Mom's Best Friend

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Mom's Best Friend

Post  Ellen-Natalie on Tue Aug 15, 2017 9:37 pm

Going to mirror what's being updated on Patreon and the FE site. Can't guarantee it'll update as consistently since I can't make scheduled posts, but I will post as often as I can!

This comic was a project I worked on as a writer, with my friend Jemma Young as the artist. If you like Jemma's artwork in this comic, be sure to check out what's she's doing now on her Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/jemmayoung



Because I'm going to court and moving this month, Jemma and I are sharing a comic we made together almost a decade ago: Mom's Best Friend.

I'll be posting pages here and on FE's website, with memories about writing for our first professional comic project. Be sure to check out Jemma's campaign for her feedback and memories about being the artist.

Also, as a special thanks for everyone's patience and support, those who pledge any amount this month will get a downloadable PDF copy of this comic. Hope you enjoy Mom's Best Friend!



A lifetime ago in 2007, I submitted an entry to Tokyopop's 'Rising Stars of Manga' contest. I did not win, rightfully so - compared to the winning entries that year, my art skill was severely underdeveloped.

However, the story caught the attention of an editor, who reached out and explained they were starting a new program called Shining Stars, where the first "pilot" chapter of potential series could be viewed and voted on through Tokyopop's website. She asked if I would be interested in writing a pilot to submit. After reading her email three times, I couldn't stop squealing with joy. It scared my Mom.

'Shining Stars' would later be scrutinized for it's contracts, how it undermined and controlled the creative rights of those who participated. However, soon after launching Tokyopop itself would undergo massive restructuring and layoffs, ultimately ending the program before any real consequences develop.

Despite the controversy, I'm glad I got to do this project. It gave me experience working with an editor, a glimpse into the professional comic world, and a chance to work with amazing artist Jemma ~



Trying to remember what it was like working with my editor, what stands out the most is a blur of constant writing. All our communication was through email, discussing story ideas, exchanging drafts and revisions with her feedback on where to focus, how to improve. This constant correspondence was on top of the workload of being a full-time college student and working a part-time job, it's no wonder my memories during that period seem to blend together. (Now that I think about it, is this were my resentment of sleep stemmed from?)

She first asked I submit to her a few ideas to choose from, to think of a story that could be a captivating pilot and have the potential for becoming a series. It was harder than I initially suspected - not for lack of ideas, but deciding which ideas I was willing to use and potentially lose to this project.

The idea which ended up being chosen was about a girl who grew up in the shadow of her Mom's mysterious best friend, whom she was constantly compared to but had never seen. Now that she was attending the boarding school the two had met, she would discover why.
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Re: Mom's Best Friend

Post  Ellen-Natalie on Sat Aug 19, 2017 9:29 am



This idea was inspired by my Mom's stories about boarding school. She grew up in a military family, and while they lived in New Zealand she briefly stayed in one as a student. She loved the experience, and met one of her best friends there. Decades later and an ocean apart, they kept in touch, sending letters and care packages to each other. Growing up I loved the gifts her New Zealand friend sent us, (Blinky Bill and Crunchie candy bars RULE,) but I never got meet the woman to thank her in person.

Before writing a script, though, my editor asked I write a summary. Detailing the entire series arc, how many volumes anticipated, who the intended audience would be and why. Diligent and eager, I wrote everything up and sent it to her as quickly as possible. She then sent it back with notes on where to improve, asking me to write the summary again. I sent the revisions, she responded with more notes and asked for a new summary. We would repeat this process many, many more times. Looking back, I believe she wanted us both to have a solid understanding of what this story was, who it was for, and why it had value. It would help me when writing the script, and help her when pitching the project to her staff.



The name 'Samantha' was also chosen because of my Mom. As a girl, she'd been a big fan of the show Bewitched, and for years had planned on naming her future daughter after the main character. She ended up choosing a family name when I was born, but I'm happy with it. Looking back, a lot of who she was and what she did was tied into this project. It makes sense, she was entering the final stages of cancer, and on my mind a lot.


