You know, there's little I enjoy more than reading other people's scripts (NB :This is a giant lie), and – as a jaded old hack – giving them the benefit of my hard-won experience. And, in all that time of pouring derision and scorn on the efforts of others, and watching their hopes and dreams become tarnished like over-cooked heroin on a rusty spoon, I've come to notice one glaring thing:
Too many people start out not knowing how to put together a comic script.
But this isn't really anyone's fault. Unlike screenwriting, there is no standard template to follow; no 12-point Courier and “this is where all the tabs go” set of ironclad rules; no two-hundred-quid-a-pop Final Draft type software that does it all for you; no endless number of 'Comic Writing For Deluded, Fortune-Addled Idiots' books currently weighing down a shelf at a Waterstones near you. In comics, we've kinda made it up as we went along. Everyone has their own style, which must confuse the artists no end (and hence is probably part of the appeal).
So people go online. They look at the script samples in those deluxe-edition versions of best-selling graphic novels they have, and they see examples of what they think is how you write a comic script. And so they copy that, because, hey, if that's how arguably the best and most successful comic writer does it, then that's how you do it.
But I'm here to tell you – to beg you – not to do this.
Please, please do not ever, EVER write scripts the way Alan Moore does.
He's a genius. You're probably not. Editors hate the Moore method. Those giant blocks of all-caps text and insanely over-detailed description are painful on the eye; the visual equivalent of having someone shouting in your ear for several minutes, or – in the good old days – of sending letters written in green ink to the newspapers. It's an indication that you might be slightly mental, and editors are always looking for an excuse not to take a chance on a submission from a new writer that they know nothing about.
Artists really hate this type of script. When confronted with this solid wall of typed-up ugly, they go through it with a marker pen, highlighting the bare essentials they need to know to find whatever the hell it is you're trying to tell them, and they will curse you for a fool and an idiot while they're doing it.
John Wagner, creator of Judge Dredd and many other fine things, famously had his scripts described as “like reading a series of really exciting telegrams”, and that's how most scripts should read. Short. Punchy. To the point. Look at screenplays, and how elegantly sparse so many of them look on the page, concentrating just on the essentials – plot, characterisation, dialogue – with often just a few well-chosen words communicating the sense of how the visual action plays out.
Trust the artist. They're your creative partner and not some mindless automaton, there to obey your carefully-programmed instructions of what you want to see on the page. Give them room to bring their own interpretation to things. You might think you can see the whole thing in your head, panel by panel, but any halfway decent artist will always bring something new, different and better to your script.
(Lest those that know me well think I've had some sort of character-altering stroke, rest assured that – if I ever do one of these again – I will be reverting to type and soundly mocking and abusing the often educationally sub-normal and dope-addled idiots who mostly make up the cadre of professional comic artists.)
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