Concentric Circles by Jonathan Hickman #4 – The Color and The Shape

March 26, 2008

Okay, questions again this week. One, because they’re fun and two, because there happens to be some really good ones in here that I was actually going to write about – so here we go…

Mr. Hickman,
I’m really struggling with whether or not my writing is good enough to be published. How long did it take you before you felt like you were good enough to put your work out there?

Ummm, I don’t really know how to answer this question…

Short answer is: I still don’t really feel that good about my work but it’s what I’m suppossed to be doing, so I do it.

Long answer is: The Nightly News was the first writing submission I’d ever done. It’s also the first comic I’d ever attempted to write (outside of a silly, but oh-so-enlightening, abortion I back alley-ed – more on that in a second).

Now, it’s true that a year and a half into this comic thing I’ve only had one of ten submissions/pitches not move forward as projects. But that isn’t due to any superior talent, timeliness, or incriminating editorial evidence – it has everything to doing exclusively unconventional work. Not special. Certainly not the best. Just different.

I’ve stated before that I don’t really consider myself a writer. I’m really more of a glorified plotter – everything I’m doing is distilled down to math/code (Does scene x turn [no=0, yes=1], if x > 0 then go to next scene). I’ve done the Robert McKee seminars; I’ve committed long term brain space to STORY, ON DIRECTING FILM and TELLING LIES. When writing dialogue, I make sure it sounds fine if read or spoken aloud (because people do both when reading comics). I research like crazy.

The most important thing (and I learned this doing [and then discarding] the above-referenced abortion which was your typical comic book story: Protagonist meet Antagonist – rraarrh!!!) is this: I write stories that I want to read. If at any point in the ‘writing process’ I mentally check out of a story I throw it away and start over. Accept that it’s shit and move on.

Here are a couple of other tips that we in the hack writer cabal find useful (and how I grade out)

  • 1. Keep it simple. (FAIL)
  • 2. Don’t telegraph. A good story doesn’t turn, it unfolds. (pass, maybe)
  • 3. Always have a theme. (pass)
  • 4. Action should explode – think of this like a Pixies song – soft, soft, loud. (pass, maybe)
  • 5. When a character becomes interesting, kill them. (pass with an A)

Okay, that’s all I’ve got.

No wait, one other thing: It also helps to not have an ego about yourself or your work. Remember, it’s just a single story that you drew from what you believe to be an endless well of ideas existing inside of you. Not everyone is going to like your story because it’s not for everyone. Create. Move on.

Dear Jonathan,
I tried you dating advice, it sucked.

Try washing first next time. Oh, here’s another gem: No doesn’t actually mean no, it means surprise her at work, her house or her wedding rehearsal.

Mr. Hickman,
Are you going to be at any Cons this year? I’d love to get an autograph or a sketch.

Sure. I’ll definitely be at HeroesCon in Charlotte – Good people, great show – check it out. I would be doing more shows but I’ve got a new baby on the way… there is a decent chance I’ll be in Baltimore. If you’re in the Carolinas, I will be doing a little signing tour at the end of the year.

And until I can draw better, sketches are free. Autographed pictures of me and Lou Ferrigno will set you back $20.

I absolutely love your color choices. Is there any chance you’d comment on who you like and what you think of digital comic book coloring in general?

Let’s see…

I picked up the Captain America Omnibus the other day. People will disagree of course, but Frank D’Armarta is the hero of that book. Unbelievably strong neutral tone work (which is incredibly hard to do) – He created and maintained the tone of the entire tome.

I like Dave McCaig a lot. I really like the work Jason Keith did on New Universal. Martin, Stewart and Ponser are pretty obvious. There are others I know I’m forgetting.

But most of it is… meh.

We’re in a funny place with digital colors right now. If we compare computer coloring with art history, then early digital adoption would be something like the Renaissance and the influx of talent and emergence of ‘colorist as artist’ has moved us through Romanticism. I think that now, or in the very near future, comics are getting ready to break away from the quest for accuracy and fully move into a Modernist movement.

Seriously, enough already – We get that you can perfectly render flesh tones with six different light sources. How about show us how the character feels. Push the medium a bit, maybe, please.

By the way, Steven Grant wrote a column distantly related to this a week or two ago. Do yourself a favor and read this if you haven’t already.

Mr. Hickman,
How does David Mack’s cock taste?

