Today on Cross-Country ComX Issue 2, we have the Beard Squad of Shane (ComX), Leigh (Battle for Bustle), and Dustin (The Listener) to talk to two of Australia’s finest indie comic book creators, Haydn Spurrell and Stephen Kok, also known as Es Kay.
Haydn Spurrell has been a writer for much of his career and started writing comics back in 2017. Some of his work include Chimera and Ric McClune, with other works like Torn currently under wraps.
Stephen Kok or Es Kay is a comic creator, writer, and publisher, known for his many graphic novels and anthology creations. He is known for his works like Word Smith, Terralympus, Transhuman, and many more.
CCCX starts with Haydn onboard, as the squad tries to pick his brains for the first time.
Leigh: I’m Going To [Go] Straight Up Mate. Favourite Comic, Boom, Hit Me.
Haydn: Oh! Probably Y: The Last Man. I’m a huge Brian K. Vaughn fan and he was one of the more influential writers for me getting into comics. I was pretty late [into comics]. I didn’t read comics growing up – I got into them at 18/19 and I started trying to make them, maybe, early to mid-20s.
Leigh asks the story behind how he got into the comic, and Haydn notes that his story is a bit of a cliche. He started with Batman: Dark Knight Rises, then went into other famous comic books like The Walking Dead. He then went on to read Vertigo and Image Comics titles, finding Brian K. Vaughn in the process.
Dustin notes how it’s never bad to start late, considering the level of knowledge and understanding you have by that point.
“There’s a lot to be said about when you’re educated and going into something,” said Dustin. “The fact that you started maybe five years after you started reading your first comic book, that’s a phenomenal thing. That’s how much energy you have behind it and that’s incredible.”
Haydn always found it fascinating to look from outside in, with most comic creators starting their love for the craft as kids, contrasting it with his own experience. His lack of “whimsical, child-like wonder” offers its own perspective into the craft.
Leigh: Do You Collect Comic Books Each Week Or You’re More Of A ‘Passing By, Read A Review Of This, And I’m Going To Pick This Up’?
“I don’t get to the comics shop as much as I’d like,” admitted Haydn. “I don’t live super close to any at the moment and I don’t find a lot of time to do a lot of reading. But, when I do read comics, I’m using Comixology quite a bit, so doing a lot of digital reading.”
Haydn also said he finds Battle for Bustle cool, with its metropolis and social class themes behind it.
Leigh: Lay Out Some Of Your Comic Book Stuff That You’ve Been Doing
“The first book I made was a three-parter called Chimera. I wrote all three of them across 2016-2017 and I put the first issue out completely self-published and it was pretty mediocre. It caught Gary Dellar’s eye at Reverie Publications and he prompted me to push it through his label that’s how that all started.
“The second and third issue are at the printers now so they’re finally seeing the light of day, which is awesome. They’re a huge learning curve.”
Leigh: What’s Your Writing Process? Is It A David Lynch Thing [Where] You Meditate For 20 Minutes Twice A Day And Get An Idea And Write It Down? How Does Your Brain Work With This Stuff?
“It’s always changing. I guess I ruminate a lot on what I’m working on so I’ll spend a lot of time thinking about what that process is going to look like, what the process is going to turn into. I might start a draft but with the knowledge that draft is probably get tossed.”
Haydn notes that he writes an entire issue sometimes, letting the characters dictate where the story is going. He reevaluates where he is and adjusts from there, with affirmations from Dustin. Leigh, on the other hand, reveals that it’s a different process for him with every issue.
Their talk about writing process eventually spun into keeping tabs on the community, with major kudos coming from Leigh towards Haydn. The latter noted how special ComX’s very own Shane Syddall is doing for the community.
“Even if I’m not super active on Facebook, I’m following people that I’m finding really inspiring and doing really cool things,” Haydn said.
He noted that he started looking for an artist for Chimera long before he learned about the Australian indie comic creator community. He took his chances on a forum and met his current artist there, but not without its hardships.
Dustin was in the same boat, doing a faux pas at the time when he was looking for someone to draw sequential art for him. He notes further down the line the difference of working with new artists in the industry versus the veterans.
“The newer guys will go ham real quick on what you sent them. Guys doing it for 15-20 years, you’ll start seeing character designs come in. Do you like this hairstyle? Are the clothes appropriate?”
The gang also talked about the idea of putting artists today against great artists of yesteryears, with Dustin noting that, in sheer quality, the crop of artists today will blow names out of the water.
“Not taking anything away from the greats that have been doing this forever, but what I’m saying is there’s more expectation,” notes Dustin, who says the standards for artists now is higher because readers “demand perfection from artists.” He further gave his kudos to artists who pick to draw in black and white, as they only have their lines to enhance their work.
Dustin: Is There Anything You Can Tell Us About This Comic You’re Working On Right Now? Do You Have A Main Character And Maybe What’s Going On?
“I find it interesting that it’s independent comics but it’s almost similar to mainstream comics that you’re being given a concept,” notes Haydn, referring to his work for Reverie who gives him a concept to work on.
