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page strip 1 pagestrip3 pagestrip6 pagestrip5 page strip 2 Wild Stars pages shown above without text 2001-2015 by Michael Tierney.


Wild Stars Production Notes

Michael photo 2 by Michael Tierney

How Comics are Created

Whenever I talk at a library or school, I'm always asked about the details involved in the creation of comics and books. Since I've already discussed the printing side of this in detail elsewhere on this site, I thought I'd devote this page to the actual creation phase.

Tools of the Trade

Comics are stories told with words and pictures. So first, let's talk about art tools.

drafting board

Pictured here are all the tools I used to create the very first Wild Stars comic in 1984, along with an early effort at political cartooning from the same time period. I'd been using these tools since the Seventies, when I created the entire contents of The Multiversal Scribe magazine. At that time, I was working at a business form printing factory in Wichita, Kansas, where a salesman heard that I did creative artwork, and approached me about doing commercial artwork.

commerical art 1 commerical art 2 commerical art 3

Here are a few examples of that work. I ending up doing a bunch of 'Willie Wirehand' (a Registered Trademark in the 70s) for different Electrical Co-ops. But much more fun were building and landscape reproductions. Even better were projects that let me be creative, like drawing a Phoenix as it emerges from a fire.

But... the tools that worked fine for smaller illustrations just wasn't enough for doing comic book artwork, where you typically work at 150% of the reproduction size (you can see the sizing wheel on the upper left hand of the photo of my art board). This way, the art really tightens up when reduced.

drafting table

Wild Stars Volume 2 was drawn in 1988 on this drafting table, that I've used ever since for projects ranging from art to boardgame design. I don't think it's any surprise that the quality of my artwork made a light year leap with better tools.

Pagination example At this time, pre-press preparation still involved camera work to reproduce the art, so I next attached the pages of art in the order they would be printed, 2-up on thick boards. This is called pagination. To figure out how the pages of a book will be printed, take a sheet a paper and fold to represent the pages reproduced on a sheet. This sheet is called a signature.

Fold your paper once, and you get a 4-page signature. Fold it twice to get an 8-page signature. Fold it a third time, and you get a 16-page signature, which is how comics today are printed. To then know what pages go where, and pointed in which direction, simply number the corners and unfold. You will now have a pagination diagram.

But don't worry about doing any of this. Current technology uses scanners for reproduction and the rest of the process is completed with computers. Like typesetting, camera reproduction has become a thing of the past. This part was more of a history lesson.

Story Concept

Under the Wild Stars Before you can create a comic book, first you've got to have a story. In my case, this was a story I'd been trying to tell for a long time. The Eighties comics adapted the story from my Wild Stars novel, First Marker, written back in the Seventies.

The seven issues of Volume 3 adapted Under the Wild Stars, which was essentially a Prequel/Sequel to First Marker, and published in the Nineties.

So I had my story all mapped out. Never start something unless you know where you're going and how it will end. But, at the same time, don't be so concreted that there's no room for embellishment and expansion.

The creative process should never stop.

Converting the Story into Art

style cover For Volume 3, I tried several new art techniques, going as far as to hire a professional model to pose for all the panels of the Native American Shamaness featured on the cover (which one Native American reviewer found scandalous... showing her bare shoulders). I'm not posting any pictures of model Rebecca Rivera, since I didn't purchase publication rights from her agency. But the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette did publish her cover pose when they did an article on the printing of that issue.

Since Volume 3 opened in an alternate reality where Native America was never colonized, I also hit the library and started doing research and making character sketches.

Production Notes 1-1

This issue was originally drawn back in the Nineties, when I tried a new art process by using Due-shade art paper. New to me, at least. Due-shade paper was a main staple of political cartoons for decades, providing two different levels of screen tones by applying two different liquids.

But first, I'd penciled all the pages. Bigger than the usual thumbnails, if I'd had a Mac computer and Photoshop back then, I probably would have gone with these. Ultimately, I wasn't that happy with the results of the Duo-shade experiment. But those pages did finally see print, as a bonus in the 25th Anniversay hardcover, released just this year (2009).

Combining all the Pieces

Production Notes 1-2
Now... to the subject of scripts. From this point on, I'm going to concentrate on how a writer communicates with an artist.

