Friday, July 18, 2008

Sequential Tart

In addition to some freelance game consulting gigs and the usual TV writer job-searching activities like going to general meetings and reading and watching pilots, I've started several new spec projects. I'm developing a couple new pilot ideas, and have begun a feature, and--

I'm writing a comic book!

I've read comics for years, but am a n00b at writing them. And I'm finding it a lot of fun, creatively challenging, and a fascinating formal exercise. For screenwriters who write lolloping 130-page movies and find the short length and rigid act structure of network TV too confining, tackling a comic book script would probably atomize their brains. Mine's getting there.

Not only do you have a set length to work with, usually 24 pages (with some variance in either direction), but you have to consider conventions such as when you change locations or switch storylines (typically not in the middle of a page) and the tease-and-payoff from the last panel of one page to the first on the next.

Unlike film or TV scripts, where the writer is not encouraged to get specific with angles and shots, comic book scripts often describe each panel in precise detail. Basically you end up with the text version of a storyboard.

(I'm speaking here of what I understand the industry calls "full-script" style, as opposed to the "plot-first" or Marvel style, which is -- surprise -- used a lot at Marvel. The latter is more like a prose description of the entire page, with the panel contents and page layout largely left up to the artist. The writer then adds the dialogue once the artwork is complete.)

Comic book scripts aren't meant to be read. Even more than TV and movie scripts, the comic book script is a work document, a specification delivered from the writer to the artist(s). Consequently they can be very hard to read, as I've learned. As I've also learned, there is no standard format for these scripts, although Movie Magic Screenwriter has a couple of comic book templates, one of which I'm using.

Because I'm considering the script as a potential original sample for screenwriting jobs as well as something to be taken to publishers, I'm going to try for a more readable, TV-script style. We'll see how that goes!

Story-wise, it's fun. There are no budget constraints. You can make the reader linger on a single moment by unfolding it over several panels, or blow the reader away with a full-page splash, the comic book's money shot. You can juxtapose disparate scenes in time and space or introduce a whole other style and story like TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER, the comic-within-a-comic in WATCHMEN. In all, it's a very intimate and evocative canvas on which to paint, something Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics discusses in detail (if you haven't read this book, you should. I've found that it comes up equally in discussions with writers and game designers.).

All this freedom may in my case be a little too freeing. I've gotten my story broken, and find myself trying to cram 10 lbs. of story into a 5 lb. bag. Hence the squishy brain issue mentioned above.

It's obvious that there's no way my story will fit into 24 comic book pages, but since it's a spec I have some flexibility. So as I tackle the page and panel breakdown I'm considering making it a double-size issue, a Part 1 and Part 2-type thing.

Um. Maybe Part 3.

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