Updated: Apr 15, 2021
A story about how a LitRPG author took her story from from a weird idea to Novel to Comic Book.
Eons ago, well okay, probably closer to a decade ago, I came up with an idea to write a quest-based fantasy that followed the adventures of an African Grey parrot and her human. No, not a human shaped like a parrot, but an actual parrot who behaved like a parrot and did parrot things that still managed to help her human figure out the quests. I even had the perfect model, my own African Grey, Masika D. Greyt; and since she wasn’t the most outgoing of parrots, I’d had a bunch of other, smaller parrots whose silly antics made it into the story. That was fun enough, but I needed another character to play off the bird and to be where the bird couldn’t be for parts of the story, so I introduced a large, fluffy dog and his human in the mix. That gave me enough to work with.
I actually did finish that book (tentatively titled Bird’s Eye: The Novel in Need of a Better Name), but I wasn’t really happy with it. Something was missing. Yes, the parrot was funny; and the dog was brave, bold, and daring; and the humans were very clever when they needed to be. Still, something was missing. Something critical. As so often happens, I set it aside and worked on other stuff while my brain continued to crunch on the problem.
A few years later, after I’d written a GameLit story for an anthology without even knowing what GameLit was, a pal sent me a link to a podcast with a note, “Hey, this sounds like that story you wrote about game players!” I checked it out, and the host and guest were talking about LitRPG, and the description sure enough sounded like the genre “The Fall of the Invincible Man” would properly fit into.
That was it! That’s what was wrong with the quest-based fantasy with the parrot and dog. It needed the rest of the framework.
While talking to the anthology’s publisher (Travis Perry of Bear Publications) and the owner (Andrea Graham) about LitRPG, I mentioned I planned to turn a novel from quest-based fantasy to LitRPG, and the publisher contacted me offline for more information. He agreed to publish it if I got it written, and I embarked on rewriting Bird’s Eye. No, we didn’t simply plug game elements into the existing story, but rather took the longer, more certain route. Travis and I did the brainstorming and planning to come up with the game mechanics, and then I replotted the story and rewrote it. Yes, I did borrow significant parts of some scenes from Bird’s Eye, and the plot followed generally the same path. Some parts of Bird’s Eye were cut altogether. Others were expanded, and quite a bit of new stuff was added. If you read them both, you’d see the similarities, but there’s more to it than just plugging game mechanics onto a quest-based story.
Along the way, the name changed to Animal Eye, because the dog had just as much a role as the bird and a bear was introduced into the mix. The bird also mutated into first a raven then a crow. The publisher was concerned that a parrot would be amusing for parrot-lovers out there, but for general bird joy, ravens were the more popular sort. Fine by me. Corvids (ravens, crows, jays, etc.) are every bit as clever as parrots and they can learn to talk. The second change to a crow happened during editing. Travis realized that even though I changed the bird to a raven, I still wrote the bird as if she were sized like an African Grey. Crows are closer to that size, so rather than another overhaul, we made the bird a crow. The players get to control the animals, not the humans, and they get experience for solving quests, acting like the critter they’re playing, and making good choices. Getting the tone and other details right took a few tries, but last May, Animal Instinct 1: Animal Eye released into the world as a 700-page novel with lots of my wacko sense of humor and complex plot with plenty for the dog, the bear, and the crow to do.
A little more than two months after the release of Animal Eye, Travis contacted me and asked if I thought Animal Eye would fly as a comic book miniseries. Since I tend to visualize what I write, I knew it could work, but I didn’t know how. Fortunately, I have friends like Brian K. Morris of Rising Tide Publications, who have published comic books before. He pointed me to some excellent resources and provided me with a few sample scripts. I got busy. After perusing some of the resources and his sample scripts, I dove into breaking the novel first into 6 issues. Each issue had to have some significant plot action and end in a way that encourages the reader to go get the next one. Some of the break points were obvious. Others were a bit trickier. Once I had those major divisions established, each of the six issues needed to be broken into 24 pages. Pages need to end in a mini-cliffhanger so the reader feels the need to flip the page.
Next, each of those 24 pages has to be broken into panels. Each panel tells just one bit of the story. This was actually much trickier than it sounds. Writing a comic book script isn’t just copying the text of the novel and having it illustrated. Each panel has to tell a critical part of the story, and it has to involve things that the artist can portray. In a comic book, the art tells the story more than the words do although both are needed. Those in the know tell me that two consecutive pages shouldn’t have the same number of panels, and there is such a thing as too many panels on a page. The last phase is to take each of the planned panels and write the description for the artist, the dialogue, the sound effects, the captions, and any other text on the panel. This was by far the hardest part. Each and every word on the panel hides art. Art is what tells the story, mostly. The trick was to include the smallest number of words I could to support the story and fit the characters. That was an exercise in tight writing. When I had that script finished, Brian gave me his professional feedback on the first and the second draft, and then it was back to Travis for editing. Meanwhile we looked for an artist. My own art skills are not entirely horrible, but they’re not nearly up to the speed needed to draw a comic book, even if I knew what the process was supposed to look like.
After putting a call out for artists, we held an audition for the half-dozen people who responded. I gave them Page 1 of the draft script to see what they could do with it. There are some very talented artists out there. That’s for sure. At the end of the tryouts, Rowell Cruz, an artist from the Philippines, signed on. He now has the edited and approved final script for Issue #1, and he’s hard at work drawing all the panels. I’ve had a chance to see some of his character designs so far, and he’s doing a stellar job. I can’t wait to start showing off his work. The current plan is to have the first issue released by March with the subsequent ones every four months.
Currently, I’m drafting the second issue and trying to learn everything I can about crowdfunding, because a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign is in the near future.
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