Paul Sizer on BPM

Paul Sizer can always rely on me to be a major supporter of his work. One of his trade collections for Little White Mouse features a foreword by me. I was a beta tester on his latest book, BPM. The only thing I like more than reading Sizer’s work is when I get to interview him. Before jumping into the interview, though, let’s get the basic info on BPM.

“BPM is a full color 96-page graphic novel written and drawn by Paul Sizer (LITTLE WHITE MOUSE, MOPED ARMY graphic novels). The graphic novel will contain the main story, plus a comprehensive sketchbook section and detailed playlists and notes. Plus, the book will also be linked with iMixes from the Apple iTunes website that provide a ‘soundtrack’ to accompany the book, as well as playlists for each of the main DJ characters, showing each person’s musical tastes.

“‘B.P.M.’ is Paul Sizer’s love letter to the music he loves. In combining the story of a young DJ with the power of computer enhanced artwork, Paul’s goal is to merge his love of comics and his love of music into a moving, dynamic story of passion, motivation and hard choices over following one’s creative dreams. Paul has challenged himself as a writer and artist, using new techniques to tell this story. Combining his art with hundreds of photos he’s taken in New York, Paul has worked to make “B.P.M.” a unique visual experience as well as a thoughtful and engaging story that transmits the raw power and inspiration that music can generate.

“‘Roxy spins records in dark clubs and small bars, hoping to make a name for herself as a DJ in the complex and demanding club culture of New York City. She stumbles across Robie, a burned-out former superstar DJ, who shows her how to rise to the next level of her art. As Robie’s mentoring begins to elevate Roxy’s career, she must choose whether to follow her heart or the beat of the music she loves. Looking for the ‘perfect beat’ is a long and demanding journey. Which path will Roxy choose, and what will she have to leave behind?'”

Once you read the interview, be sure to visit Sizer’s site which takes the concept of multimedia to its fullest extent. He taps into every form of media except reel to reel and HD, I think. The book is listed in October’s Previews (OCT084169) and will be available in stores by November. You can also buy the book via myriad links at Sizer’s site.

Tim O’Shea: This is a story that includes liner notes (like any good album/CD)–did you hold back with some liner notes details for fear of leaving nothing to the readers imagination/own interpretation?

Paul Sizer: Somewhat. I tried to keep most of my liner notes directed towards inspirations and references to music, behind the scenes stuff that wasn’t upfront obvious. I did try to leave a majority of things open for each person’s own explorations. Even when an artist explains something to me, I still enjoy imprinting my own thought into why it’s in the story, so hopefully people still have an opportunity to do that with BPM to make it more personal and interesting.

O’Shea: You use actual photos for some exterior background, how were you able to keep the shot of the fire escape outside Roxy’s apartment (on page 9) in varying proper scale? How much more time did adding such visual nuances increase your production time on this book?

Sizer: The answer is…tons of planning! I had to work really hard to get all the shots I wanted to use for this book, and then to make sure I could adapt those shots to the drawn art in the book. The photo-backgrounds in BPM have been in process for the past 3 years, as I accumulated shots from New York City over my yearly visits. In most cases, the photos dictated how a scene would be set up, so what I was able to get photo-wise did contribute to how I visually paced the book. I also wanted to be open to let the photos lead me to more interesting storytelling ideas that what I would just pull from my head. In that way, the city became a character in the book that affected how I told the story of BPM.

O’Shea: One of the book’s “(Fast) Forewords” was written by a podcaster–do you hope to broaden your audience for this book by appealing to podcast listeners who might not otherwise read a graphic novel?

Sizer: I hope so! The truth of the matter is, I sell some of my books to the comic direct market, more to the bookstore and library market, and the rest are all up to me to move them into new reader’s hands! With BPM, I’m working really hard to get it in front of as many non-comics based audiences as possible. Since BPM has a music-centric story, I’ve been getting it out to dance music and club based organizations, DJ’s and podcasters, anywhere that people who love music like I do can see another take on how to talk about how music affects our lives. And as the book also has what I feel to be a pretty gay-friendly story, I’ve also been getting the book out to organizations and review sources that are open to this kind of storytelling. The gay community is always a strong component of dance culture, so this seemed like another natural avenue to pursue to find new readers.

O’Shea: Full disclosure for readers of this interview–I was a beta reader of a draft of this book. In fact I provide a blurb for the book in which I liken Roxy’s story (warts and all) to Nick Hornby’s 1995 prose novel, High Fidelity. Would you agree that this is a fair comparison, or did my comparison throw you for a loop when I shared it?

