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47 Comments

How I Write Comics (And How You Can Too?)

I break down the step-by-step of the process for you maniacs.

 A completed page from UNIMAGINABLE.

Tonis asked me a question about how I deal with page lengths when I’m writing a comic - - that is, how I determine how much plot to allot per issue and page.  I figure this is a good enough reason to talk shop, so I'll break my M.O. down into some handy steps...

  1. NOTES: I carry a notepad everywhere. In college, I used the "classier" choice of a moleskin but I've been using KINGDOM notepads ever since my friend gave me a pile of 30 he had left over from doing street team promotions for Paramount.  They fit easily into your pocket and that’s key as it's cumbersome (and a little weird) to carry a notebook everywhere. I never actually saw that movie, so the point is that it doesn’t really matter what you write into, so as long as you get your stray thoughts down before you forget them.
  2. OUTLINE: When I get to actual plotting, that’s when I’ll break out a bigger notebook and start filling pages. Maybe it’s a little inefficient to write in pen with the intention of transcribing the notes to computer, but I find my mind’s freer in longhand.  I’ll map out plot in bullet points, usually with an idea of where the issue breaks are going to be. == TEASER ==
  3. My choice processor.
    BREAKDOWNS: After the outline's transcribed,  I copy all of the beats to Movie Magic, which is my preferred program for writing scripts. The price is close to $200, but you'll quickly find your investment paid off when you avoid the redundancy of having to type “PANEL," "PAGE” and every character's name over and over again. Anyway, I'll do one pass dividing the beats into pages, and then another pass dividing them into panels. At this point, the document's unintelligible to everybody else, but it makes perfect sense to me.
  4. SCRIPT: With the map worked out, I go through and write all the dialog first. Once that's done, then I'll go back in and rewrite all the beats into cogent panel descriptions. For whatever reason, I find it's easier to do it in that order, as the dialog cadence will inform my choices for the panels. Also, punchy sentence fragments are easier to write than prose.
  5. DIALOG: I always look at the dialog in the first script as a place-holder and will always plan to rewrite it based on the art. This way, I cut out dialog that conveys what's already obvious in the art and, conversely, add dialog to make clear what isn't obvious in the art.
Getting back to Tonis' question, the page pacing usually works itself out in the course of all these revisions.  The actual nuts and bolts are intuitive. The only rules I find worth sticking to are these...  

  1. No more than 25 words per balloon.  
  2. No more than 50 words per panel.  
  3. No more than six panels per page.  
 
...but there are frequently reasons to break all three of them. Anyway, you might appreciate some script pages from UNIMAGINABLE, my next comic (an OGN, coming out from Arcana Studio next month, which is currently available on Amazon and through Diamond's ordering code OCT100764! PRE-ORDER!) You can see how everything evolves from this stage to final execution by comparing these to the excerpt above.  


So I've answered questions about writing for comics here and also about what I think makes a good comics store. But, like I've always said, I'm open to all kinds of questions, so put them here in this thread I started and I'll gladly answer them for this column.

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of    HYBRID BASTARDS! &  UNIMAGINABLE   . Order them on Amazon   here  &   here .  Follow Tom on Twitter:   @tompinchuk

47 Comments
Posted by Icon

This is such an informative piece! Thanks for this.

Posted by Sacerdos87

Pretty amazing article, to take the thoughts and organize them into a story, characters, whats going to happen. 
THIS is what makes it so appealing to me to wanna be a writer, I use to do art but creating the literature seems so much more exciting. 
MAYBE I COULD DO BOTH...oh the madness that would be had trying to do that.

Posted by damswedon

It was interesting to read (and see) how someone who isn't Alan Moore writes comic scripts. If you have never seen an Alan Moore script I suggest that you google for them his script for the first page of Youngblood #4 is 2 and a half pages long.

Posted by haydenclaireheroes

Wow I am going to try this out 

Posted by Jotham

Very cool. And it's an actual how-to, not a self aggrandizing puff piece like writers usually do about how to write.

Posted by The Lobster

This is insanely helpful when it comes to me writing the graphic novel I've always wanted to do. 
 
Now if only there was a blog that helped me learn how to get my books published.

