Sunday, March 6, 2011
One Page At A Time Interview...Howard Wong
This week's interview is with Howard Wong...Howard was nominated for a Joe Shuster award for his work on After the Cape (Shadowline/Image Comics). After The Cape received the Image Comics’ Spotlight and Gem of the Month in Previews. It sold out at the distributor level and has been reviewed by Entertainment Weekly.
DC: When I was a kid I read a lot of Peanuts, Superman, Batman, and Richie Rich...tons of fun and a great introduction to the medium. Later on though, I encountered some comics that made a genuine emotional impression on me. I'm thinking specifically of the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans run and Camelot 3000. JLA 200 also knocked my socks off. Are there any creators, titles or specific issues that impressed or inspired you as a young comics reader?
HW: No one I knew read comics, so my earliest introduction was actually through good old Scholastic when I was in grade school. I ordered a Tarzan over sized graphic novel (if memory serves me). It told his origin story. I still have it somewhere in my parents' basement. The art and story really connected with me.
After that, it was the corner store and spinner racks. I knew about Richie Rich and Archie, but they didn't connect with me. Instead, it took a few years more when I rode my bike with friends and did our weekly pilgrimage to ye ol' corner shop. This was my first introduction to the Marvel and DC Comics, such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, X-Men. I still didn't really read them at that point. More like flip though them as fast as we could before the shop owner gave us the evil eye. My money went to Slurpees and chips back then.
It wasn't until Image Comics came around when I was in high school (yes, I'm a late bloomer) that I started collecting and never looked back.
DC: What was it about those Image books that appealed to you?
HW: Being that I started late in comics, I was new to the whole concept of it all. Ongoing series, mini series, graphic novels, etc. These were somewhat foreign to me, so through a friend that was a comic book reader because of his dad, I picked up the basics. What I was missing is the true love of why someone would pick up an issue month after month. Image Comics opened this door for me. Being a new company then, it had new characters that were fresh out of the gate. So I picked up WildC.A.T.s first and the rest became a bad habit. I guess it's sort of like soap operas, if you will. You get enthralled with the story and characters to a point that you just wanted to know what happened to them issue after issue. Image Comics also showed me that comics don't need to be about superheroes. Spawn, for example, showed that what other companies would treat as a villain (for the most part) was the (anti)hero, or The Maxx’s dream landscape with a story that had no tights of capes. I also have to say that the production quality with the paper, colour, and printing made an impact as well. Was I caught up with the flashiness? I wouldn't say no, but I didn't go after all those nutty covers -- well, OK…maybe I went after some of them.
DC: Did your interest in collecting and reading comics ignite a creative spark for you? Or had you always been interested in telling stories?
HW: I always had an interest in telling stories. Most people loathed English classes in high school, while some of my electives were creative writing and drama. I always liked telling stories, which lead me to writing stories, skits, newspaper articles, acting, stage directing and co-directing a theatre club to name a few things.
Writing comics did start at high school all thanks to Prisoners of Gravity (I miss that show so much), but it wasn't until I got married that I really dug my teeth into scripting comics. Figuratively speaking, I had a box of ideas that was loaded with unfulfilled stories just waiting for me. So I started with those and kept at it for one reason or another.
Reading comics obviously affected my love for this story telling medium. It showed me what kind of potential you can achieve in 22 pages.
DC: So, in your early days of writing stories (specifically comics, but we can generalize too), did you use any books or resources to help you with formatting or structure? Or did you just "go for it"?
HW: The Internet has a slew of material, but you really need to sort through it to see what works for you. Be it plot style or full script, you may only dig one format over the other or perhaps like both. It’s best to know them both in case you're asked to write in a certain format.
Sample scripts are a good way to see how the written word turns to art. Writers should understand that when you pass your script to an artist, you have to trust them with the art direction. After all, comics are a collaborative effort--well, unless you're the writer and artist of course.
