Making Comics: From Script to Page

It’s no surprise to anyone that I have some aspirations to create comics. Like many other writers, I know I don’t draw well enough to bring my stories to life on my own, so I had to find an artist to work with. If you’ve ever tried to do that, you know it is among the most difficult things on earth, like being selected for spaceflight, scaling K2, or getting through an episode of Heroes without rolling your eyes. Your methods may vary, but the best way I’ve found to hook up with artists is to start a website and spend about a decade toiling in obscurity before stumbling into doing one of the more popular comic book podcasts on the web, and gaining some small amount of notoriety. You could probably just post at Digital Webbing too, but you do what works for you. Anyway, eventually, I hooked up with a couple of guys who were willing to work for free (a key point), in addition to being really, really talented, which was a necessary trait for a snob like me.

For one such project, I did something you probably shouldn’t do. As you know, certain characters are the copyrighted property of certain publishers, and you can’t really do anything with them for your own purposes. You can write and draw the greatest Batman story ever made, but the chances of DC publishing it are Jack and Shit. Still, I wanted to try an exercise where I attempted to write some of these established characters, since I’d never had the chance. I had been corresponding with an artist in Toronto, Kalle Malloy (pronounced like kale, the vegetable), and we’d been talking about doing a little something. Originally I wanted to do a short Hawkeye story, maybe going back to his early days, fighting thugs on the street. But after turning it over in my head, and not getting anywhere, another story started to form, where we take Captain America and Bucky back to World War II. I started jotting down some notes and then script pages were sent back to Kalle. Before too long I started getting drawings back.  t was exhilarating to see images, and we were just clicking. He was loving what I was writing, and I was loving what he was drawing. It seems like this is exactly what it’s supposed to be like.

In the interest of sharing, and to help other folks along the way, I thought it would be cool to show some of the steps in the process, and show you how I do it. So here are just a couple pages and how they came to be.

The following page was born from the following notes, which are mostly dialog:

 

Page 2

When we first got over in Europe, no one really the best way to deploy costumed guys.

You see a lot of newsreels of guys in bright colors charging in, hands and heads held high, but the truth is, a lot of those guys got killed.

Steve might have gone the same way, if not for Charlie Logue.

 

I had the main ideas in my head about what would happen, but I wrote these notes as a guide to the words that would guide me through the page. Then I took it to script mode. For the record, I work in Final Draft, a screenwriting program that I sort of re-purposed for comic scripts. Here’s what that page became after writing it in full script form.

 


 


I was a little concerned that I wasn’t giving enough information, with the heroes and the setting, but I thought I’d test it and not overwhelm him with notes that weren’t necessarily needed. Since you’re really just writing the script for the artist, you can talk directly to him, and as it’s a fluid process, you can always add in more detail if he needs it. But I’ve learned that, with capable artists, less is often more. Obviously, I don’t subscribe to the Alan Moore school of thought. But the thing is, if I don’t want to write all that, I’m pretty sure the artist isn’t going to want to read it all, and if he doesn’t want to read it all, he’s not going to want to draw it. To me, you want to collaborate with an artist, more than dictate. But then Alan Moore is Alan Moore, and I’ve never had a thing published, so it’s possible I’m way off.

From here, I got back some rough pencils, which were exciting enough. Very shortly after that, I got back the tightened up pencils, and that was the moment when I knew he got what I had in mind, which can be very chancy. You can see the results for yourself. I love this page.

 



Please note that the lettering is just serving as a temp, so he knows where to place things. From what I understand, this is among the greatest traits an artist can have, especially when you’re like me: wordy.

As you’ll see, the pencils were fairly tight, and accomplished most of the work already. The things that really stand out to me, that I didn’t write in the script was the strong use of foreground and background, which is just nice composition. I also like the fact that the second panel flows from left to right, as they move forward, and the third panel reverses direction, sending them back. Note how just a few lines completely indicate that we’re looking at German soldiers firing on the heroes. It’s elegant.

