WRITING COMICS: Letting Go of the Words

Writers…oh, how we love our words. The problem is that in comics it isn’t just about the words, it is also about the pictures. As a writer, sometimes I forget that the words aren’t as important as they seemed when I wrote them.

When I got the gig writing PLANET OF THE APES: URSUS, it was literally a childhood dream come true. I put my heart and soul into writing the best comic I could possibly write…and I feel that URSUS is one of the best things I’ve ever written. But when the art started coming in, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach – I may have written too much. Then the first round of lettering came in, and I could see it with my own eyes – there were too many words on the page. What had looked good on a page with no images didn’t look so good when it was joined with pretty pictures. And it wasn’t just a matter of text covering art, there were points in the story where dialog wasn’t needed because the art was telling the story.

I cut approximately 25% of the text from the first issue of POTA: URSUS – most of it was narration. In some cases the narration was changed or moved to another spot, but the vast majority was simply cut. It didn’t make the story better. In fact, once the art had been created, some of my text became over-written, boring, and just plain not-that-good. I also chose to cut bits and pieces of dialog, because I felt that the art by Chris Mooneyham was telling the story, and it didn’t need words to drive home what was being said.

Here are some examples of the changes made to POTA: URSUS. On this page you can see where I cut a bunch of the narration. In one instance I changed some of the narration, in another I moved some from another page, but I also cut a bunch. The stuff that was cut simply wasn’t needed.

And on the page below we have an example of both cutting text and moving text. Again, I wrote too much, and it just wasn’t needed.

This last example is a minor change, yet it is significant. The moment I saw the art, I knew that the final panel didn’t need dialog. Everything that needed to be said was coming through perfectly in the art.

The job of a comic book writer is to write the best story they possibly can. Part of that job is learning to not be too attached to the words you’ve written – sometimes there’s too many, and sometimes they aren’t needed. Always be in service to the story, not to your affection for the precious words.

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