After over a decade of journalism, I thought I did it all. Super Bowl coverage, presidential elections, Saturday Night Live, Sundance, Tribeca, Comic-Con. Nope. Writing a book was a marathon compared to writing daily content for newspapers, sites and blogs.
However, being able to plan each chapter and tackle sections in the same speedy, but efficient way made a huge difference and made the long, arduous process of writing a book far easier than if I wasn’t a classically trained journalist with three degrees in the field of study.
However, nearly five years after first embarking on my book career, I got an opportunity to embrace another passion, comic book writing. This style of writing is even more different than daily content creation and the writing of a book. If anything else, it’s more similar to the pacing of a TV series.
For me, each comic issue I write is broken up into the successful completion of three objectives.
Maintaining the Feel of the Series: If it’s a noir, like my book Condrey, it’s got to have some darkness, some blood, some grit. That’s why my readers are there. Even if an issue isn’t a bloodbath, it’s got to delve into something deep and give the audience what they came for.
Introduce Something That Can Be Developed Later: Whether it’s an idea, a character, a thought. Something a reader can point to and say, “This will be important later.” Think of it like breadcrumbs. You always want the reader thinking they’re leading to something, even when they’re not.
Current Conflict: There’s always got to be some sort of main conflict in every issue. It can be psychological or physical, but there’s got to be a point to the issue. Whether it’s an escape from somewhere or a fight, something the reader can easily say, “This issue was about this.”
If your reader can automatically understand the genre of your book, get hooked by what’s currently going on and then, be enticed to keep reading, you’re in good shape. But there’s a lot more going on than just accomplishing this.
More on How Comics and Non-Fiction Journalism and Books are Different
This setup is completely different from the way I wrote my books. More a collection of interviews, The Minds Behind the Games is non-fiction and is guided by quotes of real people. In comics, you ARE those people. Make no mistake DIALOGUE is everything. And unlike Journalism where you depend on your sources, in comics, you have to create the dialogue. YOU MUST BECOME YOUR CHARACTERS. That means you have to imagine yourself as them. You have to walk in their shoes.
To achieve any type of readability, you have to challenge yourself in ways you never have to do in non-fiction writing. In non-fiction, if the quotes aren’t sexy, you ask more questions and you provide more context in your writing to set things up better. Comics are so different. For Condrey #1, there’s a scene where Sarita is walking down the block herself, talking to her dead husband. That walk was inspired by tons of conversations I’ve had with my mother after her passing. You’ve got to leave a little of yourself on the page. You’ve got to show your reader your own scars. Otherwise, it’s generic and bland.
And then there’s the art.
If the art doesn’t captivate, the story is going to suffer.
For that reason, I don’t give a panel-by-panel description to my artists. I actually write the story in prose, let them create and then I go back in and put speech and narration bubbles in to fill in the gaps. This gives the artist a ton of freedom and I can see what parts of the story resonated most with them. After that, I can key in and focus on maintaining the feel I want and capturing the best parts of my story.
It also makes the artist feel like they have some ownership of the story helps solidify our relationship so everyone grows together.
To me, that’s what makes my comics special and what makes them different from my books.
About the Author:
Patrick Hickey Jr. is a full-time Lecturer of English and Assistant Director of the Journalism program at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY and is the Chairman of the City University of New York Journalism Discipline Council. Away from academia, Hickey is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of ReviewFix.com. He’s also a former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media and National Video Games Writer at Examiner.com and had his work mentioned in National Ad campaigns by Disney, Nintendo and EA Sports. He is the author of The Minds Behind the Games book series from McFarland and Company and the comic book series, Condrey.