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Chester comics history for the visual learner or reluctant reader

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Laura, mother of
a 9-year-old
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ancient history american history

The Pace of Doodling

Almost every page you see in the Chester comic books was drawn and written on a tight deadline. I’ve spent my whole life practicing that skill: hit some part of the target — and hit it on time.

That’s the curse to the blessing when you get to do what you love for a career. When there is a paycheck at stake, you may run out of time to fine-tune that drawing of an elephant or to find just the right word for “stubborn.” You don’t have to hit the target’s bullseye — but you do have to deliver SOME drawing and SOME words by a certain date. For five years I delivered Chester the Crab adventures that the Daily Press of Newport News, VA, could run Monday through Friday throughout the the school year. It amounted to a giant mountain of one-man content. For four more years after that I did the same kind of educational comic strip for another newspaper in Virginia. Another mountain.

The way to accomplish this deadline art is to keep the Big Picture in mind. Writing a Chester story always meant thinking about all five days of the story at once, being mindful of just how much space I had to fill. (No need to go down a rabbit hole about drawing rabbits just the right way if there’s no room for that kind of detail!) It felt like thinking from the outside in — because if I ran out of time, the first thing to go would be the detail. Draw the outline of a brick building first, to get the idea across; the individual bricks only get drawn if you have time. I still have that dynamic on comics I do on commission — I get a deadline and 24 pages to tell the story of a famous town in Ohio, so I start thinking from the outside in to figure out how fast and well I can fill those pages.

But today, in the corner of my office, in a life of running my own business, lives the exact opposite dynamic — the Doodle.

Most of us remember the Doodle from 5th grade math class or sophomore year German. Many still practice it in committee meetings. After two decades of shooting out drawings like arrows at a target as some for-hire hawkeye, I LOVE going back to the Doodle!

My Doodles help me fill in and expand my old newspaper stories as I convert them for mobile devices. My goal is to double the number of panels from the old print versions. So when I have a spare 10 minutes at the kitchen table, I start a Doodle that may add a panel to the future expanded biography of Patrick Henry. Or I take a cool detail I sketched during a Civil War reenactment with my son and doodle that for a future iPhone version of the Battle of Gettysburg. Here I think inside-out. Because I drew the spine of a story years ago, the big moments of the story are already covered. NOW I can expand a story at any point that seems interesting to me — maybe I’ll draw more panels about the childhood of Clara Barton but focus more of my new Helen Keller panels on her later globetrotting life. Who knows! Each panel I noodle around with now is its own little world.

I’m giving myself the freedom to poke around at the details in each panel. Some of these new panels have taken months to finish.  They’re my little basket of deadline-free fun. But don’t worry — I’ll share them soon.

After I add a few more lines to that barn in the background . . .



This entry was posted on Sunday, October 7th, 2012 at 10:35 pm and is filed under Author's Purpose, Comix Creation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Chester crab comics