Monday, June 27, 2011

Interview With Fwah Storm Part 1

Please welcome comic book creator, musician, and all around talented artist Fwah Storm to the blog. His comic, Jericho, releases next week. I had the pleasure of reading the first issue and it's fantastic. The atmosphere is dark, and the story is just beginning to unravel.

Q. Readers want to know -- who and what is Jericho? Can you tell us a bit about the story?

A: Jericho is the story of Jerry Collins, a young , shy and very intelligent young woman who suffers with depression and low self esteem. She tries to just get on with life while she is studying medical science at university, but like a lot of us find, there are always little complications and incidents that are out of our control that change our course in life, and Jerry is definitely experiencing that. She receives a letter from her father who has spent the last five years or so in jail, The local authorities are up in arms because there is a serial killer on the loose who is targeting Terminally ill patients, and Jerry has to deal with possible expulsion from the university because a project she has been working on to make an ultrsound glove for use with cancer patients has gone wrong. In fact, her first experiment with the glove puts a lot of people at risk, because rather than creating a safer alternative for chemotherapy, she has accidentally created an acoustic weapon.

Now, if that wasn't enough to bring her down, there is her best friends brother, Carl, a guy who is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Jerry and Carl have been friends for years, but Carl is the only guy Jerry has ever felt anything for. She secretly loves him, but she would rather keep their friendship than possibly ruining everything they have by dating each other. However, once he diagnosed with the tumor she is filled with a lot of anxieties and worries.

She has no money to perfect the glove, but she knows full well that if anything can save Carl it's the glove. But even if she did have the money to continue the project, there is also this killer on the loose who could possibly target Carl as a victim. So she has to make a huge choice. Does she become a bad guy and go against her own morals and ethics to save Carl's life, Does she stand back and allow any of the millions of possibilities to happen, or should she listen to that voice in her head, and become the anti-hero.

Q. First and Foremost -- Most don't know the difference between Noir Comics and colorized comics. Can you clear the air and explain the difference?

A: There are many different art styles that are used for comic books, and my preferred art style, or should I say my expertise when it comes to comic art, is noir comics. Now, a Noir comic doesn't just utilize a similar style of writing that was founded from pulp crime novels and film noir. Normally the noir art style makes use of negative space in a scene, and focuses solely on the two elements of dynamic lighting and shadow. This means that there are only two colors. Pitch Black and Stark White. Even though flat colors can be used with noir style art, adding such color pushes it into more neo-noir. There are some comics that also use grey along with the black and white. These comics are neither noir or colorised. They sit in a league of their own. Then pretty much all other comics that utilise more than just black, white and grey and use a lot of different rendering techniques are refereed to as colorised comic books.

Q. Most comics take place in their own 'World'. Is this the case with Jericho? If so, how did you create the environment?

A: The environment of the story is a very important element in my eyes. I took time to think about the advantages of a fictional universe versus a real world scenario, and to me I could only see fault in a fictional environment. Also, I have always been a fan of stories that take place in a real world setting, and find that it helps add to a sense of relateability, which is another factor I find important in a story. So after much thought, I decided it would be best for this story and any future stories and characters I plan to work on should take place in the very real town of Bournemouth. By doing this I can have characters cross over in titles, or they can all have their own universe and still be set in a real location.

Q: What inspired you to become a comic book artist and creator?

A: Ever since I was young, I enjoyed writing, and I also enjoyed drawing. I must admit, as I got older certain events stopped me at first from following that dream, but then I started to meet a few like minded people.

At first I thought my ideas were stupid, and that no-one would be interested in them. However, once I started talking to various people about my ideas, I noticed that they became very passionate about encouraging me to create them as they really wanted to read them. So eventually I thought 'Why not give it a try'? And the rest is history.

Q. Where did the idea for Jericho come from?

A: I use to work for 8mm Comics with Callum Bowler (the man in charge of the lettering for Jericho) and Tom 'Wez' Dorrington. We were getting ready for the release of two comics, Morlock and The Fallen. During this time we began to plan out other titles and characters that we wanted to release, so there were many creative meetings.

During one of those creative meetings, myself and Tom were waiting for Callum as he was running late, and when he arrived he said to us 'I think I'm being stalked by a seems to be everywhere that I'm going'.

