Writing Comic Books By Steven Philip Jones

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I write comic books. So do writers you may have actually heard of like Stephen King, Kevin Smith, Max Allan Collins, Brad Meltzer and Greg Rucka.

Should you?

Well, in 2002 over 67 million comic books were ordered through Diamond Distribution, America’s largest comic book distributor, with total sales topping $190 million. Helping those sales along were Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks, retail chains that reserve a good amount of precious shelf space to graphic novels. (Think big fancy comic books.) Some of the graphic novels you can find at these stores include:

ROAD TO PERDITION (DC Comics): Historical fiction set in gangland Illinois. Basis for the 2002 motion picture starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.
BAKER STREET (Caliber Comics): Punk meets mystery in an alternative London. Simon & Schuster will reprint this critically-acclaimed series in the Spring.
MAUS (Pantheon Books): Art Spigeleman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story about the Nazi Holocaust.
So far the big publishing houses have primarily been collecting and reprinting stories from comic books, but very soon now they will be publishing original graphic novels.
Trust me, you can take that to the bank. Well, you could…maybe…if you were writing comic book stories.

Interested?

If all you know about comics is what you see at the movies then you need to do some market research. Visit your nearest comic book specialty shop and search for comic books that intrigue you. While you are there, pick up a copy of Diamond’s Preview Magazine, a catalogue listing nearly every comic book that will be available for the following month.

You should also read the Comics Buyer’s Guide, a weekly trade newszine geared towards comic book professionals, collectors and fans. For a preview of CBG, visit http://www.collect.com and click on “comics & games.” While you are on the web you can also check out http://ICV2.com, which reports on the comic book industry as well as many other pop culture media, and The Pulse at http://Comicon.com.

Something else you will need to learn about is comic book scriptwriting. Comic book stories are written as scripts to make it easier for an artist to refer to a story while drawing it. Never forget that the comic book is a verbal-visual collaborative medium; in layman terms, the talents of a writer and artist are required to tell a comic book story. And it is the writer’s job to break a story down into a sequence of visual highlights that, when married with dialogue and narrative, creates an effective and exciting story.

The highfaluting term for this process is “narrative breakdown.” Space limitation does not allow me to educate you on narrative breakdown here, but you can learn the basics about it and about comic book scripts and scriptwriting by reading books like Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers and How to Draw and Sell Comic Strips for Newspapers and Comic Books. (These titles and more appear in my list of recommended reference material at the end of this article. Most should be available at your local library.)

When you feel you are ready to submit stories to comic book publishers, make a list of the publishers whose titles intrigue you. Also make a list of any editors that may be listed in these titles.

Next, visit each of these publishers’ websites-most have one-and search for a submission page. This is where you will find a publisher’s contact and submission information. Do not be put off if a publisher refuses to read an unsolicited submission without you signing a release form first. Long a standard practice in Hollywood, such release forms are protection against frivolous lawsuits and are becoming the norm in comic book publishing. (Because of these lawsuits some comic publishers, like DC Comics, no longer accept unsolicited submissions.) If a website has no submission page, then try contacting any editors you have listed for this publisher and ask if you can send him a submission. The worst he can do is say no.

All kinds of people, from neurosurgeons to school kids, read comic books, and for the past few years this audience has expanded to include entertainment executives, producers and agents. With the recent run of success of comic book-inspired properties at the box office and on television, an increasing number of entertainment types are beginning to view comic books as marketable content with storyboards already included.

Now, getting noticed by Hollywood may sound like a wonderful motive to write comic books. And why you submit to any kind of publisher is your business. But caveat lector. To see how frustrating dealing with La-La-Land can be, check out the Animation World News article Getting That Big Call and Entering Development at awn.com. I am not making this suggestion to discourage you. Just inform you.

As far as publishers and entertainment types are concerned comic books appear to be the next big thing. Even if this wasn’t the case, however, for a writer the comic book can be a fantastic form of communication, the only publishing medium that lets you see your story come to life, albeit in two-dimensional artwork. If you decide to try writing comic book stories, whatever your reasons may be, I wish you good luck. If you go into it with your eyes wide open, I believe you will not be disappointed.

Recommended Books And Websites

Books
The Cartoon: Communication To The Quick by Randall P. Harrison, Ph.D.: Out of print but available through Amazon. An easy-to-understand and indispensable thesis about comic book communication.

Comics & Sequential Art by Will Eisner: One of the grandmasters of comic books concisely and eloquently teaches about comic book storytelling.

How To Draw And Sell Comic Strips For Newspapers And Comic Books by Alan McKenzie: The best beginners book about comic books and how they are created that I have found. McKenzie thoroughly explains the collaborative process involved with creating a comic book story as well as the history of the medium.

Panel One: Comic Books Scripts By Top Writers edited by Nat Gertler: Reprints comic book scripts by some of today’s most talented and successful comic book writers including Kevin Smith, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.

Understanding Comics by Scott McLoud: Professional-grade analysis of comic book communication. A must for every serious comic book writer’s bookshelf.

A Writer’s Guide To The Business Of Comics by Lauren Haines: It is exactly what it says. Its contact information is out of date, but Haines’ practical information is and always will remain on target.

Websites
The Comic Book Writer’s Guide To Information On The Internet: Again, exactly what it sounds like. I include it here because of its “Handy Guide to Terms” and former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief “Jim Shooter’s `How to Create Comics'” pages.

Animation World News: Besides the article cited above, you should check out Getting Published: A Few Suggested Paths. Although written in 1997, the freshness date on this article’s advice has not expired.

Icv2.Com: For comic book and other pop culture news.

Comicon.Com: One of the best web sources for news about the comic book industry can be found here when you click on “The Pulse.”

Collect.Com: Home of the COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE.

Steven Philip Jones’ numerous comic book credits include adaptations of Reanimator and Dracula and the original series Nightlinger and Street Heroes 2005. He is the author of the mystery novel King Of Harlem. Readers are welcomed to visit his website at http://www.stevenpjones.com and email him at Maxandbuddy at aol.com.