I held a workshop/panel on writing a comic book at the Mobile Literary Festival (March 3, 2018, 9am-4:30pm). Because there’s so much that goes into creating a comic book, I decided to focus on everything that is done before you draw the first panel.
This post touches on information from the workshop/panel and gives examples and more information that hopefully will give you a good place to start when you decide you want to try your hand at writing a comic book. You don’t have to have attended the presentation to use this resource.
Okay, the basics. Before you start working on the actual script, you need to create what is often referred to as the bible to the story. This is a notebook or file that has all the important information you need to know to compose a solid story. Here’s a quick, but certainly not complete list.
- What is the genre of the story? We’re going to go with a superhero story, but it could just as easy be a ghost story, a science fiction, fantasy—pretty much anything a book or movie could be.
- The main character—what is their superhero name (again, we’re going with a superhero book for this example)? Male or female? Their real name. What is their profession (are they still in high school)? What personal problems do they have?
- Who are their family members? Mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, etc. We need to know as much as we can about every member of their family.
- Who are their friends? Just like family, we need to know as much as possible about the people around our hero.
- Others. What about other people in their life? Co-workers, teachers, store owners, bullies, a friendly cop, the next door neighbor, etc. The more detail you give to the people around the main character, the better you define the main character.
- Where do they live? We need to know as much as possible about their home, the city or town they live in, the shops they go to, the school they attend—any place our hero goes—anywhere their friends and family go, the reader needs to feel like they’ve been there.
Once you have the written descriptions of everyone and everything, you need a visual record.
- You need pictures of where the hero lives. That can be sketches, magazine clippings—whatever you can put together that shows the feel of their environment. You should have pictures that go with all of the written descriptions you created (home, city/town, shops, etc.).
- You need at least a simple sketch of each character (family, friend, etc.). Regular characters and those closest to the main character should be drawn with as much detail as possible.
- The main character needs to be drawn in detail. Front, back and sides as well as at least some action poses. If you’re not an artist, it’s important to find someone who can create these images. Having a visual record of the character helps to develop them.
- Draw what makes the main character special. If they can fly, you need a few images of them flying. If they shoot laser beams with their hands, you need pictures of that. Again, you should also have pictures of them in action poses—running, jumping, punching, etc. Also, make sure the character is in both their superhero clothes and their street clothes. Make sure you have at least several different sets of clothes for them to wear when they’re not being a superhero.
- Anything else that will be in their regular lives. Make sure you have pictures of their car/bicycle, school or office room, their bedroom—anything that will be a part of their everyday life.
Create the origin of the hero. How did they become a hero? If they have super powers, how did they get them? Use everything you’ve created to this point to make a background story for your character.
Now create your first story. You may choose to make the origin your first story. No matter what you write, always keep the “bible” of information and images available while you write. Even the things you don’t include in your story will help the writing be more realistic/believable.
That should be a fair summary of everything covered in the workshop/panel.
If you would like more info on the topic, I’ll to leave you with these links to articles/blogs on writing comic books that I enjoyed and feel might be useful to you.
Finally, the Comics Experience Script Archive is a really nice resource giving you samples of scripts by well-established comic book writers. Even though there is technically no “official” structure to comic book scripts, these do a nice job of showing you what others have done.