Like your sister, and can we cut the Mr. Hickman stuff – It’s Jonathan or Señor Amante.

Dear Jonathan,
Do you listen to music when you’re working? If so, what’re you playing?

Funny thing. I can listen to music when I’m writing, but not when I’m drawing. The reverse is true for listening to/watching TV.

I’m pretty much in two distinct places when listening to music these days. I’m either listening exclusively to folk/acoustic/electronic (breaks down to: Patty Griffin, Josh Radin, (early) Lori McKenna, some Jack Johnson, Underworld, Sigur Ros, etc) or (and this is how I know I’m getting older) 80’s nostalgia rock.

Sorry, I’m sure you were looking for something edgy.

Okay, time for a nap – ‘til next time!

PAX ROMANA #2 sold out, so if you missed it, you’re pretty much out of luck. If you still want to read the first issue, you can here for free. Today is the release of TRANSHUMAN #1. If you’re on the fence, you can read a preview here.(Preview PDF, right click to download 1.2MB)

If you’ve got comments or questions, post ‘em here or send me an email at (but no attachments, people!)



Jonathan Hickman is the creator behind The Nightly News and Pax Romana as well as the forthcoming books Transhuman, A Red Mass for Mars, and PLUS! You can find him online at either or


  1. I agree the coloring in the Captain America series is fantastic.  It’s one of the reasons I think the book is so visualy pleasing

  2. "I’m doing is distilled down to math/code (Does scene x turn [no=0, yes=1], if x > 0 then go to next scene). "

    this is exactly how i write music. prose/comics too, but that’s pretty infrequent.

    also, i’ve got to say, these articles are really fantastic.

    i have two questions. what was it that inspired you to even try to start making comics? was it just one day you thought to yourself "i love comics, i think i’ll try to do one too!" or was there some event in your life that told you to try it out?

    and second, do you ever worry that your art style will overshadow the writing/story of your comics? or does that idea challenge you to write even more inventive stories, like transhuman, that, in my opinion, demand just as much attention as your art?

    man, i could really think of questions to ask you all day. i loved nightly news and i can’t tell you how great transhuman is so far. i read tons of transhumanist stuff and when i saw that title, i freaked out.

    thanks again for the articles/comics. keep it up!

  3. Nick – 

    1. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, so it was more of "it’s time to stop wasting years and get to work" as opposed to  "I think I could do this"

    2. Each project is different. Just writing is fun, but if I only did that I think I would get frustrated, so I’ll always do some art along the way – and on those projects, I don’t see the art and words as separate distinct elements – just different pieces that make up one homogenous ‘thing’ 

  4. Jonathan I agree with your plotter comment.  Your stories don’t feel written, it feels like you just string scenes together and yet it is still some of the best shit going today. 

    The Captain America coloring is really amazing.  It is so muted and sedate, but still pops.  Usually when you get this type of coloring it just turns muddy and dark, but this book really stands out as a modern coloring masterpiece. 

    David Mack…heh…who cares as long as the story is told. 

    I can’t stand people who use music as background noise to mask the boredom of doing mundane tasks.  I’m a huge music snob and believe that when listening to music you should sit down, shut up, and actually listen.  Oh and music should be listened to as albums not singles strung together to form some lame ass 8th grade "I love you like the ocean loves the beach" mix tape. 

    Fucking can’t wait till noon today to pick up my copy of Transhuman.  I can’t fucking wait. 

  5. In the one creative writing class I was able to take in college, my professor banged into our heads that we always consider the medium that we write for.  He always told us that we have to keep in mind just what we’re writing for, and if what we’re writing will work in that place.  An example I can give to this would be of a fellow student who did not understand this concept.  We were charged with writing a play, and she ended up writing a ten page story about a marathon she ran with her mom.  When we finished reading, he looked up and asked, "Ok, so how will this be done on stage?"  And she looked at him like he was from Mars.

    So, there’s a tip for writers out there.

    Excellent article, as always, Senor Amante!

  6. Hickman, great column as ever. Can’t wait to get a sketch at Heroes Con this year. And you’re invited to my 18th Birthday steak dinner on the Saturday of the Con.

  7. Good advise Jonathan! 🙂 This is best thing you worte so far.

  8. Hey Senor Amante

     Gotta say loving the column and Pax Romana i also finally purchased the Nightly News Trade. Only 2 issues in but loving it, No real point to my comment except loving your work and glad to see your column here .