How to Write for Comics
The professionals tell you what it takes to get started in comic writing and give their top tips.
There’s never been a better time to be a comics writer. Okay, sales may have dropped away since the industry’s early 1990s heyday, when Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 sold 2.5 million copies, but every third movie at your local cinema currently seems to be a comic adaptation.
While classic writers such as Alan Moore have rightfully enjoyed more respect in recent years from Britain’s literati, other comic scribes are now being snapped up by Hollywood, thanks to the enormous success the likes of Iron Man and The Dark Knight have enjoyed simply by staying faithful to their sequential source material. And it’s not just superheroes – with more leftfield comics such as The Losers, A History of Violence and Scott Pilgrim being made into movies, the door to major success, and fame and fortune, is open to comics professionals. Of course, first you actually have to become a comics professional.
This is not to imply that comics are simply a route towards movies. For many of today’s top writers, making comics is the ultimate goal. A childhood dream come true. It’s a vibrant, hugely creative area – the chance to meld together visual storytelling and literature in stories – and no other medium mixes that in quite the same way. If you have a visual story to tell, and you don’t have a massive budget or the means to hire a CGI-brandishing film crew, then comics are the perfect outlet. Lots of people want to use that medium to tell their tales – but, as with any area of the entertainment industry, there are many more wannabes than there are jobs.
You just have to attend any comic convention and see the endless, patient lines waiting for portfolio reviews to see that a lot of talented people want to work in comics. And they’re artists. A visiting comics editor at a convention will actually look at their work to see if they’re worth hiring. But if you’re a writer, how do you go about getting an editor to read your story? Most major publishers won’t look at unsolicited pitches or scripts and won’t hire an unpublished writer. So, it’s the old catch 22: how do you get published in the first place if no one will publish you? And how do you know what aspects of your writing you should be working on, so you’re of a publishable standard in the first place? (Please don’t believe the myth that writers are simply born, which implies that talent’s all you need, when there are any number of rules, tricks and structures you can learn to make your writing more solid. Writing is a craft. It can and should be worked on over time.)
So, comics may be the land of opportunity for writers, but how do you actually get in? We asked some of comics’ top writers – and a few leading editors – these questions and received so much material that we couldn’t fit it all into one feature. Part two will follow next issue and then we’ll move onto the artists. But for now… You want to be a comics writer? Start reading.