OH: What kind of process do you have as a writer?
CS: I’m doing a writing program at UCLA right now. I’m not going for an MFA or anything, but they’ve got a professional program for screenplay writing, and the reason I like screenplay writing in graphic novels is that I like to sit down and think about the beginning, the middle, and the end of something. My biggest problem with comics has always been there’s no ending in sight. I have a lot of fun working on series, but after a while it’s a little draining feeling like you’re part of a machine that kind of perpetuates something. I really like having a goal in sight, and a direction. I feel like when you have a complete and solid story, especially when it’s mapped out – you know where you gotta get to, you know some of the means that you have to get there with – it really helps the storytelling. I enjoy the stories where they seed things, where you get little indications of things that are going to come and you get these hints that are actually going to mean something. I hate to bring up Lost, but I think Lost is the biggest tease ever. “Ah, it’s this mysterious thing! And we’re never going to resolve it.” I hate stuff like that! So when I write, I really enjoy knowing where everything is going so that it gives me the ability to inject little things that will indicate to the reader, “well, we could be going this way…are you paying attention?”
OH: Has there been much of a learning curve?
CS: Yeah, oh god yeah! It definitely is weird, because I think most people who work in storytelling, be it comics, or children’s stories, or prose, or movies, even if you don’t actually sit down and academically learn some stuff, you kind of absorb it naturally, especially in comics, where you’re working with so many writers. As a colorist, I’ve worked with so many, I’ve read so many different scripts, my mind has been able to figure out which ones personally are more effective. Before I decided to actively try to become a writer, there were certain things that I knew helped storytelling, and what hurt storytelling, but I never had the vocabulary that I have now, especially understanding why those things are important, in order to make a story move smoothly. Just understanding structurally why you have to have this inciting incident that leads to conflict that leads to battle. It’s great because it helps me mentally weed out extraneous bits of information. Comics, I think out of everything, they’re probably one of the most difficult means to telling a story because it’s so limiting. You only have still images, and you only have x number of pages. And the amount of dialogue you can fit on those pages is kind of minimal. I mean, you can do Bendis, sure, but in general, you can only fit so much type on a page before it’s not a comic anymore. You have to weed out the crap that’s not important. So taking these classes has been great at helping me learn why I have to do certain things and it has totally given me the tools to make sure that I know what’s important and I know what’s not.
OH: Has your art background helped you in terms of writing and thinking visually?
CS: Oh god, yeah! Comics, especially writing comics, I’m so glad that I’ve been coloring for so long, and on top of that, even in high school I was trying to work in comics on my own. It’s amazing. When you’ve seen enough pages and you’ve worked on enough pages, you kind of mentally can figure out pacing. And there are certain things you know you can’t cram onto a page. Some of my classes have been really interesting because there are a lot of people who are screenplay writers or prose writers who are trying to make a conversion to comic books, and they can’t think on that visual level, so they’ll have multiple actions occurring in one panel, and it’s like “no man, you can’t do that.” Or there will be angles that don’t work, so just being able to picture it in my head as I write it has made such a difference. The other thing I’m able to do is communicate better. It’s easier for me to communicate to an artist what I’m looking for, and it’s easier for them to get it because I know how to explain it.
OH: Do a lot of artists want to be writers, or vice versa? Have you noticed that?
CS: I don’t know. I guess a lot of artists get frustrated with where they are. I know as a colorist, one of the frustrations was being last in line. I think being a good colorist is being able to handle the stress. You’re counting on all these people to hit their deadlines, and of course that just never happens, so you have absolutely no time to do this thing, and then at times there are corrections that come in, and you’re like, “What the f, why wasn’t this caught earlier?” And then it’s all your responsibility to fix it, and all this stuff happens. I know that that’s one of the things that made me insanely stressed. After like eight years of it, I was like “I don’t know if I can take another ‘It’s midnight, this page is due in eight hours. Here you go, you can color it now,” and I’m like “What? What is this?” So I think there are people who kind of do want to do that, to gain a little more control over their life. But what’s bigger than that is that most people have stories they want to tell, and the only way to do it is to either find a writer who will tell the story the way you want to do it, or to tell it yourself. And for me it’s a little bit of [the latter]. I always want to do things that were not superhero comics, because that’s what I grew up with, I always wanted to tell other stories, especially ones that were self-contained. So I had to go learn how to do that.
OH: How has your writing process changed or evolved as you continue to write your webcomic?
CS: I guess the big thing with me is that comics is where I started writing. I kind of learned how to write for webcomics. The one thing that I realized when I was reading a lot of webcomics before I started doing one is that it is completely different from printed comics. For one thing, you can get a lot more information from printed comics than you can if you’re doing one page a week. You have to cram in as much information as possible and essentially use a cliffhanger per page, or something to continuously draw the reader back week after week for one little page at a time. So you have to fit a lot more information in.
So for me, I’ve just basically figured out as I’ve gone how important it is to write as efficiently as humanly possible when I do this webcomic. Even though, because I do want to print it once it’s done, I’m very mindful of the page turns; but more than anything I am very aware of how important it is to make sure that I condense as much story as possible without it being old-school cheesy. So it’s not as decompressed as comics are nowadays. You can’t do that, you can’t sit there and spend an entire page of someone looking at something, or idle chit-chat. Every page counts. Every page is incredibly important, and every page has got to make you read more, and if you can’t do that, then people will forget to go read your comic. Or they may just drop out.
It’s easier for me to kind of equate it to a movie than it is for me to compare it to a regular series like Thor. I feel like every webcomic in the very beginning needs a hardcore hook that pulls somebody in right off the bat, or they may never come back. When you start, your friends will go and say “oh, read this comic, my friend’s doing it,” and you get all kinds of advertising, but if you don’t have the shit in it, your fans come back wanting more. It kind of falls flat.