Talking Comics with Tim | Paul Allor

As noted at the book's website, the 12 stories in writer Paul Allor's Clockwork Volume 1 "defy genre lines, taking you on a journey from the Old West to outer space, from death row to a child’s home ... Allor is joined by some of today’s most exciting artists, including JM Ken Niimura, Brett Weldele and Nikki Cook". After being introduced to the work online, I wanted to email interview Allor about the first volume of his project (with the second volume in development) as well as his work with Comics Experience and the writers group, The Brutal Circle.

Tim O'Shea: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a project like the 12 short comics in Clockwork, Vol. 1?

Paul Allor: Last year I took a comics writing course through Comics Experience, which is run by former Marvel and IDW editor Andy Schmidt. In that class, Andy told us that writing a strong and complete five-page comic is actually harder than writing a longer work.

I really took that to heart. So, after the class ended, I decided to continue honing my craft on stand-alone five-page stories. Clockwork, Volume 1 features 12 of them, and another 12 are currently in production for Clockwork, Volume 2.

Because every story in this book is only five pages long, it allowed me to cover a wide range of genres and storytelling styles. It also allowed me to experiment, to push the envelope a lot more than I might on a longer debut work. The stories cross boundaries, featuring science fiction, westerns, slice-of-life, crime stories and beyond. Put together, I view this book as a celebration of comics storytelling.

I’d also like to think these stories reflect my belief that when it comes to storytelling, character is king. The best stories are always driven by characters. Characters we care about, characters we empathize with, characters we are intrigued by, or some combination of the three.

O'Shea: What was your thought process on selecting the artists you teamed with on these stories?

Allor: When approaching artists for the book, I tried really hard to make sure there was always a good fit between artist and story, and that the story lent itself to the artist’s strengths. I also knew that I wanted a wide range of art styles, to parallel the wide range of genres. But I didn’t want to treat it like a checklist, you know? “Okay, I have a manga-influenced artist, but I still need someone with a more indie style, and someone who does multimedia work.” Instead I figured, I love all kinds of comics art, so just choose awesome people, and the diversity of styles will take care of itself.

And I’ve gotta say, I am thrilled with how the art in this book came out. These guys did extraordinary work, and every one of them, to a person, was absolutely fantastic to work with.

O'Shea: Early in the book, you admit that the sequence of stories changed around a bit, can you elaborate on the process of deciding the order of stories?

Allor: It wasn’t exactly a scientific process; I had all the story names, artists and genres mapped out in Excel, and I just kept swapping them around, and imagining myself reading through them, until it felt right.

I wanted to make sure that if someone read the book straight through, it would feel like a diverse collection, but would also provide a cohesive reading experience. It was a bit of a balancing act.

O'Shea: How challenging was it to keep the stories to a certain length, given the short story structure? Were there any stories or characters that you might want to explore further down the road?

Allor: Great question. One thing I’ve noticed with a lot of shorter comics is that sometimes they can feel a little lightweight, rather than feeling like rich, complete stories. I’m not saying all short comics feel that way. Obviously, I believe they are often incredibly powerful, or I wouldn’t be working on two entire volumes of them!

But at the beginning of this project, I spent a lot of time thinking about what separates the good ones from the bad ones. And aside from the obvious fundamentals of comics storytelling, I think it’s all about how much time and effort the writer puts into creating the characters and the world of their story. The analogy I like to use is to think of a comic as being like a mountain. With an ongoing, or even a mini-series, you get to see a lot of the mountain. You have time to really explore its contours, get a good sense of the terrain, the caves and ridges, the fauna and wildlife.

By contrast, a short comic is like one of those oceanic islands that are really just the peak of an underwater mountain. You can only see one little piece of it. But, the rest of the mountain still has to be there. Even though you never see it, the writer still has to create all the backstory, all the character development, all the world-building that they would have in place for a longer work. Otherwise, it won’t feel real, and rich, and complete.

So, to answer your question, it was pretty challenging. All of these stories could have lent themselves to much longer works. The trick was to boil my story down to its essentials, and decide what piece of the mountain I wanted to show. But believe me, there were plenty of times when I thought, you know, if I just had one more page! Or fifteen more pages!

As for exploring these stories further down the road, there are definitely characters here I would love to revisit. But a lot of that depends on artist availability and audience reaction. So, if anyone reads a story in Clockwork and wants to see more from those characters, I would encourage them to drop me a line (at paul@govtcomics.com) and let me know.

O'Shea: You letter some of the stories, while others are lettered by the artists, did you let the artists decide if they wanted to letter?

Allor: Two of the artists, JM Ken Niimura and Brett Weldele, tend to always letter their own stories. They both have fairly unique lettering styles, and it meshes really well with their art. Similarly, in Volume 2 (which is already more than halfway done), there’s a story drawn and lettered by Giannis Milonogiannis, the creator of Old City Blues. Fans of OCB will know that Giannis has a really unique hand-lettering style, and I asked if he would extend that to his Clockwork story.

