Starting a comic book from a writers perspective

I decided that I want to create a comic book. I started this blog because I believe others would find what I have learned useful. I'll add more blogs as I go.

I am always writing. It's a hobby I really enjoy. I have several books that are in progress (novels, novellas, series) which I write in my spare time. One day I'll actually get to finish them but I started to think, maybe I could progress a little quicker if my stories weren't all just purely the written word. I've been working on a paranormal Detective series (with elements of horror) I named 'The Brink' with all kinds of story arcs and I thought this would be great as a comic.

I enjoyed comic books when I was a kid but it's only really been the last few years (now I'm in my 30s) that I've really started to appreciate them. I particularly like The Walking Dead, Black Magik and Rick and Morty. I also began reading Gasolina and The Chair recently too which have been really good. I used to read Judge Dredd and really appreciate all the artistry and work that goes into it.

I'm not a professional artist, but I could begin drawing the comic myself. However, I realised that would take me a lot longer and what I have in mind for the comic book is beyond my artistic skill level. So, I decided to find an artist.

But wait, before I even find an artist, I should learn how to write for a comic book, right? Yes, that would be sensible. In my case I found an artist first - Marcelo Simonetti from Uruguay - and he helped me understand how different writing a comic books really is. I just searched for terms like comic book artist and graphic novel artist.

At this point it's worth noting that hiring an artist costs money. Anywhere in excess of £70 per page for pencil and ink, more for colour and more for a comic book cover. It depends on the skill of your artist. Of course it does, these guys and girls are unless you make a deal with a friend but in the end you may not make any money. I'm doing it for the challenge and enjoyment not to become rich or famous. It's just always been in me to create but it's not cheap. I'm paying for a highly skilled artist with years of experience and I'll be soaking up some of that experience myself. So, I'm funding it myself like I'd pay for an educational course to better myself. I contemplated asking for help on Kickstarter but I don't yet know about writing comics never mind managing a whole kickstarter campaign. Maybe I'll look into that later! 

I did do a small amount of research on writing for a comic book before diving in - of course I read that you should provide a script for your artist. This is probably quite obvious but it wasn't until I began working with Marcelo that I realised it's not that simple. I could've just given him a half-assed script and left it up to him to work it out. He'd probably have alot of questions for me and in the end I don't think the working relationship would work very well. The end product would no doubt be good because the art would be, but the depth in story just wouldn't be there and the art may not even be what I envisioned. I don't want to write a comic book for the sake of saying I've written a comic, I want it to be good with plenty for the reader to ponder and leave them wanting to read more, so I had to. 

Initially, I unwittingly abandoned the usual process I go through when I write because writing for a comic book felt like it should be easier. Just to set the record straight, it's not easy. In some ways it is more fun, but this is not something you can just throw together - it takes quite abit of thought and care. It is a project that I have to manage. That means setting goals, which I'll talk about another time.

Before I started writing for the comic book, I already had half a short story and several more plots but found that they didn't fit perfectly into comic format. I then spent alot of time modifying my story - I should've started from scratch because I ended up with a completely different outcome. However, what worked well, and always has for me, was beginning with a simple plot. I just write a few sentences of what the story is about... 

For example.. A series of weird murders calls for the expertise of two specialist detectives to solve. Simple. I sometimes do go into a little more detail but it's just a quick overview to remind me so I don't get lost in the weeds and go off course.

Then I write the plot in bullet point format. At this point there isn't any dialogue, just an idea of what will happen.

For example..
  • A girl is running away from something in the woods. 
  • It catches up with her and tears out her spine. 
  • The main characters meet for the first time and go over the facts of the case. 
  • They visit the scene.

It's very basic to begin with, but this really helped me to make sense of any complex situations I had in my mind. I also planned long term story arcs and include them in the plot overview where I need too. Having it written down in this way is useful for me to look back on.

So, I just got my ideas and plot down in a list. I didn't even think about trying to fit it into a 22 page comic book at this point, I just ensured the plot made sense. It turns out that my plot for the detectives first case actually spans a few comic book issues. That's OK.

I then started to add further details and expand the list with information on locations and a little more on what the characters talk about. I could then start to think about the layout of my comic...

In my next blog, I'll talk about what I did to create the comic book layout and what I found out about panels. Hopefully you found this useful.

Cheers
Steve

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