Monday, December 12, 2011

Comics Masterclass Report

Well it took Black Mermaid Productions (BMP) and the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) over a year to organise the Comics Masterclass, which was held in Sydney on the 19 and 20 November 2011, and we're pleased to say it was an enormous success.

To recount the story...

BMP directors – Jozef Szekeres and Julie Ditrich – are the founders and current portfolio holders of the ASA Comics / Graphic Novels Portfolio, a special interest group that looks after the professional interests of literary creators working in the comics medium. The portfolio was started in mid 2007 and has since gone from strength to strength. We've introduced page rates, the Supanova Professional Development Seminar series, the Comics Biz marketing ezine, which is sent out to portfolio members, and lots of other initiatives. In September last year we applied to the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) Cultural Fund to help fund a weekend Comics Masterclass, featuring an overseas expert. We were thrilled to receive funding for one year which would go towards paying the speaker's fee. US comics creator Colleen Doran was our first choice for speaker and we were lucky to secure her in January of this year.

Then came all the project management. We had domain names and web hosting to secure, copywriting, web design and branding, the promo process, monthly ezines and all the minutiae in between. Of all the things on our project management checklist, the least of our worries was Colleen's presentation. We knew she'd deliver a powerful, somewhat controversial and content-rich session, which is exactly what came to pass despite one hiccup (and a painful one at that!) on the second day (more on that later).

The Comics Masterclass ended up with 100 participant from NSW, Vic, Qld, ACT, and SA, plus one US visitor and one working in China.

The event was held at the Aerial UTS Function Centre on Broadway in Sydney, which had great wooden doors, lots of natural light, and balconies with splendid views of the cityscape and Anzac Bridge. Participants had a choice of theatre style seating, tables or lounges along the back and side walls. Everyone who attended received a showbag and a raffle ticket for a number of draw prizes, which included three book packs donated by Books Kinokuniya, 50 free 32 page comic books printed to order by Jeffries Printing / Black House Comics, event passes and an artists' circle table at SMASH!, and weekend passes and an artists' alley table at any Supanova in 2012!  BMP had also donated a Colleen Doran A Distant Soil book pack which had been given out earlier in the year to one lucky early-bird who had booked into the event by the end of July.

ASA Executive Director, Angelo Loukakis [pictured in the photo on the left with Colleen Doran and Julie and Jozef from BMP. All photo credits except where otherwise stated: Ali Hand], made the opening speech followed by Jozef and Julie who did the house-keeping. 

Then Colleen did her "thang"... Over the next two days, she talked about how the comics visual language was developed before film and indeed had a broader range of expression. She challenged the notion of the infinite canvas when we have finite resources. She talked about the fancy gadgets being the distributor but the art being you.

She said that writing comics cannot be separated from drawing comics. She gave advice about working with publishers such as asking editors what their preferred writing / script style is. She distinguished the differences and explained the mechanics of full script, plot with dialogue, Marvel style, Shitagaki, adaptations and the emotional wave. She talked about the mystery of the redundant vase, as well as pacing and the wonders of lettering. She preached on the matter of "how thou shalt make a floor plan and keep it holy!" She spoke about how costumes are visual cues to the readers to identify each character when artists can't keep them on model, and how one builds worlds from the culture out. She recommended creating perennials – the evergreens – to build your backlist and keep those royalties flowing. She discussed the differences between mainstream and independent publishing (as well as their contracts!), and which one is best to keep the pesky stalkers at bay. She strongly advised everyone to be less forthcoming about sharing personal information with fans and publishers on blogs. She listed all the things you want in your contract. She talked about predators and editors. She recommended a US art convention where you and your project will be seen by talent scouts, which beats San Diego hands down (this secret information is reserved for Comics Masterclass participants only ... don't you wish you'd gone now?) and she showed us a Hollywood pitch document. We're only just skimming the surface here.

During both days, the UTS Aerial Function Centre spread out two fabulous morning teas for the participants, which included chocolate coated strawberries, brownies, assorted pastries and cakes, Swiss berliner doughnuts, spicy sausage rolls and cheese and tomato croissants. Despite the fact we over-catered, the food vanished in an instant so it was the quick or the dead around the bar area. 

