In one of the other Mark’s Remarks I did this month, I offered some free advice to aspiring comic artists. This time I’m going to do the same for aspiring comics writers. (You aspiring comics letterers and colorists will have to wait your turn.)
If you want to be a comic book writer, here’s what you should do. Become a writer first. Yes, writing for comics is its own special discipline, just as writing sonnets, reviews, essays or screenplays are their own special disciplines. But before you need to learn anything about the special discipline, you need to know about the general discipline, and that is writing itself. So learn to write by writing, by learning to express ideas with the written word. Write every day just to exercise the old writing muscles in the brain. If you don’t like sitting and studying and doing your homework, don’t become a writer. Being a writer is like having homework to do every day of your life (and you can quote me). It’s a lonely experience being a writer. It’s something you’ve got to do all by yourself, usually sequestered away from other human beings. (Although as I write this, my assistant editor Gregory Wright is yammering on the phone three feet away from me. It helps to develop one’s powers of concentration so you can tune out the distractions when you have to.)
You can learn about writing by having people read what you wrote and quizzing them to see if they understood what it was they’re reading. You can also learn about writing by reading. I would not recommend reading nothing by comic books if you want to be a comics writer. Again, you need to master the general (writing) before you master the specific (comics writing). Read fiction – the classics as well as the contemporary stuff. As you read, analyze what you’re reading. How was the book structured? How were certain effects achieved with words? What was the author’s point in writing the story?
My final piece of advice is to writers is to lead a good, interesting life. The richer one’s experiences are, the more you’ll have to draw from in your writing. All writing is autobiographical to some extent: what you write about is determined totally by what’s inside of you. You cannot write someone else’s story unless you first make it your own. Look at the world around you, from impressions about it, form a point of view. Live in the world around you, talk to people and try to figure out what makes them tick, hold as many different strange jobs as you can and figure out what you have in common with the people you work with. I see too many writers come into the comics field with a fair knowledge of the craft (which you can get from studying the comics) but with absolutely nothing to say, no point of view, no point in their work. But while craft can be taught, cannot teach anyone what to say. That’s got to come from within – as a part of the processing of experience from the world without.