Tag Archives: Writing comic books

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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Comic Book Editing

It isn’t unusual that I get asked to read and offer critique or feedback on someone’s work. When I have the time, I very much enjoy it. I’m much more inclined to fill my time with friends’ work than with that of folks I don’t really know. And while I don’t really “advertise,” I also do editing work—y’know, that people pay me for—though I’m very particular on what I take on. Usually if someone just wants a quick “wha’cha’think,” the chances are more likely the lower the page count it. It isn’t that I don’t want to read their 600 page novel, but I just don’t have time.

Of course, that lack of time scares me sometimes. But that’s not what this post is about.

I enjoy comics/graphic novels most of all, and it’s in that format that I get called on most (prose being 2nd…well, only other).

But it’s also that format that tends to aggravate me the most because of the huge misunderstanding of the role of an editor in comics—even by people who have produced them. Please know that I’m mostly talking about those who really don’t what they’re doing even though they’re doing it.

It often happens like this: I get an email asking if I’d be interested in “editing my graphic novel.” I respond with 50 questions (content, audience, etc., etc.) It’s usually at this stage I find out the graphic novel—all 200 pages of it—is already finished. I generally respond, that “oh, you don’t need an ‘editor,’ you want a ‘proofreader.'” We then swap emails with them trying to convince me that no, what they really want is an editor, even though the entire book is already produced.

People, at that stage, the person who reads the book is no longer an “editor.” A “copy-editor,” maybe, a “proofreader,” for certain. And please don’t think I’m badmouthing copy-editors. They are a vital part of the production/assembly line, but that is not the role of the traditional comic editor.

A traditional comic/graphic novel editor is involved practically from the ground floor. Most often, the writer has submitted or finished a plot outline. At this stage, the editor can make broad story suggestions and it is fairly easy for the writer to make changes. From there, the writer breaks it down scene by scene, even page by page (meaning the printed comic page). This is done so the editor can get a sense of pacing; they can see what the writer intends to happen on each page and point out lulls in the story, or places that need more time/explanation. It’s then that the writer goes to script. At this point, the editor has read and commented at a minimum twice. Writing the script almost becomes an act of typing (yeah—not really, but you get the point).

Granted, once the art is done, the editor reads it again…but at that point, it’s almost an act of proofreading.

I enjoy editing…quite a bit. I enjoy helping a writer find that special thing that makes the story jump out.

Proofreading I do…but it isn’t at the top of my list of things I enjoy. It’s more mechanical that creative. There are many better proofreaders out there than me.

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Coming to terms with Shakespeare

Shakespeare is one of the very few writers, historical or otherwise, that everyone knows but so few have read. Or, for many of those who did the required reading in high school, have forgotten everything they learned. When I read Shakespeare in high school, I hated it. The language was old “King James” English with the thees and thous and I not only couldn’t understand all the language, but I certainly couldn’t figure out what it all meant. Needless to say, I didn’t do well.

When I got to college, Shakespeare was a required course of English majors. It was a requirement that I take it…I dreaded it with a passion. As luck would have it however, I had a teacher who really loved Shakespeare and explained it so that it made sense to me. It wasn’t necessarily a lot easier to read, but I could actually make some sense out of what was going on. Then I liked it.

Both my high school teacher and my college professor talked about how brilliant Shakespeare was and his work is both brilliant and ground-breaking and all that other hooey. I’m not suggesting it wasn’t…but there’s more to the story.

Writing professors talk about how brilliant Shakespeare was and how we should emulate him (his brilliance anyway if not the actual words). HOWEVER, in the same breath, many of them decry “commercial” fiction as if it weren’t worthy. They praise Shakespeare and condemn (if not gently, cause Universities are now “nice” universities, everyone trying to just get along and all) the John Grishams, Stephen Kings and Andrew Vaachs in the same breath.

Truth of the matter is, however, that Shakespeare was a very commercial writer. He wrote for the masses. He wasn’t trying to create literature, he wasn’t trying to create “art.” Nope. Shakespeare was trying to MAKE MONEY—and if that isn’t the definition of commercial, what is? So, how then, can we reconcile that fact? Will John Grisham, Stephen King, et al., be considered “literature” in 400 years? Many literature professors would tell you that they certainly hope not. If that’s the case (and it generally is, right?), they how can they sing Shakespeare’s praises in the same voice?

What it all comes down to, really, is a matter of taste. If the masses like Grisham, does that mean he’s “bad?” Not at all. But why doesn’t that mean he’s high art? It all comes down to the old saying: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I’ve written comic books that have sold more copies than many of these so-called “literary” writers. As a writer, I’ve got enough ego in me (oh come on! ALL writers have SOME ego!) that I’d rather more people READ me than not. And, I’d rather them read my work…while I’m still alive! Of course, that’s just one man’s opinion.

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