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TABLE OF CONTENTS
My Personal History With The Medium of the Month
Lessons I’ve Learned Writing Comics
Yeah But How Does Writing This Help Me Write Other Things (And Vice Versa)?
Adapting Your Idea Into Comics
Comic Breakdown for Paid Subscribers Update/Teaser
The Hobby Report
First thing’s first — issue #6 of Tim Drake: Robin is in stores TODAY!
I’m so proud of this book and this arc. I really think we told a lovely story. Pick it up at your local comic book store (or, if you’re a paid subscriber, you can get it signed by me!)
And now, speaking of comics…
MY PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE MEDIUM OF THE MONTH
This all happened because I love my Dad.
My dad and I connected on all the same things when I was growing up. It felt like we had the same language, the same interests, the same hair trigger temper with a tendency to go off at the slightest annoyance. And, it turns out, a deep love of superhero stories. But the discovery of that shared love was truly a miracle. You see, I had not been allowed to watch PG-13 movies, due to violence, language, and the possibility of sex. My OG church kids will recognise the website ‘Plugged In’, a review site run by the notoriously religious Focus on the Family that broke down a movie into what was acceptable according to Dr. James Dobson and his puritanical parenting. I lived in fear of that website, it’s simple words holding me back from connecting with my classmates.
But when the 2002 Spider-Man premiered, I don’t think my dad thought twice before we hopped in the car on opening night, me keeping my mouth shut in case I reminded him about the rules. Later in life I realised he didn’t care about the rules. It was comics. Of course he was going to share that with his kid. And from that moment on, I was hooked.
I loved the costumes and the spectacle, the feeling of the villains pushing Spider-Man to his limits. It reminded me of the few episodes I’d seen at my grandparents’ house of Batman: The Animated Series or The Adventures of Lois and Clark. This world was dangerous and exciting and filled with chances of heroism mixed with sacrifice. Everything that I had been hearing about in Sunday school expressed on screen.
Not long after my euphoric movie experience, I begged my dad to take me to the American bookstore chain, Barnes and Noble. I sat on the floor of their small graphic novel section, looking for other types of stories like what I saw on screen. I even found a couple novelisations that I still love to this day. Batman’s No Man’s Land. Spider-Man’s The Revenge of the Sinister Six. My dad saw me on the floor and asked, “Do you want to go to a comic book store?” There was a whole store dedicated to this?!
Conversely to my first time seeing Spider-Man, I don’t remember much about my first trip to the comic book store. It’s a giddy haze of joy as I took in the aisles and gaped at page after page of action, adventure, romance, and peril. I wish I knew what the first comic I picked up was. Probably Spider Man or Batman, the two safe properties that I now knew best. I definitely read some of the tie-in Justice League Adventures that were inspired by the animated series. I didn’t have to start at the beginning with any of those. But the first series I found all by myself, without knowing anything about the characters beforehand, was the Fantastic Four.
To this day, Fantastic Four is still my favourite comic. The hot headed brother who loves his sister and takes his responsibility as the younger brother of the group more serious than anything else in his life. The best friend who used to be a hot shot pilot but now sees himself as a monster. The wife, sister, and mother who embraces feminine roles while still being the most powerful member of the team. And Reed; the misunderstood, self-hating genius I will defend until the end of time. But it isn’t just that I connect with these characters, it’s that I found them on my own. It’s not important how we found ourselves reading comics — what age, what genre, what reason. Maybe you picked up a comic for a girl you thought was cute, or because you liked a movie you saw. Maybe you liked the costume, or you wanted to support representation. For many of us, we pick up comic after comic until one of them makes us say, “Oh, this is what stories can be?” And after that, it’s magic. Those stories sing to our soul. We follow specific writers, specific artists, specific characters.
And in my case, I followed comics until I could write for them. I’ve still not written for Fantastic Four (fingers crossed one day!) but I’ve now gotten to write for Batman, for Tim Drake, for characters I’ve loved and never thought I’d get a chance to play with. That started with an interest in them. In the next two segments, we’ll talk about how I write for comics, and how you adapt an idea into a comic, but the journey to writing for comics starts with an interest in the medium. You have to love it, you have to be interested. You have to know what’s out there and not be dismissive. Read the ones you like and the ones you don’t like. But this is not a place to bring your screenplays that haven’t gotten you far. (Not to say you can’t adapt a screenplay idea.) This is a medium that deserves respect, deserves your attention. There is so much to be said for this medium, where page after page of art comes together to tell you a story of love, or loss, or regret, or pain. Think — each page is an actual piece of brilliant art like you’ve never seen. You hold a museum in your hands. That’s incredible.
