AMA - Bestselling Author and Graphic Novelist about his upcoming book "A Western Gentleman".

Mike Gagnon
Sep 14, 2018

Multiple bestselling author and illustrator Mike Gagnon will be available for AMA users and fans to ask questions about the writing and creative process, self-publishing and the new Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming novel, "A Western Gentleman".  The novel is a traditional western story about murder and revenge in the wild west, where a marshal helps the oppressed citizens of a town stand up to a corrupt system that profits from their very lives and deaths, and in the process, reveals hidden secrets of the corrupt leaders of the town and himself. 


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What were some of the most difficult parts of getting "A Western Gentleman" made?
Sep 16, 2:26AM EDT0

Research, editing and the Kickstarter, lol. Research is difficult for getting it right, editing is hard because each editor can read each scene a different way and it still comes down to me as to which feedback I accept, and the Kickstarter because I love writing and sharing stories with people, but I’m no good at begging for money. It’s a challenge to find the right words to convince someone to support a project and feels too salesey some times. I have a degree in marketing which is probably why I hate advertising lingo so much. I sometimes wish potential readers could just read the book and pay for it after when they fully understand its nuisances and why I believe they’ll enjoy it.

Last edited @ Sep 17, 3:59PM EDT.
Sep 17, 3:57PM EDT0
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer and illustrator?
Sep 15, 7:20PM EDT0

Meeting Industry legends and inspirations at conventions would likely not have happened. Great people like Mart Nodell, Stan Lee, Chis Claremont, Gus Vasquez, Howard Chaykin, Dale Keown, Roy Thomas...again there are too many to list so I’m doing a disservice, and the fact that I got to work with some of them in any capacity is amazing.

Sep 17, 3:52PM EDT0
What are your writing habits like? Do you use the computer to write? How do you create?
Sep 15, 6:01PM EDT1

Generally I start with rough notes and ideas on paper and short reminders typed on my phone. A lot of the work is intangible and it’s thoughts going on in my head. Then I create the outline. It starts on paper, but as I progress I eventually move my handwritten work to a spreadsheet on the computer and finish it there. During this phase research begins which is 95% on the computer. I’ll also start fleshing out character histories and designs. Again, these will start as notes and sketches on paper, then once again finished digital,y on the computer. 

Sep 17, 3:48PM EDT0
How do the image and text relationships work within the graphic novel and what aesthetic principles inform your work?
Sep 15, 5:33PM EDT0

Teaching in class and in my personal work, my approach is that the words and pictures should complement each other but not repeat each other to the point of redundancy. My belief is that comics should be the perfect marriage of words and pictures that when combined tell a complete story that would not be possible with just one or the other. If you see a comic where the dialogue or captions are just telling you exactly what you see in the panel, so that words and pictures are just repeating each other, to me that's someone telling a story in both pictures and prose side-by-side in a simultaneous fashion, when they could just choose one and tell the damn story. I think comics need to be more than that. The dialogue should tell you what the character is saying, the art should portray expression and body language that tell you something about how the character feels that you can't get from the dialogue. Are they being sarcastic? Are they lying? Do they have alternative intentions? Those things can be shown in the art without having to treat the audience as if they are impeciles byrepeating something in dialogue that they can clearly see and vice-versa. As for aesthetic, I love the style of artists from the 60s, 70's and 80's. There are some great artists out there whose work I love, but could never hope to emulate. Art Adams, John Byrne, Bernie Wrightson, Dave Ross, John Romita Jr., imean don't get me started, that's just the tip of the iceberg, as there are so many great artists worth mentioning that i'm doing an injustice trying to list them. So the pop art style of comics from the bronze and modern age are often a big influence on me, but of course, I can't be them, so I have my own style. Where I try to emulate is the style of characterization and color palettes that were used in that time too. If I can get away with a simple 80s or 90s style color scheme I will. Don't get me wrong, I love the detailed colors and fine painitng styles that are possible now, but if im tight for time and on a deadline, a nice retro pop art style coloring job makes me happy. I don't try to stick with one aesthetic. As I mentioned I do have my own style, but I go outside of that sometimes too, sometimes I go for simplistic comic strips style, or manga or untra detailed. I like to approach every project differently and develop some kind of look or aesthetic unique to that project. Some projects I envision in a traditional comic style, some as manga, some are just meant to be black and white or a 2-3 color palette. Some are meant to have a rough more modern indie comics look like Ben Templesmith or Brandon Graham or Jim Mahfood. Again, not copying thier style, but emulating some of the raw emotional vibe and elements of thier work. And once in a great while I have the time and ambition to do very detailed ultarealistic painter style, but those instances are pretty rare. 

