OUTSIDE THE PANELS #4: 10 Things To Do When You Start Writing Comics

So I’m in a group-text all day with some friends who love comics and are thinking about writing comics. Writer, Frank Mula, of the AA88 Press comic, The Devil You Know,  is one of the daily group texters. The other two guys have really good ideas but aren’t sure how/if they want to make the dive to comic writer. Similar to Outside the Panels #2, I want to go into the topic of beginning the journey.

Today, I will go more in depth.

I feel that I have advice that could help them get to where they want to be. Now, I’m no expert in comics but being a comic writer for about a year I feel that I have learned a lot and at the very least could provide guidance to people trying to start writing.

So to set this up… W and RR came to me with their ideas and gave general outlines. Both have described the stories and seem to understand the worlds they are creating.

1.) Read comics from a student perspective and not a fan —both of you already do that so that’s one in the win column.

2.) Get your hands on a few comic scripts from your favorite writers and read them over. Here is a link to a bunch of comic scripts: http://www.comicbookscriptarchive.com/archive/the-scripts/. See if any of your favorite writers have landed on that list. Try to model the structure of your script like your favorites. Over time you will find or develop a structure that works for you.

Understand that a comic script is a very unique animal. In the sense that it is a structured letter to your artist conveying what you see in your head. Also, keep in mind that artists are the body to your brain. They do what you tell them to do, and they know their limits, and believe it or not they know your limits as well, just by reading your script. If you want to do a 9-Panel page (that’s a lot) and you have dialogue in each panel (too much) it just won’t work unless you are working with David Aja (you’re not) that page may need to be broken into two pages. Or you may just have to cut dialogue, and/or panels.

When you are done writing, you have only begin the re-writing process. A script is never done, but get it as done as done could be. Make sense?

3.) Be a good collaborator. No artist will like a tyrant and you will lose your artist if you are an unbudging dick. Give your artist freedom. I find that I write a very loose script (one to two sentences of description per panel) because I don’t want the artist to feel too confined. I even ask questions on whether or not things can be done in a script. Hell, I’ve even written, “figure it out, have fun” in my scripts. The artist has a much more fun time and becomes easy to work with if you give them creative freedoms because now they feel a sense of ownership, rather than being a slave to you. And if you’re artist has a suggestion that doesn’t change your story but may change your panels or page, just give in and let them do it. Be a good collaborator. Always be open to suggestion. Sometimes artists have an idea for dialogue or background. Here them out. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Be sure to prepare an answer as to why it doesn’t work. RR, you’re a boss, a husband, and a father of two so that should not be hard for you to reason. W, we just started getting close so I don’t know how you would react to these situations. Both of you keep in mind that one of the most important things about writing comics is being a good collaborator and a good person.

4.) You’re new to this, so don’t expect to write the best thing possible. Also, if you read over your script and think it is the drizzling shits, don’t get discouraged. You’re new to this.

5.) Don’t just rip something out your favorite comic and put it into your script. Self-explanatory.

6.) Start small. I know you guys are eager to do massive stories but that is a huge goal. Some pros don’t ever do that, we all can’t be Robert Kirkman. When I started I too had this big huge idea for my first comic. I wrote 112 pages of script and it never saw the light of day because it was my “masterpiece.” Then I decided to test out artists, and two artists said that my script just confused them. But at the time I thought, “Confusing? Ha! Clearly my intellect is far to supreme for these measly artists. I must continue my quest for the next Jack Kirby!”  I got over that arrogance quickly.

Being a good collaborator truly helps.

Since then I have been working on tons of stuff with various artists, all to which I feel is much better than when I started. Oh! As for my “masterpiece” I completely dissected and it was in fact, the drizzling shits. I mean, God-awful. But I was new and learning. I figured it was like a TV/Film script and would be the same as I learned in college but I was totally wrong. I took some elements from my first story and spread them across the stuff I do now, but I would never do the first one because now I realize it just wouldn’t work.

8.) Be open to suggestions from friends, family, and fellow comic readers. If they say it sucks, ask why. If they say its great, then ask someone else. A pat on the back and an “atta boy” will not get you better. I would much rather someone tell me what doesn’t work and then try to fix it. W and RR, if someone just says they don’t like the premise of your idea, then they too are like the “atta boy” people in the sense that you need to just find another person to give you their opinion.

Being a writer takes a ton of confidence because that you means you have enough balls on you to say, “Hey, this is my idea and I think that if you give it a read you’re going to like it too.”

9.) Don’t just say you are going to write, and don’t just say you have ideas. Sit down one day and actually write. I would say, figure out if you truly like the idea by writing a story in the worlds. Maybe, the first 5 pages of your first issue. See if you could create an intriguing five pages that set up the whole world. Not every nook and cranny, just make your audience care about your story and the characters as much as you do.

10.) Most of all, be entertaining.

Overall, I hope you guys really do go through with your ideas. Just know that it’s hard, frustrating, a pain in the ass, annoying, sleepless and gritty but if you put enough time and energy into your projects, even if people don’t like it and even if it never gets published, it will be extremely rewarding for you to see your vision come to life.

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