LESSONS I’VE LEARNED
There are two major lesson when it comes to writing for comics, and that’s pacing and still images. Pacing will be a constant theme across these first few newsletters, but comics are more specific, more intentional. The reason being is the page turn. If you read comics, you know the moment. You’re in the middle of a story, then all of the sudden you turn the page and your reading experience changes.
I first started structuring my comics like a tv series — with each issue as an episode of TV. But that’s not exactly how comics work. So I began to adjust my approach, looking at a comics arc (say, five or six issues) as an episode of TV. TV writes to add breaks, but quickly I realised that comics write towards page turn on the micro scale, and month breaks on the macro scale. You have to think about what that page turn is, how are you going to use that moment to keep your reader interested in the story when there’s a split second they can look somewhere else? And instead of writing to an act break, like I would for TV, I wrote towards the month break, which is more compelling because you have to keep that momentum going until the next month.
The other major lesson I’ve learned from writing comics is knowing that scenes just take longer, because you are focusing on still images.
COMICS FOCUS ON STILL IMAGES. REMEMBER THAT.
That’s maybe the hardest thing to adjust to if you’re coming from a different medium. You are imagining still pictures that flip together to tell a story. The best example is opening a door. You can’t just write: “Superman stands up and opens the door.” That’s four panels right there, maybe five. Panel 1 is an image of a door. Panel 2, an image of Superman reacting to the door. Panel 3, Superman “in motion” (he’s still, but we see that he’s not in the chair and not at the door yet). Panel 4, Superman’s hand is on the panel. Panel 5, Superman reacts to who’s at the door — PAGE TURN to reveal Batman is at the door, and he’s hurt! What this example also shows is building tension. The more panels you’ve got building up to a moment, the more intense the image is.
I could talk for many more paragraphs on still images in comics, such as splash pages and page turns, but this email is already late. Besides, that’s what the paid subscription is for ;)
The other big lesson I’ve learned is how to find an artist! And do you want to know the honest truth? I used twitter. Before you get all offended, the artist I found five years ago to work on a project we’re taking out now is a DC Milestone artist, has done covers for both Marvel and DC, is an up and coming artist for the medium. And I found her by searching the #VisibleWomen hashtag on twitter. Even if you’re not looking for an artist, I recommend looking on this hashtag to get a sense of what art you like. Maybe for a book or a pitch? One of the unwritten rules of writing is knowing your own personal aesthetic — what art do you enjoy? What art do you hate? You can be wrong, we often are, but you need to start from somewhere. And if you can’t go to a convention, where I highly suggest you walk artist alley, this is the next best thing.
Comics are hard. Not only because of “wokeism” or because it’s male dominated, or because of the medium itself, but because it’s changing faster than any other medium. Web comics have made things different, marvel movies have made things different. That can be scary, but also, that’s exciting! It means you can do anything. Try anything. Experiment. The first time I had coffee with Ram V, he told me, “comics are punk rock”. And he’s not wrong. Comics have historically told stories no one dared to tell, have made art accessible, are universal.
YEAH BUT HOW DOES WRITING THIS HELP ME WRITE OTHER THINGS (AND VICE VERSA)?
The two questions I ask myself in every medium are:
What are you writing for?
Who are you writing to?
We’ll talk about this a lot in the emails to come. But these questions help me understand the differences and the similarities in the mediums.
For comics, we’ve already covered the first question: what are you writing for? Still images! Specifically, visuals. But this isn’t just visuals, like animation or live action TV. They’re called graphic novels, so the dialogue is just as important. Specifically, getting into the minds of the characters. This is where writing novels comes into play. Comics help writing novels in the same way writing novels helps writing comics. You’re getting into the mind of the characters, the things that are hard to see on screen. We used to use thought bubbles, but now we use captions to achieve the same purpose.
For the second question, the answer is always surprising: who are you writing for? This isn’t a question about audience, though it seems like it. This is actually more basic — who’s going to read the drafts you turn in? In the case of comics, it’s your editor and your artist. That’s who you’re really writing to, and who you need to be in complete mind melds with (in as much as that is possible!) In order to tell the best story you can, your artist and editor need to be on board with you (in an ideal world, so would your colorist and letterer, but that may be a little harder depending on what you’re writing and how quick your delivery has to be). You need to learn what language they speak and how to express yourself to them first and foremost. Not only are they your first audience, but they are the ones to help your vision become a reality. They are on your team, and everyone has the same goal: to tell the best story you can. (This is similar to animation — which we will get into next/this month!)
