Monday, April 27, 2015

Things I Have Learned in 6 Weeks of Parenting

1. Absolutely nothing will go the way you hope/plan/expect in both good and bad ways. In the 6 weeks since I became a parent my daughter had to spend a week in the NICU right after she was born due to a (minor) infection, I found out I couldn't breast feed, our new car's battery went to hell, my husband developed a temporary eye palsy and now has to wear a patch until it decides to go away. So good luck planning anything, basically.

2. Babies do not give even a single fuck about what they are "supposed" to do according to any parenting "guide".

3. All "guides" about things like making your baby sleep on their back, perfectly flat, only apply to ideal babies who don't have reflux or care about being close to you. I'm going to tell you right now that your baby will probably have reflux and want to be near you because most of them do. Adjust accordingly.

4. Your home will become a wasteland of baby paraphrenalia used and unused like some kind of infant version of Mad Max. Mostly it will be unused things you thought you "must" have but your kid hates with a fiery passion. Like, for instance, the bassinet.

5. Baby poop comes out at roughly the same velocity as a rocket shooting for the moon. It's pretty funny even when it's shooting at you.

6. After feedings babies get milk drunk. It's awesome.

6. Get a pediatrician you can call with all your stupid questions because you will have them and it's okay and they will make you feel better instead of stupid.

7. What's more terrifying than how much you love your kid is how much they need you and the sense of responsibility you now have for this tiny life. It can sometimes be paralyzing but you get through it and only check that they're breathing every 5 min instead of every 2.

8. Babies are pretty cute but they also make faces like Dick Tracy villains and it's pretty fucking weird.

9.  Make TV playlists of shows you can watch during 2am feedings so that you don't nod off on your baby. I recommend Community because it's A. awesome and B. the perfect length for keeping up a baby with reflux after a feeding so they don't yak everything back up.

10. Seriously, take care of yourself or you'll be useless to your kid. It's okay to put them down sometimes. Really.

11. I suspect in another 6 weeks I will have a new set of revelations because none of us know what we're doing. PARENTING.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Open For Editing!

Okay, folks, here's the deal: having a baby is really expensive even when you have insurance. Which means ...::dramatic drum roll::

So! I am officially open for editing projects. Why should you hire me? Because I'm awesome! Because I love stories! Because I've been editing for the last 14 years and I've gotten pretty darn good at it.

What sort of things can I edit? Lots! I can edit pitches, outlines, single scripts, series, and graphic novels. And that's just the comics stuff! I can also edit screenplays and game projects. My most recent projects have been helping a screenwriter adapt their script to an OGN, editing a massive RPG manual, and creating a short comic for a new game that was teased at last years E3.

Over the years I've edited a ton of comics you might have heard of, from Fables to Lucifer, Angel to The Last Unicorn. I've edited anthologies, New York Times Bestsellers, Eisner nominated AND awarded creations. So I've got just a little bit of cred.

My philosophy as an editor: helping you, the creator, tell the story YOU want to tell. It's that simple.

My rate: $50 an hour which is a BARGAIN. Seriously. We can chat about your project, your budget, and what I can do within it over at my email, mariah dot tiredfairy @gmail.

Spread the word!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Infant Things

3 weeks into new motherhood and I'm learning that parenthood is basically continuous trial and error, fuck ups and frustrations, joy and enchantment. For me. I have no idea what it's like for anyone else and I'm not here to tell anyone how to parent.

I've learned a few things in the past few weeks the baby books don't tell you and while I wouldn't call what I'm going to say "advice" I will say that they might be useful for others.

And just to get it out of the way: no, I don't feel like I'm more connected to the earth, universe, or "meaning of life" now that I'm responsible for a tiny one. The earth is a rock floating in space, the universe still doesn't give a shit about me or you, and I'm as mystified by life and determined to give mine (and what part of her's I"m responsible for) meaning as best as I can. But I didn't suddenly become an expert on anything just because I had a baby.

1. Newborn babies are not very complicated. They need to eat, poop, be loved, and sleep. They'll do all those things a lot and you'll figure out your babies rhythms after awhile. If those few things have been addressed and your baby is still inconsolable, it's pediatrician time. Note: not complicated does not mean "easy". It just means your baby isn't sitting around contemplating deep truths right now, they're just navigating this whole life outside the womb, tiny tube status.

