Jason Aaron is a hell of an exciting comic writer…
Every time I pop open one of his books, I know I’m in for an awesome ride– A typical Jason Aaron book has everything you want in a comic– and like all great comics, when you hit the last page, you’re itching for more.
If you’re an aspiring comic writer (as I presume many of you reading this site are,) Aaron’s “origin” story is worth investigating, as it is both inspiring and informative-
Jason hails from Jasper, Alabama (population 14,000) a town that isn’t exactly known as a hotbed of comic creator talent…
“I’ve read comics since I was a kid, I knew for a long time that I wanted to be a writer, but I had no idea about how to even go about trying to break into the comic industry,”
He heeded the advice of his parents and went to collage, majoring in Journalism– after graduation was a series “of bad crappy day jobs,”– Writing movie reviews, working as a waiter, working in a warehouse, and shift managing a video rental store. Aaron notes, “(they) were low on stress, I could daydream at work. And once I walked out the door, I was done, I could go home and work on things I really wanted to.”
In 2002, now living in Kansas City, Aaron attended Wizard World– armed with an 8-page Wolverine script, he entered a Marvel Talent search. Months later, word came down that he’d won. Nab a copy of Wolverine #175 to check the story out.
With his short published, Aaron started to make a run at the wall (y’know, the one that surrounds the comic industry and refuses entry to anyone without the stones) with a pitch for “The Other Side” (Script below)–
The Other Side was turned down by Marvel, so Jason packaged it up and sent it over to Vertigo– where we have a very good lesson for aspiring writers from editor Will Dennis:
“Sometime in 2003, when Jason first approached me (literally out of the blue) with what would become THE OTHER SIDE, he was very polite, persistent without being annoying, professional in his correspondence (too much alliteration!) and all the other things you need to be to “break in”…but I still was putting him off since I had no idea if he could actually write.
And given the number of writers who pitch me stuff every week (right now I have a stack of about 10-15 pitches I still need to answer post SDCC), I have to make decisions based on what I know of their work. Easier said than done.
But here’s the difference with Jason…he actually WROTE it. His last ditch effort was, “I know it’s long shot but I wrote the first script cus I HAD to and I think it’s pretty good. If you read and like it, cool. If not, thanks for your time.” So I read it and I LOVED it and that was that. Now he’s a big star and I look like a genius…ok, not really. I mean I am a genius but he’s only a medium-size star. heh heh.
But that’s the EXCEPTION.
You might be shocked how often new writers tell me that they either haven’t written the script or haven’t planned on writing it yet or don’t want to write it on spec. When you’re at that “starting out” level, my advice is always, “Look, you’re gonna have to write this thing sooner or later so if it’s a question for me, write it and I’ll have more to go on. Worse case, you’re gonna have a legit editor give you unbiased feedback.” That falls on deaf ears (or worse people get combative) more often than it doesn’t.
Bottom line — you need to do the work. Then do it again. And again. And again. Sitting in a bar calling yourself a writer is not the same thing as BEING a writer. Writers write. End of story. “
Here’s the deal– that first issue of The Other Side is below– you really should read it to see how your stuff stacks up. Why? Well, here’s Karen Berger, former Executive Editor at Vertigo:
“No editor in their sane mind could’ve turned down the first issue script that Jason sent over even though it was unsolicited,”
So, make your script that good.
(For more thoughts on Breaking In click here)
From there, Jason had Scalped green lit at Vertigo, and from there, Marvel came calling again– Runs on Wolverine and Ghost Rider are poising him to be a superstar writer in the near future.
Aaron has a staggering range– but his great trick is his ability to subvert plot expectations while remaining true to the characters–a delicate balancing act when dealing with a dedicated fanbase.
“Just dealing with the expectations of hardcore Marvel fans. Whatever character I’m writing, I’m always hoping to bring something new to the table, but there are always fans out there who don’t seem to want anything that’s too different from what they’ve read before. If there are plot threads left dangling from some other writer’s run years ago, these fans are still expecting them to be addressed. They have very definite ideas of how these characters should be handled, and sometimes it’s hard to get past that. But then again, it all comes with the territory, and it’s a thrill to be working on characters that fans are so passionate about.”
Take his short Manifest Destiny mini for example, how many thousands of times have we seen Wolverine fighting Ninjas? I’ll give ya, I love seeing Wolverine fighting Ninjas– but what can you do with claws vs. katanas that hasn’t been done?
