While working at New York Comic Con promoting Torchbearer, I was asked by several you what do you need in order to make comics. Speaking as a writer, there are three things you need to know in order to write comic books:
1) You need to know how to write.
2) You need to know how to write a comic book script
3) You need to be a team player
Let me explain.
The first point is straightforward: you need to know how to write in a way that others are interested in what you have to say. In my opinion, that’s a skill (not a talent) one hones with practice, and the best practice is to just write. A. LOT.
Write short stories, write essays, write blog posts, write a novel, just WRITE! Do a writing sprint once a day to get you into the groove of writing. It’s essential: you can’t just wait for inspiration to strike in order to write. It doesn’t really work that way and if you plan on churning out 1, 2, 5 scripts a month working for Marvel, DC, Odd Truth or any other publishing company, you can’t rely on inspiration. And you won’t, ’cause by then you’ll be used to writing and just yanking inspiration from anything and everything.
Yes, there are times one gets writers’ block. My suggestion: take a break and daydream. John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) talks about writing and the creative process (video is here, definitely worth watching) and in it he mentions that it’s necessary to allow the mind to wander off and not focus on a problem. Only then will the mind be free enough to arrive to the solution on its own. When that happens, you must be ready to resume your writing in order to continue in the creative process
The second point is also straightforward: to write for comic books, you need to know how to write so that an artist understands what you see in your mind’s eye and then draw it. That will probably require knowing how panels are composed (either from a cinematographic perspective or from a purely artistic one), character descriptions, the action taking place, dialogue, knowing timing and pacing, etc. Just remember: everything you see in a comic book panel starts with someone describing it on paper (or on a file) to someone else. To understand how complex this can be, pick up your favorite comic book, see the first panel on the first page, and describe what you see.
Done that? OK. Now, describe the panel again in a way that sounds exciting for someone to draw and still flows with the rest of the panels.
It doesn’t seem that easy, and yet it can be, with practice. It’s a matter of switching your mindset to write in a different format, much like writing a novel is different from writing a screenplay or a short story. There are schools out there, like Comics Experience that teach you how to write for comics (full disclosure: I am an alumni of Comics Experience and a member of their workshop. I recommend it wholeheartedly). Personally, if you are confident in your writing ability and have written screenplays, transitioning to a comic book script format is easier. Celtx is an application we use for our scripts, and their comic book template is good enough to get you started.
The third point is the most important one: you need to be a team player in this business. You, as a writer, are there to mainly allow the artists to draw, ink, color and letter something interesting that others will see. You need to be open to changes in your script, cause there will ALWAYS be changes in the script. “There’s too many words in the panel!”; “They wouldn’t say that…”; “Just what do you mean by ‘thinking with portals’?” are some of the things you may hear from the creative team. And you have to know when to accept their critiques and polish the script some more, and when to stand your ground. Great team players know that, cause they know that they are part of a greater whole.
And you’ll need to be one too if you plan on making it in this business. Cause no one likes to work with a prima donna.
I hope this helps people out there understand what they need to do to get started. We here are still furiously at work getting Issue 2 of Torchbearer out the door for next month, while at the same time writing issues 3 and 4.
We think you’ll enjoy them, especially issue 2.