Wednesday, August 10, 2016

On Time Management and Process...

Time Management and Process

(or How The @#$% Do I Write So Many Books?) 

One of the most frequently asked questions I get on Twitter and at conventions is how I
manage my workload? I've been meaning to write a newsletter about this for a while but,
ironically, I've been too busy. So, sorry for the delay. Anyway, I'll do my best here to explain
my weekly work schedule and my working methods for both writing and for drawing.

I am currently writing about 7 or 8 monthly books and drawing one as well
(right now I'm finishing up art for the graphic novel AD: AFTER DEATH,
written by Scott Snyder, an exclusive page from which is featured above
The first thing I would say is that I am probably doing too much stuff right now.
But, when you love to do what you do, it's hard to stop, and hard to say no to
new opportunities to work with artist and characters that inspire you.

So, how do I do as much as I do? First, I've always been a very organized and
self-motivated person and had a great work ethic.  Before making a living in comics
I worked as a line cook at a variety of restaurants in downtown Toronto. Being a line
cook isn't about knowing how to cook, it's about knowing how to stay organized and
how to manage your time and do a lot of things at once. Furthermore, when I was
working nights in these restaurants I was also trying to make comics, so I would
wake up early and draw all day before going back to restaurant for my next shift.
I had a window of 5-6 hours a day to do comics and I maximized that and took full
advantage of it. I think I carried a lot of the mindset from those early days into my
work as a cartoonist and writer now.

Secondly, I love making comics, It's all I've ever wanted to do. So, basically
I have no social life at all. Really. I don't want one. The older I get the more
I just want to do what makes me happy. And the two things that make me the
most happy are making comics and spending time with my wife and son.
So that's basically ALL I do. And I'm happier for it.

Having said that, love alone does't get the work done on time, so I do employ a
pretty strict system in order to juggle everything...

I work Monday to Friday at my studio from about 7:30 am to 4:30 pm.
(pics of my studio here. Notice my origibal art collection on the walls. Constant inspiration).

I also work an hour or two every night after my son goes to bed and a few hours
here and there on the weekends when he's busy reading or Legoing. In that time
I can draw about 5 pages a week and also complete one script. At this pace I can
write 4 scripts a month and draw and paint aprox- 24-pages of comics.

And the bulk of my Mon-Fri studio time is spent drawing. Drawing is WAY more
labor intensive than writing. I spend at least 40 hours a week drawing and probably
only 10 or so writing.

I can do thumbnails and pencils for 5 pages in about 2 days, I can then ink those
same 5 pages in 2 days. And the 5th day is spent painting those pages or working
on a script. This allows me to draw the equivalent of a monthly book in about 4 weeks.

In term of my drawing method, I work in 5 page batches at a time. I draw my initial
layouts for these 5 pages on layout paper with red prismacolored pencils. Then I
 tighten these up with graphite or lead pencil and tape these pages to watercolor
paper where I ink them using a lightbox. (Here of my drawing set up...)

I ink using Pelikan Black India ink with a Deleter metal dip  pen nib and a
#2 Windsor Newton Sable  brush.

When the inks dry I watercolour right over the inks and then scan it all in.
(Layout and ink stages are shown here on a page from AD: AFTER DEATH)

As I said, I spend much less time writing than I do drawing. In terms of writing,
I stagger my titles. Meaning I get a few months ahead on a book, then put it aside
 for a few months and replace it in my schedule with another title. So, while it may
seem I have 7 or 8 books coming out every month, I'm really ever only writing 3 or 4
a month.

For example, I am currently 5 months ahead on Moon Knight, 3 Months ahead on
Thanos, 6 months ahead on Descender and 6 months ahead on Black Hammer.

So for the next two/three months I can put those 4 titles aside and work on Old Man Logan,
X-Men, Inhumans v X-men and Bloodshot. And soon I'll be ahead on these 4 books
so I'll flip back to the other four titles for a while.

Each week I only focus on one book at a time, and that's all I think about until I've
exhausted all my ideas and energy for that title. So this week I'm working on a new two-part
Old Man Logan story and its running through my head constantly. I get in my Logan
frame of mind and pour everything into that, then put it aside and come back to it in a
month or two when I've recharged on that character and story. If anything, I feel having
multiple titles to jump between like this help keep me fresh and excited rather than
burning me out.

This is a shot of my trusty white board. You can see I have one script to write each
week of the month. And I plan ahead for what's coming in the next two months.
On the right is the list of all the current titles I'm working on.
(And beside that a carefully edited teaser for a couple of future!)

The scripts themselves are fairly quick to write once you have the plots done.
Plotting can take longer, but I usually plot out an entire story arc page-by-page and get
these approved by my editors far in advance, so that when it comes to the actual scripts,
I can easily manage a script a week in my "extra time" on weekends and at night.

I also keep a notebook for each project I'm working on by my drawing desk so I can
write down new ideas as they come to me and later work these into detailed Bibles
I keep for each series with all my issue by issue plots and future story ideas.

It's hard to go into detail on my writing process, because so much of it is intuitive.
But I do write full scripts, and try to keep the art direction to the bare minimum.
I want each artists to have as much freedom as possible so that they can inject
as much of themselves into as possible and do their best work without feeling restricted.

Here is a page from a recent OLD MAN LOGAN SCRIPT for Andrea Sorrentino as
well as an excerpt from the outlines for that same issue from my "Series Bible".
This is from Issue 9, which came out in early August. OF all the artists I work with,
Andrea take the most liberties with the scripts, and I love him for it. He always takes
my ideas and turns them up to 11. We've been working together for a while now on
Green Arrow and now Logan, so we have a great chemistry.

A Page from my Old Man Logan Series Bible...

A page from the corresponding Old Man Logan Script

So, I don't know how enlightening that was. I hope it helps to answer some questions
about how I juggle my work load. But really, it does come down to the fact that
I LOVE what I do. It's all I've ever dreamed of doing. I had to work a lot of shitty
jobs before I started making a living in comics and there isn't a day I don't feel
lucky as hell that I get to wake up and just make comics. So I try not to take that
for granted and I do as much as I can every day.

Having said that, I have probably exceeded my maximum lately. So, as this year
winds down, I'll probably start scaling my workload down to writing about 3-4 books
a month plus one that I write and draw, instead of the 6-7 (or 8!)
I've been doing for he last couple of years.