Sep 15, 8:42PM EDT0
Your artwork must be very time consuming; which panel took you the longest to complete? How many drafts does it take from start to finish for a graphic novel?
Sep 15, 9:44AM EDT0

When it comes to graphic novel work, yes, the illustration can very very time consuming. I think every artist who works regularly builds up the values of speed and quality as they have more experience. In the last few years I’ve really worked on developing my skills with digital Illustration and art software and exploiting those tools to increase the speed and quality of my work. Very recently I’ve been experimenting with animation software that allows me to design characters once and then reposition them in each panel without having to re-draw them. Essentially the way that modern TV cartoons are made now, like Family Guy, Simpsons, etc. Currently I’m still in the learning phase and doing most of my art more traditionally for clients, but hoping once I’m more experienced with the software that it will increase the speed and quality of my work substantially. I like the quality and speed of my work now, but I’m always looking for ways to improve that so that I can tell more stories. A page or panel can take 5 minutes or weeks depending on the level of detail. I work at the industry standard of a page of illustration per day. That doesn’t cover inks, colours, etc. It’s a page a day for pencils and then increasingly shorter times with each step. When it comes to drafts in a graphic novel it depends on the working arrangement. If I’m working for a client, it all depends on he editor you are working with and how many changes they request. In my experience it’s actually the most experienced editors that request less changes. When I’m working on my own creator owned projects I tend to be able to get the image I want on the first try, sometimes with a little editing or a second draft.

Sep 15, 1:11PM EDT0

The modification of the male bathroom sign for your cover is very clean and iconic; what considerations went into the cover? Is this a book where the character is a kind of "everyman"?

Sep 14, 10:37PM EDT0

First, let me say, thank god somene got it! Lol. So many times I’ve had to explain that cover lol. The design is less about symbolizing the protagonist and more about my love of minamilist art. I got the concept idea when I started seeing a bunch of other softcover reprints using this type of art. I just love the fact a message can be conveyed with simple iconography.

Sep 15, 12:56PM EDT1
What issues are explored within the graphic novel that resonated most strongly with you personally?
Sep 14, 10:33PM EDT0

Though I have done a lot of graphic novel work, A Western Gentleman is a traditional novel. In regards to what resonates most personally with me from the novel is that when people work together and ignore their differences they can stand up to those that oppress them and improve their living circumstances.

Sep 15, 12:51PM EDT1

This story seems really interesting--what kind of audience would you say you're looking for with this book? Who are you hoping to distribute to?

Sep 14, 8:45PM EDT0

Well sir, the book would be most interesting to readers of western fiction, perhaps with a slightly younger demographic, 25-35. As for distribution, if you’re referring to who I want to reach or sell the book, would be male and female readers from 25-35 who are fans of westerns. If you mean distribute as in the traditional sense of a book distributor, all of my books are distributed by Ingram Content Group and available from most print and digital book retailers. The regular edition of the book will hit stores on November 1st, but supporters of the Kickstarter will get it before the stores and they’ll be getting limited edition cover versions and merchandise available exclusively to backers.

Sep 14, 10:15PM EDT1
What do you think makes your book stand out from the others like it?
Sep 13, 3:41AM EDT0

As far as I know, A Western Gentleman is the first western novel that focuses on widespread corruption and to feature supporting characters who are homosexual in a positive light.

Sep 14, 10:32AM EDT0
What advice do you have for other writers on overcoming writers block? Have you ever had it?
Sep 13, 12:35AM EDT0

 I think every writer has encountered writers block at least once in their life. I have encountered writers block but luckily it’s been along time since I’ve had to deal with it because I’ve developed some very positive work habits.  The biggest thing that would help is to learn how to write a thorough and solid story outline and to give yourself the time to develop a really detailed outline. After that when you are writing when you get stuck you’ve always got a document you can refer back to to get back on track. Also, don’t edit while you write. It can be distracting to see those little red squiggly lines under misspelled words but you have to ignore them. If you don’t it’s gonna take you three times as long as if you just write the story. Write the story do the editing afterwards. Aside from that if you still run into issues with writer’s block, step away from the story. Go for a walk, hit the gym, make a salad, etc. Your creative right hemisphere will wake back up and you’ll find yourself rushing to write down your ideas before you forget them. You can also try starting another story. Make it something completely different that doesn’t have to be serious or ever seen by anyone. You’ll eventually get an idea that won’t fit that new story, but will be great for the one you were stuck on, and you can go back to that one.

