July 22, 2016
Writing my comics is always very personal for me since everything I’ve ever done has been woven out of my own experiences or from people I’ve known personally. I draw an annual comic book called Blammo which is comprised of short stories that are all mashed up pieces of me and my life. And if a story is too big for Blammo then it becomes it’s own book, like Saint Cole or even The Hypo.
Recently, a collection of my short stories has been published by Fantagraphics called Disquiet. As an example of how I write I’ll use one of the stories at the end of the book called Night Shift. The story is pretty simple; a 4 page comic about a young woman who lives in her sister’s closet because she can’t afford a place of her own in the gentrifying city she’s in. She get’s an overnight bakery job so that she can save money to move some place cheap.
I know that I have to create a character that wants something and for short stories the earliest I let you know what they want the better. She wants to get out of town. She wants to find somewhere cheap.
One thing I always have around is a notebook to write in. I write little notes or phrases down that I can use as springboards whenever I want to draw a comic. This particular comic came from a pocket composition notebook I carried around with me in 2013. Here’s how it started:
At the time I was working at Panera Bread bakery early in the mornings. It was brutal waking up everyday so early, especially in the winter, but what would’ve been worse would’ve been to be the overnight baker that was clocking out while I was clocking in. I started imagining what their lives were like. The backwards aspect of living your life at night. The alienation of it. On my lunch breaks I would scribble down little ideas and speculations about how that life would feel.
Living in Denver was getting difficult for me as the rents increased every year while I still made the same money. The fantasy of moving away was becoming more and more appealing to me, and as I continued messing around with this “night shift” idea the main character took on that same desire. Suddenly, my story had an engine. I had forward momentum. The desire to move with the means being that night shift job at the bakery.
At this point in the notebook the main character wants to go to Seattle, which is where everyone seemed to be moving to from Denver. Also notice the talking bird questioning her in the corner, a quirky idea I abandoned.
The next phase is to take all of the loose scribbled notes and turn them into loose thumbnail sketches of a comic.
Whenever I’m working from thumbnails like this I’m never strict about anything. I believe that even when it comes down to drawing the final page there’s always room for improvisation. I’ve noticed that if I’m standing around thinking up details for a comic character it’s almost impossible, but as soon as my pen is on the paper it becomes a direct line to my subconscious and suddenly the characters reveal themselves to me in ways that are surprising. I am always working on a gut feeling about details. Very often when I’m writing I’ll have a character with a specific trait, or a small detail which magically winds up solving a problem for me later on in my story. Some things I can’t plan. Many times I will finish a comic without even knowing what it’s about until much later. Then after I’ve had some distance from it I can see it with fresh eyes. “Oh, wow, that’s about the way I felt while living with that woman and she would come home really late” or something like that.
By the time I got around to drawing the Night Shift comic for print, the character’s destination had changed from Seattle to Columbus, Ohio, which made more sense to me since Columbus is still a very cheap city to live and it was where I was planning on moving to.
Our main character is sleep deprived in this comic and often feels like she’s sleepwalking. To express that surreal feeling I chose a basic color palette with colored pencils.
This comic is anticlimactic. There is no big reveal or loud ending. Night Shift is very simply the story of a young woman who wants to get out of town and she finds the means to do it. The End. It’s exactly what I wanted to do. My goal was to write and draw something that’s actual. Like maybe this girl is real and this is how she got out of living in her sister’s closet. It’s mundane enough to hopefully be more universal. Because universality is a powerful storytelling tool.
April 18, 2016
I’m serializing the new Fante Bukowski book as well as a new diary comic here on my Patreon. Check it out!
February 19, 2016
Dan Stafford (Kilgore books) is selling pages for me over here: http://www.kilgorebooks.com/original-art/
Check it out!
November 10, 2015
November 5, 2015
As some of you know, I am currently hard at work on a graphic novel about John Chapman, the real life Johnny Appleseed with esteemed writer pal Paul Buhle. We decided to remove this chunk of the book while editing. These pages were in the very beginning of the book and it seems like we needed to introduce Jonny a bit more before we talked about anyone else. Maybe these pages will find their way into the back of the book if it works out and feels okay. But for now here they are. I hope you like the work!
October 27, 2015
Well I kind of want to get picked up for one of the dark horse anthologies so I can get page rates and quit my day job and launch my series off of that
January 22, 2015
January 20, 2015
October 7, 2013
I originally wrote this piece for Forbidden Planet. Here it is once more, on the one year anniversary of my first graphic novel’s publication!
The Hypo: Behind the scenes
The idea to draw The Hypo came in early 2009. I had just drawn a story called “The True Tale Of The Denver Spider Man” and it had been accepted by Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics for his anthology MOME (it appeared in issue #15). It was about a man in Denver, Colorado who, in 1941, had broken into another man’s home, killed him, and then began secretly living in the home’s tiny attic without the notice of the dead man’s wife. The research for this comic was very satisfying, and led me to look for another obscure historic story to illustrate.
After digging around, I found a story of a near duel, in 1842, between Abraham Lincoln and an Illinois state auditor named James Shields. I had never heard of this before and was fascinated. I decided to draw the incident and publish it in my comic book series “Blammo.” I remember that I was going to call the story “Broadswords” after the weapon of choice for the duel. I went to a bookstore and bought a copy of Carl Sandburg’s “Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years” to familiarize myself with Lincoln a bit more before attempting to draw him.
Chapter 4, of Sandburg’s book consists of Lincoln’s early days in Springfield, Illinois. A time when young Lincoln was practicing law and trying to establish himself in Springfield’s society. Though this book rushes through this period of Lincoln’s life, it mentions that Lincoln was a “Haunted man.” He was melancholy. At the end of this chapter, Lincoln is quoted from an 1841 letter to John T. Stuart, at a time when he seemed to be going through a manic episode. In the letter he wrote:
“Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forbade I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”
This really struck me hard. It was so dramatic and I wrote it down in my notebook.
After finishing the book I realized that what I was really interested in wasn’t his rise to presidency, or the Civil War or even his assassination. I was interested in finding out more about his struggles with the restraints of poverty and how he dealt internally with his deep gloom. His apparent emotional troubles made him more three dimensional to me, and more relatable. I made a choice to expand “Broadswords” into a bigger story that would focus on, and make a story out of his time in the burgeoning new Illinois capitol, when not many knew the name Abraham Lincoln. And I would name the book after Abraham Lincoln’s term for his depression: “The Hypo” (short for hypochondriasis). Now the hard part was to find out as much information about this particular period in his life as I could. Most books I would find on the bookstore shelves flew through Lincoln’s bachelor years on their way to the Civil War. I gathered as much as I could from the first few chapters of as many books as I could find, but most told the same anecdotes over and over again offering me only slightly different wording. The book that fixed that problem for me was “Lincoln’s Melancholy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk. It’s a real treasure. An in-depth look at where Lincoln’s depression may have come from. It was an irreplaceable and inexhaustible information bank for me during my time working on “The Hypo.”
Drawing “The Hypo” was an all consuming process that required me to become a shut-in and a loner. I was drawing pages all the time! I would ditch work and go to a coffee shop to draw until it was dark out. I would draw in bed while my girlfriend watched a movie. I would draw on the couch all alone. Most days I would only leave my apartment to get a coffee from the 7-11 across the street. But I am extremely proud of this book. I believe it is the most original book based on the true life of Abraham Lincoln that there has ever been. I created the exact book that I wanted to read. A story about the struggle to make something of yourself, to become something great, even when it seems the world and even your own mind is conspiring against you.
-Noah Van Sciver