2. If you're bottle or formula feeding like I am, get Dr. Brown's bottles with a variety of nipple sizes. My daughter has a bit of acid refluc and we use a thicker formula to help. It goes through the standard size 1 nipples at an excruciating pace and while it's a good idea for them not to gulp outrageously, it shouldn't be a chore either. This isn't an issue if you're using regular formula or breast milk in terms of flow. Also get a drying rack you can keep on the counter and a formula mixing pitcher to keep in the fridge. Formula only keeps for a day so don't go nuts pre-mixing, but having a bunch of it ready can definitely help when you're stumbling around at 3am with a crying, hungry infant.

3. Wherever you do your feedings/holding times, keep burp cloths, soothers, nose sucking bulb thing, and baby lotion within easy reach. Also make sure it has drink holders for you because you also need to hydrate. I mostly use our little couch and I've been using a little gray bath thingie they gave us at the hospital to keep paraphrenalia in. It currently has Aveeno baby lotion, a sleep sack, 2 burp cloths, my water bottle, and 2 binkies in it. It also has the Infant CPR pamphlet we got for easy referral.

4. You're going to get a lot of advice, a lot of it very good, but also not always practical depending on your lifestyle. For instance, I am home with my daughter but I'm a freelance writer. I was already doing assignments between feedings after 2 weeks. So the advice to sleep when she sleeps only goes so far. I do it when I can and so will you.

5. Cut yourself a break. Not just in terms of making mistakes, but also with things like needing to put them down for awhile and not hold them 24/7. Or by watching a favorite show while they sleep. You absolutely need down time and while that's not always possible with a hungry, wet diapered, fussy's okay to want and need that time. If you have a partner this is easier to do, but not everyone does. Plus you also have human things you need to do like eat and poop yourself.

6. Try not to over anticipate what your baby needs. You can't prevent poopy diapers, you can't prevent hunger, and trying to somehow keep your baby from ever getting fussy will only result in botched feedings where they fall asleep too soon and you have to feed them again in half an hour...or using way more diapers because you're trying to catch every pee/poop the second it happens and they're not ready yet. Obviously you don't want your kid sitting around in a funky diaper but as long as you're dealing with them 8-10 a days or whatever then you're fine.

That's all I've got for now. None of it earth shattering or revelatory, and all subject to whatever my daughter ends up needing. Sometimes that's feedings closer together, sometimes it's longer naps, we figure it out as we go.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Of Birth and Boob Fail

I had my daughter on March 17th at 10:59 pm. She was just shy of 7 pounds, 20 inches, and gave a good healthy cry.

This was after my water broke earlier the day before at the grocery store, before labor started, something that only happens to about 1 out of 11 women. We had to go to the hospital immediately since an early rupture can lead to infection. I’d had my 38 week OB appointment that very morning where absolutely nothing indicated I’d be checking into a birthing room at UCLA less than 10 hours later. That’s how much you can’t predict how things will go.

12 hours later I was having excruciating contractions and not dilating very much. My OBGYN recommended I take an epidural, something I’d wanted to avoid but had never been adamantly against. My birth plan had always been flexible for a reason. Namely: I had no idea how birth would go until I was doing it and I didn't want to be so rigid and fixated on a plan that I didn't recognize when things had to change. It was the same reason I’d chosen to give birth in a hospital birth center for the unthinkable “what if” scenarios rather that at home or a non-hospital birthing place. Yeah, it's great if everything goes perfectly. But what if it doesn't? I’d done enough research to know the peace of mind that came with the birth center I chose being at UCLA would help make a scary process a lot more manageable.

So I took the epidural and things started to go better with more dilation in the next few hours than I’d had in 12. It felt very strange to be basically numb from the waist down and I nearly had a panic attack when I heard the word “spinal fluid”, but considering labor was another 14 hours I know I made the right decision.

Birth was, for me…weird. I pushed for 3 hours, though when you’re in that zone it doesn’t really feel like it. There’s nothing quite like that particular focus. As a sensation it’s not exactly what you think. Labor contractions I felt mainly in my lower back, in a rolling wave of cresting pain. Pushing was pretty butt focused until near the end when it finally feels vaginal. And then it’s a knobby, bony, gethisOUTNOW, feeling. It’s pain and pressure, concentrated yet enormous. And then the baby is out and its head is all long and strange shaped almost like an Alien and you’re staring at the person who’s been kicking you for months as they come into the world, wondering how on earth they fit in there, ever.

There were a few scary moments after where, because birth is as shocking to a baby as it is to you, she needed to be aspirated. Then she was yelling her head off again. I was having a small tear sewn up (no episiotomy, that’s not really routine anymore in spite of what some birth books tell you) and then she was back with me. She clung to me and then she fed on colostrum for a good 30 minutes.

