Telling Stories without Words.
Updated: Oct 7, 2018
I like to keep multiple projects going on at once. This doesn’t mean that I am working on ALL of them at the same time, but when the mood strikes, I can jump from project to project. There is some saying about variety and spices or something like that. Recently I hopped back into one of my larger writing projects and since it is now on my mind, what’s better than to write a blog post about my introduction to comic writing.
As with most things, I am pretty late to the party when it comes to comic books. I lament not having “grown-up” with them, or having the knowledge of every obscure story arc or superhero in existence. Nevertheless, I now definitely have my favorites and look forward to continuing my education.
Years ago, when first getting into reading comics, I had an idea to write my own. I wanted a character I could relate too, in a unique setting, and attempt to avoid some of the standard comic tropes I have read over and over again. I won’t go into too much detail now, as I am still working on the script and things may change.
So as with anything I do, the process starts with research. How does one write a comic?
I began by delving into the world of comic story writing, terminology, and processes. I picked up The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Dennis O’Neil.
Now before anyone gets bent out of shape, Dennis O’Neil has written for BOTH DC and Marvel, and the book itself has a wonderful introduction by none other than Stan Lee himself.
O’Neil describes two main ways of writing comics; plot-first and full-script first. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Since this isn’t a how-to blog, but merely a story of my experience, I will be brief.
Plot-first writing is basically writing a story. The writer will indicate plot points, characters, settings, etc. in a story format. In the end, it is up to the penciller (artist tasked with sketching out the panels) to interpret the words of the writer into a visual format. This method to me seemed a more natural and fluid method of writing, but since I don’t have a penciller, I wanted and needed much more control.
The second method, full-script, was much more to my liking. Think of this more as writing a script for a play. Each page, each panel is meticulously thought out to remove all error in interpretation. Character dialogue, reader perspective, location is indicated in the script. Since it looks so different from regular writing, I wanted to give it a shot.
Here is my very first attempt at writing a comic page. It is typically gauche to use another’s characters in a comic, especially if you are trying to get on a publisher’s radar. This was for practice only.
PAGE ONE – SIX PANELS
BRUCE WAYNE is walking away from Wayne Manor in the rain. He is holding a bouquet of flowers.
1. CAPTION: Wayne Manor, Gotham City. 11:02pm
BRUCE walks through tall grass and dead trees, heading toward cemetery.
NO COPY (meaning no character text or captions)
The headstones of Thomas and Martha Wayne, weathered, eroded, and covered in weeds.
2. BRUCE: I'm sorry...
BRUCE kneels down and begins pulling weeds off the headstones.
3. BRUCE: ...It's so overgrown. Every time I pull one weed, two more grow right in its place. It can be so...
Lightning flashes, and the silhouette of BRUCE WAYNE becomes that of BATMAN.
4. BATMAN: ...exhausting.
It is no longer BATMAN, but BRUCE WAYNE, walking away from the headstones. The bouquet of flowers resting gently on his parent’s grave.
5. BRUCE: It's never going to end.
Turns out, this is a pretty fun way of writing. Since this is my first attempt, please note there are some beginner mistakes. i.e. depicting a character performing two actions at once in one panel. This is impossible to draw in just one panel. Also, I should have added a lot more description.
Despite the novice mistakes, I set out to continue, but with my own story.
After I written a few pages, my wife noted that, while being a big fan of my writing, she didn’t see my regular language in the script. And that is an interesting point. Note the bold letters indicated page, panel, and actions. This is all instruction for the artist. Really, the “artistry” of this writing is in the dialogue (or lack thereof). Here I am counting on the artist to set the mood and display the emotions. It becomes my job to set-up the plot and keep the story moving forward. The only thing the reader reads from me is the dialogue.
One of the comic book tropes that I try to avoid is too much dialogue. Yes of course there are times when you need to depict a big conversation, but I get irritated when reading an epic battle or fight and the characters are constantly chattering back and forth. Show me the emotion through their actions; actions do speak louder than words. In a way, this makes my writing stronger. Even when writing a short story or novel, it makes more sense to let the reader understand what the character is going through, rather than the character say “I’m ANGRY!!”
As of now, I am about 6 issues (just shy of 22 script pages each) into what will be a roughly 8 to 9 issue series. Ultimately, when/if published, it will be one graphic novel, rather than issues. It is just easier for me to keep track if I split them up for now.
I look forward to posting updates with my project, as well as writing about my experience and what I have learned.