Robert K. Jeffrey
"I love creating these worlds that people can get lost in, just like I did as a kid growing up whenever I picked up a book."
A freelance writer with over 13 years of experience, Robert was chosen along with 5 other writers (out of more than a thousand applicants,) to take part in the 2017 DC Comics Writers Workshop. He’s the creator/ writer of the Glyph Comics Award nominated/ winning comic book series Route 3, Editor In Chief of BlackSci-Fi.com, has contributed to such anthologies like Dark Universe: Bright Empire, and is co-writer of the Glyph Comics Award nominated Radio Free Amerika. His client work includes work done for the Centers for Disease Control and Nitto Tires, and he currently co-hosts the New Wakanda podcast.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from the southside of Chicago.
Where did you grow up?
We moved around a bit when I was growing up. So I’ve actually lived in California (Los Angeles, Pasadena), Chicago, and now Atlanta. I’ve been in Georgia the longest and love it down here.
How did your experiences affect your stories/ writing?
As a kid who loved things like Star Trek, Batman, X-Men, Spiderman, Back To The Future, Hook, etc I began to notice a pattern.
Though folks who looked like me were found in a lot of these fantastical stories, we were often not at the forefront. I had a problem with that and continue to even now. I was surrounded by no shortage of black people who took charge in their own stories on a day by day basis. Sure, they weren’t going out and leaping from rooftops to fight crime, or trekking the stars, seeking new life and new civilizations. The point was, they were handling their ‘ish, and weren’t being relegated to sidekick/ support status, or the comic relief.
I told myself that wasn’t going to be the case in the stories that I wrote, that featured people who looked like me. Though I pride myself on being able to write just about anything and anyone, when it comes to focusing on characters of color I like to make them the power players in these larger than life stories that I like to tell.
Its worked out so far, so I’ll keep doing it. ?
You have been working with DC with their writing program. How has been that experience?
The 2017 DC Writers Workshop was a great experience. Having a chance to learn from an industry legend like Scott Snyder was an experience that I’ll never forget, and the information I took from the workshop has become crucial in helping my growth as a writer.
I also learned A LOT from my fellow workshop participants, and I’ve seen development in my scripts since doing the workshop.
What type of stories do you like to make comics about?
Where to begin? Lol. I write whatever gets me hyped as a creator. I’m kind of selfish in that when I start brainstorming an idea for a script that I focus on things that will keep me entertained and connected to. I try to do that when seeking out client work.
So, my interests in terms of stories that I like to make comics about vary across the board. Route 3 is a coming of age super heroic, espionage thriller. Mine to Avenge: The Book of Layla is a cyber punk/ action horror series. RET: CON is an Afrofuturist time traveling adventure. To say my interests in what I like to create run a wide a gamut is an understatement. The same goes for any client work. I pride myself on being a varied hired gun when it comes to writing for prospective employers.
You can’t limit yourself as a writer. You just can’t. You miss out on countless opportunities like that, and since my goal is to eventually do this full time, I keep myself open to a variety of different things to write about.
Whats your process? Elaborate on how you work through your projects. How do you break up your time for your projects at different stages?
I usually begin with brainstorming, then moving to outlining. I find that unless I have a specific set of steps to follow in building my story, my mind wanders.
Brainstorming can begin with a simple kernel of an idea, which I then build into something more. I try to follow the tried and true model of establishing your “Set Up, Conflict, & Resolution” for the story. It simplifies things in the long run, in terms of giving me a template of sorts to follow. Now, not to say that this template might be switched around for the sake of storytelling, but to have a basic story skeleton of sorts to follow is crucial for me to follow.
After that I’ll begin writing a first draft, just to get the thoughts down on paper. Storytelling is key here, as I’m partly putting together a script that the artist is going to enjoy drawing, just as much as whoever might buy the book will enjoy reading. I try not to over direct when it comes to panel descriptions but provide just enough direction where both I as the writer and the artist know how the page is going to flow.
I find that writing dialogue is a favorite part of the process of mine as it helps me to feel out the various characters in a scene. So, after writing the dialogue, panel descriptions, location captions, thought captions, etc. it all come together to move the story forward.
The first draft is usually followed by a second and third draft where I’m fine tuning everything within the script. After that, it’s off to my editor, comes back to me for another pass, then it goes to the art team.
What do you recommend to aspiring writers that you wish you had known much earlier? What would you tell yourself 20 years ago?
Life is a fickle beast, and it will complicate things every chance that it gets. When that happens, just keep pushing forward. Also, stay out of your head. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Just don’t.
And have more confidence in yourself. Keep learning as much as you can about writing, stay open to constructive criticism, don’t treat people horribly, and just do your best to be the best person you can be. Also, stay out of your head, and have more confidence in yourself. Did I say that already? ?
What do you love best about writing comics?
I love creating these worlds that people can get lost in, just like I did as a kid growing up whenever I picked up a book. To provide an escape, or an alternative to all the BS that surrounds us 24/7, that’s a blessing.
What do you wish was different about the comics industry?
I wish that the industry would realize that EVERY-FRIGGIN-ONE loves these books. Find ways to tap into that, and just build, and build, and build. And some publishers, more so than others have realized that. Continue to reflect the world that exists NOW, and your readership that exists NOW.
Which books do you recommend writers should have in their reference library? Favorite instructional material?
Jim Zub’s Tutorials for creating comics: http://www.jimzub.com/
Alan Moore’s Writing For Comics: Alan Moore
Powers Scriptbook by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming
Writing for Comics & Graphic Novels with Peter David: Peter David
Making Comics: Scott McCloud
Understanding Comics: Scott McCloud
The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics: Dennis O’Neill
Words For Pictures: Brian Michael Bendis
Top 5 favorite writers.
1. Dwayne McDuffie
2. Geoffrey Thorne
3. Octavia Butler
4. Greg Rucka
5. Brandon Thomas
Favorite comic characters.
5. Tara Chace
8. Woke AF’ Cyclops
Top 5 favorite comics and graphic novels.
1. Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool
2. New Frontier
3. Icon: A Heroes Welcome
3. Queen and Country: The Definitive Editions, Vol. 1-4
4. The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury
5. Prodigal: Egg of First Light
7. Batman: The Long Halloween
8. Gotham Central: In The Line of Duty
9. Invincible: Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1
10. Noble Vol 1.: God Shots
What type of work are you interested in doing? Now? In the future?
I’m always interested in doing more comics work. I’m open to writing anything. I’m having a great time working for publishers like 133 Art and Evoluzione Publishing. I’d love to work for publishers like Lion Forge, Valiant, Boom! Studios, Dark Horse, IDW, etc. I’ve got a bucket list of licensed characters that I’d like to pitch for including characters/ franchises like Rocket (Milestone Media), Overwatch, Star Trek, The Orville, and heck even my favorite cult classic, Sliders.
In addition to the comics work, I’m trying my hand at writing for table top gaming with New Agenda Publishing, and I’d really like to learn more about, and eventually jump into video game writing. Lastly, I’m going to get back into writing prose fiction by the end of this year, and am currently looking into getting my certification for technical writing.
How can others find and purchase your work?