Are you working on a comic script? Learn from a pro. Hope Larson shares her routine for writing her amazingly beautiful graphic novels.
Writing is the best part of my day. I wake up at 7:00 AM, walk the dogs, put on some coffee. At 8:00 AM I open my laptop and spend an hour pecking away at my current script. At 9:00 AM I sigh, close the laptop, and commute upstairs to my drafting table and my “real work”: drawing comics.
Like most writers, and probably like you (whether you’re in school or in the working world), I have a day job, but that’s okay. Having only an hour to write keeps me disciplined. It’s the one hour all day that I’m not tempted by Twitter, Gawker, or GMail. It’s precious.
It took me a while to fall in love with writing. When I graduated from art school in 2004, I could draw a nude in charcoal and screen print a hundred posters, and I wanted to write a comic—but writing terrified me. Not only was I convinced I had nothing to write about, I had no idea how to write a comic script. I’d never seen a comic script! Knowing me, I probably wasted weeks fretting over questions of format, only to discover that there is no standard format for comic scripts. It’s not like screenwriting, where one parenthetical too many or the wrong kind of brads will make or break you. A comic script need only make sense to you, your artist, and your editor. Many cartoonists don’t write scripts at all, preferring to draw rough stick-figure comics on printer paper and compose the dialogue longhand. Whatever works!
I wrote my first scripts in Word, but now I outline in Scrivener—I like the note card feature—and write in Final Draft. The early drafts of my comic scripts look like poorly formatted screenplays, with direction and dialogue but no indication of panels or page breaks. After my editor and I work out any problems with the story and add whatever additional scenes and bits of dialogue we deem necessary, I break the script down into something recognizable as a comic script.
This is a delicate procedure. First I decide how much story goes on each page, and then I break the pages down into panels . Text and illustration are in constant competition for space, and in a 6” x 8” book there’s not a lot of it. I learned early on, while working as a letterer, to be as spare as possible with dialogue. Publishers would send me a comic script and a batch of unlettered pages, and it was my job to add in the word balloons. I always got the text to fit, but the memory of all the artwork I covered up with excessive dialogue helps me keep my own lean and to the point.
Once the script’s broken down, my job as a writer is done. The script goes to the artist—sometimes me, sometimes not—and an eternity passes while she cranks out the hundreds of pictures that bring the story to life. In a year or two, when the finished book is printed, bound and sitting on a shelf somewhere, a reader will pick it up and flip through it. She’ll look at the art, unaware of the many words that lie, invisible, behind it. It may never occur to her that comics are written, not just drawn.
And that’s okay. Because somewhere in Los Angeles I’m waking up, walking the dogs, putting on some coffee. Getting ready for the best part of my day.
Hope Larson is the author of four graphic novels, including Mercury and Chiggers. She has been nominated for cartooning awards in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and is the recipient of a 2006 Ignatz Award and a 2007 Eisner Award. Hope is currently hard at work on a graphic novel adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.