Sunday, June 23, 2013

TACTFUL TOM PEYER


Tom Peyer, writer of the classic Hourman series, stopped by the Recondite Pictures lot to give us a peek inside the mind of the superior superhero scribe!

Hourman is an android from the 853rd century.
Here's what he had to say:

ME:  How do you create interesting characters?

TOM:  You decide what they're about, what makes them themselves and not another character, and put them in situations where they can display their uniqueness.

Make someone you want to spend time with. Like Dr. Frankenstein, use every building block you can find.  The voice of a real person you enjoy being around. The wit of an uncle who died when you were little. The emotional detachment of Batman.

Since we're not gods who can make something out of nothing, what we call "creation" is the act of rearranging things that already exist in new combinations.

By the way, if you take all of your character's traits out of comic books, everyone will know. And they'll mock you. And you'll deserve to be mocked. Save a slot for your poor dead uncle, who really lived.

ME:  How do you drive a story forward and show important character flaws without being boring and obvious?

TOM:  It's a good question, because boring and obvious are the two worst things.

The answer varies. Sometimes we're boring and obvious because we didn't work hard enough; sometimes because we worked too hard. Maybe we don't read enough, so we don't know what's been made boring and obvious through overuse.

John Cleese talked about his experience writing the great, still-hilarious 70s sitcom Fawlty Towers. When he and his partner had to give exposition that would turn the plot later, they worked very hard to make that one of the most entertaining scenes. The audience would think the information was there just because it was so funny; they would never see the plot twist coming.  Now, when we're writing, you and I know that the information is there because it's necessary to make the story work. So we resent it a little, and we want to get it over with fast. But the audience doesn't have to know. We can make them like it.

ME:  What makes a good comicbook story?

TOM:  Tell the story in pictures.

Remember that comics aren't movies or TV; you can use the similarities, but don't neglect the differences.


Hourman's best friend was Snapper Carr.
Make the story about something. A simple theme can bind your scenes into a coherent whole.

Make the story about someone. A person our reader, who might be feeling lonely today, can spend time with.

Everyone in your scene is a person, even if they don't have a line of dialogue. They should never help your plot without a good, convincing reason to, a reason you know--even if you don't have room to tell us what it is.

ME:  What appeals to an editor?

TOM:  Peace and quiet. Never add to their troubles if you can help it.

ME:  What are some tricks to writing good dialogue?

TOM:  Delete words. Stiff, unnatural dialog always has too many words.

Give your characters sentences that no one else in the story would say in exactly the same way.

Read it aloud to see how it sounds. If you stumble over the words, if they're hard to say, then they are not dialogue.

ME:  How do you write humor?

TOM:  Amuse yourself. If it's not funny to you, it won't be funny to anyone else.

Avoid telling the same jokes everyone else is. Once Jay Leno decides Kim Kardashian is hilarious, you are done with her forever.

Don't fall back on established comedy vocabulary. If Will Ferrell shows us exactly how and why anchormen are funny, don't use his findings in your work. Show us why something else is funny. You can be influenced by Ferrell in general without parroting his specifics.

Avoid timely expressions as punchlines; any sitcom that ever used "TMI!" as a laugh line is the enemy.

ME:  How do you construct a scene?

TOM:  Make sure something happens to change someone's fortunes to some degree, for better or worse.

Scenes should start as late as possible and end as early as possible.

Don't test the reader's patience with space-wasters like slow-multi panel zooms to establish a setting. I'm not saying they should never be used. I'm saying they should never be used by you, reader, until you get some experience.

ME:  How do you write a good transition from scene to scene?

TOM:  In comics, I wouldn't worry about that anymore. Most of our transitional tools are out of fashion, from captions that say "Meanwhile..." to sentences that begin in one scene and overlap into, and subtly comment on, the next. Just start a new scene on a new page where you can.

ME:  How do you transition effectively from one scene to a scene in the future without employing narration?

TOM:  Make sure everything looks different at a glance. A new time of day, new place, new color palette, new people. Any combination thereof.

ME:  How long does it take you to write an average 22-page comic book? Please walk us through the process.

TOM:  It takes *me* seven years, which is why you never see my byline anywhere. It should take *you* four or five days.

Get some idea of what the story is about--plot-wise, not theme-wise--and where it will end up. Make a very brief note about what might happen on each of the 22 pages.  Don't hold yourself to it. Start writing scenes until they amuse you.

A good, meaty theme will emerge after you've written a few scenes; if you come up with the theme first, your story will seem forced and preachy. Go back and make sure that the thing that amuses you in each scene has something to do with that theme, now that you know what that is.

Some people start writing around the action; others begin with dialogue. The second way makes the scene flow from the personalities, so I prefer it. But the way that works for you is best.

Keep writing. Until you're done, your scenes and ideas are like characters in a good horror movie; any of them can die at any time. The fact that you've finished a scene doesn't mean it's good enough.

Don't keep writing the same story forever. Finish this one while it has heat in your mind, then attempt another one next week.

ME:  What comics does a new reader need to search out in the back issue bins to get a taste of the definitive Tom Peyer?

TOM:  Hourman. The odd issue of Bart Simpson.

ME:  What do you have coming out?

TOM:  I can't tell you! And I really want to, because it's something I would have killed to write at any time in my whole life. And I didn't have to kill to get it!


Scott Amundson writes comics for Bluewater Productions, Heroes Fallen Studios and Recondite Pictures.

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