By ‘artist collaborations’ I don’t mean where the artist simply draws a writer’s story, including some details and designs of their own, but is essentially following the script. I’m talking about where the artist is keen to be involved in the storytelling process and adds significantly to the story with his own ideas and potentially changes its direction and tone. With the right team-up it can be a very positive thing.
From the day John Wagner – the writer-creator of Judge Dredd – and I worked together on Romeo at D.C. Thomson, Dundee, I knew we were kindred spirits. We shared the same cynical and satirical sense of humour. Thus we used to wander the corridors of D. C. Thomson wearing green visors, on which was emblazoned in white Letraset the word ‘Hack’.
Working with a collaborator – ‘creative jamming’ – can kick start your muse. It certainly did mine. I thoroughly recommend it as a way of getting started, particularly if your solo career is faltering. Nearly every comic and magazine John and I submitted stories to accepted them straight away. These included Lover magazine, Cor!!, Tammy and Battle Picture Library. I went freelance first, working out of a garden shed, with John joining me in evenings and at the weekend. Soon we were so overloaded with work, John went freelance, too, and joined me in the shed.
I’ve heard successful authors talk about how they struggled through numerous drafts over several years before they were happy with their final book. I would submit this was because they weren’t totally in touch with their muse and therefore not following her directions.
I’ve noticed that many writers deny they’re motivated by anything other than just the desire to make money. In British comics (certainly pre-2000AD), speed-writing was the norm and you were seen as a freak if you took time and care over your storytelling. Payment rates were deliberately kept low by publishers, to encourage writers to knock out stories as fast as possible.
Theme is everything in a story. It’s what drives the character and the plot. If the theme of Judge Dredd changed and he suddenly veered off in an entirely new direction, there would be uproar from fans. Yes, he can change location: space; the world of the Dark Judges; the moon – but he has to remain true to the theme of grim, monosyllabic, future justice. Sláine is pagan, but if he suddenly became ‘New Agey’, my readers would hate it.
In the late 1970s, there must have been some twenty or more adventure comics for boys and girls. But some of them were so over the top and so bad they were inadvertently very funny, even though they were written dead straight. For example, Bunty ran a story called Pogo Stick Patsy about a girl in World War Two. She is living in German occupied Poland with her rocket scientist father. He hides the plans for a secret formula in her pogo stick and she has to pogo her way across Nazi Europe to France. There, a British light plane is waiting to pick her up. But as the plane takes off, a wing support strut breaks off, and it looks like the aircraft will crash. But plucky Patsy leans out of the cockpit and uses her pogo stick to replace it and save the day.
The finale is ‘fed’ by the theme of the story, played out over three acts. One side winning, then the other, until, by the end of the third act, the situation seems to have completely spiralled out of control so we’re on the edge of our seats, desperate to see the final outcome. Then comes the twist, which profoundly illuminates the theme.
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A one or two page step breakdown requires no effort for a script editor to read and they can see at a glance where the problems lie and how valid the finale is – even though it may have taken you weeks to work it all out in comprehensive detail and then boil it down to almost nothing!
I’ve just come back from a fantastic time as a guest at the Gibunco Gibraltar Literary Festival. The Rock really is something else. I was there to talk about my first two novels in the Read Em And Weep thriller series: Serial Killer and Goodnight, John-Boy, which are all about the world of comics. T
The inciting incident is the key to storytelling. It should take place as early as possible in the story, that’s certainly what film script editors prefer, and – in dramas at least, it should take the protagonist and the reader to a dark and powerful place. Here are some good inciting incidents – and one weak one.
In comics, characters often don’t make any kind of emotional journey and that is their strength and their weakness. We like the reassuring cosiness of characters who never change, who are the same year after year, and often don’t seem to have any kind of private life. We don’t want them to get religion, make good or bad financial investments, marry, leave their job, or fall out with good friends. All the things we do ourselves in real-life.