Why You Do That Thing That You Do?

” Why write for comics? ”

That’s a question that I’ve not only been asked by others, but asked of myself — most recently when I decided to finally get my act together and take a serious run at Writing Career 2.0.

I think the first, knee-jerk emotional response is: ” Well, I’ve always loved ’em.  ”  It’s hard to debate that logic, of wanting to step up on to the stage from the audience and try to create something that gives the people in the cheap seats the same sort of thrill or charge you yourself got when in their position.

And factor in that this particular fandom started while I was very young — pretty much since I was old enough to read — and it should come as no big surprise that this is what I wanted to do when I grew up.  There’s powerful magic in those associations you form early in life that can be near-impossible to shake.  The writing was on that particular wall very early on, and it was plastered all over it in cheap, garish, four-color newsprint.

I do consider myself lucky enough to have actually had some success at it, even if it was a minor one in the grand scheme of things.  I can handily beat myself up over walking away from what I wanted to do and wasting so much time that could’ve been put to better use that I sometimes forget that not everyone gets to say, wistfully as a child, “this is what I want to do” and then actually DO it in some capacity.

The world at large might be ignorant of my meager accomplishments, but in the end, there are people out there who have the comics I wrote sacked carefully away in their longboxes, alongside X-Men, Sandman, Hellboy, The Walking Dead, and all the thousands of others.  (Well, okay, it’s probably more like my DoorMan comics are sandwiched between Doomsday +1 and Doorway to Nightmare because, let’s face it, that’s how the OCD makes us store them, in alphabetical order.)

Inexplicably organized, compulsive behavior aside, I was able to put my markings on the cave wall for future generations to find.  Just tiny scratches so far, but that’s more than other people have managed, despite having great desire and the accompanying talent to do so.

The more complex answer to “why write comics”, the one that comes along after you’ve done it and the novelty of the jump from fan to pro has worn off a bit, is that comics are a very creatively fulfilling medium to work in.  It’s a hybrid form of expression that can leverage the strengths of both visual storytelling and narrative prose to create something that is far more than the sum of its parts.

I can SHOW and TELL you a story, simultaneously.  It’s like broadcasting telepathy in stereo, and there’s nothing else quite like it.  Either words OR pictures, moving or static, are a valid way to get across a narrative.  But only comics allow you to take that series of still images and whatever emotional connection the audience may naturally make with that sequence, and then add a new layer on top of that by inserting words in caption boxes that frame those pictures in a completely different context.  Suddenly, for example, the innate innocence associated that young, carefree girl picking flowers in an idyllic rural setting can become something far more sinister because the words in the caption boxes are telling a story that runs counter to what you think, upon first glance, you’re seeing.

The words and pictures, taken separately, only show one facet, one thread, but when you combine them together in lockstep and the end result is a finely woven tapestry of story . . . then you have the power of comics.

And then there’s the usual boons, of the medium allowing you to tap into the same visual power as a film or a television show, but with a blank check for a budget.  It doesn’t cost any more to show a planet dying, consumed in a supernova, than it does to show two lovers hand-in-hand crossing an eerie, deserted city street.  Your cast will never grow too old for the part, never need to be written out of your epic unexpectedly because the ‘actor’ portraying them is tired of the role.  You get to borrow and utilize gear from multiple toolboxes — you’re not just the novelist or the author, you’re the screenwriter and ultimately the director and producer, as well.  You have every trick from several books to bring to bear and breathe live into your creative vision, and not be held back because you’re only dealing with one type of narrative, one way to tell your story.  It can be daunting at times to balance the words and the pictures and not let one overpower or undercut the other, but it’s also exciting to have that power at your fingertips.

That’s all well and good, and makes for a reasonable line of logic of why I want to make a living at writing comics, but the absolute truth, I discovered, can be boiled down to a single word:


The reason I love working in comics so much is that I love to collaborate.  I can’t really draw, beyond a very rudimentary level of competence.  I can put together a character design if I do the homework and find photographic reference to — pun intended — draw from, but that’s as far as my talent in that arena goes.

And I’m fine with that, because it allows me to work with at least one other person to make a comic.  I love bouncing ideas off of someone, throwing them the ball and having them toss it back with some unique spin that I wouldn’t have immediately thought of, if ever.  That synergy of the back-and-forth discussions and brainstorming?  To me, that’s just as fulfilling as seeing the final work in print, and getting the fan letter that strokes your ego and tells you how great and brilliant you are.

It’s not that I don’t have enough faith in my ability or talent to go it alone — like so many other things, it’s an experience that’s just more fun with friends.  And you’ve got a better chance of making something that will go the distance and be built to last when you’re able to draw from more than your own personal wellspring of experiences and ideas.  Bonus: if you get out of your own headspace for just a little bit, you might learn a thing or two.

Collaboration isn’t a process that I think works easily for everyone — you have to be able to put ego in check and not be too precious about your ideas or words.  There’s all sorts of pitfalls to creative partnerships, as well, as anyone who’s been in one that came apart at the seams can attest to, and it does place a very specific roadblock into seeing something realized: you can only take the ball so far down the field on your own.

But when it works, does it EVER.  Finding that collaborator and having the project come together and exceed your expectations because you were willing to open up and be part of a unit — everyone involved might have their extremely capable individual muse, but when you hook up and work together, you’re making the creative equivalent of, well:

And that’s why I love working in comics.  The medium itself is so amazing, unique, and versatile that you can spend a lifetime and just barely scratch the surface of the possibilities, but more often than not, you get to do so as a really awesome robot lion than can transform into an even more wicked giant robot with a sword the size of a 747 part of a creative TEAM.

— mal


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