Lew Dang from Los Poncheros sketches

Does this guy look Asian enough to you? If so, what type of Asian? Maybe, Japanese because of the samurai style hair? Or maybe he looks like your average Chinese actor, but with a mustache? Ron Batchelor, the illustrator of Los Poncheros, and I went back and forth several times to get the look just right for Lew Dang, the main protagonist of the story. In the beginning of the story, Lew Dang’s origins are kept a bit mysterious and I don’t want to spoil anything so let’s just say he’s supposed to be from Indochina (e.g. Vietnam in the 1800s).  For me, the typical Vietnamese person looks, well, like me or someone from my family.  Slender nose tapering to wide nostrils, somewhat narrow eyes (not too big, not too small), and a round/wide face.  So when I got the initial sketches for Lew Dang from the illustrator, I thought he looked too Westernized or too Japanese.  In the words of Ali Wong, I wanted him to look more like a jungle Asian, but as it turns out, illustrating for a specific kind of Asian face is difficult.

Vietnamese family

My Vietnamese family. We actually kind of look different from each other. 

Why is this important to me? For me, most Asian characters in comics and cartoons look White.  When it comes to manga and anime, I understand there are reasons why Japanese illustrators make their characters have pale skin and large eyes (e.g. White-looking).  For one, those are the qualities that the Japanese find attractive.  I also know most Japanese identify those White-looking characters as Asian and not European or American.  But it’s still weird to me that Asian characters look White and can be easily played by White actors and actresses.  When it comes to Asian male characters in American comics, I can’t even name one off the top of my head.  If Los Poncheros ever makes it big, I want Lew Dang to stand out as quintessentially Asian and Vietnamese at that.  There must be no mistaking him for anything else.

Now after going back and forth with the illustrator a couple of more times, I still thought Lew Dang didn’t look Vietnamese or even Asian enough.  I thought maybe since Ron Batchelor is a White guy he didn’t understand the nuances of the Asian face.  A non-Asian person might say that Lew Dang could pass as Vietnamese, but we as Asian people can obviously tell a fellow Asian person’s origins instantly.  At least we think so.  The a-ha moment for me came when I started watching Ken Burn’s Vietnam War documentary.  I noticed that each Vietnamese person I saw on the screen looked unique.  That is to say they could have been mistaken for any kind of Asian – Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian, etc.  I have been to Vietnam twice and obviously know lots of Vietnamese people, but I guess I hadn’t really paid attention to how different we can look from each other.

Then I went online and played some of those “Guess That Asian” games and consistently got less than 50% correct even after going back a day later to play the same exact game with the same faces.  I would get the same face wrong a second time.  I realized that you’ll find all “types” of Asians in every Asian country.  In the end, I stopped quibbling over every detail of Lew Dang’s face and just let him be.  SPOILER ALERT – Also, I remembered Lew Dang is half White-half Indochinese anyways so he should look a little different than your average Vietnamese male.

Below I created a mashup of Asian faces from Vietnam, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, and Indonesia.  Try and guess the origins of these people (answers below).

Guess that asian male face

According to average facial imaging, this is what an average Vietnamese male looks like:

This is what an average Vietnamese male looks like

Answers (left to right): Top row: 1. Ho Chi Minh (Vietnamese), 2. Random Korean guy, 3. Hiroo Onoda (Japanese soldier who didn’t surrender until 30 years after WWII ended); 4. Tuan Anh (The Vietnamese Prince); 5. Mijavi (Japanese); 6. Random Thai guy; 7. Nguyen Cao Ky (former South Vietnamese Prime Minister)

Middle row: 1. Random Tibetan guy, 2. Jonny Tri Nguyen (Vietnamese actor); 3. Mao Zedong (Chinese); 4. Random Vietnamese guy; 5. Genki Sudo (Japanese mixed martial artist); 6. An Jung-geun (Korean Independence activist); 7. Random Filipino guy

Bottom row: 1. Jeff Ma (Chinese guy from “Bringing Down The House”); 2. Kwon Sang Woo (Korean actor); 3. Nah Nguyen (Vietnamese rapper); 4. Lew Dang (Vietnamese and White); 5. Chairil Anwar (Indonesian poet); 6. Makidai (Japanese singer)

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Los Poncheros, the graphic novel, is now up online here losponcheros.com.  You can read the first 15 pages for free.  More chapters to come later.  The website also includes story background, character bios, and my own bio.

