Aspiring writer Ben Trotter found a home at Devolution Comics and the progress he’s made brought him a nomination in this year’s Yancy St. Awards at Edinburgh Comic Con………….so that’s more than enough reason to take notice.
What was the first title you worked on?
Well technically I guess the first comic title I ever worked on was The Zoomer. It was very exclusive, only one copy ever made. But then it was a comic I wrote and illustrated when I was 8 years old for my own enjoyment. I’d read all the comics and books I owned and I wanted a new story, so I wrote one. I still have it actually, although worryingly I think my art skills were better then. I guess that’s reason enough to stick to writing only!
To answer your question more accurately, the first title I worked on was O’Death. I’d been writing prose and poetry for my own enjoyment for years, but at that point I’d not yet taken a project through to completion. However, back in 2013 I was introduced to Marie Duguid, now owner and head of Devolution Comics, but at that time a graphic designer with a passion for comics. We talked about my story ideas and the themes of O’Death and she seemed to get behind the idea. I’d also shown her some of my prose work, just so she could gauge the quality of my writing. The following year, Marie decided to start-up her own small press and very happily for me, agreed to take on O’Death as one of her company’s launch titles. This was a fantastic opportunity for me. Prior to meeting and working with Marie, I’d had no experience or knowledge about the comic industry. Marie not only provided me with the opportunity to gain valuable insight into the independent small press industry, but she also provided much-needed coaching and feedback in relation to writing comic scripts.
O’Death itself is a supernatural pulp noir tale, which focuses on the moral dilemma of asking ‘at what point is the good we are trying to save, becoming outweighed by the evil we are committing to save it?’ It also looks at the desperate hope we cling to in the search of redemption and that ultimately the responsibility for the choices we make is ours alone. Issue 1 was published by Devolution Comics in 2015.
How has your work changed since then?
I’m always nervous about sounding over-confident, but I think it’s safe to say that there was a marked improvement in the quality of the script from issue 1 of O’Death, to each subsequent issue. I had a very naive view of how comic scripts were written when I first started. While writing issue 1 of O’Death, I was under the impression that I had to explain each panel in minute detail. From describing the character’s faces down to the micro expression level, to explicit directions of where each and every object was in a panel, almost to the point of describing the specific contents of the litter in the street.
That was one of the hardest things I found getting to grips with, coming from a prose background. Whereas before I could write in such a way as to let the reader’s imagination create their own mental image, I now felt I needed to write in such a way that my specific vision of the story would be reproduced exactly by the artist. What I needed to learn was to have trust in the artist. I can’t overstate how much of a mental hurdle this was for me to get over. When writing prose there are typically no other creators that have a hand in shaping the world you are creating. You have total control.
However, when writing a comic script, you have to place your work (into which like any piece of writing you poured your heart and soul), into the hands of another and trust that they can create the imagery that you feel does your work justice. There is then the worry and nervous paranoia that the artist will change the design of something completely, or flat-out tell you something won’t work as a visual panel, even though in your own head it is a crucial piece of the story and can’t be omitted! Of course in truth, the writer has to have trust in the artist. It is the artist who is going to have to illustrate the script, so naturally they are going to have a better knowledge of what will and won’t work visually. I also realised after submitting my first script that it is not simply a case of handing it over and then waiting for the finished comic to be handed back. There is a tremendous amount of discussion and feedback from artist to writer. This is essential for developing that level of trust and confidence that, from a writer’s point of view, your precious baby is in good hands.
After the initial feedback from the submission of the script from issue #1 of O’Death, it was very (very!) clear that I needed to work on my understanding of what the format of a comic script should be. As mentioned earlier, Marie Duguid provided fantastic coaching, but I also found invaluable advice from two books. These were The DC Guide to Writing Comics by Dennis O’Neil and Words For Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis. If I could give one piece of advice to any aspiring comic writer, particularly someone like me who had only experience writing prose, it would be read these books! They are absolutely fantastic and provided essential advice and a vast amount of insight into the dos and dont’s and golden rules of comic writing.
Having listened to the artist’s feedback and after swotting up on the aforementioned books, I changed my writing style dramatically, putting the lessons learned to good use. My main golden rule I follow now is to write for the artist, not the reader. No one else other than the artist is going to see any sign of my writing in the finished comic, other than the dialogue. So when writing the script I now aim to ensure that it is the essence and feeling of each panel that is given, rather than a detailed stage direction. It also means the difference between handing in a 40+ page manuscript for issue 1 and a 20 page manuscript for issue 2. This reflected the removal of all the excess descriptive detail and from the feedback I’ve received from the artist, it makes for a much better script to work from.
Who are your main influences?
With regards to comics, I’d have to say that my biggest current writing influences are Matt Fraction, Brian K. Vaughn and Warren Ellis (Ocean by Ellis is my favourite comic of all time). However, my love of comics originally stems from my childhood spent reading Tintin and Asterix books, so creators Herge, Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo will always have an influence on me.
What comics are you reading just now?
Saga, Paper Girls, Black Road, Rat Queens and Scooby Apocalypse. Also trying to catch up on some graphic novel collections, such as Fables and Lucifer.
What’s the best thing about creating comics?
Without a doubt it’s attending conventions or other similar events. Creating comics can be a very lonely and isolating experience. It can at times be downright anti-social, as you need to concentrate on your work and ignore other people around you in order to get it done.
Given the limited resources in the small press industry, it can be extended periods of time before your finished work can be ready for release. There are certainly very few indie comic creators I’ve met and gotten to know, that can produce work on a scale even coming close to the mainstream comic industry.
All this means you can spend long periods of time, pouring blood, sweat and tears into your work, with no one else’s input outside you and your fellow contributors. It can actually get quite upsetting at times and you have to fight to keep the natural creative doubts in check, that otherwise start to build up during the long periods before a new issue is due for release. But then you attend a convention or other comic event and it literally all becomes worthwhile. I was fortunate to attend several events in 2015-16 as part of Devolution Comics and each time I had a wonderful time. It was fantastic to be in an environment where you are surrounded by like-minded people and you have the opportunity to talk about your work. Finally, after all the months (maybe even years) of work, you can at last talk about this project that you feel so passionately about. It is an absolute thrill when you can see that other people get enthused and excited about your comics and makes all the work, effort and lonely nights crying over the keyboard totally worth it.
What are you working on just now?
I’m currently working on a science fiction pulp adventure series called Removing Mars. Think of it as a cross between The Goonies and War of the Worlds. It originated from something my young son said to me, when he asked if I could write a comic he could read (O’Death and Dia both being rated teen). I intend it to be an ongoing series in five issue story arcs.
Where can we see you next?
I will most likely be attending events with Devolution Comics when issue 2 of O’Death is released. So watch their space for more details!
Keep up to date with new releases & appearances over on the Devolution Comics Facebook page.