Evolution Of A Book, Part 3

By | Thursday, November 12, 2009 Leave a Comment
I've actually been doing research about comic book fandom for several years, so I had a lot of general knowledge floating around in my head to draw upon while writing Comic Book Fanthropology. But once I had the basic structure down, I pulled out all of the books, magazines, articles, notes, etc. I'd accumulated and started re-reading them. For a non-fiction book like this, I obviously didn't want to make any factual errors due to a faulty memory, but I also needed to start picking up some more specific examples, rather than just drawing broad generalities.

This actually turned out to be the first really useful functionality of the format I had set up for my book. Because I had broken things up into smaller subject areas, I was able to target my re-readings specifically to particular topics. I was able to set aside the articles about, for example, Dunbar's number while I was writing the first chapters since that really wouldn't have been appropriate to bring up until chapter five anyway. This way, I was able to stay very focused on specific aspects of fandom and keep the ideas rolling around in my head from straying too far off point.

Generally, I targeted my reading so that I was never writing more than a chapter behind what I was reading about at that moment. For example, I boned up on social categorization theory and wrote a lot on that, but while I was writing about it, I had started reading up on self categorization theory, which I'd planned to discuss in the next chapter. Towards the end, my writing outpaced my reading and I had to step back a few times to catch up. Fortunately, I had plenty other aspects of the book that I could work on!

Simultaneously with the writing, I started going through my comic collection looking for appropriate imagery to use. To expedite my search, I gave myself a number of limiting criteria right off the bat. First, the images had to be black and white. I knew I was going to publish in black and white, and I always hate the way color comics look when they're scanned in and reproduced by just converting them to greyscale. Second, I wanted art that actually spoke to what I was talking about in the book and not just look pretty. That did largely eliminate a lot of genre pieces I could've gone with, but that was kind of the point -- to not spend weeks and weeks looking for good art. One more thing I was keeping in the back of my mind, too, although this wasn't an express criteria for my initial image selections: I didn't want to repeat artists. I want to provide a broad range of examples, and I made a point to select a mix of styles, sources, and cultural references.

Even so, that still left my options pretty wide-ranging, even with the confines of my personal collection. Even though my collection is primarily composed of superhero books, I do have a pretty reasonable number of independent, off-beat personal works that I could tap into. So I pulled out anything that I thought might work and scanned through the issues as refresher, setting aside ones that had potentially useful pieces. Some work I was able to grab straight from memory. Zot #31, Blankets, Smith Brown Jones: Conventional Mayhem and the "Graphamaximo" storyline from PvP were all at the top of my mental list. Others, like Deep Fried, Comics Are Dead and Boris the Bear, came later as I stumbled across a particularly poignant page in flipping through those books.

I actually set aside most of the comics as I found them, creating a pretty large pile of books on the coffee table. I wanted to have a range of art that I could use, depending on where I went with the actual writing.

These pages of art, recently impressed into my brain, actually influenced the writing to a degree. A prime example was a page I found in Bryan Talbot's Alice in Sunderland. (One of the few that are rendered almost completely in black and white.) It spoke very directly to an "us versus them" scenario, as I was trying to elaborate on in one of my earlier chapters. In pulling a written example for that chapter, then, I referred to some experiences people had with Frank Beddor's Hatter M, which is ALSO directly inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The art then compliments the writing, without replicating the same material or acting in a strictly expository manner. Admittedly, I couldn't get every image to work so well, but I think the majority of my images work better than most accompanying art does for this type of book.

Of course, as I said, this "art selection" was done while I was typing away in a program that I wasn't doing page layouts in, so at this stage, I could really only guess where and how the art might fall relative to the text. But precisely because of the way I was approaching the art -- choosing pieces that would compliment the text but not really be essential to it -- it wasn't all that critical for me at that point. If, for example, I was laying out the book and found that I couldn't use that Talbot illustration, the text would still stand perfectly well on its own.

What this also means is that I wound up with a LOT more artwork that I could've used, but opted not to. There are, in fact, quite a number of passages that were originally written with a specific piece of art in mind that I ultimately didn't use for some reason. Some of those passages wound up getting rewritten or modified to suit another piece of art, and some were left in the book as is. As I said, the artwork was chosen to compliment the text, not explain it.

Up next: slogging away!
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