2. FORM (continued)
As far as I’m concerned, there are really only two ways to write a comic: the wrong way and God’s way. The way to go, my children, is the pure way. Full script.
Let’s take the example used earlier:
Mad Jack Babymaker hurls open the door of the shack, wearing his stolen police uniform, armed with his nail gun and carrying his bag of severed testicles. Inside the shack, on the makeshift bed made out of crates and Welsh people, his beautiful psychotic assassin wife Silky is violently mounting Kurt Busiek. Take this shot from behind Jack, looking over his shoulder into the shack. This is your big shot.
SILKY: IT’S WARTY!
Close on Jack’s hand, as we see the bag of nuts slip from his shocked fingers —
— and those same fingers grasp his nail gun.
Flip the angle and pan up; we face Jack for the first time, as he raises his nail gun — which starts to spin up to speed, venting steam, red glow building in the nail ports. Jack is seething, ready to kill.
JACK; I WOULD HAVE WORDS WITH THEE.
JACK; YOU FILTHY WIFE-SHAGGING BEER MONSTER, YOU.
There you go. Broken down panel by panel by page, dialogue and other text elements immediately following the description for the panel they appear in. Simple.
This is the way Real Men And Women do it, as far as I’m concerned. You have to really fuck with Marvel-style, turn it into something that looks more like an animation script, before you get anything other than mediocre results, unless you’re working hand in glove with your artist. Full script, however, will get you a comic that makes some kind of sense every time.
However, not every artist you meet will agree. Some artists find full script psychologically limiting. Others feel it has no case in art-driven commercial comics. Carlos Pacheco asked me to switch from full script to Marvel-style because we were doing American superhero comics, at Marvel, and so we should be doing them the way Stan and Jack did them. To Carlos, it was a holistic process, sympathetic magic. (And damn Marvel for giving him FANTASTIC FOUR to write and illustrate — I’ll have to buy it now.)
In these situations, combine the two; the looser staging of Marvel-style, with the inclusion of timed dialogue from full script. Let the artist see the entire flow, show the artist where you’re going to need dialogue and how much.
A few obvious questions answered:
Why is the dialogue in block capitals? Well, I’ll be honest; not everyone does that. Alan Moore, in fact, writes his panel descriptions in block capitals and his dialogue in sentence case. But I write it in block caps because it’s lettered in block caps. Using caps allows me to get a feel for how the dialogue will look in print, and gives me a sense of what prose effects will work and what won’t.
The bold face in the dialogue naturally indicates where the letterer should add bold type to the lettering. This can also be indicated by underlined the required words. Alan, writing his dialogue in sentence case, indicates bold face by placing the required word in caps.
Do you need to do as much descriptive work as I did? Possibly. I fall between the two extremes of comics writing — Alan Moore and John Wagner. Many people have described Alan’s scripts as “novels”. John Wagner, originator of JUDGE DREDD and probably the single most influential writer in British comics, writes scripts as what Dave Gibbons once described as “a series of exciting telegrams.”
Pic 1, in Alan’s style, would look like:
There are four panels on this page; this first one takes up the top half of the page, the three following are of equal size and strung one after the other along the bottom half.
Mad Jack Babymaker hurls open the door of the shack, its wooden slats shaking with the violence of it. He’s wearing his stolen police uniform (the original owner’s blood now crusted around the three bullet holes in the tunic’s back), and is armed with his heavy, raw-steel nail gun and carrying his old string bag of severed testicles. Scrotal blood and juices still drip slowly from the base of the bag onto the scrubby pale grass below. Inside the shack, lit by an old miner’s lamp hanging from a hook on the ceiling, we find Jack’s beautiful psychotic assassin wife Silky, dressed in black rubber stockings, black patent leather court shoes and red splashes of painted-on latex over her breasts and stomach. Kurt Busiek is naked and gagged, on his back, with the words SPANDEX DADDY cut into his chest, probably by a razor. They are on a makeshift bed made out of Forties orange crates and Welsh people, and she is violently and energetically mounting him, yelling out loud. Take this shot from behind Jack, looking over his shoulder into the shack.
