Monday, 20 May 2013

Creating Comics: Copyright Matters

If you are considering writing comics professionally you may be worried about your work being stolen by others. Equally, given the sources that have inspired you, you may be worried about stealing from others. Here's some items on the subject, which I hope you'll find useful. Some of the material is based on a news group posting by Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, which he very kindly gave me permission to reproduce on here.

Copyright protects any artistic or literary work that is recorded in any way. Whatever you write or draw is automatically copyright is yours - automatically, legally, inalienably etc. - as the writer/author/artist of the item in question. There is no such thing as paying for copyright in your own work.

Copyright is automatic whenever you write or record a piece of work (in the UK -- it is different in the US and elsewhere). Music is copyright, and there are other rights relating to musical works and performances. If you whistle a tune in the street and somebody copies it, there isn't anything you can do. But if you write it down in musical notation it is protected by copyright. If you tape-record your whistling the music is also protected by copyright and in addition there are rights attaching to your performance.

Protecting your rights is not straightforward. It is expensive to bring a case to court and difficult to prove your case to the satisfaction of a judge or jury. So it better to have a clear idea of what your rights are, and how best to avoid trouble. There are several good books available on the subject and any serious professional writer should read one of them.

Registration of Copyright

Registration of copyright is very different, and is important only when you need to prove it, for any reason. 
If you are worried your work may be stolen, then you can register your script with a body which specialises in such things. The United States Library of Congress is one place.

Incidentally, if you're a screenwriter, the Screenwriters (UK and USA) Guild offer a copyright protection service.

In the US, the easiest way to register copyright is just to use the US Copyright office.
It cost about $20, but the good thing is you can copyright a collection of works at the same time for the same fee.

The simplest method of protecting your copyright is to post a copy of the work you have created to yourself (or your representative) by registered or special class post. Make sure there is a good, obvious seal on the envelope, or even consider sealing wax! The date of the postmark is proof of the date of posting, providing you do not open the envelope. File it away somewhere safe, or with your representative.

Posting yourself a copy of your work or depositing a script/copies of character drawings/etc. with your bank or solicitor is not the same thing as registering the copyright (which is yours, anyway, the moment you create it) - but will at least prove the date of your endeavours...

Taking Material from Published Sources

You should be wary of taking material from published sources. The facts themselves aren't copyright, but the form in which they are expressed, and any creative order in which they are arranged, is copyright, and you can't reproduce it without permission. There's a useful article on what constitutes fair use here on BookZonePro.

Upsetting the Dead

It is impossible to libel a dead person. It is the living friends and relations you have to think about. See the article "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" on the UK Writers Guild website. The Guild often advises individual members on these issues.

Thanks to Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain for help with part of the information on this page.

Creating Web Comics: Some Useful Books

If you're thinking about creating your own web comic, I've found these three books useful reading.

How to Make Web Comics
by Scott Kurtz and Peter Straub

For years young, creative men and women have dreamed about making a living from their comic strips. But until recently their only avenue of success was through a syndicate or publisher. Now more and more cartoonists are doing it on their own and self-publishing their comic strips on the web. With the right amount of work, knowledge, and luck, so, too, can you. Scott Kurtz and Kristopher Straub offer their advice on how to create compelling characters, develop a solid comic strip, build a website, forge a community, and start earning money from your Webcomic without having to sell your soul.

Written by the Eisner award winning cartoonist behind "PVP", Scott Kurtz, "PvP" received 1.3 Million unique page views in Q1 2007 and averages 150k-200k hits per day.

Webcomics: Tools and Techniques for Digital Cartooning
by Steven Withrow and John Barber

"Webcomics" is an introduction to one of today's fastest growing and most exciting areas of publishing - online comics, created digitally and distributed on the Internet. Combining profiles of well-known webcomics creators with detailed workthroughs that reveal the nuts and bolts of every aspect of comic creation and presentation, this book is a "must-have" for anyone interested in where comics are headed in the 21st century.

Comics 2.0: An Insider's Guide to Writing, Drawing and Promoting Your Own Webcomics
by Steve Horton

Teaches readers how to develop a concept for a webcomic, draw it, and publish it on the Internet. The book also shows them how to promote their finished webcomic and earn money from it. Webcomics 2.0 explores the two methods of webcomic creation: traditional paper-and-pencil art that is scanned and manipulated on a computer, and digital art that is created entirely on the computer.

It covers three popular types of webcomics-adventure, humor and manga, and reveals the tools, software and resources that will help both authors and writers get started in webcomics creation.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Who Wants to be a Comics Letterer?

Richard Starkings, who persuaded Marvel UK to hire me in the first place way back when, offers some useful advice about breaking into comics in this interview, Like a Chained Elephant, plus comments on the advent of Computer Lettering and more. 

Richard is a comics publisher, font designer and comic book letterer, editor and writer. He was one of the early pioneers of computer based comic book lettering and as a result is one of the most widely-known creators in that industry.

