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So Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

How I've come up with my comics...

 I do a lot of this...
Now that we’ve settled down from the New York Comic Con craziness (NYCCC?), I want to revive what I hope we can make a regular feature. Basically, ask me anything comics related (within reason) and I’ll answer it in an editorial. 

Today's question comes from some familiars…

G-Man: Where do you get your ideas for comic books?

And then, an addendum on that…

Tonis: Have events from your life ever influenced your stories?

I always liked Robert E. Howard’s explanation for the creation of Conan. Basically, he said that he felt the Cimmerian’s dark presence materialize behind him one night while he was at his typewriter. Conan commanded him to chronicle his story, lest he chop his head off, and Howard wrote until collapsing at dawn.  Thus, the first Conan story, "The Phoenix on the Sword," was written.

I suppose my methodology is a little less intense...

The best analogy I can use for finding ideas it that it's like me grabbing a honeycomb from somewhere and dipping it into a series of hives and nests until it's covered with a menagerie of bugs. A story can start with a dream, an experience, an article or somewhere I wish another story had gone... but the end product is always a mix of all of that. The seed for HYBRID BASTARDS! was planted in my high school Latin class. I got the idea for my first comic, RUIN, because I was frustrated with most post-Apocalyptic stories  never really taking their premises far enough.   

But those are simplifications. Here's a more complex example... == TEASER ==

 The cover's a good visualizer of how many inspirations went into this.

My next comic, UNIMAGINABLE, is coming out from Arcana Studio in December (and, PLUG PLUG, it's listed on page 225 of the latest PREVIEWS. Ordering code OCT100764. PLUG PLUG.) The idea started from a very vivid nightmare I had when I was 11. Around that time, I wrote a short story for creative writing assignment about a city of monsters that was inspired by DARK CITY. Both ideas cooled and mutated over with time. Eventually, they'd fuse together and pull in other influences I had over the years with their combined gravity - -  stuff like LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND, the Morrison/Case run on DOOM PATROL and THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. The clincher for the story was based on conclusions I came to about how ludicrous fear can be after I re-visited a wax museum that'd scarred the hell out of me a kid (oddly enough, around the time I had that nightmare.)  

So do you get the idea?  
 
So I'd say it's crucial to take inspiration from a variety of sources, not just one - - and especially not just from other stories you've read. I'd honestly be careful about drawing too heavily from your own life, as well. That "write what you know" aphorism is certainly true - -  there's an episode in HYBRID BASTARDS! drawn from the weirdest Grayhound bus trip I've been on - - but I'm always leery of making characters or situations cut too closely from my own life. I saw more than enough student films in college where the kids obviously were just making shorts about themselves with the names changed. Disregarding how eyeroll inducing and all-too-often narcissistic this can be, I think the greater danger of doing that kind of thing is that it clouds your objectivity. Story should be king, not the details of your life. 

Anyway, keep the questions coming everybody. Send me a PM and I’ll eventually answer it here.

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of  HYBRID BASTARDS! & UNIMAGINABLE . Order them on Amazon here   & here .

28 Comments
Posted by CATMANEXE

nice. complex and well versed.
personally i'm told my ideas come from a hole in my head to a different world,
so you got me beat in spades. good luck and fun with the work.

Posted by InnerVenom123

Music, random strokes of genius.

Posted by tonis

I'm gonna have to start reading your stuff, now I'm curious about this Grayhound bus trip :) 
Nightmares must make for such an interesting channel in comic writing, and a challenge at that. 
 
I've had a few fuel some crazy creativity here and there, they work well. 
 
Thanks for such a good answer and the chance to ask.

Posted by Taranaich

I always liked Robert E. Howard’s explanation for the creation of Conan. Basically, he said that he felt the Cimmerian’s dark presence materialize behind him one night while he was at his typewriter. Conan commanded him to chronicle his story, lest he chop his head off, and Howard wrote until collapsing at dawn.  Thus, the first Conan story, "The Phoenix on the Sword," was written.  


That's John Milius' explanation, not Robert E. Howard's.  Milius basically took an excerpt from one of Howard's letters to Clark Ashton Smith, and jammed it up to the nines, turning Howard's similes and metaphors into "fact".  It's a cool story, but it makes Howard look like a paranoid delusional nut.
 
Here's the original excerpt:
 

  While I don’t go so far as to believe that stories are inspired by actually existent spirits or powers (though I am rather opposed to flatly denying anything) I have sometimes wondered if it were possible that unrecognized forces of the past or present   or even the future   work through the thoughts and actions of living men. This occurred to me when I was writing the first stories of the Conan series especially. I know that for months I had been absolutely barren of ideas, completely unable to work up anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed suddenly to grow up in my mind without much labor on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen   or rather, off my typewriter   almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded on episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them. For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of storywriting. When I deliberately tried to write something else, I couldn’t do it. I do not attempt to explain this by esoteric or occult means, but the facts remain. I still write of Conan more powerfully and with more understanding than any of my other characters. But the time will probably come when I will suddenly find myself unable to write convincingly of him at all. That has happened in the past with nearly all my rather numerous characters; suddenly I would find myself out of contact with the conception, as if the man hiniself had been standing at my shoulder directing my efforts, and had suddenly turned and gone away, leaving me to search for another character.