Sep 14, 10:42AM EDT0
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Sep 12, 11:38PM EDT0

I’ve always  been a fan of the western genre and really love a lot of the western movies of the 20th century. There’s a lot of Classics there. It’s really fun to add my own unique spin to the genre that I’ve enjoyed so much and also work in subtle nods to the different stories that inspired me growing up. Things like Unforgiven, Young Guns, The Lone Ranger and more all help inspire and form the characters in A Western Gentleman.

Sep 14, 10:29AM EDT0
Do you have a special technique to how you plan out a story or do you just sit down and write and edit later? Why does this way work best for you?
Sep 12, 8:33PM EDT0

 For me it is really key that I set aside that week or so I need to do a solid outline and research and develop character concepts. The biggest timesaver that is also help me to write my books faster is to start audio recording my ideas and having it transcribed after. I’m able to get much more of the story out at once so I generally will schedule myself at least a week of audio recording for the main plot or manuscript of the book. But doesn’t mean I’ll get the whole story and it doesn’t mean I won’t add significant amounts or think of new scenes during the writing and revision process but I can get  The bulk of the story recorder in a week and that is a huge game changer as I used to spend months writing the same amount of content.  Others prefer a more traditional approach but for me I am always busy and schedule my freelance time for clients and teaching months ahead so developing a system of a solid outline and audio recording the main portion of the manuscript is what works for me because it’s most efficient with my time. 

Sep 14, 10:26AM EDT0
How does the corruption that is seen in everyday life match up to the corruption you are exhibiting in the book?
Sep 12, 5:52PM EDT0

LOL, I hope readers think it's as obvious as I do. The town of Burlton represents modern society. We live in a world where we know and expect corruption. We accept it as part of daily life. The apathy concerns me. We don't trust our politicians, bankers, priests, legal system and more and for good reason. The fact that we allow ourselves to suffer with so much bureaucracy with the excuse that it's the best system we have is puzzling. We need to change the system so it actually serves the people, not the ones who already have everything. In this story, corrupt forces have insinuated themselves into every facet of life in Burlton. It only takes one brave person to stand up and encourage others to join him to stand up against the corruption. 

Sep 14, 10:13AM EDT0
How does it feel to have this book out for readers to enjoy? What are you hoping readers get out of this book?
Sep 12, 7:40AM EDT0

It's always exciting to have a book out. It feels great to finish a creative project and even better when it's released for people to enjoy. Above all I hope people are entertained, that's my goal. If you pick up on the subtext and it makes think about some of the real-life issues we deal with, great. If I inspire one person to take action or write their own book, then it's all worth it. 

Sep 14, 10:06AM EDT0
Did you always believe you would become a writer? Why?
Sep 12, 3:14AM EDT0

LOL. Nope. When I was in Kindergarten I wanted to be a fireman. During that time I discovered comics. From then till about 18 or 19 I was certain I was going to be a superstar artist at Marvel. It was really during college that I discovered a love and passion for writing and really becoming interested in the craft of storytelling. Luckily since then, I've been able to merge my skills and enhance them, so I've been able to move back and forth between the world's of professional writing and commercial art. I've even done some work for Marvel, so I guess you could say my childhood delusions have worked out. 

Sep 14, 10:04AM EDT0
What distractions do you usually have while writing? How do you combat these distractions?
Sep 12, 1:29AM EDT0

Well, there are good and bad distractions. If you can it'd good to keep regular work hours and let those in your circle know what they are. Keep that schedule even if it's writing in a dank corner of your basement form 10-11pm every night. Since I work freelance from my home studio when I'm not teaching, I keep regular work hours that are roughly 9-5 with a little give and take here and there for the intrusion of real life. The key is to make sure that family and friends know and respect your work time. Put your phone on silent mode and don't waste time on social media unless you are promoting your work and do not get sucked into the facebook hole. Other than that, I usually have music or a video playing in the background. For me personally, I alternate between classic blues, soul, rock etc. If I have a movie or TV show playing it HAS to be something I can tune out and not be interested enough to stop and watch instead of working. I've found conspiracy videos on YouTube to be the easiest to tune out. 

Sep 14, 10:01AM EDT0
What do you do to ensure you do not plagiarize any content in your stories?
Sep 11, 9:56PM EDT0

Well, the first piece of advice I would give is, don't plagiarize. It's pretty hard to plagiarize by accident. Each writer is different. Your writing style is like your fingerprint. The likelihood of creating an exact duplicate story with the same wording is very unlikely. People know if they are plagiarizing. Just don't do it. I know there's a technical school of thought where if something is at least 10% different than it is not considered plagiarism. I can't imagine wasting my time on that. You'd spend more time editing 10%+ of a story than just making it yourself. I have too many of my own stories that I want to tell, so I couldn't be bothered to steal someone else's and exploit a loophole to try and pass it off as my own original work. 

