91 Of Writers and Artists

Spread the love

Wichtendahl1Chris Wichtendahl

By Steven Pennella

IM: According to your Amazon.com bio, you attended The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Arts for two years and decided to concentrate on writing versus illustrating. What was that experience like?
CW: It was very eye-opening. I always loved to draw, for as long as I can remember, and when it came time for me to pick colleges, I figured some kind of art school would be the way to go. My love of comics is almost as long-lived as my love of drawing, so when I saw an ad for the Kubert School, I thought, “Well, this is just the perfect school for me, and drawing comics is the perfect job! I’m such a good artist; this is going to be easy!” If I had a time machine, one of the things I would do with it would be to go back and laugh at my younger self in that moment. And by ‘laugh at’, I mean, ‘slap across the back of the head while laughing derisively’. Two things I learned almost immediately at the Kubert School were just how little I knew about art, being an artist, drawing comics, and how easy it all isn’t. That being said, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I responded to that initial realization with a strong desire to learn what I didn’t know, and I got quite an education. I also made great friends who I’m still close with to this day—one of whom I collaborated with on Ironstar. And, while I did not end up going into art as a career, there were a number of non-comics commercial art classes that focused on principles of design and layout that have benefited me significantly in my actual career as a web developer.

IM: Did you have any formal art training before you went to Kubert’s?
CW: I didn’t. Aside from the usual art classes in school, and the odd kids’ workshop, I was entirely self-taught. I learned how a lot of people learned, I’m sure: by reading comics and copying what I saw there.

IM: Why the change of heart from illustrating to writing?
Wichtendahl2CW: As I mentioned above, one of the first things I learned at Kubert was just how hard it is to be an artist, particularly a comic book artist. Drawing comic book pages is a laborious process that requires a great deal of patience and a strong attention to detail, and I realized very quickly that I HATED drawing comic book pages. I just didn’t have the patience required to sit at an art table for several hours, drawing the same motorcycle in the correct perspective from different angles, panel after panel across multiple pages. I know a lot of incredibly talented artists who love drawing comics, and it dawned on me that, not only was it possible to love this thing I hated, but that love was essential to ever doing it as a career.

During that same stretch of time, some classmates and I collaborated on a comic for a class project. Since I didn’t want to draw, I was one of the writers. I’d always enjoyed creating characters and concepts and making up stories, but that was my first real attempt at things like plotting, character development, and dialog. It turned out I loved writing comics as much as I’d come to hate drawing comics. I was able to take a lot of what I was learning in my narrative art classes and apply it to writing, so school wasn’t a complete loss. That said, I didn’t see the point in continuing at an art school when I didn’t want to be an artist, and decided not to waste any more of my parents’ money.

IM: Did you have any formal training in writing and editing? Are you self-taught?
Wichtendahl3CW: Aside from what I was able to adapt from my narrative art classes at Kubert’s, I’m self-taught. I also worked for a few years with a fantastic editor named Lee Nordling, who taught me a great deal about the writing and editing process, but that’s the closest I ever got to formal training.

IM: What was your first self-published work?
CW: A comic book called Mystic for Hire, which was drawn by a brilliant artist named Jeff Zugale. We published two issues in print in the late 90s, then did a third issue as a web comic in the early 00s, and made it halfway through a fourth online issue, before various bits of life (work, families, etc.) got in the way. We’re coming up on 20 years since that first print issue (jeez, I’m old), and we’ve talked about finishing issue 4 and putting the whole thing out in one big twentieth anniversary extravaganza. We probably won’t, but it’s fun to talk about.

IM: Give us an overview of your writing process? Do you keep a notebook or jot things down that happen in real life, similar to how some artists keep a sketchbook at their side?
Wichtendahl4CW: I do carry a notebook with me, but I don’t really use it that often. On those occasions when I do make notes, I usually use Google Docs on my phone or laptop. I tend to jot down concepts and characters more than anything else, but I also do a fair bit of world-building at the note stage. I use a whiteboard quite a bit as well, which is great for brainstorming new projects.

