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Fred Van Lente on His New Story Arc Course

Whether you’re telling a two-book tale or a sprawling epic that would impress even Eiichiro Oda, you’re going to need to know how to draw up the blueprints for a story arc. Fred Van Lente‘s (The Astonishing Spider-Man, Marvel Zombies) upcoming Story Arcs and the Art of Serialized Storytelling course, beginning April 9 and running every Wednesday until May 15, teaches you how to become the architect of your own rich worlds.

We spoke with Fred briefly about his intentions for the class, and what students can expect to learn from his expertise!

Comics Experience: What are your goals for the story arc class? What do you hope your students get out of the experience?

Fred Van Lente: So much of comics storytelling is about pacing — on the page between panels, and between pages within a story unit. What I want students to learn is how to pace an entire story “arc,” whether that’s a multi-issue story within an on-going series, or a completely self-contained graphic novel, and how to use pacing to for effective reveals, enhance individual character arcs, and maximize reader interest, to keep them coming back for more and giving you the commitment to see your story through to its end.

CE: What are some of the unique challenges to writing out serialized arcs vs. more episodic or procedural stories?

FVL: Planning is the main thing, and it’s those kind of plotting skills we want to teach in this course. We get very wrapped up in scene-to-scene storytelling, and you need that too, but we want to tackle the next level, which is looking at the whole piece from a high altitude and figuring out the best way to order those scenes. Is this a monthly comics series with 20-pages issues, or a weekly web comic with 20 panels per chapter? The skills you need to tackle both are basically the same (it’s the decisions that are different), and that’s those skills that we want students to come away with.

CE: What are some of the most common misconceptions about writing serialized stories?

FVL: “Decompression” is a term that has been bandied about a lot since I’ve been in a comics, usually as a derogatory term, but some of the most popular comics of the last twenty years have been “decompressed.” What’s important is to pick a pace that’s right not just for your own story, but how best expresses your own voice and style.

CE: What are some of the most common mistakes writers make when writing and mapping serialized stories? How will your course address them?

FVL: I’m going to try and take people from a completely blank slate, so hopefully we’ll “unlearn” bad practices during that process, but I think more than anything else new folks focus too much time and effort on Chapter One, or Episode One, to the neglect of the remainder of the piece. From the jump we’re going to get people to spread that love around their entire story, not just the beginning.

You can sign up for Fred’s Story Arcs and the Art of Serialized Storytelling course here. Remember, our slots fill up fast, so make sure to secure your spot as soon as you’re able!

Alum David Pepose on Serial Storytelling in SPENCER & LOCKE 2

What do you do when your five-time Ringo Award-nominated comics series comes to an end?

If you’re David Pepose, you write the next chapter.

It’s been about two years since the Comics Experience alum and his creative partners introduced Spencer & Locke, the neo-noir story of a detective and his imaginary panther partner. The series won accolades from talents like John Layman and Scott Snyder, racked up five Ringo nominations, landed on multiple Best-Of Lists, and earned the creators a contract with a film producer.

Now, David and team are gearing up for the launch of Spencer & Locke 2, the follow-up arc to their successful debut. The sequel pays loving tribute to classic strip comics, pitting hard-boiled Detective Locke and his imaginary talking panther Spencer against Roach Riley, the creators’ murderous riff on Mort Walker’s classic strip Beetle Bailey.

Spencer & Locke 2 features art by Jasen Smith and Jorge Santiago, Jr., with covers by Santiago, Maan House, and Joe Mulvey. It’s available for pre-order now at comics retailers everywhere, and arrives in stores on April 24, 2019.

We talked with David about the challenges of writing a multi-part story, attracting and retaining readers, and more.

What can returning readers expect to find in Spencer & Locke 2
and what makes this a good jumping-on point for new readers?

Following the fallout of his last investigation, hard-boiled Detective Locke has found himself in a particularly bad place — he’s been suspended by Internal Affairs, his bid for custody over his daughter Hero is in jeopardy, and he’s continuing to struggle with the demons of his abusive upbringing. The one constant in Locke’s life? He’s still got a partner to watch his back — who just happens be a seven-foot-tall imaginary panther named Spencer. But these unlikely heroes are going to find themselves in over their heads when they face a murderous former soldier named Roach Riley, our pitch-black parody of Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey.

As far as jumping-on points go, I think we’re taking our original series’ high concept to the logical extreme — if the original Spencer & Locke asked what if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in Sin City, Spencer & Locke 2 is going to be declaring all-out war across the funny pages. But even if you aren’t familiar with Bill Watterson or Mort Walker’s iconic work, we get readers up to speed quickly on Locke’s horrifying past, as well as his unorthodox partnership with his imaginary friend — at the end of the day, we all have memories we don’t like to think about, and it’s that foundation that I think makes Locke such an engaging and accessible character.

