“Sorry, but it’s simply not up to the publishable standard.”
The editor handed me back my work, which took hundreds of hours to create. There was a long pause.
“You should try more live sketching,” she said, lowering her voice to soften the blow. “Build a strong foundation before finding your personal style.”
That was 10 years ago. I was in high school in China, where a comic dork looked like this:
That ego-crushing was followed by a lot of self-loathing and Cheetos. But over time, the taste of Cheetos grew flat, and my hands started itching to doodle in physics class again. I decided to follow the method the editor suggested:
Before long, I was running my first monthly series in a halfway reputable magazine. That helped me edge up in the high school popularity rankings, and I got a few messages of encouragement from reader forums. Above all, though, the method helped me get into a state of comic flow; nothing else mattered when I was drawing. Even when I was failing in life and full of self-doubt, I could always fall back on my sketchbook.
Which brings me to Lesson #1:
But even when you’re following a proven method and trusting the process, there are a few dangers to watch out for when embarking on graphic novel projects. The Pain/Gain index, for example:
If the difficulty index K is too high, terminate! There are four levels of challenge in a graphic novel project:
Creating anything that requires more cognitive load than watching Game of Thrones after a full workday is challenging to begin with, which leads to Lesson #2:
For me, it’s about rewarding myself with things I’m fond of drawing: intricate landscape, fashion, and action scenes. Since I suck at writing dialogue, I’ve kept it to a minimum, and substituted in symbols and visual cues.
Here are four other things I learned while making graphic novels, so you don’t have to go through the same pain:
I’m at work on #6 at the moment, which is the most fun.
Coloring under progress
It’s the last step in a graphic novel I’ve been working on about living in a dystopian San Francisco of the future, where the scarcity of organic food leads its residents to fight to the death at grocery stores. The story is a dramatized observation of the on-going identity battles most San Franciscans face today. It’s a place where one feels simultaneously insider and outsider. You can be both a picky eater and burrito consumer, the root cause and the victim of jacked-up rental prices, and equal parts poseur and satirist of hipsterdom.
“San Franciscocoa” depicts a mundane but impossible feat of grocery shopping—buying a bag of cocoa powder that’s going into extinction.