A while ago, I put out an open call on my message board (http://www.delphi.com/ellis) for questions that people desperately wanted the answer to, that I could research and address for the column. And, today, the one that interests me most is this;
“Why comics?… You could be writing novels. There’s drama, film, poetry etc., so why comics? Not just for you, but for all of the pros? What’s the zeitgeist of creators? It seems a lot of them these days just use comics as their springboard to leap into “more respectable” media, which, in my thinking, is one of the murderers of comics. So, why? That’s all. ”
“Why comics?” Nice and simple. So I asked around:
The short version: I like comics because I like comics. The long version: I like comics because they still retain an outlaw nature, because they’re not quite acceptable. I like interacting with good artists, I like seeing my vision (mutated though it often is) unfolding visually before me. I like comics because they pay better than novels and they allow more creative control, in most cases, than “big media” like films or television. I like comics because they’re rife with untapped potential. I don’t like comics to the exclusion of writing for all other forms or media – I do that too – but I like them.
— Steven Grant, writer of BADLANDS, X-MAN and the forthcoming CHYNNA (http://moto.comicbookresources.com)
Because I love comics. I love the simplicity of the form. I love the direct connection I have with the reader; of giving my fevered thoughts corporeal form and putting them under others’ eyes. I love holding up a comic and saying to the world that I gave this thing existence. I love the challenge of working with words to convey to an artist what I see in my mind’s eye, and how when we catch the wave how the words and the pictures juxtaposed together become a thing greater than the pictures or the words alone. I love comics so much, I want to make you love them, too.
— Larry Young, writer of ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE (http://www.astronautsintrouble.com)
Well, my answer is I’ve always loved comics. The medium and the artform, not the superheroes. Spent my childhood and adolescence writing and drawing comics. But I never thought for a moment that I would only work in one medium. I wrote plays and did a lot of drama in secondary school and college, wrote and performed comedy sketches and monologues and the like. I even managed to write and draw a complete 32-page (no ads) comic story as a project for my Creative Writing class in college and got credit for it. The comic got passed around in photocopy like a Samizdat around the school, which was quite nice.
I definitely don’t see writing comics as a springboard to “other” writing, considering I’ve spent the last 12 years writing radio plays and TV scripts for the likes of the BBC, and screenplays for various British and Hollywood Film companies. I’m just starting out writing comics now because I only finally just found the time. I still write screenplays and am writing prose stories, but it’s now that I’m planning comics projects.
Comics are harder to write than TV, radio, prose or film, and pay at least 10 times less. In many ways, though, they can be more satisfying because it’s your story, and it’s all on paper, nothing about having to wait for over 50 people to get it done. And the Punk rock philosophy of comics — that anyone can do it — is nicely democratic.
My impression of a lot of young ‘uns who want write comics is that they only read comics and it doesn’t occur to them to write anything else.
A smart comics professional will strive to write other things aside from comics, even if it’s crappy novellisations of company-owned franchises. What the hell, it pays the bills.
— Adi Tantimedh, writer of the forthcoming JLA: THE AGE OF WONDER
I get this question all the time. “When are you going to write a novel?” Like it was inevitable or something. I have no plans on writing anything but comics. Of course if Hollyweird cam to me with a dumptruck loaded with cash I might be tempted. But what other medium offers a writer the joys that comics do? I can write a story and see art a few weeks later. Then a few months after that a finished product. I can write a story in one day and get the whole thing out of my system. Or take a week or more if I feel like it. Spend a year on a screenplay? Five years on a novel? You’re kidding, right?
And what’s with very single other medium being more “legitimate” than comics? You can write the crappiest paperback novel that ever came down the pike or the worst TV show ever aired and you still outrank everyone who’s ever written a comic. Some goofball who wrote for SUDDENLY SUSAN is better than Stan Lee or Archie Goodwin? No freakin’ way.
In other mediums you’re dealing with roomfuls of idiots who all have an opinion. At the absolute worst you’ll deal with a single idiot in comics. I’ve been lucky and the idiots have been scarce on the ground in my career.
I love this medium and it more than satisfies my every desire as a writer. My imagination is encouraged to run as wild as it can. I can write an SF story one week and a crime story the next and (God willing) a western every once in a while. I like the pace and I like the characters and I like the people I work with. It simply doesn’t get better than that.
— Chuck Dixon, writer of MARVEL KNIGHTS, ROBIN, DOOM 2000 (http://www.dixonverse.com)
Why comics? Two reasons.
First, and this applies not to material like IMPULSE or X-O or EMPIRE but rather to the straight company-owned super-hero material I’ve written: I like giving something back to these characters who were my friends and whose actions formed my moral code when I was a kid who went to twelve schools in ten years and had no adult role models. I know Warren hates that answer, but tough.
Second, and this applies more to the art of the medium: I love the fact that unless you’re working for the X-office, ninety-five to a hundred percent of what I write is what actually shows up in print. Unlike in movies and television, there are fewer morons between me and my audience and less chance for what I write to get watered down. Moreover, but on a related note, there’s very little if any writing on spec in what I do now–I write a comic, I get paid–and ELSEWORLDS 80-PAGE GIANT aside, everything I write gets seen by an audience, which is also not something you can count on in any other medium. I could actually make much better money in other fields writing material that may or may not ever be actually read, but that holds no appeal for me. Yet.
— Mark Waid, writer of EMPIRE and JLA
Nothing compares to the comics medium when it comes to the immediate communication of stories, ideas, whatever. If you can navigate the waters of the industry correctly, the amount of control you ultimately have over your own work puts it light years beyond most other media. Comics also allow you to be as prolific as you want to be, which is always good if you’ve got a lot of stories to get out of your system. Best of all, they’re innocuous enough as a product that you can be subversive before anyone even knows what hit ’em. One minute, they’re reading ARCHIE & JUGHEAD and giggling at the wacky hi-jinks… the next minute, they’re seeing anal rape in PREACHER. That’s a power not to be taken lightly. And anyone who says comics ain’t respectable can kiss my ass.
— Joe Casey, writer of WILDCATS and X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM (Joe’s new column at http://www.fandom.com/comics/editorial.asp?
Me? I’m going to fall back on a quote I read fifteen years ago from a writer called Harvey Pekar, that has informed my approach to the medium ever since:
“Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures.”
I can be contacted by email about this column at email@example.com. My terribly beautiful website, updated yesterday with a new front-page essay and now containing an online store (carrying most things listed in INSTRUCTIONS) and a 24-hour rolling news service, is http://www.warrenellis.com.
BAD WORLD, a new series of occasional articles by myself, is at http://www.themestream.com/gspd_browse/browse/
INSTRUCTIONS: Read THE GEMSTONE FILE by Jim Keith (Illuminet Press, 1992), listen to SUPERMODIFIED by Amon Tobin (Ninja Tune, 2000), and hit the excellent 70 Greatest Conspiracies Of All Time website at http://www.conspire.com.
Today’s recommended graphic novel is THE BLACK ORDER BRIGADE by Pierre Christin and Enki Bilal (Humanoids Publishing, 2000).