Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Free Comic Book Day was last weekend and I hope that you had a chance to get to a comic shop and grab some free comics (and hopefully buy some comics from retailers, as well).

“Oddly Normal” was one the two Free Comic Book Day offerings from Image Comics this year. Image reprinted issue #1 of the series to give people a preview of the series and hopefully make some new readers and fans. It was such a thrill to be a part of it! I’ve never been involved with something this big in the world of comics before. Retailers all over the world ordered 66,000 copies of the “Oddly Normal” Free Comic Book Day edition. To give you a sense of scale… the original print run of issue #1 of “Oddly Normal” was about 11,000 copies.

For FCBD this year I appeared at my local shop, The Source Comics & Games. It’s a great store and they put on a spectacular event every year. The interactions I have with fans and new readers are the best part of any store or convention appearance. And inevitably, I get asked a question by one or more people that every comic book creator has been asked since comic fandom started:

“Where do you get your ideas?”

It’s an understandable question, especially from someone who doesn’t engage in the art of storytelling in their lives, be it as a hobby or as a profession. But it’s a really hard question to answer, because the answer is so boring. And the answer is also somewhat frustrating to the aspiring writer or artist because they’re usually asking the question looking for a super-secret formula for creative magic that simply doesn’t exist. Trust me… I’ve seen the blood drain out of the faces of many hopeful comic book creators when I tell them the simple truth:

Ideas for stories are everywhere.

That’s where I get them from. Everywhere. Everything. I get inspiration from things that I like and from things that I don’t like. I’m influenced by stories, art, music, history, politics, every day mundanity, and of course… my own life.

And where ideas come from are less important than how you connect them and shape them into something new.

Most Star Wars fans are aware of the many things that influenced George Lucas in the creation of Star Wars. He didn’t just take Flash Gordon and do his own version. He layered in his love of Kurosawa films, his college sociology studies, the work of Joseph Campbell, his own personal history and much, MUCH more. He used it all and threw it into the stew that became Star Wars. And I’ve only scratched the surface here. There’s an entire website devoted to what Lucas used to build a new universe!

When people ask me about what influenced me to create “Oddly Normal,” they’re often surprised by some of the things I mention. Most people who have read “Oddly Normal” have probably never heard of the anime film “Locke The Superman” or the 90s-era black and white comic series “Akiko.” Most fans might assume that “The Wizard of Oz” was a big influence on the series, but might not know that the novel “Wicked” was an even bigger inspiration.

If you think I’m joking about ideas being everywhere, here’s an example of what I mean…

Most of my best ideas come while I’m doing really mundane things. Taking a shower, sitting in the drive-thru lane at a fast food joint or walking my dog Sully. Case in point: I was out with Sully last week doing our daily trek around the neighborhood when I saw something that sparked an idea. It was a partly cloudy day, and just before we hit the sidewalk the clouds had doused the neighborhood with about five minutes of rain. As we were walking down the street, I noticed a sign for a garage sale. The writing on the sign fell victim to the rain and the result took on a sinister quality that immediately sparked an idea for a story:

Do you see where I’m going with this? Tell me you don’t see the great idea for a horror movie here. Or better yet: a black comedy about competing garage sales that went horribly wrong and turned murderous. It’s a screenplay waiting to happen. Hitchcock would have been all over this.

Now, is it a GREAT idea? No. Because very few ideas are born great. They need to be expanded upon, developed into something new and shaped by a writer’s personal style and experiences. But in this case, the germ of the idea (what Stephen King calls “the fossil”) was right there in plain sight. There I was, just walking my dog and BAM! I came across an idea for a story because the rain turned something you see every summer’s day into a movie poster.

Ideas for stories are EVERYWHERE.

It’s a boring answer to the question, but I’ll be damned if it ain’t the ever-loving’ truth.