We were taken to recovery and bonded, skin to skin. They gave her a hat with a giant bow that made her look like some 50’s Grand Dame. My husband, who was amazing throughout, and I were pretty much entranced. We could already see that she had his hands in miniature, clasping with a strong, vice-like grip. We stared at her in the bassinet while her big dark eyes roamed around, not really focused, but aware.

Then things started going not so well. When they checked my daughter’s temperature later it was lower than it should be. We did more skin to skin, which helped, but then it would go down again. I’d feed her but then they found she was hypoglycemic. She was alert and active, but something wasn’t right. They put her in a warmer in the nursery, which I hated because they had to take her out of our room. I started to really worry.

When her temp kept going up and down they decided it was time to get her into the NICU to treat her for a potential infection. During my labor I’d run a slight fever towards the end and been given antibiotics. The placenta had been very warm and was likely the site of infection. They took blood cultures that never yielded any results. I’m told all of this is common when you rupture so early.

Common or not, it was awful. Especially when they told me she’d have to stay in the NICU for 7 days to get a full course of treatment. This was not how things were supposed to go after a totally healthy pregnancy. My daughter wasn’t premature or unhealthy, and yet. There we were.

Physically, I was a wreck. A few hours after birth and the epidural wears off you feel like someone has taken to you with clubs. Everything hurts and aches, you have to wear enormous pads for the fluid and blood, and you sit on an ice pack between your legs, suddenly realizing that birth is traumatic. I got the shakes for the next few nights and by the 2nd day my nether bits felt battered. Another fun side effect: you may not be able to pee on your own again for a bit and that means a catheter. I don’t recommend them and thankfully I only needed it once. You would will your body into peeing if you’d had one, too.

So, in pain, trying to do even moderate self-care like eating and sleeping, I then had to shuffle to the NICU every few hours to try and feed and spend time with my daughter. Other people hovered around her, took care of her, and it felt like she wasn’t mine. It was the first feeling of failure but it wouldn’t be the last that week.

If you give birth vaginally and don’t have any complications
you are discharged after 2 days. I can tell you: it’s not enough recovery time. We need to seriously rethink this as a culture. The next 5 days were spent going back and forth to the hospital, usually for 10+ hours to be with her as much as possible. To hold her and try and feed her and weep every time we had to go.

This is when we discovered that my breasts were having trouble producing milk, I was pumping every 2 hours and getting 5mls, maybe. Sometimes a little more if she latched in the NICU. Within a few days she was taking 40mls of formula at a feeding and my breasts were clearly not keeping up. Now, at first we thought this was just because she was in the NICU. It’s common for women to have this experience when they can’t nurse normally. So I stuck to a punishing pumping schedule, and tried and tried to be the kind of milk providing mother mine was.

Except it turns out I will never be able to nurse normally.  Everyone kept saying it would be fine, my milk would drop, I just had to try harder. Only in my case it’s not an issue of trying or working harder at it.

Our first day home where I was still trying to make breastfeeding work was hellish. I was weeping all the time, feeling horrible and wrong, able to do very little bonding between feeding her, trying to get to her latch, supplementing, then pumping. With that schedule I could only maybe manage 45 min of sleep if I was lucky. I dropped nearly ¾ of my baby weight in the first week. I couldn’t eat because I couldn’t feed my daughter, food made me sick and shaky. I was so guilt ridden I refused to sleep and my husband had to purposefully not wake me up just so I’d get more than an hour in a day.

I would look at my daughter’s lovely, serious, face and feel like the most inadequate mother. What kind of woman can’t breastfeed? What was wrong with me? I talked to a lactation consultant who asked me a bunch of questions. And then things started to become more clear.

It was looking increasingly likely that I have IGT, or “insufficient glandular tissue”. My breasts simply cannot, and will not, produce enough milk. It’s probably genetic, my mom tells me her mother had the same problem though we don’t know any details as people back then didn’t talk about it. And they don’t today because we know that “breast is best” and for most women this isn’t a concern. Over production? Lots of support and information about that. Under or no production? Well…you’re sort of shit out of luck.

By the first well baby appointment I had decided that I could give it another week but then I’d have to consider formula exclusively instead of breastfeeding. I made an in person lactation consultation appointment at a local place just to make sure. I was ready for both to be confrontational, judgmental, hostile.

Instead, my pediatrician immediately told me that we feed our babies how we can and there’s no shame in what we can’t control. To her, it was time to move on and forward. My daughter was already back at birth weight, strong, with great reflexes and a healthy appetite. I cried, I was so relieved.

