Some notes on script-writing comics

For a long time I’ve been wanting to contribute to Guilds blog. I had thought of writing comics reviews, but being a lazy guy, it’s been mañana so far.. But then Aki asked me to write something about script-writing comics and I was tempted to take the challenge. Having just finished with my third script for a comic book I am still learning my ways in this art and I think it is now useful for me to write down some of the thoughts or principles that I’ve gathered..

Because I started script-writing comics through a series of chances beginning with befriending Jukkis (who I work with) about ten years ago, I had never thought of it in any theoretical sense. My approach has been that of a comics fan and my methods in making up a story has been quite intuitive.

Jukka-Petteri "Jukkis" Eronen (middle) and me at a interview at my hometown bookshop after our first story Lintu Mustasiipi was published last year.

Jukka-Petteri “Jukkis” Eronen (middle) and me at a interview at my hometown bookshop after our first story Lintu Mustasiipi was published last year.

At first I have a broad idea, for example: the hero meets his idol, but he has to face him in battle. Then I start working the characters, their intrests, inspirations and so on and it happens that the idea starts to evolve with them. What is the cause that sets things moving? (Doesn’t this sound a lot like game-mastering, only that there’s no players ruining your plans?) And at last there is the manual labour of writing down the scenes and dialogue.

I have couple of principles on writing dialogue:

1. keep it simple      2. show, don’t tell

Also, I’m not a big fan of thought-bubbles.. My point is to give my artist a chance and space to shine. Not to fill screens and pages with characters going bla-bla-bla. (I also know how easy it is to slip to that). I suggest that everyone reads Jasons comics if they want to see how marvelous stories can be told with no dialogue what so ever.

David Mamet has crystallized the difference between bad & good dialogue. In a bad film guy gets a phone-call: Hey, Jack. I’ll come see you tonight. I need back the money that I lended you last night. In a good film he might only hear: You better fucking be home tonight.

A great collection of David Memets essays about directing and script-writing. A lot of it applies to comics.

A great collection of David Mamets writings about directing and script-writing. A lot of it applies to comics.

The idea of dialogue is not to give information about the characters (or the deep philosophical thoughts of the author), but to serve the story, tempt the reader (or viewer) to read forth. I hate it for example in Peter Jacksons J.R.R. Tolkien films that there’s always around some walking Encyclopedia of Middle Earth..

Depending on the script in question there’s also the background work. Our latest story did not demand so much background work, because its basically a fantasy, but when working on the adventures of August Von Essen, I’ve dug in to history. During this work I try to keep an eye out for references to Jukkis, and send him maps, fotos, drawings, anecdotes and stuff that he can use in making the setting feel real.

I like to think that comics are a sort of poor mans movies. (Of course a lot more autonomous and free in expression). Both function on showing a sequel of different images that human mind completes to some meaning… a story. Comics might even be closer to movies than movies themself.

In his book, David Mamet complains that mainstream film has lost its roots (and its best tools) when it has forgotten Eisensteins theory of montage.  Movie directors tend just to follow the hero around in a visual parade that leaves little space for viewers own imagination. For Mamet, the right way to film a car accident is not to have a car hit the stuntman and show him flying in the air, smashing the pavement and so on without a cut (or do the same digitally), but to shoot a man crossing a street, a bystander turning his head, a man driving a car, looking ahead, mans foot on a brake, stopped car with legs sticking out underneath. People get it. Thats the power of montage!

Where as movies have turned into brainless spectacles, montage is the basic principle of comics story-telling, that it really cannot escape. Not at least in the case of graphic novels.

I like to visually imagine the scenes I write to Jukkis, but still write it down on a abstract level giving him sparingly detail to maximize his expressional freedom. And for me the most satisfying part of this work is to see how the story I have imagined and written down transforms through Jukkis’ hands to his vision but still recognizable as my own. It is a very inspiring mystery.. And it is happening again.

 

 

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