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Webcomics Community Spotlight - Lora Innes

Started by amanda, October 21, 2010, 11:11:00 PM

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For this Friday's installment of the Webcomics Community Spotlight, amanda interviews Lora Innes of The Dreamer, an award-winning romance of historical proportions.  Lora is also behind the successful Comic Creator's Alliance charity project.

Hi!  Let's start simply - tell us about the lady behind the name.
What is your drawing/writing background (professional instruction, influences, etc)?

I went to art school and got a Bachelors in Fine Art from the Columbus College of Art and Design. My major was in animation and video. I planned on being an animator when I went to college, but by the end of my senior year I knew I really wanted to make comics. It turned out to be a happy accident because everything I learned about visual storytelling has translated to making comics. In storyboarding classes you have to think about which cuts and camera angles convey the proper mood and best tell the story. In illustration, you have one image to tell a whole story or in a childrens book, maybe 20 pages. But in a comic book, you have six or eight panels on every page. It's a lot more like cuts in cinema than traditional illustration.

Are there any particular conditions which must be met before you get into the drawing or writing mode?  Maybe scented candles or a favorite chair?
Well, I am a creature of habit. I don't like to work just anywhere, I like to work in my office where I know exactly where everything I need is. I'm the sort of person who if I set my eraser down in the wrong place I'll reach for it several times before realizing it's not there. I translate my scripts to layouts at Starbucks, just to escape the house for a bit and also to avoid distractions.

Writing is trickier. I usually to take walks with my iPod just dream up scripts and ideas. I haven't had time to do much of this lately which might explain my recent writer's block! I do most of my script writing at Starbucks. It's actually easier for me to focus on writing when I'm there because I'm away from my house and all the distractions like email and the phone. I worked at Starbucks for three years, so maybe that's why it's so comfortable to me--my home away from home.

Why did you decide to take up the webcomic medium?
I did it quite resistantly, actually--resistant out of ignorance and prejudice. When I started telling people I was making a comic, my best friend urged me to do it as a webcomic. In my mind, webcomics were poorly done and (we've all heard this one before) made by people who weren't good enough to be published. But I knew that the type of story I wanted The Dreamer to be would not find a publisher easily. So I reluctantly checked out webcomics. As soon as I started actually reading them all my prejudices fell away. Now I can't imagine doing The Dreamer in any other medium--the web community is what has made it great.

The Dreamer, your flagship comic, is about a young lady who finds herself juggling a typical high school teenager's life by day and an adventurous ride through the American Revolution by night.  Your characters are complex and
three-dimensional but above all, human and relatable. Care to give us a behind-the-scenes glimpse at your writing and character creation processes?

For a lot of my characters I got lucky: they were real people. Which means that I can read about them, or in some cases, read their letters or what their friends said about them or wrote to them. I can look at things they did and events they lived through and try to take a guess at who they were. Some characters have a lot of scholarship written about them (Alexander Hamilton for one, and on a lesser but still significant scale, Nathan Hale). Much less is known about some of the others like Thomas Knowlton--no letters or documents he wrote survived that I know of. So I get to look at the things he did, and what was has been said about him and draw from that. For all my historical characters, I never lose sight of the fact that they are characters. My Nathan Hale is inspired by and based on the real man, but I certainly have interpreted him for my story! And once I've learned as much as can about these people, I give myself permission to put the research aside and have liberty to write them. If not, I could've been paralyzed by the research. I really do try to honor these people since they were real men. I don't try to change anything egregious in who they were or what they believed in--I exaggerate what I know about Hale and Knowlton, but I hope I don't betray them.

What inspired you to create The Dreamer?
It's an oft asked question. The comical answer is that a steamy dream I had about a shirtless Josh Holloway inspired the dream Bea has in the first few pages of Issue one. A fuller answer is that I was in a place in life where I had room to pursue my dream of making comics, and I was asking myself the question of what I wanted to write about. So I was groping for an idea and waiting for inspiration when I had that dream.

Some of the major events of the American Revolution in Bea's dreams really happened, and many of the characters actually existed.  It's obvious that a great deal of research goes into keeping the historical events true to form. What are some of the challenges you face inserting a fictional story in a historical background?
The challenge is what to change and what to keep the same. How true to I stay to the facts, and when is it okay to deviate? What I generally wind up doing is letting the story come first, while still staying true to the spirit of what happened. For instance, the length of time between issues 6 and 9 appears to be a day, when in fact it was two weeks of waiting. But I hope that issue 8 conveys the spirit of waiting. Generally I tend to favor fact over fiction except in cases of timing. I've condensed things quite a bit just to keep the pace brisk and exciting.

