Comics Writing 101: Getting Started in Sequential Storytelling

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“I have this great idea for a comic!” people tell me and my comics-writing friends after a convention writing panel. “We don’t want to hear it,” we reply. “Go! Take your idea and make a comic!”

So you want to be a comic book writer. You’re crazy about comics, you have an innate love of writing, and now you want to tell sequential stories to the world. Here are the basics of how to get your feet wet writing comics. This doesn’t mean you’ll soon be writing Spider-Man for Marvel Comics. This is about writing your own original creations, which will be drawn by yourself or another awesome artist. Besides, the big superhero publishers only look at writers with previous published credits, and that means your own stuff.

Developing an Idea

What is the story about, and what is it really about?

In the case of my Dark Horse comic, Amala’s Blade, the overall story was about a divided kingdom called Naamaron, split into two countries locked in a civil war. That’s what the story is about, commonly called the setting.

What the story is really about (a.k.a. the plot) goes much deeper: it’s about a young woman named Amala, once foretold to be the spiritual leader that would unite Naamaron. Instead, she’s an assassin for hire. What happens when she’s given a mission she can’t possibly carry out?

You may have a giant epic story in mind with huge worlds and dozens of characters. That’s great. To start with, hyper-focus in on a set of the most interesting characters in one part of the world, throw a plot obstacle at them, and see how they react, grow, and change when confronted with it.

What does the main character want?

Part of what you need to answer when coming up with a comic is what a character wants. What is their primary motivation? What do they not have in life that they desperately want, and what will they do to achieve that?

What is standing in that character’s way?

Obstacles, conflict, and hardship are what makes good drama. Throw things in the character’s way. Make their life garbage, so that their victory, if they do indeed achieve it, is that much sweeter.

Practicing Script Writing

OK, now you’ve developed an idea. How is a comic book script put together in a way that will make sense to an artist, even if that artist is you?

There’s no one way to write a comic book script, but it’s generally accepted that you do the following:

  1. Stick to one typewritten page of script per page of art. Don’t go overboard with description.
  2. Don’t be too sparse, either. If a gun goes off on page 5, you need to make sure it’s described on page 1.
  3. Don’t put too many panels on a page. The average page has five.
  4. Number dialogue throughout a page to make it easier on the letterer.
  5. Use lowercase letters for standard dialogue and captions and boldface for emphasis, rather than all caps.

Check out the Comic Book Script Archive for hundreds of examples of scripts from masters of comics writing.

Finding a Great Artist

You’ve got your developed idea and you’ve written a solid script. Now to find an artist to draw it! The best way is to network. Find fellow comic book creator friends on places like Twitter and Tumblr and take a look at who they’re retweeting for even more followers. Eventually, they will follow you back and you’ll build up a great mini-network of talented peers.

Have a solid idea and script in place when you approach the artist, and perhaps he or she will be willing to draw your comic. It also helps to have money to pay the artist. If you can afford that, the quality of your artist will go way up.

You’ve Made a Comic!

Once the book is put together, you can find a local printer to print it up. Congrats. You’ve made your first comic.

Image Credits: Dark Horse Comics, DC Entertainment/Vertigo

Feature Image Credit: IDW Publishing

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