How to Write for Comics

The professionals tell you what it takes to get started in comic writ­ing and give their top tips.

Comic Heroes - - Contents - By Rob Wil­liams

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.

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