The Accidental Graphic Novelist

I’m going to be completely open and honest about how everything happened, so if you’re having lunch you might want to read the next part later.

I was on my way to the bathroom when I asked my wife, “What do you think about a story involving a person who dies and has to make a decision about whether or not to come back to life to fight a bunch of bad guys?”

“Don’t think so,” she said. I know my wife pretty well, which is to say that she didn’t mean to sound discouraging, but because she knows me pretty well, she was just challenging me to come up with something more original. So, while I was in the bathroom I had plenty of time to think of something to add to my first proposition. But when I got back (yes, I washed my hands), she’d beat me to it. “What about Dante? Could you do something with that?” she asked. “Hmmm, I like where this is going,” I said. I knew a little about The Cantos, but I needed to know more, so I went off to do some reading and found just what I was after to make the story I wanted to write resonate with my wife, and, I hoped, other readers. The struggle to find solace after great loss and the need to reflect on self in order to make it to one’s destination, well, it may have been an old theme, but it still worked for me.

So, Haven started out as a Dante-inspired genre novel, or at least a genre novel proposal.

I drafted three sample chapters, then developed the synopsis below:

The Dante family line has been in the fires of an ancient war between humanity and the nine circles of hell for generations. As a self-proclaimed “Aristocracy” the circles have now set their sights on the one chosen to fight the raging war … Haven Irena Dante. But soon after the tragic death of her mother, Haven endures the vile theft of her innocence and disappears. No one has seen or heard from her in two years … until now.

Somehow she has been changed. And when all nine circles of hell conspire to recreate their realm on the world’s surface, there is no one that can stop them.

No one, that is, except Haven.

I sent those around to agents, publishers, anyone I thought might have a connection to a connection. After a fair number of rejections, I met Anthony Annucci of Live Body Productions, who was doing soundtracks for comics trailers through MySpace. Tony liked the concept of the novel, so he offered to send it to a contact of his by the name of Harry Markos, CEO of Markosia Enterprises, a British publisher specializing in “sequential storytelling”. I’d never heard of Markosia Enterprises, but eventually I learned Harry published graphic novels, mostly fantasy and sci-fi.

Since I had originally envisioned Haven as a novel, not a comic, I wasn’t quite sure how my project would fit into Markosia’s list, but I sent it anyway. I had grown up loving the graphic novel and comics medium but never thought that I’d get to write in it. I didn’t know the first thing about formatting a script for a graphic novel since I had never written one, so once again, I found myself doing research, this time of the “how to” variety.

To appeal to Harry, I started out with a script like this one:

PAGE ONE (one panel)
Panel 1: Inside a majestic cathedral the funeral for Beatric Rose Dante is closing. A choir of 250 sits behind the casket offering song. Haven stands staring at her mother knowing that she will never see her this way again. Her eyes are welling up with tears that will never stop flowing. Ever. Her father stands off to the side accepting consoling thoughts. Members of the intelligence community and uniformed officers are among the mourners.
Through the well paid-choir’s songs from Purcell’s Funeral for Queen Mary, I can hear them whisper to Dad.
She’s in a better place.
God must have a reason.
In time it won’t hurt so much.
I wish they’d just shut up.
TITLE CAP: What We Leave Behind…

Once I got a script up and going, it was time to find an artist, which was probably the most difficult part of what I had come to realize would be an intensely collaborative process. Of course I wanted someone talented, but it had to be someone I could actually work with, too. Those two traits don’t always come in the same package.

I went through three artists before I found the treasure that is Davy Fisher. One of the artists prior to Davy was talented but didn’t share my work ethic, or at least didn’t seem to want to take the project as seriously as I did. Another was the same. Finding an artist is almost like finding a spouse. You just know when you find the right one. Davy was talented, easy to get along with, and humble. That’s a rare combination.

We met and chatted quite a bit about what the protagonist, Haven, should look like. I had had my fill of big boobs and 90210 types and wanted someone that every female could identify with, not just some heroine appealing to a macho fantasy of womanhood. So I asked Davy to make her “normal.” She needed to be someone you would pass on the street and never know was a superhero. We talked about hair, height, everything you can think of, and Davy got the image just right. The Haven he created on the page truly reflected the image of Haven I had in my mind. Once we got Haven right, we came up with ten pages of sequential art and submitted to the publisher.

The waiting part was hard. Always is. I had just lost my job to the recession the day after we closed on our house. We were having a garage sale to raise money for… well….groceries. My daughter had set up her first lemonade stand, and I was the replenisher/cashier. I had my laptop set up on the ottoman when I went out to bring her some more lemonade. I came back and thought I’d send Harry an email just for kicks without expecting him to respond. I checked my email again on my next lemonade run and there it was. He’d liked it and thought it would make a great graphic novel, so I asked him to send me a contract not thinking I’d actually get one.

“More lemonade Daddy!” my daughter cried. I went back out, got the pitcher and filled it. When I returned I had a contract from Marksosia Enterprises sitting in my inbox.

I signed the contract and completed the script. Soon after, I hashed out the edits with the publisher, getting my ego nicely trashed in the process. I had initially begun the story in the middle where Haven already has her powers, and her origin is told through the story, but Harry felt that an origin story made better sense. He’s the guru, so I went for it and re-wrote the entire script to reflect his advice. There were countless nights of rewrites, but no regrets; it had become Harry’s project too, and he knew the market. After he got my new completed script, Harry brought in another editor. More rewrites. We went back and forth, back and forth, but after awhile we had a finished script we all liked. Next we started the process on the pencils.

Here’s the first sketch from Davy.

Then came the colors.


And then the letters, and more edits. A little tuck here, a little nip there.

A colleague of ours did the letters, but both Davy and I thought they were a little too bright and the letters for the title too macabre, so we pleaded for a change. For the title, we went back to the original submission by Davy. Additionally, Davy had communicated some things that he thought might work better, which meant more rewrites.

From there, the process multiplied by the number of panels.

Eventually, after a long collaborative process that was both energizing and humbling, we had a book we felt proud to call ours. I became a graphic novelist by accident, but in the end, I found in the collaboration a greater sense of purpose for my writing.

All images copyright Leonardo Ramirez, Davy Fisher, Markosia Enterprises, 2010, used with permission.