This particular comic, anyways.
Hey and welcome to my first in a hopefully regular series of essays on writing. Tonight, I'm showing you how my first comic series, Blessing, is made.
It all starts with an idea. Trite, but true. Extremely trite, but still just a medium level of true. I knew I wanted to write about family, and in particular the challenge of maintaining parent-child relationships when one (or both) parties is... less than amenable. It's an area that's near and not-so-dear to me, so I have a lot to say. I also knew I wanted to write about gods and legends and lore because... fun. And the two combine well (just ask Homer), allowing for stories about universal problems with universal stakes. Lastly, I knew that I wanted to write about gods and myths that haven't received as much attention as the oft-used Norse and Greek pantheons. I chose North American: the stories and characters from native tribal religion and settler folklore. Many characters are entirely new, but since I created them and I'm American, too, I'll consider the theme intact.
Next, I begin a collection of notes- a running list of random thoughts that fit the project's theme and may help the telling. Lines of dialogue, titles, character ideas, even whole plots make it into this collection. I call it "Gemming": amassing a hoard of gems that can be mined later to finance the expensive endeavor of creating a serialized story. Here's a screenshot showing a small fraction of the notes I created for Blessing:
Then, once the plot concept has crystallized enough, I beat out the basic story structure, its skeleton. I make note of important moments like thresholds crossings and midpoints. I'm a structure nerd and and I'll go into story structure in detail in a future essay, undoubtedly to your collective horror. Here is the issue one portion of that outline:
If not for spoilers, I would show the full outline. Anyway, I color code each story beat by issue. Green is issue one, blue issue two. You'll see issues line up well with act breaks closely, because the breaks present convenient emotional swells that lend themselves well to issue-ending cliffhangers.
(Because it's almost certainly not obvious: I use "Punch 1" and "Punch 2" to denote the two beats that force the protagonist through the threshold into act two. Again, structural nerdiness to come later).
After that, I zoom in further, breaking down the events of each issue page-by-page, making sure to not try and pack too much on each page. Comics, more than most mediums, benefits from letting moments breath.
If you compare this outline to the finished issue, you'll see that almost every single page changed in some way from outline to execution. The more I write, the more often the outlined ideas survive to publication, but I suspect I'll always end up calling audibles here and there.
Next I actually write the dang thing. This is the step all writers will tell you that they absolutely love. Or hate. Often both.
Comic scripts are written much like movie and TV scripts- breaking down the action moment to moment and calling the dialogue, except the reader is not an actor or director, it is an artist or team of artists. And unlike movie and TV scripts, the guidelines for formatting comic scripts are... essentially nonexistent. Compare the dense prose of an Alan Moore script to anything written "Marvel style", i.e. essentially an outline, and you'll see what I mean. My scripts lie somewhere in the middle. I dictate what is in each page and in each panel, but I leave it basic; just what the scene requires. The rest is up to the artist(s). They need to have a certain degree of freedom in order to have fun. And when an artist enjoys their work, it flourishes. Here's a snippet from issue one:
Alright, that's it for part one. My hand is cramping and the new episode of WandaVision is out. Stay tuned for part two soon, where I break down my artists' processes and how we all work together to make it happen.