SILKY; OH, UH, EH, OOH, EE, AH, AH…
And, in John Wagner’s style:
Jack, dressed in police uniform with gun and nutsack, opens the door of the shack. Inside, Silky is having sex with Kurt.
SILKY: IT’S WARTY! DROKK! DROKK, I SAY!
I think you can see the difference.
Garth Ennis and Grant Morrison write in similar cut-down styles. I suggest aiming somewhere between the two.
Full script gives you a choice of roles; you can be the writer, and you can be the writer and the director. Your artist, however, is the director of photography and the lighting gaffer and the producer and the cast and any other pain in the arse you can think of. Tell them the shots you want, the performances you want, the lighting and the colour, so long as you understand — if you’re full of shit, they will tell you. And you will have to learn to get over yourself and accept that and work with them to fix it. You are there to make them look good.
But: it all starts with you. No-one gets to do shit until you’ve done your job. So make sure it comes out the way you originally saw it in your head. That’s the point of full script — getting the picture out of your head and on to the page so that the artist can see what you’re seeing.
Practise it. Take a look at your favourite comics and work out how its specific effects were achieved through the direction of the script. Work with the form until you’re comfortable with it. You can find examples of full scripts in various places. WRITERS ON COMICS SCRIPTWRITING. There’s a SANDMAN trade paperback with some Neil Gaiman script in there (Gaiman tends to the Alan Moore end of the form, and adapts himself to his artists well — Jill Thompson calls him a “compliant bastard”). Steve Bissette published a book containing a chunk of Alan Moore’s FROM HELL scripts. Use the web, too — Chuck Dixon, Devin Grayson, Steven Grant and a bunch of others have samples of their manuscripts online.
Why do you want to be a comics writer?
I once spoke to someone who wanted to be a comics writer because she wanted to be famous. If you want to be famous, sucking off a public figure is a much quicker and frankly less distasteful method of achieving your goal.
I’ve met many people who want to be comics writers because they want to be rich. If you want to be rich, rob a bank, or get a proper job. Or suck off public figures and charge them for it. Hell, I’d go back to prostitution in a second if it wasn’t for the weight I put on after quitting smoking two years ago. Despite his new regular gigs, you can still find Mark Millar on the streets of Coatbridge, hand jammed clumsily down the front of his semen-blasted bondage trousers, muttering “Business? Twenty quid to you, big yin. Business?”
I have met several people who want to become comics writers just so they can write their favourite characters. I have told these people that if they do enter the profession, I will use every dirty trick in my power to end their careers and have their fingers hacked off and fed to Komodo dragons.
Unless you’re prepared to spend an extraordinary amount of time working fucking hard, and unless you can bring something new to the medium, and unless you’re ready to be without money for extended periods of time, and unless you’re ready to be shat on by a great many people who could barely pass for human — let alone get jobs in other industries — who will control your livelihood and the direction of your chosen medium…
…then, frankly, you’re no good to us.
For those of you left; the next step is pitching your work. Which is where things get really nasty. I don’t know anyone who likes this bit.
Nearly there. To Be Concluded. Spread the word.
I can be contacted by email about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org. My website, currently undergoing an update, is http://www.warrenellis.com. There is a COME IN ALONE discussion area here on CBR.
INSTRUCTIONS: Read UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud (Kitchen Sink, 1993), listen to THE SECRET LIFE OF THE LOVE SING/THE FLESH MADE WORD, two lectures by Nick Cave (King Mob, 2000 — go to http://www.king-mob.co.uk) and visit The Hunger Site at http://www.thehungersite.com. Today’s recommended graphic novel is EAGLE Vol 1 by Kaiji Kawaguchi, released on Wednesday in the US by Viz Comics, which is the first of a monthly series and is excellent. Now begone.