Wednesday, April 29, 2015

'Above The Timberline' To Be Published

Greg Manchess

It finally happened.

After six years, one major painting, sixteen drafts, hundreds of loose thumbnail sketches, and countless hours of research, writing, and daydreaming, I can finally make my official Muddy Colors announcement that my hybrid novel-screenplay-graphic novel, Above The Timberline, has been sold to Simon & Schuster with a scheduled release of Autumn 2017!

The story came out of the above painting, done for a video about how I paint, which many of you are familiar with. When a dear friend of mine, Cat Peterson, saw the painting for the first time, he said, “You’ve got to get that in front of a publisher!” I was glad to receive such an enthusiastic response, but a publisher? Are you kidding? I didn’t even have much of a story behind what was going on. Yet I was intrigued by the idea of creating a world and an adventure around the man in the painting.

But there were insane barriers to pierce in order to get this kind of book out in the market. I had to create a story, write a novel, and develop the visuals. I had no agent, and no prospects. I didn’t even know how these things got done outside of what I knew about the illustration world. And the stories I’d heard about artists trying to get their ideas published were bleak. At best.

It’s an entirely strange thing to sit down at a coffee shop, surrounded by other would-be authors, and begin a novel. It took a long time just to keep my mind from asking, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ ‘What makes you think you can do this?’ ‘You’re wasting your time.’ I didn’t even know who the guy in the painting was, and worse, why was he out there?

I’d written smaller works over the course of my life, but now ‘writing’ took on a different meaning. I read book after book about sentences, grammar, plot structure. I realized I was starting over again in a whole new field. So I decided to go about it the way I broke into illustration. Little by little.

At several Starbucks across the nation, at every opportunity to write, paragraphs became chapters, and characters became real people in a frozen world of future Earth. And it was captivating.

Then the real work started. This is a book where the images are as important as the words, where the story is revealed through visuals and the words add an extra dimension to the story line. Hours and hours of work spent on pacing, page reveals, sculpting sentences for maximum impact, and composing double page spreads. And all of that without one iota of possibility for actually getting it published.

Eventually, through deliberate efforts and a constant failure-success-failure-success cycle, the story grew and circumstances and opportunities coalesced into a publishing contract. I suppose, based on my story, you might say Hell froze over.

Over the coming year I’ll be working on the paintings and design of the book and I’ll be keeping updates on the progress here at Muddy Colors. I plan on talking about how this book got created and completed without revealing too much of the story. I’d hate to ruin the effect for readers.

Keep watching here, and I’ll send links from Facebook to Muddy from time to time as well. I have quite a few “10 Things...” posts to run by you all, too, so this will be a very busy year.

And please ask any questions you have about publishing, writing, etc. I hope this will open some doors for artists to tell more stories of their own.

100+ paintings to go!


  1. Congrats Greg! I'm so proud of ya.

    Brom has written three books (?).

    So is this the new template for the illustrator of the future!

    Good luck... next you'll have to sell the movie rights! Looking forward to your progress posts.


  2. wow congratulations, this is great news! Good luck with the work. Above the timberline is one of my absolute favourite paintings of yours.. and speaking of the educational video you also mentioned, where can I find it now? I tried many times to buy it but none of the old links is working, I was able to watch the intro only.. I'm very interested in that as well!

  3. and next up is the "10 things" book.. I hope.. You're turning into an illustr-author!

  4. Thanks, John! I can't wait to get started...

    Actually, I do think that illustrators writing and creating their own properties, stories, inventions, etc, besides painting for clients, is an enhanced goal for our field. There are so many creative minds in just genre work alone, and many opportunities coming up.

    The other day I heard how the 3D printing industry is making huge strides in building machines from printed parts. And that the one resource they need the most isn't engineers, but creative thinkers. Also, GM is now looking to recruit their future creative teams from art schools, not engineering schools.

    Artists. Illustrators. Us.

    Took 'em long enough, didn't it? But...that's exciting!

  5. Hey thanks, maancheno no!

    The only place to get the DVD now is through me. There aren't very many left. I'm asking $50 each, plus $5 for shipping. Let me know if you'd like one:

    Or, every now and then a site crops up that offers bootleg downloads for nothing. Not much I can do to stop that. So if you wait a while, you might find one!

  6. When I read this news on Facebook, I did a happy dance.

  7. 100 paintings, you'll have it done by next week Greg. This is great news.

