For us, there is no part of a comic more important than the story. No amount of great art or snazzy dialogue will make up for a story that you don’t enjoy, or characters you don’t care about. A good storyteller has to have solid ideas, plan ahead, and be willing to do whatever it takes to make the story great– even if that means cutting some of your favorite parts of that story in the process. Here’s how we do it for ourselves…
It all starts with an idea. We take walks every day and we bounce story ideas off each other. Comfort tends to be the initiator, and by the time she’s a couple steps out the door she’s already raring to go. It’s a give-and-take as we verbally hash out the story. Once we feel like we’ve got something really good, something we’re both excited about, something worthy of the ridiculous amount of time it will take to make it into a fully realized comic – we start the writing process.
The writing starts with a fast and loose outline of the whole issue, broken into page chunks. This lets us work out the essential elements of the pacing and story development before getting distracted with dialogue and panel layout. The above is the outline for a scene in issue #5 between Donna and her dad.
The next step is the breakdown, where we divide the pages into panels. This is a huge help in preventing us from winding up with too many panels on a page. Remember, an artist has to draw what you write. It’s easy to end up with a crazy amount of panels and tons of dialogue before you realize it, but your poor artist has to draw it all! This is your first step in the editing process, where you begin figuring out what works best and cutting whatever doesn’t.
Once that’s done, we start filling in the final script with a typical page, panel, character format like you see above. We find it helps to work on a script-writing program like Final Draft or Celtx because they have instant-formatting that programs like Word would take tons of work to replicate. The first draft of every comic is written by Comfort, and Adam does the second.
You can already see how much things have changed from the first draft to the second. Adam thought Rick was getting off too easy, so the scene becomes more combative.
Comfort found Donna too harsh, so we decided that with Rick about to die in the next issue, we wanted this scene to be about love and reaching out instead of anger and verbal sparring. Also, the new draft was far too wordy. Adam’s first takes are usually more verbose than we have room for…
Things keep going back and forth as we hone our ideas. This scene took many, many drafts to nail down. We’re trying to lay out the larger central themes of Rainbow in the Dark (community and togetherness) while also having a believable father-daughter talk that’s still entertaining for the reader without being preachy.
By the fifth draft we finally have it! It was a little tighter, a little more concise, and we hoped it would be clearer. Note how much cutting is going on here– you’ve got to be willing to go at your script with a machete. If lines aren’t working, cut them! Even if they’re your favorite bits, if they hold back the story, they’ve got to go.
When we finally feel comfortable with a script, we send it off to our editors and proofreaders for feedback (above is an example of one editor’s corrections). A good editor isn’t just going to point out spelling and grammar mistakes but will also challenge your ideas and choices. A great editor pushes you to be a better writer; that’s the sort of person you want looking over your work.
The last stage is lettering the book. We would encourage all comic writers to learn the art of lettering. Why? Because it’s your last chance to go over your words. Doing your own lettering lets you control the flow of the text, as well as make final edits and alterations. If something doesn’t fit or needs to be trimmed, you can do it on the spot. In the above example you can see that we moved up Rick’s dialogue from panel 2. It fit better in panel 1 and allowed Donna’s dialogue in panel 2 more room to breathe. Well, fair readers, that is our writing process from concept to finished page. Hope you enjoyed reading and are inspired to go out and start crafting a story of your own!