At what point did you know there would be a Spencer & Locke 2? What prompted the decision to launch the second arc?

I’ve had the idea for our second arc really since the beginning — since we started off with a base of taking a gritty, adult spin on Calvin and Hobbes, it felt like a natural progression to take our show across the funny pages, particularly with Beetle Bailey, whose military background made him a perfect candidate to continue exploring our story of violence, suffering and PTSD. And it’s really to our publisher Action Lab’s credit, because they asked us fairly early on in our first arc if we’d be interested in continuing on with the series — and given how fun Spencer and Locke were to dive into as characters the last time, it felt like a no-brainer to say yes, so we could start putting together this bigger and bolder new storyline.

What advice do you have for creators who want to plan a series with multiple story arcs?

The biggest thing I would say is just not to put the cart before the horse — it’s easy to get wrapped up in this idea of a 60-issue epic, but even for the most seasoned of creators, that longevity isn’t always (or even usually) viable. You want to make sure your first arc is as strong and self-contained as possible, because it’s only by establishing trust with your readers and your publisher that you can really justify getting multiple story arcs.

And by building up your first storyline, you’re really doing yourself a favor in terms of being able to take a step back and figure out the best way to expand your high concept, your themes, and your character arcs for future installments. It’s good to have some ideas in your back pocket, so you can position your story to head in a certain direction if you’re given more runway, but ultimately your series is only going to be as strong as the foundation you build it upon.

Anything else you want to tell us about Spencer & Locke 2?

The Spencer & Locketeam was nominated for five Ringo Awards for our work on our first arc, and early buzz is saying that Spencer & Locke 2 is even better than the first. I think there’s such depths we can explore with these characters, and such a sense of empathy that we can bring to our readers, alongside all the action and excitement. This is our Empire Strikes Back, our Dark Knight, and I’m not invoking either of those trilogies lightly. If you like psychological crime thrillers with a genre twist — or if you’re a fan of books like Criminal, Moon Knight, Afterlife with Archie, or Blacksad — then you’re going to love what we do in Spencer & Locke 2.

Spencer & Locke 2 is available for pre-order at the following links or from your favorite retailer. It will be in stores starting April 24, 2019!

Spencer & Locke 2, issue #1 – Jorge Santiago, Jr. cover

Spencer & Locke 2, issue #1 – Maan House cover

Spencer & Locke 2, issue #1 – Joe Mulvey cover

Heather Antos Shares Advice on Kickstarter Success!

Heather Antos has a lot to say about Kickstarter! As a co-host of our Make Comics podcast as well as an instructor of a micro course and an upcoming full-sized course on crowdfunding success.

Ahead of the launch of her class on April 1, we spoke with Heather about her favorite tips and tricks, and she shared with us a previously-written blog post with some fantastic advice.

An Excerpt are printed here:

1) Before you settle on your goal amount, make sure you know for a fact the actual total producing, publishing, and shipping all your items will cost you. Don’t just guess. Find a similar size book, make sample packages, take them to the post office, and know for certain the cost. Take into account international shipping charges, too. Shipping can cost as much, if not more, than your printing invoice.

2) Make your video & page description count! Take a look at Kickstarters that were successful, emulate them. Look at Kickstarters that weren’t, analyze what went wrong. How did they film? What did they film? How was their page worded? What incentives were available?

3) Having a strong social media following is going to be your biggest asset. The wider your circle, the more people who are going to see your work, the more chances you’re going to have people who want to support you. If you’re asking for $10,000 and only have 10 followers, chances are you’re not going to get each person to pledge $1000 each.”

Want to know more? Heather’s upcoming course will dig deep into everything that goes into organizing, running, promoting, and following through on your campaign.

She says, “By the end of the course all participates will have created either a completed, ready-to-go-live Kickstarter for their comic projects [or] a completed Kickstarter for a ‘hypothetical’ or ‘future’ project”

The syllabus includes how to craft a compelling story to hook investors, strategies for creating the best video, marketing and PR, and the right rewards for the right projects.

“Each class will be breaking down a specific aspect of building a Kickstarter – for example, what makes a good video, or how a project’s rewards and incentives can help shape the unique identity of a campaign – using personal examples from projects I’ve ran/built/etc,” Heather says.

“That’s week’s homework will be for the participants to then create that aspect of their own campaigns for review during the first half of the following week’s class.”

Heather’s Kickstarting Your Comic or Graphic Novel course begins April 1! Sign up early to ensure your spot, as enrollment is limited. Learn more and register here.


If you want to make comics, write, draw, letter, and color comics, or improve as a comics creator, you’ll find like-minded friends and colleagues in our online workshops and courses. We hope to see you there!

