Category Archives: Columns

Writing for comics: how much is too much or not enough?

I don’t talk a whole lot about my day job here; I spend the day doing it, so it isn’t something I feel that inclined to write about. Oh, I love my class. In fact, I’m not shy to tell students it’s the best class in the program. Of course, I’m biased, but I get to talk about comic making all day! What’s not to like about that?

Teaching comic writing in a primarily moving picture program can be tricky. Most of our students want to write for film or television (though we have a growing number of students who want to write novels—which I find funny, because we’re not a program geared to teach that…guess they should do better research!). What they’re taught in those classes—and know that I’m not contracting what they’re taught in the classes that teach moving pictures, I just don’t have that experience—is to write very little “directions” for a director, and of course, write nothing that can’t be filmed.

They often bring that thinking into my class and it’s frustrating to try to convince them that what we’re doing in comics doesn’t negate what they do in moving pictures, it’s just a different “gear,” a different kind of writing.

I’m in several “creator” groups on Facebook and recently a thread went around about details in writing for comics. To sum up, most of the artists complained that the writers don’t give them enough details…and then complain when the art is done that something is “wrong,” or “missing.” I place that blame completely and fully on the writers.

And yet, comic companies often suggest in their submission guidelines to “write only a sentence or two” for each panel’s description. While that may be possible, as noted in the paragraph above, it often isn’t enough.

Comic writers can’t be vague in the writing and expect artists to read their minds or know their intent by words they haven’t written. Comic writers have to give artists all the information needed, and then some. Comic writing can be less than formal; in fact it can be very conversational because the writer and artist are partners in producing.

So how much is too much and how much is too little in a comic script?

My suggestion is always write with the idea that the artist has no idea what you’re talking about and that you’ve never worked with that artist before. Not only do you want to describe to them the (single) action that is happening in the panel, but you can tell them the mood of the panel overall, the mood of the characters in the panel, the tone you want in the panel (and on pages).

Always remember, the comic artist is your collaborator, not your audience.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Columns, writing

Thoughts on Fan Fiction

Not long ago, I had a spirited conversation about the “merits” of fan fiction with a small body of students. For those of you who don’t know or have never heard of fan fiction—don’t worry, you’re not really missing much. I’d encourage you to google the meaning for yourself because ultimately the discussion came down to a disagreement as to the definition of fan fiction. But I will confess that the “spirited” nature of the conversation surprised me…for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost is that I’ve been a working writer for the better part of 25 years. Because of that fact, I know a whole boatload of working writer/editor types. It’s not because I’m special or anything of the such, it just happens to be the circles I walk in. Much like musicians seem to hang around and pal around other musicians, it’s just the way it is.

That said, most of the professionals I know don’t read fan fic…nor do they really even give it a second thought. Period. While I’ve never done a poll or seen the results of one, I’ve always felt the general consensus was that the overwhelming majority of fan fiction is simply “fans” exploring their geeky fantasies. Not writers. Fans.

I sat on a panel once called “Playing in other people’s sandboxes” (catchy title, not mine) in which the writers talked about what it was like to write licensed properties (for those who don’t know the score, I’ve done a handful, including Planet of the Apes, Battletech and The Remaining, a recent GN adaptation of a horror flick). One writer, who shall remain nameless because I didn’t run this by him first, who writes for Star Wars said that his contract required him to sign that he agrees to not read any fan fiction at all. It’s a legal thing to protect him and the company. But the point is that “not reading fanfic” is actually being added to writing contracts!

One of the arguments tossed at me what the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, a work I have not read nor do I intend to. It’s a “fan fiction” of Twilight, an original work that I don’t really hold in high esteem. I’ve read reviews of Fifty Shades from sources I trust and the consensus was pretty much “bad writing.” Yes, but it sold incredibly well. That is a fact that is tough to argue. But here’s the thing: hardly any (if any at all!) of the people in my writing/editing circle of friends/colleagues have any respect for that work. Yes, it sold well, but it’s not very good.

And therein lies the real issue with fanfiction. Do I think that all fan fiction is bad? Of course not. There’s so much of it out there that ONE of them has to be worth reading. But the overwhelming majority of it is crap. And, if you’re a writer who hopes to one day make money writing, why would you intentionally put yourself in that category? Why would you purposely do that knowing that publishers don’t have much respect for it?

As a rule, I don’t read fanfic. Just not interested in it. Are attitudes changing and will it change? Obviously, I don’t know, but if I were to guess, I’d say yes. I think as younger editors who have been raised with the internet always at their fingertips are in charge of more and more, I think it won’t matter so much to them.

I dunno, though. What do you think?

4 Comments

Filed under Columns, writing

No Cellphone? Yeah, what of it?

I do not own a cellphone.

There, I said it.

I realize that puts me in the overwhelming minority of Americans, but I’m really okay with that. I can’t tell you, though, the number of shocked and surprised looks I get when this information comes forward. Many react like I’ve told them I don’t own shoes and they simply can’t comprehend what I’ve just said. Of course, it isn’t unusual that folks can’t comprehend what I say. “I” sometimes can’t comprehend what I say.

It’s not that I’ve never had one, I have. Twice.

The first time I owned a cellphone I enjoyed it. It was during those brief months when I worked selling academic furniture (yeah, I know—long story THERE, too!) and traveled the states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas. I wasn’t usually gone for more than a couple of days, but I spend considerable time on the road and it was good to have to speak with university representatives, my bosses, and—of course—my family.

This was in the days before the smartphones (that’s one word, right?) and so my biggest concern was actually getting a signal. The “can you hear me now” commercial often applied to my experience. This would have been 2005, nearly ten years ago now.

After that job disappeared, the phone went with it. No, “I” paid for it—but I didn’t see a need for it once I stopped traveling.

Fast forward to 2011 when I took a job in Orlando, Fl., but still owned a home (and a family!) in Oxford, Ms. So, I got another one so that I could keep my family posted during my drive/commute and while I was away. The first year of my employment saw me a week here, week there, etc., so there was a lot of driving. On top of that, eldest child reaches the age where “everybody else has a cellphone, I should too,” wah wah wah. And when she started driving, the idea sounded a lot better.

Fast forward once again just slightly to 2012 when the entire family decides to get on “a plan.” Yep, they sold it to us that way. So, we all got smartphones except for the youngest. Except, this time, I didn’t really see a need for it. We kept them for several months until the entire family finally joined me in Orlando and the provider we had did not(and still does not, I think) service the area. So we got out. But the family wanted a new “plan” in Orlando.

Except I opted out.

Yep. S’true. While I found the smartphone a fun gadget, I didn’t really “need” it (what I needed was to sell my house in Oxford—but that’s another story!) and so I was having a real hard time justifying the expense.

The only time I really regret the decision is when wifey sends me to the grocery store and I find myself staring at product labels. Only then would I really like to have a phone.

Maybe I should try to get one of those Obama phone?

11 Comments

Filed under Columns