The lactation consultant after told me the same thing. This is a person whose whole job is helping women breastfeed and she said, matter of factly “ This isn’t in the cards for you. You’ve done all you can.”  No one really diagnoses IGT officially but I have all the most common markers for it. We discussed pumping a few times a day for what limited amounts I can get for another week, and if it’s still the small 5-10mls  per session(which it is) it will be time to stop. I cried again, again with relief.

This isn’t my fault, even though it does still feel like it is when I’m tired and thinking about it too much. But then I look at my daughter sleeping, her arms doing dramatic gestures, after a good feed, and I know I’m loving her and caring for her the best I can.

If you go online you’ll find a lot of horror stories from women who formula feed. Usually about strangers yelling at them or lecturing them when they buy formula or feed from a bottle. Others have even worse stories about friends or family shunning them. “Breast is best” is an accepted truth with plenty of data to back it up. No one is debating that, in an ideal situation, you breastfeed.

But life isn’t ideal. It doesn’t go the way you plan, ever.

I hope I’m never asked to justify my decision. I hope I never run into someone so awful they’d lecture a stranger about something they know nothing about. I’m steeling myself for it, the same way I did for unsolicited pregnancy advice. I know exactly what I’ll say if/when it comes up: Fuck. Off.

When it comes to mothering women can’t really win. Even with breastfeeding and everyone knowing it’s “best”, women are still shamed for doing it in public. Feed your kid but don’t do it where anyone can see you. Bottle or formula feed? You’re obviously terrible and lazy and poisoning your child. And women are often the perpetrators, feeling justified in judging and lecturing others based on superficial information and assumptions. The truth is: you don’t know why someone is bottle/formula feeding instead of breastfeeding. You don’t know if it’s a choice or a “choice”, or simply how things worked out for them. You don’t know their body, their situation. Just like they don’t know yours.

Since reaching the decision that formula is going to be how my daughter is fed, I’m beginning to accept it and move on. I still cry. I cried while writing this. But I’m done punishing myself for a genetic condition I can’t change. As the lactation consultant said, you wouldn’t tell a diabetic to just work harder to make their pancreas produce the right amount of insulin. You wouldn’t tell someone with scoliosis to just try harder to have a straight spine. Breasts aren’t magic wands, they’re organs. And sometimes organs don’t operate as they should.

I know some people will read this and still think, well, she’s just a bad mother. She’s wrong and didn’t try and here are a million reasons why I should have done x, y, and z. There’s probably an herb you think I should take (I have them all, and the tea. My sweat smells like celery maple syrup). You’re entitled, I guess, though I think it’s kind of sad to waste time being that kind of person. There are probably a ton of things you do on a daily basis other people don’t approve of that you have good reasons for doing. And that are ultimately for the best even if other people don’t know that.

And if you’re the sort of person who approaches strangers to lecture them about mothering, I think it’s a good rule of thumb in general to not assume you know why a stranger is doing something. There’s a time a place to step in, like when someone is actively abusing their child. But evangelizing breastfeeding at the supermarket at people you don’t know? Assuming you know their situation, genetics, or reasons? That just makes you an asshole, not an advocate.

Me, I’m going to continue feeding my thriving daughter and save my guilt for the next 18+ years of mistakes I’ll make. I’ll save my worry for watching her breathe while she sleeps, checking a million times that she’s on her back when she does sleep, holding her when she cries, and all the amazing terrors of having this new little person in my life.

This time doesn’t last and I want to enjoy every frustrating minute of it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Being Pregnant

Pregnancy is weird and uncomfortable. I haven't really liked it as an experience, though I'm looking forward to the result immensely. I suspect I'm not the only pregnant person to feel this way. Ads and pregnancy sites paint this rosy picture where women are glowing, smiling, svelte things in white yoga pants with perfect round bellies and no stretch marks. The reality for many of us is a bit different.

How would I describe the feeling of being pregnant, overall? Well, I think The Dark Crystal scene where the Skeksies start screaming: "ESSENCE! DRAIN HER ESSENCE!" sums it up nicely.

How do pregnant people feel when you "joke" about how they're not going to get any sleep when the baby is born, even though we've been exhausted since the first trimester and it's literally impossible to sleep for more than 2 or 3 hours at a time during the 3rd?

When dudes say pregnancy is "no big deal" and women complain about it too much.

When people act like, because millions of women have babies, it's not difficult, scary, or dangerous.

What it feels like my baby has been doing every day in utero since month 7 or so.

How I feel about well meaning, unsolicited advice about how I should be more "positive" and concentrate on the miracle of growing life and not the fact that everything aches and I have to pee a million times a day and shortly I'll be squeezing a live human being out of my vagina.

When people say things like "all pregnant women are beautiful" when you say you don't feel well and are waddling around like a distorted duck.

