What A Comics Script Is For

This may seem obvious, but give me a minute. I think it’s often misunderstood.

A script is a set of instructions to the artist(s), letterer, editor, colourist if applicable, and designer if applicable. This set of instructions is intended to present the mechanics of your story with the greatest possible clarity. Adhering to a precise format, as in screenwriting, is not necessary. Presenting a script whose operation is clear to everybody is the requirement.

This set of instructions must surround your story to the extent that you feel necessary and comfortable. Some writers produce reams of panel description because they require fine control of the artist, letterer and colourist to meet their vision of the story. Some writers boil their description down to a telegram because they require only that the most basic requirements of the panel be met in order to achieve their goals.

Both methods, however, and everything in between, are about manipulation of the artist. That sounds grim, doesn’t it?

Even if you and the artist have previously agreed on content and scenes and set-pieces, clear and specific notation of the mechanics of the comic is down to you. You are telling the artist what to do. The trick is to get the artist to like it.

When you’re starting out, you may well find yourself writing “blind”: not knowing who the artist will be. This is why people like Alan Moore evolved that hyper-descriptive style — so he could get the end result he was looking for regardless of who was drawing it. You may prefer to do that. I would prefer that you took some art classes, and talk to some illustrators (this may involve sign language and grunting sounds).  Investigate art, even if your drawing hand, like mine, behaves more like a flipper. Understanding what is joyful about illustration is important. It’s important to create a thing that will delight an artist. (And even a letterer, although that’s going to be harder as many of them have the demeanour of a demented gravedigger.)

You are, in many ways, writing a love letter intended to woo the artist into giving their best possible work to the job. A bored or unengaged artist will show up on the page like a fibrous stool in the toilet bowl, and that’s not their fault — it’s yours.

(Unless the artist is crazy. Which they all are. But you take my point, yes?)

How William Gibson Writes A Book

I already knew this – he told me, a few years back – but it still baffles and fascinates me.  From a long and interesting interview with The Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER

How do you begin a novel?

GIBSON

I have to write an opening sentence. I think with one exception I’ve never changed an opening sentence after a book was completed.

INTERVIEWER

You won’t have planned beyond that one sentence?

GIBSON

No. I don’t begin a novel with a shopping list—the novel becomes my shopping list as I write it. It’s like that joke about the violin maker who was asked how he made a violin and answered that he started with a piece of wood and removed everything that wasn’t a violin. That’s what I do when I’m writing a novel, except somehow I’m simultaneously generating the wood as I’m carving it.

E. M. Forster’s idea has always stuck with me—that a writer who’s fully in control of the characters hasn’t even started to do the work. I’ve never had any direct fictional input, that I know of, from dreams, but when I’m working optimally I’m in the equivalent of an ongoing lucid dream. That gives me my story, but it also leaves me devoid of much theoretical or philosophical rationale for why the story winds up as it does on the page. The sort of narratives I don’t trust, as a reader, smell of homework.

Partly, it fascinates because it’s alien to how I’ve worked for the last fifteen or twenty years.  In comics, we’re working in serial form and very rarely have the luxury of finishing the entire manuscript before it begins publication.  So one has to have a structure before the writing begins, because we can’t go back and tweak something in chapter 1 due to having had some story-changing bright idea in chapter 10, because chapter 1 probably saw print seven months ago and you’re still wanting the thing to hang together as a coherent whole in a collection.  Which is a terrible thing, really, but endemic to the commercial form.  Even FREAKANGELS, which I began with no real long-term plan at all, had a structure roughed out for the first 144 pages or so.  But even the bunch of notes and lists I had for FREAKANGELS at the start turns out to be more than Bill has when he sits down to write a novel.  When he began SPOOK COUNTRY, he had nothing more than a single interesting image in his head. 

It’s a horrifying, intimidating way to work, and I want to try it one day.