Toe The Company Line or #>*$ The Man?
I’ve been doing some reading lately (I know, what a shock) and some stuff has come to mind. Hear me out, it’s about writing and comics.
I Am A Writer Of Comics
I want to write comics. Hell, screw that, I do write comics, they just haven’t seen any publication yet, but I still write them. I also read comics. I study them, I note panels per page, words per panel, three act structure, everything is in front of me like a living textbook. It’s awesome, though I do make sure to just sit back and enjoy the ride of the story as well. You can’t be all learning all the time. That just isn’t living.
So, recently I’ve been reading some trades and I’m noticing something about what I read, and what I want to write. Some serious home truths and here they are.
The first comic I ever wrote was a Daredevil story. The last Daredevil story, in fact. It ran about a hundred script pages, if memory serves me, and it was most likely fairly average. It’ll surely never see print but I know it was worth it because it was damn fun to write. I researched the hell out of it and tried to put my own spin on things. I liked the time it took to plot, plan, script, proof, and read. And that’s why I write, because it’s fun.
Since then I’ve written another, oh, six or so comic series. Some are just a handful of scripts with notes, a fair few are opening arcs of complete scripts, and one I even did the first 12 issues in their entirety. I did this because it was fun and it felt like I was serving time in the trenches. I was paying my dues. For the 12 issue stint I knew I didn’t need to go in with 12 issues, I don’t even think you need to go in with more than one full script. Just have the rest plotted out if you will be pitching but editorial and more notes will most likely change your work substantially anyway, so I knew that doing 12 issues was extreme, but, I can’t stress this enough, it was fun. I get more and more of a hold on my characters and I was, and still am, constantly learning more about how to plot out arcs, issues, pages, panels. If you’re writing right then every word is a learning experience.
Of those series, one was a reboot idea for Marvel’s HYDRA. I scripted 6 complete issues, and I still love going back and reading those issues. They were a blast to write. But I know they’ll never be seen. I’m now chopping up that entire plan and trying to rework it as a possible webcomic. I have a very cool artist in talks with me and things are progressing. It’s something to keep in mind and doing the story instead in little one page beats is really making me reevaluate how I plot it out. Learning experience, man, they’re everywhere (though, I guess a teacher would say that, always didactic).
Then I started coming up with my own stories and characters to mine. I created a complete world underwater in a new vision of Atlantis. I figured out how they would get light, I created all sorts of flora and fauna to interact with, and I gave a main protagonist who had a serious journey ahead of him, and some awesome daddy issues (which every comic needs). I have about a 30 plan for the entire series, I tie in Greek gods to the powers of those who are super down there and I set up a bad guy who was so much fun to write. I still have yet to even discuss this series with an artist but one day I know I will. This story is too much fun to leave lying around forever.
I pitched two of my series and around to some publishers and it was a fun experience. I got to work with two very artists, one of which now works professionally on Resurrection and with whom I am still good mates and email as regularly as i email any of my mates, which is sadly kind of infrequently. Most importantly, I think, I got to see that even if I don’t get work published it was still fun to write. I still completely dig the process of creation.
Which brings me to my state of writing, and reading, right now. I have noticed that a lot more Marvel comics have been slotted into my pull list, though I still dabble my toe in the creator owned industry for a few other stories. This has been exemplified by my recent trade reading list. I just read Brubaker’s Captain America: Reborn trade and though it was interesting it wasn’t the greatest story ever told. It had plenty of holes and gaps that left me puzzled. It was kinda cool, but in a summer popcorn flick kind of way.
Then I just read the first trades of Chew and DMZ. Both are very different stories but both are also insanely creative and bloody well written. Chew follows the story of a cop who is a cibopath (someone who can eat food and tell you the entire history of that piece of food) in a world where chicken has been outlawed by the F.D.A. due to an apparent bout of bird flu that activities seem to think was faked by the American government. When told like that it actually doesn’t sound like the greatest comic book in the world but John Layman writes some intensely amazing characters and each of his issues kind of stand alone as their own beast, albeit ones that add to the overall melange of greatness he has crated. Rob Guillory does such a fantastic job on art that I honestly believe this series would not have quite take off as much as it has without his great work. The series has sucked me in and I finally see what all the fuss was about.
DMZ was started years ago by writer Brian Wood and artist Riccardo Burchielli. It looks at a future of the second civil war in America and a young journo kid stuck on Manhatten Island, the titular DMZ, and how he starts to see the truth of war in that everyone lies and rarely is anyone actually good. It’s an amazing storyline, but more importantly the writing and the concepts are amazing and so very well presented.
I contrast Chew and DMZ against Cap: Reborn because they are such different beasts. Reborn is a bombastic Marvel event, of sorts, and so has to hit certain beats and has to conform to a certain core universe and continuity. Chew and DMZ can do whatever they want as they create the entire physics and political structure of the world they inhabit. Chew and DMZ are completely free and I have to say that I really dig the styles, both different, that they go for.
It is important to stand back and realise that they do set out to do different things. Brubaker knows what he has to do with Reborn, and he does very different stuff over in Criminal and Incognito where he is not beholden to anyone. Layman and Wood are able to exercise every portion of their brain from the superego to the id, and I’m loving every aspect of it all, even though I can see that these are the sort of comics that sweep through fandom like a good Marvel event is sure to.
How does this affect my writing?
I can see which side of the fence I want to fall on. I like the indie style of writing. I like the white canvas with which you are constantly presented. I like the freedom and the ability to surprise and constantly reinvent your own wheel. Sure, I’d love to write for Marvel, and I’m sure one day will, but it is smart for a newb to begin in the trenches of creator owned fare, and I know a lot of my ideas fall into this open collection of genres.
I am putting together a new comic series now and after reading these latter two trades I have a much better idea of how to better set my introductory issue. I can see, and have more confidence, that to set up your own world you need to have complete conviction, but also an economy of words. I am still proofing and fixing, and I feel invigorated once more.
It’s nice to have these little pocket universes running around inside your head. It keeps me entertained for hours. They might not get published, it can take someone years until they finally get published and I know I haven’t plenty of time ahead of me before I reach that sort of goal, so for now I’ll just keeping wearing down the keyboard and enjoying what I do. There’s no other reason to do it.