Whenever anyone suggests that disliking the physical reality of being pregnant means you aren't aware of how lucky you are or won't be a good parent.

What I wish I was doing most of the time.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Writin' Comics

If you follow me on Twitter (TiredFairy) or here, you probably know I’ve been editing and writing comics for nearly 15 years now. Doing anything for that long, you’ll end up with some tips and tricks for doing what you do. It’s not so much alchemy or magic as it is trial and error. And what works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else, though I think there are some basics pretty much everyone uses to one degree or other.

I know it can seem a little confusing and while it's certainly work, writing comics is completely accessible to everyone. And fun!

Now, no two creators write a comics script exactly the same way. But. That doesn’t mean anything goes. There are some basic format things in scripts that make it easier on everyone, especially the artist and editor you’re working with. 

One very important tip that I will repeat later, too: Scripts should be clear and give the artist the room to interpret what you’re describing. It’s fine to have specific art needs but comics is uniquely collaborative, so use it. It’s a lot more fun to work on a comic where you’ve left room to be surprised by what the artist comes up with. Remember that the art is telling the story just as much as any words or dialog, if not more.

Personally, I start with an outline. How detailed it is depends on the project and what the editor wants to a degree, though even a short outline should have some basic elements.


 1.     A paragraph or two that sums up the story or storyline if it’s an ongoing series.

 2.   A breakdown of each issues’ story points, I usually break it up into 3 beats. Issue starts here, goes here, ends here. Includes all major events that take place in the issue and then how it relates to the whole.

3. Character breakdown, who they are, what their story purpose is, and what their arcs will be.

I’ve done one to severalepage outlines depending on the scope of the project and how much info an editor or licensor needs included.

Sometimes from here I’ll do issue breakdowns, which is what it sounds like: a page by page summary of what an issue will contain. Usually about a sentence per page. Other times I do page breakdown by sections, as in: pages 1-7 x happens, 8-14 this happens, 15-21 x happens, and then page 22 is where things are set up for the next issue or ends. It’s flexible, if you’re too rigid you can actually hamper your writing. But it’s helpful to have a basic guide.

General comics writing tips:
1. Don’t be redundant. Comics are visual so if something is shown in the art, don’t repeat it in the dialog or captions. Use that space to explore other aspects of the story or character.
2. Don’t be afraid of silence. Every panel doesn’t need to be filled with balloons and words.
3. Try to think about the space in a panel and don’t crowd it. 5 balloons with 6 sentences each isn’t going to leave a lot of room. Figure out what really needs to be said. Less is often more.

4. Be clear in your panel descriptions. Remember, you want the artist to understand what you want easily, not have to decipher it. However, don’t be a dictator. Comics are words and pictures, they should work together. Leave room for the artist to bring what they do best to the book, too.
5. A panel is one action/emotion, not several. A character can’t both smile and frown, leap and sit, in a single panel. This is something writers often fudge or allow the artist to decide what to show, which is fine. Just keep it in mind so you aren’t frustrating your artist or asking for the impossible.

Now, all of this is nice but it doesn’t really “show” you what I personally do or how I write a script. Because I just wave a wand and presto! Script! Okay, obviously not. 

So I’ll show you! I did a short story for a horror anthology by VERTIGO called THE WITCHING HOUR. The story ended up being called “RISE”.  It was illustrated by the AMAZING Tula Latoy and is one of my favorite stories to date.

Here’s the short outline that was approved with a slightly different title:

Title: “The Dead Shall Rise”

Concept: Young woman backpacking in Ireland stumbles across an ancient burial ground and becomes possessed by the spirit of a wronged witch. The witch is looking for revenge and has to seek out the descendants of the people who killed her. 

Backpacking through Britain has been a dream of Elena Cotter’s for as long as she can remember. In her head, she pictured endlessly scenic vistas, cheerful drinks with strangers, and maybe meeting a cute European girl for a hookup. Unfortunately, what she gets as she trudges through Ireland is a lot of rain, mist, and generally depressing sogginess. This is NOT how it was supposed to go.

Instead of stopping at a warm and comfy inn earlier in the day (that was, for once, clear and sunny!) Elena kept walking, expecting  to find something when she needed it. Nope. Now it’s night and the rain is getting stronger and she is thoroughly miserable and definitely lost. Which is precisely when she stumbles about an ancient burial mound. Curious, she goes in, and find herself possessed by a witch who is obsessed with vengeance. Although Elena sympathizes, she wants her body back, and struggles to stop the spirit from killing the descendants of the people who murdered her.

