ymmv .09 – Xmas Guide to Writing Comics
And so the season is upon us. If you are Shane Black, your writing boner is most likely visible from space. Godspeed, you mighty emperor.
For the rest of us, Xmas and the whole holidays malarkey means two things:
- the possibility of presents to aid our writing,
- and, a whole mess of time sunk into family and food and fun and other things that apparent start with the letter F and are not writing.
It’s a time of change, and frustration, and hopefully also a release. You’ve no doubt been working hard all year, reward yourself with some R+R in order to launch into next year with a gauntlet bedazzled with Infinity Gems as you sucker punch whatever shenanigans await you in that dystopian future biome.
If I can aid this in just one small way then your time here will have been a worthy investment. Let us wade into the festive waters.
Xmas Gifts for Writers
If there is another writer in your life, or if you’ve been entrusted with crafting your own letter to Santa Claus, then the following are some tried and tested things you can buy a writer for which they will be grateful [or, as grateful as most writers ever let themselves show]. I know I’d be down for any of these – so I should probably just link family/friends to this column. Easy.
It sounds so generic but you really can’t have enough pens and pencils in your house. You should always be within 3 feet of something you can write with. As a teacher, I’m constantly gifted nice little pens in little plastic cases, and I genuinely love every single ink cylinder I get. Because I use the bastards.
Maybe you guys are fine with what you’ve got, or you rock a specific brand [the very generic Kilometrico pens down here are my absolute go to for expressive touch and not making me look like a serial killer], but in my house pens go missing with the alarming frequency you usually only find in regards to innocent people stuck in drug cartel run cities. My wife’s superpower is the ability to come into my office, walk out with a pen to write one thing, and then leave the pen in the fridge, or between cushions on the couch, or somehow in that little door handle inside car doors. My wife consumes pens like she’s actively trying to see how many it will take before I just break and launch myself into the sun.
So, yeah, pens, pencils, these are the basic and most necessary tools of the trade. I don’t care how many organisation apps you have, or that your phone is always on you, sometimes you just need a nice grip, some smooth paper, and the endless horizon of your mind.
These are the second obvious choice and yet they’re so vital. Now, I’m no notebook snob. In fact, I’ve never even written in nor owned a Moleskine, or one of those Evernote notebooks. I’m far too much of a tight ass for that malarkey.
All I need is paper, sometimes even loose leaf will do. But in notebook form it means all my notes on the one thing are collected. To refer back to. For posterity. For ease of disintegration if needed. A notebook holds it all together, and sometimes that ‘all’ includes your mind.
I also must confess, while I’m no snob, I am a junkie. I love notebooks. At a rough count as I spin in my office, I have ~27 notebooks around me. Some unused, some in action, a few full. I have these great cheap $5 ones, A4, with a faux leather cover, an elastic strap to hold it closed, and a silk band to mark my spot. Five. Dollars. I bought five of these on sight, and they’re ace. They’re just as good as the $25 ones that are made from old comic Annuals [the thick ones from the 70s-80s, usually intended for kids]. Those notebooks are pieces of art, and they use the internal pages of the Annual throughout the notebook so you’ll go from some clean white paper to suddenly a few pages of that Spider-Woman story. They’re pretty ace. I have 2 of them, and have bought 2 as gifts for writers I know.
Every writer needs notebooks, and any writers like me secretly love them, too, and anything ranging from a ten pack of yellow legal pads [my wife bought me, and I love] to a fancy designed one with little inbuilt listicles and such in it will be used. All in service of the almighty brain fire we can never douse.
We deal in words, and we have to put them somewhere.
You know those Sexy Cheques? Where lovers promise each other some kinda crazy love making, but never anything too illegal? Yeah, those cheques are a great idea, but first you gotta tweak ‘em a little. Type this into a blank one:
‘Good for the amount of 1 whole afternoon [from 1-4:30pm] alone in the house so you can write’
‘Redeem for 1 quiet hour in a hammock reading some comics in order to recharge and ‘study’’
I would lose my mind over having a few of these in my back pocket to employ.
Books About Writing
You’ll have to scout the writer’s shelves but if they are missing any of the following, buy on sight:
- All/any of the Scott McCloud books ‘UNDERSTANDING/REINVENTING/MAKING COMICS’
- ‘COMICS AND SEQUENTIAL ART’ by Will Eisner
- ‘WORDS FOR PICTURES’ by Brian Michael Bendis
These represent my Holy Trinity of comics bibles. They cover the entire process, the writing, the art, and the business and incidentals. If you read, and reread, these 3 books you will be well on your way to understanding what you need and need to do.
If your writer has those, then look into:
- ‘MAKING COMICS LIKE THE PROS’ by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente.
- ‘WRITING FOR COMICS’ an essay by Alan Moore.
- ‘ON WRITING’ by Stephen King, and it’s just a gold mine of incidental good writing stuff.
Damn Good Comics
Every writer needs to top up the tank so look through their shelves and if they don’t have any of the following, well, you know what to do. Because these following titles are guaranteed to inspire, to inform, and to make your writer a narrative tyrannosaurus.
