Before I even began to plot out storylines for comics I studied and absorbed as much information on the theory of comic creation as well as the advice of those who write them. It’s very important to understand on some level the intricacy that goes into this craft from a writer’s perspective and how that transfers to the artist for what is finalized on paper. This small piece is a short rundown of some resources I used to develop my first comic/graphic novel I will be putting out this year called “Chicago Typewriter”. I hope these can give you some direction to create characters, plot, understanding how comics work, as well as how to protect your art.
How Comics Work
If you’re reading this, on some level I’m sure you understand how comics work. But that’s not everybody. Some people have been reading comics since they were young, others have read a few of the more well known books, and others are just getting into the medium. Even if you are a seasoned veteran of reading comics, the Scott McCloud series of books will show you exactly how the theory of comics works. The entire book is even told through the comic storytelling format, helping as a guide for you to understand what is happening in-between the panels.
Scott has another book more geared more towards the digital realm as well, but “Understanding Comics” and “Making Comics” are some of the best and easy to understand basics on comic book theory. These books lay the groundwork for understanding storytelling sequencing. I couldn’t recommend them more for the expert all the way down to the beginner.
Developing Ideas for Comics
Ok, so you understand how comics work. But how do you develop characters? How do you think up plotlines? How does story progression work? Although the Peter David book, “Writing for Comics & Graphic Novels”, also has some theory work in it much like the McCloud books, all three of these focus more on characters and how to come up with interesting stories.
“Writing for Comics & Graphic Novels” acts as a good entry point in further knowledge on what goes into a comic page, but also says a lot about coming up with interesting characters, naming, and story structure. David provides an easy to read manual on how to develop everything about a story from beginning to the end.
“Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics” is a short read about writing comics. More of a long essay on creating characters for comics, he doesn’t really go much into the exact science of following a set structure. Instead relying on the creator to read his thoughts and taking that to think about when making a new character or story. I found this small volume to be grounded and helped me think about what kinds of things can make a character interesting to the reader.
“Story” by Robert McKee isn’t based around comics, but is a helpful book based around story progression and sequencing. This is a book I will probably read through numerous times if I ever get stuck trying to think through a story. I know Robert gives seminars on what is detailed in the book, but this should be all you need to understand the thoughts behind story acts and plotting devices.
The Business Behind Comics and Protecting Your Work
Although this is the last section on comic creation resources, it may be the most important. Creating an interesting story doesn’t help much if you can’t understand how to protect your work or how to reach the people who can take your script and make it art.
I can’t stress enough about how important it is to understand even a small amount of knowledge on copyright law. I went to college for audio engineering, so we had a few classes based around this subject, but I can’t believe how much of that class work has transferred over into what I practice now. You should go out and purchase some kind of resource book on what goes on around copyright law and ownership. You would be doing yourself a disservice and could run into huge problems down the road if you don’t clearly spell out who owns what and knowing the terminology that is within contracts. I had a professor at Middle Tennessee State University who litigated against the Notorious B.I.G. and she would drill this material into our heads because it was so important. If writing is going to be your livelihood you better protect it.
“How to Self-Publish Comics Not Just Create Them” is a great piece on the business side of things in the comic book world. Josh being a comic book publisher owner himself, he has gone through the ups and downs of the business. He gives readers a look into what goes on behind the scenes, discussing his struggles in the industry and how you can avoid the pitfalls that he dealt with. This how to book is important because it informs prospective creators on where they can find artistic talent, problems they can avoid, basic contract templates, and how to get their books out to readers.
With these few resources I was able to fully develop my first work. It’s very important to know the craft of comic/story creation as well as the business behind the beast. While I was reading through these volumes I was constantly still coming up with new and creative ideas. I found that I would uncover more and more about my characters as well as the creations they played their stories out in. You will always start out with a basic idea, but the more you chisel away at that rock, you can find an even more refined work underneath the rough stone.