Shout out to this tutorial, Comic Press wordpress theme, Comic Easel, and Dreamless graphic novel for helping me to make it look nice.

web comic graphic novel online free

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Paul Valéry once said, “A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned.”  The same can be said for a screenplay.  You can go through dozens of drafts until finally a producer or financier gives the green light.  More likely though is you move on to another idea and hope that one day the screenplay you put down for a sleep will wake up and come calling again.  Or you could be like Derek Cianfrance and do 66 drafts of your screenplay.

For me, the act of moving on to another script has to be marked with a symbolic act.  And that act for me is making a movie poster.  So without further ado, here are two movie posters for my two most recent scripts.

Los Poncheros cover

 

Los Poncheros logline: The racially diverse members of a poncho-wearing gang find themselves on opposing sides of a developing conflict in a turbulent Western territory. The former friends must choose between their old ideals of cooperation and diversity and the territory’s current ideals of individualism, greed, and segregation.

The Searchers western movie poster The Female Bunch exploitation film movie poster Silverado western movie poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspirations behind the movie poster: Although Lew Dang, aka The Asian Ponchero, should be viewed as the protagonist, Los Poncheros could also be considered an ensemble feature much like other Westerns such as Silverado or Lonesome Dove.  In trying to showcase the diversity of characters in the story, I decided [click to continue…]

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Finding the Illustrator

After having no luck searching for and emailing illustrators to request their skills (and yes, I said I would pay), I decided to let the illustrators come to me to do my graphic novel, Los Poncheros.  I went on the contracting service Upwork and put up a detailed job posting for a graphic novels illustrator.  I received over 15 proposals within a week.  I was pleasantly surprised that the majority of them were quite skilled.  I got proposals from male and female illustrators in the U.S., France, Brazil, Vietnam, and Poland.  I shortlisted the candidates down to five and I asked them to do a free sample page from my script.  All of them agreed, but only four returned actual samples.  For a graphic novel, I think receiving samples from an illustrator is important because most can replicate many styles.  However, you just don’t know how that style will mesh with your writing style and the tone of your story until you see it.  After two weeks, I received all of the samples back and I settled on one illustrator.

*Note – My proposal ended up being for 20 illustrated and colored pages, so one sample page (penciled) was a relatively easy ask for the illustrators.  If you have a smaller project, you might have to pay for a sample, which could still be worth it to make sure you got the write person.

Working with the Illustrator

Working with an illustrator on Upwork is pretty convenient.  All of your messages, contracts, and attachments are stored on the website for eternity and can be searched by keyword.  Upwork acts as the impartial intermediary.  Still, the relationship between writer and illustrator is just as susceptible to miscommunication and arguments as if you were working with a good friend.  As the creator/writer, you are paying the illustrator and you are in charge of making sure the work is delivered the way you want it, but you should still treat the illustrator as your partner, if not equal.  When your graphic novel takes off and gets picked up by a publisher, you may need them on your team.  There should be some give and take to keep the relationship healthy. [click to continue…]

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Los Poncheros graphic novel page 2 pencilMy story, Los Poncheros, went from feature script to TV pilot to graphic novel

First, here is some background on my story, Los Poncheros: 
Logline:
 The racially diverse members of an outlawed, poncho-wearing gang find themselves on opposing sides of a conflict in a turbulent Western territory. The former friends must choose between their old ideals of cooperation and diversity and the current ideals of individualism, greed, and segregation.

After completing the feature script of Los Poncheros, I was able to get my wife and my best friends to read it.  I even had a women-only book club read it and was invited to their meeting to discuss it with them.  Although, only two of the six members actually read it.  I learned something from everyone that provided feedback.  I learned which characters and scenes they liked and didn’t like.  Most importantly, I found out about which parts were confusing.  As a writer, you will think your story is super clear as well as super brilliant, but oftentimes the reader will get lost in your script.  You could just say, “Well, it will make sense on the big screen,” but it should really make sense in the script first.

After exhausting my network of free readers, I realized I had to get some professional feedback.  I needed people that read scripts for a living to dive deeper into my structure, plot, tone, arcs, and themes.  I needed notes on the script written out as opposed to coming in casual conversation.  There are many script review services that you can find online or in the Reddit community, but these are the three that I used: The Black List, ScriptGal, and The Screenplay Mechanic.  My primary goal for using all of these services was to improve the story.  Of course, I secretly hoped that they would all love the story and boost my ego, but really, one’s friends and family should serve that role.

Here’s what I learned from the three services.  I have also attached their full evaluations. [click to continue…]

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