I was confused at first, and asked him what the word was, which he replied 'Jericho...everywhere I go, this word seems to appear, however, I don't know where it originates from, and what it means'. So I explained to him that it comes from a bible story called the walls of Jericho.

Callum then came up with the idea that both of us should go home, read that particular story, and see if we could come up with our own story that some how related to the word Jericho.

At the time my late father was going through chemotherapy, and I got to see first hand how it effected him, so that was a factor that was already on my mind. After re-reading the walls of Jericho I became fascinated with how in the story it was the sound of the trumpets and horns that brought the walls down, and from that I came up with the idea of using ultrasound as an alternative to chemotherapy.

So I researched Ultrasound, and even spoke to a few people who had gone through ultrasound treatment on muscle and ligament damage to make sure that at least the theory of using ultrasound could possibly work in a real world scenario, and then I pitched it to the guys, and they loved the idea. In fact, Callum asked what the character of the story would be called and when I said 'Jericho' his jaw hit the ground and he just started ranting and saying 'That's amazing! The word that has been stalking me has proved to be of great use....this story needs to happen'!

And then 3 years later I'm here making that story happen.

Q. Titles for books can be made early on. Was this the case with Jericho? Since it's an adult comic with sensitive material, did that have any bearing on what you chose to name your work?

A: Well, I found that most comic book titles are focused on the protagonist of the story. for Example: Batman, Spider-Man, Spawn etc.

Originally, I wanted to stay away from naming the book after the anti-hero of the story, but then I realised that the only title that could work was 'Jericho'.

At first I feared that this could encourage readers of a young age to try the book, which didn't please me, but then I realised that the majority of comic book readers are aged between 25 - 50 years of age. So I realised that the chance of children reading this story was extremely minimal, and most fears surrounding that particular problem dissappeared.

Q. Male comic book heroes are popular. What made you decide to go with a female protagonist?

A: Originally Jericho was a male protagonist, and during the first year of hording the story idea in my brain and slowly developing it, I found that there was something that didn't quite click, so I found that I was slowly losing interest in the project. This lasted until I was doing volunteer work for a children's charity, and during my time there I met all different walks of life, but one in particular caught my attention.

She was a fellow volunteer who was incredibly shy, and we got on as friends, and before long she really opened up and I discovered very quickly that she was a fascinating and intelligent person who had such little confidence in herself because of a tough life growing up. Once I had discovered this it really made me think in depth about what sort of characteristics a hero should have.

later on, I sat down to watch an animated Wonder Woman movie and the thought of 'There are so little strong female leads in the comic book industry' came into my head. It didn't take long before that fact and thoughts about the girl I worked with collided and for some reason I thought of Jericho and realised that the reason why the story wasn't working for me was because Jericho was perfect as a female character, and severely flawed and uninteresting as a male character. So the decision was made, and I haven't looked back since.

8. So far you've managed to keep the identities of the antagonists and protagonists secret. What can you tell us about the antagonists versus what we've seen so far?

A: I have a lot of fun creating the antagonists of Jericho, and originally I only wanted there to be one, but as the writing process went on, I found that more and more antagonists were making their way into the story.

The first antagonist is the youthanasia killer, a sadistic and extremely self-righteous and narcissistic serial killer. I would love to say more about this character, but one of the fun elements of reading Jericho is that whole murder mystery thing of 'Who could the killer be'?

Then we have Doctor Foster who later on takes the name of Sound Shock, although, that alias for him may change. He's Jerry's tutor at the university. He thinks very highly of Jerry because he has spent the best part of his life trying to not only help progress medical science in order to help others, but he wants to be remembered. He see's Jerry as his most intelligent student, and that if he is to get his name into the medical journals it will be because of her. However, because he has focused so hard on his job his marriage has failed, and he has taken to dating students and younger women, until one tries to frame him for rape, which in turn ruins every thing he has ever worked towards. So he takes Jerry's project, and adapts it for his own use, and takes on the attitude of 'Screw or be screwed'.

There is also Wreckage who has a small but important part to play if I want there to be a second story arch. So we don't get to see much of him yet, but the best way to describe him is he makes Satan look like a girl scout. If he calls you a name, he laughs. If you call him a name, he burns your house down with you in it and sends the ashes to your family.

