Help? My New Graphic Novel Is Not a Graphic Novel!

My Comic is not a Comic

Have you been following my new web comic, Jack Tinn and the Aquanauts? Well, I have some news for you: my comic is not a comic.


What is Jack Tinn?

I don’t expect many people to know about Jack Tinn yet, since I’ve only been sharing the comic online since the beginning of the year. What you need to know is that Jack Tinn and the Aquanauts is a comic that I’ve been making and publishing online at

Jack Tinn is a teenage inventor who has traveled as a stowaway on Charles Darwin’s research vessel, the Beagle. Tinn and Darwin make their way to the Galapagos Islands, where they discover that their captain and crew have vanished without a trace. The two meet up with a young blind girl and stumble upon a human-like race with a dark secret, finding themselves in a struggle for their lives.

It’s an adventure filled with action, inventions and bizarre creatures–all of it housed within a strange mystery.


In a Nutshell

But, as I said before, my comic is not a comic.

It’s news to me, too. I’ve been working on the comic for close to a year now, and have been filling up sketchbook after sketchbook with characters, props, environments and plot twists. I had originally planned on making the web comic early last summer, but wasn’t satisfied with the drawings I was making, and so I dedicated a few months to developing the drawings and palette–the look I wanted for Jack Tinn.

Long story short: I’ve been drawing finished pages for two months now and have been publishing the comic online at, with new pages Monday through Friday. It was about a week ago, while drawing a page filled with crawling plants and soaring birds that I realized the book I have been working on for close to a year is not a comic at all. It’s a novel.


Why a Novel?

I don’t know entirely. I trust my gut, though, and my gut tells me that this story is a novel. The frustrating part is that my gut has been telling me this the entire time, but I’ve suppressed the thought in order to focus on the drawings for the comic. There’s no helping it, though–Jack Tinn and the Aquanauts is a novel!

The more I think about the book in novel form, the more I see that this is the natural form of the story. It is the proper structure for Jack Tinn. It is its nature. Of course I love drawing and I love making comics, but I’ve been seeking out the needs of the book for such a long time and have finally received an answer. I’ve always tried to give each project what it needs in order to make it what it needs to be. Some comics turned out to need clay characters, and others required only two colors. This book requires the written word.


So Now What?

It took me a few days to really accept the idea that I need to recreate everything I’ve done over the past year. I didn’t ask to recreate the book, and I wasn’t looking for a book to write, so it caught me completely off-guard. It’s an incredibly humbling feeling to be at the mercy of a thing, especially something that you’ve already put so much time and effort into. Once I was able to accept that I would be writing for the next foreseeable months, I got excited about the idea and the change of pace.

For the last several days I have been writing, very slowly, getting into the frame of mind required to put words on paper. So, at the risk of coming off like a complete fool (and in the light of being true to my creation) I’d like to share a brief sample from my rough draft of Jack Tinn and the AquanautsPlease keep in mind that this is simply a rough draft and will be cut mercilessly once I’ve finished the first pass. This is from page 7:

A Sample 

The chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean were known to many as The Enchanted Islands, owing to their many mysteries. Though the islands were discovered by accident in 1535, they were thought to have been inhabited by the Incan people nearly a century before its discovery.

The islands were promptly ignored until the seventeenth century, when whalers decided to stop regularly along the archipelago to gather food and supplies. The islands had also been frequented secretly by British pirates, and the first and most widely used navigation chart of the archipelago had been created by one of the pirates.

There were many accounts of sailors who had passed through the island chain claiming that islands would vanish and then reappear right before their eyes. There were also reports of islands shifting from their place in the waters, and of islands that seemed to be made up purely of “shadows with no substance”. Several bizarre and frightening encounters with all manner of beasts had been spoken of, though there didn’t seem to be any official account of any of the confrontations. There were equally perplexing accounts of more commonplace sightings of feral cats and black rats, which only added depth to the question of how the animals had originated on the island, though the cats and rats were probably passengers on the countless pirate and whaling ships.

Darwin thought back to his voyage to the islands, where just moments before crashing, he had been writing in his diary. He thought he had seen a mermaid in the ocean, trailing behind the ship.Then again, he thought to himself as he walked, it was early morning and the sunlight was weak. We’ve seen plenty of sea lions and fur seals swimming along, as well. Charles shook his head. Perhaps I am simply feeding off of these accounts of mystery too much, he concluded, and stopped to look at a lizard sunning itself on a rock. Lava Lizard, Darwin recorded. Female, with a red throat. Darwin thought he had seen the dark body of a snake beside him, but there was no trace of such and he continued to step through the forest.



I’d feel guilty if I hadn’t shared all of this with you. I mean, I started posting pages of my new comic, in the promise of making the full comic, and now I’ve learned that it’s not a comic at all! Will you help me?

