To read the first part of this series, “Finding the Courage to Become a Writer, click here.
Hi, my name is Cameron and for those who are just jumping in, this is part two in a series of essays talking about my experience creating and writing my first comic, Skeleton Bay Detective Agency. Actually, Skeleton Bay is my only comic. As I write this, Taylor Carlise, the series artist/co-creator, and I are still figuring out how this whole “making a comic book” thing works. So, like anyone narcissistic enough to think the world needs to read the comics they make, I thought this was the appropriate time to talk about how I’ve found myself where I am.
In the first part of this series, I talked about all the small, incremental toe-dipping into the world of writing that lead to the fall of 2014, when my grandma made the introduction between Taylor and me.
So, I have the attention of a talented artist. Now what? Now I need an idea to pitch.
As it so happens, at around the same time I was first reaching out to Taylor, I had just finished Brian Michael Bendis’ book on writing comics, Words For Pictures. In it, he talks about his process and how he always forms a comic pitch around the artist he’s working with, rather than in abstract isolation. He looks at the artist’s work, what they like doing, what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, and figures out the best idea they can do together; what will be the best collaboration.
I come from the world of theatre, where if you want to do anything it usually takes the concentrated efforts of dozens of people, so I am very familiar with the value of collaboration. In fact, making Skeleton Bay has only further cemented in me just how much making a comic is a group effort, as each new page is a constant dialogue between Taylor and me. So, in the spirit of this creator that I admire, I looked through Taylor’s online portfolio and came across this page:It’s a piece from one of his class projects while he was at Savannah College of Art and Design. Like a little particle of dirt that gets caught in a clam and forms a pearl, this page tumbled around in my brain, picking up more and more momentum as it went. There was something fun and interesting about the characters, so I came up with an idea for a fantasy sci-fi story, a riff on Princess of Mars. I was very excited, so I wrote a pitch and started outlining the series. I quickly realized, though, that it was too big a story for our goal of doing a small, short project (oh, the irony). So that idea was shelved. I recently re-read what I had written, and it actually still holds up. In fact, it’s actually something that is currently tumbling around in my brain as a second project for the two of us…
I set my first idea aside and started looking at this picture:I’ve actually never asked Taylor much about the context of the piece, but it struck a chord with me. The spooky, shadowy little story, all washed in purple, told by this one page sparked my inspiration. Before Taylor could even respond about my first idea, I sent him the pitch for a new series: Skeleton Bay Detective Agency! And also the synopses of the first two issues. Because I was very excited.
So, Taylor and I had our first ever Skype session to actually meet “face-to-face” and start talking about the project. The idea for Skeleton Bay to be a supernatural story, inspired by Scooby Doo, The Hardy Boys and those sorts of stories was all there from the beginning. Cartoons are a language that both Taylor and I speak very fluently, so we got on the same page almost immediately. That made those first brainstorming sessions really easy, each of us throwing out ideas, fleshing out some of the first characters we were to meet, potential character arcs, and what some potential story ideas were going to be. We quickly started leaning toward more ghost-specific stories rather than the wider “monster” umbrella, which unfortunately scuttled my idea for one involving a werewolf, but some of the ideas from that may be repurposed in what we actually make. I’ll put a werewolf in the next series.
Over the course of that next handful of months, we had a little back and forth; small bursts here and there, but progress was being made. I had finished the first draft of what would eventually become our 12-page preview comic (more on that next time) and Taylor was starting to get a feel for what our characters were going to look like. The next big milestone was on November 17, 2014, when Taylor sent me this:I’m fudging this retelling a little by looking through our conversation history to get that specific date right, but I can distinctly recall on my own exactly where I was standing when I opened the Facebook Message with the first design of Jake in it. One of the most exciting things that has happened to me in my life so far to come up with an idea, to think about it, write about it, talk about it, and then to see it there, to hold it in my hand in real life.
I was going to make a comic book.
I immediately gained a grin that I couldn’t shake for the rest of the day, and every so often I would open the message back up and stare at the picture, admiring Taylor’s talent.
I also immediately set a precedent that Taylor and I have adhered to ever since, wherein he sends me something he’s made, and I send him back copious notes. Because I’m a taskmaster. He quickly turned around the version we use in the series, nailed Sammy on the second try as well, and we were off running.
Of course, where we were going was an entirely separate question. By the end of 2014, I had an artist and partner, we had an idea, we had plans, but we didn’t really know what we wanted to do with all of it. In the next installment, I’ll go into what it took to get us from the idea phase into actually making the comic.
In the meantime, if you like all of this behind-the-scenes information I’m sharing with you, Skeleton Bay also has a Patreon, where you can get all sorts of making-of content emailed to you each week along with that week’s page of comic. We also have a Facebook page , so check it out, like the page and all that. Lastly, we have a newsletter that you can sign up for and cut out the middle man of all the social media rigmarole and never miss an update.
Otherwise, I’ll see you next time for part three!