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.

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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:

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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. Story001

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Patreon for new comics

April 18, 2016

Hey everyone!

I’m serializing the new Fante Bukowski book as well as a new diary comic here on my Patreon. Check it out!

https://www.patreon.com/NoahVanSciver?ty=h

Pages for sale here:

February 19, 2016

Dan Stafford (Kilgore books) is selling pages for me over here: http://www.kilgorebooks.com/original-art/

Check it out!

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Fante Bukowski Walks At Night

November 10, 2015

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Saint Francis

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!

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There Is No Short Cut.

October 27, 2015

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Every so often I’ll be contacted by someone  who wants to know how to get into the comics “industry.” They’ll send me a link to their web comic or even some jpegs of their work and request that I give them some advice.
I’ll admit that my first thought is that they saw my work, thought it was shit and assumed that I must know the secret or something.
Sometimes I won’t reply because in my experience most folks seeking “advice” don’t want to hear anything that isn’t “boy, you don’t need any advice! Where have you been! You’re incredible and already better than everyone! Let me give you some top secret email addresses!”
I didn’t know anything about what I was doing when I started publishing my comics.  I just read comics, and drew comics. I drew a lot of comics. So many damn comics. To be honest though, over the past 11 years of struggles and triumphs I’ve gleaned a few things and here’s my advice:
#1 DRAW COMICS 
You say that you want to be a comic artist. Look at yourself. How much do you draw? Do you have a sketchbooks that you fill up? Be honest with yourself; Do you even actually enjoy drawing? Is it something that you would do even if you had to give up your dream of being a professional comic artist who was rich?
In my own experience a lot of folks will just spend years drawing splash pages and wordless action scenes with strong men fighting each other, or dragons or something. Maybe they’ll have a bunch of character design pages with characters that are just their own versions of some Marvel or DC character. They’ll work for years filling up a portfolio that they can bring around to shows and pester working artists or editors with.
None of them could just be honest with themselves about what they are capable of. Maybe you are great at drawing. But how long does it take you to draw the minimum 24 pages? Is it extremely difficult to do for you?  If drawing 24 pages of a story is too hard then you don’t have what it takes.  For God’s sake think about it: if drawing is so hard and time consuming for you then why the fuck do you think you want to be a professional comic artist? What’s wrong with you? You wouldn’t know what to do with the job if they gave it to you, right?
#2 WRITE COMICS
 Learn how to tell a story. It can be very difficult, but it really is the meat of a comic. It’s the protein. There are a lot of filler comics in the world. A lot of nothing. Be a writer and communicate something in your comics. After some time you’ll get really good at it and people will always remember it. Your work will be valued and people will feel satisfied after reading it. That’s the kind of cartoonist to be.
But remember:
your work will probably suck for a long time. It takes awhile before you build an identity as an artist or you find your own voice. And finding your voice isn’t something that you can do by looking for it. You probably won’t even notice when you do! It’s crazy. It just takes a lot of comics that you will later be embarrassed of. There’s nothing wrong with that though. Why should you care? After all you’re serious about being a cartoonist, right? You’re in this for the long haul. You’ll draw your comics until you die! You are serious, right?
#3 SHOW UP
Get ready to travel, my friend. Get ready to table at every comics convention or zine fest you can. Be prepared to lose money. Get ready to do humiliating store signings where hopefully one person shows up and coughs on you. If you want to be a part of this world, simply show up for it. Insert yourself into it. Take your comics which you’ve published yourself and sell them. Meet everyone else who is doing what you want to do. Don’t sit at home and draw comics and expect anyone to give a shit. You have to go sit behind a table, shake hands and then get a cold and the flu like the rest of us.
There is no short cut.
#4 GET YOUR WORK OUT THERE
Self-publish your comics and send them to review blogs. Go to conventions and give your comics to other artists whom you admire. Give them to editors.
Submit comics to anthologies, post them on Facebook, and Tumblr and all of those other social media sites that start up every other year these days. Just do it. Spread your comics out as far as you can!
 #5 FIND AN IDOL 
Obviously I idolized Robert Crumb since the very beginning. I began printing my own comics when I was working at a bagel shop. I was a loner. A college drop out with nothing going on. But fatefully I happened upon the film Crumb after I had already rented everything else at my local Blockbuster video. And after I saw that film I never returned it. At work I began  daydreaming about being an underground comic artist.  I read everything I could find by and about Crumb.  Learning about him and how he became a successful artist was incredibly inspiring to me. It charged me up. it was deeply affecting to me and gave me an entirely new art education. From Crumb I discovered Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Will Elder, and Fantagraphics books. From Fantagraphics books I discovered the alternative comics world! It was the beginning of something powerful in my life. I loved the idea of selling my comics on the street to people like Crumb did, and having my work printed in all of the underground papers ( or zines in my day). His  influence drove me as an artist. In the beginning I would print my own mini comics on a photocopier, fold them, staple them and walk down 13th avenue in Denver (a long street full of stores)  and drop them off in the windowsills next to where all of the bands left their flyers. My only aim in those days was simply to get my work in front of people no matter how. I still remember the first email I got from someone about my comics. A young guy wrote to me and told me that he found one of my comics soaking wet and stuck to his porch one morning after a rain storm. That really made me happy.
I think having an idol like I did can keep you going. You think to yourself “I wanna be like that. How did they do that?” and hopefully it lights a fire under you that keeps burning.
#6 THE HARD TRUTH
This has been said a million times already by every artist including myself. But I’ll say it again.
This isn’t a career. John Porcellino once told me that every “professional” comic artist has a secret of some kind. Something like their grandparents died and left them money, or their spouse has a great job and supports them.
Comics are a very, very, very small art form for a small, tiny audience of people.
You say you wanna make a living off of your comics? Forget it.
Still wanna draw comics anyway? You do?
Congratulations! You’re a real cartoonist! Welcome!
*BONUS* Actual conversation with young artist looking for advice
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Noah, I just wanted to introduce myself, I’m T.  I’ve been submitting to image and Darkhorse. (Fantagraphics would be a good fit too but as far as I know they do not accept submissions) I just wanted to say I’m a big fan of yours and wondered if you had any tips for submitting for a first time submitter and pitching at cons (cliche question I know) thanks for taking the time to read this!  Also just for clarity’s sake, I have 55 pages scripted, a full page synopsis, 42 pages of finished b/w art . (I’m also the artist) waiting on a new scanner but I have pics of unlettered pages. Thx again!
Me: Have you published your work before in mini Comics and anthologies? also do you table at conventions a lot?
Never^ and I haven’t done any conventions yet, I might plan some appearances for this summer at smaller east coast shows. I’ve been drawing forever, mostly self taught as far as drawing goes.
Me: Looks good. Why do you want a publisher?
 And yes definitely letter it yourself!
 