Will you help me make Jack Tinn what it needs to be by asking me about it? Will you let me know what you think of the story, or the writing? Will you help keep me focused in your own way? I feel a strong sense of community via this blog and I wouldn’t ask for help if I didn’t think it was necessary. You’ve helped me come this far; will you help me finish?

While I write, I’ll continue posting the comic pages I’ve completed (what else am I supposed to do with them?). You can read them all at

Thank You

Thanks for taking the time to read through this post. I don’t expect it to make perfect sense to everyone, but it’s something I needed to share. I’m excited about this book and the possibilities of what can come from it. I’ve created a status bar to mark my progress in the writing. See it? Up there in the left sidebar, below the ‘Categories’ menu? I’ll use it to track my progress for writing the rough draft of Jack Tinn. I’m shooting for 80,000 words and have currently written 10,000, putting me at 12.5%.

Thanks for all your support and encouragement. Now…back to writing!

16 Responses to “Help? My New Graphic Novel Is Not a Graphic Novel!”
  1. Hiya Jess!

    What a lovely and honest post to read, I found it really interesting and I thank you for sharing this with us 🙂 No need to feel guilty if you didn’t know! And also no need to feel guilty about it changing. It’s your work, and you can do what you jolly well like with it ‘good day sir!’ And all that stuff 🙂
    But again, I think it’s really cool of you to let us in on this, and I also find it very interesting reading about your project has developed.

    Now, what I love about your Jack Tinn comic is the humour, and the wonderful, excited energy that you get from the story and the character’s interaction with each other. There’s lots of ‘AHA!’s and ‘So THAT’s what you were planning’ moments, and it’s all quite wonderfully eccentric which I really like 🙂

    Obviously your prose that you’ve posted is only a wee section, and I don’t mean this as a criticism at all, but I’d love to see that energy and Jess Smart Smiley personality in there too! Like the way you talk to us in your blog post about your project, I find it so engaging and true to you. So, what I’m saying is, I look forward to seeing some eccentric and electric conversations and action between them in your prose as well! 😀
    Best of luck with it and I’m really happy for you that you’ve found the form that you’d like to tell your story in. I can’t wait to read it all 🙂

    • Jess Smart Smiley says:

      Emma, Emma, Emma. It seems like every time I respond to something you’ve written, I can’t help but start with the words “thank you”. It was a real struggle for me to even write this post, because I’ve just started up a conversation with readers in comics form, where they can stop by each day to see something new and have something exciting to talk about. I don’t want anybody to feel like I’m shutting the doors on that discussion. I want to include everyone in the experience, which I why I decided to spill everything. Anyway, you get it, and I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU READ THE WHOLE POST! Now I really owe you and everyone who follows my blog!

      As for the electricity: plan on it! The section I’ve posted here just so happens to come after the first big action. It’s supposed to slow things down for the reader, so they can feel the next big rush when it hits.

      Now that I think about it: I wonder if it would be helpful to post a paragraph or two every now and then from the day’s writing? What do you think? Most of all: THANK YOU!

      • Hiya Jess! What a lovely response 🙂 You are of course most welcome!
        And of course I read the whole thing, I love the way you write and I am genuinely interested in seeing how your projects are developing! And as the other comments prove, so do many others. And to echo the sentiment here, you really do rock! 😀

        I think posting up a paragraph every now and then as you feel comfortable would be a great idea 🙂

        And I have to agree that I think the novel would be complete with some illustrations! Chapter header and some interspersed. Is it at all possible to maybe experiment with some pages being a full double page spread illustration or a comic panelled page? Might interrupt the flow perhaps, but it might also work really well for whichever section of the story demands the most appropriate story telling device 🙂 Have you seen the book ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabaret’? It’s a prose novel but with many full page illustrations in between, like a cross over between comics and novels. Might be worth a peek 😀
        But whatever you decide, we are all behind you and trust your judgement! Share as little or as much as you like, and enjoy it. 🙂

      • Jess Smart Smiley says:

        Thank you, Emma! I’m going to throw quotes of yours all over the internet, so that people think I’m this amazing guy who’s books they have to read.

        The double-page spread idea sounds really cool. I was really taken by “The Invention of Hugo Cabaret”, and maybe I’ll end up doing something similar. It’s kind of hard to tell at this point, where I just know that I must write. I also think of “Peter and the Star-Catchers” and that whole series. James A Owen also creates these wonderful chapter illustrations for his books that I love. I’m really just trying to serve the story right now, and we’ll see what comes of it. I’ll keep you posted!

  2. ladyofnarnia says:

    You rock, Jess! I’d love a novel from you. But it’s got to have pictures. I’ll help in any way I can! Did you know that Chris Crowe is working on a historical fiction novel of the young William Mariner? You guys should talk.

