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Month: September 2017

6 Things Done Best In Comics

Article length: 4000 words (preview 1000/wds)

Comics are an incredible medium, art from the in-between space. Visual like movies, yet driven by words. Pictures powered by prose.

Having read comics for over 35 years, I’ve seen the trends come and go. Lots of folks say the medium has grown up. That today’s audiences are more sophisticated, their tastes more eclectic.

I’d agree that there’s definitely more people creating comics today, than the days when Stan Lee and Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson first started.

But I often wonder if many modern creators jump into the medium with a full appreciation of what it represents and where it came from. Or if they just look to comics as a quick fix—a production of their IP quicker than a novel and far cheaper than motion pictures.

Whatever the current cultural status of the medium and whatever the future holds, you’ve landed on this article of mine today… and today we’re gonna stop and take some time to discuss what makes a comic unique. We’re gonna reflect and analyze the medium itself, and see if we can’t grasp the concepts that thrust a comic toward its true and full potential.

Originally, I wanted to title this article something like “What you can do in comics, but not in the movies”. But in the last bunch of years, computer graphics have really come along. I’d argue that there is little (if anything) you can’t do in movies these days.

Subsequently, I gravitated toward the title, “What you can do in comics a hell of a lot cheaper than you can in the movies”. This works for a lot of what we’re gonna talk about, but to simplify it, I threw away any kind of stringent comparative format, we’re just gonna focus on the core strengths of the comic medium, bouncing around with comparisons to its sister mediums (movies and novel fiction) as it fits the discussion.

As a comic is a collaborative effort between 6 distinct roles: Writer, Editor, Penciler, Inker, Colorist and Letterer, the lines of a comic’s core strength do tend to blur among them. For the purposes of this article (as always on this site and in my books) we will be focusing from the writer’s perspective.

Lastly, before we get into it, this is gonna be one of those long articles, appx. 4000 words, (I actually think I’m gonna start referring to them as “epic” in my newsletter so people know they need to grab a full cup of coffee before reading). Today, I’m gonna get down the main ones that jump out in my brain.

All the ones I forget… I’ll come back and add them in at a later time (I’ve already got a follow up list).

#1) A Medium Without Limitations.

Anything you can imagine you can capture in a comic. Thats powerful stuff.

Given the opportunity of complete creative freedom, it almost seems a crime to do something ordinary… something, familiar.

Kinda like the one time you go to the world’s biggest ice-cream factory, with every conceivable flavor and order plain vanilla or chocolate.

Comics are the birthplace of the unfamiliar. A place where imagination rules supreme.

Of course, you can do anything you want in a novel or movie too, but unlike a movie, the costs of production don’t change at all based on what you’re capturing. A NYC dive bar scene, a exterior space station scene and a jungle location shoot all have different costs associated with them in film.

In comics, imagination comes at a flat page rate.

And while novels don’t share the financial commitments of film, they do require a significantly greater time commitment from the reader.

Whether you’re delving into fantastical worlds with a timeless message of good vs. evil, or setting out to challenge the political status quo, never forget comics were born as a medium to entertain. The moment you put an agenda (any agenda) ahead of entertainment, you’re pushing against nearly a hundred years (U.S. Comics) of tradition.

Practical way to exploit this aspect in your work:

It’s easy dummy, get creative.

Don’t go for low hanging fruit—familiar concepts. Give your readers an escape into a new, original exciting world.

If you’re developing a story of limited imagination, say the next Law and Order or a realistic portrayal of Amish high-school. Look in the mirror and say this out loud—seriously. “Ok, this comic isn’t relying on one of the core strengths of comics. I’ve got to work twice as hard and twice as smart to keep my readers engaged.”

In this latter scenario you’ve got to funnel your imaginative energy into all the other aspects of crafting the story. If you don’t, if you don’t recognize compensation is in order, your story will never live up to its full comic potential.

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Comic Pacing Decompression and Compression

In the Working Writer’s Guide to Comics and Graphic Novels I have a section dedicated to pacing. I cover the basics there, discussing the relevancy of panel counts, word counts and the content itself. One of the things I didn’t discuss is the more advanced concept of Decompression vs. Compression.

Whether or not you’re familiar with these two terms, if you’ve written any comics, you’ve already been implementing them.

As comics are not a complete look at an entire narrative, but rather glimpses of the most important (and hopefully entertaining) parts, comic scripting at its heart IS compression. Taking ten pounds of story and stuffing it into a one pound container.

Let’s look at the following scene breakdowns (not panel breakdowns).

Scene 1:

Our cop hero is transporting a criminal. The criminal gets loose in the back and has a wicked fight with our hero. The car crashes, the fight continues outside. Our hero gets splattered with acid, burnt with a flame thrower and his clothes are mostly torn from his body, before the criminal escapes.

