Thursday, November 05, 2009

Hotspot #21: Deconstructing Comic Collaborations and Crossovers

I have a confession to make.

I like collaborations and crossovers. Sometimes. In fact, I have a positive hankering to find ones which are done well.

The problem is that they rarely are. Which is perfectly understandable. After all the more people you add to a project, the more ridiculously obfuscated and difficult to manage it gets.

At the present, my mental backburner can't seem to stop thinking about collaborative efforts on the web. You see, I really really want to make one.

However, having taken part in a collaborative efforts before, I KNOW how difficult they are. And I've been thinking about how to make one and how to make it better. And so far I've identified the main problems with them are:

A. Focus - This is part and parcel of the whole collaborative schtick, apparently. When you have 5 different people with different styles of writing, you cannot expect them all to be heading in the same direction without a plan. Or a script. For some, part of the charm of collaboration lies in the lack of planning and spontaneity of it all. So... is there a way to maintain this and yet overcome this obstacle? More on this later.

B. Overall consistency and the lack of it - This is the main problem with having N different artists with different art styles taking turns working alternating pages. The overall effect? Reader keeps having to adjust to different styles and learning to recognize character A when drawn by artist B and character A when drawn by artist C. This is still acceptable if you're only switching styles say, every chapter or story, but when it's done page to page with vastly different art styles and formats... It can be really distracting.

C. Maintaining creator enthusiasm, or having a means of continuing after it has waned - When these collaborative projects start out, usually it's all RAH RAH from the get go. After the first few weeks, the enthusiasm dies and more often then not, so does the comic.

D. Scheduling- Some creators have lives. Some have VERY busy lives. The problem is usually when Creator A is free, it's Creator B's turn and Creator B is Busy. So Creator A has to wait for Creator B to be free, but when that time comics around... NOW Creator A is busy. Oh dear. In programming there is a whole field dedicated to solving this problem. That's how much of a pain scheduling is.

E. The fear of editing someone else's work in a collaborative project. I always yak and yak about HOW I write this blog to learn about making better comics. I have come to terms with one truth, especially with the recent look at a few comics. If there's any story involved, you need to plan ahead. And edit and proofread your planned plots. No getting around that. Period.

F. No finishing line. This is indirectly tied to the first point. With no finishing line, there is no focus in the project. And with no end in sight, creators can lose enthusiasm quickly, because frankly, as fun as a collab is, no one wants to do it forever.

So looking at the above observations, what I can I gather from this?

1. Goal. What do I want out of the project? Is it a fun exercise only? Is it an experiment? Or a serious effort? I need to decide on what I want, and take the steps I need to ensure it gets there, everything else be damned.

2. Finish Line. I need to start with an end point in sight. It doesn't have to be set in stone, but I need to know the scale of the project, how long it will probably take and how it will end. All this needs to be decided before I even start.

3. Inertia. Keep it quick and keep it moving. If it takes a year to finish a story, that's too long. If it takes too long in-between turns, that's BAD. People WILL lose interest in that time and it will be nothing but another famous abandoned project. So there needs to be a scheduling system that allows for busy people to pass their turns to people who have time, all the while maintaining a fair amount of balance in the amount of work people end up doing.

4. Robustness. The attrition rate for collabs is high. I need to plan for this and make sure that when people do drop out, the structure of the project is such that it is robust enough to survive with a replacement. Short and modular stories is the way to go.

5. Map. Plan the story first. It doesn't have to scripting all the way, but we need to come out with a preview of sorts first and THEN commit to a final version. Perhaps a round-robin, spontaneous storyboard version where the different artists get to do their fun stuff, then when that is done, we do the edits and corrections so it all makes sense, and come out with the real thing?

6. Roles. Division of tasks. This might not sit well with some. I will have to think hard about this. Instead of doing the normal one page a person way, for the sake of keeping a consistent style, I can think of two solutions to this so far:

a. One creator does rough 'pencils', one creator does linework, one creator does colours, one creator does text and editing etc etc. Might cause problems since everyone wants to be the penciller, although it might be possible to avoid that if the stories are kept short (~10 pages each) and the roles are rotated every story so everyone gets a chance to do each job.

b. Each creator focuses on a particular section and character. For example if there were 3 characters A, B and C. Creator Z draws all instances of Character A. Creator Y draws all instances of character B. Creator X draws all instances of character C. This is similar to what they did for the Disney feature Pocahontas, but it could get messy. On the other hand, consistency is maintained throughout the series, but then creators might get bored of just drawing the same over and over.

Wow that was a LOT of text...

With all this in mind, it looks like I'm going to spend more brain backburner time thinking about what's needed in planning and executing a collaborative project and maybe try a real example with what I've thought of.

You're all free to poke holes in what I've thought of so far. ;)

ps: Why yes that is a new banner image...