Writing for something a little different.

So, before I start today’s post, I just have to tell everyone about my little girl, Emily. She’s three and is a pretty big driving force in my life as far as being published goes. If I start now, by the time she’s ready for college, I should have saved up enough to pay for her trip. And if she’s as similar to her mother as I think she’s gonna be, she’s gonna want to go to an expensive college. I’m preparing for that now.

Anyway, she shares in many of our nerdy passions. She loves it when I read to her, especially the Captain America comics I bought a few years ago (Drawn by McNiven) She also loves to play Legend of Zelda with her mommy. LoZ is Melissa’s forte.

Recently, she’s taken an interest in my Magic: The Gathering cards. She’s been bugging me to “play” them with her, but I told her she needs to learn how to read first. But that didn’t stop her from asking me until I caved and let her play. I taught her a little about casting “spells” by matching the symbol on the land type with it’s mana cost in the upper right. Then, I leave to fix us lunch. All of a sudden, she comes rushing in with a stunned look on her face.

“Daddy! Daddy! I cast the spell!”

She “cast” the green card Pincer Beetle, a common for one green mana. And in her hand she had the beetle and a forest card. She did that all while I was fixing dinner, eventually moving up to cards with four and five converted mana cost. And she was very happy about it. Daddy was too.

Anyway, forgive my little asides. She’s awesome, and I love her to death. But she can be so annoying! But more to the point, I shared a little about how I write fiction and a few steps to combat writer’s block. Now, I personally feel I have a lot of advice to share when it comes to writing, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of my ideas and stuff with me not actually being published. To that end, I’m gonna keep stuff like that on the DL until I actually build up some credibility. What I can talk about, however, is writing for comics. Like I said earlier, my wife has a BFA in sequential art and has the credibility to offer advice. And, while writing for comics is similar, it’s also vastly different for a person like me. So, to anyone taking up Oni Press on their offer to submit to them, here’s some tips.

The first thing to realize about comic scripting is that there is no industry standard to it, such as movie or play scripting. Pretty much, the writer sets his own way of doing it. You can be a minimalist, like Stan Lee, who pretty much just told Jack Kirby what he wanted, to which Kirby drew and then went back and added dialogue. Or, you can be like Alan Moore, and have each panel description take up several pages. (but seriously, only Alan Moore can get away with that. Don’t do it)

For me, all I did was copy what my wife did. Make sure to separate each page and panel so the artist can easily find it. Typically, most people write panel descriptions first, followed by dialouge. Aim for around 5 to 6 panels per page. Use splash pages VERY infrequently, if not avoiding them all together. And if I catch any of you writing a two-page spread, I’m going to kidnap you and make you sit through a Justin Bieber concert until you apologize.

And that’s pretty much it on the nuts and bolts. Start off a page. Then, start a panel. There are some specific types of panels you can specify for your artist, such as closeups, wide shots, half-body shots, sort of like a movie camera. Your job as the writer is to tell the artist where the camera is and what’s appearing on it. but don’t worry too much about specifying every panel. You should trust the artist to do what needs to be done as far as panel sizes and placements in general.

There are also some terms you can add to make life a little easier for the publishing process. For example, putting “No Copy” at the end of a panel description tells the letter that he or she doesn’t have any work to do on that panel. But again, there is no standard, but aim to make life easier for everyone else.  The letter is often the last person that works on a comic, and they have to make up for all the short comings of everyone else.

Some hints, though. Keep the action in your panels down to one per character. Take an example I let slip by that my wife caught on our submission for Oni Press. Our main character, Morrigan, opens her locker and pulls out a book. Sounds all right. But that’s three actions. Opening the locker. Reaching inside. And pulling the book out. This drives artists nuts. A better panel description would be “Morrigan opens the locker” and in the next panel “Morrigan has a small, red book in her hand.”

Also, don’t be cute. Let’s say a mysterious figure sneaks up behind Morrigan. All the reader is going to see is a shadow, but that doesn’t mean that’s what you should say to the artist. The artist has to know everything. Don’t worry about spoiling the plot. Tell the artist that the shadowy figure behind Morrigan is Blackbeard the Pirate, but he’s obscured in shadow. Pretty much, be as specific as possible.

And finally, something I have a lot of trouble with. Keep your dialogue short. If a speech or thought bubble is too big, it’s gonna take up all of the panel space. I’m’ still working in that, because I’m used to be being liberal when it comes to dialogue. But I’m getting used to it, and with a little more experience, I should be able to be more concise with what I have to say.

Anyone taking this seriously should pick up The D.C Guide to Writing Comics and Making Comics by: Scott McCloud. I personally enjoyed the latter more than the former, but both are very good. Understanding Comics again by Scott McCloud is another great read, and that book should be on the shelf of anyone seriously considering working in the comics industry.

I guess that’s it for the general stuff. As I learn more stuff about writing comics, I’ll post more in depth stuff. Keep writing, everyone. And I’ll see you soon!



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