Joëlle Jones, an Eisner-nominated comic artist whose work has recently been featured by the “Big Two” publishers, DC Comics and Marvel, was one of several creators featured in last year’s New Talent Showcase #1. Showcase featured work from creators new to DC, who had passed through their Talent Development Program, workshops taught by established writers and artists at DC such as Scott Snyder (writer of Batman from 2011-2016), and Jim Lee (artist and co-publisher for DC Comics). The special issue features short stories with spotlighting characters such as Wonder Woman, Superman, and Harley Quinn, who features in Jones’ contribution “Good Morning, Gotham!”

I had the opportunity to speak with Jones via e-mail about her creative influences, writing comics, the DC Writers’ Workshop, and advice she has for aspiring creators.   

Levi Raab: What are some of your creative influences? 

Joëlle Jones: For me it changes all the time. I can get really into an artist one month and then discover someone new right after and get obsessed with their artwork.  Right now maybe Pete Hawley and Jorge Zaffino.

Levi RaabLR: Was this your first time writing comics? What was the transition from drawing to writing like?

JJ: No, I have been writing and drawing a series called Lady Killer published by Dark Horse for the last couple of years. It was tricky at first but I tend to write and draw at the same time so after a while it became very fluid. I think writing for other people is much more difficult. 

LR: What were the workshop classes like/what were some of the topics covered?

JJ: We would all video ourselves into the same meeting and usually just jump right in. Discussing scripts turned in and covering that week’s topic. We went over many subjects and it really gave me an insight into writing superheroes. I found it invaluable. 

LR: What was the most important thing you learned from the workshop?

JJ: I still don’t really think of myself as a writer but I felt I was somehow given permission to go big and be bold. I tend to be timid since I am so new to it but just to be given the tools and the confidence made me feel more capable. 

LR: Is there any advice (whether for art or writing) that you’d like to pass on to the readers of this blog?

JJ: Just the clichéd stuff you hear all the time. Work every day; if it’s writing just write, and if it’s art just draw. There really is no work around for it and nothing will improve you faster. 

– Levi Raab

For the better part of my life, I have struggled when people ask me what I intended to be when I got older. Sometimes I answered “writer”, and I’ve already achieved that. Other times I answered “artist”, which I’ve also tucked into my cap. For the longest time reconciling these two strong skills has been a challenge but as I approach the end of my undergraduate career, one thing has become obvious: the two are not mutually exclusive.

Both studio art and writing have their own separate skillsets, but there are tools of the trade that can help either the aspiring painter or upcoming poet improve their work, or lessen their struggle.

Practice and study often.

No good work comes for free, and this includes our own. I say this at risk of sounding like a broken record, but I cannot stress this advice enough. Writing and art are both skills that will improve more and more as you continue to practice them- so make it an active habit!

Write as often as you can. Read to find your inspiration. Even if it isn’t your best work, every little bit of experience is helping you to find your flaws and learn from old mistakes. I have spent the past two months learning to track my daily writing, and I’ve already started to see improvements. Find a schedule that works best for you, or lack thereof, perhaps.

The same goes for art. Every piece you create will be a new lesson, or an example to look back on and learn from. Keep track of all of your work- either with a running sketchbook, a collection of drawings and paintings, or storing dozens of Photoshop documents. Just make sure that you keep it. It will be there to show you how far you’ve come and what you still have to learn.

Be as precise as possible.

In my experience with both writing and art, you can never be specific enough. Details will always be misinterpreted by someone- it’s a fact of life with creative fields. But, the more specific you attempt to be in the creation process, the better your chances for those details and emotions to come across to your audience.

For writing, drafts and notes are your best friends. Keep notes on all of the pieces you work on, and know what story you intend to write before you even take to the typewriter. The more you know about the characters, the world, and the events, the more will come across to your audience as you write. Even with short pieces it doesn’t do any harm to know more than you need too. Just also be careful to only include those details which become necessary.

The same can easily apply to art, in more than one way. Knowing how precise, or imprecise you intend to be can make or break the piece you’re working on. If you study the basis of anatomy, color, line, shape- art theory in general- you can know precisely what you need and don’t need in your pieces to convey the emotions you want. Inspiration never hurts either, and multiple drafts can help you fine tune the finished product more than if it were done in one sitting.

Have patience.

Many creative individuals I know, myself included, are all known to be easily discouraged. Sometimes we don’t see ourselves progressing as quickly as we want to. We see something in our work that we aren’t happy with but all the practice in the world doesn’t seem to make any improvements.