Quote Me: To Write is to Take Chances, says J. Michael Straczynski

"To write is to take chances. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don't, because the measure of success is in the eyes of the reader. And a subjective opinion is always right for that reader, always true for that person."

J. Michael Straczynski (7/10/04), writer, The Amazing Spider-Man, Babylon 5 etc. etc. etc.

Never Stop Writing

Jeph Loeb was interviewd by the supermanhomepage in 2004, and offered this advice to writers when asked if he had any advice for breaking into the comic business, or into writing in general? 

" Keep writing," he advises. "Every day. Write a page. Of something. Anything. Write what you love, what you know. Stay on it. If it's comics, get to know the editors. They are the ones who can hire you. Not other writers. Don't be a snob. Work for anyone. Get to know artists. Work for free and work up from there. And never, ever let anyone stop you from your dream."

How long it takes him to script a comic, he revealed, "depends on the issue, depends on the book. Sometimes they come very quickly -- a few days. sometimes it takes a few weeks of thinking, taking notes, coming up with moments and then finally sitting down and doing it. William Goldman who is one of my heroes and who wrote (among many, many things) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was asked how long does it take to write a screenplay. He said that he thought about Butch & The Kid for 13 years and wrote it in seven days. So. how long did it take him? A LOT of writing is done when you're not writing.

" That's hard to understand when you 're the writer's wife or girlfriend or boyfriend. It's hard to explain when you're on the couch for six hours, counting ceiling tiles that you're actually working. But, my mind never stops."

Loeb says he always tries to work with an artist on a book. " I always talk about the story with my artist at the beginning," he revelaed, "so he knows what he's getting into. I try and keep mind his concerns, strengths and the things he loves to draw.

"I write a full script -- very detailed description, all the dialogue, just like a screenplay. But -- and it's a BIG but --I tell the artist that it's there for him to interpret. I only ask that if they can, try to follow the pacing -- the rhythm -- of the dialogue, that'd be great.

"Even so, when the artwork comes in, I re-dialogue the work to better suit the images. Sometimes that's a complete rewrite, sometimes, that's just putting the balloons on the page. 

"I happen to work with brilliant guys who always astonish me with their work. It really is FUN!"

• Read the whole interview on a number of projects Jeph worked on here:

Quote Me: Word Counts in Comics by Alan Moore

One thing that was drummed into my head (by more than one writer or editor) is that when you're writing comics, let the pictures tell the story. 

You should never overwrite and be ruthless about dialogue -- cut it, cut it and cut it to tell the story through the images as well as the words, but most particularly, the pictures!

Alan Moore recalled the standards of DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger in an interview for the fanzine Zarjaz #3:

"What he said was: if you've got six panels on a page, then the maximum number of words you should have in each panel is 35. No more. That's the maximum. 35 words per panel. 

"Also, if a balloon has more than 20 or 25 words in it, it's going to look too big. 25 words is the absolute maximum for ballon size.

"Right, once you've taken on those two simple rules, laying out comics pages -- it gives you somewhere to start -- you sort of know 'OK, so six panels, 35 words to a panel, that means about 210 words per page maximum... [so] if you've got two panels you'd have 105 each. If you've got nine panels, it's about 23 - 24 words -- that'll be about the right balance of words and pictures. 

"So that is why I obsessively count all the words [in my scripts], to make sure that I'm not going to overwhelm the pictures. I've seen some terrible comic writing where the balloons are huge, cover the entire background..."

How to Get into Comics by Gerry Alanguilan

Philippines artist and writer Gerry Alanguilan has a useful guide on getting into comics today on his web site:

Known elsewhere as Doroteo Gerardo N. Alanguilan Jr., Gerry is a Filipino comic book writer, artist and publisher. He's an Architect by profession, and a member of the San Pablo Chapter of the United Architects of the Philippines, but prefers to be a storyteller through the creation of comic books.

He has written and/or drawn comics like Wasted, Timawa, Lastik-Man, Crest Hut Butt Shop, Johnny Balbona, Humanis Rex!, Where Bold Stars Go To Die and ELMER. The latter two he published from through his own Komikero Publishing. ELMER was eventually picked up by SLG Publishing for publication Internationally in 2010. Editions Ca Et La at the same time released a French Translation in Europe.

He has also been an inker of comics for DC, Marvel and Image, and has worked with Leinil Francis Yu and Whilce Portacio on titles like Wolverine, X-Men, X-Force, Superman, Ultimate Avengers Vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-Man and many more.

He also adapted and illustrated various short stories by classic authors for Graphic Classics including “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Judge’s House” by Bram Stoker, “The Plague of Ghosts” by Rafael Sabatini among others.

He's also very interested in promoting and preserving the artwork created by the many great Filipino comics illustrators of the country's past. You can find galleries of artworks by the likes of Nestor Redondo, Alex NiƱo, Francisco V. Coching, Rudy Florese, Alfredo Alcala and many others at his Philippine Comics Art Museum Online.

• For more info about Gerry, visit his Main Site. You can view a portfolio of his work here.