Filth & Grammar - lessons from legendary editor Shelly Bond
A Zoom class based on the handbook of the same killer name ☠
Last summer, I backed a project on Kickstarter created by the incomparable Shelly Bond, legendary editor at DC/Vertigo, IDW/Black Crown and Off Register Press. The project was called Filth & Grammar, the Comic Book Editors Secret Handbook — and I knew I wanted in because I’d had a chance to take courses with many writers and artists (see this substack post) but I had yet to learn the craft from an editor, let alone a top-flight editor like Bond. My copy of Filth & Grammar is on its way, and some of my other rewards will be fulfilled later this year…but while I wait for these treasures, another opportunity arose. That opportunity came in the form a 4-week Zoom course taught by Bond!
I feel lucky and privileged to be among the inaugural class of students learning the Filth & Grammar method at the foot of Bond. Right off the bat, I appreciated the way she goes about her business; she demands that you come prepared, on time, and ready to engage. So many times, classes like this will get rescheduled endlessly, start late, end late, and sometimes they don’t offer participants a chance to unmute and speak 1:1 with the instructor. Not so for the Zoom version of Filth & Grammar; everyone has a chance to ask questions, both in Saturday classes and at dedicated Sunday Q & A sessions. Bond offers the main courses on Saturdays at a time that is reasonable for everyone from L.A. to London—brilliant. I can’t tell you how many comics Zooms are scheduled for 4 or 5 p.m. Pacific Time, during the week, which is not always doable for people with day jobs and families. Score one for Filth & Grammar!
On to the content. The course follows a very logical and chronological flow of how editors bring comics to life…and to market. From idea and concept, to the one-page pitch, to the script, the roughs, the balloon placements, the pencils, the inks, the colors, the letters, the page specs, the printer schedule, self-publishing, and to crowdfunding, Bond covers it all. The lessons are rock solid and born from decades of forging comics with a hands-on approach, with an eye toward the visual language of comics. From the graphic sensibilities of cover art, title and masthead, to the dangers of adjacencies in connecting panels, Bond gives a master class in how to look at the production process. All of this is told through the eyes of an editor that has the skills of a filmmaker, a graphic designer, and an art director. As this article so eloquently points out, many of these skills are disappearing from the landscape of comic books: Why comic books became a more of a writer's and less of an artist's medium. It’s worth a read, trust me.
Out of respect to Bond and the price I paid to enroll in the Zoom class, I am not going to share any of the hand-outs or video content here. However, I will share a couple of holy-trinity tips that really resonated with me:
The three goals of making your comics
My take on this is: yes, write the story you would want to read and only you could tell, but do it in a bold new way that’s never been done before. Tell your story from a fresh perspective that isn’t out there in the mainstream. For example, my current passion project is an original graphic novel titled Major Thomás. As you might tell by the accent mark, this isn’t just another story about a white-male NASA astronaut on an adventure. It’s about a Latinx space explorer that grows up as a farmhand and has to overcome incredible adversity for the privilege of getting lost in space. His unique experience as a marginalized Chicano-American is the key to him transforming himself into the person he must become in order to survive in space. I am creating this story exclusively with superstar Latinx artists Serg Acuña, Raúl Angulo, Mau Mora, Fabi Marques, and Taylor Esposito. Why? Because I want to entertain, enlighten and empower from the perspective of these Latinx comics creators that truly love the medium. This team represents México, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Argentina. All continents represented — North America, Central America, and South America. I’m damn proud of the work we’re doing; we all absolutely adore comics and it shows.
The final tidbit I’d like to share came in very handy in a recent revision of my script.
The three things to know about your characters
When it comes to the lead characters of my story, Thomás Muñoz and Lisa Rodriguez, I spent a lot of time contemplating these three things. Thomás’ fatal flaw is a mirror image to the strengths and skills of Lisa, which was a must-have for this story and how it unfolds. Where Bond really got me to think about re-evaluating and revising my story is with the supporting characters. Without giving away too much, Thomás encounters an elite squad on his adventure. Back in 2018, I took great care to make sure each of member of this squad had a unique look and visual design, but when I went back and reviewed their dialogue, a lot of them sounded the same. Without unique cadences, I began to think a reader could start mixing up the members of the squad if they weren’t paying close attention to the visual details. So when it came to cadences, I went back and re-wrote a lot of the dialogue so that each squad member had a voice - a unique one that was unmistakable and true.
So with that one key insight, my tuition to Filth & Grammar paid off and my project is better for it. In the months ahead, as I look to 2023 and the publication of Major Thomás, I anticipate sharing more about how Bond has helped me grow and learn in order to improve my passion project. As always, thanks for reading and sharing. As Bond would say: VIVA COMICS! And as I would say: BLAST OFF!
#VivaComics #ShellyBond #Filth&Grammar #MajorThomás #BlastOff #OmarMorales