Tag Archives: comic script

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.

 

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Write a love letter to your artist

I wrote about comic writing for a Full Sail blog…thought I’d share it here as well, especially since it is about writing!

Writing for comics and graphic novels requires a ninety degree turn in thinking. In Full Sail Creative Writing programs, we emphasize writing visually, which, boiled down to the very basic idea means to write knowing that what you write will be translated to pictures of some sort, so watch the talking heads. Unlike prose writing, which requires readers to imagine the pictures in their head, Visual Writing means the writer’s words will be interpreted by someone not the writer and brought to life. Screenwriters are taught just to tell the story and to let the director determine what it will look like.

Not so for comics and graphic novels. Graphic novelists are to be specific in the images the artist will put in each panel. And because comics, like all forms of visual entertainment, are such a collaborative effort, and because most writers do not generate their own art, it is imperative the writer communicate not only the images, but the feel of the story.

While directors certainly interpret meaning in a script, it isn’t unusual that he seeks opinion of the brilliant people he’s surrounded himself with (lighting, camera, etc.). Not so for comics. The interpretive art is generally handled by a single artist.

Comic scripts feature two main parts: that part of the script which will be lettered onto the pages and read by the reader (dialogue, captions, and thoughts); and that part of the script which will only be read by the artist (and approved by the editor). Thus, it requires a lot of time and effort creating something that will be read—and is intended to be that way—by one person.

So it is imperative for the writer to communicate exactly what he sees in his mind’s eye. That’s not to say the writer should describe every single detail—only Alan Moore can get away with that. But instead, the writer wants to communicate mood, tone and emotion! It helps if the writer knows the artist, but this isn’t always the case. However, when the artist is known, it is very acceptable for the descriptive part of the script (the panel art descriptions) to be informal. Oh, sure, a lot of writing teachers don’t like this but ultimately they aren’t the audience (correction: they are if you are writing  for them for a grade!). You want the artist to cry on the sad parts and laugh at the funny images you’ve caused to be conjured in their heads. You want the artist to know what to draw, yes, but you also want them to feel what you feel when you’re writing the script.

This is why I always say, that part of the script which describes the art on the page should be a love letter to the artist. The rest is just the details.

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