The Oletheros Worklog

edited April 2011 in Work Logs
My approach to making comics is defined by two things. 1) I cannot draw - at least, nowhere near as well as I would like to. 2) I have a day job that I can honestly say that I enjoy going to on a regular basis.

The drawing thing is a common predicament around comics - the writer who cannot draw. Like the artist who thinks he can write, I believe that this is a common delusion that is mostly just a combination of confidence and perceived skill level. And, to be honest, it is easier to identify that you cannot draw than it is to identify that you cannot write. I think the problem with this predicament is the absolutism of the statements; it should be qualified as "writers who cannot draw well" and "artists who cannot write well."

This qualification is important, because you must be able to do something well if you want to succeed - using whatever measure of success you choose to hold yourself to. There is an awful lot of good work in the world and your work must be at least that good - if not better - if you want anything. So I am faced with not being able to draw well in a medium that celebrates the beauty of a well-drawn page. Poor me.

So I've spent a long time trying to figure out how to illustrate the pages of my comics. I have made photocomics, clip art comics, comics with paper dolls, 3-D generated comics and some hard-to-define art comics styles. I'm currently taking a scrapbooking class at Michael's because it's an opportunity to spend two hours dedicated to making sequential art pages.

The day job thing is a bit more pragmatic. I'm a DoD contractor and my office is about ten minutes away from home. I get to work at 7, leave at 3 and I just moved to a new department and got a slight raise in the process. My wife gets home at about 6:30, which gives me a dedicated block in the middle of the afternoon to do things like making comics.

The nice part about this setup is that I'm not looking for comics to support my lifestyle. I would certainly like them to pay for themselves at some point, but they probably won't. Still, I can think of worse ways to squander my time, energy and attention. This way, I have something that I can hand to someone with a reasonable belief that they will be able to understand it.

The best description of what I do is "experimental comics." This is a terrible name and mostly reflects the fact that comics doesn't have as diverse a vocabulary as it obviously needs.

I've put a lot of energy into an original graphic novel series - Oceanus Procellarum. "The hidden truth is that when a character encounters the truth in a story, he remembers that he's a character." The truth weirds fiction. It makes characters come alive and, often, takes the story off track. The Weapons of Devotion are an organization that keeps characters in line and chase down macguffins like the Kampyle of Eudoxus. Occasionally, deep cover agents are backstoried into settings so that they get close their prey. And sometimes they want to leave the organization entirely.

The received wisdom is that every new writer wants to write a massive, multi-part space opera epic - and are told not to. I went ahead and did it anyway. Books 4 & 5 are at the printer now, which means that I was able to produce a prequel, main book, sequel, anthology and apocrypha in a coherent, contiguous series. That's something you can really only do on the large scale of an epic.

I was going to spend 2011 making nothing longer than a 16 page story, but then I realized that I could probably get my erotic anthology completed by the end of the year if I hustled. Most of the stories are already done and just need a bit of tweaking here and there. The remaining stories are being farmed out to artists piecemeal. I might have it all done by the end of the year and I might not. There is something very enjoyable about the process of getting the art in, laying down the lettering and putting the book together. If it wasn't fun, I don't think I'd be doing it.

I live in the DC Metro area, which means that Small Press Expo is my home-town show. I may not expect my comics to pay my mortgage, but I can still hope that they'll pay for my bar tab. When I vend at conventions, I wear a purple suit.I also have purple business cards and purple bags. My wife (who is in marketing) pointed out that it would enable me to stand out from the crowd. I also find that it's a memory aid - people know who I am and remember our conversations, which is no mean feat at a convention. Wearing a suit also reminds me that I am there to work.

I have weird ideas about alternative markets for comics. The Direct Market has been optimized by superhero publishers to deliver superhero comics to superhero readers. If I am not making superhero comics, why is the instinctive first place that I go to market them is to superhero readers? That doesn't make sense. If I was making a science fiction anthology, I'd aim it at science fiction fans, not a default group who happen to read the medium already.

I'm writing about French comics. My wife and I traveled to Angouleme in 2010, which was a phenomenally eye-opening experience. The American approach to comics (culturally, market-wise and artistically) is not the only one. There are others that thrive, even with a much smaller audience. I spent a lot of last year collecting and reading as many translated European comics as I could get my hands on. The thing I took from the breadth of content was the sense of "why not?" from the creators as they went anywhere they pleased.

And now and  are publishing columns about FrancoBelgian creators and reviews of BD, respectively. (I figure that if I'm going to get passionate about how every comics lover should be telling the people around them about comics, I should really step up and tell people on general pop culture blogs about comics that I know and respect.)

I belong to the local comic book collective here in DC - the DC Comics Conspiracy. We publish anthologies and get together once a month (or so) to talk about projects and just shoot the shit. We have published two volumes of a free comics newspaper, The Magic Bullet. We printed 5,000 copies with money that the editor raised through a successful Kickstarter campaign. My wife and I have taken the responsibility for distributing in and around the Metro area. The theory is that anyplace that would stock On Tap or the City Paper (a free weekly) would probably allow 10 copies of a free comics newspaper.

As we get closer to the publication of the next edition in the fall, I've got responsibility for trying to get ads from some of the places that we put the paper down in. As with most things in the marketing/sales arena, I defer to (and rely on) my wife's experience and ability.