The other artist to letter his own story was Ken Frederick. That was a totally different situation. It was very early on in the process, and my lettering was still quite weak. So when I found out Ken often lettered his own stories, I jumped at the opportunity.

Initially, the decision to letter most of my own stories was a financial one. But I knew that if I did my own lettering, I needed to do it right. As a reader, bad lettering can absolutely ruin a story for me, and I didn’t want that to happen to anyone reading my book. So, I signed up for the Comics Experience lettering class, taught by veteran letterer Dave Sharpe, and spent months practicing the craft. There are several stories in here that were literally lettered twice; once early on, and again near the end, when I looked back and cringed at my early lettering work.

By the end, I began to really enjoy lettering, and to realize the value of lettering your own stories. It teaches you to be succinct in your dialogue and captions, and it teaches you about composition, about leading the eye from beat to beat, panel to panel. Provided you’re willing to put in the time it takes to learn the craft, I would recommend lettering your own work to any beginning writer.

O'Shea: You seem to love a variety of genres, is there any genre you don't enjoy?

Allor: Hmm. You know, I’m trying to think of one, and I’m coming up blank. There are certain genres I enjoy more than others, but none I would rule out completely. Whether its action-adventure or nurse romance, as long as it’s well-made, with compelling characters and a strong story, I’m there.

There’s a great quote from Roger Ebert. He says: “A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it.” I think that’s true of all forms of storytelling.

O'Shea: What did you most enjoy about seeing these stories in the black and white medium? I think Skull Buzz and Mercy Kill really shine in B&W for instance.

Allor: That’s an interesting question. And I agree, Ken Frederick (on “Skull Buzz”) and Brett Weldele (on “Mercy Kill”) did awesome black and white work.

The thing I enjoyed most about the black and white medium, specifically, was probably seeing the different ways that artists handled the texture and shading on their pages. When you compare, for example, Juan Romera’s dot work in “Reach the Sun” and Brett Weldele’s textured watercolors in “Mercy Kill,” you get a sense of the radically different approaches used by this book’s amazing lineup of artists.

And man, I really, really loved getting art in my inbox. It didn’t take me long to realize that seeing new character designs, roughs and pages is hands-down the best part of writing comics.

O'Shea: How did you arrive upon naming your self-publishing venture, Gov't Comics?

Allor: I considered a ton of different names, but none of them felt quite right. When someone suggested Gov’t Comics, I fell in love with it instantly. The word “government” and the word “comics” trigger very different thoughts and emotions, so it’s an interesting juxtaposition, and feels almost oxymoronic. Plus from an aesthetic standpoint, the letters (and punctuation mark) look good together on the page.

Also, in my non-comics life I work for my local government, in economic development. So it was a nice tip of the hat to my day job.

O'Shea: Has your work with Comics Experience helped make you a stronger storyteller?

Allor: Without question. I would absolutely recommend Comics Experience to any comics creator looking to develop or sharpen their skills. The Comics Experience writing class gave me skills and insight that I use every time I sit down in front of the computer. And the Comics Experience Creators Workshop (where I’m now a moderator and the Book Club Manager) is a fantastic community, and a great place for writers and artists to gain feedback and connect with other creators, from total newbies to published professionals.

O'Shea: Did you run some of the stories by your co-horts in The Brutal Circle writer’s group when you faced narrative challenges?

Allor: Honestly, all of the stories in this volume were written before The Brutal Circle formed, although a couple of the stories were reviewed by those guys and others in the Creators Workshop. But the group’s impact can definitely be felt a little more in Volume 2. There’s one story in Volume 2 which was hugely influenced, and made tremendously better, by feedback from my Brutal Circle comrades.

And, just in case some of your readers are unfamiliar with us, I should explain that The Brutal Circle is a writers group comprised of me, Rob Anderson, Fred Kim, Don McMillan and Bill Yurkas. We were formed with the purpose of reading and critique critiquing one another’s work, in a brutally honest fashion. And we share our accumulated knowledge at our group blog, www.thebrutalcircle.com.

Collectively, the other members are extraordinarily talented. I’ve learned so much from them, and consider myself quite lucky to be a part of the group.

O'Shea: Anything you'd like to say or ask Robot 6 readers?

Allor: Hello, Robot 6 readers! First off, I’d love for you to know that I’ve temporarily placed Clockwork online, at www.clockworkcomic.com, where you can read it for free in webcomic form. But it won’t be up there forever, so if you read it and enjoy it, I would encourage you to purchase the book. You can do so by clicking on the “Clock Shop” link on the site.

As for questions, there are so many things I would like to ask. But primarily, I’m interested in your feedback, on Clockwork and on comics in general. Were there stories that particularly appealed to you? Were there stories that fell short, in your opinion? And as I look to develop new creator-owned properties, are there particular genres or story types that you’d like to see me work on? So please, don’t hesitate to drop me a line, to provide feedback or just to discuss comics, or storytelling in general. I love talking about this stuff, and I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading. And Tim, thanks so much for the opportunity. It’s tremendously appreciated.

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