Then there is the most important one, which I never thought about till half way through writing the story, but the main antagonist of the story is actually the desease of Cancer itself. Many villains or nemesis' in comic books are more powerful than the hero, and they can be stopped. Only temporarily, but they can be stopped and the hero knows this. However, having a disease as the arch nemesis actually puts an interesting perspective on the story. Jericho will never be able to defeat this abomination. This disease is not human and does not have a brain but will always be able to stay ten steps ahead of her, and even though she knows this, she is determined to stop it's reign of terror, which I think also shows us some of the more primal but heroic qualities in Jerry as well.

Q. Authors who visit my blog know how the creative process works. How is this different for you?

A: Well, from experience of writing short stories, I pretty much take the same development process, and then I just write it, and let it take however many pages it takes. With a comic book, the development stage takes place with plenty of research and making executive decisions about the characters and their idiosyncrasies. Then the story is bullet pointed so we can see how many pages of art are necessary. Then it either has to be condensed, edited or changed to fit a specific amount of pages with out hurting the pacing of the story. After that, the first draft script can be written, followed by a second and third draft so that the dialogue can come across as naturally as possible. Then the art stage is next

With the art we start with several character designs, and then this is followed by thumbnailing. Thumbnailing is where very sketchy and rough layouts for the pages are decided, and also rough idea's of what should be on the cover and how to represent that cover image.

Then the mapping takes place, which is where we decide the angle of the shot, and draw in basic shapes to represent objects, and draw what I like to call mannequins which are similar to stick figures so that we now what positions the characters should be in, where they will be looking and so forth. Then the details of the landscape and environment are penciled along with the details of each character. This part of the process includes 'spotting blacks' which is where we decide where the shadows are to be placed, and fill those areas in with pure black. However, that's only with a noir comic, but with Jericho I wanted to keep as much of the noir element in the artwork as possible.

Then we move on to the inking, which is then followed by lettering, which is then followed by the coloring process, which is also an in-depth process with many steps to take.

Q. What sort of tools do you have to use when you're creating? not just drawing, but actual tools involved?
A: There are so many vital things needed that don't always come across as important tools, but they are, especially for the writing side of things.

Whenever I write I do my best to use the same materials. The obvious ones being pen, pencil, paper, ruler, computer and of course, my imagination. But I also have to have a full pack of smokes and a deck of playing cards. These help me to keep relaxed as I find it is very important both for the story and the art work. Also, music is very essential. some scenes I need silence, but others I need a soundtrack.

So that I stay focused on what I am doing I like to have a candy bar and large supply of soda (preferably Diet Pepsi or Mountain Dew). That way I wont loose focus because of hunger or thirst.

For research I need the internet, a digital camera, and plenty of books. These books don't just need to be on the subject matters that I wish to deal with, but also photography books so that I have pictures of places and people to help me set the scene.

For Drawing I need a lot of A4 and A3 paper. the thicker the better. A decent and smooth drawing board, a butt load of mechanical pencils and various grades of regular pencils, gel pens, Copic fine liners, markers, sharpies, indian inks, steel nib calegraphy pens, sponge brushes, short haired brushes, modeling brushes, spray adhesive, latex gloves, basic shape stencils, erasers, sculpting knives and blades, cutting boards, tracing paper (you would actually be surprised how many of the pro's use this and what exactly they use it for), white out in a bottle, white out pens, blue tack, low adhesive sticky tape, ruler, compass, triangle, french curves......the list is almost endless.

Before I forget, at all stages, no matter how experienced an artist you are, you always need how to draw books of all kinds. These are great refference books.

Then for coloring and lettering and so forth, I use an A3 Scanner, an A3 printer, good computer, Adobe Photoshop (I actually use two versions of photoshop. Photoshop 7 and CS5) and the most important tool for coloring, A Wacom proffesional tablet.

Q. How do you work dialogue? Is there a story and you condense?

A: Dialogue is tricky. When a movie is being written most of the dialogue has to stay short and to the point, and that's pretty much the same with comic books, but if you want to make the characters more three dimensional then sometimes you have to ignore that rule. Especially if you have so much that a character needs to say before you can move on to the next scene, but you only have two, maybe three pages to do that in. Sometimes it's even one page of art work, but you have to get a large amount of dialogue in there so that you don't miss any set ups for future events in the story.