So that's me. Thank you for letting me talk about myself. I'm old enough to start taking the long view on life. From here, I can reasonably expect to be alive and making comics for the next 35 years at least. That means that I have plenty of time to gain experience and garner success. I think that I really want to make as many different kinds of comics with as many different kinds of artists as I can. Why not?


  • I'm curious to hear more about this erotic anthology, because it sounds similar in some ways to what I'm working on.  Are these all stories that you've written, with various artists illustrating them?  How did you hook up with your aritsts (so to speak)?
  • Keeping in mind that I'm not planning to get the book to the printer until this time next year, I've actually got quite a bit done on this project. This isn't surprising, given that I've been working on it on and off for three or four years now. I'm just now working to get the stories finalized and collected, but I just established that I need an editor and who that will be - so I've got a lot of work to do.

    The stories themselves are all over the place, written at various times over the last few years. Some of them are supernatural stories, some of them are grounded in reality. Some of them are stories that happen to have sex in them. Some of them are stories where sex is the most important part. And they're all over the place, visually.

    The running order and making of stories for each is as follows:

    No Panties - a little story that I wrote years ago. I've tried to get two different women to illustrate this, with no results. The current artist has actually produced work for me in the past, so I have a lot of confidence that she'll be able to knock together a four page story by Halloween.

    For Love of the Sun - the original version of this story was a suburban tale, but I ran into the artist (a guy who goes by the name of El Stabo) at a gallery show that my friend put together and I revamped it for a more pre-urban setting. It's about fertility gods and orgies. I've had the finished pages since November of 2008 and I just got my friend Mal Jones to do some minor color to really bring out the supernatural elements.

    A Good Watch - I've had this story about voyeurism kicking around for a long time and I originally wanted to do it as a photo comic. I've never been able to pull it together, though. Last year, I got a copy of four woodcut print novels by Lynd Ward and I realized that this story could be done as a series of one-page prints, with no dialogue. I just talked to an artist last week who works in that style, but he hasn't responded. We'll see.

    This is Not Viva Lars Vegas - I came up with the idea of this comic when I was in Amsterdam about five years ago. At the time, I was 3/4ths of the way through the first Oceanus Procellarum book and I knew I couldn't write this as a full novel. Somewhere along the way, I realized "oh, that's how you make comics" and threw together this story in about a month and a half. My friend Renee Woodward takes all of my photos (especially the naked ones) and my friend Tony Magwood contributed the self-portraits because he didn't know what to do with them and I told him that I had a use for them. This was (and still is) printed as a stand-alone story that people can buy. But I figure that it will make a good foundation for the anthology.

    Altered Ego - this story has been kicking around since before I started making comics. It's about a man's online affair with his wife. I gave it to an old co-worker to illustrate a few  years ago, but I haven't seen any art. I think I might farm it to another reliable artist who delivers good work.

    El Talon - this is a Mexican wrestler story that has some sex in it as part of the telenovela aspect of the drama in the lives of the wrestlers. I originally wrote it out for a friend who wanted to illustrate a comic. He flaked "because it wasn't Batman." I might have a line on an illustrator to do the work, but maybe not. Easily the most "up in the air" story I have.

    In the Grip of Vanity - this story was (very loosely) based on the story of Graz'zt and Iggwilv. My friend Kirsten Brown illustrated this for me a few years ago. She did a great job, but it's the only full comic she's ever illustrated for me - mostly she just does a sequence here or a page there. But the whole mage captures genie story worked very well with her sensibilities.

    The Human Cello - I grind my teeth when I think of this comic. I found a photographer who was interested in shooting this story and he found two models who were interested in working it. I paid them and had them sign model releases, then shot a lesbian porn one Sunday in April. I put the comic together and the one model didn't like the way it looked. I sat on the art for a long time and last year, I tried something that Matt Silady did for the Homeless Channel - I kept a lot of the photoshop effects and converted the photos to line art, which I printed in blue and inked over it. Yes, it's just like Greg Horn, except that I set up the original photoshoot. Anyway, I'm almost done inking this and I'm going to have to reletter from scratch because I don't use that lettering application anymore.

    Viva Lars Vegas - This is Not Viva Lars Vegas is about a remake of a film. Viva Lars Vegas is the depiction of that original film. Set in Vegas in '72, it's got Howard Hughes, Jim Morrison as a hotel detective and some other high concept stuff. I'm still revising this one, but it's mostly done with clip art and photoshop effects - same style as the original. I just did a solid revision of the draft, so it's approaching the completed stage.

    Public Confessional - this was originally slated to be a photocomic, but I kept forgetting to email the photographer. Still, it's laid out and I have an artist in mind to contact over the summer. It's about hearing stories in the bar.

    The Chaos Personified Players Present the First Act of a Ribald - this is pure conceptual crazy. Seven chaos lords (here personified as shifting blocks of art in various styles) read out the first act of a ribald play - a sex comedy based on the Commedia del'Arte. The one human character is Mavi the Dancer; her art came from a photoshoot I did with a model in a vacbed as a concept that never really went anywhere. I had the art left over and took a different direction with it. I'm not sure about the font - it says Chaos, but it doesn't say legible.

    Fudster Pudwhacker in Bus Ride of the Damned - a few years ago, I ran into Dexter Cockburn, who makes old school underground sex comix. I asked him to do a story for me and he agreed. I gave him a rough theme and he just went crazy. As much as the anthology represents the variety of stories that I can write, it also represents the art styles that I like and this is very much one of my favorites.

    The whole anthology is called Lars Vegas Presents.
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