thinking (ie: no more writing/planning, and not much sketching) about everything, trying to more fully visualize the characters and really get into their minds and to understand their backgrounds, their hopes, and their fears… plus figuring out more and more of what’s going to work best for creating the sort of finished experience I want to create, and coming to the conclusion that in addition to working on my illustration skills (esp. vector illustration) and programming, I’m going to have to learn 3D modeling and animation, too. All of these areas of creative expression are things I’ve explored or worked on before, but never to a professional level of expertise, so each aspect of this project represents a major challenge requiring a significant investment of time and effort. Without intending to, and in service of exploring an avenue of storytelling potential I put on hold seven years ago because I thought I needed to tend to reality and get a “real” job. Of course, I did spend that seven years working on my writing and storytelling, plus developing my painting skills/techniques, so it wasn’t a total loss, but a period of mostly gradual development… which will be an excellent foundation, but not directly applicable to the present mountain of challenges. I can see working my way through this project taking easily over a year, possibly eighteen months or more, before there’s much of anything to show for it.
Also, while I was in Vegas, the copies of Scott McCloud‘s books, Reinventing Comics (which I read when it first came out ~11 years ago) and Making Comics, arrived in the mail. I also read through those in the last week and a half. They gave me a lot to think about, though mostly they reiterated what I’ve had in mind for years, confirmed my thoughts about the possible future of comics, and got me pretty excited about everything I have planned for this project; if I’m able to do everything I have in mind… let’s say I’m going to be standing around all four bonfires at once.
I’ve got some serious doubts, of course, as is my way. I’ve never programmed anything particularly sophisticated, and I stopped learning to program a bit before object-oriented programming hit the scene. I have fewer than, say, 25 hours practice working with vector graphics in my entire life, and probably fewer than that many hours in 3D modeling and animation, combined. I have very little experience writing a story with a formalized or formulaic structure, or anything which would be appreciated by a broad/general audience and risk becoming popular. Oh, and this whole project, which might take the next year or two of my life, is really just a proof of concept for me; not really what I expect a full-fledged interactive graphic novel to be, but a brief exercise to help prepare myself for projects yet to come.
Literally, I’m aiming at what I consider to be 24 “pages” of content, roughly equivalent to a single issue of a monthly comic book… though admittedly each “panel” will be a beautiful, full-color image which fills an iPad screen, and I expect there to be 4 to 9 “panels” in the average “page” of content… which, when it makes any sense in the scheme of the panel layout and story, you will be able to zoom out and see a full page of panels at once. It’s effectively a short story. I haven’t actually got a full script fleshed out yet, but it I’m guessing “short short story” might be a good estimate of the length. I’m guessing it’ll take less than half an hour to experience the entire story, though I’ve already got ideas for several rabbit holes / easter eggs which might add a considerable amount of depth and background to people who are interested, in addition to the fact that the story is designed to change significantly based on user inputs and I’ve thought of creating alternative, unlockable story modes as well, which will require at least new framing, possibly new art, and maybe a sort of “creator commentary” option as well. Because it’s possible, and I’m interested in seeing what works and what doesn’t.
Then, after I’ve accomplished this “small” project, I can begin to imagine new projects which, when I first imagine them, will probably present what looks like the same level of real challenge. Perhaps an actual graphic novel, created from the ground up to be native to a full-color, multi-touch device like the iPad while still being grounded by the heart of what defines comics as comics, and something which tells a compelling long-form story with characters of depth and reality. Or something else, entirely. Who knows?
Oh, and I’m still planning on (and working toward – I also read another dystopia this week) continuing my dystopian research and then writing the dystopian/vampire duology I’ve been talking about and preparing for… and it seems like it should remain on track for my getting started writing later this year. So there’s that, too. Writing books is easy, right? I’ll just squeeze the books in beside all this other stuff I’ll be doing. No problem.
So… that’s what I’ve got on my plate. Luckily, there are no real temporal deadlines, only levels of quality I intend to reach. You may not see these works soon, but when you do I want you to be impressed.