Recently gotten sidetracked with something, when I should probably be working on the new draft of "The Familiar."
Not long ago when I... uh, mysteriously found a copy of a certain screenplay program on my new computer's hard drive, I noticed it had a few default formats for comic book scripts. "Format" has always been kind of a crazy thing when it comes to comics -- there's really no golden rule, and I've seen comic book writers do everything from long, prose-y pieces that resemble film treatments, to screenplay-like breakdowns with panels and pages delineated in the margins. When I decided I wanted to write a comic book in high school, I had even less than that to work with, and ended up using the "Dark Horse Submission Guidelines" script in tandem with a few sample pages included in the back of one of Brian Michael Bendis's collections [it's hard realizing that Bendis was just coming to prominence when I was in high school - it seems somehow too current, for how much time has passed]. It wasn't much, but it led me to the CAPS Lock heavy scripts that most of my early work's in.
In the interest of full disclosure, none of this early work/scripting was ever actually used by an artist. The closest any of it came, actually, was when a few pages were pulled for Sam in some of the early conceptual sketches on the SULK characters, most of whom were never really used in a finished book.
A lot happened in college that made me refine my format. Actually working with an artist was probably the biggest thing, as scripts suddenly became something that others had to work from as well, not just me, and making them as legible and understandable as possible became something I actively thought about while writing. I remember reading an interview with James Robinson and Tony Harris ["Starman," folks], where Robinson also talked about not being so... anal about scripting, and attempting to stick to a four-to-five panel a page scripting template, so that Harris himself had the freedom to either open things up or merge them, as he saw fit. It makes sense -- aesthetically, the writer's the #2 guy, and unless you just have an artist who needs a lot of direction, or a very specific idea for a layout idea, leaving panels and layouts to the artist isn't such a terrible thing.
I also got lucky enough to present some of my scripts in class -- and remember spending a lot of time trying to turn my first two scripts for "White Trash Nation" into something that even someone who didn't know the format, or who wasn't adept at visualization while reading, could still follow the story I was trying to tell. After, it just made sense to me that if this version was easier to read for the average person, then I should probably just write them like that all the time.
I got my hands on a lot of better examples too. Brian Wood often posts scripts of his comics online after they've been out for a bit [I still go back to his "DMZ" #1 script], and as the past few years seems to be the "Auteur" period of comics, there were a lot more collections like those Bendis books with scripts in the back. Even single issues started providing excerpts, which actually gave me examples to pick and choose from "no, not this, oh, that's brilliant, and this -- this saves me so much work now." There are certainly a lot of arguments against this "name"-driven period comics are currently in, but I have to be at least a little thankful for it, for all the resources it provided me.
Even found a lot more comics like the ones I wanted to write, too -- which was nice, to look and see what a non-action based comics look like, and be able to make comparisons to other more dialogue-driven narratives worked on a page. A lot of time was spent pouring over Jim Mahfood's second "Grrl Scouts" collection, as well as Terry Moore's "Strangers in Paradise," and it all shaped what I felt like I could and couldn't do in the medium.
And now, I toss all that out the door, because I've found a computer program that does most of the legwork for me. Well, actually I've not thrown anything out the door - but I will say that the screenwriting software made putting a script together so much easier, I'm willing to give it a test drive as far as comics are concerned.
Besides, I've had an idea.
Past couple of days I've been working on the generically named "Real Quality Comics" #1, a short, mostly introductory issue to a small Bennington/Burlington-type Vermont town, and the art school graduates/washouts who have all come to live there post-graduation. When I got started, I was just hoping for something simple, which I could plug into the program and try and get feel for whether or not it would become my preferred way of scripting from here on out.
I haven't decided that yet, but I will say -- having a computer program force me into such a rigid template has made me disregard a lot of other rules I tend to put on my writing. In a lot of ways what I'm ending up with right now is a very back-to-basics style, with me falling back more on the conversational style, and the telling-over-showing gimmick I used in some of those first comics I wrote. And not just in a mild way, I mean really taking that to the extreme, and trying to see if I can make having the least amount of action still seem interesting, by benefit of the reader just caring about the characters, and their interactions.
In some ways, I am worried it's a step back, even if, for right now, it is just one project -- and not even a project really, more back in the vein of "practice." But even as a step back, it's fun to drag some of the old toys out -- the foreboding, not entirely-explained faux pas, the awkward half-conversations, the long, rambling explanations of otherwise unfavorable or uninteresting opinions.
Sounds thrilling, doesn't it?
Anyway, that's what I've been doing the past two or three nights. I'm about half way done [I woke up this morning a little closer than that, but ditched six pages that just weren't clicking like I want them to]. My goal is to finish and post the script here by this weekend, or at least this time next week, and if I can, try and do a couple of 24 page comic scripts every few months. I'm very curious about what kind of quality I can churn out when working on an industry schedule [even if the stuff I'd like to write is not what you'd usually see produced at that rate], and if not having to self-format makes it easier, and allows me to work faster in the medium.
Plus, I figure if I write a little more about working on comics, an interested artist might pop by the blog via Google search, and maybe be interested in a collaboration. That of course is a long shot of long shots, but I figure until I come up with a better way to meet people interested in illustrating comics, this is a good first step.
So, just a brief intermission. I expect to get back to work on "Familiar" in about a week.