Tag Archives: screenplay

On Worldbuilding and the graphic novel

Some cursory research into the term worldbuilding will provide the description for an exercise in constructing a different world than the one we live in. It could take on the aspects of fantasy such as the world of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the role-playing game of Dungeons and Dragons, or it could be a fictional universe akin to the worlds of the Star Wars series of movies and books. In fact, any imaginary world, past or present, could qualify for the worldbuilding description. Whatever genre it assumes, good worldbuilding requires a significant amount of thought. Things like culture, politics, technology, social issues, health, and even human interaction are things to be considered and crafted. Since the author is creating a fictional universe and establishing all the rules, I really can’t imagine a science fiction writer doing anything less to assemble a coherent story.

I wrote The Lightstream Chronicles in the spring of 2011, originally as a screenplay, and then converted it into a graphic novel script shortly thereafter. As part of the exercise, I created a timeline that brought the world from 2011 to 2159 taking into account, (broadly at first then gradually adding detail) the geopolitical environment, technology, tools, society, culture and even some wild cards thrown in. Much of this appears in the first few episodes (pages) of the story (Season 1) but considerably more detail is available by accessing the backstory link on the LSC site. Nevertheless, since the production of all the episodes is still in the works, the process of worldbuilding continues as I sort out increasing levels of minutiae as it applies to all of the above.

A key motivating factor in my creative process is also the center of my research, namely how design and technology affect us as human beings. Design affects culture and culture affects design. Because culture is a hefty composite of our beliefs, behaviors, hopes, dreams, and humanity, it is my assertion that design and its conjoined twin technology, in many ways are becoming the primary sculptors of our culture.

I’ve come to view some version of the worldbuilding exercise as almost a prerequisite to design. If designecnology does have such a profound impact on culture and all of its entanglements, can design really afford to move into the future without considering these larger implications?

Perhaps this is something for my next academic paper.

Bookmark and Share

The web comic born from a screenplay.

Where do these ideas come from anyway? In the case of  The Lightstream Chronicles, it has been a circuitous route. At the earliest stages of the project, before there was a cohesive alignment with design fiction, the story was bits and pieces, a piece of dialog, a sketch, or an idea. There were also numerous influences absorbed over the years from a host of movies and books, but not in the way that mimics one or the other, more like interesting stuff duly noted and filed away to be expanded on someday.

But science fiction is tough to write. When you write science fiction you will inevitably be criticized for being too much like ______. Then there are the naysayers that insist anything that is derivative of any part of anything else is no longer an original idea. Of course, if you follow that logic we would have dismissed as derivative the pursuit of a better wheel design after Fred Flintstone.

Another derivative wheel.  image courtesy of: waymarking.com
Look, Martha, another wheel!

image courtesy of: waymarking.com

Many science fiction writers have lamented that the rate at which technology changes can make their ideas obsolete before a book goes to publication. Furthermore, what are now considered science fiction tropes, are probably that way for a reason: some technological advancements, like robots, seem inevitable. When you are writing about something far in the future, you expect that we will have conquered some problems and further complicated others.

More recently, themes were influenced by the forecasts and speculations of a number of futurist writers including Michio Kaku, Thomas Frey, Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, and Vernor Vinge, and from an extensive survey of emerging technologies in the areas of energy, medicine, computing, artificial intelligence, transportation, and nanotechnology.

Now all of this would probably still be churning around inside my head if not for the need to complete my thesis and the graphic novel project inside of three years. Hence, I needed to find a way to write this thing. Unfortunately, there are no classes at OSU for writing a comic book/graphic novel script. The screenplay, however, is a close cousin. Not because every graphic novel in the universe is ending up as a movie, but because a screenplay is really two things: what the characters say, and what the audience sees; pretty much the content of a graphic novel script. Fortunately such a course exists at OSU and conveniently, the product is a finished screenplay and a built-in deadline. It took a little rule-bending, since the class assignment was to write a screenplay for a short film — 30 pages or so — and mine timed out at 87 pages. But my instructor was most accommodating. I selected the freeware Celtx, to write the script, got an A in the class, and using a nice little feature in the software, I was able to convert it to something like a graphic novel structure. There was a still considerable page and panel readjustment but the software did offer designations for balloons and captions.