Posted by Journey Into Chaos

Many thanks for this is extremely helpful :3. 
 
Edit: This makes me want to start writing my comics now.

Posted by Slow Burn

Thnks Tom very cool. Defintely thinking of when im not in debt to get strted on my own stuff. your blogs @re @lwys helpful 
 
thnks mn

Posted by zombietag

this is basically how i do it too. huge sloppy notes, to page by page breakdowns, to scripting, to fine tuning dialogue. 
 
i learned a lot from jason aaron's blog. he was the one that made me think about page by page outines, although im sure he didnt invent it or anything but it helps a ton. he also says he totally ignores any dialogue word limits when he writes. seems to work out. 
 
good article, tom.

Posted by primepower53

This is very helpful. I usually just wing it and write it as I go along, making changes whenever necessary. I'll try this and see what happens.

Posted by difficlus
@Icon said:
" This is such an informative piece! Thanks for this. "
this...
Posted by I'maDC/ImageGuy!

This really helps a lot. I'm more organized now.

Posted by The Sadhu

Thanks for this Tom... very informative... it will help me with my own comic that I am writing!
Posted by tonis

killer details and tips Tom, a very big help. Thanks for the info on 'Screenwriter' too, I've been wondering what tools writers use and that's good to know. 
 
As always, you go above and beyond the call for answers, big thanks.

Posted by Emerald Dragonfly
@Tom Pinchuk: 
That is pretty helpful, thanks. 
If my fan comicbook will be out in January, can I post it in my blog here? Will it be a violation of someone's copyrights if I'll use characters from, for example, MARVEL publishing?
Posted by Pizawle

Great write-up.
 
It is nice to get a sense of writing style to have some basis for building your own.

Posted by savri

Great Job,  
How do you write a panel, with out the panel lines"?

Posted by Emperor Gonzo Noir

It makes me feel really good that I already do some of this stuff, good to know I'm doing something right

Posted by Eyz

Very nice post!
 Instructive!
 
Mmmh, about your bubbles & text comment.
I think Kevin Smith should take a note from you! XD
(specially if you read his Green Arrow run! everyone talked in monologues!)

Posted by Dr. Detfink

Tom, you ROCK harder than HBK...and Marty Jannetty just called, he'll be in your corner at the Mania any time you need him. :)

Posted by cmaprice

Celtx is actually a really great  free program that is as good as any industry standards I've come across. I used to pay for Final Draft until I found the free alternative that was in many ways superior.
 
Nice to see your creative process. Thanks for the article!

Posted by Illyana Rasputin

Thank you for the information, Tom. I appreciate the script pages for UNIMAGINABLE. I look forward to reading it.

Posted by Planewalker

It is helpful... right now I'm not good enough to draw or write stuff on my own so...

Posted by Pinhead230280

Thanks for this post that makes the creative process of writing more comprehensible

Posted by Metatron_Da_Don
@Pinhead230280 said:
" Thanks for this post that makes the creative process of writing more comprehensible "

Posted by SupremoMaximo

"  No more than six panels per page." 
 
Unless you're Chris Bachelo

Posted by Danial79

I've seen plenty of comics with more than 6 panels on a page. Is this just your personal preference?

Posted by ateygheyev

Seeing other people's scripts are always useful, so thanks!  I always think of it as dvd extras and a great way to see the creative process.  Makes me feel a more sane about my writing.

Posted by Theodore

sweet I've been wanted to start writing a comic for a while. This will be helpful.

Posted by Doctor!!!!!

I need to save this information now!!!!!

Posted by Video_Martian

Nice article, Tom!  This makes me want to start writing my own comics now! =D

Posted by tigerex78

This was a great article with simple instructions. 

