Free Comic Book Day and My First Comic Book Project

We love Free Comic Book Day, and being the good friend of a great comic book artist makes it even more fun, because it means we get to go see Justin Wasson at one of our local comic book shops.

Justin with his little girls at last year's event, Maverick's Cards and Comics
A couple of creepy little kids with some of Justin's art (I don't know who they are. Really.)
If you've never been to a FCBD event, you really should check one out. They fall on the first Saturday of every May (this year it's May 3rd), and some places go all out with costume contests and other prizes. And of course, you can walk out of the store with a whole stack of free comics from all the major publishers as well as the indies. If you're a lifelong fan or are looking to start an interest in comic books for yourself or your kids, or if you're just looking for something fun to do and meet some great artists, purveyors, and enthusiasts, check your local newspaper or call your local comic book shops for info on events.

Justin does a free mini-comic every year, and this year, after our success at the Gem City Comic Con, he offered to collaborate with me on a Colt-themed issue. I was thrilled. I've wanted to dabble in this medium for awhile and was really anxious to see how the whole process worked.

Fresh off the printer! Justin included his four daughters (on the left)
and my two darlings Natalie and Elias on the upper and middle right. :) 
Now, I guess there are varying ways of approaching this. Some people prefer to script the whole thing out ahead of time and then hand it over to the artist who draws it to spec. Another method is to have artist and writer frame out a basic story first, then the artist will draw the issue based on the agreed upon story. Then the writer will come in and fill out the actual dialog and narrative. We did it the latter way, and I'm glad for this because I wouldn't know the first thing about scripting out a comic book. I have read many throughout my life, but probably not enough to know how I would want panels laid out or how they should flow sequentially. Justin's expertise in that really helped. He kept me updated with every new addition and asked for any suggestions along the way, and as he completed the panels I was able to envision what each character would say. This way might not work out for everyone, but it felt like a really organic process for us.

How It All Began

Here are the initial sketches when we first laid down the concept. Keep in mind they really only make sense for the artist, though I could see some of Justin's thoughts starting to take shape.

This happened during our planning session. Just getting the barest idea of a layout, story arc, etc.

Colt's office taking shape, and Justin playing with some sketch ideas for Colt's assistant, Darcy.
It was great to finally be able to "see" her for the first time!

More character sketches and other doodles, and hint of the layout for page 3
By this point, Justin was pretty much flying solo. I'm all about letting the artist go where their imaginations and inspirations lead them. He asked for character descriptions, what the Takahashi Industries building might look like in this version of 1947 L.A., etc, but after that, he was off and running.

How It Evolved
Not necessarily in the order of work, but here is each scene laid out.

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3


This is the cover ON the cover!

After Justin finalized the artwork, it was time for me to come along and do the only thing I know how to do in this whole process: write. The beauty of it was, knowing the story idea we had in mind already, it was all just a matter of looking at the sequence of events. And honestly, it went very smoothly, in great part because the story just flowed so well visually. Point: Justin.

What I've Learned About Making a Comic

This is not an artform to be taken lightly. These four little pages took a lot of hours to put together. Justin's perfectionist side was bristling a little at how he wished some it could be neater, so as perspective, this is a rushed job, and it still took about a week and a half to get all the artwork finalized. It only took me a few minutes to fill in the words, though again, because we were in a hurry to get it done and in print (we're going to be appearing together at Maverick's Cards and Comics in Kettering, OH), I felt like I could have done a little better at some of my wording. But it came together beautifully, and I discovered how much I absolutely loved this process, and how I would REALLY love to do this on a larger scale someday.

Another thing I've learned is how having an artist by my side to bring my ideas to visual life is a very inspirational thing. Justin's artwork has already inspired one short story, and the "cover within the cover" idea he had is actually now the seed for the next Colt novel (Colt Coltrane and the Ghost Plane of New York), which I plan to do for NaNoWriMo this year. There is something about seeing a live illustration of your imagined world that makes you think of ways you can make that thing happen in a story.

First it was a poster. Then it was a story.
Finally, I feel very lucky to be able to have this collaborative relationship with a friend that I respect and trust completely. I've known Justin more than half my life now. To be able to have a working relationship with him is a real privilege.

And Finally . . . 

Here is COLT COLTRANE AND THE CASE FOR COMIC BOOKS, a cute little story by two friends, artist and writer, about why this detective hero loves comic books. And why, if you love comics, you should visit any or all of your local Free Comic Book Day events. :)