With all creative projects, like I said before, nothing ever turns out the way we really intend for it to go on the first try. Sometimes you will write something or start a drawing that just doesn’t click. Take the time to look at that piece and pick it apart slowly- find out what makes it tick, scrap the things that get in the way, and salvage what makes it worth saving. It is a long and laborious process, but it will always improve the final product. Even if it takes two, or three, or thirteen edits, it will be worth it.

Remind yourself that these skills both take time to perfect. They take dozens of years to master. As long as you keep improving you will see your changes- you just need to be patient and do what you do.

Melissa KleinLast but not least… confidence is key.

Whether you are trying to create your own series of paintings, or find the courage to finally submit to a journal like OAR, confidence is everything. If you do all of these tips above, and put every bit of your heart into something (sometimes until it makes you physically ill to look at), you should remember that you have something to be proud of. Regardless of where you are be confident in your work and do your absolute best.

If you enjoyed some of this advice from a fellow learning-creator, I also recommend the older posts about writing and patience and the Jumping In series (part one, and part two) from past editors.

– Melissa Klein

There comes a time in every writer’s life when you’re ready to write – you have your music playlist raring to go and a fresh mug of coffee sitting next to you – but try as you might, you still find yourself staring at a blank page. To remedy the situation, you begin to scour pinterest for inspiration or even type the phrase “writing prompts” into Google, hoping you’ll come across something to finally launch yourself into writing. But nothing pops out at you and you’re just wasting more time.

If you’re looking for some techniques that might challenge you to overcome your writer’s block once and for all, perhaps these ideas might help:

Shake It Up. Step outside of your usual comfort zone when it comes to your creative endeavors. Always leaning toward fantasy stories? Try writing a horror. Prefer to write in first person POV? Attempt the same story, but in third person. I’m always amazed at what I can unlock from a story whenever I switch the perspective.

This strategy works well for the poets out there, too. Can’t get away from free-verse poems? Try something more structured, like end-rhymes or pentameter.

Comb The Archives. We all have work that is hidden away in our computer folders. Stories that have been completed for years and haven’t been looked at since. Your writing skills should have improved during the time span that it was originally written, so perhaps it’s worth taking a glance at it again. Maybe you’d take the story into a new direction now? Or add onto it? Maybe you’d like to explore the backstory of one of the side characters?

Or you can just heed my previous advice and take that story into a whole new genre to see how the group of characters would fare in their new environment. The possibilities!

Recall a Memory. Memories of your own life can be great jumping off points for something fictional. I mean, all of your writing has elements of yourself within it. Might as well embrace the idea. And if you can’t think of some kind of “interesting” memory, you can always write about the seemingly mundane routine to your job/school this morning. What would the route look like through someone else’s eyes? Or if something crazy actually happened instead that prevented you from reaching your destination? If that doesn’t work, then there are always other people’s exciting personal memories that you can borrow from – provided that you don’t use their names in your stories.

Don’t Overthink It. This can be difficult for some writers (myself included). But overthinking about what to write or where the plot should be going or what kind of diction should be used can be paralyzing. So just pick an idea and run with it. Write until the idea tampers off. It may be only 400 words on the page, but it’s still considered a success because you actually wrote something. Which was the goal all along! And who knows? It might be the inspiration for that next big idea.

Need more ideas? Check out our past blog posts about the subject! For example, how Camera works through her own writer’s block. Want to take a look at writing prompts after all? See Sharnita’s favorite types of prompts or actual prompts suggested by Bethany.

Did any of these strategies prove useful to you? Got any other tips on how to escape the dreaded writer’s block? We’d love to read about it in the comments!

– Amanda Matkowski

In the first half of my interview with comics artist Yale Stewart (JL8), we discussed how he got into comics, his creative influences, and the difference between web and print comics. Here we talk about JL8 itself, his process, Stewart’s professional work, and end on his advice for aspiring creators.

Levi Raab: Why set JL8 elementary school?

Yale Stewart: […] When I originally had the concept–the original concept very much was young superheroes but then I was like well if they’re young instead of being a team of superheroes […], wouldn’t the youthful equivalent be them being classmates.

And I felt that–I mean school is just–especially an elementary school, is just kind of like a universally shared experience for like 99 percent of people who would read anything. Which I think is the same reason that things about childhood do as well as they do. Because not everyone has gone to college or has a successful career so on and so forth but there’s a good chance that you at least went to elementary school and can probably relate to that. I mean there’s, it’s a factuality that you were young at one point and can relate to that. […]

And also, I mean there’s just such a wealth of material to draw from about being in, being a young person in school. […] It also gives like an easy gathering place for all of them you know so it’s not like they all happen to live on the same block or whatever so that they can all just walk over to each other’s house. […] It’s just like oh well it’s convenient and makes for good story ideas, so.

