Renee Lott last spoke with CBR News when her graphic novel, the supernatural drama "Festering Romance" was released by Oni Press. At the time, Lott was a recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design and this was her first professionally published work. What was most striking about the book was that at a young age and in her first book, Lott had already managed to master the very challenging tone of balancing a fantastic story that was rooted in realism, deftly handling its dramatic and comedic elements.
For more than a year, Lott has been working on her new book, "The Rise and Fall of Studly Pete," which she has recently begun serializing online at www.studlypete.fridgewithfeet.com where it debuted last weekend with plans for weekly updates.
At this past summer's Small Press Expo, Lott had the first chapter of the story available as a minicomic and she spoke with us about the project.
CBR News: Renee, just to start, what is "The Rise and Fall of Studly Pete?"
Renee Lott: "The Rise & Fall of Studly Pete" is an adventure story about Peter Shade, a guy with a curse of "super-studliness." He's irresistible to women, but to the point of putting him and his friends at risk. As the story progresses, he and his group of friends end up going on a fantasy-style quest where they discover the source of the curse, why he has it and where it came from.
We spoke a couple years ago, when your first book "Festering Romance" was released through Oni Press. Having a book published shortly after getting out of school was and continues to be a big deal. What made you publish your follow-up book online rather than taking it to a publisher?
When I was in school, they trained you basically [to think] that you're supposed to work for a publisher. When I was a senior, that was the goal I focused on without seriously considering if that was the way to go that worked for me. I didn't really think about web-comics or self-publishing.
After going through the process of working for a company and doing an entire book for them straight-off, I feel like self-publishing on the web makes a lot more sense for me. It took me two years to finish "Festering Romance," and that was with me being completely devoted to it. I'm not the fastest at producing pages, and, like most people, I need to work a regular day job in order to make money. Right now, I'm working a full-time job in addition to working on my comics, so having full-length books come out in a timely manner would be difficult. It also doesn't help that a lot of publishers seem more focused on doing full-length books without serializing them in some shorter form first. If I go online, I can have content out on a much more regular basis and stay in contact with the viewing public more directly. No one has to wait months or years to see content from me and I can receive feedback from the viewing public much faster.
You're still thinking in terms of a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, done in book size comic pages.
Yeah, with "Studly Pete" I'm definitely focused on keeping the story cohesive within an overall arc with a beginning, middle and end. It's not like "Garfield" or something where strips can come out without any relation to an overall story arc and there's no end in sight. Before I started scripting any pages, I planned out the plot for the entire story. I already have the ending all planned out.
If I do a story, I want it to have an ending and I want the story to work towards that ending. It really frustrates me when I read things that just seem to go on forever and when it finally does end, the plot just flounders out and fizzles into nothing. I feel like a lot of stories suffer from a severe lack of planning. In the end I think it can be a very dissatisfying experience for a reader when they become invested in a story over a long term and it doesn't end up going anywhere.
I am doing the story in comic-size pages, but whether "Studly Pete" gets printed in book form or not depends on if readers are interested in a book. Even if the comic just stays online, I would be happy with that. Just to have the opportunity to complete a story that I'm passionate about while being able to stay in contact with my readership would make me happy.
You mentioned working. Do you make your living as an artist?
No, I have a regular job to pay the bills. After I come home from my day job, it's back to work on my comics. I haven't done that much freelance art. When I was working on "Festering Romance" I worked solely on that until I was done. Now that I've started on "Studly Pete," I've been singularly focused on that in terms of my artistic career.
Do you spend a lot of time working on the script and working out the story in that stage?
Definitely. I feel like the script is the most important part of the process. It lays the groundwork for what goes on each page and how the story is told.
The original idea for "Studly Pete" was based on two standalone strips that I worked on a few years ago. Basically, the strips were about the origin and demise of a super-studly guy who loves attention from women. The original story definitely wasn't operating on any sort of deeper level.
For some reason, I latched on to those first "Studly Pete" strips and wanted to expand the story. But, since there wasn't much to the original material to begin with, the story's been completely redone. It's been a process of continually revising the plot until I felt it started to make sense and developed into something I felt was compelling. Eventually I had that breakthrough where I felt like things were finally working. Once the plot was worked out, I started on the script for Part One. I have a full script for that part ready and I do slight revisions while I'm drawing [the pages]. Each part has slightly different themes, so by the time I get to Part Two, if I change my mind about things, I can still change things. It keeps it interesting for me.
At this stage of the project, have you changed much from your script?
Now that I'm working on that art, I don't usually need to make many major changes to the script. Most major changes are taken care of while in the scripting stage. The biggest changes I make now are in the dialogue. Sometimes I might change a panel layout, but that doesn't really change the basic events.
You're a one woman show. Why do you work with a full script?
If I didn't write a full script, I'd probably forget to add in a lot of important stuff. There's a lot of events that lead through a logical progression, but leave one out and there's a big plot point that goes unexplained. I might understand why certain story events happen in my mind, but don't explain it on the page and it won't get across to the reader. By going from plot to page synopses to doing a full script, I'm able to stay on task.
I would imagine that it also gives you chance to do multiple drafts of the story and work it out before you start drawing it.
That's what I've done. I think right now I'm on a fourth or a fifth draft. I'll probably go over them one more time before I start drawing them, just to do a quick rewrite of certain things.
After "Festering Romance" and crafting a book from start to finish, what did you learn from that experience that's helped you with the new comic?
The entire experience with "Festering Romance" gave me the confidence to know that I can do a story this long, that if I just work hard I can do it.
Before I did "Festering Romance," I didn't have enough experience to have confidence in my abilities or know what my limitations were in respect to making comics. At that point, the longest story I'd done was twenty pages. I had no pre-set gameplan for working on a longer story. Working on the book definitely helped me figure out a process. I was able to experiment and figure out what did and didn't work for me. I figured out how to do things faster. I figured out what materials worked best for me.
You can't really teach or explain the experience of producing a full-length book.
No, it was really something I had to see for myself. Nothing could really replicate that experience. In school, mostly what I learned was how to make comic pages but not how to get it printed or work with a publisher. I had never had to work within the "live area" or "trim" or "bleed" and all that. I had never really worked within that type of editorial process before. I had no idea how a publishing company works. It was an experience drastically different than anything I could have ever predicted, but it was an experience I feel was necessary to my growth as a comic book artist.
As far as working online and how it looks, have you had to make any adjustments to how you've worked in the past?
To help promote "Festering Romance," I put up preview pages of the book on my website. I had to resize and format the pages for the web, but by doing so, I realized that certain things with the pages weren't working with the web format and I really had to tweak them to make them look how I wanted. It made me realize more clearly that you can't always just take something for print, put it on the web and have it look good. All that fine, sharp, tiny detail that goes into print just doesn't show up at a low dpi.