a story about process

I had another blog post in mind for this week, but then this one came to me based on a post by Martin over at writeafirstnovel called “Ways of editing,” about all the different ways there are to go from a blank piece of paper to a finished work.

Thinking about that, I thought I would tell a story about process.

Most comic books are produced the same way. A script is written, then a series of artists take over. One pencils the issue, then another inks it, then another colors it, then another does the lettering. Sometimes the same person does more than one step, but each step is completed for all of the pages in the issue before the next step is begun.

Dave Sim, who wrote and co-drew and published the comic book Cerebus, would do each page from beginning to end. He would pencil and then ink (another artist, Gerhard, did the backgrounds) and then letter, and when that page was completely done, they would start to think about the next page.

In doing this, in working in this very idiosyncratic way, they created one of the great works of art of the 20th century. Cerebus is a 3,000 page graphic novel, published in monthly installments for over a quarter of a century.

Before Cerebus, a successful independent comic ran a handful of issues, usually on an irregular schedule. Early on, Sim announced that Cerebus would run 300 issues, on a regular monthly schedule, and tell one long story, ending with the death of the title character. Which is what he did. This would be a pretty incredible achievement even if it wasn’t all that good, and it was very good indeed (and at times it was great).

So, does this mean that everybody else is doing it wrong? Of course not. But the lesson I take from it is that he did something extraordinary, and it was probably a factor that he figured out a way of working that suited him. He said that the thought of penciling a whole 20 pages in a row, without doing anything else for variety, would have bored him to tears. It would be hard to imagine him persisting, bored to tears, for over 25 years.

I’ve been thinking about process because I have two ideas for the next story I’ll write, and the fact is that I’m not getting very far with either. I think it’s because I’m not posting them. As I talked about here, I need a deadline to wake me up. So, I think I’ll get the mystery stories edited as quickly as I can, so I can start posting again. With one of the stories I seem to be writing it from the ending first, so I guess if I decide to work on that one I’ll have to tell the story starting with the ending.

Well, that always worked for Orson Welles.

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