From here, I got a page back that was fully inked, and while the pencils were superb, the inks bring it all together, and the finished product is really one of beauty. It’s exactly what I had in mind. It’s better than what I had in mind. I never really started to think about whether this would be colored, but clearly, it doesn’t need to be.

 


And there you have it. Obviously, there is more to be done. The letters have to be redone a bit, changed from italics, and I might do a bit of a polish on the words at this point. In other projects, I find that I take a lot out at this point, because the artist put in things that negated the need for the words in the first place. Then there’s color to be done, if that’s what you want. From there, all you need to do is get someone to pay you to do it for real.

Just for fun, I thought I’d include one more page. It’s a sequence that has no dialog either, which is odd, since I love writing dialog. But I love the pacing of this page, and think it actually works as a mini story all on its own.

 



This point of this page was to try to create some silent tension. A lot of readers will whip through pages like this without actually experiencing what the artists had in mind, since there are no words. I would encourage you to always take your time when you get to a page with lots of panels and no words. There’s probably something going on there.

Next are the rough pencils, just laying out the page, and the shapes and how it will work.

 



Finally, I have the finished pencils, which are soon to be inked over. This a fairly successful page, but I begin to wonder if I put in too many panels in the beginning and if it works as intended. If this were a film, you’d put in some silents and then nature noises to amp up the tension, but here you only have emptiness and the courier’s cold breath to create that sense of something bad about to happen. The last three panels work perfectly I think, and of course, that Bucky is a badass of the highest order.

 


 

The whole thing should be done relatively soon, and from there, I’ll find some way to share it. It’s been a successful project so far, and we’re definitely going to work on something more in the future, though it will probably be something that will actually be able to be published. But, if I ever get the chance to take Steve Rogers and James Buchanan Barnes back to Europe in 1944, I’ll be right there, because it’s an enormous thrill to write those stories.

I want to thank Kalle for this opportunity to make comics. It’s been a real pleasure meeting and working with you. I also want to give a nod to Brandon, with whom I’ve been working on another project I’ll be able to share soon.

 

Comments

  1. Amazing Josh …Amazing!  Keep it up!

  2. This is AWESOME…I’d buy it…which I believe is the highest compliment I can give.  I’d spend my hard earned $ on this story and art.

     

    Right now I’d rate it a 4 on story and a 4 on art.

     

    Nice job man. 

  3. This comic is too "inside" for me. The obscure references to decades old continuity is ruining this. I’m sick of these BS events!

    1 for story 2 for art.

  4. Josh that was a AWESOME post. I can’t wait to read this story.

  5. Wow Josh. This is amazing! Kudos to you and Kalle.

  6. Impressive!

    So, once you get published, are you allowed to make your own book the pick of the week? 

  7. I love getting insight like this.  Thanks Josh, and good luck!!  I’ll support whatever you put out, thats fo’ sho’

    I took art in high school, and any time I have a pen in my hand I can’t help but doodle.  It sucks, I think of wanting to get more serious about my artwork and then I get the idea in my head that I am too old to start.  Granted 25 isn’t too old at all, but it just feels like I am stuck in my line of work and trying to do something else is just such a far stretch.  Still, its been looming over my head to just stop wanting to draw and to just DRAW!   Thanks for giving me a kick in the butt

  8. When is this coming ou!t? I will push this title all over the country so people will buy it!

  9. I always spend more tim on "silent" sequences myself. And I prefer when comics do not have sound effects or minimal ones like this. I find it more poignant.

  10. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I’ve been waiting for this post for a while now.  So cool to finally see your work on display, Josh.  This is awesome work, and I hope you have some real success with the finished books.  Congratulations! 

  11. congratulations Josh it looks awesome!  The art is great.  Are you all going to self publish at first?  

  12. Thanks for the kind words folks.  This one here is just a spec job really.  It isn’t going to be published.  It’s practice, more or less.  I’m going to be doing some original stories in the near future, that I’ll either try to get published, or self-publish.  Don’t worry.  You’ll hear about it. 

    And when this story is done, we’ll post it somewhere for you to read.