We also arranged for several klosh-covered Aussie Tasting Plates to be brought up to Colleen through the day. She declared that she loved Vegemite! She also liked the lammington and the Tim-Tam. Alas, she never made it to the meat pie and sauce or the passionfruit and cream covered pavlova we had planned on the second day due to the aforementioned hiccup! (Yes, we're about to tell you what it was.)

On the Saturday evening, we announced the "win a private one-hour portfolio / project review with Colleen Doran" shortlist – Paul Mason, Jason Franks, Samuel McNair, Thomas Bonin, Jemima Trappel and the team consisting of Anthony Castle and Chad Ashby. Colleen then did a signing on the Books Kinokuniya table. We opened the bar for an hour and some people held back and "Moved Like Jagger" to the music we had playing.

Colleen then went back to her hotel to work on her and writer Derek McCulloch's upcoming graphic novel Gone to Amerikay, which will be published by DC / Vertigo in early 2012. Professional that she was, she had arrived the Sunday before and except for a quick trip to the city to attend the monthly Sauna Club Sydney Comics Creators Meet Up in the Camperdown Bowling Club, as well as a brief tech run at the venue on the Thursday afternoon before the masterclass, she had pretty much stayed in her room to work 12 to 15 hour days on her pages.

Jozef and Julie joined a group of other comics creators in Chinatown for the evening where we scoffed down lemon chicken and a multitude of other delicious dishes before grabbing a good night's sleep (we're speaking for ourselves not the other creators!).

The next morning, two minute prior to start time, we were wondering where our illustrious speaker was and Julie was frantically calling Colleen's hotel. A few moments later, she staggered in looking pale and clammy and clutching her abdomen. Food poisoning. Butter chicken. She'd been on the loo for most of the night.

Trooper that she was, she pretty much crawled on stage and started her presentation. Jozef ran off to the chemist to get some over the counter medication, and one of the audience members also donated some non-prescription anti-nausea medication to Colleen. 

We were given a few practical exercises to do in the Shitagaki method while Colleen dashed off to the bathroom. She somehow managed to make it back and pressed on despite her discomfort.

When the tasting plate came out just prior to lunch, we said it would be highly insensitive of us if we made her eat it so we asked the audience what they thought it was ... the plate was warm. They guessed it was the meat pie. When we asked if anybody wanted it, hands shot up all over the room. The fastest superhero hand in the corner scored it.

We sat on the balcony during lunch while Colleen lay on the warm concrete floor which eased the spasms in her back. A rainbow lorikeet flew in and she was entranced. But the day was warm, and heat and food poisoning are not friendly companions and her condition worsened. To say she was very crook was an understatement.

We asked Tim McEwen to do a break-out session on trends in the Australian comics market – a PP presentation he had done just the week before at the Australian Cartoonists' Association Conference – and he happily agreed and did a fabulous job.

In the interim, some of our lovely audience members began looking after Colleen– bringing her ice packs, supplying her with electrolyte drinks, putting cushions behind her back, and even checking her vitals (one of the participants was a nurse). One function room staff member brought in a milk crate lined with a garbage bag [see photo of Colleen who still managed to retain her sense of humour! Photo credit: Julie Ditrich on her iPhone] and again, Colleen recovered enough to take to the stage again. She ended up covering all the promised content including the Hollywood segment, except for the "Chalk and Talk" live drawing session, which would have demanded she be on her feet for an hour while her stomach was still churning.

Colleen then announced the winner of the portfolio review – Tom Bonin – who was thrilled! He ended up meeting Colleen the next day and she treated him to a sushi lunch while giving him feedback on his work. 

She finished the Sunday with another signing, and then went back to her hotel to recover and get a good night's sleep.

On the Monday night she launched Jozef's first solo art exhibition at the Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst (see upcoming blogpost) and on the following Saturday night she visited the Makeup Effects Group studio for a couple of hours.

Except for those two short trips, Colleen saw nothing of Sydney for the next ten days except for ten minutes at Circular Quay on the afternoon she set sail on a cruise liner to New Zealand. For those ten days she sat in her room, drawing her little heart out. A lesson from the ultimate professional to those who want to be just that in the comics world – deadlines before pleasure.

Her emails to us have said: "Must come back and worship Sydney."


Marcelo Baez said...

She was fantastic! I was very inspired!
Thanks again Julie, Jozef and the ASA!

Black Mermaid Productions said...

Thanks for your feedback, Marcelo!
We're working on bringing another Comics Masterclass to the people before long.
J & J