Early Development of Willie Nelson: A Graphic History

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Early in the pitching and proposal process of Willie Nelson: A Graphic History, the plan was to do every part of the book myself – the writing, drawing, and everything that goes along with that. It’s a daunting and intimidating thing imagining the work that will go into a project before you start it. In 2017 and 2018, the plan was still to do it all on my own. It wasn’t until really feeling truly overwhelmed by it all that I considered bringing collaborators into the mix. I spoke with Terry at NBM, and he suggested I bring in different artists for each chapter – similar to NBM’s recent Beatles biography. This seemed like a great idea to me for a few reasons, but getting to choose collaborators I admired and friends I’d made throughout my career seemed like a great benefit. I could also devote more of my time to writing the script. The rest is history! Graphic History, that is.

Here are some very early art pieces I worked on while developing the project.

For more information on Willie Nelson: A Graphic History, go here.

 

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The Idea for LOOK

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In 2011 I drew a little robot in my sketchbook. There was no particular reason for it, I was just doodling and I felt like drawing a robot. I liked how it came out and decided to put a bit of a desert landscape behind it. I showed my wife this doodle of a sad robot wandering through the desert and made up a story for him on the spot. Something like “this is R-TY but he goes by Artie and the R stands for Recon because his only job is to recon this giant desert and he hangs out with a vulture because vultures live in deserts and yeah.”

It was silly, but I liked it, so I wrote it down. I wanted to learn more about Artie. How does he feel about this task he’s been assigned? Does he question it? What’s his friendship with this vulture like? What is the vulture’s name? What’s his deal? All of a sudden I had all of these questions and, just like Artie, I needed answers. I wrote all of these questions down and one by one I did my best to answer them. Pretty soon I had a plot outline for a full, long-form story. And it was pretty terrible! But I kept working on it. I kept writing and rewriting throughout the entire project, making drastic changes to the story as I was drawing it. Right up until I was drawing the last few pages, I was still tweaking the story. All in all, it took me roughly three years to write and draw the 136 pages of LOOK. Over that time I learned a lot about telling a story and I became a better cartoonist in the process. As my skills grew, so did the quality of the story I was telling. It ended up being a very real “learning on the job” scenario. Maybe that’s not for everyone, or for every project, but it’s what worked for me.

So, early on I had the premise and I had a basic outline of my story, but what was it really about? Sure, it’s about a little robot who’s unhappy with his current situation, but what else? What’s the point? Why am I telling this story? I was a bit stuck with what direction I wanted to take it. So I listened to that piece of advice given to any aspiring writer ever and I wrote what I knew. I drew from my own personal experiences and wrote about being in a midlife crisis. I wrote about coming to terms with the fact that maybe what you’re doing right now just isn’t working out. That maybe it’s just not what you’re good at. That maybe things need to change. I wrote about whether or not it’s even possible to find your passion, and if you’d recognize it if you did.

And I put it all into a story about a little robot and his vulture friend.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you again on Friday when we’ll be talking a bit more about where ideas come from.

You can find Jon on Twitter where he posts his silly drawings and sometimes brags about his kids, and you can find out more about LOOK here.

Concept Art for LOOK

Here’s a ton of the sketches and preliminary artwork I made throughout the process of creating LOOK. There’s a lot of stuff here, including the very first drawings of the principle characters and an excess of little robots that sadly never made an appearance in the story itself. Enjoy!

Have a good weekend and see you on Monday when we’ll be talking about webcomics!

You can find Jon on Twitter where he posts his silly drawings and sometimes brags about his kids, and you can find out more about LOOK here.