As for books, these are the ones that I found most useful and not just as a newcomer either. You always find new things when you go over these books.
Will Eisner's Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative
Will Eisner's Comic's Sequential and Art
Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
Scott McCloud's' Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets Comics
Dennis O'Neil's The DC's Guide to Writing Comics
DC: What was your initial approach to writing comics scripts...Did you simply do it for practice, or were you actively trying to self-publish or pitch work to publishers?
HW: I did research online and grabbed books from the library on comic book scripting. I wrote mainly for myself to see if it was something I would like. Before that, I wrote skits and plays while in university. As I talked with people online and found artists that wanted to work with me, I decided to give it go. Not to self-publish or to pitch, but more to see if the process is something I would enjoy. After I met Marco (Rudy) I think it became clear that we had something to show, which is what I did and lucky for us that became our first published work…After the Cape.
DC: I'm very interested in the writing process and how writers approach the job. Do you have a "typical" method for creating a script? Do you outline? Do you thumbnail the whole story?
HW: I generally write out the plot, break it down into smaller chunks and build scenes that drive from one plot point to the next. Sometimes my margins are bursting with things. Then I go and break each scene into pages and then script from there. I usually thumbnail before scripting so I have an idea of how the images will flow, and how scenes will transition. These are done on scrap paper.
DC: I noticed in your credits that you've worked on several shorter anthology stories. What's different about the way you approach a short story versus the way you tackle something longer?
HW: For shorter stories you need to establish characters, the conflict and resolution within a few pages. I rely on common recognized visuals, which allows the reader to understand what's going on and focus on the story I'm telling. It's easier with established characters, but with original ones you just need to find ways in conveying who and what your story is about in a simple digestible manner. Think of commercials and charades.
DC: You've written a four issue mini-series for Crystal Fractal Comics called Redorik. What can you tell us about the project, without venturing off into spoiler country?
HW: I was approached by Derrek Lennox about writing a superhero origin story. After discussing the take he wanted on the characters, everything was in place, and I created a story which added to the vast universe that he mapped out.
It boiled down to answering this question…what kind of superhero would come out of a path that was jaded through a tragedy brought on by greed, sex and desire? Add to that if you were losing your mind to the darkness.
I wanted to explore what happens when you believe that you are doing good, no matter how twisted you become to achieve your goals. So it was almost like writing a villain more than an anti-hero, something that I felt would be challenging with a new hero that was new to the game.
DC: After The Cape Volume 1, is a dark tale of an all-too-human hero who who spirals into "the dark side". What was it about this story and this character that compelled you to write it?
HW: My wife. No, seriously it is. We were talking about why I like superheroes, amongst the other genres of comics I read. She comes from a Manga and Manwha background where people get hurt, die, etc., which isn't typical with mainstream superhero stories. From there I started to build an idea of grounding a superhero to the real world and seeing what challenges he would face from there.
Exploring characters by putting them in all-too-common situations is something that I gravitate towards. When I write these kinds of stories I tend to ask myself many “what if” questions, which turn into other stories at times. Do they all end up being dark tales? No, I wouldn't say that. They end where I feel they would naturally end.
DC: After The Cape Volume 2 continued the story of Ethan Falls, as his plummet continued. What made you want to return to the story and the character? And also, as a writer working on a sequel...is there pressure to try and top what you did previously?
HW: I found it an opportunity to further push the character study of Ethan's crumbling world. Think of it as going back to a place you went for a vacation. You never really have enough time to see or experience it all, so this was my chance to look at and experience other aspects of Ethan's life.
Though the first series sold out at the distribution level and was nominated for a Joe Shuster Award, I didn't feel compelled to top myself for that reason. I strive to write better than the last time I wrote anything, and that goes daily for me. It helps me get back to hammering on a keyboard with a goal. I don't want to end up formulaic with the way I write, so this helps with that.
DC: On a surface level, it appears that there's a similarity in the general themes of Redorik and After The Cape. Does that comparison hold once you start to dig deeper?
