hard, fast rules for writing comic book scripts

Harley Quinn in Arkham Asylum: Madness - Jessica Maybury - Comicbook Script Writing
Harley Quinn in Arkham Asylum: Madness

I’ve been reading comic-book scripts to get my mind back into that format again. There isn’t a set format, not like with novels which have paragraph and spacing rules.

The script for a comic can vary wildly from one writer to the next. Two examples spring immediately to mind – 30 Days of Night versus Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth (A Serious House is one of my favourite comics. Also, Gaspar Saladino’s lettering in it is stellar.).

There is no right way

So I’m starting to think that any How To Write Comic-Books books that there are floating about, well…are they really needed? There’s no hard and fast way.

I know that some of those How To Write Novels books are good, but only parts of them, and only if you really ‘get’ the author. I think Stephen King’s On Writing is great, but that’s probably because of who I am and what I write.

Anyway. So. Examples.

Here’s an extract from the script of Sandman #24, by Neil Gaiman, contrasted with an extract from Alan Moore‘s The Killing Joke. Both extracts are for one panel only. Look at the amazing difference!

Sandman #24, by Neil Gaiman – PAGE 2, PANEL 2

Over the page, now. Okay – same panel grid breakdown. A long panel down the left of the page, and four equal-sized panels going down on the right. Black panel gutters. This panel is a long shot (but it might just work. Sorry.) – we’re looking at an underground cavern; our vantage point is probably somewhere near the ceiling, because at the very top of the panel is a huge snake (huge in real terms, tiny in panel terms) curled around and intertwining into a stalactite. In the middle of the panel we can see some kind of underground cliff or rock formation like a jagged hill. At the bottom of the panel a naked man is bound to a huge rock slab: he’s bound with intestines, looped around his neck, his waist, his legs, and his spread-eagled arms. next to him stands a woman, holding a metal bowl in her outstretched arms. The bowl is few feet above his face. Tiny drops of liquid fall from the snake’s mouth, white against the dark background, fall the hundred feet or so into the bowl (the bottom of the panel is a long way from the top of the panel), and these figures are really small.

Cap: there is a cavern beneath the world.

Cap: (this is true. You must know in your bones that this is true, although all logic argues against it.)

Cap: there is a cavern beneath the world, and in that cavern a man is bound.

Cap: in the cavern there is also a woman, and a snake.

The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore – PAGE 2, PANEL 2

2.

WE ARE STILL SLIGHTLY BEHIND THE RECEPTIONIST, BUT MAYBE NOW WE HAVE CHANGED ANGLE SO THAT WE ARE LOOKING AT HER OVER HER OTHER SHOULDER. LOOKING PAST HER, WE CAN SEE THE BATMAN AND GORDON HEADING AWAY FROM US, DEEPER INTO THE BOWELS OF THE ASYLUM, WITH THE BATMAN LEADING THE WAY AND GORDON STILL STRUGGLING TO KEEP UP. THEY ARE HEADING IN ROUGHLY THE DIRECTION THAT THE RECEPTIONIST WAS INDICATING LAST PANEL. IN THE FOREGROUND, THE RECEPTIONIST IS TREMBLING WITH DELAYED SHOCK, MAYBE TRYING TO FISH A CIGARETTE FROM HER PACKET BUT ENDING UP SPILLING THE WHOLE PACK ALL OVER HER DESK AND HER LAP. SEE HOW IT LOOKS TO YOU AND INCLUDE IT IF IT LOOKS OKAY. DESPITE THE PREDOMINANCE OF THE RECEPTIONIST IN THE FOREGROUND, THE MAIN POINT OF THE PANEL IS THE FIGURES OF THE BATMAN AND THE COMMISSIONER VANISHING DOWN THE CORRIDOR IN THE BACKGROUND.
No Dialogue.

Differences in style in scripts by Grant Morrison

Here are two more, both by Grant Morrison – see how different they are?

Grant Morrison's script for Invisibles, Vol. 2, issue 19
Grant Morrison’s script for Invisibles, Vol. 2, issue 19
Grant Morrison's script for DOOM PATROL, doodled all over by the great Brendan McCarthy
Grant Morrison’s script for DOOM PATROL, doodled all over by the great Brendan McCarthy

Comic-book scripts appear to be more and more like talking than anything else. By ‘talking’, I mean trying to get a feeling, an ambiance, into the mind of the illustrator, so that they can see this world too.

I love it.

A note on the availability of comic book scripts

Where did I get the downloads?

I found some at Barbelith Underground, and the rest at Comicbook Resources.

  • THEM – Comic Book Review (jessicalikescomics.wordpress.com)
  • Being a female comic-book fan (cuppatae.wordpress.com)
  • Writing Comics (grinder91.wordpress.com)

5 thoughts on “hard, fast rules for writing comic book scripts

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