Nothing gives me greater pleasure than introducing the art of visual storytelling as presented by my mentor and art guru, Carl Potts. For the most part, everything I learned about creating comics can be divided into two periods: the time BC—also known as “Before Carl”—and the time after, which I call “conquering the deep, dark void.” In years 1 to 22 BC, I struggled to learn the art of visual storytelling. Just because you have a love for reading comics and some innate drawing talent, that does not mean you automatically qualify as a comic book artist. In fact, I think it works against you, because you think you know more than you actually do. You think that you draw better than your least favorite professional artist even if you can’t complete an entire page of panel-to-panel continuity by yourself. Ever. That was me.
But somewhere deep inside, I realized I needed to improve. (Because no one was giving me any work, right?) So I learned all I could about comics and visual storytelling through the few books that were available at the local library. However, it wasn’t until I met Carl through another Marvel Comics editor—the late, great Archie Goodwin—that I started on my true path toward enlightenment in the deep, dark void. Because that’s what art can be when you realize you need to start all over again. You have to drop any artifice or defensive shields (the ones you create to preemptively protect yourself from cruel criticism) and accept the fact that there’s a lot more to this artform than meets the eye. You have to learn the basics all over again. For real this time. With feeling. Wax on, wax off.
And that’s where Carl served as my guide. My sensei. My Jedi master. And teach me he did: everything from “the 22 panels that always work” by Wally Wood to “how not to cross the line.” He gave me telephone book–thick tomes of photocopies from books explaining all the ins and outs of cinematic terminology and visual storytelling. Carl passed along handwritten memos explaining what I did well (not much) and what I did wrong (though constructively polite) as I turned in tryout page after tryout page. Carl laid out several of my biggest projects so that I could work over his thumbnails.
I absorbed all those lessons until I thought I was ready to snatch the stone from his hand—the initiation all new artists had to endure and complete to take a place at the vaunted table of professionals. Or maybe it was picking up the burning white-hot urn with your forearms and carrying it to the gates of the dojo. Or maybe he offered me one of two pills in his hands—one blue, one red. I don’t recall that with great accuracy; the endless training has that effect on your mind. But whatever the process, it worked. I emerged a comics professional, trained for the very first time—once again.
I joke about the Zen mysticism of the whole process, but in truth, there is much seriousness to it all. I learned a great deal at the hands of my mentor, Carl. The years working with him set the baseline and foundation for much of my work even as I experimented, grew, and broke the very rules I was initially taught. Because the final lesson for all things creative is written thusly: Just because it works for you, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way of doing something. And I think that was Carl’s ultimate lesson imparted to me and one that is triply clear in this fantastic book you hold in your hands. There are rules and lessons to be learned, but comics are called art for a reason. The subjectivity of it is as clear and true as its objectivity, and that relationship is explored and demonstrated clearly in the chapters ahead.
What took me years to learn can now be yours to enjoy in mere days. May your own journey in the deep, dark void be short and sweet.
Excerpted from The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics by Carl Potts, Foreword by Jim Lee. Copyright © 2013 by DC Comics. Excerpted by permission of Watson-Guptill, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.