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Bill Groshelle, 67: Filmmaker Turned Graphic Novelist

After a successful career as a commercial director and consultant to tech companies including Apple and Google, Bill Groshelle decided to create his first graphic novel. He discusses the parallels between filmmaking and his new pursuit, his creative process, and his plans for what’s next.

We often assume that the skills we have accumulated over decades may only be suited for the careers we have had, and that the path forward would be similar to the one we have been on. This can work for some people but is often self-limiting. Most of us can do a lot; the trick is to narrow it down to what we can do best and most enjoyably given our circumstances. You never know what that may be, or where it could lead.

In our experience, perhaps the most effective trajectory is to take a parallel path, different to what we had been doing while utilizing our skills, connections, and social support in a new way. This requires imagination, perseverance, and a helping of faith, all of which Bill Groshelle had developed in his past career as a commercial director.

This year, Bill published his first graphic novel, the thoroughly enjoyable Operation Dragon. Making the book was not without its challenges, but making a project like this is also not entirely dissimilar from being a commercial director — coming up with the concept, the creation of a story arc, the working with teams towards manifesting a common vision, and the selling through of the work. This time the medium would be a printed book, whereas in the past it would have been 60-second videos. 

What is your age?
I’m 67 years old.

Where do you live? Why live there?
I live in Covington, Kentucky. My wife and I moved here a couple of years ago after living in Sausalito, California for about 30 years. There’s tons of culture, tons of beautiful nature. We live in a 100-year-old brick Georgian townhouse on a leafy cobblestone street. 

What sort of work were you doing in SF?
I was working in San Francisco as a commercial director, and later I was a creative director and consultant to major tech companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Intel.

“Creating a graphic novel is very similar to filmmaking”

Do you see making the book as a pivot or as a parallel pursuit to what you were doing in the past?
Creating a graphic novel is very similar to filmmaking in a couple of ways. First, everything starts with the script, then you move on to storyboards. Some of my work was as an animation director, and the process is very similar.

Bill Groshelle’s earlier commercial work

How did your past skillset help you in getting the book done?
Writing is the main thing, and then design, and these were things that I had been doing professionally for decades.

What is it like going from working with big organizations to essentially the solo work of being a writer?
I’ve been an independent consultant for a couple of decades. I mostly worked in my office/studio. Sometimes I’d be on set for a film shoot. Writing alone is not a big leap.

Bill Groshelle’s earlier commercial work

What is the origin of the Operation Dragon story?
This was a story that I had ricocheting around in my head for many many years. About 10 years ago, I took some time off and wrote a screenplay based on the story idea. I then re-engineered that screenplay into the graphic novel. The inspiration was comic books I read as a kid that involved dinosaurs and soldiers.

What is the process of making a graphic novel? It seems like a number of people are involved.
The process starts with the script, then the drawings are made conventionally on the artboard, then they’re scanned, and the files are colored in Photoshop, and then the lettering is done in InDesign or Adobe Illustrator. There is generally always an author, an artist, and a colorist in the creation of a graphic novel or a comic. In this case, I had a collaborator on the writing, Brendan Cahill.

“There is generally always an author, an artist, and a colorist in the creation of a graphic novel or a comic”

What is your writing/creating process?
One just has to sit down every day and spend a lot of time writing, then look it over, think about it, and then revise and keep going.

The book is a whole world unto itself. When you were working on it, did part of you sort of live in that fantasy world?
Not really. I’m a pretty grounded person, and this is a lot of hard work, so yes, I was engrossed in the process and the characters, but I wouldn’t really say I was living in a fantasy world.

What surprised you as being most difficult in making the book, and how did you overcome that?
One of the hardest things about making the book was collaborating with the artists. They were both in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and all the work had to be done via email. Occasionally, we would get on the phone or on a video chat, but most of it was done purely with emails. 

Are the characters based on anyone you know?
No, the characters were completely created by me.

How were the visuals created?
The artwork was done conventionally on a board with pen and ink, then the drawings were scanned so that they were digital. Then the coloring was done to those files, and eventually the lettering was added to that to create the final pages.

Operation Dragon by Bill Groshelle

Have you always been a graphic novel fan?
As a film director, I’ve always recognized that graphic novels are like a screenplay with a storyboard. I love that about them. The other thing that’s great about graphic novels is you can have a feature film with unlimited special effects and get it accomplished for the price of a short film.

How did you go about getting it published?
Well, getting a book published is no small feat, and my book was no exception. It actually came down to someone knowing someone at Dark Horse Books. I sent my pitch document to them and they got right back to me and we started talking. It sounds easy, but that was after a couple of years of rejections and work on finding a publisher.

“Getting a book published is no small feat, and my book was no exception”

Was Covid a problem in getting the book finished and distributed?
The book would have been out a year earlier. It was delayed because of the pandemic. Dark Horse put a hold on all their projects in the spring of 2020.

People may assume that graphic novelists would be younger; did you get any push back about that?
Actually, no. I think there are authors of all ages working in the medium.

Is this your first graphic novel, and do you plan to do another?
Yes, this is my first graphic novel. Yes, I’m working on another one now. It is a mash-up of a couple of genres in the same way that Operation Dragon is a mashup. But the characters, storyline, and setting are completely different.

Operation Dragon by Bill Groshelle

Gotta ask, were you a Godzilla fan?
Of course!

Favorite other Japanese monster films?
I really like the Guillermo del Toro film Pacific Rim. It’s not exactly a Japanese monster film but it certainly draws on those influences.

Thoughts on Marvel and Stan Lee?
Stan was a genius. He was a huge influence on popular culture. Stan made comics fun in a way they weren’t before he started creating them.

“My music tastes are extremely wide-ranging and eclectic”

What music have you been listening to?
My music tastes are extremely wide-ranging and eclectic. I really love the new Black Keys record “Delta Kreme.” I’ve been listening to some contemporary Israeli jazz as well.

What sort of books have you been reading?
I’m a big fan of literary Noir. My current favorite is Jean-Patrick Manchette, a French writer from the ’70s. I just finished a novel by the Nobel Prize winner, Olga Tokarczuk, called Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. It’s a fantastic literary mystery story.

What is your ambition for the next 10 years?
Write another book. Sell Operation Dragon film rights and executive produce a series or feature film.


Operation Dragon Website
Dark Horse Books
Operation Dragon on Amazon
Bill’s Portfolio

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AUTHOR

David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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