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Words For Pictures

The Art And Business Of Writing Comics And Graphic Novels

Brian Michael Bendis
Foreword by Joe Quesada
Watson Guptill Publications
$24.99 US/ $28.99 Canada

How to books can be problematic for me. If an author somehow fails to convey points clearly or their writing style is as dry as cliched toast my interest in the book is dampened or even killed and so for me the purpose of the book is defeated. To be honest, I viewed this book from Brian Michael Bendis with some skepticism. Perhaps more doubt than I might otherwise have. Yes, his current status as one of comics’ best known names has lots of cred, and this is perhaps where I shouldn’t be honest and mention that I am a former fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ writing. I very much looked forward to reading his writing on Alias, Daredevil, and Powers. Now with that confession out of the way, I’m glad I was able to set aside my opinion of his current writing while reading this book. As it turns out there are reasons for Bendis’ success, all of which can benefit aspiring comics writers.

Words For Pictures is divided into seven chapters each designed to tackle specific aspects of achieving and maintaning your writing ambition: Why?; The Modern Comic Book Script; Writing For the Artists; The Editors’ Roundtable; The Writers’ FAQS; The Business of Comic Writing; and Writing Exercises. The first and last chapters are tackled by Bendis alone. Underscoring the collaborative aspect of comics, Bendis enlisted the opinions and experiences of a number of respected pros that include writers, artists, and editors. For example, in the chapter dealing with modern comic book scripts, Bendis discusses the differences in the two scripting options, the pos and cons of each and when you might want to use one over the other. Bendis elaborates on his writing process and how he likes to be involved throughout, even giving story or theme notes to colorists. I found Matt Fraction’s account of how and why he challenged himself with his writing while working with David Aja on Hawkeye to be especially interesting. The points about building a relationship and trusting your artist were really driven home. The creative team’s success is born out by both critical and fan acclaim their work received. An interview with Bendis asking Ed Brubaker questions yields lots of information and inspiration.

In the first section of Writing For the Artists, Bendis talks about writing for your audience and just who that audience is; the artist being one member in that small audience of six or so people. You’ll also find valuable tips on communicating with and developing a relationship with your artist. Bendis shares some personal anecdotes about why adoption of a de facto approach for all artists isn’t a good idea. An extended section of over a dozen artists dishing on what they want from writers is a wonderful addition. Rounding out this chapter interviews with Bendis talking with artist colleagues David Mack, Alex Maleev, and Michael Avon Oeming.

I found the Editors’ Roundtable chapter to be as equally informative and interesting. Where else will you find seven editors giving tips and advice on what they look for in new writers and artists and the types of things to avoid. Here’s one liberally paraphrased nugget: “Don’t waste your opportunity to write an impressive story by wasting it on fixing a 25 year old continuity glitch”. Dark Horse editor Diana Schutz, who is also an adjunct instructor of Comics Literature at Portland Community College, delivers solid, no nonsense advice that comes from 30 years of hands on experience in the business and her contribution alone is reason enough to have this book as a resource. Schutz is also direct about how busy she and editors in general are. Instead of leaving you in despair, she tells you how to tailor your efforts to increase your chances at grabbing an editor’s attention. As vice president in charge of talent, C B Cebulski holds what I imagine to be an enviable job with the responisiblity to look for and hire new talent. Being the face of Marvel’s creative department puts him in a demanding position which requires a discerning eye needed to determine if a person has talent and certain level of skill. I find his thoughts about and preference for short story submissions refreshing in light of Marvel and DC’s continuing penchant for multi part story arcs.

wordsforpicturesThe Writers’ FAQS has Bendis sharing a selection of the most popular and frequently asked questions posed to him and his honest replies from his Tumblr. Becoming a comic book writer (or an artist) may be a dream come true but all too often the business side of that dream is neglected or overlooked until something awful happens. Alicia Bendis’ brings expert advice in the chapter on the business aspect. She focuses on how to plan for contingencies to avoid or minimize bad situations and misunderstandings. Contracts are part and parcel if your sights on set on working for a mainstream publisher like DC, Marvel, or Dark Horse or a boutique publisher such as Fantagraphics. Better to become familiar with them than to be taken advantage of.

Bendis poses a series of series questions at the beginning of the final chapter. “Do you have what it takes? Will you ever be good enough? Will you ever have a story inside you that people will actually want to read?” His answer? “Don’t worry about it” becaause, as he confides, the feeling underlying these questions don’t go away. The trick is not to become overwhelmed by working through those fears, like Matt Fraction talks about with his Hawkeye scripts. It’s in this spirit that Bendis sends you off with several writing exercises with which to practice your craft.

I found Words For Pictures to be an engaging and accessible read and frequently a page turner in its own right. I really wanted to know what these artists and editors had to say about their experiences with writers. The book’s slightly oversized pages are complemented by good design and abundant illustrations relevant to particular topics. An example of this is the four paged spread in Writing For Artists showing different artistic interpretations of an action oriented scene and a character driven one. The cover has French flaps and is perfect bound. While not as ideal as sewn binding, the large dimensions allow for much of the book to lie open when placed on a table, making for easy reference while reading or working on your writing.

Words For Pictures is one book in a set of books from publisher Watson Guptill devoted to some aspect of working in comics. The other books are Make Comics Like The Pros, written by Grek Pak and Fred an Lente, and Foundations In Comic Book Art, a SCAD Creative Essentials book, by John Paul Lowe.

This book is available from Amazon. A preview of the book is available there, too. Please also consider supporting your local book or comic shop.
Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels

March 7, 2015
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