On writing TomboyWednesday, April 9th, 2014 at 1:06 pm
Hello, my name is Liz Prince, and I recently completed my first graphic novel. Writing that sentence is a big deal to me, considering that I am someone who has been active in comics for over 50% of my life at this point, and has had a publishing career with Top Shelf Productions for almost a decade, the fact that I had never written a graphic novel before was a personal point of contention. Drawing graphic novels has always been my goal: they are my favorite way to read a story (although I share an almost equal affinity for self published zines and mini comics), and the reason I had never drawn one until now is because it is HARD. I came into prominence in the comic scene with books that are comprised of short, autobio gag comics, and those are something that are fairly easy for me to make; that doesn’t mean that they are worthless, they make a lot of people, and myself, very happy, but they are instant gratification for me as an artist. I can draw a short comic about my cats and post it online immediately and get some likes and “LOLs” and call it a day. These are the things that my fans have seen over the years. But behind the scenes, I had a few false starts on some larger projects.
Yes, I have started and stopped several graphic novels before. Some of them have over 70 pages drawn, some of them are just a series of notes and sketches that never went anywhere, all of them were abandoned because I got to a spot where I just couldn’t figure out how to move forward with the story in a way that felt organic. And so I unintentionally dropped them, like I said, it’s easier to draw a gag strip and get recognition than it is to toil away on a book in private and suffer from it.
But then there was Tomboy, my graphic novel which is coming out from Zest Books in September of this year. I drew this book because I was actively courted by the publisher, who was looking for non-fiction graphic novels by women. Other publishers have invited me to pitch a project to them before, but none had come to me saying that they really really wanted one. It took me about a year to have a project worth pitching: Zest Books is a teen/young adult publisher, and none of my other ideas for books would have worked for them, so it wasn’t easy for me to come up with a concept that I felt excited to work on, that would also fit the audience. And before I was confident in pitching this project, I had to be sure that I could actually fill a book with it. Tomboy is my story of growing up with gender identity issues. For the first half of my life I wanted to be a boy; this book deals with the reasons why, and the reactions to, my staunch refusal of being a girl. Before I pitched the book, I did an outline of what episodes I would discuss, and how long I felt the book would be. I guessed around 150 pages. I was presented a contract which gave me less than a year to complete the book; I signed in June 2013, the finished book was due March 15th, 2014. I was someone who had never successfully completed a graphic novel before, and I just jumped into an agreement that would have me completing one in about 9 months.
And if that wasn’t challenging enough, I made a set of rules to go along with it. First and foremost, I had to meet all of my deadlines, not because the publisher wasn’t flexible, they have been quite the opposite, but because I wanted to complete this book without asking for any deadline extensions. That was purely an ego thing. When all is said and done, usually the reason why a deadline can’t be met is because of poor personal planning, and I was not going to allow myself to be at all frivolous. Second is that I would still accept illustration, commission, and anthology work that I wanted to do, and that I would meet all of the deadlines for those projects without asking for extensions too. What that meant was, that I would still draw my comics for Razorcake, I would still do a wedding invitation when asked, that I would take offers to have comics in books that sounded interesting to me. This was important because if drawing graphic novels is going to be my livelihood, I need to still be able to contribute to the things that make me money and/or make me happy. I still wanted some of that instant gratification that I was used to.
The above photo is me taking a bite out of my thumbnails: all drawn on copier paper at the size the book would be printed.
By the time that the first deadline came around, to finish the first draft of the book by December 15th, the length had skyrocketed to 250 pages. I met the deadline early, finishing the first draft on December 6th, turning in 250 pages of thumbnailed comics. There was little time to celebrate, because the finished book, all inked and edited from the first draft, was due a mere 3 months later. At the same time that I was working on Tomboy, I also re-scanned and formatted all of the comics from my webseries Alone Forever, to be published as a book by Top Shelf. So, in September I took a break from writing Tomboy to do computer work, which I hate, on another book. Then Alone Forever: The Singles Collection was released in February, and I took some time off to do book release events in Boston, LA, San Francisco and Oakland. It was looking unlikely that I would meet the March 15th deadline of having the entire book drawn and scanned and formatted after I had spent almost 2 weeks on the west coast.
