Writing Graphic Novels & Comic Strips

Writing Graphic Novels & Comic Strips

In this post, Writers Write looks at writing graphic novels and comic strips.

Graphic novels (and comic strips) are literary devices, too. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is a successful series, and Neil Gaiman is known for The Sandman. Writer and artist Bill Watterson created the famous comic strip Calvin & Hobbes. 

Here’s more about writing graphic novels and comic strips. 

The Graphic Novel & Comic Strip

Graphic novel: ‘A work of fiction or non-fiction that is presented in comic-strip format and published as a book’ (Source: Merriam-Webster)

Graphic novels are longer, and follow multiple story arcs [like a movie]. Comic books are shorter, following an episodic-style arc [like a television series].

Comic Book: ‘A work of fiction or non-fiction that is presented in comic-strip format and published as a book.’ (Source: Merriam-Webster)

Comic Strip: ‘A series of cartoons that tell a story or part of a story.’ (Source: Merriam-Webster)

A comic strip, like Garfield or Calvin & Hobbes, has several panels of dialogue: there’s a simple, single ‘gag’ or punchline.

A comic book, like The Simpsons or Batman, goes through various scenes: there’s a story arc, with character development.

A graphic novel, like Watchmen or V For Vendetta, is like a movie instead of a television show: longer, with more transitions, and character changes.

Writing Graphic Novels & Comic Strips

1. Know Your Comic Books

Writers can’t describe a horse, if they have never seen a horse. It’s hard to write a comic book if you’ve never read one before. Read everything you can find, and make a trip to Amazon or nearby comic store.

Marvel, DC Comics, and Calvin & Hobbes are good beginnings for anyone. 

Explore the genre with a writing mind, and pay attention to the style and language.

Know your comic books: then write your own. 

2. Work With Artists

Artists and writers work together for creating most comic books. Stephen King isn’t necessarily the graphic artist; Stan Lee didn’t draw or write every panel (in every comic) by himself.

If you’re the writer, connect with artists who:

  1. Have a good working reputation.
  2. Have an impressive portfolio.

It can take some trial and error to find the best collaborators.

Don’t choose names from a hat: take your time, and find someone that you enjoy working with the most. Create a freelance agreement, in writing, that says who gets credit for what (and how time and responsibility is split). 

3. Writing Dialogue As Scripts

Comic books look very impressive in their final format: that’s not what you’ll be working with as the writer. Most comic books, make most sense written as scripts.

Outline your plot: timeline your scenes, and what you’d like to happen. Flesh out the details, and write descriptions and dialogue for your scenes.

Example: ‘SCENE: Sunny Classroom, DESCRIPTION: Jake is sitting at a desk, stabbing a pen into an apple, DIALOGUE: “Why are you making me do this for your writing example?”‘

From there, writers work with artists to create a final product.

4. Making Storyboards

Storyboards, where visual mock-ups are created, comes next.

A storyboard gives artists and writers a clear reference, and the ability to edit. If there’s something you’d like to change, now is the time to step back and think about it.

It’s a fantastic visual aid for storytellers: seeing the story (or plot) in front of you. Storyboards don’t have to look perfect: imagine a rough draft.

Most teams, including Gaiman in this Masterclass, rely on how much storyboards help. It’s your outline, but with more substance.

Online tools like Canva can make storyboards much easier to create.

5. Creating Great Characters

Visual storytelling can be similar to writing: characters still have to be strong, with personalities and development, for any visual-literary device.

Decide on your characters, their traits, and their roles in the story.

Treat it the same as you would any other writing process: protagonists and antagonists are still important to your story, regardless of its presented medium.

6. Putting Together Scenes

A scene is a special thing, for a graphic novel or comic.

Picture a movie scene: it’s a few minutes long, and there’s a definite story arc to a single scene (which impacts the film’s larger story arc).

That’s what a scene is when you’re writing one.

Scenes could change rooms, but might not. Characters can enter, and exit: some can speak first, others can interject.

All of this should be kept in mind when you’re writing a scene.

Good luck!

The Last Word 

In this post, Writers Write explored comic books and graphic novels. We hope that you find more useful writing and plotting advice on our website!

By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.

If you enjoyed this, read other posts by Alex:

  1. Things You‘ll Discover About Publishers (When You’ve Worked With One)
  2. 6 Bits Of Writing Advice From Mickey Spillane
  3. Writing The AI Character
  4. Writing Courtroom Fiction
  5. 5 Bits Of Writing Advice From James Joyce
  6. 6. Bits Of Writing Advice From Judy Blume
  7. Can Artificial Intelligence Write?
  8. 5 Bits Of Writing Advice From Patricia Highsmith
  9. About Beat Poetry
  10. 6 Bits Of Writing Advice From Wilbur Smith

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Posted on: 23rd March 2023