Scene 2: Our hero now cleaned up and bandaged, walks into his captain’s office where he’s quickly chewed out for screwing up big time.

There are distinct visual changes between the scenes. Our hero is no longer covered in acid (it must have been washed off somewhere). He secured bandages and applied them to his burns. And found (bought, stole or by some other means procured) a change of clothes. None of which is shown to the reader. The reader (who’s paying attention) knows this all happened because the elements have visually changed. From scene 1, to scene 2, the story’s been compressed.

Technically, any time you condense story youre compressing and anytime you lengthen story youre decompressing.

Think of it as a sliding scale with compression at one end and decompression at the other. When you’re in the middle, creating “standard scenes”—3-5 pages, 3-5 panels per page (see the Scene Sizes article) you’re writing is balanced. Creating shorter scenes pushes you over toward the compression end, whereas, longer scenes send you over to the decompression side.

Pacing in a comic is NOT governed by one aspect alone and content has a lot to do with it. But as a very general rule, we can say, Compression speeds up, Decompression slows.

Closer to the ends of the scale, in the more extreme cases, there are some specific situations we can recognize and pay attention to.

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The Cost of Making Comics

The following article discusses the costs associated with the creative end of comic production, budget brackets, and both successful and unsuccessful methods to reduce these costs.

Before we get into it, I’d like to thank you for purchasing membership to the site and paying for this article. I hope everyone that visits my site recognizes it as a community for comic writers… as such, your support directly allows me the time to put out more articles and engage the community. Thank you.

It’s kind of ironic that my first paid membership article is going to be a very rough, uncomfortable one for many of you. A lot of people in the public forums don’t like me for my bold opinions. As I’ve stated elsewhere, a lot of my own clients grit their teeth when they receive feedback from me. Though they appreciate it at the end, it’s never easy for anyone to get tough love and honest feedback.

I recently finished reading Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose… You might have seen the World War 2, HBO mini-series of it. Good book, good series. So the guy who trained Easy Company (the main group of soldiers of the story) was a guy named Herbert Sobel. A real hard ass who everyone in the company hated. But after they went through World War 2, lots of guys had a different opinion on him. One said (off the top of my head) “Sobel made Easy Company. His hard-ass training saved many of our lives in combat.”

Business (and comics) is war.

You may not take a bullet or have to jump out of a plane, but when your hard earned finances are on the line, it might feel just the same.

I’m hard on you boys (and girls, of course) because I want you guys to make it through. I want you to be successful. And telling you everything is peachy, not letting you know what the real world is like out there, while that approach might get me more likes on social media, it won’t get you any closer to your dreams.

So, How much does it cost to make a comic?

The answer I’m about to give will ruffle feathers for sure. There are variables. Lots of them.

A lot of folks will argue it’s almost impossible to answer this question, that there’s no set standard definition of a comic (for purposes of this article, we’re talking print books, not web comics). One guy drawing stick figure scribbles is just as much a comic as the latest Marvel book.

Art is subjective. And the value of art is prone to follow such subjectivity.

Who’s to say Scribbles is “wrong” for charging $200/page. And even if we all think he’s crazy, what if he actually finds someone to pay it? Shows what we know

So how can you quantify a universal price structure if one guy publishing doodles is considered the same product as a team of veteran professionals at marvel? You can’t, not really

But since saying “there is no standard budget for comic creation” doesn’t help anyone with anything, we can do better than simply guessing in the dark.

The most accurate method may be to collect portfolios and page rates from various artists and assign your own personal ranking of quality. After you’ve collected a good body of portfolios (and page rates) you should be able to gauge what costs will yield what quality books.

But there are problems with this method.

You have to know the artists (or at least where they are). You may have particular trouble contacting and getting rates from established pros, so that half of the equation may be lost to you. Overall it takes a lot of time for this type of due diligence. And most importantly, you might not have an eye for gauging quality.

In my article Writing for Free and Being a Shmoo, I link a page rate breakdown from bleeding cool that somewhat represents this approach. It’s one of the more accurate comic page rate breakdowns I’ve seen around the web.

But for folks coming to comics with little experience, I prefer to look broadly at budgets by focusing on another part of the equation.


If you have your finger on the pulse of how long it takes to produce a single comic page. You can multiply this figure by a generic hourly rate based on experience (I know, nobody goes by hourly—relax) and come up with a usable benchmark.

Here are the steps of traditional print comic production and my rough estimate of time required per page.

  • Writer 2 hours / page
  • Editor .5 hour / page
  • Penciler 8 hours / page
  • Inker 6 hours / page
  • Colorist 5 hours / page
  • Letterer .5 hour / page
  • Production Artist .5 hour / page
  • TOTAL: 22.5 hours production time per page

Before you bark about the numbers. Of course there is variance. A LOT OF VARIANCE.

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