    • Jess Smart Smiley says:

      Oh, gosh. Thank you, Diana! I know you have a lot of other books and blogs you could be reading, so I really appreciate your support. How would you feel about chapter illustrations, or section illustrations at the least? Do you ever read manuscripts from other authors?

      I’ll definitely get hold of Chris Crowe–that’s awesome, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to talk with Chris some more. Thanks for the heads-up and for your encouragement 🙂

  3. Tasha Turner says:

    Good luck. It’s funny how our creations can take on a life of their and become something different than we planned. How exciting for it to become a graphic novel. Go for it.

    • Jess Smart Smiley says:

      You know, I think that’s exactly what happened. I wanted to make a graphic novel, but the story demands to be told as text-only. When I was drawing last week, I was heavily involved in the needs of the story and that’s when its true form struck me. Hmmmm. You’ve got me thinking, Tasha. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and share your thoughts!

  4. ladyofnarnia says:

    You rock, Jess! I’d definitely read a novel by you–as long as there are pictures too.
    I’ll help in any way I can!

  5. Arza Winters says:

    Jess…you are cool. Also, I was going to mention Hugo Cabret as well, but Emma Reynolds beat me to it above. I think you should do a novel, but have an occasional page of comic. It doesn’t even have to be separate from the text; as in, the text can flow as normal, but every once in a while the most intense scenes can be in both text and comic form.

    It’s funny—I was thinking about this idea a few weeks ago, but I can’t draw too well so I pushed the idea to the back of my mind.

    • Jess Smart Smiley says:

      Ha ha ha! “You are cool.” I’m going to use that as a blurb on the front of the book 😀 Have you read anything by Charles Vess, by chance? He mingles a lot of stand-alone text with comics pages and full illustrations, as well as spot illustrations and diagrams. Pretty cool. I don’t know. I’m still figuring this thing out, but I know that I need to write. I figure that I’ll start there and see where it takes me. I’ve already invested so much time into this project, between contracts, so I want to do it right.

      Thanks a ton for your support, Casey.

  6. Okay, I spent some time thinking about this yesterday and here is my two cents worth of advice (or whatever).

    The novel idea is stellar, I find the concept for this story remarkably suited for a switch to prose. I also think that the posters who are pro illustration are spot on. I don’t know if you read any old printings of some of the adventure classics, like Treasure Island perhaps, that had occasional illustrations included randomly within the text like little gold nuggets. I LOVED those books as a youngster and can really see Jack Tinn as a successor to these wonderful tomes.

    I can also see adding a page as a comic, but that doesn’t seem as natural to me. However, there really is no right or wrong way to illustrate a novel in my mind. You need to do what you feel best drives the narrative in the direction you want to take it.

    You will likely spend a great deal of time wrangling with the prose, one caution I have for you here, don’t get super bogged down with it if you can avoid it. Maybe even intersperse your writing with the sketching of possible illustrations. If you find you are losing momentum or even balling up multiple pages and throwing them angrily in the trash, thing very hard about letting that passage go. It may be it just won’t work, or it may be the wrong time to work on it.

    I have written many short pieces for myself, never a novel. The truth is, I don’t know if I have a story of that length to tell. Jack Tinn feels like a story that should be that length to me, so have a go and good luck!

    • Jess Smart Smiley says:

      Wow! What an incredibly thoughtful and helpful comment. I’m touched that you would share this with me. Thank you for taking the time to read through this post (I think it’s my longest yet!), and for taking even more time to think about what you have to say about it.

      I’m a big fan of those old classics. “Treasure Island”, the stories of Jules Verne, “Robin Hood”. I remember a blue hardbound book without a cover that we had at home, when I was growing up. It was an illustrated anthology of short stories, filled with adventure on the high seas. I had completely forgotten about the book, but you’ve brought to mind several of the black and white illustrations. I can still see all the cross-hatching and line art!

      I’m trying not to get too attached to anything I’m writing in this first draft. I know that it will change, that I am simply creating a sort of skeleton to later dress in skin. My plan is to push through the rough draft, including everything that I can. That will give me a good chunk of substance to push around and whittle down. The second pass will be for clarity, cutting out any of the inessentials, and making for a more easy-to-follow read. The third edit will be saved for rhythm.

      But we’ll see how it goes. I haven’t done this before, either 😉

      Thanks again, so much for your comments, and for your constant support. Knowing that you’ve followed my comics and illustrations and are somehow still interested in what I have to write makes me hopeful.

      • I like to support people who tell stories and have a sense of wonder about the world. I believe it’s our job to do that for each other, so it just comes naturally to me. I have followed your work for a while because it touches me and I want to see your work move forward. Novel writing is supposedly the toughest nut to crack, so consider me one of your handy nutcrackers, lol : )

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  1. […] a novel, rather than a comic. (If you’re really interested, you can read all about it here.) Once I knew that I had to recreate everything I’ve been working on as a text-only novel, I […]

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