I’m going to be completely honest here—I don’t really like research, I don’t read as much as I “should” (As a once-English major, I’ll forever be plagued with the obligation to read more, in the same way I’m expected to like Scrabble and use words like “penultimate.”), and I’d rather smell old books than labor over them for nuggets of information. Luckily for me, researching for comic books doesn’t have to be laborious and boring.
Remember, you are writing a comic, and comics are a visual medium, so, while “traditional” research is necessary (I’m not going to talk about it here because, really, it’s the same type of research you’d do for any type of fiction. If you’re looking for a good reference about non-visual research, check out Writer’s Digest and Writing Forward), visual due diligence is essential to writing a great comic.
To maximize my visual research, I created a Pinterest board for my comic. Pinterst (a virtual pin board for those who live in a cave and aren’t familiar) allows me to easily collect images and display them in an attractive, socially-connected way. Thus, I can simultaneously gather my research, build my writer’s platform (more on that later), and self-indulge in the cool-factor of physically seeing the essence of my comic before finding an artist.
Visual research is vital to the success of your comic, especially if you’re not going to draw it. Here’s why:
Images allow your vision to shine (accurately). Your job as a comic writer is to simultaneously craft a story while translating the images banging around in your mind’s eye into readable, concise language so that an artist can pick up your script and draw it—in a way that actually resembles your vision.
Visual research aids your storytelling. I do visual research (yes, via Pinterest) for my novels as well. Stream-of-consciousness Internet surfing sparks ideas. Gathering together images of the setting, characters, artificial eyes, Jimmy Cho heels, Ducati motorcycles, or whatever helps you identify gaps in your vision. Like, “Oh crap, a flamethrower is way too clunky. There’s no way she’d be able to fire that thing on a moving train.” Or, “I’m glad I didn’t write him wearing an ascot because I totally thought that was a kind of hat.” Visual research is particularly useful for comics set in (or inspired by) a historical context.
Your visuals are part of your script. Copy and paste those images right into your Word document. I stuck mine at the end of my comic as a “visual appendix” with footnotes throughout the body of the script. Feel free to include it right along with your writing. You’re saving your artist time and grief by making your visuals accessible.
Long story short, do your research—both traditional and visual—before, during, and after writing the first draft of your comic. But! Don’t get too caught up it in….because at some point you’ll actually have to write this thing.
My life is substantially different than it was a year ago, when I moved to downtown Chicago to take a class in comic book writing. Since then, I’ve graduated, found myself a “grown-up” job, moved to a new city, and written a young adult novel. But the knowledge I learned and the experiences I gained from the best college class I’ve ever taken, stuck with me.
I got lucky and somehow finagled my way into a comic book writing class at a college I wasn’t even attending, with a professor who was a real expert in the industry, and with a group of student who actually gave a damn about the oft misunderstood world of comic creating.
I’d hate to be greedy. Not everyone gets to take a comic book writing class. So, while this series is long overdue (I promised it’d begin nearly five months ago), I’d like to present, Ms.Comix’ “I Can Write a Comic Book & So Can You,” a series of articles intended to take readers through the entire comic creating process from the perspective of a writer—a writer, mind you, who only “got into” comics two years ago, is a woman, is a feminist, was recently a student but now works (more than) full time in a real person job, and is, perhaps most importantly, incapable of drawing her own art.
I intend to walk through the entire comic-creating process from a writer’s perspective. Besides the actual script writing, I’ll address research, story-boarding, outlining, building a writer’s platform, working with (and finding) artists, seeking publication, and finding your place in the comic community.
So come back. Subscribe to Ms.Comix emails. Walk with me through the highly-rewarding journey of a comic writer.
My Comic Books 101 series, which detailed all the wisdom I learned from my comic book writing class this past semester, sort of faded away without much explanation. Long story short: I graduated.
Happily, I finished the class with a professional portfolio that contained the entire script for my graphic novel Fusion (which, admittedly, I also wrote as my senior thesis in English), the first six pages penciled and inked by an artist, a springboard, and other goodies (like character profiles, visual references, etc.). So while I’m certainly no expert at the comic creating process, I’m at least considerably more experienced than I was four months ago.
So here’s my plan. This post will act as my transition from the Comic Books 101 series to my new series, I Can Write a Comic Book and So Can You! (which will detail the adventure of creating my first ever graphic novel).
And to pretend like this post contains serious content, here’s a list of what you’ve learned in Comic Books 101: