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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Art of Writing Graphic Novels & Comics: Author interview with Paul Tobin

As kids, we’ve all played with our favorite dolls or fantasy figures and created stories for them, but you took it to the next step. You’ve actually written several stories for Spider-Man and Iron Man and the iconic Angry Birds among many other comic and graphic novels. How did you get involved with writing for these genres? 
Early in a writer’s career, there’s a lot of “who you know” going on. I tried for years to truly break into the comic industry, and had some small successes here and there, but couldn’t really get traction. That changed when I had a friend mention that all I was doing was going to conventions and talking to people, but what I REALLY needed to do was going to the bars AFTER the conventions. I started doing that, started meeting people, started making friends, started learning the industry instead of just learning the writing. That was a big step.

You’ve also moved on and written your own tales. When did that begin? 
In one way or another, I’ve been doing my own stories right from the beginning. I’m no good at being one of those writers who only do one type of comic: I need lots of irons in lots of fires, in lots of different genres.

How many submissions did it take before you either found an agent or was accepted by the publisher? 
The process of getting these projects going has been a mix of seemingly endless submissions, and publishers coming to me saying “how about something in the field of ‘X’” and publishers coming to me and saying “I’ll take whatever you want to do!”

Did you attend comic book writer’s conferences? 
I do go to comic conventions fairly frequently, sometimes to meet friends, or fans, or to publicize certain projects, or to have meetings to get those projects going. Just because I’m working on projects doesn’t mean I can stop setting up what’s NEXT. 

Do you have an agent?
I’d never venture into the world of prose without one, but I handle all my comics contracts by myself.

Do you collaborate in finding the illustrator? Or does the publisher handle that exclusively?
For comics, it’s always a tossup. Sometimes I go into a project with an illustrator, but often not. And sometimes a publisher and I will collaborate on finding the right artist, and sometimes… especially in the case of Marvel and DC… the artist will just be assigned, and I won’t even know who I’m working with until the scripts are done, which of course makes it impossible to tailor a script to an artist’s strengths. At Marvel, I worked with a lot of artists where I needed a translator on the scripts, because the artist didn’t speak English, and that’s all I got! 

On my current novel series, Genius Factor, Bloomsbury and I worked together to nab Thierry Lafontaine, but it was long after the book had been written. 

What inspired you to write your current story, How to Capture an Invisible Cat
I think my inspiration was just my pure love of science, and how I’ve always felt that the “shy kid who nobody talks to” is sometimes the most interesting person. 

How do you write? Do you do a storyboard outline? Or are you a pantser? 
As far as how I write, it varies greatly on any given project. For novels, though, I work from a very faint outline at best. If I plan things too thoroughly, it stifles my fluidity… drains the project of any whimsy. And, on novels, I start by reading / proofing the previous two days’ worth of writing, and then I add a minimum of 1000 words a day. And I cut myself off at a maximum of 1500 words a day, because if I don’t do that, it starts to be too easy to rationalize not working. I can say, “Oh, I’m supposed to do 1000 words a day, but since I did 3000 yesterday, I’m good if I don’t work today.” 

Writing is about discipline and momentum, and if you kill that, you kill the novel. Plus, if I don’t cut myself off at 1500 words, I tend to write until I’ve reached the end of a “cool” part, which would mean that I’d start every day cold… needing to build brand new momentum, rather than building on something that already exists.

You've been nominated for an Eisner award, which is equivalent to an Emmy or Oscar. What's the process for submission? 
Yeah. I think I’ve been nominated for four years running, now? Just got this year’s nominations yesterday, where Bandette, my book with my wife, Colleen Coover, garnered three more nominations to go with the ones from previous years. So… I’m hoping to bring one or two of those awards home! 

We’ve already won one before, for Best Digital Series. I’m not actually sure of the nominating process, but it has to do with judges that are picked fresh each year, bringing forth their favorite books, and then internal judging from their before the nominations go out. And, yes… winning or even being nominated can open doors.

What has frustrated you the most in putting together your stories?
I think the times when I’ve had to bend to marketing forces, comprising what I wanted to say. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. You can’t win ‘em all in publishing. But all the ones you lose can hurt. That said, my moments of total freedom have vastly outnumbered the times I’ve had to bend, and make it all worthwhile.

What has pleasantly surprised you in the process?
Working with so many people who truly love bringing stories to life, whether they’re collaborators or editors or heads of publishing or so on!

What do you know now about writing and publishing you wish you had learned sooner?
How to focus on all the various parts of being a writer, the social, the marketing, the revising, the actual writing, and so on!

What’s the best writing tip you’ve learned or been given that you’d like to share about writing comics and graphic novels?
It’s probably that everyone makes their own way, and that’s not only okay, it’s fantastic.

What other works do you have in the process?
Besides the Genius Factor novel series, I’m working on two different series that will start to be shopped, soon. One is for older / adult readers, and the other is for even younger readers than Genius Factor. For comics, I’m working on Bandette, and then Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies, and then four (yikes!) series that I can talk about yet. I’m also starting to do some work on video game development, and my toes are getting wet on screenplays. I keep busy.

Any last words or tips?
Anyone can be a writer! Anyone who puts in a ton of effort and endless dedication, that is!

That's it for today's interview. If you'd like to learn more about Paul's writing, here's a good way to start... Website:        Twitter:

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