Sunday, August 12, 2018

What I Learned While Writing A Comic Book

After a year or so of forming an idea for a comic book, I decided that I would just sit down and write a comic book script.  I won't lie.  My thoughts were: Maybe I can sell it and make a few thousand so I can get myself out of this rut.  I had the first 6 or 7 issues really worked out on paper, the rest was all blocked out in a loose outline.  By the time I added more details to the outline, I figured that it would take about 20 issues for my main story arc.

I have written film and television scripts (that never sold), some non-fiction (can be found on Amazon), and I always have some fiction in the works.  Writing a comic book script was new territory for me and I wasn't familiar with the formatting, so I asked my friends who work in the industry.
The Working Writer's Guide to Comics and Graphic Novels by Nick Macari (on Amazon) was recommended by my friend Ed Watson, who did some art for the book.  This book gets right to the point for writers.  It covers basic formatting and what you need to know for writing and selling your story.

Is it the only book you need?  NOPE!

It is enough to get you started.  When I got started I was able to pump out an issue in a day for the first 4 days, then I slowed down to 1 issue in a day and a half.

If you have a long story arc (more than 5 standard comic book issues) then I highly recommend putting together a story binder.  This way you can work on your writing and have something tangible to flip through, so you're not interrupted.  Also, it allows you to go back and edit at your leisure or place of choice.

A Story Binder should include:
  • Basic Outline
  • Character profiles, preliminary sketches, artwork
  • Sounds - Specific sounds for specific things
  • Language - If your character uses a particular term, slang, or foreign language, have terms listed.
  • Locations - If there are specific locations that play a major role in setting, have a write up about it.  Perhaps certain details that are vital, floor plans, etc.
  • Random Facts - These are little factoids that might be important later.
  • Each Issue - When you're finished with an issue, print it out and put it in the binder
By the time you finish issue 3, you'll want to start looking for an artist.  Here's a BIG catch in the world of comics: You MUST submit your work with 6 sample pages of art.  It has to be an artist-writer combo.  You CANNOT submit your story by itself.  This can be really difficult, but if you think you have a story that you can sell then invest in the artist.  Talk to people.  Talk to art students with a narrative art background.  Talk to the Joe Kubert School because they specialize in comics and narrative art.  Be ready to pay an artist for 6 pages of work - black and white, inked.  You should expect high-res digital copies that you can attach in an email.  You should expect to pay $25-100 a page for the art.  Students are going to be cheaper than established professionals...duh!  Whoever you choose to do your sample pages is going to be the person to work on your issues if you sell your comic.

When I asked around for an artist, I ended up paying $300 for 6 sample pages.  It might seem a little backwards to pay for art, when you haven't sold the story yet.  Get over it.  If your story is good and you sell it, you can make that money back.  If you mention "doing it for the exposure" most artists will turn you away.  Don't be an asshole, pay the money and get better art.

While writing, I found that I really had some issues with sound effects.  That might sound trivial, but let's say that you have a pot of boiling water that you want to include the sound effects for.  How do you write that?  You might listen to the sound of boiling water to try figuring it out OR you can look for an onomatopoeia book.  Here is one online that is useful (pdf format).  You can also get: Descriptive Words For Writers by Piper Bradley (there are 2 volumes) or Ka-Boom! A Dictionary of Comic Book Words, Symbols, & Onomatopaeia by Kevin Taylor.

Once you get your issues written and your sample pages (digital copies), you'll want to have a full outline written (1 page per issue), a cover letter, and whatever else may be asked of you when you check submission guidelines.  Submission guidelines vary from company to company.  They may ask for you and your artist to sign release forms or to submit the first issue, etc.

I always find that the cover letter is probably the hardest part.  I actually procrastinated for a month or so because of the damn cover letter.  I think it's due to the fact that I've always had a hard time selling my work.  I always faulted my cover letters.

Cover Letter Basics:

  • Keep it to 1 page
  • Date, Dear Editor, your letter, and Sincerely (Your Name).
  • 1 paragraph about your story.  Break it down to brass tacks and really sell it.  It MUST capture attention and cause the editor to want to read your work!
  • 1 paragraph on the more technical side to your comic.  Who is the demographic?  What sets your comic apart from the others?  What's your story arc issue number? (My full story arc is 20-issues with potential for future stories.)
  • 1 paragraph about the writer and the artist.  This isn't a full resume, but it should have some key points.  Be sure to list some previous projects.  Really sell the team!
  • Don't forget to list contact information for the writer and artist.
  • Thank the editor for taking the time to review your work.
  • Have at least 3 people look over your cover letter and ask them to edit the crap out of it.  Hand them a red pen and tell them to "make it bleed".  Let your artist read it too.
After you have your basic package, you need to check submission guidelines and get it sent in EXACTLY HOW THEY WANT IT.  Just do it how they want it.  Some editors will be like "hey, this has an extra page.  If they can't follow rules, I won't work with them.  DELETE."  Just like that, your work will be ignored.

So you send your stuff in, then what?  Basic rule of thumb is to give them a month to respond.  Mark on the calendar who you sent stuff to and when, as well as a month's time from that date.

As I'm writing this, I am getting all of my stuff ready to send in.  I have some people reading over my cover letter.  I'm making sure everything is ready to go on my end.  My artist already gave me his sample pages in digital format.  I'm going to make a list of who I'm sending stuff to first.  Once my cover letter is finalized, it's off baby!

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