Business of Comics #6: Writers

Welcome to issue 6 of my Business of Comics. Today, we’re going to look closer at writers. I’m Terrio Jenkins and I write Favor of Athena, but I’ve also written comic book scripts for several clients. I also have a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. Comic book writing is fun and challenging, but what does a comic book writer do, that screenwriters or novelists don’t? Well, a movie can’t be made without a script. A novel can’t be published without a writer. Comic book writers are essential to a good comic, The comic book writer has to take into consideration the other positions. We’re going to look at the different styles of writing comics. The elements of writing a comic. Lastly, we will look at the life of a comic book writer.

First, there is no one way to write a comic. If you pick up Panel One and Panel Two, various professional comic book writers have different styles. However, if the goal is to work for a specific company, like Marvel Comics, then a potential comic book writer may have to submit their script in accordance with the company’s guidelines. Currently, Marvel and DC no longer accept writing submissions. Dark Horse has a sample of how they want the comic book script formatted.  One way of writing a comic book script is the “Marvel Method.” This is writing the script in prose, like a novel or outline. This is how Stan Lee was able to write many of the comic books in the early years of Marvel Comics. The Marvel Method gives the artist/penciler more freedom and then Stan would go and add dialogue. This is a great method is you only have a general idea of your story and trust your artist in their storytelling. In the professional industry, this doesn’t seem to be the norm anymore. However, as an indy writer, you have the freedom to do so. The other major style is Full Script. In this style, the writer controls everything. They must convey every detail to the penciler, colorist, and letterer. Most professional writers choose this method. Full Script is similar to screenwriting, so picking up a screenwriting book would help a novice writer.

When writing the actual script, writers must have a good understanding of three elements. Those elements are plot, story, and characters. Think of the plot as your outline. The plot should have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. These are Acts and help move the story along. In each Act, there are beats that should be met. Plots usually are similar enough that they can be classified into different genres. For example, most mystery plots are the same but are different from romance plots. In a mystery plot: someone commits a crime, the detective follows clues, the detective catches the criminal. Romance plots would be: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. The story is the second element, this is what draws the reader. The story usually has a theme. Forgiveness, love, or responsibility, are examples of themes. Conflict plays an important part in the story. Without conflict, the story is flat and could turn readers off. Characters are the third pillar. They help move the story along, some characters will provide the conflict and represent the theme. There are many resources on all three elements.

Life as a comic book writer means being the captain of the story. This is especially true if you are writing your own comic book. In the industry, editors are the captains. Don’t expect to be popular, it’s an artist market, so the artist will make or break your book. However, if you hone your craft and be consistent, you will gain popularity. The salaries of professional comic book writers can total anywhere above $100 per page ($2,000 per issue/month), and with the more popular ones, even higher. You can look at issue 4 of Business of Comics for the breakdown of page rates.

Writing is hard, but comic book writing can be rewarding. Once you find your loyal readers and network, you will succeed. Take time to study those who you admire and even read comics that you don’t like. Read books on writing, but don’t forget to actually WRITE. Your style will come to you over time, just like with anything else in life. Now stop reading, leave a comment, if you’re watching hit the bell to be notified of new videos Go WRITE!

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