Since people seemed to like my articles about how I broke into the comics and the behind-the-pages of making HYBRID BASTARDS!, I figured I'd do another article in the same vein. Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to my good friend and frequent collaborator, Kurt Belcher, as he and I "talk shop" about the writer/artist collaborative process. I urge you all to check out the man's online gallery - - he's a mad workhorse - - and watch out for our comic, UNIMAGINABLE, which will be coming out later this year.
Kurt, before we get into the nuts-and-bolts of your shop talk, why don't you introduce yourself to the Comic Vine community. Think of this as your debutante's ball.
I'll try to keep it short and simple. My name is Kurt Belcher. I'm from Kentucky (the eastern part). I draw comics. Right now, I'm drawing three different books (and writing one of them). Seems like I always have at least that many projects in action at once.
At the risk of sounding too "Dr. Phil" here, I think the best collaboration is built on communication and mutual respect. What have been the best aspects of working with a writer and what have been the worst?
A concise description of the "Kentucky Twister." Now, one question the people often ask me is "How do I find an artist to work with as a writer?" How would describe how you and I met (how your life started spiraling out of control) and how have you met other writers?
How we met was pretty inauspicious, as I recall. I almost said insuspicious, which is probably also true, even if it's not really a word. I think we met on CBR's chat room, when you were a young whippersnapper talking about wanting to write comics. Eventually, we started talking to each other more and more, until we got to the point where we actually started working together. I remember one of the first things I drew for you was that "Volt Man" pitch, which I don't think was ever even sent to anyone, which is a good thing. And "Minimus", which, if I ever saw the art for that again, I'd probably gouge my eyes out. But we've both stuck with it until now, creating a book for a pretty nice publisher, Arcana Comics. As far as other writers go, yeah, I've met quite a few. The main difference is that most of them are all talk, while only about four or five writers I've worked with really had much to offer. It's a pretty short list: previously and currently guys like, David Hayes, Martin Fisher, and new guys like Chuck Messinger and Frank Byrns.
That's a tough one, because every creator, writers included, have their strong and weak points.. the best writers I've worked with - whatever their ideas are - have been very direct, know exactly what they want from artists, and don't waffle. They don't suddenly change story points in the middle of me drawing the story, they don't want a huge amount of input from me as far as where the story goes. They write the thing, wait for the art to be done, put the whole package together and then represent it (and us) to prospective publishers. Bad writers do none of that. They can't make up their minds on stories, suggest one story, then another, then another, then another... and never have the focus to stick with any single one. So the projects never go anywhere. I should also say that a lot of bad writers - not all of them, but a lot - just have bad ideas in the first place. They're not original enough, not interesting enough, just plain boring. And if your artist is not interested, the publisher probably won't be, either.
I do think it's important to have a clear idea of what you want when you're writing a comic, but at the same time, you need to be flexible about it. My philosophy is "get it right in the broad strokes, relax on the finer strokes" because nobody wants to be somebody else's rubber stamp - - especially if you're fitting the project into your spare time. Do you have any horror stories of writers who were too rigid about the art?
It's true. On one side, you don't want to be too strict or precious about your script, but on the other side, you don't want to be so loose that you seem like you don't know what you want. But yeah, I've had writers before who were WAY too restrictive with their script. I won't name names, because they're all pretty nice guys, but I worked with a writer who wanted me to re-draw art because someone's eyes were pointing in the wrong direction. Their EYES. Is it really that important that someone's eyes should be pointing to the right and not the left? I just thought that was crazy. One more thing: you don't want your idea to be too weird, either. A year or so ago, I had a paying job with a guy whose story was just too strange, erratic, and self-referential. No one who read it was going to know what the hell was going on.
Alright, obviously, we could go both go on for a long time here. The last thing I'll ask then is... do you prefer to work with full-script or Marvel-style script? Do you like a lot of detail in the panel descriptions, or do you want just enough to get your mind going on its own path?
I always have hated graphic design, which I thought lacked much creativity. But over the years, I've gotten to the point where I'd much prefer to have a writer tell me exactly what I need to draw on each page and each panel. I don't even mind it when writers tell me what the panels will look like, how big they are, the arrangement, etc. I prefer full scripts because they're so much more specific, which I think leads to a much more unique end product. To me, the writer is the architect. I'm just the carpenter building the house.
Ah yes... a fitting metaphor to end this discussion with. Thanks for letting us all crack open your skull and pick your brain, Kurt.
-- Tom Pinchuk is the writer of UNIMAGINABLE for Arcana Comics and HYBRID BASTARDS! for Archaia Comics. Watch out for the HYBRID BASTARDS! hardcover collection this March - - available for pre-order now on Amazon.com.