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  10. Congratulations, Greg, it's fantastic news! 100+ paintings? Crack it like a ninja!

    In fact... will there *be* ninjas...?

  11. Hi Gregory, I was the lucky one who won the poster of "Above the Timberline" in your give away. I had entered the contest because the image invoked so many stories and images in my head. This is fantastic news and I can't wait to see what comes next. Congratulations!

  12. I'm so glad for you Greg, and I can't wait to see the story that you've created around one of my favorite contemporary paintings. Have fun, and thanks for your willingness to share the process with all of us here!


  13. Congrats Greg! Strange how some things get their beginnings huh?

  14. It is indeed, many times I wanted to back away, thinking it was overwhelming and too much to accomplish. But an idea would percolate in my head and I would go back to it. When that worked, I gained renewed enthusiasm. Until the next time I bottomed out, and repeated that process for about 5 years. Arg.

  15. David....I'll hold off on a 'yes' or 'no' for the time being! : )

  16. Thanks for sharing Greg, may I ask what were some of the books and resorces that you mentioned using in the writing process? I am currently embroiled in writing and illustrating my first graphic novel, and am always looking for quality resorces to help with the writing process. I look forward to reading the finished book and also to your posts about the process here at MC. Good luck.

  17. FANTASTIC!.....So excited for you Greg. I'm sure you have a great adventure in store for us all. Now get to work :)

  18. Congratulations, Greg! I've long loved this painting, so I'm excited to see the story and characters that you bring to life! So, book in 2017, next up... major motion picture! :)

    Also, definitely looking forward to your process/progress updates, seeing how everything comes to life and gets from imagination to complete, physical product.

  19. This is very interesting, exciting, and of course I'm tempted to add take my money now and just send me the book already!

    Fell in love with the idea for this book when I first heard of it a few years ago. I'd love to know how you settled with the publisher you ultimately did, why you didn't go for crowd funding, and what sort of advice you got from the people close to you that did have some experience with similar things. I'd love to know what Irene thought, or if James Gurney had any nuggets of wisdom for you? At any rate, I'm gonna grab some popcorn, enjoy hearing you tell the story of how this all came to be, and look forward to owning my very own shiny copy of your epic adventure book!

  20. Outstanding! I had ordered and downloaded 'Above The Timberline' from Massive Black sometime ago.
    Really like that painting and I will be anxiously awaiting the coming images and the book!
    Congratulations and well met!

  21. Thanks, you all!

    My plan is to talk about the process without giving much away about the story (which could be difficult...) and try to answer all of your questions in upcoming posts. How this thing finally got bought is a study in patience and perseverance and sooo much desire.

  22. Shen...I encourage you to get a book entitled, "Thanks, But This Isn't For Us" by Jessica Page Morrell. I love that title. So much like what happens in the art biz! It's full of great advice for what readers want in story, what the story wants, what publishers want, and how to get to all of that. She really spells it out and in a fun way.

    I also recommend, "Writing Tools" and "How To Write Short" both by Roy Peter Clark. Simple, direct, and dead on. Currently in the middle of reading "Help! for Writers", also by him.

    A really exquisite book that gets to the point is, "Several short sentences about writing" by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I found myself thinking that it was also a great book for improving my painting. If you replace 'writer' in the book for 'artist' you can see how it is almost the same endeavor.

    For a graphic novelist, I still think these things are important even coming from long-form writers. The thing about my novel is that the words and pictures work together, but not as an illustrated book, and not like a comic. It is close to a film on paper, but also keeps the reader from having to decipher too many images. I'll talk about that more as I go.

    One suggestion, you build your story, think in visual terms FIRST...then allow the words to come. See if that doesn't help. And as always--keep going! Best of luck!

    1. Thank you for your reply and the helpfull suggestions and resources Greg, much appreciated. I'll look those books up.
      As for thinking in visual terms first, that is, indeed, the way to go, I thumb nailed and drew comps for the project in its entirety before beginning principle drawing. Telling stories with images has a flow, it's those dang words I worry about. :} thanks again for your helpfull suggestions.

    2. was going to ask that very question and here the answer is. THanks greg. need to dive into some good writing guides.

  23. Keith...the story actually grew from a comment by Irene. I never thought I would've taken it this far!

    I also spoke to James on a few occasions. Jim is just a powerhouse of information and enthusiasm. And of course, I was inspired by Dinotopia. (But oddly enough, you'd be amazed at how many publishers are not familiar with Dinotopia! I had to explain it to many of them! Sheesh...)