She still frequently shows up in my work. In FE, it's usually related to Dawn and her family. The ice cream cone Brian accidentally shoved into Dawn's ear? She did at once. The heart necklace Dawn wears is similar to one my Mom wore for church. And Dawn and Brian's experiences of visiting her Mom in the hospital are inspired by my own. I'm never satisfied with those scenes - it's hard staying focused when writing them. But I do like the memories writing brings back.



When it was finally time to start writing the script, I knew would be asked to do revisions. However, I didn't realize I would be asked to do so many revisions. The scripted ended up being rewritten even more times than the summary. Excited as I was for this opportunity, it was disheartening. Every time my editor sent back feedback of what to change and I I took it seriously. I rewrote a scene based on her suggestions. I would send the new scene to her, only to get more feedback and suggestions. It was like trying to solve an unsolvable puzzle - what did this woman want? What would it take to satisfy her expectations?


But she just wanted me to produce the best script I possibly could. Push myself farther than I'd ever had before. And she had the wisdom to know for a first time writer, a series of small pushes to improve would be more effective than a daunting laundry list of what to work on. I was really upset when she became a casualty in Tokyopop's early mass staff dismissals. Another editor would step in after she was gone, and his main goal was getting the project completed as soon as possible. To his credit, he made that happen - working a lot with Jemma on the artistic side and got the comic finished in time for the Shining Stars program to start. But I found myself missing those small pushes.

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Re: Mom's Best Friend

Post  kanna172003 on Thu Aug 31, 2017 6:54 pm

I'm starting to feel seriously bad for that poor girl. Always being compared to another person. Geez.
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Re: Mom's Best Friend

Post  Mr Ed on Sun Sep 03, 2017 12:04 am

Mom does seem rather obsessed, and not with her own daughter. Poor kid indeed!

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More MBF Pages!

Post  Ellen-Natalie on Mon Sep 04, 2017 9:52 am



Reading this comic again, I wonder if there needed to be so many transitions between the flashbacks and present day events. We had to show what this story was about and get the reader invested enough to vote for the pilot to be developed into a series, flashbacks seemed the most effective method to do so at the time. But putting several in the first chapter feels a little chaotic, now.


But I've always loved how cute Samantha looked waking up in the last panel ~



After the summary and script was finished, a profile was written for each character and my editor pitched the series to the rest of the staff. When they green lit the project, it was time to find an artist!

While reviewing my writing, the editor had been thinking of which artists she knew who could be a good fit for the project. She reached out to one, giving them the project details and a copy of the character profiles. They in turn provided some character designs and concept art of the boarding school, which the editor passed on to me to review.

I'll admit, I was disappointed I could draw this project myself. But seeing someone else interpret what I'd written was exciting, I was looking forward to how the pages would turn out. Sadly, I would never see them. Shortly after submitting the concept work, the artist had to drop out. I was never told why.



Definitely wish I'd taken more time to build up the boarding school setting - what it's systems, styles and traditions were. With boarding schools being uncommon in the states, it would've helped avoid some confusion with American readers.

Then again, this pilot chapter I was focused on building up the characters, with intent that the school around them could be explored later.



Roommate's uniform was based off the ones my Mom wore. She had kept a yearbook from her days in boarding school, I remember looking through it and scanning pictures to work from.  

The first thing Mom learned from her roommates: sharing is required. Clothes, care packages, jewelry, it was always shared with everyone. Anyone unwilling to share would ostracized.  



After the first artist didn't work out, my editor got a second artist lined up. I did get to exchange some messages with her through via email, and she seemed really excited about the project. She some character artwork, even got a couple pages made - it was so exciting seeing the script finally come to life.

Then, she suddenly withdrew from the project. Said that her day job was getting more demanding, and she needed to focus on that instead. It must have been a tough choice for her, but I felt betrayed. We only had a limited amount of time to finish this comic before the deadline, and she'd just wasted a good amount of it. Now we had to find an artist who could do even more work in less time.



When making character design sketches to share with potential artists, Abigail was my favorite - loved those tightly rolled curls!
Sadly, we'll never see the two girls again. They just left Abigail forever, with a song about her future marital status in their hearts.