Unfortunately, the spirit manages to ritually kill a few people and Elena, horrified, is able to briefly get control of her body back, just long enough to throw herself into the ocean. We end with Elena the spirit, both sad and annoyed that this is how her great adventure ended, looking at her broken body washing up on shore.

Now here’s the 8-page, final script (we tweaked dialog after the art came in):

8-page Script

Page One

Panel 1
Wide establishing shot of the most scenic, idyllic idea of “quaintly” modern British/Irish landscape you can think of. The color is green, really, really, green, lush and vibrant. There’s a village, appropriately small and charming, with a winding road leading up to it. There’s a coastline not far from it with a wide expanse of blue ocean. We get a glimpse of the perfectly crumbled ruins of an old castle just up the rolling hills. The sun is out, the sky is clear, it’s basically perfect. Which means it’s all about to go horribly wrong.

ELENA CAP: I’ve wanted to travel for as long as I can remember.

ELENA CAP: So I saved for a year, ate ramen and neon mac n’ cheese ‘til I thought I’d go insane from salt poisoning.

ELENA CAP: It was going to be so much fun. Beer, hookups with cute Euro girls. You know, like in the movies.

Panel 2
We pull back to see that this is actually a picture on an iphone, held in a delicate, long fingered, light brown hand. It’s being held up to reality, which is gray and rainy and extremely drab. There is also no quaint village, just a road that leads by a coast, that drops off abruptly into tall cliffs, and the white caps of a steely, stormy ocean. It’s nothing like the bright picture on the phone. It’s dusk-ish time, quickly fading into night.

ELENA CAP: I was going to figure out my shit. Become myself, find meaning, get it all together.

ELENA CAP: Should’ve known.

ELENA CAP: I’ve been in the UK for a week now and all it’s done is rain, rain, and more fucking rain.

Panel 3
The sky has darkened, and our Elena is now a lonely figure trudging along the road and barely able to see what’s in front of her. It is a miserable, unpleasant night. She is wearing a large gray coat with lots of pockets and the hood up so we can’t really see her face yet. The only color we can make out are her bright turquoise skinny jeans and her deep plum colored Frye boots. She has a backpack on with a rolled up blanket on it (classic!), and the only other visible thing is a large pin on her coat that says: I (heart) Jane Austen.

ELENA CAP: My second day here, I lost most of my cash to a pickpocket in the London Underground.

Panel 4
Elena is looking around in the dark, trying to make her way. Her face is the picture of consternation. She is very pretty, with dark thick eyelashes that make it look like she has eyeliner on all the time. Her eyes are a deep rich brown, her skin a lovely milk-and-coffee complexion. She is Indian/American, with thick, arched brows and the kind of cheekbones someone might kill for. Her hair is in a soft, wavy mohawk that usually floats to the left. It’s in a ombre style of coloring, going from a deep plum to fiery bright red at the front.

ELENA CAP: I am so sick of staying in hostels that reek of farts and armpits.

Panel 5
Elena is trying to walk carefully, but this isn’t going to go well.

ELENA CAP: I wanna sleep in a real bed and have a real showe--

Panel 6
She falls, splot! in some mud. Okay, time to find some shelter.


ELENA: Yurgh!

Panel 1
Elena pulls herself up, dripping with mud, looking extremely unhappy.

ELENA CAP: Okay, fuck this. Any sec now I’m going to fall to a screaming and untimely death in the dark....

Panel 2
Using her iphone, Elena looks around for shelter. It casts a beam of light.

ELENA CAP: There must be somewhere I can hole up...

Panel 3
The beam of her iphone hits on what looks like a gaping mouth in the hillside. It’s an arched doorway, overgrown with moss and grass that looks a bit like teet. It’s not really all that friendly looking to us, but Elena isn’t thinking all that clearly. There are a few large and broken stones near it that should signify that it used to be closed up. Note: It’s important that the hills here cover any sort of sign of the road ahead. We’re going to find out in a page or two that there was a town less than a mile from this place, she just couldn’t see it.

ELENA(muttering): Not exactly Bag End, is it?

Panel 4
Elena is inside, waving her phone around. Inside the hill, there is a relatively large room with stones propping it up. It has a low-ish ceiling, with dangling moss. At the back of the room is a large, round, stone casket. On top of it are three earthenware jars in strangely good shape, and one that is in pieces. There is a carving on it of a crudely drawn, wailing face. Something dark has stained the casket in long dried drips (blood) from the broken jar. There is a large crack along one side of the casket, jagged and dark.

ELENA: Yeah, this isn’t fucking creepy at all.

ELENA: Whatever, I’ll be gone as soon as there’s light outside.

