To many, I think the process of creating a comic is still something of uncertainty. That is, they don’t have much of an idea how they are made. A plethora of readers don’t know about the process a comic has to go through when being made, so I’ll explore this creation step by step. Today, we start where the comic begins: writing.
Now, I’ll tell you right up front, I have the most experience as a writer, so this might be a little long, but I’ll try to keep myself in check. When people hear that I write comics, they often times don’t know what that means. Sometimes they think it means I fill in the word bubbles (that’s another job, we’ll get to eventually.) No, like all other writers, when writing a comic, you have to pull that kernel of an idea out of the ether and shape it into a story. So the first step to writing a comic is to find that idea and put it on paper.
However, writing a comic is different than writing prose. Physically, it’s most like writing a movie script. However, it’s a static image. When writing a comic, you have to write panel by panel. That is, you’ll describe what’s happening in every panel. Then you will add dialogue and sound effects. Some writers have long panel descriptions, others have very short ones, leaving a lot up to the artist. I think that this really depends on your own writing preferences, and if you know your artist. When I write for people I know, I tend to be more conversational, thus longer, when it comes to scripts.
Here’s an example of a script I wrote (a bit wordy, because I knew my writer, and was new to the comics writing scene). I break down the panels, then add dialogue or captions (words in boxes, commonly used as exposition or internal thought).
Then here are those panels drawn out by an artist:
Your job as a writer is to communicate with the artist in a way that they can draw your story correctly. When writing comics, you have to think much more visually than with other forms of writing. In your head you must see the panels and actions clearly enough to write them so your artist understands. Your script must be clear for everyone. Artists will have to draw it, and letterers will have to put the words on in the right order. It might sound a little complicated, but if you continue to write, and read comics, you will understand the visual element of writing. When writing a panel, you will start to think “Will there be room for this,” and “I can’t have too much in the shot, because there is a lot of dialogue.” You start thinking in the terms of comic book writing.
I have come to realize several things while working on comics. Firstly, and most importantly, comics is a collaborative effort. Yes, the story is important, but realize you are working with other people. You have to take their thoughts into consideration. While it is your story, it’s also just as much theirs. If you are working with an artist, listen to their suggestions. Because they are actually drawing, they might realize how something doesn’t work, or could work better. I find that artists often know better than I do. Write your script with everyone in mind. Think about how your scenes and dialogue will effect artists, inkers, colorists, and letterers. It can be easy to write simply for you, but you have to keep these other people in mind. Don’t create impossible sequences for other people to make. The most important advice in comics, and really anywhere, is keep that ego in check!
Now, I’ve been writing assuming you aren’t doing all of this yourself. If you are, it’s a bit different. Since I’ve taken up drawing, inking, coloring, and lettering myself, I’ve learned plenty. I know what it’s like to be all of those roles, and thus how to write for them. Now, if you are doing everything yourself, you will know what you can do. So writing tends to be a little more lax, because you already know what everything should look like, and how it will go. For example, my writing process is usually always hand written first, and then typed up and detail added. I write the hand written copy loose and fast so I can get the shape of the story (like an outline). But when I’m drawing my own stuff, I never type it up, because I know what I want already.
There are pros and cons to doing comics this way. You will have full control, but it will take longer, for example. But either way you do it, the important thing about writing is to KEEP writing. The more practice you get, the better you will become. It takes a little while to adapt to a sequential way of thinking, but if you keep at it, stories will pop into your head, and you’ll see them in panel form already! At least, that happens for me.
I should end by saying there is no ONE way to write a comic. There is no real industry standard. As long your team knows what’s going on, you are in the clear. There are tons of scripts on line for you to study, just Google them. That’s how I learned to write them. So it’s easy to dive in!
Here are some good books on comic book writing, too!
Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics by Alan Moore
The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics Dennis O’Neil
Words For Pictures the Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels by Brian Michael Benids
Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels by Peter David
And, for your added benefit, read any of Scott McCloud’s stuff. Especially Making Comics and Understanding Comics.
If you have any questions about writing, or want to talk about writing comics, leave a comment or e-mail me!