“I Prefer Not To”

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A quick blog entry, to answer a reader named Blake:
I was wondering if you might have interest in doing a series on your blog regarding how to go about writing a comic script, your methodology, and other things that might be helpful for those of us out there that want to write comics.
No offense, but that sounds way too much like work.
I don’t think I’m especially cut out to be a teacher or an editor—for me, the joy of writing is in the doing, not so much in the explaining. And I’m very much of the opinion that writing comics is one of those things you learn by doing it, by practicing it, by experimenting and seeing what works for you, rather than by following someone else’s rules. How I write comics may not be a way that works for you, and the best way for you to find out what works for you is to experiment, to do it, and to see what feels the best.
If I’m ever possessed by the urge to explain how to write comics the Busiek way, I’d probably do it as a book and get paid for it, working freelancer that I am.
That said, I can offer a few aids:
First, years ago, I wrote a memo on comics scripting for professional writers, called “On Writing for Comics.” I haven’t brought it over to the site yet, but Greg Morrow put in online and has had it upfor years.
Second, I can point you to two script samples that’ll show you what script format I use—a Conan script, here at the site, or an Astro City script, available in Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers, published by the ineffable Nat Gertler of About Comics. I recommend Panel One in particular, since it not only gives you a script by me, but scripts by Neil Gaiman, Greg Rucka, Kevin Smith and others.
There are also books on how to write comics, including Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels with Peter David (Writing for Comics & Graphic Novels) by, uh, Peter David, Alan Moore’s Writing For Comics Volume 1, by, um, Alan Moore, and The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Denny O’Neil. I haven’t read the David or O’Neil books, and I think I read the Moore as a two-part article in The Comics Journal years ago, but all three gentlemen know their stuff.
Also here at the site, my essay, “Breaking In Without Rules,” is mostly about breaking in, but touches on learning craft as well.

Also, I was wondering if i sent you a small script if you would be willing to look over it and offer thoughts. I respect your opinion a lot and you are my favorite writer. I could not think of a person more qualified to look at my work and critique it.
That I definitely can’t do, sorry. I’ll offer three reasons:
First, I don’t read unsold fiction of any sort, for legal reasons. I used to be a literary agent, and I’ve seen and/or heard of too many cases where a writer read someone’s submission or fanfiction or whatever, and was thereafter accused of plagiarism. If someone sends me a script involving a were-tiger who moonlights as a bartender, and I already happen to have a story idea involving a were-lynx who moonlights as a caterer, I may have to scrap it just to avoid any insinuation that I nicked it from that script. Heck, I don’t want to know about that were-tiger, even if it’s only because I might come up with that were-lynx story years from now. It’s fair game if someone gets it into print before me, but I don’t want to have unsold ideas parading in front of me and affecting my ideaspace.
Second, you don’t need me to look at it. The people you want to look at your work are people who can buy it, and that’s not me. Editors, publishers, those are your targets. Even if I were to read it, I’m no judge of what editors want to buy—they buy lots of stuff I think is mediocre or outright bad. So if I thought a script was mediocre and gave a critique on how to fix it, I might be telling the author to remove exactly what would make an editor buy it. Critiques are reassuring (or devastating), but they’re not crucial—go forward with your best efforts and get the judgment of the people who can put you into print.
And third (fourth, fifth…), I don’t have the time, I don’t enjoy it and I don’t think I’m much good at it. Critiquing other people’s work is time-consuming, and I’ve got more than enough to do already, it’s not any fun to do (there are doubtless people who like it, but I’m not one of them), and in the end, I can’t tell you what to do with it. I’m not all that articulate about technique, most of my own writing tools are so thoroughly internalized that I use them without consciously thinking about them, and all I could really tell someone is what I’d do if I were writing it, which isn’t useful information, because I’m not. There are editors who are wonderful at getting a writer to follow his own vision and do what he can do at the best of his ability, but I’m not one of them. I tend to get my own vision, and think, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if it was done this way?”
And that’s my vision, not the writer’s vision, and he or she probably shouldn’t use it because it’s not his or hers, and I can’t use it because the project’s not mine in the first place.
So my apologies. But in the words of Bartleby the Scrivener, “I prefer not to,” for all the above reasons. And you don’t need me anyway. I broke in without ever getting critiqued by a professional before submitting something—I showed my stuff to a friend or two, and I submitted it. And I got all the critiques I needed from the editors who bought the work.
So go to market. Fly on your own. Jump on in. And whatever other metaphors will serve.
And good luck with it.