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

Me: Quit your job? How much is their page rate?
I’m totally cool with self publishing, and I might try to kickstart it but that seems really annoying. I really have no idea, maybe Ethan would know. I’d guess 175/200 but that may be incorrect or too hopeful, I haven’t researched page rates in forever. I kind of gave up on the idea. I also kind
Me: …..
 I want to get a job in mainstream comics but self publishing I suppose does the same thing if I build a strong network somehow through doing cons.
Page rate would be more Imagine for writer who are also artists
Me: In my experience publishers don’t want unknown artists/writers. Everyone in Comics (even my brother) started out self publishing their Comics for years. It’s a big job, man. You have to go to a lot of cons and send your Comics out to a lot of blogs. I’m not being discouraging. If you want to be a comic artist you will just do these things. you have to become obsessed with it.
 I can tell you that anytime I’ve done anything with a page rate it was only about 50 bucks a page
 So don’t expect Comics to get you out of working! That’s a road to heart break.
 I know you don’t want to hear that.
Yes you’re right, I have a pretty good relationship w/ the guys at (Podcast name here) and I’m hoping to get on their show some day. I know building an online presence is the biggest deal, and I respect all of the hours you put into your craft and promoting it. I’m also considering doing some short films with the idea and I’m going to a lawyer soon for copyright and other stuff(my dad’s footing the bill heh).
Me: Thank you
 
I appreciate your honesty and perspective. 
Me: You’ll be fine. Your art is cool. It shouldn’t be hard to get attention on your own

BIRDY magazine interview

January 22, 2015

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MY HOT DATE part 2

January 20, 2015

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MY HOT DATE part one

January 20, 2015

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I’m STILL selling some pages! Help me out. I’m still poor.

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

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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

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