Story Construction – Part 1: The Many-fold Path

One of the most interesting aspects of the comic book is the creative process by which the writer, artist, inker, letterer, and colorist make a specific issue.  This process, which centers on the embodiment of the story and plot ideas and not on the ideas themselves, is usually only noticed in passing by the average comics reader.

Attention is typically drawn to the dramatic or moral content of the story, the character design and visual presentation, and the colors and shading.  Eye candy and the cool ideas dominate the discussion and the craftsmanship of the page itself seems only an afterthought.

Nonetheless, there are a multitude of books on the market that propose to teach the aspiring creator how to construct a compelling comic (and, ostensibly, get paid for the effort).  Some of the ones in my collection (I do love to collect books of all kinds) are:

  • Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics – Alan Moore
  • Writing for Comics & Graphics Novels – Peter David
  • Understanding Comics, the Invisible Art – Scott McCloud
  • Making Comics – Scott McCloud
  • The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics – Dennis O’Neil
  • The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics – Comfort Love & Adam Withers
  • How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way – Stan Lee & John Buscema
  • How to be a Comic Book Artist… Not Just How to Draw – Tim Seeley
  • Foundations in Comic Book Art – John Paul Lowe

In addition to these full-bodied treatments, there is a smattering of small introductions or pro-tips to working the creative process that are usually found in the filler material for reprint editions or give-aways.  Some of the memorable ones are:

  • Summary of the Neil Gaiman approach to Sandman
  • Example of the Feldstein approach used in Tales of the Crypt featured in the first reprint volume
  • How to Build a Comic by John Barber as a backup for the Marvel Adventures FCBD offering in 2005

If one were to represent the content of each of these sources in terms of a Venn diagram, one would find a core section of overlap where they each say the same essential things, and then a lot of areas where one or two of them stake out a position on technique or style that is in opposition to some of the others.  For example, all of them will talk of the importance of establishing shots or varying the angle from panel to panel to keep it fresh.  That said, most of them will differ on the details of how to pull off a proper establishing shot or how much the angle should be varied.

Of course, this is to be expected.  Creative endeavors, of any kind, are a human process where matters of taste, style, competency, skill, and craftsmanship differ from person to person.

To my knowledge, no one has ever attempted to compare and contrast what these different works have to say, and I thought it might be fun to try.  I am, by no means, a comics creator, and, although I think it would be a blast to be able to produce a comic, I have never devoted the time and energy needed to even be called an amateur.  But I can analyze and critique, and so I will be pursuing a multi-part analysis of what these various works say and how much of it is universal.

The plan for pulling this off is as follows:  In the coming weeks, I will be using this column for digesting and summarizing what each author has to say.  There will be no attempt at exhaustiveness nor thoroughness but rather a general impression and a sampling of the highlights.  At the end, I’ll try to produce a broad look at all of them side-by-side.  Whether I succeed or fail remains to be seen but what I do know is that it should be a fun ride and I, and hopefully you dear reader, will learn a lot.

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