ymmv .16 – Don’t Only Write Comics
I want to be an amazing writer of comics. As such, I write a lot of comics [see the 10k pages of hot garbage rule], but then I also write a lot that’s not comics. Here’s why.
Writing is the endeavour of wrangling words until you unlock the code that releases meaning. The better you do this, the higher the meaning. The more you do this, the better you get at it, and the faster you become at it and then the more you can do it. Maybe. None of that is actually guaranteed.
But the more you do then the more you will have done, and that is guaranteed.
I write comics a lot because I want to level up. I hope I never want to not level up, no matter what level I’m on. This is why I write 7 days a week. This is why I wrote over 100 one-page scenes/shorts/moments over two years. This is why I have written 2 page stories, 5 page stories, 6/8/10/12/16/20/22/24/48 page stories. It’s why I write one-shots and 3 issue minis and 4 issue minis. It’s why I create my own characters, why I’ve written the characters/worlds of others. I’ve written full page, tablet page. It’s why I wanna write a Stela-style comic, and Marvel style script, and eventually an ongoing.
You get better at writing comics by writing comics, but that can’t be all. And, for me, it’s not.
I’ve written novels, but I can’t do that now because they are a mental tar pit.
I’ve written short prose stories. I got to write one about/starring Lee Marvin, and very recently wrote an antler noir one for inclusion in the back of Deer Editor: Fearless, a creator owned comic I make with Sami Kivela that we just Kickstarted the shit out of.
And to hold a Kickstarter sidebar, it’s important to be able to write those campaigns. You might know your story structure, and your dialogue might be on point, but if you don’t know how to sell your work, and reach out to people, then you’re going to face obstacles you haven’t prepared for. I know I take just as much time with press releases for comics and I do for the comics. I wrote a blog post about why the $20 Audio Commentary on my Kickstarter was good value and in the subsequent half a day I had a number of people in the campaign upping their pledge and believing in the good word. These things all matter and utilise different discourses.
I love writing prose because it puts you in touch with a different voice. It’s nothing like the script voice you share with your artist/creative team, but it will connect you with some deep and emotional language you can use when describing a moment for them. Prose will usually run too verbose for comics but it can inform certain captions for some stories, depending on what you’re trying.
I find Ed Brubaker’s voice to be more and more novelistic as he delves further into the crime genre. And I like that, it’s different, and it’s hard to do well and easy to do poorly so sharpening that arrow in the quiver can’t hurt.
I write this column and it gives me a solid opportunity to look into myself and be honest. It gives me purpose to research certain aspects of the writing game. It stretches my conversational yet educational tone which I love to employ in back matter but can also tweak for the loftiest of essay topics.
I find the more you discuss process and style then the more you look for it in the real world. By writing this stuff, and coming back to it once a fortnight for this, and so usually tweeting about this stuff, and keeping my ear to the ground for it, you keep it in your mind and then it influences your writing. In all the good ways. Because your style and ability doesn’t level up on its own, you have to hunt things down, you have to be conscious of what you can do, and what you can do better.
It’s a similar vein with the back matter. I love the way Brubaker [yes, again] unpacks certain aspects and influences in his back matter. I love the way Stephen King invites you in on all his Author Notes and then finally summed it all up in On Writing, which is just a superb addition to your Writing Curriculum shelf.
It’s the act of reflecting on yourself, of picking apart your story in this analytical way that your creative brain doesn’t always want to do. It’s getting yourself to be aware of what you do, and did, and how, and why. If you want to see the next level application of this then just read the Back Matter in the latest Casanova HCs where Matt Fraction writes footnotes on his back matter written years before in the original single issues. It’s one of the greatest explorations of creative and personal growth ever.
Taking a higher road is writing an analytical essay about something. I feel it’s one of the strongest things you can do to improve yourself as a writer because you’ll unlock new skills and ideas and eyes to apply to your own work. I edited/wrote a book of essays about Daredevil and it was a fantastic journey into better understanding story and character. If you want to edit your own work, if you want to be able to spot your flaws so you can then work on them, you need a very sharp critical eye. Looking over hundreds of issues of another book will be quicker than slowly working on building internal critical language based around the timelines of whenever you finish your own scripts.
Write about comics, understand comics, crush and kill comics, wear comics skin over yours and walk right into the Eisners. Easy, surely.
One thing I get to do is write curriculum as I teach by day, and also teach creative writing to gifted youngsters on the weekend. Plotting a lesson is plotting an arc, you build, you back off, you have high points you want to reach. But you allow deviations. And if you are doing it right, everyone has some weird moment of discovery, even yourself. I know whenever I plan a creative exercise I ensure that I do it with the class, sometimes in front of them, so they can see what creative fury looks like – and sometimes post-creative downfall as I admit certain elements aren’t my best. But I got something down.
Lesson plans, newsletter items, feedback to students, work you create with them, these all fire up pistons in different parts of your brain and can have ripple effects you won’t even know about until the Friday afternoon.
Even just keeping it simple – you don’t need to create your own book, you can just write something for your site [Fraction does – LINK – LINK], or something for other books/publications [I wrote an essay for a book of essays about Lois Lane, and I’ve written pieces for Crime Factory].
One thing I found great was to partner up with someone and write your thoughts as a discussion. This will bring loose flow to the proceedings, it’ll unlock new angles that only they could bring to the piece, and it’ll be fun, I know it was/is whenever Dan Hill and I do it for Stuck in the Gutters. If you don’t back yourself to do this then hide these thoughts in a weekly newsletter you email out to seven people. It doesn’t get more secretive and conversational than just a lazy newsletter where you talk about your week in the same missive as talking about why the latest issue of your favourite comic did something ace.
The more I think about comics, the more I find I can think about comics. You then funnel that back into your actual scripts. Because if all you do is bash your face into the scripts, then you aren’t seeing all of the peripheral stuff that’s offering you solutions but your visual is blood simple. Don’t just lift the lid on your toolkit, extend the collapsible sides, dig into the secret drawers, and always be stuffing more things in there to see if they work later on.
I’d like to think social media also counts, and I’m sure once upon a time it did, but Warren Ellis summed it up perfectly in his newsletter when he said:
“Even the platforms that previously sold themselves on engagement want you to sit quietly and watch exclusive video.”
And it’s so sad and true and you might have only just realised it right this minute. I know it all came home for me when I read it. Because Twitter used to be an artform and now it’s just an ant farm. It’s links and gifs and rubbish and you aren’t doing much of anything over there. Which means if I’m watching the fall of Twitter then I won’t even bother mentioning Facebook.
In the end, no matter where you are writing – blowing the dust off your geocities or firing up an ello screed, reviewing comics on your blog or interviewing small press peeps for a MySpace hangout, pencilling daily journal entries into a volume comprised of human skin and tongue-leather or just hacking away at a novel on the side – all your writing should be making you a better writer.
What the actual fuck kind of writing are you doing that’s not adding value to you and your world? Cut that shit out.
Write with passion, write inquisitively, and do it every damn day.
Slowly [slowly], you’ll start to see and feel growth and if you put it under the microscope you’ll be amazed at its origins, and the timeframe it took before it cracked the surface.
Ryan K. Lindsay is a comics writer who has logged time at Dark Horse, Monkeybrain, Vertigo and other esteemed publishers. He currently writes Negative Space, a comic we here at Loser City love quite a bit. You can (and should) pick Negative Space up from your local comic shop ordirectly through Dark Horse.