Posted by danhimself

great article!  I really enjoyed reading that
 
on a side note...Greyhound bus trips can be amazingly fun or horrifyingly terrible...I've experienced both

Posted by Om1kron

I don't exactly remember where I read a preview of hybrid bastards, but I really enjoyed the wacky art style. 

Edited by ArtisticNeedham

I have talked about this with a teacher friend of mine, also a comic artist.  He brought up the idea that we get ideas from all around us, from everything.  Things we like, don't like, don't care about, everything, and we filter it and merge it and what not and come up with ideas.  We absorb our surroundings and put out our ideas, I guess like a meat grinder.
My ideas sometimes come out in complete ideas at random moments, I am ADHD by the way with many thoughts bouncing around my mind, and sometimes just as a copy of another idea or a slightly different version of something I saw, and sometimes it feels like the  Robert E. Howard said.  I story and its characters already existed and i am chipping and carving away all the thoughts and ideas that aren't part of it, until I bring the real story and the real characters to life. 

After seeing the episode of the JLA where Green Lantern, jon, and the rest meet a JSA type team and find out that they were real and the artist who wrote the comic that Jon loved so much as a kid must have tapped into their world without knowing it,  I like to think I am doing the same.  That my comic, and its characters really exist somewhere (even in my mind) and I am just tapping into them.
I have heard from various sources, but specifically Will Eisner's book, that comic artists and writers should have a daily diet of comics to read.  So I guess that adds to the inspiration.
 
Fun article.  I like it.
Posted by sora_thekey

It would be hard to conceive that something from Hybrid Bastards comes from a personal experience... Of course... I don't know that... :)

Moderator
Posted by tonis
@ArtisticNeedham: you know that JLA episode was my absolute favorite of all of them, good call. I too am a strong believer that ideas sometimes come from places we can only imagine, and in some ways exist in more than just thought.
Posted by Silkcuts

great read, thanks for that.

Posted by Darkchild

Very cool knowing how you get your ideas. 
 
My ways of coming up with stories/characters are mostly inspired in car rides. When driving no matter how short the distance is my mind wanders. Probably not the safest thing in the world but it happens, alot of my characters are created from just driving and then sitting on the ideas of the stories or characters until they boil over and go into typing them out.

Posted by Pizawle

Nice insight.
 
Quite an accurate descriptor for how tales grow from an initial concept or idea.

Posted by Eyz

Nice feature^^
Original question you asked there G-man!

Posted by G-Man
@Eyz: Hey, it was during the live show chat! Tom asked everyone for a question so I immediately threw that one in there. Looks like it was a good one, though.
Staff
Posted by Emperor Gonzo Noir

Occasional strokes of imagination, grabbing madly to transient nodes of thought

Posted by No_name_here
@CATMANEXE: A hole to dimension X, perhaps?
Posted by No_name_here
@InnerVenom123: Music's a great source of inspiration. A lot of RUIN was inspired by some lyrics from "The Great American Nightmare."
Posted by No_name_here
@tonis: They're both available on Amaaaaaaaazon.... 
 
Keep the questions coming. This is fun. I want to make this a regular feature.
Posted by No_name_here
@Taranaich: Ha! I suppose I should've figured the great John Millius would exaggerate the truth. Don't believe everything you hear in behind-the-scene retrospectives in the bonus features section of your DVD.
Posted by No_name_here
@danhimself: They really need to advertise on the ticket that you're guaranteed at least three weirdos per trip.
Posted by No_name_here
Posted by No_name_here
@ArtisticNeedham:   I have heard from various sources, but specifically Will Eisner's book, that comic artists and writers should have a daily diet of comics to read.  So I guess that adds to the inspiration.  
 
It's certainly true that you need to dig deep into the field, but just make sure that the comics aren't coming at the expense of other sources. You should look at classical paintings and read novels too... you need to understand who inspired the talents you're inspired by.
Posted by danhimself
@Tom Pinchuk said:
" @danhimself: They really need to advertise on the ticket that you're guaranteed at least three weirdos per trip. "
my favorite weirdo of all was the hippy I met that volunteered to make me a hemp necklace....my least favorite was the extremely fat guy who decided to take the middle seat that my friend and I were using as a spacer
Posted by No_name_here
@sora_thekey: Like I said on the podcast way back when... HB! is more autobiographical than any comic Harvey Pekar ever made. Ha ha ha...
Posted by No_name_here
@Darkchild: As long as you aren't on your cell phone too...
Posted by tonis
@Tom Pinchuk said:
" @tonis: They're both available on Amaaaaaaaazon....  Keep the questions coming. This is fun. I want to make this a regular feature. "
heading over to the rain forest to check out your offerings :) 
Hope you make this a regular as well, it's insightful and inspirational to the creative community here on vine.
Posted by InnerVenom123
@Tom Pinchuk: So true. Sometimes when I listen to certain songs my writing gets really good, no idea why haha.
Posted by robokungfu

This is one of the better articles to appear on this site in some time.  With that said taking everything from a variety of sources holds weight.  I think Jim Jarmusch said something to the effect of "steal from everywhere."  It's so difficult to write a story currently and feel fresh, though.  Has every story structure been done and every ending or trick ending in the book been copied and pasted for decades now?