    In the end, it all came down to what my vision was for the story and staying focused on that. It's a very difficult process as so many people will tell you about doing it this way or that, or you 'should' do this, or you 'can't' do that. It tires you out! But one has to remember that agents and publishers are looking for the thing that looks like an easy sell.

    But if it's that easy, others would've done it a long time ago. (JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers, for all kinds of reasons. One of which was because "no one wants to read a story about a kid with glasses named Harry.") No one can spot a surefire winner before someone else already has. These things creep into being before they blast into the limelight. Usually no one can see them coming.

    But that's why so much of publishing, or art, or movies, etc, is a gamble. This book could go down in flames easily. After publication, it has 8 weeks on the shelves before it's basically remaindered. That's my window. All this....for 8 weeks.

    But hey.....I love this thing already! And I hope everyone else enjoys it, too. THAT will be quite good enough for me.... : )

  24. Congratulations on becoming an author.

    I have a couple of questions.

    1) What's your editing process? Did you hire an editor?
    2) Do they usually publish visual novels (like yours) in e-book form?

  25. This will be breathtaking!
    I am curious about the text-to-image ratio and distribution.
    I look forward to learning more about that as you update us about the project.

  26. Oh my gosh! I am so excited about this!!! I purchased your "Above the Timberline" painting demonstration a few years ago and have watched it several times, since. I will be setting aside some money now so that I can afford to get this as soon as it's released! :)

  27. Congratulations Greg, I'm very excited for you. Can't wait to finally see the book realized.

  28. Congratulations! That is wonderful :)

  29. Love hearing your encouragement, Muddies! Thanks!

    Lindsay....I had trouble writing until I read about the Zero Draft. Instead of making the first draft #1, make it zero. Just start typing or writing. You don't have to worry....the zero draft is your stream of consciousness flooding onto the page. This is where we find what we're honestly thinking about. As someone said, 'I just vomit words on the page.' What's great about this is that it takes the stress away immediately. It also cures writer's block within a sentence or two.

    All good writing is re-writing, as a close friend always reminds me. Go back and edit yourself by rearranging, shifting, rewording, cutting down, or rewriting passages. The editing process is really where all the fun is, but it's a ton of hard work. That's ok. Leo Tolstoy was changing words to War and Peace as the book went to press! Hemingway rewrote the last sentence of one of his first books something in the neighborhood of 37 times.

    Label that first edit, 'Draft 1.'

    They haven't worked out a way to publish something like my book in ebook form. Who knows.....maybe by 2017. But that's ok, too. I want a real book first. One you can hold in your hand and flip back and forth easily.

  30. Congratulations Greg! I'm so excited that it will be published. I was awestruck at IMC by the idea, and it's wonderful that it's coming to fruition. Hard work and practice, am I right? ;) Congrats again.

  31. The text-to-image ratio is refined to basically one overall image per spread, with some inset images to add to that. I had to write out a 300 page novel, then go back and carve it up into scenes of the story to match the pictures. Not a panel-by-panel comic. And no talk balloons, which I find distracting and takes you out of the story.

    Each spread is meant to be a reveal to further the story as it goes.....

  32. Congrats Greg! I remember you mentioning this project in a podcast, and was wondering what happened to it. I'm glad it's happening!

  33. Very cool Greg! Your approach and a few of the comments have helped to give me a bit insight of how to put together a bunch of writing, comic pages and drawings for a story I've been working on for sometime now.

  34. I am so excited Greg! Can't wait to see your book in print!!!

  35. Congrats, Greg! I remember when you mentioned you were thinking about doing this back at the Black workshop in 2008.

    Glad to see you kept at it! You're a great example.

  36. Thanks, Kim! Always glad to have a Happy Dance!!!! Hysterical!

  37. Go Greg! Anne says: Bears! Looking forward to... the movie! : )

  38. Wow! That is really wonderful, congratulations! I am excited for a couple reasons. First obviously is the final product. Can't wait! Just as great though is the anticipation of the experience that you will undoubtedly share. You are always so generous with what you have learned and so I look forward to the inevitable MC posts that detail your progress. Looking forward to "10 Things About Getting a Book Published"!

  39. Congrats Greg! Thanks for sharing Greg


  40. Fall 2017 can't come soon enough. It's like waiting for Star Wars VII to finally get made. A year feels like a decade!