Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Just like all science experiments, there are steps involved in order to create. It's no different here, bringing back a beloved cartoon to comics. So here are six steps involved in creating the new DEXTER'S LABORATORY comic at IDW . . .


In this industry, I've found this rule-of-thumb applies best…

    It's always better to be asked than to ask.

I've tried pitching for various titles and companies in the past. Cold call submissions. You might know someone at a company, or sometimes not at all. But you're hopeful your resume of past work will help them consider you, so you contact them first. For the most part, it generally never works that often. Pitches get turned down for any number of reasons (similar projects in the pipeline, they're not looking, or they just flat out hate the idea). But when a company comes to you, you at least know they're interested in the project, and more importantly, in you.

I was approached by Sarah Gaydos, who had previously edited me on Batman Li'l Gotham at DC. Now that she was at IDW and in charge of the Cartoon Network line of kids book, she asked if I'd be interested in pitching for Dexter's Laboratory. It was a show I fondly remembered when it came out during my latter years in college before I graduated. I loved the humor, and felt this would be an ideal follow-up to the fun stories I helped write in Li'l Gotham.

Pitching is just like a job interview. You have a resume of past work and connections that can get your foot in the door. But it really comes down to presenting yourself (your idea) as best you can and just hope that they like it. Add to that, that you're not the only one pitching. You assume, and rightfully so, that others were asked to present their ideas as well. So you're in competition with others as well as yourself, right out the gate. Putting your best foot forward and coming up with the idea itself can be the most nerve wracking part of the process.

When pitching for a licensed title, the research involved means watching cartoons (or as I call it…the perks of the job). Dex had many seasons of shows, and a lot to go through in a limited time. But the idea for my story came within watching just a few episodes. Really it came down to seeing the opening title sequence for every episode. Seeing the antagonistic relationship between brother and sister, and no matter what Dexter created, it would be inevitably destroyed by Dee Dee. I started forming the basic plot for a 4-issue storyline, jotted it all down on a one page pitch and sent it off. Of that, the premise became:

There is one thing that has always ruined every experiment Dexter has ever created…his sister, Dee Dee. Realizing the only way to ever succeed is by removing this error from the equation, Dexter believes he's created the perfect world in which to reach his ultimate potential. Instead, his dream becomes a nightmare once he realizes he needs Dee Dee, and will go to the end of the world to bring her back.

As the case is with pitching, sometimes you hear back but usually not at all. You cast away, hope for the best, and move on. I can't recall if it had been weeks or months when I heard back, but I was out of town and checking my email on my phone when I got the word that Cartoon Network liked the story and greenlighted it! Before I could celebrate, it was time to start drafting up the outlines to each issue, and get the ball rolling.


There are actually a few steps for the process of writing comics. For me, it's turning in an outline for each issue (generally a page or two long that plays out the various beats and ideas for the issue). There's writing the scripts themselves (I always write full script…breaking down every page and panel with description and dialogue). Writing is rewriting, so once you get notes back from the editor and the licensor, it usually only takes one more draft to turn in. And towards the end of the process after all the art and lettering is done, is the proof stage. To see how it looks and turn in any last minute notes (usually to add or take out dialogue as the case may be).

For Dexter, the scripts came pretty easy. A lot is watching enough episodes to get a feel for how the show writers helped give voice to the characters. I always try to remain as true to the show as I can. I want to hear the actors in my head when scripting them for the comics. It's the best compliment to get when someone reads the comic and says it reads like the show or they hear the actors. And you always hear horror stories of various networks asking for lots of changes and being tough to work with. But Cartoon Network has been very easy. I noticed that when writing the Adventure Time comics and it was no different on the Dexter's Lab comics.


Knowing that IDW publishes multiple covers for each issue of their comics, I wanted to see if I could draw one (especially for a title I'd be writing). So it was agreed I'd do one for the very first issue. From this point, it was a matter of drawing up some thumbnail ideas for what the cover might look like. And the idea for what would become my cover, came while sitting in traffic. Stuck on the 405 in LA, bumper to bumper, I had a notepad in my passenger seat. And when the idea of Dexter stuck in a tube held by Dee Dee in his lab popped into my mind…I drew up a rough sketch. I later revised it into a few different designs.

Once approved by Cartoon Network and IDW, I went about drawing it up in blue pencil, then ink, then passed it along to the colorist, Pamela Lovas. Aside from web comics and convention prints, this is her first professional published work that I know of, and I think she did a fantastic job. Actually added so much more to my very basic idea. And I've worked with her again on an upcoming Adventure Time story.

Cover Process with thumbnails and rough pencils (art by Derek Fridolfs)


Not every project I'm on, do I get to see the rough pencils before the art is finished. A lot of time, books are already under tight deadlines, and the writer doesn't see anything until the proofing stage (and sometimes not even then). But we were on schedule or ahead of it, that I'd get sent some of the rough layouts by artist Ryan Jampole. And even at this stage I was excited, because his roughs looked on-model and clean. I could already imagine what the finished art would look like!

Layouts by artist Ryan Jampole


Ryan Jampole on pencils & inks. Jeremy Colwell on colors. I'm not sure how close they worked together, but I think they blend together extremely well. The cartoon is heavily centered around blues and greens. And sometimes, that might get drab or come across flat on the comic page. But I think a nice balance has been reached. To the point that the art looks so close to the animation cels from the show.

Art by Ryan Jampole and Jeremy Colwell


And the final step….you the audience!

The first issue, in all its covers, hits stands today. And I'm hopeful that new and old fans will like it. And I'd love to hear from ya. Feel free to comment.

Covers by Ryan Jampole, Derek Charm, and Derek Fridolfs with Pamela Lovas


  1. Hey Derek, I really dug the first issue, great job! I found this blog post really insightful, especially in regards to the pitching stage. I wish you continued success and look forward to reading more!

    1. Steven, thanks for getting it and enjoying! We've been having a lot of fun putting it together. Thanks for letting us know.

  2. Hi Derek, love the 1st issue! Great to see these characters back and in a new story.

    It really inspired me to work on my cartoon style for my portfolio, so I've started drawing a 3 page Dexter's Lab strip. Would love to know what you think of it so far, if you ever have the time in your busy schedule to check it out.

    Really looking forward to the next issue!