Sizer: It was a great blurb, especially to be compared to a book (and film) that I love so much! “High Fidelity” was indeed one of the inspirations for me to begin thinking about how to tell stories that involved a strong love of music and how it compels us to move our lives to accommodate it. I loved that Hornby made his characters do really stupid and headstrong things to keep music a central part of their lives, even to the exclusion of girlfriends, business relationships and friends, without making the characters seem like complete idiots. I also loved that Hornby showed his characters getting sustenance from music, showing how it let them remember important parts of their lives, and how it could effect positive change and inspiration. Higher praise I cannot imagine, so I hope others feel I’ve done your blurb justice with BPM!

O’Shea: When BPM is released it will be linked with iMixes from Apple iTunes. How did that aspect come about and how complicated was that to arrange?

Sizer: I always liked the phrase “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture”, because in the end, if I want you to feel a certain way about music, hearing it will always do the job better than me just trying to describe it. And since the whole heart of BPM is how music changes our lives, it seemed a no-brainer to find some way to share the music in my mind with the readers, so they could experience it first hand. I’ve been a faithful iTunes user since day one, so I knew about how simple it was to make iMixes to share your “MP3 mixtapes” with others. The challenge was to give the playlist a personality, as the “soundtrack” for the book or a personal list from one of the characters from the book. It was actually a blast making the playlists for each character, because it forced me to pick the brains of different people’s likes and preferences in making a mix. Atsuko’s playlist is very her, as is Dominic’s, and both are different from Roxy’s picks. It’s hard enough doing a mixtape/playlist for myself, and now I had to imagine someone else having a hard time choosing what to include. I’m happy with how they turned out, and I hope it turns people on to some music they maybe don’t know about, or haven’t had an excuse to try. The interface with iTunes allowed me to legally share all this music with the readers, and if they wanted, they could download it and purchase it legally. You can check out all of my links to the BPM Soundtrack iMix and the individual characters’ iMixes here at

O’Shea: As part of the book’s extras, you include sketches of your character development process. Dominic went through the most substantial amount of changes-from skinny guy to hefty man. Can you walk us through your ultimate breakthrough upon settling with that final look of the character?

Sizer: With this book, I really wanted to have my characters’ looks and ethnicity not just be a “diversity checklist”, but really have a logical basis for my choices. Dominic did start out a thin black guy, but then I looked at my cast and saw them all as skinny club kids, and I decided I wanted to mix it up more. Making Dominic a more hefty, large guy sprang more from the enjoyment of seeing a huge guy with hands like manhole covers spinning this very precise, brittle, minimal techno. I liked the weird contrast, and it made the visual makeup of the cast more interesting.

O’Shea: Almost every page of the story features an artist and song name in the footer, associated with the story aspect in that page. I was surprised to find that all the music selected was not Chemical Brothers or Pet Shop Boys. In fact, I was blown away to find my favorite Scottish band, The Blue Nile with Downtown Lights on page 62. Typically you have a song per page. But with some scenes you use the same song for multiple pages (or in the wedding reception scene where they endure predictable wedding reception music: No music). Did those musical selections change a great deal in the revision process?

Sizer: Yeah, the final “soundtrack” of the book was one of the last things I settled on. Some pages have a new song every page, and sometimes multiple pages shared one song, mirroring how I like to DJ; sometimes I use very small bits of songs, and sometimes I let an entire song play uninterrupted. It all depends on what the crowd wants at that point. In assembling the songs in the book’s “soundtrack” I made the choice to not make it just a dancefloor playlist, but more of a really complex mixtape, ebbing and flowing with how the story went, and showing a real diverse range of music, from old to new and dancey to quiet, reflecting the range of moods in the book. The “soundtrack” is not meant to be a real-time reading accompaniment to BPM (it’s nearly four hours of music, and on a slow day, BPM reads in about 30 minutes for me!), but in looking at it, the “soundtrack” could translate to a really adventurous nights playlist with a crowd up for more than just the four-on-the-floor/nonstop beat they usually get, and a DJ willing to take some chances.

O’Shea: Were there any musical selections or story aspects that ended up on the editing room floor?

Sizer: I included everything I wanted to have in BPM, so there aren’t any “Roxy running into drug dealers in the dark alley behind the club” outtakes, per se. My biggest challenge on this book was to keep it lean; MOPED ARMY, while I was happy with the story concept, was VERY overwritten. I didn’t want to do that same thing with BPM, and surprisingly, some of the best criticism I got from beta-readers was to scale things back, lose a lot of redundant dialogue and edit, edit, edit. I chopped pages of dialogue out of this book, mostly stuff that was just re-describing what was going on in the panels. I was kind of apprehensive about it, still seeing myself as a growing writer, but man, I am so glad I did. This is the tightest story I’ve ever written, and I’m glad I listened to people who reminded me to shut up and let the pictures do the talking!

