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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Question of Worth, Part 2

In the previous post, we began exploring the idea of worth when it comes to purchasing decisions. Worth is defined by 1) the promise of the product; and 2) the need of the market. Only when these two factors are in sync can a product increase its worth in the eyes of the market.

With that, here are a few tips and strategies that hopefully can help you put your graphic novel's worth under a more solid light. There are more, of course... Hmmm... maybe we should write a book.

1) Provoke and Justify. What gets you riled up? What moves you to tears? What sends you into deep thought? What sparks your laughter? What makes you painfully afraid? Anything that provokes you mentally or emotionally has a strong chance of finding a more permanent spot in your memory. And for good or ill, any memory that stays long enough has value.

In addition, the ability to make sense of that provocation adds even more value. Shock for shock's sake is empty, a gimmick. But having a convincing reason behind the shock, that you can justify your creative decisions, speaks a lot about your maturity as a storyteller.

Test your story, its scenes and theme, and see what buttons you're pushing. If there aren't any buttons, make a few, and push like crazy. But make sure that you have a good reason to do this beyond shock value. Your insight is valuable.

2) Take your reader for a ride. My theory is that most people see comics as simplistic, or incapable of telling rich, detailed stories, so do your best to break the impression. Like prose novels, graphic novels have the luxury of length. So take advantage of this by developing complex plots on both physical and emotional levels without sacrificing pacing. Dig deep even if your story is a slapstick comedy. Think big even if your story is a high school romance. Let your plot take unexpected turns, and make your characters do unexpected things.

3) Invest time in creating arresting and nuanced visuals. Worth is assumed when there is perceived effort to detailing. If you have a scene set in Paris, draw Paris, not a bunch of lines that looks like Paris. If you have a scene in Times Square, evoke the energy and life of Times Square. If you want to feature the grace and beauty of a ballet performance, have it in your art. Unlike prose novels where readers are able to imagine the setting through sensory description, graphic novels rely heavily on imagery and the occasional caption. It can be jarring to the reader to read, "The performance was the most beautiful thing I ever saw," but the panel shows a stick-figure ballet ensemble displaying the grace of a crane truck.

4) Attack a specific market. This can't be emphasized enough. If your story is for young boys, then give copies to young boys and find out what they think. If your story is about a rock band, give copies to people interested in rock--or, to members of a rock band. A story about zombies can be dangled in front of horror fans. When you've identified the group that appreciates your work, present yourself in places where they thrive.

Join an organic lifestyle bazaar if your story has strong references to gardening. Leave copies in Starbucks if your story is about the helter-skelter life of the office worker. Have a story about homeless kids? Then present yourself to the Invisible Youth Network. Don't limit yourself to the normal comics distribution channels. Start small, then work your way up.


At October 1, 2008 at 10:59 AM , Blogger Brandon said...

It's amazing how almost every post you make speaks to exactly where I am with my creation. But there is good news and there is bad news.

The GOOD NEWS is that I've checked off every point you made in both your question of worth posts. In your post "Giving the Graphic Novel a Step Up" your say,"The product has to feel like a novel, story-wise. It has to have the ingredients, depth, scope, intricacy, and intensity of the common novel. The art and story have to be able to connect viscerally, as well as provide entertainment, to the average reader. It has to be able to stand on its own two--ummm--covers. It has to justify the price tag.

Now if there's a graphic novel out there that satisfies the above criteria, do tell me. I'd really would like to read it, sarcasm not intended." I would like to believe that I definitely have a book that satisfies those criteria based on the tangible points you've mentioned. Of course I'm probably biased and there will be people who won't like something you've made, but I've tried my damnedest to make as commercial, compelling a story as I could make which has a strong emotional core together with disturbing and controversial elements which will make you think and ponder, all weaved in between breakneck action scenes and shocking revelations. That's the good news.

The BAD NEWS, however, I'll put to you in the form of a question. When faced with a graphic novel that has all the attributes that would compel you to buy it, would you, as an American, or any other American out there, buy a graphic novel that is not American in nature and does not reflect the American experience? And I'm not talking about Japanese manga or European albums, I'm talking a graphic novel that hails from a country that is non-existent on the comic book map, namely South Africa.

That is the situation I find myself in at the moment, a South African creator on the verge of releasing my book, wondering if my English-language and completely South African-set graphic novel has any chance in the biggest English-language market. I've always been disappointed by the poor performance of foreign films in the American market, and I'm now left wondering if that will be the same fate for foreign graphic novels.

At October 1, 2008 at 10:37 PM , Blogger Comics Creator said...

Hi Brandon! How exciting! Yes, despite all our efforts to make a compelling book, there is no sure formula to sales success. What we'd like to do, however, is try to set a standard for ourselves and, hopefully, the graphic novel itself.

May I suggest, then, that you try the UK as a jump off point (South Africa, I believe, is historically British?). The market may be smaller, but I've been told that it's more open to independent material from other countries.

If your book meets some success in the UK, you'll have a better chance at the US. Moreover, you might be presented with the option at translations in the European languages.

Why not try to make some cold calls to UK-based literary agents, or representatives of UK publishing houses there in South Africa (if any)? A quick Google search can give you leads. I'd like to think that one of them is at least interested in trying graphic novel material.

May luck shine upon you. :-)

At October 1, 2008 at 10:41 PM , Blogger Comics Creator said...

Hello again... I found a link...


Lots to choose from. :)

At October 3, 2008 at 8:30 AM , Blogger Brandon said...

Thanks for the link. I'll definitely look into it, although it seems for now I'll be going with POD printer who is able to put my book in international catalogs and on Amazon, etc. I'll be my own boss for the time being.

At October 11, 2008 at 6:49 AM , Blogger Comics Creator said...

Hello Brandon! Yes, go for POD and see how it goes. When you have it up, do share a link. :)

At October 12, 2008 at 7:05 PM , Blogger Brandon said...

I'll definitely take you up on that. And here's hoping that you'll be intrigued enough to actually buy a copy. :)


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