Comic Books 101 – Part Two

Another cold Chicago morning, I was sitting once again in my comic book writing class. The professor continually emphasized that in comics, words are never more important than images. That’s a tough thing to hear if you’re a creative writing major, but it’s the honest truth. Comics are, after all, a graphic medium.

Great art can save a mediocre script. Yet a brilliant script never saved bad art. That’s why for our final project, we’re required to convince an artist to draw the first six pages of our script. And it’s scaring the hell out of most of us. What if I can’t find an artist? What if my artist bails last minute? What if the art is terrible?

But this is the nature of comic writing and also what makes it unique. In typical prose, what you write is what you get. The writer (editor notwithstanding) almost exclusively controls the end product of her writing. But in comics, what you write may not be what the art actually becomes. What you write (besides dialog and captions) isn’t actually read by your audience. Sounds like a writer’s worst nightmare!

Yet, comic book writing is great in its own ways. Comic books force writers to think in a new way, to collaborate with an individual(s) they may not even know. It’s exciting, actually, if you think about it. Great things come from collaboration. Comic books are proof that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Besides learning this humbling insight into comic book writing, in my second comic book writing class, I learned:

The Rule of 35- in any panel, you must have no more than 35 words.

GGA means “good girl art.” This I might want to avoid.

Avoid writing “talking heads.” Utilize the comic book medium and create movement and action that works sequentially from panel to panel.

Original art is usually drawn on 11 by 17 inch paper.

90% of everything is crap. That includes your writing.

Take some time to email some comic creators. They actually might respond.

Don’t tell your story through captions. Captions are useful for irony (contrasting with what is shown in the panel) or to establish time and place.

The job of the last panel is to compel readers to turn the page.

Self-publishing is totally legitimate.

Check back next week to discover what I’ll learn next!

Advertisements

Interview with Comic Writer Jeremy Whitley

Yeah, I know, I interviewed a dude. But give this guy a chance! He’s got a lot of interesting things to say about women in comics. First of all, he writes the comic Princeless. The title is pretty self-explanatory, and, if you’re interested, you can read more about the comic in my recent review.

Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

 
It’s about a princess who saves herself, rides a dragon, and faces down terrifying monsters with nothing but a sword and her wits.

 

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

 
All time, Y: The Last May by Brian K Vaughn and Pia Guerra.  Currently…Batwoman.
 
 
Who is your least favorite author (of any medium and genre)?
 
Is is fair to take Stephenie Meyer?  Should she be off the table as too obvious?  Scott Lobdell goes here for comics, but I feel like that’s phoned in too.  He’s just too awful.
 
 
What is your dream job?
 
Professional writer.  Not of one thing in particular though.  I want to have my own creator owned stuff, but I’d really like to add something to that great superhero mythos as well.  I’d love Marvel to hire me to write a B level female superhero, one of the ones I feel just doesn’t get the stories she deserves.  Storm, Misty Knight, Dust or Ms Marvel.
 
 
What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics?
 
I’ve always loved comics, but I had not read them in some time while I was actually studying to be a writer.  I stumbled on Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men while hunting down issue 1 of Buffy Season 8 and it reminded me why I loved comics.  From there, I put my head down and went for it.  So…while my dad got me into comics initially, I guess Joss Whedon inspired me to start writing them.  Never thought about it that way. 
 
 
What was the last book you read?
 
I honestly haven’t read many non-graphic books recently (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but the last thing I read was this great new all-ages comic called “The Intrepid Escape Goat” from 3rd World Studios.  It’s kind of an amazing book.
 
 
If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?
 
“Sister Rosetta” by The Noisettes
“Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
“Creator” by Santi White
Definitely something by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Regina Spektor
 
 
No doubt your comic, Princeless, attempts to break down stereotypical portrayals of women in fairy tales (and comics). What inspired you to create Princeless? Were you ever concerned that writing a strong female lead might deter some readers?
 
I wanted to write this story because at the time I was considering the future and that my wife and I hoped to have a daughter.  I wanted to be able to share my love of comics with her and I wanted to write the sort of story that I would want her to be reading.  I’ve always been incredibly bothered by the princess culture that we push so many girls into. It’s okay for girls to like what they like, but if all they ever know is helplessness, rescue, and subjugation then what are they going to become?  I certainly want more than that for and from my daughter.
 
As for whether having a strong female protaganist would deter people from reading, the thought hadn’t really crossed my mind.  I guess I figure that if strong women bother them than they’re not my audience anyway.  Also, probably not people I want to get to know.
 
 
What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and (particularly) writers in regards to getting their stuff published?
 
Think.  Work.  Create interesting characters.  Keep putting things out there.  Go to conventions even if you don’t have anything to sell.  Talk to the people who are doing what you want to do.  Make connections and make friends.  Keep going.  If you can’t find anyone to publish your stuff, publish it yourself.  When you have success, it’s going to feel like luck, but remember all the work you put into being lucky and don’t stop working.
 
 
What was most challenging about founding (and managing) Firetower Studios?
 
The most challenging thing about being an Indy comic creator is also the most challenging thing about being an indy comics publisher:  Keeping your head up.  It feels like no one is reading your comic.  To this day I’m certain I’ve spent more money on Firetower than I’ve made and that’s especially tough as a writer where you have less chance to do commission work at conventions and make your table money back.  In fact, I think SPX last year may be the first show where I actually made money…well, if you don’t count what I spent on the hotel and food.
 
 
How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?
 
I’m obviously not an expert at being a woman in comics, but it seems to me that it’s way harder for women.  There’s a fair amount of misogyny in the industry and fanbase, but beyond that, there’s the question.  How will people receive your work once they know you’re female?  Will that effect whether or not they buy your work or hire you for a job.  Then there’ll always be those that insist that you only got the job because they needed a girl who blanks.  I’m very rarely asked what it’s like being a white man who writes comics, but no matter how good female creators are, that’s always going to be a question for them.
 
 
What is your next project?
 
Well, Princeless Book 2 should start making its way out a little later this year, but right now I have my fingers in a lot of other pies.  Firetowerstudios.com puts up new webcomics every weekday and we’ll have two (maybe three) new books coming out this summer.  All of them are written by me and all feature female leads.  That wasn’t a plan, it just happened that way.  “Illegal” which I’m doing with artist Charlie Harper is a book about being an undocumented immigrant in an increasingly monitored and socially stratified future.  It’s an action book, despite that description.  “Skip”, which I’m working on with artist Rich Lombardi, is a more traditional super hero comic, but it follows a superheroine who’s very new to the business and finds herself in the middle of a fight to the death between the forces of good and evil.  Finally, “The Last Fairy Tale” which I’m working on with artist Jason Strutz is a story about a future where magic has devastated the world and the few lone survivors live in magically protected communities.  One girl stumbles on one such community that suffering from a mysterious, but incredibly familiar curse.