Saturday, December 20, 2014

Anatomy of a Neo Story-Part 4

By Paul Kupperberg

Portrait of the artist's workspace while drawing "Digger" Graves
Ideas are a dime a dozen.

I get ideas for stories, characters, scenes, bits, whatever, all day long. I get them while I’m working on other projects, while I’m driving, while I’m making dinner, while I’m watching TV, while I’m in the shower. My mind is always working, always processing my thoughts in that mysterious way that turns random electrical pulses in the brain into a story or a creative concept. I couldn’t shut it off even if I wanted, which, of course, I don’t. Ideas are my job, my bread and butter.

I have probably twenty or thirty of them a day...although, truthfully, most of them turn out not to be very good . Execution of a good idea is hard enough; execution of a bad one is downright painful. The young, inexperienced writer thinks all their ideas are gold; the experienced ones, in the words of Kenny Rogers, “knows when to hold ‘em and knows when to fold ‘em.”

With about a thousand comic book stories under my belt and almost two decades behind an editor’s desk, I’ve developed a pretty good sense of what will work and what won’t. Sure, it’s easier to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to other writer’s ideas, but once I get past the initial “Eureka!” thrill moment of the birth of any idea, I can usually spot it for the dog it is.

Likewise, I know a good one when it comes my way. The way you know if an idea has any legs is that when you sit down to develop it, it will almost (as we say) “write itself.” Characters come to life, you can hear their “voices” in your head, and situations and stories suggest themselves almost as fast as you can write them down.

So it was with Digger Graves, Paranormal P.I. As I recounted in an earlier post, the bare bones concept--“Son of Dr. Graves, supernatural investigator”--popped into my head during a Facebook Messenger chat with Roger McKenzie, and came to life in a subsequent work session that lead straight into the first script, “’I’ of the Beholder!” which was handed off to artist Andrew Mitchell to bring to life.

And, man, did he ever! The East Village of Digger’s reality is a world full of the demonic, the damned, and the dead, and Andy captured the casually weird and spooky ambience I had pictured in my mind’s eye while I was writing the script. Last time around, I posted Andy’s preliminary sketch for the first page of the story, re-presented here for the sake of comparison...

...With the near-finished art...

...Which is followed by final art, with Mort Todd’s lettering laid in...

...And, the fabulous finished page, colored by the talented Matt Webb...
And there you have it...how an idea makes its way from a spark to a comic book story. But this isn't the end of "Digger" Graves. The next story has already sparked in my brain, just waiting for me to get it on paper so we can start the whole process over again.

© Paul Kupperberg / Art © Andrew Mitchell

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Writer In progress 4: The Script Is The Thing

By Derek Adnams

Ah – the script! Where most novice writers immediately begin before doing all the frontend work discussed in the last three posts. 

And that’s fine, because, at least for me, it’s the most enjoyable step of writing a comic book! 

With all the “structure” previously discussed, one would think that the script itself would adhere to a rigid format. Well, it doesn’t! Unlike the screenplay and the story or novel, which needs to have a set format to even be looked at by a publisher, the comic book script has no such thing! Of course, there are aspects all comic book scripts need, like page and panel numbers, panel descriptions and dialogue, but it can be formatted any way you want!

When looking for a format that works, there are a ton of resources available today, like The Comics Experience Comic Book Script Archive.

I use a mash-up of the formats Scott Snyder and Jonathan Hickman employ on their scripts, all of which were available in the back of various hardcover collections.

The script is really a letter to your artistic collaborator, telling them how you envision the story so they can take those written words and interpret them through their own prism into what will eventually be shared with the world. That being said, there are two common ways to write a script: Marvel Method and Full Script.

Marvel Method is when a basic plot with a few details is given to the artist and they go on to interpret it any way they feel works best. The writer then goes back and retrofits the dialogue into what the artist has drawn. I tend to do this with prolonged action scenes. Unless there are specific motifs or details that need to occur, I will five the artist instructions along these lines: “Pages 14 – 16: have the characters fight, just make sure Character A gets hit on the head and is lying unconscious in the last panel of Page 16.” 

For non-action scenes, I write Full Script. This is similar to a screenplay in which everything is spelled out, literally, for the artist. Full script is how most modern comic books are written, and it does serve as the best representation of the writer’s intent. I like writing full script, mainly because that is how I have always written comic books, even when my buddy Brandon Bullock and I were making comics on copier paper back in high school. It leaves no question in the artists mind as to what is going on and allows the writer to include little details, imagery, and motif in case you want to get all literary and stuff.

Another common issue when writing a comic book script is whether to write the action first or the dialogue. Again, there’s no real set method, so what I do depends on the focus of the scene or “beat.” If it’s a “talking heads” scene, I’ll write the dialogue then break it into panels, taking the page count and the page turn and reveal breakdown into consideration. If it’s action, and it needs to happen a specific way so I’m actually scripting what transpires, I’ll write each panel out, then break it into pages, then add any dialogue, if necessary. I’m not a proponent of dialogue during fight scenes, unless it can add subtext to what is transpiring, or one of the characters is Spider-Man.

A few rules I have acquired over the years have made my relationships with artistic collaborator much better. The first is to script no more than 5 or 6 panels per page. This gives the artist plenty of room to show-off and add panels if they feel a different approach will improve the visual flow. I stole this from Jonathan Hickman. 

The second rule-of-thumb I employ regards word count. You don’t want so much dialogue that the balloons cover the art, so, according to 2000 A.D.’s submission guidelines; you want no more than 25 words per balloon or caption, with a maximum of three balloons or captions per panel. This may seem draconian, but honestly, once I incorporated this into my writing, it made the editing and rewriting phase much easier.

And that’s where we’ll pick-up next time!

Next Week – The Red Pen Edit

Further Reading (or, Books That Make Me Seem Kinda’ Smart)

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud
Comics and Sequential Art: Principals and Practices of the Legendary Cartoonist by Will Eisner
Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative by Will Eisner
 © Derek Adnams

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Writer In Progress 3: Breaking It Down

By Derek Adnams

I am a self-confessed structure junkie. That’s not a secret, and now that I have my story all worked out and I’ve made sure it fits into both The Three Act Structure and The Hero’s Journey (see the previous installment of “Writer in Progress”), I can further satisfy my craving by constructing the actual comic book I’m writing by Breaking It All Down For A Four-Color World.

The first step is to look at the story and decide which format best suits what I’m looking to accomplish. Is this a 22 page one shot? A graphic novel?A 6-pager for the good people at Charlton Neo? Or have I written my Sandman-esque Magnum Opus? If you’re a beginner like me, you’re probably looking at nothing longer than a four issue mini-series. 

For our purposes here, let’s assume I have a 22 page one-shot on my hands. Once I know for sure how long the project will be, I break the story into “beats” or “scenes,” a.k.a. the major actions that take place in the story. It’s always a good idea to either open with action or a unique visual image, and to start the narrative as late into the story as possible without ruining the integrity of the tale. No one wants to read about the hero going to the grocery store...unless, of course, that’s the story you’re writing.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, have a great technique they use when working out story beats. In a speech they delivered at NYU (I think), they said that they make sure that between each beat they can say either “therefore” or “but.” For example: this happens therefore this happens but this happens therefore this happens but.... You see where this is going. I find this very useful in making sure the story has the necessary twists and turns to keep a reader’s attention and isn’t a boring linear list of events.

Once the major beats have been worked out, the next step is deciding how many pages each beat will need to properly convey the story. Remember, people buy comic books for the visual aspect, so no matter how catchy your dialogue is, the audience for a 22 page talking head book is not very abundant. I try to keep consecutive talking head pages to no more than two at a time, breaking them up with some sort of prolonged visual action or effect.