CE Alumni Launch Roads (Not) Taken on Kickstarter!

Creators Workshop members and Comics Experience alumni have teamed up with our friends and partners at Source Point Press for an exciting Kickstarter with a fresh and fascinating premise. Roads (Not) Taken began as a challenge in the Workshop, serving as both personal introductions and a creative exercise exercise. Participants  – which include Milton Lawson, Ramon Gil, Blake Braswell, Marta Tanrikulu, Stu Rase, Will Allred, Jason Czaplicki, Keith Davidson, Emily Elmer, Diana Naneva, and more – tell stories about famous fictional and non-fictional figures they want to meet, and what a road trip with them might look like.

The book provides a fascinating glimpse into how many of our creators view the world and the people who inspire them.

Roads (Not) Taken sets itself apart from the pack of anthologies currently coming out in a few key ways,” says Source Point Press President and Editor-in-Chief Travis McIntire.

“Beyond the fact that this collection of writers and artists are some of the best in the independent world, the theme – a road trip with someone that exists outside their world – forced the creators to put their characters on the move, to consider how a character (from other fiction, or from history) would interact with their own creations. What this has lead to is one of the most engaging, and interesting, comic anthologies I’ve had the privilege of reading…and publishing!”

Workshop member and alumnus Shaun Manning is coordinating the campaign along with Travis. We spoke with him about the project.

Comics Experience: How did the concept for Roads (Not) Taken come about in the Creators Workshop?

Shaun Manning: This project was the brainchild of fellow workshop member Dave Kawalec, who had solicited concepts under the heading of “Getting to Know You” in the forum. The idea was to create stories that would help us, as creators, get to know each other through the creative process, through choosing and telling the story of a famous traveling companion, living or dead, real or imaginary. There was a lot of excitement and interest around the idea, and we had a number of names batted about for adventurers.

CE: How were the stories chosen?

SM: After that initial round of excitement, a good number of scripts were submitted to the workshop group. We offered our critiques and recommendations for strengthening the core concepts, and in at least one occasion we had a traveling companion change. Because this is a community effort, we didn’t outright reject any pitches at this stage. There were, however, some that were not re-submitted after revision — which is fine. The creators may have had other priorities they’d prefer to focus on.

The next challenge was putting together a creative team. Comics Experience has a rich community of writers and artists, but possibly because of the ways this project came about, a lot of these pitches originated with the writers. We made efforts to pair folks up within the CE boards, but of course that could never suit all needs. So there was something of an obstacle as writers worked to find line artists, colorists, and letters to bring their story to life. Some of that initial batch of writers didn’t manage it, or didn’t manage it on time; that’s nothing against them, sometimes a pitch just doesn’t work out, sometimes you’re not resourced to make it work out within the submission window. These creators do great work, and continue to do great work.

Now, it wasn’t a matter of “if you get art done, you’re in.” Though I’d seen all of the scripts and the stories were strong, it was still possible that the finished comic just wouldn’t be up to par. Thankfully, I didn’t have to have those difficult conversations, because without exception these creators delivered. There are a number of really interesting styles in the book. Stu Rase drew his Ol’ Dirty Bastard story himself, and it is completely fitting. Some of our other creators also pulled double duty, like Ramon Gil, who wrote and colored his story as well as designing the anthology. But in all cases, these folks delivered  – Colin Cheney found Diana Naneva for his story about the poet John Clare, and her style is completely fitting if you know anything about John Clare; Keith Davidson for Ronn Sutton and Stephen Legge to do his very EC Comics-style story about Death hitchhiking with clowns. Marta Tanrikulu, Lipe Diaz, Sandro Ribeiro, Emily Elmer, Kevin D. Lintz do something different still with their story about a short drive with the teacher who became an astronaut on the doomed Challenger launch. The list goes on.

CE: Why does the theme of road tripping with inspirations resonate with creators and audiences? Is there any difference between how the two engage with the theme?

SM: It’s a bit of a party question, isn’t it? It goes back to that initial workshop post of “Getting to Know You.” Who you choose says something about you. How you see yourself, how you wish to be seen; what you need, or what you think you need. How you perceive the world. What holds value. That’s the creative appeal.

For readers, well, these are familiar faces. We know them, or think we know them; at any rate, they are great cyphers. Roger Ebert is synonymous with “film critic,” and we trust his opinions. Stephen Hawking is an icon not only because of his genius but because of his unique life. Charlie Chaplin holds a place of privilege in the history of comedy and film. These people mean something, beyond their individual existence. That gives them special power in storytelling.