The other big challenge is simply finding the information. Of course the answer to every missing piece of information existed. Whether or not its been lost to history is another story. Sometimes I'm able to find those missing pieces and sometimes I just have to invent. I always try my hardest to find what really happened, and that way if I change it, it's an intentional decision, and not one made out of ignorance.

You put a lot of effort and love into the research for The Dreamer. What is a fun adventure you have had during one of your on-site research trips or, alternatively, one of the coolest stories you unearthed that you won't be putting into your comic (so as not to ruin the surprise)?
One that did make it into the story is Frederick Knowlton. I was researching the battle of Long Island, trying to figure out where Knowlton's Rangers saw combat in that engagement. In an ancient tome on the battle, I found a roster of men who served under Thomas Knowlton, and Frederick his 16 year old son was listed there. I can't imagine The
Dreamer without Freddy now! He really brings heart to Colonel Knowlton and rounds out his character.

A fun story that didn't make it? Dr. Joseph Warren was probably involved in body snatching! His youngest brother John studied medicine under him, and had a medical club after college. They stole corpses to dissect to learn about the body. Most likely Joseph Warren was aware of this and took part in it. It was the only way for doctors to learn back then since autopsies were illegal. Maybe I'll write this story into a "Halloween Special" comic...

In regards to your readers, do you find people respond most to the historical or the fictional aspects of the comic?
I don't know. I know there is a vary vocal group of history lovers who hang out on my website. I also know that a lot of others have gained an interest in history after first falling in love with the The Dreamer. Either way, I put the story first. There is a lot of history that I leave out because it interferes with the story. These events are all told from Bea's perspective. Knowlton's Rangers weren't necessarily involved with the the parts of the battles that most history books talk about.

With all the different ways to promote your comic (conventions, advertising, social networking, and the like), what tools do you use, and what do you find to be most successful?
I try to be fluid and stick with what is working and drop what is not. I started on MySpace and Drunk Duck, but both those sites ran their course for me. I still have pages there but they aren't updated. Right now I focus on Twitter and DeviantART and my own blog, of course. I also started a Fan Flow on Assetbar. This idea hasn't really caught on at large in the webcomic world yet. I don't know if it will or not. Subscribers can pay $0.99 a month and receive access to all kinds of sneak peeks, behind the scenes materials, and in depth tutorials. I actually love the Fan Flow. I love sharing my work in progress stuff. I also share more personal thoughts there than I do on my blog. For instance, recently I changed the update schedule for The Dreamer and the Fan Flow members heard about it a month before the change was officially announced. I also recently did a post about how to respond to a bad review which was pretty honest.

Of course there's always cross promotion with other creators who I've become friends with. And Project Wonderful Ads. And interviews and reviews. Press Releases go out when major things happen with the project. And conventions, you have to love conventions! I recently did my first Anime Convention and it was a blast. I met so many readers there, I'll be back for sure. Strangely enough, print comics and webcomics don't necessarily have the same readers. I've been showing The Dreamer at comic cons for three years now but I've never had the success or recognition I found at Otakon in Baltimore. I'm already planning on adjusting next year's convention schedule to include more of these type shows.

The Dreamer is published through IDW.  What kind of process did you have to undertake in order to publish the comic?  Any wisdom you have to share up-and-coming comickers seeking to get published?
The best advice I can give you is to decide what you want out of getting published. I went into publishing with a naive idea of what that meant. I thought it meant financial success. I wish someone had told me the truth up front. I don't think many of us want to admit it, but I don't know many indy comic creators who are making much of a profit from their published works. People assume that if they can buy your book at Barnes & Nobel that you must be rolling in the dough. That's hardly the case. So if you're pursuing publication with the hopes of financial success to quit your day job, you might want to rethink that. Self-publishing may not have the prestige that a publisher has, but if you're selling direct to your readers, and you've already invested a lot into building a large, loyal readership, you may wind up making a lot more money that way.

If money isn't really what you're after, and you want the notoriety that publishing brings, that's another story all together. Being published certainly does make you a credible person, even if it doesn't make you rich. Which can help you land other jobs.

