With only two more Wednesdays left in 2013, I figured that now might be a good time to update readers on the status of the two comic book related New Year’s resolutions I had for this particular dozen month cluster. I’m the kind of comic book reader that can get a little too into anniversaries, numbering, tradition, and retrospectives, so pardon me while I apply that specific strain of fandom to… myself.
Just two weeks shy of a year ago, I made public my comic book resolutions for 2013 — to read more indie comics and to finally write my own comics. I did this after running down what I accomplished in 2012, which was my first full year writing for CBR. I declared 2012 a success, and I think I can say the same thing about 2013. As any New Yorker knows, the end of any year that doesn’t see you running back to your home state in financial/emotional defeat can be declared a success. By that metric, 2013 was aces. But it was also hard. Because comic books are hard.
Everyone’s chosen profession has hardships that go hand in hand with highs, so I’m not going to even pretend to think that people that choose to work in the comic book biz really have it hardest. 2013 was the first year that I encountered rollercoaster-speed highs and lows in this business. That jarring up and down might have left my neck a bit sore, but I now have a better idea of the twists and turns that go along with this ride; I like to think that I’m smarter and stronger now. If 2012 was “A New Hope,” then 2013 was “The Empire Strikes Back.”
As I hit that low right before New York Comic-Con, I had not even touched my primary New Year’s resolution. Spoiler alert: I only read slightly more indie comics this year; this article isn’t about that resolution. With just a little over two months left in the year, I had yet to pursue making my own comics. Spending the previous seven months as the editor of a major comic book blog kinda sucked up all my time and energy, but having that website slowly fade away left me with a little more time. After a lot of totally unexpected words of encouragement from people way more talented than myself, I left NYCC super-charged to make at least one of my resolutions come true.
So yes, I’ve written two full-length comic book scripts since New York Comic-Con. One resolution accomplished, and many lessons learned. After writing 70 entries in this column where I critique and comment on the stuff that other people write, I finally gave it a go myself and — no surprise here — it’s hard.
I’m not going to profess to be some comic book writing genius after writing two scripts, so take all of my insight with a grain of salt proportionate in size to my teeny tiny experience. For me, writing a comic book script was hard, but having other people read it was even harder. I’m not a stranger to getting feedback. I spent three years as a sketch writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater here in NYC. I had to write sketches on a weekly basis and bring them to meetings to workshop with some of the funniest writers and actors in the city. Then those sketches got performed in front of a crowded house in thirty-six sketch shows. I’m used to getting feedback, and hearing an audience remain deathly silent when they’re supposed to be laughing is harsh feedback. It’s rough. But it turns out that I don’t feel as strongly towards a sketch about a sugar glider enthusiast as I do about an original comic book script.
I don’t know if this is always the case, but the two scripts I wrote almost feel like my closest held beliefs and most private confessions given life. This is what I think constitutes a good story. This is what I think constitutes a good twist. These are the types of characters I want to see in fiction. These are the types of characters that I needed to see when I was younger. I know that’s true for me and my two scripts (I have to write a third soon, otherwise I fear I’ll start calling myself 2 Skriptz), but can that be true for every comic book that’s published? I felt self conscious letting my friends read these things, for fear that they’ll gain some insight into how my brain works that I’m not ready for them to learn; I can’t imagine letting these ideas loose on the public for anyone with a Blogspot site to get tear into.
There are also a lot of mechanics when it comes to writing comics that I, 2 Skriptz, never even considered. Coming from a sketch background, I’ve been able to just let my trademark hilarious dialogue surge forth from the mouths of geniuses; on a comic book page, though, the limited space means that every word has to be scrutinized. How can I convey this exact thought in a third as many words — if this thought even needs to be conveyed? I’m now reading comic book pages and thinking, “How did they settle on this number of word balloons?” I’ve entered the probably-exclusive club of comic book readers that cares more about analyzing panel counts than scrutinizing continuity. I’m now stunned when I read a six panel action sequence page that doesn’t feel crowded, and something like the double page spread in “Young Avengers” #4 blows my mind. I swear I’m still fun to talk to at parties.
Since one of the comics I’ve written is a superhero-ish action-adventure romp (because the industry needs approximately a trillion more of those), I’ve also become accustomed with the evils of plotting. It is shockingly difficult to write a twenty-two page team comic book with a plot that makes sense and features an engaging character arc for at least one member of the ensemble. Writing that script felt very checklist-y, as I guided my characters from things that had to happen to the next thing that had to happen.
I tend to not be this way, but it feels like the majority of comic book readers with a Twitter account seem to be most concerned with plot and fixating on plot holes. Guys, plot is hard. You can write what you think is an airtight script and get different notes about different plot holes from different people because everyone is different. I also now understand that some plot holes have to be left in because it services a larger character or thematic moment. The action in comic books can never be one hundred percent realistic because pretty much no one that exists can actually do these things. Comics can accurately depict people, though, and the complex emotional lives they lead. It’s better to focus on that, I think. My quest to make a plot hole free first issue seems a little dumb now, considering that the first issue also involves resurrected dinosaurs and ’90s neon ninjas.
What I’m trying to get at with all of this slight self-indulgence is that writing a couple comic books — and letting people that would be honest with me read them — changed me in a way I did not see coming when I made that resolution last year. I don’t think that ” writing comics is hard work!” should become a blanket excuse for every subpar or questionable thing that lands in a pull list, but I do think that people should consider just how hard it is to write a good comic before tearing one apart for not being perfect.
As for 2014, I’m going to stick to my resolution to make comics. For all of the stress and self-doubt that came along with creating them, I’m really proud that these two Word docs filled with my stories exist. And I can’t stop now that I’ve reached the truly interesting part — finding an artist. If I can keep this up, 2014’s going to be a lot different from 2013. I’m ready for it.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).