Writing for Comics: How to Start
September 25, 2017
Growing up, you may have read newspaper comics or seen colorful superhero comics issues for sale. Today, comics and graphic novels (a novel in comic-strip format) are a booming genre receiving literary awards and mainstream notoriety.There’s never been a better time to become a comic writer.
Much like prose, comic genres run the gamut of everything from slow-moving, introspective journal to action-packed spy thriller. Maybe you’ve done worldbuilding that you want to show off, or maybe visual puns are your thing. No matter the length or style of your story, you can write it as a comic if you can get visuals to go with it.
Writing for a Big Name Comics Publisher
The best-known comic writers are professionals who work for—you guessed it—comic book giants like Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, etc. These writers, sometimes responsible for artwork early in their careers, proved their ability to write compelling stories and worked their way up the industry.
Comic writers who work for big names in the industry are typically in charge of creating new stories for classic characters like Wolverine or Captain Marvel. If you want to write for a big-name comics publisher, check out this article for how to submit your work.
Coming up with the next great Batman story might be your dream, but plan to produce a lot of content on your own before you get entrusted with a valuable comic book character. Most publishers want to see writing that you’ve already published rather than just your pitch for a story. And whether you self-publish or find a smaller publisher to get your work out there, the best way to showcase your writing talent will be to pair it with the right artwork.
Working With an Artist
For many mainstream comic books, a writer usually teams up with one or more artists to produce the final story. This is sometimes the case with graphic novels as well. For some examples, check out these prose novelists who have worked with artists to publish graphic novels and comics:
If you’re lucky enough to work with an artist on a comic book or webcomic, know that the comic writing process is different than writing prose. You can’t just hand an artist your novella and expect them to do all the work adapting it to a comic. You need to work your story into a script.
A comic script is similar to a screenplay. A script has separate lines describing the action and clearly designates which character is speaking. If you want your story to have narration, you need to write that in as well. See an example of a script from Mark London Williams.
Some artists will want you to describe your story’s action panel by panel. Other artists will accept a brief script and run with it to create the visuals. How much freedom to give the artist is up to the two of you to decide.
Also, keep in mind that comic writing is different from prose—the visuals are the most prominent elements on every page, so don’t overcrowd the artwork with too much dialogue or lengthy narration. Most comic writers keep their words short, punchy, and to the point, leaving it up to the artist’s depiction of body language and action to help develop the mood and nuances of the characters.
Publishing Your Own Comics Online
Whether you want to be a professional comic writer for the big companies someday or you have a series of independent graphic novels planned, the best way to jump into the comic publishing world is to publish your own comic online. This lets you develop your storytelling skills in the comic format as well as build a following of fans.
Publishing your own comics is as easy as starting a free blog. Here is a great list of websites that can help you start your webcomic. Some examples of successful solo webcomics (in all types of genres and lengths) include the following:
- Sarah’s Scribbles by Sarah Andersen
- Hark a Vagrant by Kate Beaton
- Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
- Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks
These creators started with a simple blog, and as they developed a following, they’ve been able to self-publish books, sell merchandise, and even land book deals with major publishers like Scholastic and HarperCollins. Faith Erin Hicks, because of her comics fame, is even publishing a stand-alone prose novel. If you want to be a comic writer/creator, you can dive right into the industry tomorrow. You just need a good idea and a pen.
What If You’re Not an Artist?
You don’t actually need art skills to produce a webcomic on your own! If you want to show off your comic writing skills, whether you want to make people laugh or you have an epic story to tell, you can use simple drawings or photographs in a comic format. Here are some examples:
Whether you want to be a writer for X-Men comic books, create an epic graphic novel, or just post funny comics online, the best way to improve your craft is to read all kinds of comics. Exposing yourself to all types of comic genres will help you learn how the format—including dialogue, pacing, and more—is different from prose. The more you read and see how writers combine their stories with artwork, the more you can get ideas for all that the comic medium lets you accomplish.