The road trip, too, is a familiar journey. Even if we’ve never been cross country, we’ve likely been on a long car ride, we know the sorts of conversations that ensue and how this environment is often very far removed from the ways our every day existence operates. We learn things about each other, sometimes big, but more often small yet poignant. And again, not all of the stories in Roads (Not) Taken are literal road trips; most aren’t. But the idea of a journey is central, venturing from Point A to Point B and experiencing change along the way. These icons, our traveling companions, facilitate that change, and I think this combination is what makes these stories compelling.

You can support Roads (Not) Taken on Kickstarter here.

LAST CALL on Two Intro Courses!

It’s your last chance to sign up for two of our introductory courses beginning next week. You definitely don’t want to miss your opportunity to work with established industry professionals who want to help you transition your ideas from your brain to your page. Sign up ASAP to make sure you secure your spot; we can’t guarantee one will be available when you go to register!

Introduction to Comic Book Coloring – Starts February 4
Instructor Chris Sotomayor bio

Introduction to Comic Book Writing – Starts February 6
Instructor Andy Schmidt bio and Instructor Paul Allor bio

Check out our full list of course offerings here!


If you want to make comics, write, draw, letter, and color comics, or improve as a comics creator, you’ll find like-minded friends and colleagues in our online workshops and courses. We hope to see you there!

Rich Douek on Wailing Blade’s Kickstarter Success!

Rich Douek‘s Wailing Blade debuted last October at New York Comic-Con, igniting excitement for its merging of science fiction and fantasy into one bombastic, bloody adventure. And with creative partners like Joe Mulvey on art, Chris Sotomayor on coloring, and Taylor Esposito on letters, fans certainly had plenty to celebrate when issue 1 dropped.

That enthusiasm continued to burn after the launch of the recent Kickstarter campaign. They not only met their initial goal of $5,000 on the day of release, they exceeded it… and now with only a few days left, they’ve more than doubled their original ask.

So yeah. We definitely needed to talk to Rich about his success!

Comics Experience: Your Kickstarter surpassed its goal by over $6,000 in its first day! What strategies did you use to bring in the necessary number of contributors?

Rich Douek: We started with a pretty solid core of people – ones who backed the Gutter Magic Kickstarter I did last year, and those who have backed previous projects from Comixtribe, our publisher. Those were the initial people we reached out to via email before the campaign started, to let them know what was coming, and get them excited to pledge early. We also made sure to spread the word as much as possible on social media, and in our own circle of friends, to get as many people talking about it as we could.

CE: What have you learned from such unprecedented – but clearly earned – success in your campaign? What advice would you pass on to other creators who want to fund their projects via Kickstarter?

RD: I learned that preparation makes a huge, huge difference when it comes to a successful campaign. We did a lot of prep work on this, much more than I did on Gutter Magic, which was my first Kickstarter project, and I really saw a difference. I think my advice would be to learn everything you can as far as preparing for your launch goes – what you need ready, how to prime your audience, things like that. I know that CE is planning a Kickstarter course soon with Heather Antos, and I think that’s a great opportunity to get a lot of that information in one place. I know I spent a lot of time reading, listening to podcasts, etc., which was really informative, but it would have been nice to get a lot of that information in a more digestible format.

CE: Wailing Blade has been praised for its strong worldbuilding. What lessons did you learn from Gutter Magic in how to create a compelling and lived-in world?

RD: A lot of what I talk about when I give worldbuilding advice, is to do everything you can to make it feel like a living place, that exists independently of the story. One big piece of that is taking some time to think about things that don’t revolve around your characters, or only touch them tangentially. You don’t need to explain every last detail in the story, but having a wealth of information you can reference in the text is invaluable. A great example is the famous “Kessel Run” from Star Wars – it was a throwaway line from Han Solo in the first movie, yet the question of what exactly he was talking about led to a whole bunch of information in the expanded universe stories, and then, 41 years later, seeing the actual story on film in the Solo movie. It’s little bits like that, that intrigue people, and can be explored later if need be, that make the place you’re creating feel alive.

CE: What are some of the challenges (and rewards) when building multi-genre worlds such as the one in Wailing Blade?

RD: A big challenge is finding the balance between creating a huge, complex and expansive world, and telling a compact, understandable story. For example, with Wailing Blade, I’ve created an entire empire, where not just one, but seven weapons like the Wailing Blade exist, each with their own wielder. Add to that all the cities, geographic locations, and peripheral characters, and there’s enough there to explore for years – which I definitely want to do! But for this specific part of it, I had to keep it to a cohesive, tight, 4-issue story. And that means a lot of the stuff I wrote in preparation won’t see the light of day here – and depending on the overall success going forward, might never come out. But I don’t see it as wasted work, because it helps create that sense of place that allows me to write in that world so fluidly – and it gives me a map of where I want to take things if we are lucky enough to have the support we need to create future stories in this world.

You can support the Wailing Blade Kickstarter and receive the campaign exclusives! Click here.