  13. Good work.  You have the ability to overcome great fear.

  14. not bad. i also love the third panel in the second page, especially when inked. The invasion panel is interesting, not what you usually see in d-day comics and such.

  15. oops,meant to say third panel on the first page

  16. THAT WAS AWESOM! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE! Tell me that we’ll get to see this story in its entirety one day!

  17. Impressive, young Flanagan.

    And I think I can see what you see in Kalle. Fantastic stuff.

     

  18. thanks for sharing josh. how exciting. have you looked into self publishing this on lulu.com or somewhere similar? decent quality for the right price, on a per-demand basis.

  19. As I said, it’s a spec piece, using characters I don’t own, so I can’t publish this.

  20. So is this fan-fic then hehe?

    Good job to everyone involved!

  21. In later pages, it becomes slash/fic.  It’s gross.  The artist almost walked.

    😉

  22. Well done.  I still find the process amazing, though the only other script I really took the time to read and then compare to its finished pages was the Killing Joke.  I remember hearing you talk about writing a script earlier and (please don’t take offense to this) thought to myself maybe I could write a script.  I guess you could call it inspiration.  I was thinking of how to write a Rocketeer like character in the 50’s, at the dawn of the jet engine, with our hero trying to cope with everybody being able to fly as fast as him, but his redemption coming by way of his courage (a la GL) solving some sort of murder mystery (of course he would have to be framed for this murder).  Thoughts?

  23. Awesome post Josh! Can’t wait to see more

  24. >In later pages, it becomes slash/fic.  It’s gross.  The artist almost walked.

    Oh, bullet holes and throatcutting are FINE, but a couple of men can’t love each other?  I see how it is! (joke :P)

    Seriously, though, great work!  It’s cool to see this concept turn into reality, and you and Kalle seem truly in synch with each other.  Those pages really sing — congrats, and I’m looking forward to what you have coming next.

  25. He’s also working on a Yellow Lantern story too.  It’s autobiographical.

    It’s just a matter of time before we see you in print, Josh.  I’m looking forward to that day. 

  26. I sent you an email at contact@ regarding lettering. Check your inbox 🙂

  27. Thanks everyone for the support. I’m trying to get it done, but my day job  keeps getting in the way. Thanks again.

  28. One thing that bothered me to no end ….erase that cheesy smile off of "star-man" in the second panel—it’s WAR right?

  29. @Jesse – The smile is kind of the point.  Over-confidence + no training = death

  30. Conor’s got it right.  Note the grim face of the infantry soldier.  You can bet your ass that guy lived through the day.

  31. "Over-confidence + no training = death"

    I’m totally using this equation!

  32. Great post Josh. How long did it take in time from when you sent your script to when you saw the pencils?

  33. My demons often outweigh my ambition. I think about writing a script for a while before something whispers to me, "C’mon. What could that possibly amount to?"

    Then I see something like what we have here. This is extremely inspirational.

    It looks like the key is not penciling it myself? Is that it?

  34. This is completely and utterly unimportant… but view this as training for the kind of nitpicks that every comic writer faces online! 😉

    but the Krauts wouldn’t have positioned themselves at the hill’s highest point as they’re portrayed here. If so, their machine guns would be essentially cut off from positions close to the base of the rise. Rommel (who commanded at Normandy on D-Day) and the Nazi engineers who constructed the atlantic wall were certainly well versed in Clausewitz (natch, since he was Prussian too) and in his "On War" he adds to the military lexicon the "Military Crest" which is rougly 3/4 up any rise and essentially eliminates any dead spaces in any arcs of fire. The concept originally applied to cannons, but is just as applicable to MG42’s.

    And yeah, that Bucky page kicks all kinds of ass.

    Also, props to Kalle, his art style is very similar to Scott Chantler’s except… better, and I hope that the two of you stay together on your rise to fame.

  35. @SixGun – That’s really fascinating.  I tried really hard to make this as authentic as I could, within reason.  It would be apparent in some of my other pages.  But at the same time, i avoided too much detail, because there’s simply too much you can get wrong.  You just do your best.  But thanks for that info.  For some reason, I think that’ll come in handy some day.