With my editor's first two choices dropping out of the project, she started looking through the submissions file, seeing if she could find a good match. (Turns out when they say they'll keep your submission on file, they will - but it's a really, really big file.) She also encouraged me to steer any artists I knew that would be willing to work on short notice her way for review.

My first thought was to suggest Jemma. Her skill level was leagues ahead of mine, she was as big of fan of Tokyopop as myself (if not bigger),  and had an iron clad work ethic - someone I knew I could trust to follow through with this project. My second thought was to wait, to see what artists my editor would find in the submissions. Of all the things that went wrong in this project, that waiting is my biggest regret.



I met Jemma in junior high - she was one among a creative clique whom I would be friends with throughout school and into adulthood. When we all got together, it became a standard greeting to trade our manuscripts and sketchbooks we were working on. Jem's was always the most popular sketchbook, everyone wanted to see her artwork.

She was the first among us to master using professional grade markers and ink. To develop a distinct cartoon style, while improving her realism skills. Her sketchbooks were colorful, alive, and flooded with joy.

As an insecure teenager, I used to get jealous of Jem's artistic skills. However, self-reprimanding would quickly follow - each hour I'd seen her pour into sketching, I knew there were three hours I hadn't witnessed. She put in the work. Every success and opportunity she achieved was one she had earned. If I really loved drawing comics, and wanted a career out of it, then I had to put in the work, too.



There were practical reasons to wait for the editor's feedback from the submission file, but they were flimsy at best. We needed a skilled, reliable artist immediately. Time spent looking for an artist cut into the time they would be given to complete the project, narrowing down the list of who could complete it even further.

It was the kind of vicious cycle that killed projects. I was scared - months of work were poured into this pilot, and it was possible no one would ever see it. And yet, I still hadn't recommended Jemma as a potential artist.

Wasn't worried about the high stress she'd encounter. Jem was great at managing stress and tight deadlines, she did it all the time with her schoolwork.  Wasn't nervous that working with her would ruin our friendship. We'd done a several fun projects together.  But a shadow of that insecure teenager lived on in my ego. This was my project. I didn't want to hand it over the best artist I'd ever met.

Then I said that out loud, and realized how stupid I was being.



When asking Jemma to be the artist for this project, I was scared she'd say no. Less than two months were left until the deadline, it would make sense if she wasn't able to commit to such a tight schedule.

But she said yes. Then she dove into this project with more tenacity than I'd ever seen. Jemma responded to the editor's messages quicker than I had when writing, with more work to show us than any previous artist had provided. She quickly won the editor's approval, and was contracted as the official artist for the pilot.

Jemma managed to keep working on this comic despite a full student workload, an impossible deadline, and getting a new editor assigned to us due to the company's massive layoffs. The fact previous artists had quit MBF over smaller events made me respect her work ethic even more.   As much effort as I put into creating this pilot, Jem without a doubt is the reason it reached completion.  I'll always be grateful to her for that.



The locket is based off one I have. It was also a birthday gift, and also featured a photo of myself and my great-grandmother (my namesake) at the same age.
Fortunately, it wasn't emotionally scarring for me as it is for Samantha.



Can you imagine what would've happened to Sam if she'd ditched work with her coworkers? Fortunately she's a dedicated student aide.  

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A hunch

Post  Renadt on Tue Sep 05, 2017 3:01 am

Why do I have the feeling that she is her mother's mysterious best friend?
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Re: Mom's Best Friend

Post  kanna172003 on Thu Sep 07, 2017 10:00 am

Uhhh...yeah. Something definitely weird is going on here.
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Re: Mom's Best Friend

Post  kanna172003 on Thu Sep 07, 2017 10:06 am

Renadt wrote:Why do I have the feeling that she is her mother's mysterious best friend?