Probably the most useful piece of advice I received when I was beginning to seriously write came from Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics. In it he stated that he would write the numbers 1 through 22 down the side of a piece of paper, then detail what takes place on each page, being sure to remember that odd-numbered pages are page turns and even numbered pages are reveals.

I’ll repeat: odd-numbered pages are page turns and even numbered pages are reveals.

What this means is that you want your cliff-hanger story points to occur on odd-numbered pages, and then have the resolutions to those cliff-hangers or the introduction of a new character happen on an even-numbered page.

Now that I know what will happen on each page of the comic book, and the story beats are worked out, the action scenes, as well as the page-turns and reveals, you get to the fun part!

Next Week – The Script

Further Reading (or, Books That Make Me Seem Kinda’ Smart)
Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics by Alan Moore

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

© Derek Adnams

Thursday, December 4, 2014

At Long Last...PROcastination 2

By Roger McKenzie

So how then do you get started? I’ve tried various things over the course of my career in (and out) of comic. And have a few suggestions that I hope will help.

I used to set a “page count” goal for myself. Five pages a day. I can do that. After all, I’ve written five pages a day before. Many times. But not every time. And therein lies the trap. Because sooner or later the day will come when you don’t reach your goal. So you try to write more than five the next day to make up the difference and that doesn’t happen either and before long the whole plan crashes and burns.

I’ve always found it better to set a specific time to write. Especially if you don’t have a deadline. If you are a “newbie,” for example, juggling a real job (or two), maybe a family. You know…life. Carve yourself a specific chunk of time. It doesn’t matter how much. Or how little. It’s your time, though. To write. Or draw.

Or just to sit there. Yes. Or even to just sit there. Because, even if you just sit there for however long your allotted time is, you are creating a discipline for yourself. You are, in effect, showing up for work and putting in your time. And sit there…just sit there…long enough, odds are you’ll start writing or drawing out of sheer boredom…

We are, you see, creatures of habit. After a while you’ll sit down at your allotted creative time because that’s what you do.

Another trick I learned from an article written by pulp writer Lester Dent, creator of Doc Savage, is to stop writing in the middle of a sentence. Then, when you begin again, you can pick right back up where you left off and get started without that blank page staring at you.

But here’s the thing: If you simply must procrastinate, then procrastinate later. Otherwise you’re doing it all wrong, you see…
© Roger McKenzie

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


By Roger Mckenzie

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for a while. But, ironically, I kept putting it off for other things. Like the latest spellbinding episode of Jerry Springer. Or checking Facebook because surely there’s been a new kitten video posted since the LAST time I looked--five minutes ago.

Procrastination. It happens to many of us. Maybe most of us. Because time is our best friend…and our worst enemy.  And, if you are a freelance writer or artist, procrastination can be a back breaker.

Why we procrastinate would take a book to explain. A large book. I’m not going to explain the whys…but give you a tip or two on how to overcome the inertia of getting started. And dealing with the dreaded “Blank Page Roadblock.”

You will face it head-on. Probably already have many times. The empty word processor screen with the blinking cursor. Blink. Blink. Blink. Waiting for you to write something. Daring you to begin. Reminding you of the last time you tried and how badly that worked out. Or that blank and pristine art board. Reminding you there’s still so much you don’t know…how much you still need to learn.

So you put it off. Until later. And the mountain grows. And the next time you sit down to create something the mountain is more daunting than it was before. And so you put it off again. Until later. Until you tell yourself “Tomorrow!” That’s right, tomorrow you’ll have a fresh start. Really dig in. Work hard. Get that story finished!

Except tomorrow winds up being just like today and pretty soon all the yesterdays of procrastination pile one on another until you spiral downward and your dream of writing or drawing comics begins to dim. To fade away, slowly but surely. And the doubts begin. Sure you want to do this. You know you can, And you will, you tell yourself with steely-eyed determination…

© Roger McKenzie