A Short Comic's Process
Writing short comics is usually a challenge for one reason: the ending. Stories of any length tend to rely on the strength of their endings, though I know there are people who say the journey is more important than the destination. I guess both those views depend on a ton of stuff, because the journey could suck but the destination could be interesting, and so the readers might not arrive there because they're bored. Conversely, yeah, if your journey is awesome and the destination is fucking bullshit, well...I learned a lot from Lost. And that's not even intentionally snarky, so I apologize, but I really did learn a lot from that show. The bulk of the journey was some of the best storytelling I'd encountered at that point. And then...
For a four page comic do you write a twist ending? A cliffhanger, assuming there'll be more? How do you establish emotion, if at all? What about character, or is that a freaking myth in something that short? As soon as you decide to make a comic four pages long, you decide a lot of other things too. Story is going to be scant. That famous story about the baby shoes, whatever its failings, does illustrate how much can be done with very little.
So page one, panel one, we need to establish a character with some kind of history; a setting; and if we're lucky, motivation. Artist Seth T. Hahne took my words and turned them into these illustrations, which then had letters put on top by DC Hopkins, and the hope is we achieved those things. Not all stories need them, and certainly not all short comics need them, but I'm drawn to stories with those things, so it makes sense I'd work at creating stories where they're featured.
What are the pieces of the comic achieving on page one? Who used to sing? Where, when, and why? Those three questions may not occur to all readers, but if they do, then the narrative going forward just may hold their interest in more than a few ways. And I don't mean this one specifically (though hopefully); when we care, we invest ourselves more, and that's applicable to almost anything.
The main character's admission that a laugh was "...almost always enough" is supposed to show internal conflict. The statement "I became lost, though" sets up the motivation, which is to be not lost (I swear that pun is unintentional). Simultaneously, Hahne and Hopkins are the masters, they create the setting, they pull the readers in and along. I knew what the ending would be when the idea occurred to me, a single image first, then a concept born from a "What If?" I asked myself, something I learned from Stephen King.
Before any of that happened, I had to start somewhere. This time around I asked Hahne what he'd like to draw, something I'd heard about third hand as a way of getting great work produced. Interviewing an artist on Hideous Energy, that person said a writer they worked with just asked one day what they wanted to draw. And the artist said "I like drawing" insert their current interest here, which then ended up in the story. In this case, Hahne said he'd been having a lot of fun with landscapes. Almost as soon as I thought about landscapes I pictured an astronaut floating above a planet, surrounded by so much empty space, and because of my interests (obsession?) that character was also a robot. We'd see landscape after landscape, more and more flying by beneath our character, because? Because the astronaut is rocketing around the planet, in orbit. After that, the imagination kicked in and we ended up with Free Horizon.