Updated: Dec 9, 2021
...this inanimate carbon rod!
No, I'm just kidding. It's me.
My literary agency, Great Dog Literary, has deemed that I'm their Author of the Month for December. To celebrate, I've recorded three videos aimed at authors and aspiring authors who are considering giving comics writing a try, and those will be shared by Great Dog throughout the month. I'll be linking to each video here on my site, and also expanding on the basics that I outlined in the video a bit and giving additional tips and resources.
Video 1, which you can find here, is all about what you should do before you start writing, and figuring out if comics writing is really for you. There are three basic tips, which I'll expand on here:
Make sure you want to collaborate
Collaboration is both the best and most challenging aspect of comics writing. If you can't draw (and I truly can't), then you're going to need to rely on someone else to bring your vision to life. But you'll have to find someone who believes in that vision enough to work on it for months or sometimes years. And — and this is important — someone's going to need to pay them, up front. It could be you, it could be a publisher if you're lucky. But you won't find someone who's professional enough to make your comic look good and also is okay with not getting paid. And you shouldn't do that anyway! People deserve to get paid for their work.
Even if you find someone who believes in your vision, be prepared to engage them as a true collaborator. Chances are if you're not an artist that you don't know as much about visual composition as an artist will. So if you insist that you need eight panels on this page, and the artist says it will work much better as four panels and then shift an additional two panels to the next page, be prepared to work with them to figure out what will be best for the project. Like I said, if you're writing a novel, no one is telling you that you need to shift 50 words from one chapter to the next. If you want to be the boss, write prose. If you want to write comics, be prepared to collaborate. (And if you want a book that focuses a lot on this collaboration process, check out Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis.)
Is your project a comic?
There are exceptions to every rule, and I'm sure there are plenty of comics that take place in a single room and feature gorgeous sentences. But generally, if you're going to be working in a visual medium, make sure you have interesting visuals! That doesn't mean it needs to be full of action shots and alien vistas. As you may know (see the next rule), there are tons of comics out now that are slice of life comics set in perfectly ordinary middle schools. But they still have a reason for being comics, even if that's just seeing the awkward facial expressions that tell a silent story that couldn't be told without visuals. If you're writing comics, take full advantage of the medium!
Do your research
Do you know who the most successful comic creator working today is? It's not anyone working for Marvel or DC. Depending on who you ask (at least in the U.S.) it's likely either Raina Telgemeier or Dav Pilkey, both of whom write massively successful comics for kids.
If you're not familiar with what kinds of comics are being produced now, are selling now and to whom, it's a good idea to get familiar before you start writing. Don't just go to a comic shop, though — go to a book store and check out their graphic novel section. Better yet, go to your local library. Or check out apps like Hoopla and Libby — if your library system participates, you can check out free digital comics and graphic novels right from home. Including some by me in the Hoopla app!
This will also help you figure out the shape of your project. Are you writing for kids or adults? Who is publishing comics that are similar to yours? Are most comics like yours original graphic novels or are they monthly issues that then get collected?
One more step I didn't get into before next video, which is about script writing: outline. Outlining is extremely important for comics, especially if you're going to be publishing monthly comics, in which you need to make sure that your story works in a certain number of 20 to 22-page chapters. In fact, you may decide with your artist that you want to work "Marvel style," which means that your artist will work directly off of your outline and determine what each page looks like, then pass it back to you to write dialogue.
But even if you're writing a full script (more on that soon) for an OGN, outlining will help you figure out the rhythms of your story (and more on that soon, as well). You can always change and evolve your story as you go along, but it's a really good idea to have an idea of the shape of it before you get started.
So that's all the pre-work. Now you're ready to get started writing your script...but you have to wait, because the next video's not up yet. But check back soon, and thanks to Great Dog for their amazing support!