    @mdean206 – I don’t really remember.  We’re not on a deadline.  I had roughs within a few days, and right now Kalle is skipping around a bit with the pages he’s finishing.  I still haven’t delivered the last couple pages of script.  The whole thing wil be like 12-14 pages I think.

  36. If I can ask josh, what comic publisher do you wanna go for if/when you get stuff out? The big guns like Marvel, DC, or even Image might be a bit high…But I could totally see you at IDW or Avatar.

  37. Thanks for this Josh. Lovely.

    @SixGun I’m never playing Risk/Halo/anything remotely war related  with you unless I can ride your coattails to victory. Very Impressive

  38. @Josh, I was really just joking around (however all that I said was true), there’s really no reason that your book should have that much detail in it when 99.9% of people don’t care.

    But hey, I’m glad to help.

  39. What do you mean "too high"?  My first choice for getting original content published would be Image or Oni.  IDW does a lot of horror and licensed property, and I don’t consider my work to fit in that stuff as well, but hey, if they wanted to, fine.  Again Avatar tends to publish stuff from Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis, and then a bunch of stuff I don’t tend to read.  It’s about finding the people who have an ethos like yours.  I love Top Shelf, but I’m not sure my style works with them either. 

    There are others as well.  it’s all part of the plan, and one of my weakenesses, that I’ll have to shore up and learn about other publishers.

  40. Don’t forget about Dark horse.

  41. I’m signing Josh to my own vanity label "Guy With a Stapler Ltd."  I just need to stock up on ink cartridges.  

    Seriously though, I think Josh would be a good fit at Image.   

     

  42. Awesome post, Six.

    I’m betting that having Joe Casey on speed dial will pay dividends one day.  Josh, do you have any industry pros reading over your scripts and giving you suggestions?

    My dream Josh project:  Wildcats 4.0 with Sean Phillips.

  43. First Second Press?

     

  44. I think the fastest way to break into comics is to become friends with Ed Brubaker.  Eventually you will become co-writer on something.

  45. @ultimatehoratio  Don’t come at Bru with a Bucky story.  I heard he gets possessive.  He’ll cut you.

  46. Ooh, I did forget Dark Horse.  The company who sticks with Fear Agent is a company I like.I don’t tend to think of them as a company where you bring original projects.

    First Second is original graphic novels, but they do people who are established, not new creators for the most part.

    It’s funny, I know lots of pros, but I’m not really friends with many.  I also don’t know exactly how to leverage that or if I should.  Eventually I will start to pull in favors, because as I have noted before, this business is really all about networking (my least effective skill). At the end of the day, other creators can only introduce your work to the publishers, so it’s really better to know publishers and editors.

  47. Fantastic stuff. I love to see things like this, showing the process.

    Your script is really good Josh. I think the art has something to it, giving it a real original style, which is always good to see.

  48. I just ment that Marvel and DC wasnt obviously going to be your first choice…That’s what I ment.

    But now that you mentioned it, I totally see you as an Oni man.

  49. I love that first panel on the first page.

    I love it because it reminds me of the old World War Two film ‘The Longest Day’. The classic bit is when the allied ships come across the horizon to Normandy on D-Day, with Nazi troops looking on in horror. Beethovens fifth symphony starts to play suddenly in the background.

    The shot in which it shows you this epic shot, is exactly like that first panel! It’s awesome!

  50. That’s awesome!

  51. this looks fucking awesome. you have no idea

  52. This looks shaq-fu’in brillaint.Keep up the good work, Josh!

  53. Great Stuff Josh ..I hope the potential pubslishers realize that you will be bringing the ifanbase as buyers with you wherever you are published!

  54. Great Work Josh…This is the biggest and most hard step to take… Begin and Show… Can´t wait to see it finished.

  55. Very Cool. 

  56. the late guy as usual. But yeah, I’m impressed, needless to say. And inspired to find an adequate artist who enjoys my writing.