Today's installment of “Tales From the Script” is off in a slightly different direction - I read a very interesting article about comic books and it really got me thinking. It's probably got you thinking too, as in, "I don't like comic books, never have, why should I keep reading?"
That's a fair question with a simple answer. “Because understanding what makes a good comic helps us to understand what makes a good movie.” Not that good comics make good movies, mind you (Robin Williams proved that…). They are two different mediums. It would be like looking at a statue and saying that it would make a great oil painting.
I’ll admit that I was into comics when I was a teenager - Marvel with just a couple of Dark Horse. I followed five different books and often bought others for their "collectability". They collected
alright – dust - until I gave them to my cousin. But not all of them. Some are truly works of art and still collect dust in my closet. The really special ones are hidden at the bottom of my sock drawer.
|A comic book panel. You KNOW what's going on.|
Comics are very hard to write because, opposite of screenwriting, you can't show motion. There's also no soundtrack. Dialogue is very limited. The article called it "story telling by strobe" and that's quite insightful. I read a lot of really bad comics. The art was good in some, but the stories were underdeveloped or there was no real character arc or plot twists. You may think it doesn’t matter – they’re just for kids – but a well written comic is as engaging as any “real book” or movie.
You may be thinking, "Come on, Jon. Do any comics actually have those things?" Absolutely. I've talked about Chris Claremont before but I'll give him another shout-out. The man was a genius for scripting comics. When he left the “Uncanny X-men” it was obvious and I stopped reading it a few issues later. I had a friend who got me reading “The Punisher”. The story telling was great, the art was run-of-the-mill. When “Punisher: War Journal” came out, he went bonza over it. I never really cared for it though. Sure, the art was better, but the stories weren't very good. Interestingly, he is a graphic artist while I'm a writer - both of us were already committed to our path at that time.
To tell a story with a comic you have to be very efficient. Each panel has to communicate a tremendous amount of information. You have to use everything available - the exact position of a character in the scene, the facial expressions of everyone, and the perfect word of dialogue... You have to pick the one frozen moment that will provide the greatest amount of story impact.
Thinking in comic book terms will make your writing tighter. When you don't have space, you don't waste it. Words can be like kibble for us - the "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" sort of kibble, not the dog food. The first X-men movie was pretty good but then the franchise got bloated - they stopped focusing on comic storytelling and went after movie special effects and brand recognition. The “Punisher: War Journal” of the big screen.