IM: How do you approach writing a graphic novel or web comic versus a prose piece?
CW: Generally speaking, both start the same way: concept, characters, basic plot, a bit of world-building. At some point in the initial process, I’ll figure out what kind of story it should be. It usually becomes a comic/graphic novel if I feel that the story has to have a visual narrative.

Initially, I approached everything from the comics’ perspective. About 12 years ago, I was submitting a lot of pitches to a publisher, only one or two of which were accepted (neither ended up being published, for reasons beyond my control). As I looked over the other pitches I’d submitted, it occurred to me that some of them wouldn’t necessarily support a comic series or other long-form narrative, and might actually work better as short stories. So, I started up the Spontaneous Fiction blog (spontaneousfiction.blogspot.com) as a place to put all these stories that really didn’t need to be much longer than a few pages. After writing short stories for a year or so, I started working on longer prose pieces, which led to me writing novels. These days, I like to switch back and forth between prose and comics, and have a much better instinct for what belongs in which medium. I have a few stories I’m dying to develop and get past the notes/pitch stage, but I know that not only do they have to be comics, they also need a specific style of art, so I have to sit on them until I find the right collaborator.

IM: Did attending Kubert’s art school make it easier to understand the artist’s challenges when working with a writer?
Wichtendahl5CW: Most definitely. It’s one thing for me to describe a fight scene between the hero and a never-ending horde of undead monsters in front of a dilapidated gothic cathedral; it’s something else altogether for someone to draw it. I actually try not to get too descriptive with those kinds of scenes. I figure the artist has to do all the work of drawing it; they should get to do it how they want. In fact, unless I have a specific idea regarding how I want a scene laid out visually, I tend to be very sparse with my panel descriptions in general. If an artist wants more detail and specificity, then I’ll obviously give it to them, but I like to give the artists I collaborate with the freedom to tell the story the way they feel is best.

IM: Currently you work as a web developer and a freelance writer. How do you balance real life, a day job, and your writing? Do you set a certain amount of time to write each week?
CW: It’s a bit of an ongoing process, which varies depending on how busy I am at work, what my current writing project is, and what the rest of my life is doing. I’m married with two teenaged kids (which can overwhelm your life at a moment’s notice), and I’m also a musician playing in two different bands. My novels have all started out as blog serials (I usually post a chapter a week), and that gives me a steady deadline to write to. I try to keep a buffer of chapters going, so if the rest of my life eats my week, I can still get the latest chapter up on time. When I’m working on comics, I’m making sure my collaborator has everything they need and isn’t waiting on me to finish things. As for finding time, I try to write one to two pages a day (at least) of whatever my current project is, and I can usually find time throughout the day to make that happen. I do a lot of my writing in Google Docs, which lets me access what I’m working on from any computer at hand, so that opens up lunchtime and downtime at work for writing. When I finish a project, I usually take a little time off to recharge my writing batteries, and focus on other things for a while.

IM: Do you think juggling real life and your writing life makes you a better writer, if so how?
Wichtendahl6CW: I don’t think it makes me a better writer. I hope it doesn’t make me a worse one, but I don’t think it makes me better. Sometimes I think all the juggling makes me rush things, so that maybe I don’t take as much time to polish something, or to really immerse myself in the process, as I could if writing were my main gig.

Every now and then, I try to give myself a “writing weekend,” where I shut myself off from everyone and everything and just focus on writing. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I notice that my work definitely benefits from that level of focus.

IM: How do you find your artists and collaborators? What qualities help you decide which artist to work with?
CW: Jeff Zugale from Mystic for Hire and Sean Tiffany from Ironstar were already friends of mine. Ozzie Rodriguez, who collaborated on two of my completed web comics (and one we didn’t get to finish) was a customer at my local comic shop. I met Kim Scoulios (who illustrated Doris Daring) and Ariel Iacci (the artist on Among the Silver Stars) online. I’ve never even spoken to either of them on the phone, let alone in real life and all our collaboration was done through email. I found Kim via her online gallery. Ariel actually reached out to me.