Aaron subverts the whole Ninja-Thing by placing Logan in “Big Trouble in Little China”/kung-fu setting– It’s a brilliant move: Something we’ve never seen before, yet is instantly recognizable.
Likewise with his Ghost Rider run, which is a bat-shit Grind/Roadhouse epic where he’s able to play both within and outside of genre conventions– again, subverting expectations of what you would traditionally expect from a Ghost Rider comic, yet narratively threaded so everything makes sense…even going to friggin’ Tibet.
No two ways about it, Jason’s scripts are great. Seriously, go open up the script for “The Other Side” and you’ll instantly see what Karen was talking about.
I know it’s silly, but from an astetic standpoint, I really like the fact that Aaron uses cover pages. I just find it classy.
Another little tidbit of formatting that you should consider is Jason’s usage of page/panel slugs. If you take a look at any of his scripts, you’ll see that he uses a page, point, panel format– 10.1 means “Page 10, panel 1”.
Recently, Ron Marz tweeted that he’d written in two page 8s…Top Cow editorial quickly tweeted back that they’d missed it as well. It happens, particularly when you’re working at the speed and volume that comic creators do.
I’ve done the same, in the last script I worked on, I “skipped” a page– luckily, this gave my artist a winning chip for his “I want to do a splash page” argument, so it worked out in my case.
Point being, I’ll be adopting Jason’s slugs for future scripts. I might still “miss” a page in the future, but using this format will hopefully check and balance against making a little error that could cost you time down the road.
One of the other things to keep an eye out for in Jason’s writing is his usage of “no copy” or silent panels. He uses them extremely effectively in his comics as pacing tools or “moments of reflection…”
“I break the supposed dialogue rules all the time, in terms of how many words you shouldn’t exceed in a given balloon or panel. Maybe I shouldn’t it, but fuck it, if the story needs it, it needs it. I don’t feel like I’m overly wordly overall though. Maybe I was a couple years ago when I was first starting out, but these days I truly appreciate a great silent beat. It may sound weird, but I love being able to take out dialogue or narration from a page because you realize that you don’t need it, that it’s all there in the art.”
OK, enough of my yammering, go read and study some scripts!
Let’s also give Mr. Aaron a huge round of applause for donating these scripts for us! Support awesome comics: Pick up his books!
Jason Aaron can be found on Twitter @Jasonaaron
THE OTHER SIDE #1
This hard-hitting graphic novel examines life on opposing sides of the Vietnam War through the eyes of two young men. Bill Everette is a 19-year-old Alabama farm boy who’s been drafted into the Marine Corps, while 19-year-old Vietnamese farmer Binh Dai enlists in the People’s Army of Vietnam to fulfill his duty to his country.
Along the way, Private Everette encounters demonically vicious drill instructors, talking maggots, voiceless ghosts and a rifle that begs him to shoot himself. Vo Dai must undertake the long march south through black forests and bloody swamps, past tigers, dragons and mounds of dead. Both men struggle with their own demons and nightmarish visions … before their inevitable showdown.
In a special stand-alone issue, we meet a couple of characters for the first and last time – an aging husband and wife who eke out a living in the harsh and rugged heart of the Badlands. Learn what it means to reside in the poorest community in the entire United States – and what it means to survive.
SCALPED by Jason Aaron is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. Dark, beautiful and not for kids. Graphic storytelling at its best.
– Damon Lindelof
BONUS! Download the first issue of Scalped for FREE!
REMOVED BY REQUEST OF MARVEL
“The Man in the Pit”
Wendell Rayfield is a recently divorced, down on his luck ex-cop who’s looking down the business end of 40 with no hope for the future and with demons from his past still haunting him at every turn. All he has going for him is his new job. A job that involves a very large machine gun, a hole in the ground, a certain hirsute mutant and several thousand bullets. We all know what damage Wolverine can do with his claws, but how dangerous can he really be when all he’s able to do is talk? Wendell Rayfield is about to find out.
Read/compare the script to some preview art:
REMOVED BY REQUEST OF MARVEL
Wilson Fisk is a bodyguard for mob boss Don Rigoletto, but he has his eyes on a much bigger prize, and he’s gonna use Frank Castle to help him realize his dreams. The biggest story in MAX history begins here, as we witness the birth of the greatest villain the Punisher has ever faced.
Review with Preview pages that you can gander are over at Comic Related!