As a journalist, I’m supposed to remain impartial. That said, Peter David (“X-Factor,” “Fallen Angel,” “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man”) – a.k.a. PAD to his fans – is one of my favorite comic book writers. His books are fun (and, most often, funny), his storytelling is clear, and his tales have heart to them. Therefore, when I discovered he was going to be sharing his methods for writing comics in a book, I was thrilled.
“Writing For Comics With Peter David” arrived in stores in June from Impact Books. If you have any aspirations to write comics – or are just someone who wants to learn more about the process – this is a paperback you should have on your bookshelves. CBR News contacted the writer to discuss this book and find out what secrets can be found inside.
Peter, I’m so glad you’ve written this book. I have lots of questions about writing comics, and I’m curious to hear your answers. That said, why did you choose to write this book and when did you start?
The book actually evolved out of discussions I’d been having with Impact about doing another collection of my columns. Rather than doing something that broad-ranging, they suggested doing a book that was focused on the art of writing comics, incorporating columns of mine on the subject (of which there are a few) and expanding beyond that. I began working on the book close to a year ago.
I know a bit about your background, but where would you say you learned to write comics? Were there any particular people or books that were helpful to you when you were learning?
It’s one of those things that you simply learn by doing, and by reading what other people are doing. I never read any books on writing comics per se, but there were any number of volumes on writing screenplays that were helpful, particularly when it came to learning (a) basic story structure and (b) how to think visually when putting a story together.
Most comic writing is either done in full script or plot only (although it seems more are done in full script nowadays). Do you advocate one format over another? Do you teach both in your book?
I discuss both in the book. Personally, after having done both for quite some time, I prefer writing full script. It gives me far more control over the pacing. Also, when I was writing Marvel style, there were two problems. First, I tended to overplot the story, making it problematic for the poor artist to try and get the whole thing into twenty-two pages. And second, I put so much of the dialogue into the plot that, when it came time to script, it was a duplication of effort. Switching to full script saves the artist aggravation and me time.
While I’ve seen several comics in full script, each of those seem to have their own formatting as well. Do you recommend one format over others in your book?
I don’t “recommend” one over the other. I wouldn’t presume to; different writers have developed formats that work for them, and who am I to gainsay them? I simply describe the format that I use, and why it works well for me. Those who read my book and want to adapt that style are certainly welcome to. Others may come up with their own variations, and that’s fine. As long as the story is conveyed clearly to the editor and artist, it’s all good.
Talk about what the book covers. Is it from the conception of ideas all the way to publishing? Do you cover pitching to indie publishers as well as the big two?
Yes, the whole thing. It goes from “Where do you get your ideas?” all the way through to providing tips on breaking in. However, since my first-hand experience in that regard is not exactly typical (I was working in Marvel’s direct sales department when I broke into editorial), I turned to people such as Marvel editor Andy Schmidt, who produced an excellent essay on basic common sense aspects of breaking into the industry.
I don’t really get into pitching to indie publishers because I tried to limit the book to things I actually know about (which is pretty radical in this day and age where people spout off opinions at great length on subjects about which they proudly declare they know absolutely nothing).
What will readers find in the chapters? Writing theories? Best practices? Anecdotes? Script samples? Or all of the above?
All of the above.
Do you discuss methods for collaborating with artists and editors? What is a tip about working with artists that you could share with our readers?
To write the story in such a way that not only is it clear to the artist, but that it will get the artist stoked about the story. If an artist is excited about a story, it shows. If he isn’t, well…that can show as well. I also talk about how it helps to provide visual reference if you’re straying into unusual territory.
How do you approach writing a comic story? Do you write it in script first and then break it down into panels? Or do you break it down from an outline? Or another method altogether?
Depends. If I know exactly what I want to write, I just launch into script. Otherwise I take a simple beat outline, block out the scenes and then follow that. Either way, though, I go straight to panel breakdown form. Thinking in that sort of “panel-style” enables me to pace the story properly.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received on writing for comic books and where did you get it?
That the job of an entertainer, first and foremost, is not to bore. People look to entertainment because they’re bored. We are in the boredom-killing business. That was said by Paddy Chayefsky in “Network.”
Great advice! Thanks Peter!