Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fraction’s Year One Exercise – How To Write Comics

Writing comics is one of those skills that still isn’t locked down. Some people write Marvel style, some Alan Moore style, and others everywhere in between. You can see scripts from different authors but many of them are quite disparate. There aren’t a plethora of ‘How To’ books on the subject so to tread into these murky waters can feel like a solitary journey. Yet, how alone can we be when we each follow a similar path? Matt Fraction was once a beginning writer and a few months back he shared a method he used to practise writing and improve and it’s a truly astounding idea. Hit the jump to see what a young Fraction did, and what you can do.

It was way back at San Diego Comic Con where Matt Fraction took to the stage with Mark Waid to talk about writing. You can view a great run down on CBR. The panel was focused on talking about writing comics. These two powerhouses of the industry discussed the different schools of thought and gave advice and counsel to poor wretched souls lurched over their keyboards across the globe. It’s a great panel so click that link and read the article but I want to discuss just one section of it, which I’ll quote below from the CBR panel.

Fraction offered up a lesson he gave himself that got things going for him as a writer. He sat down and reverse-engineered the Miller Mazzucchelli "Batman: Year One" script. This proved invaluable and surprised Waid as a genuinely inspired practice lesson.

Matt Fraction, many years ago, sat down with the Batman: Year One comic and wrote what he thought would be the script for this book. That’s a pretty cool thing to do, and something we all can do. There is plenty to learn, if you are smart enough to get to it all.
By reverse engineering this script, you will come to understand the pace of a page as it appears in the script. Seeing a page of art flow can be easy but seeing it happen with just the words is more difficult, and yet we must do it because the script comes before the art – in most cases.

If you suffer writers block, or don’t think your ideas are good enough and allow them to peter out, then writing from something fully formed could be a very instructional exercise to complete. It gives you something to work with, something with which to peek behind the curtain. You can see if what you create would work, and then with the rules safely tucked away in your head you could go about trying your hand at creating from whole cloth for a change.

If this sort of thing isn’t your style then you could try a few other tactics. Read as many scripts as you can, they are available on the internet if you know where to search. You can sketch your pages out roughly, even if you can’t draw really well, just to see how the flow and dialogue would actually fit. You can try making a comic script from a movie or TV show and see if you can make the pages flow and beat. There are tons of ways to practise writing comics but you’ll find all of them involve actually writing comic scripts.

I’m sure if you’ve asked the question then you’ve heard the answer – if you want to be a writer then you write. You don’t think about it, you don’t talk about it, you don’t do anything else but write. At least, that’s the first step.


It got me to wondering, do you write comics and if so, how do you practise? If you have reverse engineered the script for a comic that already exists, I’d love to hear about it and which comic you chose. If you’ve got another method I haven’t mentioned yet then let me know. Me? I just write as much as I can, and thoughtballoons certainly helps. Let us know in the comments below your comic writing tips.

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Space Jawa said...

That actually sounds like an idea worth taking a shot at. The basic idea of it, at least. I don't own a copy of Year One, but I do have other TPB sitting around. I very well may go through one or two of them and give this exercise a try.

Bert said...

Huh . That is a good exercise shame that fraction's recent work is quite mediocre

Dan Cheek said...

This really does sound like a good idea. When I was a kid, I would practice my art skills by trying to draw different panels from comics. I guess this is sort of the same thing.

iwasherefirst said...

When I have the time to do it, I like to use the MightyGodKing method of scripting, which is to remove the text from speech bubbles and redub the art with your own story.

It's not a perfect way of building a story; it constrains you to certain beats, but it's a great exercise for writing dialogue. The art gives you a great skeleton to develop a scene from.

I've never tried reverse-engineering a script, though. It sounds like an excellent idea for getting to grips with comic writing for the first time.

Anonymous said...

It's always easier to criticize than to create. Hence, the internet.

Ivan said...

Wow. Such a simple idea. It's one of those "how come I didn't think of it sooner" things. I'll try my hand at this.

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