Panel 5
Elena settles down with her back to the casket, looking out at the rain dripping down the doorway, a blanket from her pack around her shoulders. She is slumped down, and lights a cigarette, the lighter flame illuminating her face.

ELENA: Should I just keep talking to myself here? Sure, why not.

ELENA: It’s not weird at all, just filling up dead air, ha ha.

ELENA: Still, can’t get any worse--

SFX: Skreeeshhh....

Panel 6
Close on Elena’s now wide eyes.


Panel 1
We pull back to see a strange mist emanating from the crack in the coffin, kind of green and moving in a way mist should not. Elena does not see it yet, she still has her back to the coffin, but her posture has gone rigid.

ELENA: Elena, you definitely didn’t just hear a noise come from that coffin thing. You. Did. Not.

ELENA: Just gonna have a peek and realize I’m scaring myself for no...

Panel 2
Elena is looking up, mouth open, cigarette dangling, eyes wide and terrified.

ELENA: ..reason?

Panel 3 (BIG)

We are looking up at what is very obviously a ghost in a misty, glowing, trailing shroud. Half of the ghost’s face is burned away, and what was once maybe a full head of fine red hair, is now a charred mess. The eyes are two burning pits of rage and madness, what is left of the face is middle-aged and probably quite beautiful, once. The mouth is a split horror, wide and endless, with a hanging jaw. It is clear that whoever she was, she died in agony. It is leaning down towards Elena with grasping, long, arms and hands, that don’t hang the way arms should. Elena is frozen, terrified, eyes bulging.

ELENA; Ohshitohshitohshit....

GHOST: ...ffrrr.....frrrr.....




Main image: The ghost is going to possess Elena after it kisses her, so the first two insets need to be up top, on the left hand side. The main image is the ghost embracing her and holding her in the air, sort of wrapped around her, and streaming into her mouth. Elena’s back should be arched, not sexy, but creepy and warped. Her hands are trying to grasp at the ghost, but they obviously can’t. We should be getting the impression that the ghost is consuming her. There are tears running down Elena’s cheeks.

Now, beyond that, we are also going to get inside the ghosts head as it possesses her. Which means we need images swirling around Elena, as if they are made of the ghosts foggy dress. The first are images of the ghost as a human, pretty, smiling, offering up “potions” to happy customers. She was a witch, but not a bad one. We need to see the village with some kind of recognizable landmark that we’ll see again when she burns it down. Maybe a stone cross? Or a few buildings? Then come men in dark robes, with angry but  indistinct faces. They grab her , hang her up by her wrists painfully, stretch her on a rack.  We should also see other women with her, maybe just faces, to let us know they were rounded up, put on trial. Finally she is being burned alive, half of her face melting in the flames. Then we see them putting her in the casket thing, a trap for her spirit.

INSET 1 (upper left)

The ghost is down at Elena’s level, her face close to hers. It is trying to smile, which should look awful and wrong. Her back is twisted, arching down at a strange, curved angle.


ELENA: What? You want what?


INSET  (upper left)

The ghost kisses Elena, whose eyes go white, her back rigid.

ELENA: Wai---grrk!

Main Image:

ELENA CAP: Cold. She is. So. Cold.

ELENA CAP: And she hurts.

ELENA CAP: She hurts so much. Now I hurt. Like it will never end.

ELENA CAP: They burned her. I can smell her flesh...her hair...taste flames in my mouth...

ELENA CAP: I don’t want to know this...

ELENA CAP: What is she doing to me?

ELENA CAP: Where am I going?

INSET 3 (lower right)

A close up of Elena’s face, but the eyes are now a glowing, burning, green, with a cast over the pupils. She is smiling horribly, looking at her hand. Obvs need a diff style of balloon here to indicate it’s not Elena talking anymore.

GHOST/ELENA: Nice body. Warm again.

GHOST ELENA: I have work to do.



Panel 1
It is now early morning. The possessed Elena is looking back at the door of the burial mound. It is no longer raining. She has also left all of Elena’s things inside because she doesn’t need them or know what they are. We’re going to “hear” Elena’s actual thoughts in caps from here on out, with her body doing whatever the ghost wants.

ELENA CAP: I can’t move my body! What the fuck did you do?

GHOST/ELENA: Calm, be calm. I am you now. I am this body.


Panel 2
The possessed Elena tilts her head, a hand outstretched. The burial mound opening crumbles inward.


GHOST/ELENA: I will show you what must be done.

Panel 3
We cut to Elena rounding a hill and seeing a small, run-down village. It is not at all far from the burial mound. Note: it is EXTREMELY important that this village be VERY close to cliffs overlooking the ocean and that we see something recognizable about it from the spread. A stone cross, a building or two, something to signify that this is the same village the witch lived in.