LR: Can you talk through your process for creating a strip/storyline?

YS: Oh man. Well I hate to say it but probably not. And the only reason I say that is because it can be a really amorphous thing. Like I know that there is sort of like an individual process that I have, I’m just not really sure how to describe it. Primarily because I am doing both the writing and the drawing, right? I’m kind of like one man Marvel-methoding it. I guess the best way for me to describe it is, at least when it comes to doing an individual update like an individual strip, I’ll kind of have like a broad idea of what I want the strip to be about and I’ll kind of then do like a very, very loose script which is basically just dialogue where I’ll literally just write out all the dialogue as it goes through my head or whatever and then I’ll look at that and then I’ll start thumbnailing it out. But I just thumbnail it out as I feel it should be, like I don’t do like, panel one these things happen, and panel two these things. I mean a lot of time when I’m writing it I have that in mind, but then sometimes it’s like maybe it would be better if both of these characters spoke in this panel instead of it being this character speaks in this panel and this character speaks in the next panel and stuff like that.

So yeah, it’ll be like broad idea, loose script, loose thumbnails and then I’ll kinda like go back in and sort of try to almost balance the checkbook as it were. I mean sometimes it’s not necessary but If I’m having a little bit of trouble, like maybe the way I thumbnailed it out there’re just too many panels and it’s like how can I save some space? And then I’ll go back into the script and that’s when I’ll […] break it down by panel. Like what if I have all this in panel one, this in panel two, this in panel three and then you just kind like keep trying to find that perfect balance until you eventually come to some kind of equilibrium. And then yeah, it’s just kinda of sitting down at the drawing table and just banging the thing out. […]

LR:  Have you done any “professional” comics work?

YS: Oh yeah, yeah, I’ve done a decent number of it. I did that little backup thing for Marvel in Nova a couple years ago, I’ve done some work with Image, the Luther Strode books. I recently did those Smosh issues for Dynamite [Entertainment]. I did those not, this isn’t comic works, but you know like professionally writer/illustrator work those Superman children’s books, The Amazing Adventures of Superman, those officially licensed ones through DC and Capstone. I’ve done a couple covers for Boom[! Studios], like one Adventure Time one […].

So yeah, I mean it’s not as much as some of my other more strictly published comics friends […]  but I do pick up some freelance work here and there.

LR: Do you have any advice for aspiring creators?

YS: I would probably say, I think the biggest [thing] I could say is find something that you really, really care about and do that. […] It’s kinda tricky for me because JL8, I mean it is fanart. You know I would never pretend that it’s not. But it is very much something that I did initially as a labor of love and continue to do generally as a labor of love. When I started JL8 back in 2011 it was really just meant to be something that passed around to my personal friends for us to just kinda like chuckle about. And you know I did the first one they all really liked it so I did a few more they all really liked those. So, it wasn’t until some of my buddies were like you should really put these online that I even entertained the thought of just sharing them with the general public and I mean obviously, it’s done pretty well.

But yeah like for me I just think that people can […] tell if you’re just trying to attract a readership or, and I think that’s a very flakey thing whereas people who work on passion projects like I’ll be honest you might not see overnight success but I think that the people who you do attract will respond to the fact that it is something that you’re being artistically honest about and they will be much, much more invested in both your work and you as an artist. […] So, I think when people see something like Hark! a Vagrant, or Lackadaisy, or Penny Arcade, or XKCD, or a lot of most of these things are kind of like huge juggernauts of the webcomics field at this point but they weren’t always that way. You know there was a time when Penny Arcade was just being read by like a couple thousand people or whatever, same thing with Hark! a Vagrant, XKCD, what have you, but people read it and they do it to resonate with them and I think that they see a degree of artistic honesty there.

But this wasn’t just kind of attention-grabbing work or anything like that—attention-grabbing for the sake of being attention grabbing. Obviously, it grabbed attention because it was very, very good. But it wasn’t, you know it was just like these people are making comics that they want to make and if they become successful with it more power to them. […]

Levi RaabThen if we wanna get into like the nitty-gritty technical stuff, and I feel kinda like a hypocrite saying this because I need to work on it as much as anybody, but try to be disciplined. That will go a very, very long way in a lot of respects because when you’re an artist, even when you are working for Marvel, or DC, or Dark Horse, or whatever you’re still very much your own boss. You don’t have a place to go to punch into you’re gonna get chewed out if you’re late to work or whatever. […] So, it can get really, really easy to be like oh you know I’m not really feeling it today, I’ll just work harder tomorrow, and you know there are a thousand more examples of something similar. And then you end up [… missing] deadlines and all that kind of stuff. […] It’s not like working at Target where you can just call in sick one day and the work still gets done by other employees covering you, that just doesn’t happen.

