People often ask writers and artists where they get their ideas. Answered simply, ideas come from my brain. If you want a reply with more depth, the ideas arise from a combination of my personal experiences and the innumerable stories I’ve heard over the course of my living years.
Those stories are from many sources: movies, comics, magazine articles, history books, newspapers, other people’s personal experiences recounted to me, conversations overheard in public places, and many more. That information sits in my head and I dip in to bring out the bits I need to start a story. It’s kind of like a very large pantry stocked with food. Sometimes you can easily find what you need and sometimes it takes a lot of digging around. Once you have some ingredients you put them together, taste what results, and then change the recipe as required. Sometimes you’ve got to throw the whole thing out and start over.
I actually have a hard time coming up with ideas when given a blank slate. I need a few keywords to trigger the creative juices. For this crime anthology, I knew the theme was crime, but that’s a broad term so I had to get more focused. Researching and reading crime comics helped because it showed me what types of stories existed within the genre. A few stuck in my mind: Women criminals, true crime, heists, and pieces that followed a criminal through the length of their criminal career. I grew attached to that last one.
I had no personal experiences to draw from but I did have information in the form of stories told to me by family. Stories about my Great Uncle and Grandfather bubbled to the surface. When they were young boys, they ran rum for bootleggers and had even been used as lookouts, watching the streets for cops as illegal Chinese immigrants were taken off a ship and loaded into the back of a truck. My Great Uncle also says he’s the last man alive to know who murdered a prominent Chinese businessman in the city in which he grew up.
Whether truth, fiction or somewhere in between, these stories are inspiration for events that occur in my comic, “The Three Princes”.
When my Grandfather and Great Uncle in their youth popped into my head, I knew I wanted to do a story about young boys growing up among gangsters, but decided there would be three boys instead of two, and that they would be friends, not relatives. I also knew I wanted to set my story in the 1940s or 50s as homage to the heyday of crime comics.
I started researching the time periods and quickly realized some of the story elements I wanted to include would not be possible in that era. The 1920s popped into my head, a time of Prohibition. The more I read about the era the more I realized it was the perfect setting for “The Three Princes”.
If there is one work of fiction that helped shape my story it’s Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. Released in 1984, it would be Leone’s last movie. (He died of a heart attack in ’89). What I remember most is the segments in which the main characters are shown as young boys, growing up during Prohibition. (At least I think they grew up during Prohibition; I was just a teenage boy myself when I saw that movie.) They weren’t evil kids– no kids are– but the movie showed events that help set them on the road to a criminal life. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to show a few key events that put these three boys on a road to gangsterism. And, as in Once Upon a Time in America, I wanted to show what happened to them as adults, though in far less detail because I was hoping to write a 20-page comic, not make a four hour movie.
I use hardback black notebooks as keepers of my ideas. I jotted down some notes– a few details about the boys, the time period I wanted to use and an opening that came into my mind. (That opening made it into the script almost completely intact.) These few things were enough ingredients. I could now start experimenting with the recipe.