Like many comics readers, I hope to one day publish my own comics. So I devour articles about process, and when I find a writer who goes deep talking about scripting, writer-artist relationships, or economics, I take note.
I’ve assembled the list below for those just starting to read about making comics. These five writers are, in my opinion, the best at talking process. They are not my five favorite writers period, though they’re all very good (and some would make that list). But they’re the ones who have the most to share about the act of writing, or at least the most patience to deal with those of us on the Internet who want to learn.
5. Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals, Hawkeye, The Immortal Iron Fist, ODY-C)
Sometimes, I think Matt Fraction talks about process without knowing he’s doing it. He just has a lot to say about what he’s written, because he’s thought it over a whole bunch. This essay about The Immortal Iron Fist, for example, talks about how Fraction and co-writer Ed Brubaker decided to jettison a lot of weird stuff about Danny Rand and just stick to their core concept for the character (Kung Fu Billionaire). It also talks about Fraction’s influences, how he got the co-writer gig in the first place, and who had which ideas when. There are a few more essays like this over at Milkfed Criminal Masterminds, but not a ton. But don’t worry, because there’s more Fraction to be had.
You can find the same sort of rambly, earnest style in Fraction’s portion of the newsletter he puts out with his wife, fellow writer, and business partner Kelly Sue DeConnick (who writes the kick-ass Bitch Planet). I’ve subscribed to the newsletter, and I’d encourage you to as well. It’s always a worthwhile and interesting read. Last month’s newsletter, for example, had a great essay about the pros of journaling.
There are, however, times you know Fraction knows he’s talking about process. Like these process-centric pages from Sex Criminals Vol. 3. I don’t have much else to say about them except that, if you’re not reading Sex Criminals, you really should get on board already, because it’s a trip (click through on the images twice to embiggen):
4. Kieron Gillen (The Wicked + The Divine, Phonogram, Darth Vader, Journey Into Mystery)
Kieron’s workblog has unfortunately come to an end, but it still contains a bunch of old goodies on process. There are writer’s notes for most of his comics issues, as well as episodes of his podcast Decompressed, where he talks to other creators about making comics. Gillen’s enthusiasm is infectious, and his ability to dig into his work’s structure as well as his relationships with his collaborators is fantastic.
Why did the workblog come to an end, you might ask? It’s because most of the topics Gillen covered there are now covered in his newsletter. This is another one I’m subscribed to, and I’d encourage you to subscribe as well. The monthly emails include a slightly random smattering of thoughts and links, all of which are good. I also buy some Gillen comics monthly, which provide extra insight via their excellent letters pages. Between that and his tumblr, there’s a lot of Gillen to go around.
3. Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man, Powers, Daredevil, Avengers)
Bendis wrote an entire book about process, and you should read it. Words for Pictures is just seven chapters and 224 pages long, but it goes in-depth on scripting (with lots of actual examples), frequently asked questions, the business side of writing comics, and (maybe most importantly) why to even think about writing comics in the first place. Bendis is a die-hard advocate for just putting words on the goshdarn page, and Words for Pictures shows you how to do that while also providing great motivation. It also contains insights from a veritable who’s-who of artists, writers, and editors.
Bendis also has a tumblr that goes by the same title as his book, which is all about process. A couple of my favorites here include this recent behind-the-scenes on a splash page from Defenders and this brief bit about laying down tracks. Bendis also pulls together thoughts, essays, and pictures from some of his own favorite creators, which is how I found this delightful MIT lecture from Neil Gaiman. I’d encourage you to take a cruise through the tumblr’s archives and see what else you can find.
2. Jim Zub (Skullkickers, Thunderbolts, Uncanny Avengers, Wayward)
I have to confess: I’ve not yet read a full Jim Zub comic. But that’s going to change this December, due entirely to the excellent writing about process Zub’s been doing on his website.
Zub covers nearly everything you’d want to know, including things other creators don’t talk about as much, like how to prepare for conventions or how the economics of an Image book work (or at least how they work for Zub). There’s a lot of the more standard stuff in there too, like how to pitch a book, but it’s the niche stuff that makes Zub’s tutorials stand out, as well as his genial, friendly tone. Zub is a teacher at his day job, and it shows in his essays. They’re clear, concise, and personable. Beware if you click any of the links above, because you’ll find yourself reading nearly every essay on Zub’s website. You won’t be able to help yourself.
You can find all of Zub’s tutorials on the sidebar of his website or at his tumblr, where he answers questions people have about getting into the business and comics-writing in general (as well as other stuff, obviously).
1. Mark Waid (Fantastic Four, The Flash, Daredevil, Avengers, Countless Others)
Mark Waid gets the top nod because he’s been talking process the longest. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Waid talk about making comics at multiple conventions, and if you ever get the chance, you should too. No one has more knowledge, shoots straighter, and is more willing to answer questions about the industry than Mark Waid. Thankfully, he’s put some of his thoughts down online as well.
Over at the now-sadly-defunct MarkWaid.com, you can find a whole bunch of writing resources. The best ones fall into Waid’s Writing 101 category, though there are bits of process to be found throughout the site’s many essays. There’s an exceptional amount of information about digital comics, if that’s your jam, because most of these essays went up as Thrillbent was getting off the ground. This lecture from 2013, for example, has a bunch to say about comics layout and pacing and how it all gets a lot more flexible when you start working in digital.
Waid also talks process in a number of interviews (including here and here), and usually has something unique to say based on whatever new project he’s working on. Waid might not be the most prolific process presence currently, but what he does have to say is incredibly worthwhile.
So that’s the list. I know I’ve likely missed a lot of great writers who talk process, and I’ll also be the first to point out my list is very mainstream, very male, and very white (which I think is part me and part industry). If you know of other writers who are great at talking process, please, please, please leave a comment with that writer’s name and where to find them. It’d be great to expand this list, as I (and others, I’m sure) are always looking for more info about how making comics works.
Be back in two weeks, when we sculpt something new.