In no particular order, and mostly listed from the top of my head, and what works for me, and what covers a variety of bases:
- DEADLY CLASS by Wes Craig/Rick Remender
- EAST OF WEST by Nick Dragotta/Jonathan Hickman
- BATMAN: YEAR ONE by David Mazzucchelli/Frank Miller
- PUNISHER MAX Omnibus by Steven Dillon/Jason Aaron
- FURY MAX HC by Goran Parlov/Garth Ennis
- ASTERIOS POLYP by David Mazzucchelli
- DAYTRIPPER by Fabio Moon/Gabriel Ba
- THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST Omnibus by David Aja/Matt Fraction/Ed Brubaker
- Y: THE LAST MAN by Pia Guerra/Brian K Vaughan
- FRANKEN-CASTLE HC by Tony Moore/Rick Remender
- CASANOVA by Fabio Moon/Gabriel Ba/Matt Fraction
- D4VE by Valentin Ramon/Ryan Ferrier
- NEXTWAVE: AGENTS OF H.A.T.E. by Stuart Immonen/Warren Ellis
- X-MEN SEASON ONE by Jamie McKelvie/Dennis Hopeless
- THE WINTER MEN by John Paul Leon/Brett Lewis
- LOCKE & KEY by Gabriel Rodriguez/Joe Hill
- THE IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN by Phil Hester/Robert Kirkman
- WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD by Inio Asano
- THE SCULPTOR by Scott McCloud
- PARKER: THE OUTFIT by Darwyn Cooke
Because you cannot have enough awesome coffee mugs.
Whether it’s just straight up Irish, or a banana/iced coffee smoothie, a little recipe book could go a long way to keeping the mind agile on those long nights/early mornings.
Okay, so that should give you enough to pop out/log on and get something rad that will aid the writer in your life, and keep them afloat for another spin around the sun.
Now I want to post an Xmas addendum about how to get through the holiday season and be birthed anew on the other side fresh and inspired.
Personally, I’d rather I was allowed to descend into my office every single night and just make with the words but when family is in from out of town, you suddenly can’t be a miserly bastard and do that.
And now you don’t have to, nor will you even want to, once you go through some of these totally guaranteed ‘Xmas Writing Survival Tips.’ [patent pending]
Take the Break
You’ve probably been grinding for about 352 days straight, allow yourself the break. The brain needs a pause. Even gym junkies have rest days. Factor in these days and nights eating too much meat and talking about holidays from the 80s as recharge time. Then just enjoy them, jeez, it’s your family, calm down, okay?
We Don’t Plan To Fail…
…but we can fail to plan. Have an action plan going into Xmas. Whether people are coming in, or you are jet-setting out to family at the four corners, have a plan. Work out the 1-2 things you might work on while amidst the festive chaos. Decide how you will be working on them, i.e. in a notebook, on a file you’ve already arranged to use offline. Then seize a few moments, when you can, to dip a toe. Perhaps post-midnight, with a little eggnog crust on the lip, just before you retire. Maybe plan a good long post-ham poop and just knock some thoughts out on the can. You can even schedule a particularly long car trip to be a writing session [run it past significant others first] and just stick the note in your iPad and write a few pages.
But be realistic. You won’t write an issue amidst that week of family. Aim for maybe 5 pages in total, one a day, and you’ll still feel productive but you’ll have time to engage with loved ones still.
Find the Inspirado
Those troublesome racist outlaws, well, they’re not troublesome anymore: they’re research. Claim their presents on tax because spending time with them is just learning the uninformed patois of the damned and the foolish. The next time someone says your crazy dialogue is too unbelievable to be read in a story you can let slip that it’s actually just taken from the Discussion Swipe File of Xmas 2009 when Uncle Morty really let fly after one too many brewskis.
If nothing else, it’ll allow you to glaze over, not take too much of the hate rhetoric personally, and you can even engage a little as a cheeky devil’s advocate because internally you are noting it all down.
And to flip that coin, actually take the time to talk to your other cool relatives. The older the better. No one ever delves deep anymore but you should really push for details because you’ll be surprised what you can dig up. I was having a cup of tea with my grandfather one summer’s afternoon when suddenly I was learning about how he was sunk in WWII and found himself in Cairo watching CASABLANCA and then getting a dose of the Clap. Fascinating to think the cool history your family is hiding. Once I learnt about the rogue my grandfather was I started scratching the surface and discovered he was gaoled for Bigamy, and that despite being in his 70s he was still dating a lingerie model.
Your family is rad, let them show you how rad they are. Put your phone down, listen, question, laugh. It’ll make you a better human, which has a funny flow on effect to making you a better writer.
The table is packed with a captive audience, test out your anecdote skills. If you can tell a funny story to 7 tipsy cousins and get them laughing then you’ll soon see how you can write 7 pages that’ll have people laughing around the globe.
Hopefully some of these tips will have you surviving Xmas, but then also kinda sorta enjoying it. Because Xmas isn’t about presents and tinsel and being nice, it’s about finding your inner Tipsy McStaggers, and touching the truth behind the facade, and about discovering the real, raw people around you.
The world is a fine place, and worth writing about. I agree with the second part.
Merry and festive holiday season, wherever you spend it, and with whomever you spend it, and however damn well you wanna spend it.
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.