Comic Book Yeti contributor Alex Breen recently corresponded with Matthew Erman, writer of the upcoming horror OGN Loving, Ohio, to discuss his approach to scriptwriting in comics, his inspirations behind Loving, Ohio, and his experience writing an OGN vs. writing in the single issue format. Loving, Ohio is available for preorder HERE.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Matthew, thank you so much for joining me today. First, for those who haven’t heard about your upcoming comic yet, how would you describe the premise of Loving, Ohio?
MATTHEW ERMAN: Loving, Ohio is a graphic novel I’ve created with illustrator and artist Sam Beck for Dark Horse. It’s about four teens in the fictional town of Loving, Ohio as they navigate their graduating year after the mysterious suicide of their friend. Loving, Ohio is a town built around a new age cult known as The Chorus. As far as industry speak, it’s a coming-of-age horror story and I’m very proud of it. I’m very excited for everyone to read it.
CBY: What were some of the major inspirations behind Loving, Ohio?
ME: Oh there are so many, especially during that time period when I was writing it. It’s been a while now, so you’ll have to excuse the lack of specificity. I think drone music, the music of Hiroshi Yoshimura, was always on when I was writing the script. It’s very good music for me to write about the Midwest and where I grew up, and this place Loving, Ohio is very much a place based on where I grew up.
There's music references in the story that were often on when I was writing it — I try to incorporate that whenever and however naturally I can. I had the opportunity to work in a band that many of my best friends are in, First Bite, in a pivotal scene in the book which was really great. The band all gave their likeness and I used their lyrics for the scene. I really like that added dimension, it gives a kind of a meta-ness to the story for me that I really enjoy.
As far as other inspirations, I think you have your standard rogue’s gallery of artists that most creators in our industry point at and say “these are our forebears.” To name them, sometimes, feels reductive I guess, and maybe some of the fun of reading the book is finding the way those inspirations bleed into the work — it’s part of the puzzle I suppose, and I don’t necessarily want to spoil that puzzle anymore, or not even spoil it but take the fun away because it is fun to find and see where inspiration can bleed into one’s art in surprising ways.
"...A comic script is the blueprint — this idealized thing that hasn’t been made yet — and when you get into the actual making very frequently the blueprint doesn’t hold all the answers and you have to be creative with your team."
CBY: How would you describe your script writing process? Do you prefer writing in full scripts or Marvel Style?
ME: Maybe those terms are a bit outdated and I’d be lying if I told you I knew which was which anymore. I write full scripts for the artist and editor. Readers will rarely get to see my scripts because the book is the part of the writing that is meant for them, if that makes sense.
As far as writing for the artist and editor, I try to articulate a few things — the scene, the dialogue, the tone, and the specific images that are important. Everything else is maybe conjecture; me talking directly to the artist through writer’s notes, references to images online that I’ve found and any other references. It’s a very, very organic thing that changes and shifts and when collaboration begins, the script gets marked up in all sorts of ways by editors and artists adding their own references, that at that point I am just one of a few people all contributing to the “script” writing process.
A comic script is the blueprint — this idealized thing that hasn’t been made yet — and when you get into the actual making very frequently the blueprint doesn’t hold all the answers and you have to be creative with your team. In a comic coming out this year I wrote, the entire hook of the story was changed during letters after we found the art was flexible enough to make a case for this simpler to understand story. It was a beautiful connection of a bunch of ideas and accidents, but it all aided in making a better, more readable story and comic.
So my answer is I don’t know.
CBY: From the review copy you provided, Loving, Ohio is pretty massive for an OGN.
Can you mention for us some of the pros & cons of writing an OGN vs working in a single-issue format?
ME: Yeah, surprisingly, there are no cons to writing an OGN. It is an incredible experience akin to writing a book or a film script. It is a work that is completed and finalized often before art even gets started and for that reason the story ends up being more cohesive, fluent in itself and can be more layered of an experience.
Meanwhile writing single issues of comics is an experience that is almost exclusively up to your editorial team. It can be hell for a variety of reasons and the rewards of producing a 20-odd page thing that is more or less completely disposable and often times made just to sell a variant from a desired artist, that’s neither here nor there though — there are a handful of writers who can make a living from the direct market, I’m not one of them.
There is a theoretical reason for single issues to exist, you know the idea is that the book “pays” for itself. The publisher makes back all the advances during the initial run of the comic series and then the collected trade is all upside, but to me the serialization of stories can be done far better than single issues.
CBY: Did you write Loving, Ohio with artist Sam Beck in mind? How would you describe your collaborative process together?
ME: I came up with the pitch on my own -- the idea for the story -- but when it came to writing it, it has always been Sam’s story.
CBY: Was Loving, Ohio a project you pitched to Dark Horse Comics or were you approached to write it? If the former, can you give upcoming writers any advice on pitching comics to publishers?
ME: We pitched it to Dark Horse. My advice to writers and artists looking to pitch work to editors is to study what is coming out, study what is doing well, study what isn’t being published on shelves, and study who the top 10 writers in the game are and know that you have to craft pitches better than theirs.
CBY: Do you have any tips for indie comic creators for marketing comics in the direct market vs crowdfunding?
ME: Hire a publicist or give them a % of the IP in return for marketing it.
CBY: Apart from what’s mentioned on Dark Horse’s website, is there anything else you can tease for us with Loving, Ohio without delving into spoilers?
ME: Not really. I’m not particularly a fan of teasers. I think all things should be approached without expectations. Teasers and trailers are marketing gimmicks to help create buzz and I’m tired of thinking about marketing. Sam and I created a book I believe we’re both very proud of and I think what Sam and I created is special. I hope readers agree when they finish the book.
It’s a book I’m proud of from front to back and I think it will be very special.
CBY: Are there any indie creators or currently running crowdfunding campaigns you’d recommend people check out?
ME: I have a one year old son who is about as mobile as a chimpanzee, so I honestly haven’t had any time to really delve into the work that’s happening on Kickstarter. The unfortunate blessing that comes with having a kid is being a bit laser-focused on what he’s doing at all times (currently: grunting and waving arms) but it comes at the cost of receiving new information. I won’t find out a friend has a book until it’s already on shelves sometimes or it's doing really well. I don’t get served that stuff on social media, so I never see it when I’m on for a few minutes.
I try to support the artists I enjoy by buying their work or collaborating with them. A tweet is one thing, but that isn’t dollars in anyone’s pocket. This is a job for many of us, and the need to make money is part of the conundrum of being an artist.
CBY: Where can people find you on social media?
CBY: Matthew, thank you so much for your time!
ME: Yes thank you so much, I really hope Loving, Ohio connects to people and they decide that the story and premise sounds good enough and the art is beautiful enough for them to preorder it. I can’t stress that enough that going to your local book store or Amazon and buying/preordering it now before it is out, makes a huge difference. I want this book to get into as many hands as possible and being evangelical about preordering is the best way.