[First of all, I’m really excited about the new Red Room-wide blog topics we’ll be announcing each week! The first one is: “What was a misstep that you or your publisher made with publishing your first book--and how would you do things differently if you could?” If you want to be considered by our editors to have yours featured on the homepage the following week, be sure to tag your blog entry with that week's official tag--in this case: “Publishing Misstep”--and post it before the weekly deadline of Friday at 10AM. Check our Editorial Director Charles Purdy's blog, weekly, for new topics. Now, here’s my story.]
The biggest misstep I made was perhaps peculiar to writing comics and graphic novels. My mistake was not keeping close enough personal contact with and managing the art direction of the artists involved in my project, Huntress: Year One, published by DC Comics.
With a graphic novel, the author writes the script, then sends it to the editor, who sends it to the artist, who does the pencils, and then the editor sends the pencils to the author for review—most of the time. Once the pencils go to the inker, it is too late to make any significant changes. Then the pages go to the colorist and then the letterer, too. You have a brief window on the front end to get the art right.
As it turned out, there were many changes I would have made if I had seen all the pencils before they went to the inker, so my first piece of advice based on this experience is to make sure you see all the pencils. My second piece of advice is to provide feedback not only to your editor but also directly to your artist—make it a conversation that includes all three perspectives.
My vision was of a strong, serious action heroine who had gender-neutral body language, was extremely muscular, didn’t wear make-up, didn’t blow-dry her hair, who fought like her older “brother” Salvatore, a young Sicilian assassin, and talked like her tutor, Justina, a mysterious, bitter feminist. I didn’t want skinny arms, “ooh” faces, arched backs, high heels, or any other visual interpretation out of character.
The artist I worked with, Cliff Richards, lived in Brazil, and I had never met him in person. There was a language barrier and a time difference, and I had heard horror stories about some artists who weren’t interested in the writer’s vision. However, Cliff turned out to be an incredibly kind, friendly, cooperative guy who had the best attitude I’ve ever seen. He wanted more than anything for me to be happy with the art—something I wish I had realized and leveraged on every page of the book. He was intrigued and open-minded about my very un-Brazilian idea of sexy.
By the time we signed books together at San Diego Comic-Con, at the DC Comics booth, he knew exactly what I wanted. He would do a great sketch for a fan and show it to me, saying, “See, Ivory, a grown-up woman nose like you like—no ski-jump baby nose for our Huntress. She is tough, like you!”
He is now a friend for life and someone I can’t wait to work with again on a Huntress project. And luckily, even when the art wasn’t exactly my vision, it was outstanding. Next time we’ll get more muscles and less lipstick. And I’ll know in advance I’m working with a friend.