Tag Archives: creative writing

Not all bad tropes are bad

In my class, students read a lot of comics. A goodly portion of them are superhero comics. Super HERO comics. Of those that aren’t “superhero” comics, they often still have “heroes” though not so super. “Heroes” do heroic things. A lot of those heroic things include SAVING PEOPLE.

So I laugh to myself when I read a student write about some comic they’ve read: “oh, hero saved the damsel in distress. I hate this trope, therefore I hate this comic.”

I get it. No really, I do. You’ve been told this for years—that women don’t need to be rescued, women are tough, they don’t need a “man” to rescue them, etc., so the story is old and therefore you should hate it.

The problem (often) is, it ain’t about the person being rescued being a woman. I mean, heroes can save THE WORLD (which includes men and women) like the Avengers do in the movies…but that, too, can get old after a while. No, it’s about the hero doing something heroic, saving SOMEONE in need of saving.

If heroes are saving people, they’re either going to save a damsel in distress or a dude in distress. You’ve got a 50/50 chance of either of those. I guess you COULD make it 33/33/33 and make it a “kid” where it doesn’t really matter if they’re a boy or girl, they’re a kid.

But…I dunno, people need saving sometimes. Sometimes that person is a man, sometimes that person is a female …let heroes by heroes. Let them save people. Let them save kids. Let them save dudes. Let them save damsels! I WANT to see my heroes doing heroic things!

And PS. For the uninitiated, “heroes” can be a male or female. It’s not about their biology, it’s about what they do with the power they have.

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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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The trouble with adaptations

One of the joys of my current class (Writing for Comics and Animation) is that I get to talk about adaptations and the art of doing one in comic or graphic novel form. As fans of popular properties, we’re always excited about the aspect that something we really enjoy will be presented in a different format: when we’re a fan of a book, we want to see the movie; when we’re a fan of a game, we want to read the comic. The problem with adaptations is that there is no possible way to make everyone happy. Let me ‘splain.

Most writers, when tasked with the responsibility of an adaptation want the freedom to make changes, most of them subtle, but changes nonetheless. Most of the time writers are forced to make changes of some sort simply to fit the medium. Since I’ve only ever done comic adaptations from other formats (I’ve done film, game and novel all to comic), the biggest challenge is fitting it all in. So the writer has to take the number of pages allotted by the publisher, and figure out what parts are vital and what parts can be cut or reduced. There’s a lot of work in that the writer wants to be true to the original…but there are only so many pages. In comics, the pictures don’t move!

The problem with changes, though, is hardcore fans of the property don’t want you to change it in any way. They’re hardcore fans because they love everything about it. They love it so much they just want to see the exact same thing but in a different way. Trust me, if you fiddle with their beloved story, you’ll hear how wrong you were to do so!

Don’t believe me? Think of recent films that have been released based on novels or games or comics. How many times did you hear someone commenting on the “changes” made? I heard people talk about the recent Ender’s Game adaptation and how it made changes at the end. Some liked it, some didn’t. Or what about the superhero movies? Just spend some time googling (what a cool new verb!) them and you’ll see endless debates not only about how good or bad the films are, but how “true” they are to the original (I personally hated the fact that the web in the Toby Spider-Man was biological—I thought it changed the character of Peter Parker too much!). I also remember seeing Starship Troopers when it hit the theaters. At the time I was so mad because it was nothing like the Heinlein book on which it was based. However, I saw it a few years later (it a group setting where the group wanted to see it, not me! So I just went along like a good guest!) and—knowing that it was nothing like the book, I thought it was a decent sci-fi movie. It was NOT the Starship Troopers of the book, but it wasn’t a horrible movie (this is in reference to ONLY the first film, fyi).

Then there are those fans who want to have something different, who prefer to get something that adds to the original so they don’t just get the same thing. Stray too far, though, and it ceases to become an adaptation. If you remain close, it’s “based on.” However, when you write completely original material simply in that setting (as I did for Planet of the Apes: Blood of the Apes), then it isn’t an adaptation at all. Those, from a writer’s point of view, are fun to write.

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