Through the Mail Slot

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I’m just back from the Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, and fighting off a sore throat while I try to catch up on sleep. Since I’ve sort of hit the wall for productive work today, I figured I’d attend to the e-mail that’s been coming in to the site.
To start off, David Bieger writes…

Thanks for the insightful article about breaking in without rules.
I went to Syracuse back in the 60’s and had trouble following the rules, too. In fact, we shut down the campus following the Kent State shootings. I lived on Marshall St. and worked part time at Siegel’s Drug Store.
Fast forward, to San Diego. I’ve been here since 1977, and teenagers in a Korean church’s youth group reintroduced me to the wonderful world of comics. They wanted to go to the comic-con but their parents would not take them, so I did.
And I was hooked. My first collection was Marvel’s John Carter, Warlord of Mars. (Frank Miller actually drew one of those issues, before Daredevil.) I also have quite the collection of Marvel Age.
Fast forward again, and I am now on staff at the Con. I work for Clydene Nee in Artist’s Alley. We have been friends for over 15 years. And I have a godson (Joseph, 16 yrs.) who enjoys comics almost as much as he enjoys theater. He’s on staff as well.
We have a story we made up when he was around 7 years old. We call it “The Boy of Seven Wonders.” We’ve also written “Zombies…Twice in a Blue Moon,” and a short story about the Thing and a visit he made to the Black Panther for help with a personal problem.
Kids are great. It’s easy to make up stories when you are around kids.
Your article has encouraged us to make the trip upstairs to the Sails Pavilion this summer and present our work to any editor who will read them.
Thanks for the boost. Hopefully, I’ll run into you this summer at the Con.
Best of luck with it, David—though in my experience, while it’s easy to show art samples at a convention, writing samples work better through the mail. But whatever works. I’ll be a special guest at San Diego this year, so feel free to drop by and say hi to a fellow Syracuse attendee.
And from Sam Fitzpatrick…

I was recently given Astro City volume 1 & 2 for Christmas and thought they were brilliant. I was wondering, though, is there anywhere you can buy posters or prints of Astro City online because there aren’t many comic book shops in Sheffield, where I live.
Thanks for any information you can give.
Very glad you like the books, sir!
But I don’t think we ever did any Astro City posters for commercial sale. There were some promotional posters we did that might turn up on eBay now and then, and there was at least one lithograph—of Alex Ross’s cover to vol. 1 #2, featuring the Silver Agent and Elliot Mills. It’s long ago enough now that I can’t remember whether we did it through Graphitti Designs or Dynamic Forces, though. I really should try to put together a list of all the stuff I’ve been part of—not just books, but things like the Astro City T-shirts, refrigerator magnets and promo items—and catalogue it here on the site somewhere.
In my copious free time.
I did take a quick look at eBy, though, and found these:
Astro City movie poster
Another Copy
Promo Poster
And another copy
Hope that helps!
And the fine folks at ScoopThis.com, who were behind the mystery Avengers parody I posted about a while back, write to say…

Though ScoopThis.com isn’t “officially” open, it could use more beta testers. So rather than wait for the official launch, why not give Kurt Busiek fans an advance heads-up about the two parodies we were discussing not too long ago.
Here are the links to them:
THE AVENGERS in “Is There A Doctor In The House?”
VISION & THE SCARLET WITCH in “Hexual Healing”
There’s no nudity to either of them, but I would think the second on is Not Safe For Work, at least for certain workplaces. For mine, where I’m sitting here in a bathrobe, drinking lots of water to try to rehydrate myself and awaiting my wife’s return from the puppy pokey with our dog, it’s no problem, but you probably don’t work here.

Through the Mail Slot

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A few more questions and such, first from a reader named AbdulAziz…
I’m not sure how to read your last name right, is it Bu-Sa-yek, or read like Bos-Eik, or Bus-Ek?
It’s BYOO-sik. Accent on the “byoo.” Rhymes with “You sick.”
If they make one Avengers book and you are to write the Avengers once again, will you bring Triathlon back? He’s quite an interesting character, I enjoy characters who become heroes after a bit of a bad background like abusing steroids.
Well, first off, they’re not going back to just one Avengers book. They’ve announced two so far, Avengers and Secret Avengers. And second, I’m not writing either, and if there’s a third or fourth Avengers book I’m not writing them either.
That said, I wouldn’t mind writing Triathlon again, somewhere. I like his powers, and I like him as a character. I think he’s going by 3-D Man now—I used the name “Triathlon” because I thought “3-D Man sounded too much like a 1950s period character (which the original was, so it fit), but I suppose people just didn’t warm to the name, judging by how no one seemed to be able to spell it right.

Who do you prefer of these two:
Thor or Hercules?
I like ’em both, for different reasons. I like Thor for his majesty and warrior nobility, and I like Herc for being kind of an Olympian good ol’ boy carouser. I think Marvel’s done a lot more with Thor and that’s given him a richer cast and context, but then, I haven’t read the recent Hercules series so that may have addressed some of it. Forced to choose, I’d pick Thor, but I’ve had fun writing both of them.
And in the off chance you were asking about the mythological figures rather than the Marvel Comics versions, then it’s Thor all the way. I was a nut for Norse mythology as a kid, but never found the Twelve Labors of Hercules all that compelling.
And another e-mail, which I’ll leave the name off, in case he doesn’t want his name attached. But it’s a question that’s worth giving a general answer to…

