You would have to be living in a cave with no access to any electronic or print media to not know or be aware of the profound impact of comicbooks on main-stream, pop culture entertainment. Over the years since their inception, comics have gone from a disposable form of kiddie entertainment, to become the tsunami-like, all engulfing, moving force behind some of the biggest money-making blockbusters we currently experience; from film to TV to videogames, to Broadway, and beyond. There is hardly any form of pop culture entertainment that hasn’t — in some fashion or other — been touched by comicbooks.
Having said all that, understanding that one of founding fathers and architects of the modern-day comics Stan “The Man” Lee who, along with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, John Romita, Sr., Gene Colan, and others laid the foundation to the Marvel Universe, and kick-started the Silver Age of Comics, revitalizing a moribund industry that had been hamstrung by the onerous oversight of the Comics Code Authority. Since his turn first as editor-in-chief at Marvel and then as publisher, Stan has been the P.T. Barnum of the industry constantly practicing his own brand of comicbook evangelism to anyone who will listen.
Well, with Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics (Watson-Guptill, $24.99 softcover), the second volume in Dynamite Entertainments’ comicbook “How To” series (the first being Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics), he has the opportunity to do just that. In this book, Stan (aided and abetted by contributing writer, veteran comicbook author Bob Greenberger), not only shares his vast . and nearly limitless knowledge of writing for comics, but also taps other comicbook writers for their tips and understandings of comics. These other luminaries include Brian Michael Bendis, Roy Thomas, Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Marv Wolfman, Andy Schmidt, and others.
The book starts off as something of a history and reference book as it briefly explores the rather humble beginnings of the industry, and then launches into some of the basic tools and materials necessary to gain entry into the field. Unlike artists, who really need very specific tools to practice their craft, writers really only need a pen or pencil and some paper. Sure, sure, having a wicked-fast computer, some truly high-end script-writing software to format you material, and all, but as Stan and several other writers indicate, those things just make your writing easier, they don’t make you a better writer.
A good deal of time throughout the book is spent on conceiving, developing, and shaping ideas; working them into interesting and salable concepts, because as these pros all point out, you can have the best idea ever, but if you don‘t work it, polish it, re-write it, edit it (re-write it again) and then deliver it in a clear, easy-to-read fashion to an editor, it will simply be just an idea in your head. One of the things Stan (and others in the book) stress; is that neatness counts. A hand-written, typo-filled, misspelled pitch delivered to an editor is simply wasting both of your times, as it will simply never be read.
Stan, through stories, anecdotes, and interviews with other creators covers such topics as storytelling, formats, subplots, continuity, character creation, and more. He discusses the differences between writing full script and plot-art-dialogue (or “Marvel” style). How to prepare your script, the art of developing and inserting subplots, action, dialogue (and even the placement of word balloons and how color and lettering can enhance or detract from your story. He talks about developing a process and schedule for your writing (is the morning best? Are you an night owl and write long into the night?) Whatever works best for you, keep doing it, as soon it will become second nature and the writing will come easier. Further, have a designated spot to write is also key, as well as building a library of reference and/or source material.
Stan even spend a chapter discussing what editors want to see in a script and/or presentation, talking to editors and getting the info directly from them on the types of things they are looking for as well as the things that make them crazy and will get your work rejected (apparently they really like it when you actually meet their deadlines). There is even a section on professionalism — (how to approach and talk to editors & other professionals at conventions, and through emails). There’s even a recommended reading list and index at the end of the book to help you further your quest to improve your writing skills.
We have learned that Dynamite is having such great success with this series that there will be a third volume (due out in the Summer of 2013 entitled Stan Lee’s how to create Comicbook Superheroes. Personally, we can hardly wait.