HW: Ethan became a hero with a strong belief that he could help the city be a better place, but when he had to live in it--that all crumbled away like his life. Redorik is different in several ways…it explores the reasons why he became a hero and how that drove him into darkness and ultimately madness. Redorik is a different take on the superhero origin, which I hope brings a new light to how one can steer away from the traditional formula.
DC: Is "writer's block" an issue for you? If so, how do you deal with it?
HW: It happens like so many other things when you write something, but I figured a way around it for myself. It’s a double edged sword of a solution really. I have a bunch of ideas that I bounce to and from if writer's block pops up. That usually helps me get back to what I was working on.
DC: Do you have any advice for comic book creators, specifically writers, who'd like to break in to the industry?
HW: Use a crowbar and a hammer. If that doesn't work for you...
After you finished writing the story you want to tell, and you’ve found your partners in crime (penciller, inker, colorist and letterer), figure out which path you want to take to get the story published.
Before sending in a pitch, know which publisher puts out books that are similar to your story. Read their submission requirements and do follow them. Make sure you have that done and send it to them by the method they expect, which is usually explained in their submission requirements.
Don't do a blanket-pitch-send-out. Imagine how many pitches a publisher gets daily (which is usually more than you can imagine). Wasting their time in reading something they don't publish won't do you any good.
Submission requirements are usually a list of minimum benchmarks for you to hit. If you want to show more, why not? If you haven't been published by other means (Web, self-publishing, etc), you have to show your professionalism and ability to delivers the goods.
Bottom line, publishing is a business and you should treat it as such. As much as they love publishing good stories, they would like to publish good stories that sell. If you feel that I'm saying to sell out, I'm not. What I'm saying is that you have to show why your story should be published beyond it being a good story.
"It's a good story that appeals to [insert market(s) here]."
It shows that you have put thought not only into making a good story, but also the readers/market that it will appeal to. Some submission guidelines actually ask you this question point blank.
If a publisher digs your idea and wants changes you don't want to compromise for whatever reason, you have the choice of saying “no thank you” and moving on to another, or self-publishing. Bone, Cerberus, Strangers in Paradise…any of those titles ring a bell?
DC: You have a very impressive sketch book. How did you start it? Do you have any favourite sketches among the many you've collected over the years? Any interesting tales to tell about the many talented hands that have worked on that book?
HW: I think I started it back in 2007 or 2008…I was signing at Paradise Comics for FCBD and got the artists that where there to give me a doodle. So the first three sketches were from, Francis Manapul, Nick Postic, Agnes Garbowska. I never ask for a particular sketch unless the artist wants it. I’d rather them draw something they dig. I think it shows with what has been added over the years.
Each has a story, so I like them all to be honest. Though I have to give some Canucking love to Ty Templeton for sketching Commander Rick for me.
DC: Do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to let us know about?
HW: I've been working on freelance projects as of late. I wrote a comic and the English film script version of a live action CGI film for Jidou Studios (an award winning animation studio from Hong Kong). While this was happening, Hope: Hero Initiative (a charity anthology benefiting Hero's Initiative from Ronin Studios) was released. I contributed a story titled Song of the Little Blackbird (Hope: The Hero Initiative - Diamond Order Code DEC101038). Currently, I'm working on a project with Three Zero, which is a toy company from Hong Kong that does OEM figures, as well as figures from Ashley Wood's art through 3A. I can't say much about this except that I'm having way too much fun to call it work. I can't wait to finish that up so I can talk about it.
DC: Howard, thank you so much for your time...it's great to get a look behind the curtain to see how writers put their projects together.
HW: No worries. Thanks for taking your time and listening to me drivel on about the script monkey life.
You can follow along with Howard's latest news at the following site: http://howard-wong.blogspot.com/
For more information about Redorik, and other projects from Crystal Fractal Comics...please check here: www.crystalfractals.com