ELENA CAP: Shit. That was just around the bend? Worst. Luck. Ever.

GHOST/ELENA: Ah. Here were are. Home.

Panel 4
The ghost squints, confused. We can see cars in the village, modern things like electrical lines, etc. The ghost has no idea what these are, and no frame of reference. We’re about to find out she doesn’t really care, either.

GHOST/ELENA: Things have...changed.

ELENA CAP: No kidding. It must be hundreds of years since you croaked.

ELENA CAP: World has moved on, lady. You should, too.

GHOST ELENA: No matter.

Panel 5
Wide from behind Elena. A series of fires suddenly explode from different points in the village. This not normal fire, it is green and eldritch and strange.

GHOST ELENA: They will pay. They will all pay.


This is going to be a sort of quick succession of horrors. The ghost goes utterly batshit on this town while Elena has to “watch” from her head. It’s all awful. If the page could be framed in a kind of arch, like the doorway to the burial mound, that would be great.

Panel 1
Elena descends into the town, fire streaming around her, her hair wild. She is beautiful but incredibly terrifying. People are screaming. And running.

GHOST/ELENA: You will understand, sweet Elena. You will understand it had to be this way.

GHOST/ELENA: There must be justice.
ELENA CAP: Oh no, please, no.

Panel 2
Elena holds a man up who looks vaguely like someone from the splash who tortured our ghost, but everyone is an enemy to this ghost, the centuries have made her insane.

ELENA CAP: You love this. I can feel it.

GHOST/ELENA: They laughed while I burned. Did you know that?

ELENA CAP: Yes, I know it, because you know it. And I’m sorry, but...

Panel 3
She peels his skin off him as he screams.

ELENA CAP:... This is so wrong.

Panel 4
Elena just sets several other men and women on fire, they become running flames.

GHOST/ELENA: Wrong? I healed the sick. I helped them birth and grieve and die.

GHOST/ELENA: They deserve this.

ELENA CAP: But...these aren’t those people!

Panel 5
We pull back to see the village is an inferno, bodies beginning to char and smoke. Elena is a silhouette in front of them, the eyes of the ghost burning in her face.

GHOST/ELENA: All the same. Those people, these people. I can see it in you, in your memories. They are all the same.

GHOST/ELENA: So they will burn.

GHOST/ELENA: And then the world will burn, too.

Panel 6
Inside, Elena has had enough. She knows the ghost wants to do more, to find more people, her insanity and need for revenge will never end. It has consumed her.  Somehow we have to visually convey this conflict in this panel, like maybe Elena stops her from hurting someone, confusing the ghost?

ELENA CAP: No. No more.

GHOST/ELENA; What...? You can’t...what are you doing?

Panel 1
Elena stumbles away from the wreckage of the town, towards the cliffs. The ghost is fighting her. To avoid looking comedic, the body language shouldn’t be overly dramatic. And it should be relatively tragic, as the ghost has control of say Elena’s face and looks upset, hurt, confused. She’s basically “pushing” the ghost out of her body.

GHOST/ ELENA: I need to finish this! I need to burn it all!

ELENA: I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t let you.

GHOST/ELENA: Please! You don’t understand!

ELENA: I do. But you have to let it go.

Panel 2
Elena “pushes” the ghost out of her body so that they are standing face to face. Elena has NO idea she is right on the edge of a cliff. The ghost is reaching out for her, to warn her this time, but Elena is afraid of her and stepping back.



Panel 3
Elena teeters on the edge of the cliff, her eyes wide and horrified. The ghost should look sorry here, this is not what she wanted, either.It should be clear that she is going to fall. She has one hand out to the ghost but obviously that’s not going to do anything.

ELENA CAP: Ah, fuck...

Panel 4
Looking down, we see a broken Elena on the rocks below, waves washing over her. She is a sad and pitiful figure.


Panel 5
A now ghostly Elena looks at her body, sad and frustrated. This is not how things were supposed to go. The ghost of the witch is beside her, looking at her with pity.

ELENA CAP: I always wanted to travel. See the world. Go places. Do something with my life.

GHOST WITCH: Sorry. I’m so sorry...

ELENA: Yeah. Me too.

ELENA: Now what?

Panel 6
Ghostly Elena sits, her legs swinging over the edge of the cliff, looking out at the ocean. The ghost witch is watching her.


ELENA: Super.

ELENA CAP: What a fucking trip.


qAnd there you are! A little glimpse into my writing process and, I hope, some useful tips for writing your own.