Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ed Schubert on Dedd & Gohn

I’ve loved comic strips for a long time, going back to the early days of Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, and The Far Side. These days it’s Pearls Before Swine, Zits, Over The Hedge, Dilbert, and Frazz (which is brilliant, but often hard to find). Absurd and insightful, my favorite comics are always that perfect blend of what is true and what is truly ridiculous.

I’d wanted to write one for a long time, but the tragic reality is that I possess slightly less than zero artistic talent. Okay, okay… significantly less than zero artistic talent. Lacking any way around that stumbling block, I set the dream aside and moved on to pursue others. One thing I’ve never lacked for is pipe dreams to chase after.

Then several years ago, I read an early draft of a YA novel written by Tom Barker. The thing that impressed me most about Tom’s novel was the artwork. Tom had illustrated his own novel, and done an amazing job of it. Not that the story wasn’t good (it was), but the art was fantastic.

But, as with so many other things in life, that moment came and went. I loved Tom’s art, but didn’t think any further about it.

Flash forward to the beginning of 2010 -- maybe January, maybe February; I don’t recall. What I do recall was sitting on a heating pad, trying to assuage an ailing back, all the while reading a book about ghost hunting. With all due respect to ghost hunters everywhere, this book struck me as particularly funny. I think I reacted that way because the author was trying sooo hard to be serious about the subject. Every page I turned just felt like more fodder for comedy.

I’m not sure why, but suddenly a lot of previously unrelated pieces began clicking into place. This wasn’t just fodder for comedy, this was ideal material for a comic strip. And Tom Barker would be the perfect person to do the artwork. And because the strip would be about paranormal investigators, InterGalactic Medicine Show would be the perfect place to showcase it. And because IGMS was about to relaunch with a new look and new features, this was the perfect time for it. Bang, bang, bang -- it was all there.

See? Never a shortage of pipe dreams.

And to make things challenging, this one depended on my getting other people on board the pipedream express with me. But what fun is a pipe dream if it’s not challenging? All I had to do was talk Tom Barker and Orson Scott Card into it.

Piece of cake. This was an idea whose time had arrived. And even if it wasn’t, I was going to make it arrive.

Tom was on board pretty quickly. The minute I pitched him the idea, he was excited (always a good sign). It turned out that just as I had always been interested in writing a strip, but knew I needed help with the illustrations, Tom said he had always been interested in drawing one, but wasn’t sure he could sustain the comedy on the writing side. It was like peanut butter meeting jelly for the first time: two parts that were meant to be together.

Orson was another matter. Not that he was negative on the idea; I just knew I needed solid samples to show him before I even brought the idea up. He wasn’t going to let me put something new in his magazine just because I was editing it; I was going to have to prove to him that I could do this, and do it well.

So I stated writing, and Tom started doodling. We’d meet for lunch; I would show him sample scripts, and he would show me character designs. I suggested tweaks for his art, he suggested tweaks for my dialogue (I was too wordy at first, and Tom struggled to make the characters look like the same person when he changed views from head-on to profile). We got better. We created rough drafts. Tom further tightened my dialogue, and I told him to “draw better” (really, I wasn’t much help there; I’m not kidding when I say I have no artistic ability).

For a time, I made a concerted study of what made comics funny. True, I had wanted to do this for a long time, but wanting to do something and knowing how to do it are not the same. So I studied strips I thought were funny, trying to find patterns. I read creator’s websites, trying to glean tips and tricks. I wrote bad scripts and tried to turn them into something serviceable. It was an enjoyable time. I like the process of learning new things, and this fit that bill nicely. And of course you never resent working hard when you’re working on something of your own choosing.

Within a few weeks we had samples of Dedd & Gohn that I thought were ready to show people. We started with friends and family, and worked our way up from there. Feedback was positive. I was happy to receive Orson’s blessing on the project, but I knew I had something good when my fourteen year old daughter asked for copies of the samples to show her friends at school. She’s a tough critic, and is at a tough age to impress; if it was good enough for a troop of fourteen year olds, it was good enough.

So that’s how it all began. Today, three comics strips per week in InterGalactic Medicine Show; tomorrow, the world.

--Ed Schubert

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