Sep 14, 9:56AM EDT0
What was the most challenging part of writing this story?
Sep 11, 6:02PM EDT0

Authenticity. I'm a big believer of diversity in fiction. I was preaching for things like this in comics long before it started to happen. (I'll reserve my commentary and opinions on how some of the diversity of characters has been executed). I don't think you have to be a female writer to write a female character, or black to write a black character, etc. So my primary concern was making sure that the gay characters in the book were treated with respect and never used as a joke. I feel the real key to writing diverse characters is the same as treating different people in real life like they are regular people. Because they are. they are all human. If you're struggling to write a character that has a different background or lifestyle than you, you're probably focusing on your differences too much. Focus on what you have in common, which is the human condition. For the most part, we all deal with the same issues in daily life as anyone else. It's what we have in common that makes diverse characters relatable and believable, not the differences. 

Sep 14, 9:53AM EDT0
How will “A Western Gentleman” be different from your other writing work?
Sep 11, 5:22PM EDT0

Well, it's the first Western book that I've written so it's a foray into a new genre for me. It's also the first period story I've published. Most of my stories take place in a modern-day setting so this one has probably taken the most time to research, even though I purposely avoided using any real-life historical figures and locations. Other than that, I think that this is the first story I've done where the message is most overtly obvious. I don't think I crossed the line of beating people over the head with it, but I think people will pick up on the modern-day allegories very easily. 

Sep 14, 9:48AM EDT0
A lot of writers have trouble finishing their books. How have you been inspired to not only write, but finish your books? How long does it usually take you to write a story?
Sep 11, 2:09PM EDT0

The earlier in your career you are, the harder and harder it is to find time to finish your books. It's only natural, as the rest of life, family, and work will always be in the way. Early in my career, it was much harder to finish a book because it wasn't paying the bills. The only reason I finished the ones I did was sheer force of will and tenacity and allowing myself to take years to finish if necessary. Fortunately, I work in the industry full-time now, with a number of good regular clients that help me stay on top of my expenses for the most part. It took over 10 years working in the small press to get to that point, so it doesn't happen overnight. Be patient with yourself and your writing career. These days, I have the luxury of being able to schedule my own time months in advance, so I can plan when I will devote my time to working for clients and when I can carve out a week here or there to devote to personal projects. Generally, I'll plan a solid week to get my outline and concepts done. Then I usually go back to working for clients while the stuff I did in that outline week percolates in my brain for a week or two. If I have free creative time during that period or finish a job for a client early, I'll often continue doing research for any questions or ideas that arise, and make notes or add new material to my outline.  I usually then schedule a solid week to start writing the manuscript. I've developed a lot of positive work habits and time-saving shortcuts. Organization and work ethic is key. No matter how much I love writing, and hence typing, my thought process generally works much faster than my hands, so I've found the best way to get my ideas out is to audio record my ideas in a free-flow format as they come to me, just talking into my headset or mobile device. This approach has allowed me to get my core concept and ideas out much faster than typing. Sometimes I'm able to audio record the entire content of a story in that week, which just wouldn't be possible typing.  I do sometimes use voice to text but have struggled with accuracy in the past. A bad voice to text transcription can end up making the process months longer as you'll spend more time trying to figure out what you were saying and editing than you would have just to write the damn thing in the first place. I'll often get the audio recordings transcribed by a professional service that uses real live people, which is more affordable than one may think. After that week of recording I'll go back to doing client jobs for a couple weeks or a month while the audio is being transcribed, when I've got a week to devote again, I'll review the transcriptions and start going through with a fine-toothed comb, making changes to dialogue, edits, re-writing, etc.  It usually takes 3 months writing and editing back and forth off and on between client gigs and my own passion project, then I get professional editors involved and that can take 6-9 months with edits, re-writes and getting the entire book reviewed by multiple editors. After that, it's all about publishing etc. Which is more time. By the time the book actually comes out, It's probably been a year since I finished writing it. That's why, my new book, "A Western Gentleman" took approx. 2 years all included to release. Probably took about a year to write, then a year to edit and publish. I'm sure I could do it faster if I was just writing my own books full-time, which is why I'm hoping my books will continue to hit bestseller lists on Amazon. I love working for clients, but I also have so many stories I want to share. 

Sep 14, 9:43AM EDT0
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