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More Than Storyboards: Comics & Film #4 - Collaboration - The Smartest Person in the Room Isn't You

By Tyler Weaver

We’ve already talked about writing; from the nine elements of comics storytelling to finding the gutter to adding a comic to Gladiator. Now it’s time to talk about an integral–scratch that: the integral–element in comics creation: collaboration and the roles that make comics comics.

When you embark on any creative collaboration, you should seek to NOT be the smartest person in the room. The best collaborations are all about the end product, and making it the best it can be. Along the way, each person in the collaborative effort should learn something new, from technical issues to scripting issues to pacing to dealing with other people. Everyone teaches everyone else on the road to something awesome.


What are the roles in the collaborative effort that is comics creation?

Writer – Unless I’m missing something here, that’s you. Going forward, all discussion will center around you being the writer. If not, that opens up a whole can of worms about the transmedia story bible (which I’ll get into in a future post). So for now, get scribbling.

Artist – Transforms the words found in your script, a communicative document, into art. Within this role are three separate, though intertwined disciplines: penciling (draws the images), inking (inks the pencils, bringing them to bold life), and coloring (adds the color).

Letterer – Marries word with image. This is the most misunderstood role in comics. Lettering isn’t just adding words; it is its own art form, separate from but integral to penciling, inking and coloring. Can be done by hand or by computer.

Editor – Assures continuity between books, for content and grammar. In the indie world, this can take the form of your circle of readers, though let me give one bit of advice here: a comics script (or a screenplay, but especially a comics script) doesn’t paint the whole picture (literally) as it is meant to be a communicative document in the creative process between writer and artist. So, if you’re going to go that route, at least provide a few sketches or make sure your reader is used to comics scripting.

Quick note: I’m all for DIY. So if you have talent in any of these areas, go for it. But, let’s be honest: if you do everything yourself, you lose an opportunity to learn from people smarter than you.

And now, a few tips for collaborating (that can be applied to any creative endeavor).

1.) Let your collaborators do their job.

Don’t over-direct the artist in your script. If it makes you feel better, you have a problem that no amount of collaboration will help. The art of collaboration is about making your initial idea better than you ever dreamt.

This might be a good place to talk about full script vs. The Marvel Method. In a full script, (a template is provided at my book’s website, ComicStoryworld), you lay out the story, panel by panel. You can fill descriptions with anything you want; author Alison Gaylin (Into the Dark, Reality Ends Here), used movie references in her collaboration with author Megan Abbott (Dare Me, The End of Everything). Use whatever you need to get your vision across without stepping on the storytelling toes of your collaborator.

The Marvel Method is a different animal. Born in the dawn of the “Marvel Age” of comics (the sixties), it gives the artist a huge amount of control. At the time of its creation, Marvel was a small company, with Stan Lee acting not only as the main writer, but also editor. During this period, Marvel was cranking out titles left and right (and changing the course of comics history (and Hollywood revenues fifty years down the road) at the same time–Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, X-Men anyone?).

In the Marvel Method, Lee (or another writer, though usually Lee) would jot down a quick synopsis of each issue: beginning, middle and end. He would then hand that off to the artist of that book. Once the artist was done, adding their own pacing, etc., “written” in the visual language of comics, Lee would add captions and dialog. When your art team consists of legends like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett and Wally Wood, this method is brilliant.

The point of the Marvel Method is that it is the ultimate form of trust in your collaborator. I advocate a nice middle ground. Bottom line: if it gets your vision across to the artist in a clear, coherent and ego-free manner, roll with it.

2.) Be open.

Good ideas come from anywhere. If you’re working with the best and your skills complement one another, ideas are going to flow. Remember what I’ve said about collaboration (paraphrasing Kurosawa) since article one: if it comes out as you planned, be disappointed. The point of collaboration is to make something better than the initial concept.

3.) Be excited.

This is the biggest one. Craft something that you’re proud of and that people will want to work on. Excitement is infectious; it carries a project through from concept to completion. Hit the right buttons, make your work irresistible. Be excited to be making a comic! Do you have any clue how cool that is?

Collaboration can be a tricky beast but if you work with great people and let them do their job, are open to their input and are excited by the prospect of your work, you’re on your way to a successful collaboration.

You’ve got a team together, you’ve got an idea on paper that is an irresistible transmedia deepening and the art is coming through email. You’re excited! Now, what do you do with it once it’s done? Tune in next time as we look at self-publishing and digital comics.

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