The cover of Alone Forever: The Singles Collection. If you don’t own it, you should buy it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
That uncertainty lead me to break my 2nd rule: I had to drop out of a zine that I was really excited about contributing to, because the deadline was the same as my deadline for Tomboy, and there was just no way for me to switch gears and write about horror movies while I had to still finish drawing my book. I felt a tinge of defeat, these rules, although self imposed, had become important to me.
I finished drawing Tomboy on March 6th, which left me a week to scan all 250 pages. It was hell week for me. I hate scanning and editing pages in photoshop. When I decided I wanted to be a comic artist back in the 3rd grade, computers weren’t even a part of the process, and now I was stuck behind one for 12 hours a day, for an entire week. Even throughout this, I was still ending my work day at 10pm (yeah, I know that isn’t early), but at least I never had to pull an all-nighter. And even though I turned in the last of pages on March 15th, at 9pm, I still met the deadline.
Here I am with the fully inked version of Tomboy! Those post-its mark pages that I had left panels un-inked on, so even though I was finished, I still had even more work to do.
And in the month since I have been doing edits, promotional artwork, tweaks to the cover design, putting together a free preview chapter zine (which I will have with me at upcoming conventions), and soliciting quotes from authors I admire. I feel a postpartum depression; a project that keep me constantly focussed for 9 months is now almost finished, but I am excited for this book to be released. It ended up being more personal, and more about gender politics than I imagined it would. I know that people will feel very strongly about this book, both in a positive way, and in a negative way, but I take solace in knowing that both reactions will spark discussion on what gender should mean, and what it shouldn’t. I’ll put myself on the chopping block as a sacrificial lamb, if it can help us move forward, as a culture who can eschew gender stereotypes.
I have seriously leveled up in the last year. I know that Tomboy isn’t perfect, the deadline was such that I couldn’t get stuck on specific transitions or scenes that I didn’t like, I just had to keep going. I am really proud of the book, and although I would probably be hesitant to choose this kind of deadline for making a graphic novel again in the future, just knowing that I’m capable of it, is something that will always be a source of pride.
I hope that you will all read Tomboy when it is released on September 2nd. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. For a short preview of the book, please visit zestbooks.net/tomboy.
“Liz Prince tells gender norms to eat dirt. A delightful, thoughtful, and compulsively readable memoir. And an important one.” – Ariel Schrag, author Adam and Potential
“Liz Prince may have been an uncertain, confused kid, but she’s a confident and sincerely expressive cartoonist. Tomboy is a funny and relatable look at what every child has to deal with at some point – figuring out who you really are inside, when everyone else only sees what they think you should be on the outside.” -Jeffrey Brown, author of Clumsy, Jedi Academy and Darth Vader and Son
“It’s hard to imagine anyone failing to be charmed by this entertaining, clever, and genuinely funny memoir of growing up with gender identity confusion. Even this pretty unconfused regular old dude found plenty to identify with in Liz Prince’s story of adolescent bafflement, exploration, and discovery — all delivered, like all the best such stories, with a light touch, wry wit, understated irony, and not one iota of preachiness. Meaning: I’m a fan. Go Liz!” – Frank Portman, author of King Dork
“When addressing childhood, most memoirists tend to over-inflate their adolescent intelligence and underrepresent their flaws. They put adult words into the mouths of children and let the privilege of hindsight influence the retelling of their characters’ lives, leading to a transparent and dubious storyline. Liz Prince does not do this. She portrays the awkwardness and humiliation of childhood with such accuracy, that it’s almost painful, yet wonderful, to read. Any kid that picks up this book is going to be privy to secrets most of us don’t learn until it’s too late, and any adult who reads it will be reminded of what we all need to be reminded of- that’s it’s okay to be exactly who we want to be, no matter how weird everyone else thinks we are. Tomboy isn’t a self help book, but it should be.” -Julia Wertz, author of Drinking at the Movies and The Infinite Wait