Monday, September 22, 2003

Writing for Comics 101

Writing for comics is not the same as writing prose. While the basic tenets of good and effective writing apply to comics, comics scribes need to have fundamental knowledge on how the comics format affects the way they write. I’ve seen too many scripts that are simply unfriendly to artists.

One of the basic steps in writing a comics script is budgeting pages, wherein the writer, based on his plot, predetermines how many pages will be assigned to a certain sequence. Following are the factors that should come into play when budgeting pages.

Level of Spectacle. This is essentially your The Authority (cinematic panoramic kick-ass superheroics) versus Strangers In Paradise (slice-of-life drama). If you’re working with a 24-page standard-size issue, a high-spectacle story won’t have the real estate it requires for the proper threshing out of plot points. Low spectacle stories have an advantage here. If your story combines both, the large-scale events will surely eat up into the small-scale events, because the former would require a lot of pages to deliver maximum impact.

This is why comics issues are plotted out to either extremes – the action issue or the talkie issue. Action issues generally require over 25% of your page budget for the set-up, fight sequences, and resolution, and additional pages depending on the number of combatants are involved, the complexity of the fight choreography, and the grit level of the sequence.

Amount of Text. Comics scripts rely on brevity of text to support the word-picture marriage in comics, wherein words and pictures complement each other to deliver the ideal comics reading experience. A text-heavy sequence would require larger panels for the text to fit, and larger panels translate to more pages. This is exacerbated by the need for the space-eating visual component, particularly when the text requires a series of actions to support it. (For instance, three scientists arguing while cutting up the cadaver of a giant alien crustacean.)

While captions are regarded as soooo last-century, these boxed commentaries are useful in abbreviating sequences. Well-written captions can effectively describe an epic event in the span of a few pages, leaving the writer with extra pages to elaborate on other plot points. Still, using captions is a matter of style and ought to be used in adherence to story structure and writing consistency, not as a scapegoat when faced with page shortage.

Now if a writer finds himself in a quandary wherein fitting an issue’s worth of plot in 24 pages is akin to buttoning up 32-inch Levis around his 38-inch handles, then he has to make sacrifices. Can sequences be shortened, if not deleted, without gravely affecting his vision and the story’s rhythm? Can latter sequences be bumped off to the following issues? Worse, is the story too expansive and intricate to fit in the given number of issues; can an issue or two be added?

(to be continued when I feel like it)

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