Posted by No_name_here
@damswedon said:
" It was interesting to read (and see) how someone who isn't Alan Moore writes comic scripts. If you have never seen an Alan Moore script I suggest that you google for them his script for the first page of Youngblood #4 is 2 and a half pages long. "
I think Moore's approach gets frequently misunderstood. My sense that the script aren't hundreds of pages long in themselves - - they're combinations of script and correspondence with the artist. You read them and he'll go on a lot of conversational digressions into discussions that you'd usually have with the artist on the phone or through e-mail. He just puts it all in the page.
Edited by damswedon
@Tom Pinchuk said:

" @damswedon said:

" It was interesting to read (and see) how someone who isn't Alan Moore writes comic scripts. If you have never seen an Alan Moore script I suggest that you google for them his script for the first page of Youngblood #4 is 2 and a half pages long. "
I think Moore's approach gets frequently misunderstood. My sense that the script aren't hundreds of pages long in themselves - - they're combinations of script and correspondence with the artist. You read them and he'll go on a lot of conversational digressions into discussions that you'd usually have with the artist on the phone or through e-mail. He just puts it all in the page. "
That's why I think people should look at his scripts if they can. It is amazing to have all of what normally would be lost there on the page. However sometimes he comes across as a control freak. There was an interview with him on the BBC show called The Culture show where he read the script for the first panel of an issue of Swamp Thing. In it he described everything he wanted in that panel in extreme detail.
Posted by No_name_here
@zombietag said: 
i learned a lot from jason aaron's blog. he was the one that made me think about page by page outines, although im sure he didnt invent it or anything but it helps a ton. he also says he totally ignores any dialogue word limits when he writes. seems to work out.  good article, tom. "  
Like I said, there's really no one "right" way to do any of this. I remember Ellis saying at one point that he caps panel word counts at 25, not 50, so it depends on who you want to follow. I'd just say that Aaron's already proving himself, so he's got license to break rules. The 25/50 word is a useful guide to start with, basically like training wheels. You won't always need them, but they're necessary at the beginning to learn how to ride.
Posted by No_name_here
@The Lobster said:
 Now if only there was a blog that helped me learn how to get my books published. "
I did one about the subject a while back.
Posted by The Lobster
@Tom Pinchuk said:
" @The Lobster said:
 Now if only there was a blog that helped me learn how to get my books published. "
I did one about the subject a while back. "
Schweetness, now I'm ready to start working on the graphic novel I've wanted to write for 3 years.
Posted by No_name_here
@Emerald Dragonfly said:
" @Tom Pinchuk: That is pretty helpful, thanks. If my fan comicbook will be out in January, can I post it in my blog here? Will it be a violation of someone's copyrights if I'll use characters from, for example, MARVEL publishing? "
I'm not an authority, but I don't think there's been an issue with fan fic in the past.
Posted by No_name_here
@savri said:
" Great Job,  How do you write a panel, with out the panel lines"? "
I'm not sure I understand the question?
Posted by No_name_here
@Dr. Detfink said:
" Tom, you ROCK harder than HBK...and Marty Jannetty just called, he'll be in your corner at the Mania any time you need him. :) "
But... but... Shawn turned heel and smashed Marty through the window of Brutus Beefcake's barbar shop...!
Posted by No_name_here
@Illyana Rasputin said:  "

Thank you for the information, Tom. I appreciate the script pages for UNIMAGINABLE. I look forward to reading it.


Why look forward to it later when you can pre-order it, right now?
Posted by No_name_here
@SupremoMaximo said:
" "  No more than six panels per page."  Unless you're Chris Bachelo "
@Danial79 said:
" I've seen plenty of comics with more than 6 panels on a page. Is this just your personal preference? "
There are also plenty comics where there are more than 25 words per balloon and more than 50 words per panel. It's just a good guide when you're starting out, forcing you to stay concise with your beats. And also a consideration to the artist - - not everybody can pack in as many panels as Bachalo.
Posted by SneakyPenguins

it be great to have this for the art side of it too

Posted by the_fallen11

this was awesome thanks!

Posted by LP

Thanks Tom.

Posted by Illyana Rasputin
@Tom Pinchuk said:
" @Illyana Rasputin said:  "

Thank you for the information, Tom. I appreciate the script pages for UNIMAGINABLE. I look forward to reading it.


Why look forward to it later when you can pre-order it, right now? "
Thank you. I did.
Posted by No_name_here
@Illyana Rasputin said:
" @Tom Pinchuk said:
" @Illyana Rasputin said:  "

Thank you for the information, Tom. I appreciate the script pages for UNIMAGINABLE. I look forward to reading it.


Why look forward to it later when you can pre-order it, right now? "
Thank you. I did. "
Awesome! Thanks!