By Ben Costa and James Parks
Some of the best, creative advice we ever received was that we, as creators, should always endeavor to make what we know, and make what we love.
The process of making Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo really began with that notion: Make what you love. That means to be your own audience first. Run with what inspires you, makes you laugh, tugs your heartstrings, and compels you to keep creating.
That isn’t to say you ignore the wide world around you. Of course, as a creator, you need to be aware of your outside audience at some point in the process. The moment your work leaves your hands and ends up in the hands of your readers, it no longer belongs to you. Readers own your stories in a way that you never really can. They discover nuances, assign meanings, embellish little details, and let their imaginations explore the worlds you’ve crafted. For us, that happened to be the world of Eem, a post-apocalyptic fantasy world inhabited by a talking skeleton bard and a sentient blob of goo.
World building is tremendous fun. We started working on Rickety Stitch officially in 2002. It started with stories. We’d tell each other stories for hours, getting lost in the details of places or characters, many of which were entirely unrelated to Rickety’s narrative, but seemingly crucial for us to create a tone and texture for a series of fantasy graphic novels. We’d riff in the kitchen for hours, write short stories, or carry snippets of Dungeons & Dragons adventures home with us. We found ourselves surrounded by narratives and the next logical step was to bring them together–picking and choosing which bits would color Rickety’s quest, and which bits would be left on the table. And leaving bits on the table is one of our alltime favorite tools.
Getting lost in copious lore is natural, but so is omitting big details about the world. We are enormous fans of J. R. R. Tolkien. As far as world building goes, there are few as brilliant as Tolkien. But a common roadblock for aspiring authors is getting stuck in the world-building phase, working under the assumption that they must create a backstory for everything. It’s important to remember that mystery is a powerful storytelling tool. For example, in Rickety Stitch, we actively try to create mystery as a source of conflict. After all, Rickety’s world is sort of a ruined one, ruled by the bad guys. Much of the old world, the history, and its culture are lost, and Rickety himself is a lost soul on an epic quest to remember and discover who he is and what’s been forgotten.
From Idea to Execution
STEP 1: The Great Riff
Every Rickety Stitch story starts the same way. We get together and proceed to bang our heads against a wall for hours and hours until we have a coherent narrative. There is no easy way around this, but as a two-headed beast we’re able to constantly keep a stream of ideas flowing between us. We fill note pads, sketch pads, and may or may not indulge in several taco runs (a fun ritual we generally capture on Instagram). And at the end of our creative binge we walk away with a complete story summary.
STEP 2: Outlining
Once we’ve completed the summary, we advance to an outline. Outlining is critical. Years ago, we had the pleasure of hosting Neil Gaiman as a guest to one of our classes. He greatly emphasized the importance of an outline, and because Rickety Stitch is a graphic novel, our outlines need to be very detailed. Specifically, a beat by beat, scene by scene document in preparation of drafting a full script. It’s during this phase that details about characters and settings begin to clearly form.
STEP 3: Script Writing
We do our best to construct bullet-proof outlines, but once the script writing phase begins, holes begin to emerge. The outline is a map, and as with any journey, we tend to stray from the beaten path, and new trails present themselves. There are constant choices to be made when writing, and elements such as pacing and tone can really only be incorporated during the script writing. Characters are fleshed out through dialogue, actions, conflicts–and any jokes or gags must feel natural.
We go through a number of immediate revisions of the script, rewriting scenes that feel flat, adding missing narrative beats, and restructuring plot sequences. This revision leads directly into the creation of character designs and thumbnails.
STEP 4: Character Design & Thumbnails
Before the process of creating thumbnails can begin, the major characters of the story must be designed. This process includes dozens of iterations of characters, as well as important costumes, props, and settings with which the characters directly interact.
STEP 5: Final Art
Ben uses a Wacom Cintiq 22HD to draw digitally, using Manga Studio to pencil and ink, and Adobe Photoshop to color and letter. The process takes a long time, and there are many challenges to getting it just right. But seeing everything come together in the end is tremendously rewarding!
Ben and James became friends in 2nd grade and love fantasy. They strive to craft sprawling myths that celebrate the adventures of heroes of a different bent. Their young adult fantasy graphic novel series, Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo, comes from a strong desire to thrust storytellers into the roles of heroes, as well as explore common fantasy tropes from the perspective of uncertain outsiders. Outsiders, that in a way, represent us all.
Learn more at RicketyStitch.com.