So what I try to do is bullet point the scene, and then write it exactly how I want it before I go back over it and make any changes. I'm lucky because sometimes it works out fine, but other times I have to re-word so much, or cut huge chunks of dialogue. I've even had to cut a few scenes out before.

Q. Do you have a general idea of what characters look like? do you draw inspiration from movies, music, people, or television?

A: Some characters I see what they should look like as I develop them in my head, so I have had the pleasure of sitting down and being able to draw the character exactly how I want them straight away. However, this is very rare, and normally if that happens it is with the protaganist of the story.

But in General I find that for the writing side of developing a character I tend to draw inspiration from people I have met in my life as well as characters from movies.

When it comes to drawing the characters I always start with how I want their facial features to look. So I quite happily sift through movies and try to find inspiration form their. Depending on the time setting of the story I will sift through fashion photo's and history books to try and piece together the characters costume and then, slowly things fall into place.

Q. How do you develop characters? Do you keep character sheets?

A: Sometimes I do keep character sheets, but this is rare for me to do. More often than not I keep the details in my head until the very last moment. Sometimes I find the best way to develop a character is to imagine that I am that character. It's similar to a method acting approach, and I try to spend some time being that character so that the development happens naturally.

Q. Some authors pants their way through stories. I imagine with a comic you have to plot. How extensive is that?

A: I would like to say that I just let it happen and hope for the best, but at the end of the day, I have only signed on to do one story arch of Jericho. We are in talks about a second and third, however, these cannot be guaranteed. But that doesn't matter, I still have to plot all three arcs just to be able to write the first one because there are so many revelations and twists and little set ups and hints at future story arcs that they have to be planned now rather than just throwing stuff together in the next arch and hoping it will make sense. I even have to plan and plot so many events they may never be seen in any of the issues, but I have to take them into consideration just in case they are referenced. In fact, there is a character that doesn't appear in this story arch, but he is referenced to once in issue two, and I have already had to do so much research and plotting just so that the reference is spot on.

Q. I know you have editors and such. How important are they in creating your work?

A: I think it is vital to have an editor for so many reasons. Luckily I was able to get Chicago Poet, Dina Darling, to be the editor for Jericho, and her work really does bring to light exactly what Jericho is able to accomplish.

However, we've taken a very different editing approach to this title. Usually the editor would receive the script and make corrections before the script goes to the artist and to who ever is in charge of lettering.

But the way we do it with Jericho is to complete the artwork, place temporary lettering and then the page is e-mailed to Dina. This way she can not only correct spelling and grammar, but she can read the story as if she was a comic book reader and let myself know what she has noticed in the artwork as well as the story, and gives us an early indication of what the reader might experience.

Q. Marketing can be tough. can you give us a rough idea of how you approach promotion?

A: Marketing is extremely tough with a comic book because the sad fact is that with so many characters who have been established for decades it's hard to convince comic book readers that they will not only experience a new and interesting character, but that they will be able to get something from this title that they won't find in any other title.

So we've been trying to push poster placement in a lot of places where they can be constantly seen, and sponsoring bands has also been an option. Apart from that, there is the internet, which is a great tool to use for marketing and promotion. Sadly, the budget we received was not enough to put together a viral video campaign that we had planned, but we can save that for future titles and story arcs.

Q. What inspires you when you create? I know your band, Abuse, has to play a role. Can you tell us a bit about that?

A: Lots of different things inspire me when it comes to writing. I wrote a story that was inspired by a counting crows song, a story that was inspired by origami, several stories that were inspired by dreams I had , and I have even been inspired because of something that someone might have said.

With Abuse I 'm normally inspired by moments in my life, or situations that have taken place in my life, and find that my work with Abuse never interferes with my work in comics.

Q. So you have an idea for a comic. Can you tell us what it's like to create your work from start to finish?
A: Creating, developing and writing a comic can be an emotional roller coaster ride for me. I find that when I start the process and I have the basic idea or concept for a story ,which normally starts with a 'what if?' question, there is this great feeling of excitement and other emotions that are very hard to describe. Then the more in depth I get with developing both the protagonist(s) and Antagonist(s) and coming up with little idea's for the scenes the more I feel this sense of importance not only in myself, but in my work as well.

