February 16, 2011

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Comic Writers Should Be Comic Artists

How's THAT for a title? I couldn't POSSIBLY really mean THAT, could I?

Well, I could. And do. I'll admit, there's a twinge of jealousy whenever I read Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art (a book anyone who wants to make comics should read) and I get to the part where he says (paraphrasing here) the best comics are made by artist/writers. In other words, artists who write and draw their own comics will usually have a better end result than writer/artist TEAMS because the artist who works on his own project knows exactly what he wants, whereas the artist working from someone else's script can never put on hte page exactly what was intended by the script.

Generally, that's true. Some exceptions, of course. For example, not all artists understand story structure or dialogue. And, obviously, many writers can have an image in their head that they would never be able to put on the page because they just don't have the physical dexterity. I firmly believe that writers can learn artistic principles and artists can learn storytelling principles, but storytelling is easier to learn than art because storytelling is strictly a mental discipline while art is a mental and physical disciple. Just like some people will never be able to play drums as well as other people or dance as well as other people or hit a golf ball as well as other people, some people will never learn to draw as well as other people. That doesn't make writing an easy task to learn, just an easier task to learn.

But back to Eisner's statement, there is a qualification: a talented writer/artist individual will do a better job than a talented writer/artist team. But if an individual is not gifted as a writer or as an artist, that person not going to suddenly be able to create a brilliant comic just because he or she is doing both.

So why do I give this post this title: "Comic Writers Should Be Comic Artists"?

Here's why: if you want to be a comic book writer, you need to train yourself as a comic book artist. You need to go ahead and draw some comic book pages to give yourself an idea of how sequences can flow on a page. To give yourself an idea of what can and cannot appear in a panel. To give yourself an idea of and appreciation for the time a pages takes to be drawn. To understand what you are asking for when you write a complex page layout or a huge battle scene (which sometimes cannot be avoided, but still must be understood).

I've taken part in three 24-Hour-Comic days. I've succeeded twice (once went OVER the page limit!) and failed once. Here's one of them (a successful one -- Ballad of the Freak was actually placed in the 24 Hour Comic Day book for that year, in the publisher's words "not because you can draw, but because you actually told a story" -- like he needed to tell me I couldn't draw). Even when I failed, the experience itself was not a loss because each time, I stretched myself creatively and learned a lot about writing for comics.

So I'm not saying that the only people who should be writing comics are people who are artists. The fact is, some artists really are talented as writers and artists and some artists should stick to drawing.

What I'm saying is that if you are a writer, even if all you can draw are stick figures, you should carve out some time to actually draw some comic book pages. Maybe draw a stick figure version of the script you're writing. Maybe just have some fun drawing something no one will ever see but yourself. For me, right now (and this is what made me think to write this blog posting) I'm drawing a comic called Broken Trident:

This is me, in public, exercising those artistic muscles. Laying out pages. Lettering. (Writers, you can't really appreciate how important it is to keep your word counts down until you've lettered a page yourself.) Drawing characters and actions.

They say that if you want to be a writer, you need to read. But I'll add to that from my experiences. If you want to be a comic book writer, you need to read. Read some comics, yes, but read lots of books without pictures. And draw.

What do you think? Am I way off base? Artists, would you suggest it goes the other way round as well? That comic book artists who take the time to write actually become better comic book artists? Let me know what you think in the comments below . . .

~ Ben

Some recommended books for comic book writers:

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