So yeah, I think those are like the big two pieces of advice I could give up-and-coming people. Just find something that you really, really care about and work on that and be disciplined about it and have a disciplined work ethic. It’ll take you far. It will take you very, very far.

– Levi Raab

Artist Yale Stewart has published his webcomic JL8 since 2011. The all-ages comic tells the story of a group of DC Comics superheroes reimagined as students at an elementary school. I had the opportunity to speak with Stewart about JL8 and his relationship with comics. In part one of this interview we discuss how he first got into comics, his creative influences, and the difference between webcomics and more traditional print comics.

Levi Raab: What got you into comics?

Yale Stewart: Honestly I think that’s actually a pretty easy thing to answer. Probably Batman: The Animated Series, really. Just because for people of my generation, probably more even a little bit older ones, it’s just objectively true that you are going to access more quickly a television set than you would a comic book shop. And unfortunately, and I do think this is unfortunate, at our current day–and this was even true back then, you know, comics are just purely a direct market thing now. You don’t really see them at the grocery store, or at Target, or whatever. So your odds of coming across them outside of a comic shop are increasingly slim.

So yeah, one day I just remember… I think I was in my basement, and you know, I was like four-years-old or five-years-old, and I think my mom actually came and got me and was like hey, I think you might wanna come see this. […] So I went up into my parents’ bedroom and on this little black-and-white TV all I remember is the–and you know, this could be an entirely faulty memory–but all I remember is that shot of Batman, you know at the very end of the opening credits where he’s on top of the roof with the lightning strikes. And I watched the rest of the episode and I guess the rest of the story is history.

Actually, I didn’t start reading comics until a little bit later. It wasn’t until I wanna say like first grade, I had a friend named Shaun, and he had two older brothers who were big into comics; so he kinda got grandfathered into it. He would bring hand-me-down comics from his brothers to school and stuff.

Ironically it was Marvel stuff that got me truly into it. Like watching Batman: The Animated Series sparked my interest in superheroes and whatnot, but I do remember my mom bringing home a Batman comic at one point and I just I remember not really liking it. I didn’t really think it was as good as the show was. And you know there was an X-Men show and a Spider-Man show on at the same time, but my buddy John had Marvel comics and I remember thinking that they were better than the shows. As much as I like the shows, ‘cause I did like the shows a lot, I read the comics and was like, oh man this is just as good as the shows are, if not better in some cases.

So yeah, Batman: The Animated Series kinda piqued the interest in the genre and then my buddy John just bringing comics to school is what really kinda solidified oh this is what comics are, I am into these now, this is really cool, so on and so forth.

LR: What are some of your creative influences, for both art and writing?

YS: Writing is probably a lot easier to answer just because I find it very flattering that people consider me a writer; I don’t really consider myself a writer. The only reason I write JL8 is because I have to write JL8. I’d probably say, I mean it’s tough because I’m a pretty firm believer that you’re kind of influenced by everything that you come across, whether positively or negatively. I think, and this is probably going to sound kinda silly, one of my most conscious influences has probably been Brian Azzarello, of 100 Bullets, just because–obviously I’m not writing some hard-boiled, violent noir thing, but I’m a huge sucker for slow burn kind of long payoff kind of story telling where there’ll be kind of like an Easter-eggy thing in issue four that doesn’t pay off until issue 39, kind of a thing. Like to me when I was reading 100 Bullets, which is one of my all-time favorite comics, I thought that that was like the coolest thing. That there would be kind of like [seeds planted], and you wouldn’t even really know that it was something you had to pay attention to but you know, you picked up on it when you go back and reread the series and it’s like oh my god, this was this thing that happens in issue 75 was foreshadowed as early as like issue seven or whatever and I think that that’s really cool.

It’s not a specific writer, but just the Arthur PBS television show has been a huge influence in just kind of how to tell all-ages stories about kids of that age, especially in kind of an ensemble cast. […]  I’ve been a big fan of that show ever since I was little. Like I’m still a fan of the show, I can still watch it and enjoy it because it is very much an all-ages show. Which is very different to me than a–not that there’s anything wrong with kids’ shows–but kids’ shows to me is [sic] like Barney and Teletubbies where it’s very explicitly meant to be for a very, very young audience. Whereas an all-ages show to me is something that can literally be enjoyed by people of all ages. It might be geared towards a younger audience but even adults, like there’s enough complexity and layers to it that even an older viewer when they’re watching it with their kid isn’t just bored to death. […] So yeah, Arthur and Azzarello are probably the two biggest writing influences.