Things came together in surprising order. But then, why did I doubt?

The web comic was another tangent entirely. And you can read up on that in a previous post.

Bookmark and Share

Design Fiction Thesis Final Draft and Web Comic Update

It’s hard to describe the feeling of sending off that final draft of your thesis. It might be something akin to hearing you aren’t going to die after all. Elation is a good word. It’s true, and also hard to believe that it has been nearly 3 years in the making, 27,000 words, 157 pages (17 pages of works cited) and that does not include the 87 page shooting script that will go along for the ride in the final document. The shooting script was the hybrid between my screenplay and the comic script and the perfect alternative to having to sketch every panel of the graphic novel. The bibliography alone took about 16 hours, and I wasn’t starting from scratch. I thought I had the bib locked down, but unfortunately, upon further scrutiny, I found that it had been saved in about a dozen different ways, e.g.. MLA, Harvard, Chicago. Personally, I prefer Harvard for citations, but the Design department prefers MLA, so… Anyway, aside from this, I did no writing today. It felt great. I actually jumped back to the graphic novel after about 10 days of limbo. That felt good. Believe it or not I love working on the renders— just wish they went faster.

I expect my advisor to have a few changes to the final draft, but since he’s been reading it all along, I don’t expect big changes. At its current length, I know there is nothing more to add.

Next up: Web comic mania

With the writing behind me (for the time being) I focused a bit on adding the web comic to some additional web comic directories. Mine is a bit out of the norm, however, since it is a. not WordPress, and b. lives on the same webcomic landing page ( I just add new pages every Friday). Interestingly, however, I’m getting a lot of international visitors Brazil, Columbia, Australia, Russia, Hong Kong (finally), and the Netherlands.

Most web comics

Most web comics serve up the latest page, with a back button for previous posts and a beginning button if you want to start with the first of the first. Some web comics have a religious following and that is awesome. In 99 percent of the cases, however, you can spend a about a minute, read the latest update and you’re done. Since I want my readers to download and inspect (this is not your average web comic) I load all the pages on to one landing page and then try to coerce visitors to download so that they can open the image in their image viewer and zoom in and inspect for all the rich detail — and even some clues.

Unfortunately, I have no way (with my current analytics) to see if they are actually doing this. Suggestions are welcome.

This Friday ends spring break and it’s back to teaching on Tuesday. Read any good web comics lately?

Bookmark and Share

Graphic Novel plan unveiled this Sunday

On schedule, the day has finally come to unveil the title, synopsis and character concept designs for my graphic novel. I’m really excited, but it’s also a little terrifying, and amazing to see how each of these milestones drives the project further down the road. There are so many decisions that have been required, even in character design, that affect the overall story. Clothing, technology, the scene and set design, are all telling a part of the story. Just writing the synopsis, that is, committing it to cyberspace, makes it seem somehow set in stone. While the story (in the form of a screenplay) has been written for several months, I have teetered back and forth on the name several times and the location (as you have read in previous posts), but sharing a synopsis to the world was a matter of how much and how little can I tell. I guess movie studios are ridden with that kind of angst all the time.

As I have stated, DeviantArt will be my main launching ground, along with lower res versions on my site and some thumbs here, but I have also decided to post to the CGSociety. This is probably the most daring part, since these are literally the gods of concept art, so far superior to me that I feel very intimidated making an appearance.

I’m secure in the style that I have selected (although I think the final book will take on a somewhat grittier feel), but this is no way intended to be some kind of overture of skill and so much more about an engaging, visually stimulating narrative. There is a huge chunk of story behind each character. It all gets woven together.

I had promised to unveil eight characters but decided on seven finalists, not because I couldn’t finish, but just because I want to hold out some of the minor characters to reveal along the way.

