11. Sequential Matters - 'Dead Dreams: The Lucid Chronicles'
The long-storied tale of making a comic that I can't quit
Howdy Brave Being,
Welcome dear readers to Sequential Matters, a recurring series where I’ll take a look back at the writing and production side of creating comics, specifically from my perspective as a writer. So, The Making of a Comic series will of course still exist, but that one’s more for interviewing my collaborators and other folks in the comic book industry.
For this inaugural post, I’d like to share more about a comic book miniseries that I’ve been working on since 2016, one I’ve mentioned in previous posts. I present to you the whole behind-the-scenes story (for now) of…
DEAD DREAMS: THE LUCID CHRONICLES #1
I started this story from a blip of an idea as a simple strip comic, short and sweet, about a flea market vendor selling bottled dreams. My editor at EatGeekPlay and friend Jamie Rosales did some adorable concept art for me below based on the following paragraph:
What are the dreams people have that they don't follow through with? Moving to L.A. to become a star, becoming an astronaut and flying into outer space, etc. Imagine a flea market and a vendor who sells these dead dreams in the form of virtual reality. It would give others the opportunity to purchase other people's dreams as a test drive, and in the end, they would realize their true dreams by process of elimination. Like a virtual job hunt through what other people have left behind.
After my friend Heather Ayres asked me some probing questions about it, I started writing things down and it snowballed into a five scripts (well four tbh, the fifth remains unwritten). I asked Heather to edit it since she was already familiar with the world and an avid comic book reader, and she joined the team. Stick around for a forthcoming interview with Heather later on!
Once I changed course from a strip comic to a full-fledged miniseries, I had to find a sequential artist, so I reached out to another friend from high school, David Rostal, who I had reconnected with at SDCC by happenstance. Be sure to check out his work at the link above, I absolutely drool over all the time. So, David did some initial concept art for me too, which made me feel like things were more real and I could do this whole making comics thing.
However, as we talked more about the length of the book, David had time constraints, so I continued my search for an artist and letterer, while writing the scripts so I could start compiling a pitch package. Comic book pitches typically require a few basic things, a cover letter, a one-page synopsis of the overall story arc, at least five lettered sample pages, and a cover mock-up (at least those are the exact submission requirements for Image Comics and a few other publishers ).
Then I found an artist interested in joining me finally—the fifth person I asked—and it was Hari Conner, creator of the multi-award-winning LGBT+ romance fantasy FINDING HOME. Hari created new character designs and below are the thumbnails for page 1 of DEAD DREAMS:
I then asked Ariana Maher (EMPYRE: AFTERMATH AVENGERS) to join the team and she jumped on board. Ariana and I met through our work on THE INTREPIDS back in 2011. It was my first time working with a letterer, and Ariana taught me so much! From Ariana, I learned that the comic needed to be a specific size and that a Microsoft Word file was necessary for her to copy/paste the dialogue from as it was much easier than a PDF. Here’s the same page from above with letters by Ariana:
After the five pages were done, I submitted the pitch to Image! I didn’t hear back so that was a sign that the publisher wasn’t interested, but I kept going. Maybe that was silly, but I wasn’t ready to give up on this story. Then another hurtle. Hari and Ariana couldn’t continue on the series due to scheduling conflicts, but I kept going.
Now with a new team and in an effort for consistency, I wanted the same team on the whole series, so I had Dailen and Gabriela complete the whole first issue, and holy wow did I learn a lot through the process! The main takeaways for me were:
Art takes time.
Things can change from script to art.
Making comics unleashes my inner perfectionist.
Art takes time. Art is time consuming and can be quite difficult on the body. When Dailen had to take a break for a few months to recover from the taxing effects of drawing sequential art, I waited, which I was happy to do because I loved their work! It taught me the meaning of, “Good things come to those who wait.” Who said that, probably someone who never had to wait, haha!
Things can change from script to art. Things were pretty quick with Dailen for the first five pages since they were picking up where Hari left off, having done a bunch of legwork in terms of layout and character design. So there were no thumbnails for this round, just inks.
Everything looked great, right! Look closely and you’ll see the similarities and differences (sorry I can’t set them up side by side!). Dailen tackled the rest of the comic, sending me thumbnails and then inks. There were some slight changes to the layout of panels, and sometimes the number of panels per page, which all worked much better than the descriptions I had noted in the script. To be honest, that’s the best thing—when the artist understands the intent of the story and elevates it by applying their skills to make it the best it can possibly be!
Making comics unleashes my inner perfectionist. Once the art was done, I updated the script to reflect the changes during the art process and for some pages I modified the dialogue slightly so that things would work well with the alterations in the new panels. Gabriela came in and placed all the thought bubbles and sound effects. It was here where I saw what worked and what didn’t in terms of my writing with the art since it was the whole issue and not just the first five pages. I was looking at the comic from a different perspective, too, since I had a couple years in between writing the script and seeing the art executed.
Gabriela was super graceful in making all the updates. But what I learned from it was that I shouldn’t go overboard with the changes—that the script should be finished when handed off to the letterer and perfectionism is especially annoying and time-consuming for the letter (many apologies, Gabriela!) Follow Gabriela and stay tuned for her forthcoming DEAD DREAMS interview about lettering!
The next phase of production was design. Actually, it wasn’t the first time I entered this phase … the first time I worked with a designer was on the cover mock-up by Hari for the original pitch. I had been working with Sasha E. Head on Image+ and asked if she’d be interested and she was! So she designed a logo for the cover, then titled LUCID. After I had the completed issue with the new artist and letterer, I asked Sasha to redo the logo and design the the whole first issue which I had renamed DEAD DREAMS: THE LUCID CHRONICLES. I had both Heather and Sasha vote on the title, so I wasn’t entirely alone in retitling it this time. Also, I needed to retitle and redesign it because there was another comic out there called Lucid. I should have done my homework! Shame. Shame. Shame. But Sasha was up for the challenge and developed several new designs and the final was absolutely perfect, as seen in newsletter #7 below.
Once I had the final file from Sasha, I had comics editor and writer Nicole D’Andria (ROAD TRIP TO HELL) to review my cover letter and pitch for last-minute polishing. Her feedback was invaluable! I then submitted the package to a couple publishers. After a some months and not hearing back (during the hell year of 2020, you know the one), I started to think about what I could do with this completed first issue of a miniseries that clearly didn’t get much traction.
So I came up with this: I’d talk about what I learned and share snippets of it, interviews with the creators, then do a limited print run on a special release date related to the story.
Then, a crazy, wonderful thing happened. I recently submitted DEAD DREAMS to indie comics creators Kat Calamia and Phil Falco’s upcoming Kickstarter for the print edition of Webtoon’s SLICE OF LIFE. They kindly accepted it! That means DEAD DREAMS will be featured as a digital reward in their Kickstarter. I’ll have a link for y’all soon, most likely at the beginning of October, so stay tuned fine friends.
P.S. The name of this new series was originally a contender for this newsletter’s moniker, as penned by Chief Naming Officer teh_sphinx in a poll that I ran. Many thanks to them for the suggestion!