And then when it comes to art and stuff like where do you even really start? You consume so much visual media that it’s real hard to pare it down. I’d say [John] Romita Jr. is pretty high up there just because Romita Jr. is the artist that I’ve probably tried to emulate most throughout my life. Being a big Spider-Man fan who grew up in the 90s he’s, he was just my guy, and […] I think a lot of just like how he goes about visual storytelling and stuff is probably into my DNA.

Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball Z is a huge influence, mainly because I remember specifically kind of looking at how he drew kids, […] because I just sort of liked the way that he handles them. So I tried to kind of, you know, look at it and learn what I could from it and how I designed the JL8 characters and whatnot.

But yeah, Romita Jr. and Toriyama are sort of like the big two and then everything in-between from guys like Jeff Smith, and Bill Waterson and Charles Schultz, to you know, Moebius and [unclear] and Eiichiro Oda and all kinds of stuff. I think most people are like that, where we’re all just reading so many comics, watching so many cartoons and anime or whatever that it kind of a buffet, you’re sort of just taking a little bit from here and a little bit from there. Every once and a while you’ll have… this is my favorite thing on this buffet so I’m gonna get a whole bunch of it on my plate. But you know you’re kind of just taking a little bit from everywhere, mixing it all together, and hopefully coming up with something fresh and unique and different.

LR: Can you say anything about the difference between doing a webcomic and a more traditional comic?

YS: Oh yeah, they’re quite a bit different. I mean for starters, with a […] very update-centric webcomic, because there are webcomics that just dump […] a whole chapter of something at a time but they do it once like every so many months. But with mine being kind of like an ongoing update-centric comic it’s the same stuff as doing a newspaper strip. Every time you do one you never know if somebody has missed stuff before. So at the very least you kind of have to […] do sort of like a recap panel, even like an ever so slight one. […]

I was actually talking to my girlfriend about this just the other day, that I sort of wonder how many pages a week I could do in traditional comics just because in traditional comics, and this isn’t always the case when you’re working with a writer or working […] on a book that has like a very specific page count there, if left to my own devices you know, I could be a little bit more generous or stingy with how many panels go on each page of a JL8 update. Because sometime there’ll be like 13 or 14 panels on a single page, which in traditional comics is not particularly common. But because I’m trying to–because I need to tell the joke but I need this many panels to make the joke funny, and it’s only funny if it’s all on the same page. It kinda becomes tricky. Whereas if it were a traditional comic, it first of all wouldn’t need to be all on the same page because I know that you’re going to continue reading the next one; you know there is no time gap. Whereas with JL8 either I do it all on one page and post it today, or I do a multi-page update which kinda throws off my weekly work schedule, or I break it up into the two pages but I do one page this week and another page next week and then you know the joke falls apart because there’s this weird gap in-between. […]

I mean the other thing is just the immediacy of fan reaction and stuff like that. You know, I post it and I immediately know whether people are enjoying it or not. You know there is no oh I drew this three months ago but it’s just now getting printed and hitting comic stores and now I have to wait first of all choose whether or not I even want to go on […] whatever comic book forum or website or what have you to kind of get a lay of the land of how people are enjoying what I’ve done. […]

Levi RaabFinally, and this one is like the biggest one of all: you are a one-man operation. […] Pretty much if you are a comic artist you are a one-man or one-woman show. So yeah, it can be very stressful and I do sometimes wish that I didn’t have to worry about also marketing and shipping all my orders and all these things. I wish I kind of could write, draw, get paid, whatever without having to like write, draw, pay a bunch of merchandise, and you know be kind of like a salesman and all this stuff and then eventually at the end of all that get paid. […]

It’s not wildly, wildly different you know, print guys still have to generally do a lot of conventions just to maximize their earning potential just like we do. […] I mean obviously on the bright side you can kind of make your own schedule. It’s important to have a schedule and stick to it but when push really comes to shove you know if there is like some kind of an emergency or whatever you know you’re not letting down all of Marvel by not getting those pages of Spider-Man done on time. Whereas with a webcomic it’s just like hey guys I’m really, really sorry but here’s kinda what’s going on. Most of the time your readership will be very understanding as long as you’re transparent about it, something that I’m trying to work on. […]

– Levi Raab