Since I will be absolutely amazed if this gets finished before another entire year passes, another question that will come up is, “What happens after this? How do we know you’re still on track and producing?” So, I’ve decided to continue to post important stills and concept art as I go, as well as some of the supporting cast.

So, just come back here on Sunday and I will give you all the links you need.

Bookmark and Share

Screenplay to graphic novel.

So, I have this screenplay… the assignment was to write a screenplay for a short film — no more than 30 pages. It began with a “pitch,” then a “treatment” and ultimately a series of drafts that produced a final submission. My first draft produced a 74-page screenplay that Phil graciously plowed through and marked up. “Tighten,” was the predominant scrawl. There were also good comments from the rest of the class about the believability of some of the characters, the amount of violence, etc. that provided a sort of focus group for the story (though most of the class, I think intimidated by the sheer length, passed on reading the whole thing). Nevertheless, Phil indulged my graduate student status and let me continue with my feature-length film script over the prescribed shorter version.

What became clear was that this was not a short story. There are lots of characters, the plot is complicated, and the setting is highly relevant to the way people act and the things that drive the story. There is more than a bit of story-telling here.

You have to add to this the anchor of my thesis which is what gets “made” in this fictive future — the design-fiction motive. It requires a level of research into science, government, medicine, crime, society, transportation and history to give context to the culture that begat these design changes.

The screenplay was written using a free, downloadable piece of software called Celtx that actually lets you convert your screenplay to comic book format. Though it was unable to read my mind, the conversion was a handy way of putting you in  the panels and pages mindset. A lot of tweaking is needed. I have continued writing and editing the story as well. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the comic format allows me to break all the screenplay rules of exposition and generally lay it out however I want since this is a reading and visualizing medium.

Already, then something of a change to my setting. In a perfect world I would have had the whole thing take place in Tokyo. I love that city and have spent a fair amount of time there. I understand the aesthetic and I can see it in some future fiction. However, it doesn’t play into my storyline. China is huge in my future which had me switch to Hong Kong another amazing city, but one that I have no visceral attachment to they way I have with Tokyo. But now as I have been spinning away at Hong Kong, I’m starting to think that you need to have some deep knowledge of the place to write about it even if it is a hundred and twenty years from now. So I took the script back to my screenwriter (me) and we hashed a new, and frankly much improved scenario.  I’ll share:

The government of New Asia, which accounts for 75% of the world’s population, is now headquartered in what was New York City. Officially renamed New Hong Kong (for the locals, it was easier to swallow than New Beijing) in 2079, most people have shortened it to HK2, some call it King Kong. The original Hong Kong is still Hong Kong. It was a gentle change of command; China repossessed it all. It was all perfectly legal and peaceful. Most former Americans reluctantly acquiesced. Bankruptcy is a bitch.

I’m excited about transforming New York into New Hong Kong and I am ever so much more familiar Manhattan. But strap yourselves in. It’s going to change a lot.

Bookmark and Share

The otherly graphic novel. Part 3.

If you’ve been following my progress, (and a few of you have) you know that the screenwriting class from Spring Quarter was an immense help in moving forward my story, characters, plot and setting. All of these beforehand were mere flashes from some strange disconnected dream where I could see a character that looked like this and a villain, a controversial scene, and the makings of a future world — all nothing but ideas. The screenwriting class helped this all to congeal fairly well. Screenwriting however is not graphic novel writing. Though they are both intended to become visual narratives, film has a much different dynamic, driven by a completely different way of advancing the story across time.

Which bring us to the next discussion on the otherliness of comics. I have concluded that they deal with time differently in at least three respects. First, as I have mentioned in the past, film goes forward, that’s it, and unless you have an annoying habit of replaying scenes incessantly, (not exactly what the director intended) you are stuck in forward motion. Even when wielding the remote control, either backward or forward film provides only one moment in time; one frame. So in the first respect film — in it’s presentation — is linear. In the otherly world of comics, graphic novels, what have you, past, present and future are all laid out on the page right in front of you. Indeed, you can quickly move forward or look back to add context or meaning, much as you do in pure prose. Of course, here we have pictures.

