Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Episode #171 Part IV: MegaCon 2011 The Art Of Writing For Comics Panel!

Left to right: Roy Thomas, Dennis O'Neil,
Jim Valentino, Mark Waid and
Darwyn Cooke.
The first comment from the audience was an appreciation for Denny O'Neil's  support for Bill Finger. Denny O'Neil commented that the comic book greats got screwed. He added that when he was a DC editor he tried to get some type of monetary compensation for Bill, but the company's legal department said that it was impossible.

The first question was about any constructive criticism the panelists received at the beginning of their careers. Denny turned to Roy and asked him what he told him. Roy answered, "Just show up on Monday."

Denny added that he was grateful to have begun on such minor titles as Millie The Model. He said that it was a great place to be bad, meaning that Millie and other lower tier books were like Comic Book Writing 101. It allowed him to learn how to be a good comics writer on the job, a luxury most comic book professionals don;t have today. Roy added that with Millie, kids would send in drawings and they would become fashions in a future issue.

Mark Waid said that he learned under DC editor Julius Schwartz. That was during an era when Schwartz's comics were not the most complicated, but he emphasized giving the reader a big bang to start the story. Schwartz wanted superheroes to do hero things. With western and crime stories the idea was to think visual.

Jim Valentino's advice to new comic book writers was to not bury the lead. Pull the reader in.

Mark added that today, there is no training ground in the comic book industry. A writer or artist needs to have his top game to begin with.

Darwyn said that back in the 1970's editors guided storytellers. Now, they're on their own. The current crop of editors don't have 30 years of experience in the industry, like Julius Schwartz or Stan Lee. Today, editors traffic product, their main concern keeping issues on schedule for publication. Denny added that it is a problem across the publishing industry.

Mark Waid mentioned Stan Lee, in regards to the current stories he is working on for IDW. Mark said that Stan still gives advice on the titles he works on, things like keeping it simple, placing word balloons where there would otherwise be dead space.

Another question was about how to generate interest in you work, independent comics, or web comics. Mark said that the cream will rise to the top, and he has seen great things on the internet. Jim mentioned that there are more options now for a writer. Mark added that it is more exciting now, and that there was no one way to success in comic books. He saw web comics as a democratisation of the form.

A writer in the audience had a problem with characters being similar to one another. Roy Thomas shared one trick he used was using horoscopes to help give his characters distinct personalities. Darwyn Cooke mentioned that he had the same problem with New Frontier. His solution was to boil down the essence of each character to one sentence. When a writer knows what drives a character, then that character will speak for you.

Someone else asked what the panel's definition of a superhero was. Darwyn said it was someone who was given a gift the rest of us don't have and finds a way to use it.

Another writer in the audience mentioned that they like to write plays. Mark said that writers should write what they want to write. Jim said that writing a play is similar to a comic book script. He added that there are natural storytellers in any medium. Be the guy who tells stories around the campfire.

Mark Waid advised that a writer should be concise. Don't ramble, but set the stage. Get to the point and think visually.

Darwyn added that a comic book writer should make sure that each panel has only one action and that each character should only make one statement per panel. Denny said that a common mistake among comic book writers is to have a character do more than one action per panel.

The panelists were asked which were the hardest characters for them to write for. For Darwyn, it was Superman. Mark Waid said that the Man of Steel was the easiest for him to write for. The hardest character for him to write for was Wonder Woman.

There was a bit of a discussion among the panel about how much control over the story a writer has versus the artist. Denny talked about how he had artists not draw what he had written, disrupting the flow of the story. Darwyn, who is both a writer and an artist, said that a writer has to give the artist some room to tell the story visually. There is a visual aspect to comic book writing. Mark said that it's not his story, it's a collaboration with the artist. He added that Bill Finger codified comic book writing.

Near the end of the panel there was a question about trademarking stories and if it was possible. Mark Waid pointed out that the musical West Side Story was actually Romeo And Juliet.

Next episode: MegaCon 2011: The Art Of Storytelling Panel!

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