Unfortunately, because I have suffered with depression since a young age there is always the occasional moment of feeling defeat. There is always an unpredictable moment when I question not only my writing but my art work as well, and I have to remind myself that imperfection is perfection. Besides, almost every comic book artist has admitted that there is always pages and panels in each issue that they do where they know they could have done it a million times better. However, it's good to show progression through each issue.

I look back at Issue One of Jericho, and there is a large amount of artwork that I know I could have done better, but it just means that I have the opportunity to not only learn from it, but I get to step things up in the next issue. And I have to remind myself that Jericho is a project where I have completely pushed myself right out of my comfort zone.

But all in all, I kind of enjoy the ride it takes me on because if I get to a point where I feel something for the characters and what they have to go through, then I think I have done a good job. There has been several times where I have felt Jerry's pain and disappointment. There have been times where I have felt Doctor Fosters anger towards the world, and I think that if I can feel those things when I'm reading the story back, then there is more chance of the reader not only connecting with the characters and the story, but of them being able to find something relateable in the story.

Q. I know how people react when I tell them I'm an author, but I imagine it's different for you. What is the general reaction when you tell someone that you're a comic book author?

A: It's very different. I started working in comics because I wanted to write them, and after having such troubles with some artists I began to re-teach myself how to draw. But during the time of being a writer, if I told someone I was a comic book writer they would for some reason interpret that as 'This guy draws comic books'.

But I find I get mixed reactions when I say that I write and illustrate comics. I find that the majority of women find it scary yet fascinating, and they normally ask a lot of questions about it because their fear is that you draw Hentai (a.k.a Manga Porn). But once they realise that it's not smut they seem okay.

With guys, especially where I live, I find there is a minority who end up saying 'That's awesome'! There is then a smaller minority that normally say 'Well, I've got this idea for a story', which I find amazing because an hour before I told them about my job they had nothing.

Then you get the majority. At this point I have to make it clear that the majority makes up 99% of the male population of where I live. These people say one of two things. The first being 'You're an idiot. Don't you know that comic books are for kids!...why don't you get a real job'!

These are the same testosterone fueled morons who think that real men must like football and don't cry and have just met you for the first time after coming out of a cinema where they have just watched a batman movie or 300 or Watchmen. I usually reply with 'Go read the first three issues of Preacher and then come back to me with that statement. If you would allow your kid to read a book like preacher at a very young age, then your parenting needs to be questioned'.

And then comes the age old statement that really shows how judgmental and ill-informend some people can be. 'Comics? ... it's not like they're Shakespeare is it'?.....this one really gets to usual reply is 'She shivers in the wind like the last leaf on a dying tree'. which for those who are not avid comic readers, that is a beautiful sentence from Frank Miller's Sin City story 'The Customer is always right'. This usually stops them in their tracks. Alan Moore quotes have the same effect, however, sometimes the ignorance of some people gets in the way and they stop listening because even though there is no evidence to support their ill-informed decision, they're going to stick with it anyway.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I don't expect to everyone to like comic books, and I wouldn't force someone into liking them, but when that sort of prejudice and mentality is displayed i have to question why I'm called the idiot.

Q. All authors go through editing. What sort of executive decisions do you have to make, or what changes are necessary, during the process?

A: It's surprising because every decision that is made, no matter how small, has a huge effect on the story. This is one reason why early on I try to make as many decisions as possible like what is this characters sexuality, what is their star sign, what is their religious beliefs, what is there political point of view, what is their favourite color, what is their passion in life, were they raised by one parent or two......all of these things may seem a little unimportant to some, but to quote Brandon Lee: 'Everything is trivial. If you think that only certain things are trivial then you are missing out on some of the most beautiful and important things in life'.

So these need to be changed until everything fits in place. Then along the line decisions can range from how many panels are on a page, what shade of red should be used for Jericho's hair, should we reveal this fact about her this early on, is she left handed or right I said, there is so much to be thought about when it comes to a story like this.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Fwah. Learning about the comic process is fascinating. Be sure to come back tomorrow to read more and enter for a chance to win a signed first edition of Jericho!  (Just like my pretty signed copy below -- only yours will be number 1/100!!!) The contest will be international.


Skyla Dawn said...

Fantastic in depth interview! And I appreciate your comment on noticing the dearth of strong female leads in comics. If you could tackle the film industry next and get some more chicks leading action movies, that would be great. ;-)

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