Monday, July 29, 2013

How To Make Comics: Backstory

Backstory is essentially everything that happened before your story starts. Alan Moore recommends building a Backstory as one of the first steps in creating a comics story. By building a substantial background for your character and his world, you'll have a goldmine of sources for story.

But maybe you don't have the time, so let's see how we can get the ball rolling quickly.

To start a story, we asked you to list a series of Story Events, focusing on your character as he makes his way through his day. In following your character, you may have had him talking to other characters, going to different locations, essentially living his Ordinary Life. You continue listing Story Events until you reach a Disturbance, which launches your character into an adventure.

But what if you can't find a Disturbance? The easiest way to identify a Disturbance is to find out what will literally disturb your character enough to leave his Ordinary Life.

Here's a question to get you started:

What are the top five things that are most important to your character's personal life right now?

The top five things can be a combination of anything: a person, a place, a possession, the character's job. We're not talking values here, like love or justice or peace. We're talking tangibles, or things that manifest in the real world. These become part of your character's Backstory.

Next: beside each of the top five things, explain in one sentence why it's so important to you character. By identifying why, you're giving these things power. Whether it's a lover, an old photograph, or a monument, these things mean so much to your character that he or she will do anything to make sure nothing adverse happens to them.

So now you know where you can get a disturbance. Threaten what's important to your character, or take it away. What will your character do? How will your character set things right?

Power Struggle

You can also look at Backstory this way: Everything society is today is the result of some struggle between two or more Powers. By identifying the power struggles that existed in the past, you can find seeds of Disturbances ready to sprout.

What does this mean?

Let's look at the story of Spiderman as told in the film The Amazing Spiderman, directed by Marc Webb.


  • Peter Parker feels out of place. He wants to feel empowered but he doesn't know how. Uncle Ben wants Peter to look after Aunt May, stifling Peter's freedom.
  • Dr. Curt Connors sees the potential in Peter and invites Peter to the lab to look over a genetic experiment. Connors gives Peter the power that Peter craves for.
  • Unfortunately, Peter forgets to pick Aunt May up from work. Peter gets home, and Uncle Ben exercises his power over Peter by berating him. Peter rebels against Uncle Ben's power by leaving home.


These series of events depict struggles of power: Peter wants to feel empowered, but is under the power of Uncle Ben. And the dramatic clash between Peter and Uncle Ben leads to Uncle Ben's death. The death of Uncle Ben, Peter's ultimate Disturbance, prompts him to rethink his priorities and eventually become Spiderman.

Power can be seen in different ways:

Some have power because of their Innate Ability (Molecule Man, Galactus)
Some have power because of their Influence (Adolf Hitler, the Pope)
Some have power because of their Relationship (The character's Mother or Lover)
Some have power because of their Physical Resources (Oil barons, China)
Some have power because of their Accomplishments (Manny Pacquaio, Oprah)
Some have power because of their Rank (An army general, A company president)

Or a combination of the above.

What you can do is identify two or three people or groups who your character recognizes as more powerful than they are. They may be friends, relatives, colleagues, enemies, whatever.  It's also important to describe why your character thinks this way.

What kind of Disturbances can take place?

Let the Power be the one to threaten what's important to your Character.


  • The best friend who had rescued the Character from death has fallen madly in love with the Character's girlfriend.
  • The megacorporation wants to drain the Character's powers to fuel its newest moneymaking project.
  • The villain wants to become a superhero by staining the Character's reputation.


This is just one way of creating Disturbances from a Character's Backstory. By having a powerful force threaten what's important to your Character, you're elevating the story's tension and creating opportunities for dramatic conflict.


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