O’Shea: Given that Roxy is the lead character, I assumed she was your favorite to write? Am I wrong? What was your next favorite to write? Do the characters you favor change in the creative process, as the story evolves in your head (or on paper–depending where it happens…)?

Sizer: I loved writing Roxy, but I didn’t want her to be my “Mary Sue”, parroting my own thoughts and preferences. I’ve also done the “plucky girl who struggles and wins in the end with her sparkling wit and personality” thing before, so with Roxy, I wanted to push myself as a writer and try writing a character who didn’t solve problems like I would. Roxy is not a mirror of me, but that made it more interesting to try and give her something that people could latch onto and either applaud or find fault with. The biggest flap from beta-readers on the book was how Roxy dealt with her struggling relationship with her girlfriend Hannah. Some people thought it was spot on, and some though Roxy was a huge tool for how she treated Hannah. I was concerned with this at first, but then I found it interesting that she was soliciting such a strong response, which indicated to me that the readers were investing enough into Roxy to be disappointed with her when she acted like an idiot to someone she cared about. I didn’t plan that from the outset, but as the story grew, Roxy became a more complex character, and I wanted to try out more challenging angles with her. I loved writing Robie, as I somewhat foresee myself evolving into a musical curmudgeon down the road. Again, he was kind of greasy, not like I am at all, so it took some new effort to give him some way to connect with readers.

O’Shea: When structuring a multimedia project like this–how do you balance pacing–particularly when as a storyteller you’re tapping into visual, dialogue and musical narrative variables?

Sizer: Truthfully? I kept this sucker as liquid as I could for as long as I could! Like prepping a playlist for a night at the club, I chose what I felt were really good components, knew them inside and out, and then based how I was going to use them partly on planning and partly on what the experience demanded. This was my most scripted book up front; with all the parts I wanted to use, I couldn’t afford to wing it as I have in the past, but I also worked really hard to let the components tell me how best to use them. I had to write this story to New York City, and with that, I had to be really researched and accurate about the environment, because it is a real place that people can check up on and nail me with an inaccuracy! The best DJ’s I’ve seen have a flexibility in their sets, and can move how the crowd wants, while still playing to their strengths. That’s what I wanted to do with BPM.

O’Shea: What attracted you to create BPM in the first place–and at the story’s heart what is there that should attract an audience to read it?

Sizer: I’m a comic geek and a music geek. I love them both equally, and I wanted to find a way to talk about them at the same time. The heart of this book is the challenge all creatives find themselves faced with: “I love doing this, but to what degree am I willing to go to keep doing this?” I deal with it, my wife Jane deals with it, nearly every comic creator and musician I know has this little demon bouncing around someplace in their brain. BPM is not an “Afterschool Special” with a neat tidy answer at the end; it has one direction that’s still fraught with uncertainty and sacrifice, and sometimes that’s the answer that you get. That’s the answer I gave for Roxy, and it makes her a more interesting, flawed (and hopefully human) character worth reading about and giving a damn about.

O’Shea: Awhile back, when I interviewed your fellow storyteller and wife, Jane Irwin, I asked her how you helped improve her work and vice versa. So in the interest of complete fairness, now I ask you–how has Irwin helped BPM and how do you think her storytelling skills have helped you and your work?

Sizer: Jane is my storytelling conscience; I always know that if I’ve shortcut something or taken the easy way out, she’ll be more than happy to point it out and call me on it, and truthfully, I love that she does. I do the same for her, not as an ego/tit-for-tat thing, but because I respect the hell out of Jane as a storyteller, and we both want our work to be the best it can be, and the only way we’re going to get better is to constantly tighten up our skills.

With BPM, Jane was my control subject. I love electronic and dance music, and Jane loves Irish and folk music, and is not as much into the same club-oriented music I love. But we both really love our music, so it was a perfect test for me to write a story that someone like Jane could relate to, even though it wasn’t about an exactly shared experience. Would my story translate to someone else, even if that person were just learning about the components I was referencing? Jane helped me focus the story, keep it on target and plan for an audience that wasn’t an insider’s circle of music geeks. I pull the same duty for Jane on her current history based webcomic “Clockwork Game”; can I enjoy this story and find it interesting and engaging even if I’m not the same level of history buff that she is? We both have the right to refuse input, but more often than not, the other person’s concerns and comments make us both take a fresh look at what we’re doing and sometimes keep us from going down a dead end. That is so valuable to me, and I’m glad I can get that from someone like Jane.