When you know what you want, it makes life easier for an artist. Do everything you can to let them know what your vision is, because they're not mind readers. They're professionals who make a living delivering the product that the customer wants.

Since I'd already drawn the first issue of Volume 3, there was no script for that issue. I also did not do a cover sketch for that issue. That cover image was all Frank Brunner, based on a phone conversation, referencing the unpublished version, and photos of the model.

Production Notes 2 But for the second issue, I wanted to use an unfinished image from work I'd started before I made the decision to hire professional artists. After that, the process was that I'd send Frank my original sketch, he'd make adjustments (always for the better) and send another sketch back for my approval, and ultimately would turn my scribblings into an artistic masterpiece.

I feel fortunate to have been able to work with a professional as top shelf as Frank Brunner. I have never been anything less than 100% satisfied with his work!

Even though I was now scripting, I still used the same process of working up the pacing of the story with thumbnails and page sketches (I went through a whole spiral bound sketch book for each issue). Only now, I put most of my visualization efforts into describing the actions, and only sketching the really
complicated scenes (or those I couldn't wait to see).
Production Notes 3
However, it is a little ironic in that the chapter where I started converting the novel into script form, is also the issue that was the most different from the novel.

My style of comic book storytelling is that there is a key scene on every page. But what works well in novel form doesn't always adapt to comics. It's a completely different type of pacing. Not wanting to have pages of talking heads, I also incorporated my short story about a doomed confederate soldier, whose spirit bonded with the black oak tree that germinated in his blood.

So, while the confederate ghost was an addition not found in the novel, there were a lot of other characters and sub-plots from the novel that had to be dropped, all situations that would have slowed the pacing in an already complicated story with many scene and character shifts. You can't fit everything from one format into another.

With the third issue of Volume 3, Dave Simons took over as the series penciller. What Dave brought to the table was decades of comics illustration experience, the same as Frank Brunner.

In addition to the script and pencil sketchs, I also sent Dave a ton of reference material, showing scuba diving equipment and boats, to help with this adventure that takes place in the caribbean. I also included a bunch of my underwater photography. The shots of sharks and other underwater wildlife were all mine (scuba diving and photography are hobbies of mine).

sketchWSv3-4 sketchWSv3-4-2 sketchWSv3-4-final

Production Notes 5 & 6 This process continued throughout the series.

You'll notice in my sketches how I always have activity in the foreground, midground, and background. Dave and Frank would take these and made astute artistic adjustments that always enhanced the final product.

sketchWSv3-7 sketchWSv3-7-final

Production Notes 7
For the 64 page seventh issue finale, the process changed up a bit. Since the covers had always been done far in advance, up until now Dave had been coordinating his character work with Frank's covers and my sketches.

For this cover, I did a really rough sketch of the action concept, and had Dave sketch up the characters. This made for a seemless transition from cover to content.

And that's all there is to it. Create a story. Visualize that concept. Then storyboard and illustrate it. Mix the whole thing with liberal amounts of work and sweat, and presto, you have the...

Final Product

Wild Stars 25th Anniversary Edition

That's all there is to it!

More than anything else, the creative process is mostly a matter of: how hard are you willing to work?

And it's a process where, if you're serious, you'll never stop trying to improve.

Me? I'm already busy finishing the Force Majeure Trilogy... and about a dozen other projects.

One Post Production Note

Dave Simons, who did pencil work for 165 pages of Wild Stars comics, sadly passed away in 2009.

Dave was a good friend, a great guy, and an excellent artist.

I thought I'd share a couple of moments of Dave's sense of fun and humor:


When Dave turned in page 22 of Volume 3 issue #7, I saw an opportunity to add an element to this panel. I wanted to show that it was Tall Trees who was chasing the Terrors running away at the top. But, so as not to make it difficult for Dave to try and match scale and angle, I told Dave to just send me a silhouette of Tall Trees running with his axe raised. Dave didn't do just that. He sent me two images. One of Tall Trees running with an axe, and another of:

Tall Trees running with scissors

Tall Trees running with scissors.


Here's the final, published scene.

And here's Dave Simons' 2002 drawing of himself as First Marker.

Dave Simons dressed as First Marker

Dave Simons -- R.I.P. -- 1954-2009

You will be missed!

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All images and text are 1984-2015 by Michael Tierney.
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