In a second regard, a film has a finite length. I’m sure there is some marketing formula that lays out the ideal length for general matinee fare. This restriction is not completely absent from a comic or graphic novel, since a publisher may have similar marketing motivations here as well. But, in the absence of a tight publishing format or serial precedent, the length is more likely to be based on the story than the number of marketable pages and the luxury of continuing to a next issue or installment if the story calls for it.

Finally, there is the restriction of time as in the time you spend with the story. This is related to the first reason but not the same. In the graphic novel or comic, we can linger, which is different than scanning back or forward for context, it is about enjoying or studying an image for its sheer impact or wonder. Yes, you can do this with a remote control, too, but let’s face it; it’s different: primarily because the images on the page are intended as 2D art and not moving photos. This brings us back to screenwriting. As most experienced screenwriters will tell you, the visual and audio are your primary tools. They will tell you to write, “Only what we see and hear.” No one wants to read a lot of exposition in a movie. Save for the introduction to Star Wars, most screenwriting experts will tell you that if you have to write a page of explanation then, at the very least, you are using bad form. Not so in the graphic novel. In this constantly evolving form, you can pretty much do whatever you want. If you feel the need to tell your readers that the world in 2159 is extremely complex, that there is a new world government, bizarre new crimes, technological wonders, etc., etc., then you can do that. You can write “more than what we see.” Sounds become their own challenge, but the burden falls on the writer/artist to find a compelling way to introduce written exposition in an engaging and creative way — or you can read it. The cool part is that you could read it on a memo, or another visual device that adds context and additional meaning to the story.

I will have more on the switch from the screenplay to the story script in the next blog.

Bookmark and Share

Stardate 6.2.11

That’s a catchy title. I’ve just finished teaching my last class of Spring Quarter at OSU, I’ve survived my 3rd Quarter Review and made gigantic headway on my graphic novel script. Since my thesis is two-pronged, both a graphic novel project and a paper on the “design fiction” concept, I’m going to have to start journaling my thought process in earnest hence forth. To briefly recap for those of you who are new to the blog my project can be summarized as this:

1. Produce a full-length, science fiction, graphic novel in CGI. Explore this new visual style, push the constructs, the internal metalanguage, and the presentation,to make a new contribution to the art form and explore its relationship to design.

2. Write a paper that:

A) Journals the design process, not only the act of speculative design, narrative construction,and visual prototyping, but also the designer’s full-scale production.

B). Examines the practice of design fiction. For the designer, creating future fiction implicitly creates the circumstances in which he/she can freely throw open the doors of possibility and pose the question of “what if?” Testing the essence of design and designers for grounded imagination, design fiction is limited only by vision. It has implications for ideas like sustainability, communication, and wicked problems.

There is lots going on in both areas right now and a refreshing amount of chatter about the design fiction side of things.

Anyway, to make a long story longer, I have to start journaling on this more frequently. Herewith, some updates. I took a screenwriting class this quarter with Phil Garrett at OSU who has some great Hollywood experience. This course is the closest thing I could find at OSU to push me into completing what was initially just some random thoughts on what my story might be about. It turns out that Screenwriting 636 was the perfect prescription for me. Constructing characters and plot was just the beginning since I also had to develop all the essential dialog, describe the settings and all the essential components of a viable narrative. There was one wrinkle, however. Phil’s class calls for a thirty page screenplay — a 30 minute short film . I ran a bit long, at 75 pages, I ended up with a feature length script. Phil was more than generous and understanding by actually reading the whole thing.

Obviously this is a huge step and will hopefully set me up for a summer of aggressive work moving forward. Next steps on the script are to mold it into graphic novel format, but the basics are there. Before the summer is over I hope to have a basic panel count and storyboards complete.

Tomorrow (hopefully)  I’ll post an update on the progress gained through my Digital Cinematography class. No shortage of things to write about. Discipline!

Bookmark and Share