The Best Comic Book Writers Aren't Just Writers

Would you believe I've been working this post over in my head for a few weeks?  I have.  Except today I was shown a livejournal post by Jesse Hamm, of whom I was not previously familiar, about a similar topic.  It's a slightly tongue-in-cheek rant from an artist's perspective about how some comic writers tend to "butt in" on the visual storytelling about which they clearly know much less than a trained cartoonist (or at least practiced, accomplished cartoonist).  It's full of lots of helpful tips and semi-rules for aspiring writer/collaborators and should be read by all these bloggers that make near-constant hints about what corporate-owned characters they'd really die to write.

(A bonus pleasure of reading that post is watching Mark Waid take himself completely seriously and totally melt down on Hamm.  F-bombs and insults are flying after what seemed to me to be a pretty obviously innocuous post livened up with ranty humor.  Not that Waid doesn't make some good points, or that they aren't acknowledged by Hamm, but, BOY did he get a little angry there.  Rage Waid is funny and scary at the same time.)

Anyway, this all kind of dovetailed with a subject I may have posted about elsewhere before (age and bourbon has reduced my memory from quiz-show to embarrassing), because it's a subject I've thought about a lot since it was first brought up to me by a good friend in a bar (see?).  So I didn't do the heavy lifting thinking here, but I'd like to put the idea out there and let it sit in the sunlight of everyone's vision or some other awful metaphor I can't be bothered to make. 

The idea is that the best comic book writers are or were artists, or can at least draw.  Now much of the more mainstream comic book community has been forced to associate writer/artists with the "Image" explosion of the nineties, in which artists of varying talent as cartoonists and negligible talent as writers cast off the need for writers publically and set off on their own, usually disastrous path.  This only goes to show you that being able to draw doesn't mean you'll be one of the best comic book writers.  It is not a two-way street.

But the best writers, whether they're drawing their own story or not, think as artists and writers at the same time . . .they think of their work as a whole.  The problems mentioned by Hamm become nonexistent as these writers ALREADY KNOW this and more about visual storytelling.  Take a look at this group, who I think I can safely say are in the top tier of comic book writing, and notice that they are all artists or at least can draw:  Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Dan Clowes, Gilbert Hernandez, Charles Schulz, Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, Jeff Smith, Chris Ware, Jaime Hernandez, Kevin Huizenga . . .I'm in danger of becoming one of those awfully nerdy listbloggers.  But you see what I mean?  I mean, there are VERY few people that craft a story quite like the first three in the list, and the first two are almost undoubtedly the kings of mainstream comics.  They are all artists.

Now, of course, nothing is absolute and there are some very good writers out there who do not and to my knowledge cannot draw, with Garth Ennis and Brian K. Vaughan popping out as immediate examples.  This isn't math, no rule is absolute.  But I say that if you look at a group of the best writers, just the most taletned comic book storytellers, most of them will be artists as well.  Without researching, I'm pretty sure Bendis and Brubaker started out drawing their own work, didn't they?  Mike Mignola is another great mainstream example . . .I'll read works just because he wrote them now.

I think this is all indicitave of how cartooning is really a art of synthesis and that comic writing is unlike writing in other media.  Visual storytelling in comics is as important (if not more so) than the dialogue, the pacing, and the characters.  If you want to write comics, learn the basics of cartooning and visual storytelling.  And if that seems completely beyond your ken, at least learn to listen to those that can do that and defer to it on occasion.  This goes beyond having a singular artistic vision (which I do think is important) and into understanding the medium more fully.

And, please, remember none of this is an absolute, but I think it's all food for thought and good advice.


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