JANE: As most of you who Wander along with me every week know, storytelling fascinates me.
One type of storytelling I really like – although I lack the skills to do it myself – is the illustrated type. Call it a comic book. Call it a graphic novel. Call it manga. I read it and often find myself blown away.
Luckily for my sense of curiosity, my friend John Michael Poling not only writes comics, but does his own art. I decided to amuse myself by asking him how he manages.
So, without further ado, here come the questions.
So, John, how long does it take you to draw a page?
JOHN: When I first started, about three years ago, it would have taken me two to three days to finish just a page, but now that I’ve got my system much more refined, one page a day is my speed, no matter the number of panels, or lack thereof, are involved.
JANE: How many panels, on average, on a page?
JOHN: Hmmm, I have no clue! Haha! But seriously, it’s most likely an odd number since I really like working that way. I’ve noticed that I tend to use one, three, and five very often.
JANE: So why does it take you the same amount of time to draw a page that has only one panel, as opposed to a page with five? Also, you note that one page a day is your “speed.” How much of that time is actually spent drawing? I know that a lot of my writing is done away from the actual keyboard.
JOHN: It’s all about size, I think. When it’s just a full page, I’ll break out the 18” x 24” paper. By contrast, if it’s only comprised of the panels, then I’ll use three of the 9” x 12”paper. I love to draw big. As for actual time spent drawing, I’ll spend the first hour or so visualizing, then it usually takes me about two hours to get in the grove, and I’ll stay there as long as I can. Short answer: four to six hours.
JANE: I like how you have found ways to use your preference for drawing big to let you do what you do best, rather than hampering yourself by drawing small.
So, how many pages are there in a finished comic?
JOHN: Since I print and assemble all of my comics, the magic number is divisible four so that I efficiently use all sides of the paper. Twenty-four pages is my current maximum number that I can do myself, because with the thick paper I use to print them out on, I can only staple seven sheets of paper at a time. Anything larger than that, I’d need a third party to print, and assemble, which would cost significantly more.
JANE: How do you design the story so it will fit the format?
JOHN: It honestly depends upon the project
Malditos is a series of full-page drawings where I had stumbled upon a story, and added monologues after the fact.
Token of Grace was originally a short, literary story I had written for an English Lit class in college, based on a specific series of events from my childhood, which I adapted into a single issue comic.
Hunters is a five-part series where each issue is reminiscent of the five act structure found on TV. Specifically for it, there’s the hook, getting to know the antagonists, getting to know the protagonists, then they first meet one another/cliffhanger, and then the final climaxes and resolution.
JANE: I think it’s interesting that you list “getting to know the antagonists” before the “getting to know the protagonists.” I tend to work in the opposite direction.
When you wrote Hunters did you think of it in little boxes or did you write a story before and break it up after?
JOHN: More often than not, I have a story in mind that I want to tell, and as I write it out in something more akin to a treatment, I begin to visualize it, and then I storyboard it.
JANE: So, more like a script for movie or television, then. That’s interesting. As I understand it, the average American comic book can have a separate writer, inker, and letterer. Someone different may do the cover. But it sounds as if you’re a one person shop.
Have you done any collaborative comics?
JOHN: Actually, Hunters is a collaborative series. It’s made from both photography with models, and my art and story. My childhood friend Joel Wigelsworth, an amazing photographer, is the one behind the camera, and in that series, I’m more like the writer, editor, producer, and director, where Joel would be the cinematographer.
JANE: That’s so cool!
Backing up a little, above you noted that you started drawing comics about three years ago. I know you’d been writing fiction before that. What brought you around to comics?
JOHN: Funny you should ask. I should properly say that I rediscovered my artistic skills three years ago, because, according to my mom, who showed me all the art of mine she saved, I was drawing around the same time that I started writing, which was age twelve. Somewhere along the way I had stopped drawing, and continued writing, to the point where I had forgotten I knew how to draw for decades, but that’s not a full answer.
Nearly four years ago I was so overwhelmed by depression that one night I fell asleep, plagued by endless thoughts and desires for suicide, and when I woke the next morning they were still there. I voluntarily checked myself into short term care. I was only there for four days. I needed the solitude to think, and by think, I mean write. The following eight months I decided to take some paid medical leave from my day job, and my psychologist asked me if I drew. I laughed, told him I was a writer, not an artist, and then he suggested I try. So I did. If I can draw, and write, then I’m going to have my cake, and eat it, too.
JANE: I think you’re really brave to admit how bad your depression became. Many people wouldn’t, and so some people with depression remain feeling isolated. Good for you! And good for your psychologist for helping you find your “lost” ability.
The three projects you list above sound very different from each other. What type do you think you’re more likely to try next?
JOHN: I’ve got three different comic series I’m currently working on. First, there’s the last issue of Hunters, which is taking longer than expected since I have to draw so many composite panels for the action scenes. Then there’s Breaking the Sword, a very lengthy series based on our weekly, fantasy roleplaying game. Finally, there’s Nothing to Fear and Survival.
Token of Grace is a part of an autobiographical series about my childhood, teenage, and young adult life. Token of Grace is about violence, abuse, and strength. Survival is about what it takes, and the cost, to survive Basic Training when you’re not straight, and no one believes when you say you are.
Nothing to Fear is about racism in America through the eyes of a young white man who didn’t understand what was happening to, or because of, his friends, who happened to be people of color.
JANE: Those are really incredible topics. I love how you’re not afraid to tackle both sensitive subjects and feel free to adapt your weekly RPG. So many writers feel they either need to be “literary” or “genre.” You’re proving you can be both… I bet they even overlap!
Where can my readers learn more about your work?
JOHN: My company is called Dos Guerros Comics. Our website is www.dosguerroscomics.com. You can also find me on Facebook @dosguerroscomics and on Twitter @dosguerroscomix. My Instagram account is zerocool1331.
JANE: Thanks! Now, back to the drawing board for you, and back to fiction writing for me. Once again, thank you very much!