“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.