“I’ve got a lot of scripts in, I guess, it’s probably called pre-production when there’s no artist attached just yet but they’re sort of moving. Aside from those, there’s a handful of stories where I’ve been given a concept and I’ve had to bring yourself to the concept. I spend a lot of time with those concepts but how do I write something that’s still me?”
Haydn also notes that his process varies for characters that are not his own. He notes how he creates a “bible” of some sort to create an outline and make the character his own. There are also times when he writes scripts for an existing world and he needs to write a “story that matters to you whilst still staying true to the characters in the world that has already been created.”
Haydn is currently working on a post-apocalyptic story for Reverie, with the elevator pitch of “Bladerunner meets Mad Max.” He’s also currently working on the next Vamoose anthology with Rob Lisle, which had Too Many Chooks out last month.
The team then transitions to Stephen Kok, who goes all out on a technical discussion out of the gate.
Stephen Gives A Clinic About The Value of Page Turn
Stephen starts his discussion on his page psychology, discussing the value of comic book pages. He notes that “not all comic book pages are created equal” and notes the importance of page 3 in a comic book.
“Page two is not as important as page three and the final panel of page 3 is one of the most important panels because [you] tempt the reader to go ‘that’s enough that you’ve shown that wants me to flip that next page.’”
He shares a page from Terralympus Volume 3, where he uses a type of mini-cliffhanger on the lettering. The idea, according to Stephen, is to encourage the reader to be curious enough to read the next page.
Stephen details further his philosophy for even pages in his comics. In his example, he uses the even page not only to establish the story but also offer exposition. These worldbuilding elements become crucial to a story.
“This page links up to this [next] page,” added Stephen, as he moves on. “She’s explaining how the combat suit works, it can dissipate up to blast two. And then, it goes ‘what happens after the second blast? Don’t get hit after that or blow a new hole in your body’.”
“That’s the page turn because they’re walking into combat and there are real stakes… that panel there is called block. It introduces stakes and it introduces that these characters are now going to walk into a battle.”
Stephen also gives kudos to Dustin, who surprised him with how perfectly he executed his page turn without knowing the concept. He also detailed how much he loves tha page turn as it is exclusive to comic books.
Es Kay on Storycrafting and Black and White Art
Stephen goes on a clinic about storycrafting, noting what makes a Kickstarter great for him. He goes on that campaigns always have a great hook with them, but what separates the best is storycrafting.
“Do you have a good B story which thematically ties into your A? And all those bits and pieces that you just have to link it to basically elevate your story up. The page turn is something, in terms of comics, is almost exclusive to comics that, if you get it right, you elevate your story so much because the guy who is looking at the physical book, he’ll just keep flipping.”
Stephen also notes that he’s a fan of MMA and likes using them for his fight scenes to look realistic. He uses MMA as reference with his artist, reminiscent of Attack on Titan’s Hajime Isayama.
He prescribes to not put a page turn for every odd page in a comic book. Rather, add it where it makes the most sense. He also notes that, to get really good grayscale, an artist’s linework “needs to be immaculate.”
Stephen lists how black and white can be a lot less forgiving than colour, preventing anyone from hiding any imperfections. You are also unable to use colours to elevate a situation, so good black and white is very difficult.
Es Kay Continues With A Technical Clinic on Lettering
After offering his expertise on storycraft, Stephen continues the clinic, talking about his disappointment toward’s Marvel’s return to using uppercase-lowercase lettering.
“With lettering, you are meant to be invisible,” notes Stephen. “You want it so that people don’t notice the lettering. If people don’t notice lettering, you’ve done a good job.”
He notes that the change in case creates a small break in concentration that takes readers out of the book. “Anything that you do takes the reader out of the book is a bad thing.”
Stephen advises that the basics of lettering is “simple lettering font, all uppercase.” He adds that a proofer to catch spelling and grammatical errors are crucial, as well as sending reader copies every five pages worth of progress, is ideal.
Dustin notes that not every letterer is the same. You need someone that complements your style and be given a modicum of freedom to do work within their skillset.
Stephen Kok On Bubble Placement
When it comes to bubble placement, Stephen prescribes that a letterer should “read the script, and understand what’s happening.” The bubble placement should make sense within the scene, depending on what is happening.
Letter placement should work with your story. It should lead the reader through the page to where the action sequences are. Ideally, it should enhance what’s happening on the page.
For campaigns, Es Kay also encourages creators to utilize their letterers to create small promos with words on it. Images with lettering on the campaign promo allow for better reception. He also details one important aspect of bubbles that is almost a secret.
“Speech bubbles should never be oval or never really circular,” reveals Stephen. “Anybody who does a pure circle or pure oval bubble, unfortunately, the words don’t fit quite right. It actually should be a little bit more rectangular.”
Colour placement is also crucial to bubble placement, if it’s applicable. It’s best to use colours that are appropriate for the character being portrayed. If things are happening in the background, lettering and noise should be on the background too, not the foreground.
Lettering should help with the movement of the panels. Bubble placement should help the motion of the scenario, which will elevate the story. Font differentiation, according to the scene, can work its magic.
Sound effects need to use different fonts, depending on the scenario being portrayed. A crack should use an edgy, crunchy font whilst a splash should use a soft, rounded font. Colours must be incorporated too if possible.