Panel 1:Tools of the Trade

Some magical freetime has appeared so it’s finally time to pull the trigger on this column I’ve been threatening for a bit…

I presume a good percentage of you visiting the site are aspiring comic book writers. Given that, I’m starting an informal/semi-frequent series for you called Panel 1, wherein I will share with you what I’m learning about the trade.

Right off the bat, I’d recommend picking up two books:
Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics

Which, minus the forward and afterword is a bit dated (as Alan admits in the forward and afterword), but is invaluable in getting you thinking about how comics work.
I’m not going to bother with a huge sales pitch for the book. It’s 6 bucks and it’s Alan friggin’ Moore, read it.

Story: By Robert Mckee
Bendis is pretty big on this book and so am I. You might be thinking: What’s the deal? It’s a screenwriting book! To which, yeah, you’re right. There are about a billion books on screenwriting out there, but I’ve always maintained that you only need 2: Screenplay by Syd Field (which is kind of a 101 book on the subject) and Robert Mckee’s Story– which is the advanced class.
The thing about Story is that it isn’t a mechanical “How to” book (which I loathe), but rather a book on the substance of stories. Granted, it’s based in cinema, but the principals remain: Characters moving through a plot.
Mckee’s book is a bit of a “line in the sand” with people either standing on the “love it” or “hate it” side. For you, there’s only one way to find out if you agree with the theories set forth in the book: Read it.
Either way, I think you’ll come away with something, you’ll either agree with it, or you won’t– and if you don’t, your counterarguments will force you to analyze your own storytelling devices and methods. So, even if you hate it, you gained something out of it.

Ok, so there’s some start-up material. Now, what do you start writing with?

Most people are surprised to discover there isn’t a format to comic book writing. It isn’t like screenplays, which are rigidly constructed in terms of format. This is, of course, by design. A screenplay needs to go through about 50 departments, all of whom are pulling it apart to do their job. Art Directors, Actors, Directors of Photography– they all comb over this one document, so it needs to read precisely for all of them .
One of the benefits of comics is that there is only one department looking over your “blueprint”, that’s the artist.
So, really, it doesn’t matter how your script is formatted. What type of font you’re using, or even what kind of paper you used to print it up. All that matters is that your artist clearly understands what you want to accomplish on each page.

That said, for speed and efficiency there are a few programs you can use to help you along:

Final Draft: This is pretty much the granddaddy of screenwriting software, although a number of comic book writers use it as well. Once again, Bendis uses it almost exclusively. Also, you might note that Steve Niles uses it as well.
The benefit of using screenwriting software is that it “remembers” who your characters are. So, those extra few moments that you spend typing a character slug such as:

WOLVERINE: I’m the best at what I do and what I do ain’t pretty.

is automated. You’ll basically hit “W” and Wolverine will auto-fill. True, you might not think that’s a big deal, but when the creative engine is firing at 100mph, you’ll be thankful for it.
Also, removing the task of going through and tabbing your margins will also save you hours in the long run.
The one major con for Final Draft is that it’s expensive. Still, being that it’s the industry standard for screenwriting, it might behoove you to pick it up for the time that your comic is optioned by Hollywood and you get a shot at adapting it.

Celtx: I ran across this recently, but haven’t had a chance to try it out. Free screenwriting software that includes a comic book template.
Hey, free. So why not give it a shot? Try it out and come back to the comments section to let everyone know what you thought of it.

Good ‘ole Vanilla Word : Word is really all you need to write a script. Because really, that’s all a script is: words on paper.
That said, I’ve talked to Matt Fraction a few times about script formatting and he’s really only got one word to say about it: “Macros”.
Here’s a quick sorta-interview with Matt regarding his Cassanova #8 script, which you can read in the Scripts section:

Q: to Fraction– Did you come up with your own layout? Or did you cop it from somewhere? Do all your scripts use this format, or is this Casanova only?

Fraction: this is kind of funny. kind of.

i used to have this ridiculous– RIDICULOUS– format that I’d use. Ridiculous in how formatted it was. I don’t know where I picked it up– I just made it up, I think– but it added hours to my time. HOURS.

anyway so, like, this format of mine was adding so much work to scripts as to actually be counterintuitive. hours to each script.

anyway, this format (RE: Cassanova #8 -Tim)is a ModifiedBrubaker. Ed insists that his format is the One True Format and wanted me to do Iron Fist in it, which, as he had a macro’d template, was fine. And then i started getting into marcos, and learned how to make my own.

There are a couple of tics I’ve added, or rather, couldn’t remove from my style just because it was ingrained habit (the line return after page/panel number; using page.panel instead of just a number ((which drives ed NUTS)) and bits like that). I added the two different fonts thing, accidentally as I was learning how the macro stuff worked, but then kept it as, well, there was never any doubt for a letterer, and two, Axel Alonso said he loved the format so I figured that was all that mattered.

the only appeal of final draft i ever saw was the predictive text on character names, but, hell, it’s not any faster or cleaner and I suspect it’s a nighmare for letterers.

For a while I was doing scripts in two formats, ed’s, for ed, and mine, for everything else, but eventually quit because that was just retarded.

yeah, that’s not really funny at all.

So there you have it. Final Draft, Celtx, Word with Macros. Three options to get you writing.
Off you go! Seeya Wednesday for New Script Day!

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