I have read your work with the Avengers and have grown up with the characters and stories that Marvel has developed. I myself am aspiring to become a writer of Marvel books and would love and greatly appreciate some help or tips on how to get my career started or who else to contact to make a name for myself and fulfill my dreams. I still need to develop my writing style and story telling skills, but I see this as the only thing that I could do in life that would make me happy and am willing to work my butt off and do anything to achieve it.I have little experience in writing, but have written several small (unpublished) stories myself. I would truly appreciate any help that you could give me. Please write back and thank you for taking time to read this message.
My best advice on writing comics and breaking in to the industry can be found in the “Read” section of this site, in the article “Breaking In Without Rules,” and in an essay I wrote years ago called “On Writing for Comics,” which is hosted off-site, but eventually I’ll have to get it archived here, too.
Beyond that, a few books I’d recommend:
Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud
Making Comics, by Scott McCloud
The Writer’s Guide to the Business of Comics, by Lurene Haines
Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers, edited by Nat Gertler
The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, by Dennis O’Neil
And, not about comics, but good books about writing:
Adventures in the Screen Trade, by William Goldman
Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, by Lawrence Block
Characters & Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card
The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist, by Thomas McCormack
I didn’t have any of the comics-focused books when I was starting out, but would have been delighted with them. The non-comics books were all very helpful to me, particularly the McCormack, which was a revelation that let me go from being a promising beginner to an actual writer, after almost a decade in the business. But all of them have good and useful stuff in them.
I should note in the spirit of disclosure that all those links take you to Amazon.com’s listings for those books, and if you follow those links and buy the books (or anything else) from Amazon, I make a tiny commission on the sale. But (a) no one has ever bought anything at Amazon through this site to date, so it’s not like this is a big profit center for me, and (b) I’m providing the links just for convenience; if you want some of the books but would prefer to get them from another bookstore, have your local comics shop get them for you, seek them out at the library, whatever, then feel free. It’s what’s in the books that matters, not where you get them.
And beyond that, practice, practice, practice. There’s nothing that’ll teach you about writing that works as well as actually doing it.
Good luck!

Through the Mail Slot

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I just finished a difficult script, so let me catch up on some e-mail that’s stacked up.
First, a question from Brian Cunningham:

Sorry if you get asked this a lot, but I had a look on your website and I couldn’t find the answer. My question is, will you be writing any more Conan tales for Dark Horse? And if so, will Cary Nord return to do the artwork? I certainly hope so!
Glad you liked our tenure on Conan, sir.
There’s at least one more Conan project I’d like to do. When we started out, all that framing-sequence business with the Prince and the Wazir was setting something up, a big end-of-epic story we thought of as “Conan the Legend.” And at times, we’ve talked about doing a big mini-series called (wait for it) Conan the Legend to wrap it all up.
I’d like to do it someday, Cary’s expressed an interest, Scott Allie’s brought it up a time or two…
So it’s certainly possible. If and when it happens, I sure hope Cary will be available, along with Dave Stewart and Richard Starkings, so we can do it with the original team.
And I say “at least one more” because there are times I’d like to do a Janissa mini-series, to do the character arc I had planned for her, a Conan and the Bone Woman mini-series, maybe an adaptation of “The Scarlet Citadel” and/or Queen of the Black Coast”…
Nathan Thomas asks:

Any news on the final issue of Marvels: Eye of the Camera? Or did I miss it? (But I don’t think I did…)
Hope all is going well with you, miss you on the Avengers. (But then, I miss the Avengers…)
No, you didn’t miss Eye of the Camera #6. The good news is, we’re only waiting on three more pages of art before it can go off to the printer and become a reality. The pages we do have are being lettered and colored, so once those last few come in, the fine folks at Marvel can turn it around fast and get it off to press.
So it looks like we’re almost there. And thanks for the kind words on Avengers.
And to wrap up, Nick Stroffolino:

I was just writing to thank you for your column “Breaking in Without Rules.” That was equal parts depressing and enlightening. I really appreciate your frankness, everyone else I’ve read seems more interested in sugar coating things. Really it was like Steven King’s On Writing for comic books.
I haven’t read much else of what you’ve written on the site yet but a friend passed me the link to your article and he was right I think I really needed to read it. After running submissions for over a year to various indy companies it was very enlightening. I don’t know if reading it will get me close to being published or even if it really points me in the right direction but at least I know not to just spin my wheels aimlessly watching the mail box so I’m really glad you decided to write it all the same.
Also I love Marvels (I’m sure you get that a lot) and I’m an on again, off again fan of Astro City. I kind of felt like Astro City is the modern version of Wild Cards (yes, I know they started that up again lately but the books are not the same as they once were) and I really enjoyed your run on GL in Wednesday Comics (which my friends liked to call the hot sheets). I haven’t read much of your other work but after reading your article I’ll be keeping my eye out for your name on things. With the amount of mediocrity in comics right now it seems like you get a lot more bang for your buck to follow writers these days instead of characters.
Good luck in your future endeavors, thanks again for putting “Breaking in Without Rules” online and keep up the good work.
Thanks, Nick. I’ll do my best. And good luck with your writing endeavors.
I can’t wait to see the Wednesday Comics collection, myself—just seeing a photo of it here makes me all itchy to have one myself. And I’m told that a fresh-from-the-printer copy of The Wizard’s Tale is on the way to me and should arrive Tuesday. I’ll have to figure out my iPhone’s camera, so I can put some pictures of it up here.
But for now, back to work.