Monday, March 11, 2013

That Comic Book Thing

This time last year I decided that instead of writing a screenplay during ScriptFrenzy I would write a comic book script. After all I'm good at script writing and I have a very visual imagination, how hard can it be?


For the first year I failed at ScriptFrenzy. It was a technical win, you have to write 100 pages and I wrote 100 pages. But they were appalling. The story was intended as a sequel to my Rebel steampunk script featuring the same protagonist and supporting cast but moving on in time.

It was the worst story I'd written in a long time. Now it's easy to say it was a first draft, and that's true, but I write decent first drafts usually. (Not that's brilliant send it out first drafts, but they are usually coherent with good sequences and scenes, good clay for reshaping.)

The story might have turned out alright if I had been in the familiar territory of a screenplay but instead I was in a medium I believed I understood (having read my Eisner and Scott McCloud books). But theory is not practice.

There was another barrier to me realising I didn't know what I was doing: I had worked in print media, magazine production specifically, for many years so, of course, I knew all about printing stuff, didn't I? The first barrier to learning anything is thinking you know it already.

By the end of April (the month ScriptFrenzy takes place in) I was forced to acknowledge that when it came to writing comic books, despite everything I thought I knew, I was clueless.

Fast forward a few months to the London Screenwriters Festival, and a talk by awesome writer of scripts in many mediums: Tony Lee. Who in one hour covered the practicalities of writing for print comics. It was a revelation. You see my knowledge of the print industry was not worthless - I discovered it did have application in the subject but I needed someone who was familiar with the problems to join the dots and show me how to re-apply what I already knew to this new medium.

Consider this: A reveal in a print comic must be the first thing on a left hand page (otherwise a reader will see it before he reads his way to it). And this: you will typically have 22 pages to work with in an issue. That means your cliffhanger must appear on page 22 (it will be a left-hand page). You have no choice. And when Tony said these things, it all clicked together my existing knowledge of print and made perfect sense.

Comic books apply absolute restrictions with no wiggle room which means that unlike a novel or even a screenplay, you cannot wing it. You have to plan every sequence and scene to the very page it will appear on and make sure your reveals appear as the first thing on a left-hand page and your cliffhanger hits on page 22.

I think that's brilliant.

And the consequence of all that is I am converting an existing script to comic form. I have a professional illustrator lined up who loves the script (and, from her comments, sees what I see) so I'm putting together a few sample pages that she'll do some roughs for, just to see whether we're happy with each other's styles. And if that works we'll put together an issue.

But for ScriptFrenzy 2013 I have another feature script to write for the Voidships universe, new time period, new characters and hopefully awesome will ensue.

(And I'm also working on a Voidships novel.)

What's on the turntable? Hergist Ridge by Mike Oldfield (often considered the poor relation to Tubular Bells being the follow-up but I love it just as much - and Ommadawn which came next.)

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