I'm thinking the same thing. Looks like Sam has somehow stepped into the Twilight Zone.
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Re: Mom's Best Friend

Post  Ransom on Thu Sep 07, 2017 1:00 pm

Yep, you done gone back in time.
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Re: Mom's Best Friend

Post  Ransom on Wed Sep 13, 2017 11:41 am

No internet! No smartphones! The horror! The Horror! Laughing
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Re: Mom's Best Friend

Post  kanna172003 on Wed Sep 13, 2017 12:53 pm

Ransom wrote:No internet! No smartphones! The horror! The Horror! Laughing

I could probably handle no Internet or smartphones, but I couldn't live without an MP3 player. I can't go back to cassettes.
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The rest of the comic. Oh boy...

Post  Ellen-Natalie on Sun Sep 17, 2017 7:40 pm



Jemma designed the form, and made up all the missing valuables Sam listed on there. I loved discovering Sam liked cats. Or at least, her Mom gave her a lot of cat-related things ~



Pensive Sam is pensive ~

While writing the summary, I had to detail the events of the entire series - not just what would happen in the pilot chapter. Many involved meeting and having misadventures of their classmates. I wish I'd thought of giving those character descriptions to Jem so they could appear in the next few pages of this scene. Then again, Jem was already working a really tight deadline at this point.



Often in comic scripts, the writer will include toning notes for their artists. But Jem had a lot more experience with tones than I did, she was given a program of Manga Studio to use and complete creative control on toning the pages.



Poor Rita is so embarrassed.

Never got the chance to ask Jem if the mountains outside the window was an actual tone, or one herself.



MBF will be finishing up this week. The downloadable PDF will be posted this weekend, and the following week FE updates will resume and I'll be posting a master list of rewards I'm catching up on for transparency.

Some of you may be receiving notes this week as I'm double-checking requests and payments in my records for the past few months, and if you have questions please let me know and I'll respond as soon as I can.

Thank you all for your patience and support this past month, I hope you enjoy the ending of this pilot!



As mentioned earlier, Jem and I have worked on projects before - the biggest one was Shiharai / Black Dawn: two separate comics that crossed over with each other, as their characters teleported between different anime worlds. Basically the most epic fan comic ever. Smile

The project got set aside and ultimately cancelled as we both got more involved in our college careers. But you can still see the artwork from these projects on their respective deviantart accounts:

Shiharai: https://shiharai.deviantart.com/gallery/
Black Dawn: https://black-dawn-chronicle.deviantart.com/



Another example where I wish I'd been more careful in writing the script - this moment would've made a lot more impact if the full-grown trees had been featured somehow earlier when she first arrived at school. Maybe looking out her window, passing them by somehow...

I also didn't think about making sure the saplings could be instantly recognizable as such on their own - Jem had the idea to include a human, stake and anchor for an immediate size comparison.



Here it comes...



One more update left!

I feel I should apologize, though - it's going to be a cliffhanger. It was meant to encourage readers to vote for the pilot, so it could be developed into a full series and they would find out what happened next. Then Tokyopop went through major restructuring, dropping the pilot program altogether.

Despite that mess, though, I'm really happy I got to do this project. Sometimes a dream job turns out to be nothing like you thought, and you end up hating it. This project was definitely nothing like I thought it was be, but I loved it.



There you have it!

Essentially, this comic was a girl's version of Back to the Future. I didn't mean for it to be, but my editor got really excited about that concept - pitching it that way to the other editors ended up being how the pilot got green lit in the first place.

Going through this pilot again has been good. Just about everything in my life has changed in the past decade - but one thing that's stayed the same is how much I love making comics. How grateful I am to be able to do so. I hope I can still say the same ten years from now.
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The End

Post  Ellen-Natalie on Sun Sep 17, 2017 7:45 pm

Oh, wow - those pages turned out much larger that I thought.
But I'm going to be deleting the pages from the FE archives, so I think it's better to leave those large images up. The pages will also be left up and free to read on Pateron, and anyone who pledges any amount this month will get access to download their own PDF copy of Mom's Best Friend.

Thanks for everyone's support and patience while I've been moving and setting legal issues. FE will be starting up again this week, and if you're curious how MBF ended, I've shared that on Patreon as well:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/rest-of-moms-14423532
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