Archive for July 1st, 2012
Wes Locher on Jul 1, 2012
Filed in: Right Place at the Write Time | No Comments »
I hope that you’re having a great summer so far! Been outside lately? It’s beautiful out there!
In the last column, I believe that I promised a Part 2 of sorts to my deconstruction of how to write a comic book page, keeping in mind all of the intricacies that lay below the surface. I still plan to do that, but I’m going to make a quick side bar this round and talk about something that came up during the week while I was talking about comics writing with a friend.
Before I get too deep into my thoughts and emotions, let’s take a step back and look at how independent comic books are created (in a nutshell).
With all that in mind… this friend of mine, who also writes comics, told me that unless a book is picked up for publication, he never writes anything past the 5-6 pages of pitch script.
When I asked why, he invoked the name of Robert Kirkman.
For those unaware, Robert Kirkman is this dude who wrote a few comic books that you probably have never heard of… The Walking Dead, Thief of Thieves, Invincible, Super Dinosaur, Battle Pope, Tech Jacket, The Infinite, Hardcore… yeah, smaller stuff.
As soon as my buddy cited the Robert Kirkman Rule I knew exactly what he was referring to.
A famous piece of comics writing advice that Robert Kirkman gives to aspiring comic book creators is that you should write 5-6 page pitches, collaborate with an art team to bring them to life, and if it is accepted by a publisher, only then should you continue to write the series.
I mean, I understand the advice… he’s saying that you shouldn’t put your extra time and energy into something that’s not going to go anywhere. He’s essentially suggesting writers to come up with a better idea and start over.
I’m gonna go ahead and throw it out there… I disagree with Kirkman on this one.
Ever since I’ve started writing comics, I’ve always written all of the script pages prior to ever getting a yes or no from a publisher.
Are you crazy!? Wes, why on Earth would you waste all this time writing up scripts that may never see the light of day?
Three simple reasons.
FIRST: I think it’s important to practice (and perfect) my art.
I’m not writing comics solely with the goal of getting picked up by the publisher. If I have an idea, I want to be sure I’m able to flesh out the story to the best of my ability. I enjoy the creative process of writing the outline, connecting the threads, and peeling away the layers on my characters in an effort to get to know them. I want to know that when a publisher does come knocking, I am confident in my writing abilities and can execute everything that’s expected of me.
SECOND: I don’t like to panic.
Once a book has been picked up, you go into deadline mode. Right now, I have the option to write in my free time without a deadline looming over my head and forcing me to output work that ultimately, I may not be completely happy with.
By writing things in advance, it also cuts down the production time. Sure, that artist says they’ll draw the book, but if it takes you six months to write the rest of the story, they’re likely not going to sit around eating Doritos and waiting on you to finish your magnum opus… they’re going to go work on other projects. If they get a better gig elsewhere, this can delay your project or make it crumble altogether.
It’s also much easier to sell an artist on drawing the book if they’re able to read the entire story ahead of time. If they love what you’ve written, they’re going to want to draw it and they’ll be loyal to the project.
THIRD: There are no surprises.
The comics world works in “Pages.” You need to know in advance how many pages you will need to tell your story. Since a standard comic book is roughly 22 pages long, part of your pitch will be telling the prospective publishers just how many pages it will take to tell your story. Typically, it will end up somewhere between 88 pages (four issues) or 110 (five issues).
Unless you have some writing credits and some credibility, you’re not going to find many publishers willing to take on your 12 issue maxi-series. Start small.
If I tell a publisher that my story will be 88 pages long, then I better make darn sure that I can cram all of my story into 88 pages and have it still be the same story that I pitched.
There’s nothing worse than having to kill darlings, cut out characters, or rearrange your plot because your story ended up at 98 pages instead.
Work smarter, not harder.
I doubt that I will continue this method of pre-writing forever, but with where I am currently, I’m still developing my skill set and learning my limits. Sure, some of the stories get picked up, and some don’t, but I know for a fact that being able to provide the entire story to the artist up front made them feel even more comfortable with making the time commitment. I was a safe bet.
More importantly, when working out time frames with a publisher for completion of a book, I’ve never met one that wasn’t impressed that they could cut three months off the project because the writing portion was finished. Time is money and I like to think I saved them a lot of it.
He asked me:
What if I write all of these scripts and no one wants to publish them? What if they just sit around collecting dust? What if…??
I had to pause him there there. He was getting a little flustered and I really needed him to relax.
What I shared with him was this:
Let’s say that I do have several scripts sitting around “collecting dust.” Let’s also say that one of my pitches is finally published as a full series. Now, let’s say that the book does very well and makes the company a good amount of money. The company will be happy, and other publishers will notice this.
Think about what you want to type in the response of that email.
As always, I hope that this was helpful. I also don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression with my example above, so I’ll go ahead and note that Robert Kirkman is an amazing writer who showed us all that we don’t have to write company-owned characters to make money from our original ideas. Buy his work if you’re not already doing so. Never once will you be disappointed.
Until we meet again…
If you didn’t already guess, Wes Locher writes comic books. Learn more about his projects at weslocher.com, follow him on Twitter @weslocher, or email him things he can unsubscribe from at firstname.lastname@example.org.