As for my own story, I was put in touch with the guys at IDW through Beau Smith, a mutual friend who works with them quite a bit. I had met Beau at a comic convention back when I was in college. We became friends and so
when early on in The Dreamer he told the IDW guys to check it out. They liked what they saw so I sent them an official pitch--gathered up all my stats from online and essentially told them why they should publish it. They must've believed me because they agreed. I couldn't be happier with Volume 1. If you've seen it in print, it's gorgeous. In fact, the weak link to that book is my artwork! But I think all artists feel that way looking back on old work. As for the initial pitch letter I sent IDW's president, you can find that on the Fan Flow, too.

Last I knew, working on the Dreamer was your full-time job (which is so amazingly awesome I can't even begin to describe how impressed I am).  Does that still hold true?  Tell us a little bit about the challenges and adventures you face as a dedicated artist/writer of a comic series and how you offset those challenges.
I do work on The Dreamer full time. In full disclosure that's less because I'm successful and more because my husband is! We've decided to live a simpler life on his income so I can pursue comics. That's not a glamourous answer, but it's the truth.

One big challenge I have being a solo creator is prioritizing. Everything feels important, and I don't have someone else here to offer insight on prioritizing or help share the load. I often deal with the most pressing matters first, like getting Friday's updates up on time, but things like writing get neglected. This has happened more as The Dreamer has grown because I have a lot more business responsibilities than I used to. I used to be two or three issues ahead in my scripts, but not anymore. Other things that could expand the readership or grow the business are often put on hold just to get updates out on time. I don't know if this is the right answer. We've recently cut back to one page a week so I can figure that out.

What is the biggest challenge you've faced as a comic creator?
Finances--trying to learn how to make money from something you give away for free. I'll let you know how when I do.

You were the the driving force behind the Comic Creator's Alliance Drive charity project.  Please tell us a little bit about the Drive: the setup, the execution, the aftermath, and its potential future.
The Comic Creator's Alliance was a charity drive that I participated in last January. I wanted to raise money for two organizations fighting human trafficking in the world today. Human Trafficking is a sanitized way of talking about slavery, most of which is forced prostitution. The drive went live on National Human Trafficking Awareness day.
Two months before, I put out an open call on the internet to fellow webcomic creators. I wanted it to be minimal   commitment but maximum impact. So each participant was asked to do a single drawing of a female characters from their story, and then mention the donations drive on their blog. Word traveled through blogs and podcasts, and we had nearly 100 people participating. After I received all the drawings, they were compiled into a single wallpaper image that people were able to download after making a donation.

The Comic Creator's Alliance's future? 2011 for sure!

The Comic Creator's Alliance Drive was a huge project with over 80 participating webcomic artists. What was it like working with such a diverse and creative group of people?  What lessons did you learn from the experience that you will file away for later?
The biggest lesson is using your influence--whatever it is--in this world for good. Often the problems that move our hearts are way too big for us. A natural response is to distance ourselves and avoid thinking about it because we feel so insignificant. With this project, though, I was able to use whatever connections I have to raise money and awareness on a truly heinous issue. It may not feel like you can make much difference in light of a problem that large, but use the connections you have and you may be surprised.

Working with all those creators was so inspiring! It certainly wasn't something that would have happened if everyone didn't believe in it. There was a collective ownership among all the participants as they blogged about it, shared it in interviews, mentioned it on their twitter feeds, etc. I was really moved. Alone, each of us has a small corner of the web but together the word got out and spread to thousands and thousands of people. It was incredible: $10,000 raised in an incredibly grassroots, word-of-mouth campaign.

And winding down, what are your plans for the next year or so?  Are you planning to focus solely on The Dreamer or will other projects share the spotlight (comic or otherwise)?
The Dreamer really is my first love. Look for Volume 2 out next year, it will collect issues 7-11. The Dreamer will  continue as long as I can find a way to make it happen, rest assured, but as I mentioned it earlier I've cut the amount of updates on The Dreamer in half. I'm currently looking for freelance work to fill that extra time with. I have a few ideas for side projects but too soon to see if any will pan out. I'll let you know if they do.

amanda is responsible for a couple of comics that you should check out.


Fantastic interview. Very interesting.  ;)


Complete knowledge Chi is a very good material.