10 Questions for C.E.L. Welsh

C.E.L. WelshFlorida’s C.E.L. Welsh (“but you can call me Chris”) has written two graphic novels for Campfire Comics. One is an adaptation of King Solomon’s Mines and the other is The Impossible Possible: Harry Houdini.

He also has two entries in the hopper for Zuda.com. The first is The Starving Time, about the winter of 1609-10 in Jamestown; the settlers’ population dropped from 600 down to 60 from disease, the elements and starvation… but what if there was something more sinister, more elemental at work?

The second is Hyde Bound, which asks what if The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde wasn’t just a story – what if it was real? “I adapted the Jekyll and Hyde book as a graphic novel and when I finished I sort of kept going in my head, chasing down a ‘what if’ scenario,” Welsh said.

You can find out more about C.E.L. Welsh (including what the C. E. and L. stand for) at www.celwelsh.com.

Question 1: When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics for a living?

At around seven years old. I knew I was going to be a writer by the time I’d finished reading The Chronicles of Narnia. What I didn’t know was how long it was going to be before that came to pass. Comics always played a huge role in my education as a storyteller, and while I loved the idea of writing them I was too caught up in chasing paychecks to take the time to learn how.

I lucked out when I found an open call for a new comics company out of India seeking writers to adapt classic novels to graphic novel format. They asked for a sample based on Alice in Wonderland — I borrowed what I knew from screenplay format and took a shot. After downloading the format guide from the Dark Horse website I wrote the first few moments of the story from the White Rabbit’s point of view, sent it off, and the next thing I knew I was assigned King Solomon’s Mines to adapt.

Seven scripts later, I’m a comics writer and loving it.

Question 2: Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?

My wife, Tiffany. I could name many big influences, from people I never knew — J.R.R. Tolkien — to people who directly shaped the person I was to become — my parents, my uncle — but by far no one person has influenced me more than my wife. She inspires me to be greater than I am, and in her love I see my potential. Through her perseverance, strength of character, and dogged pursuit of her goals, she has provided me with an example to follow as I chase my dream, and she has never once doubted that I would attain it.

Question 3: Who has had the biggest influence on your comics career, and how has that person changed your work?

Howard Mackie. I was fortunate enough to have Mr. Mackie as editor on a number of projects, and learned so very much. One of the greatest challenges I faced starting out was how to walk the narrow path of the creative writer working for a publisher who is paying the tab — how much “suggestion” do you allow in your story before it isn’t your story anymore? How hard should you fight? When is it just a compromise and not story-suicide? He helped me answer those questions and more; not to imply that it isn’t still a struggle — I suspect it always will be — but without his council I may have sacrificed too much in order to not rock the boat.

In addition to this aspect of working as a comics writer, Howard Mackie helped me grow in the medium. He gave me priceless insight, feedback and commentary on my writing — including advising me to tell him to go jump in the lake if he was off base.

I can’t remember him ever being off base.

Question 4: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
I really wanted a neat answer for this question. Something mystical. “I stand in horse stance and meditate under a waterfall” or “I hike deep into the early morning forest and let ambient nature fill my every pore.” Okay, maybe not that last one, but, really, the truth is I don’t have any special process to recharge my creative batteries. I take a break from the work, I rest, I get my mind off of things, and when I have an idea that excites me I find a quite place, sit back, and dream, just sort of chase it down, see where it takes me.

Question 5: Describe your typical work routine.

Typically I start drafting notes and ideas on a legal pad until I’m ready to put some real effort into it, then I take a single subject spiral notebook and start filling it up. I just get ideas down, let myself follow interesting little side-lines, letting myself get excited as I select and discard. After a while I start to pull the ideas together, looking for a central thread, a spine to the story, and flesh it out. When I’ve gotten a sense of chronology I then move to index cards for scene and page heading, after which I pin them up on a corkboard so I can get a good view of how things flow. Then I make more notes and revisions in the notebook. I will usually go back and forth between these three things – the cards, the pad, the notebook – until I have a clear picture of each page.

Then I am ready to sit down and write the actual script.

Question 6: What writing, drawing, or other tools do you use?

It varies, and I’m always testing out new methods and tools, striving for the most useful. I use a split ergo keyboard — something I should have done long ago — and Word. I made my own template for my client’s formatting requirements. Recently I discovered Celtx had added a comic book format, which I’ve been trying out. Outside of that, the legal pad, notebooks and index cards mentioned above, and a couple of nice pens — nice meaning the ink isn’t too runny or too dry, it isn’t too heavy in my hand, etc.

I absolutely LOVE Q10 for typing stories, but unfortunately can’t figure out a way to use it for comic format.

My iPod is also an essential tool.

Question 7: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

Dreaming up ideas for new stories, as well as those moments that define a story. That’s where all this business of being a writer really comes from; my love of dreaming, of losing myself in a story. After that the craft and artistry of the actual writing can be very satisfying. It can also drive you to drink, but that’s another story.

I’m still waiting on my copies of the first two graphic novels I’ve written, which are due sometime soon — I suspect when I have them in my hand and read through them, seeing the long-awaited results, that will be the moment of greatest personal satisfaction.

Question 8: What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career — in or out of comics — and why?

I know it has yet to come, as I’m really just getting started, but so far…

When I finished the script for the King Solomon’s Mines adaptation — when I sat back and thought, “I did it. I’ve written a graphic novel” — that was a mighty fine moment. To date, though, it was working on “The Impossible Possible: Harry Houdini.” My first job was at a magic shop, and I’ve always love magic and been fascinated by Houdini; the opportunity to immerse myself in his history, too absorb enough stories to write ten graphic novels, and then craft just one compelling tale, was hugely rewarding.

Question 9: We’ve all met very talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a promising new creator?

If you are going to write, then write. It may be dreck at first, but if you don’t get that out of the way, if you don’t put in the work, you’ll never get past it. Learn to put in the effort here first, and then carry that effort over into learning what makes a successful career — pitching, networking, collaboration, etc.

Question 10: Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?

I am responsible for my life. While there certainly are events and individuals that have influence and control over what happens to me, ultimately I am in control of how I respond to them. Battling ego and pride is tough, much of the time because unless you take the time to look for it, you are not even aware a battle is taking place, and thus your ego wins by default.

This idea is important because understanding and following through on it is a key to unlocking power and control in your life — the power to make things happen.

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