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MACHINE VISION 009: On Writing

A couple of years ago, I started writing something called ABOUT WRITING COMICS. You can guess what it was about.  Various things happened, as they do, and I never quite polished it up to my satisfaction.   Bendis is releasing a book about writing comics through a major publisher in the near future, so I'd feel a bit weird about finishing this now (Ariana and I intended to put it out as a little POD book, as the follow-up to SHIVERING SANDS).

But it occurred to me just now that there were a few things in the first appendix that might apply to writing and writers in a more general way, and might be worth sharing.  For "comics," just supplant "books," the advice works pretty much the same.,  So here they are.



An artist friend, Eliza Gauger, has a motto of sorts: you can work 9 to 5, or you can work 24/7 – choose.  Michael Moorcock once commented that the man hanging around in the bar at night telling people he's a writer is not a writer, because if he were a writer he'd be at home writing.  Ring Lardner says, in A Caddy's Diary, that “writ(e)ing is a nag.”  All of these things are true.

Unless you turn out to be a shining and ballistic genius, then, trust me, if you want to do this then you're going to be spending the next few years doing little else.  This is a thing you do at a table with a notebook and a keyboard, and there's no getting away from it.  Put in the hours.  You don't get to turn off “being a writer.” 

(Also, seriously, carry that notebook everywhere.  Doesn't have to be a flash Moleskine so you can entertain fantasies of being Hemingway or, I dunno, a famous woman who used Moleskines – seriously, why are the only famous artists cited as Moleskine users men?  Did Anais Nin or Sylvia Plath or, hell, Gertrude Stein not use them?  Anyway.  My point is that a cheap notebook and a pencil does the job just as well.  Because you are going to have idea while outside in the hellish world of humans and weather and things, and you will need to write them down because you will forget them.  You will.)


[2012 note: Stephen King says that if you forget an idea, then it can't have been any good.  He means he, not you.  You are not Stephen King.  Do not attempt to emulate Stephen King at home.]


You learn to write from reading books (and living your life).  Next, you learn how to write comics by pulling them apart and studying their innards to see how they work.  This is how you end up as a 24/7 comics writer and also a terrifying shut-in who will eventually go nuts in a very public way and conclude your career as a figure in a newspaper photo captioned FOREST CREATURE SUBDUED BY POLICE TASERS.  But I'm serious.  You are going to learn how to do this – learn your own way to manage the difference in pacing between eight pages and twenty-two pages and one hundred and twenty pages, learn how to achieve effects in timing and drama and emotional nuance, learn when to talk and when to shut up – by studying the best comics you can find, and tearing them apart and seeing how they do things and then stealing the tools you can use and adapting them into your own style.  You are going to want to read broadly.  Make yourself read things you wouldn't ordinarily look at.  If superheroes are your favourite, then make yourself read Carla Speed McNeil or Dan Clowes or Marjane Satrapi.  If you only read science fiction comics, then force yourself to look at Hugo Pratt and Eddie Campbell and Svetlana Chmakova.

Growing up, my favourite comics writer was Alan Moore.  But I learned just as much, if not more, from studying Eddie Campbell, Philippe Druillet, Bryan Talbot, Glenn Dakin, Will Eisner and a hundred other people. 

Read comics.  All comics.  And then cut them open to steal their power.


-- W