ADAPTING YOUR IDEA TO COMICS
Now, the big question. How do you start writing for comics? For me, it was a combination of desire and luck. I had written some animated stuff for Warner Bros, so when DC Comics put out the call for new comic writers, my name came up. But I also had been working on my own comics before that point. That’s still the best way to start making your mark in this medium, and that’s what I’m going to be talking more about in this section.
So you’ve got an idea that could be a comic? Maybe you’ve written a pilot, or you’ve been working on a comic for a longtime. Either way, drop everything and focus on the simple idea. What is the logline? How do you sell it? What is the one sentence you use to describe it?
“But Meghan, I need more than one sentence!” RED FLAG CENTRAL. If you need more than one sentence, your story is too complicated. The biggest sign that you’re a novice writer? An overcomplicated story. I cannot tell you how many things I’ve read from writers that are longer and more complicated than they should be.
Boil it all down to emotion. What is the ONE feeling you want your reader to come away with? That emotion will affect the art, the story, the marketing, everything. You need to know what you’re trying to evoke.
And then, from there, what are the important images? You can think of this before or after you outline, but you need to know what your splash pages are. You need to know what those big images are that take the reader’s breath away. Think of the best painting you’ve ever seen. That’s what you’re trying to convey.
COMIC BREAKDOWN FOR PAID SUBSCRIBERS UPDATE/TEASER
This will be coming soon! I’m still figuring out how long these will take me. I decided on Scott Snyder’s Batman: Court of Owls to breakdown — specifically because it’s a new writer’s take on a character and the start of a brand new story. Here’s a teaser:
First, we’re starting with statistics. When I first started writing TV, the thing that was drilled into my head is to pay attention to the bare bones of format. How is someone telling the story? How are they breaking it down? What are they writing to, and how are they building tension?
For this graphic novel/first arc, we will first be looking at the statistics - how many issues, how many pages are in each issue, how many panels in each issue, and how many panels are on each page.
This graphic novel contains seven issues, implying there are seven issues within the arc.
Panel count: 120 panels
Page 1: 5 panels
Page 2: 7 panels
Page 3: 7 panels
Page 4: 6 panels
Page 5: 5 panels
Page 6: 6 panels
Page 7: 6 panels
Page 8: 6 panels
Page 9: 5 panels
Page 10: 6 panels
Page 11: 7 panels
Page 12: 7 panels
Page 13: 6 panels
Page 14: 6 panels
Page 15: 5 panels
Page 16: 6 panels
Page 17: 7 panels
Page 18: 7 panels
Page 19: 5 panels
Page 20: 6 panels
Page 21: 5 panels
Page 22: 6 panels
Paid subscribers will get the rest of the breakdown, as well as a historical understanding of the industry at the time and an analysis of the book itself.
THE HOBBY REPORT
And now, for the hobby report.
This month on my journey to find a hobby, I had a mid-month hiccup. I was sick for half the month, then traveled for the rest of the month, so my original idea of a hobby to try will now be moved to a different month. And instead, my hobby became BEER.
This past month, I went to Belgium, a country I had never been to. Specifically Brussels, a beautiful, artistic, cloudy city that’s small enough to walk everywhere, which was great for me because the metro never worked. But I was so struck by the kindness of the people, the beauty of the city and, of course, by the BEER. I knew Belgium was known for beer, and while I am more of a red wine drinker, I do love a good beer. Usually if I’m writing at a bar in LA or London, I will tend towards a blonde ale that likely came from Belgium.
But I had no idea how cool the beers were when you had them in their country of origin! The tastes! The smells! The glasses! (All Belgium beers have specific glasses that go with the beer for peak experience. The DRAMA.)
I decided that I would try as many beers as possible and choose one to make my whole personality, and I’m happy to announce that, after much (much) delicious deliberation, I have discovered a winner — a Leffe! Beautiful, smooth taste that goes down like water, with a really cool glass that I will be purchasing.
However, there is a secret winner. The Trappist Westvletern 12. A magical beer. A hidden beer. A beer incredibly difficult to get ahold of. It was on the menu of a restaurant and I balked at the price. €15?! But my partner knows I love an experience, and encouraged me to try it.
It was magical. Incandescent. A beer that I would go to the ends of the earth to try again. I’m currently scheming to see if there’s any way I can purchase a case from the monks who make scant cases every year.
Alas, I don’t want my hobby to be only alcohol. If anything, that can’t be good for my liver. So, we keep looking.
What hobby should I try in March?
Until next month,