I tend to choose artists based on whether or not I think they’ll be good fits for the project, though sometimes it’s as simple as an artist and I wanting to work together and then building a project around that.

IM: You self-publish through your own website http://www.hemispherestudios.com, and you have material available through Amazon and LuLu.com. Are there any significant differences between the two outlets?
CW: Both Lulu and CreateSpace (Amazon’s self-publishing division for print) distribute my books through Amazon. However, I use KDP (which stands for Kindle Direct Publishing) exclusively for e-books, since they’re so closely tied to the Kindle format. Since CreateSpace (www.createspace.com) and KDP (kdp.amazon.com) are both part of Amazon, they can overlap in certain ways. I signed all of my e-books up for the Matchbook program, which offers the Kindle editions of my book for free to people who have bought the paperback edition.

At this point, I think the only book I’m using Lulu for is Ironstar, and that’s because I like Lulu’s comic book format better than the one offered through CreateSpace. I also have a short story collection via Lulu, but that’s only available directly through their site. I’m planning a new edition of that one which will be done through CreateSpace.

IM: You set up http://www.hemispherestudios.com as a publishing and fiction portal. How do you promote the site? Do you use any of Google’s services? Would you recommend using a paid service such as Facebook ads?
CW: I’m terrible at marketing and promoting myself, though I’m trying to get better at it. I haven’t used any of Google’s services yet, but I have used Project Wonderful to serve ads and I’ve used Facebook ads once or twice. I do see a significant click-through rate from both, especially to my web comic pages, but that doesn’t translate into book sales very often. However, I’ve used Facebook ads when I’ve done free e-book promotions and have seen decent results from that.

IM: A lot of your books are available on Audible.com. Can you tell us how you find voice actors and actresses to use for audible books?
CW: I use Audible’s ACX website (www.acx.com), which is a creative marketplace focused on self-published and indy-published audiobooks.

I should also mention that I work for Audible as a web developer, and my main project is the ACX website. That’s actually how I ended up with my first audio production. I was one of our early beta users.

IM: What would you like to see from Amazon or other online outlets, as far as helping creative people get noticed?
CW: This is a bit of a tough question. The problem independent and self-published creators have these days is that, since web-based technologies have made it possible for anyone to publish a book, everyone is now publishing books. Amazon is glutted with self-published books, especially in the sci-fi/fantasy genres. It would be very difficult for Amazon or some other online store to offer any kind of built-in promotion for every single book on their site, so they tend to spotlight books that sell well and/or are very popular. It’s one of those Catch-22 situations where you have to be somewhat successful before the online stores will actively help you succeed. And that means doing your own marketing and promotion.

As I said before, I’m not very good at marketing and promoting myself. Most online outlets are great at sharing information on what you should do to promote yourself, but I’m sure there are others out there who, like me, for whatever reason, are just absolutely terrible at all those things. I would love some kind of service where, similar to an artistic collaborator, you could pay for marketing services from someone who actually knows what they’re doing and is good at what they do. I’m not saying Amazon et al should be the ones supplying these services, but they could point creators toward any legitimate ones that exist.

IM: Tell us where we can find your work.
IM91-Zad10CW: You can read and/or buy just about everything I’ve done online. The Hemisphere Studios website (www.hemispherestudios.com) either hosts the content itself (in the case of my web comics) or links to it (in the case of my books and web stories). I would recommend liking the Hemisphere Studios Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/Hemisphere-Studios/64546852504) to stay up to date on new projects and events, as well as the various sales and free book giveaways that I offer. You can follow me on Twitter (@cmwich), not so much for any promotional reasons, but because my tweets are both delightful and hilarious. Well, not really, but I don’t have a lot of Twitter followers and I’m feeling kind of left out.

I’m on Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/cmwich), and you can also find the books I sell on Amazon via my author page (www.amazon.com/author/chriswichtendahl).

Back to Table of Contents



Leave a Reply