Gary Phillips is a crime mystery novelist. But that would be too limiting to express the variety of your endeavors or your interests. In this Books of Soul newsletter article, Gary discusses comic book and graphic novel writing.

Let me tell you that writing for comics is harder than it sounds. It is and is not like writing a prose story or a novel. A lot of people think it’s just these crazy panels with word balloons and captions that get in the way of cool art, right? To some extent, that is true. Because I’m not kidding myself, comics are a visual medium, but a good script can suffer from mediocre or inappropriate art. However, it’s the art that makes the script come to life, so unless you’re among the talented few who write and draw your own stuff like Frank Miller or Jim Starling, then as a scribe you’d better keep it tight. on the artist page to have something to work with, something to get excited about.

The union between writer and artist is key. Take, for example, the dark and moody art of RM Guéra in the police comic series Scalped, created and written by Jason Aaron. Can you imagine that cat drawing a Flash or Batman story? Well, you can picture it in a certain kind of Batman story, but you see where I’m going with this. On the contrary, it does not seem in this day and age, given that everyone and their mom are blogging and sites like and others where comics are criticized, you can get away with a cheesy script and cool art. Fans are too sophisticated and stubborn to go for the okey-doke.

In a standard comic book script, the writer describes, economically and clearly, what happens on that panel. You don’t over-write or cram with too much information, and you also keep in mind that your job is to tell stories, keep the flow and rhythm, as well as lure the reader like Paris Hilton to a camera. For example: large panel, medium shot when Matt Murdock walks into the courtroom, elegant in a three-piece suit, removes dark glasses and gazes blindly at the jury, a mix of various races and outfits. Behind him at the defense table, Foggy Nelson wipes his forehead, with his client, Mr. Hyde handcuffed and subdued, sitting next to him. Near Foggy, the window explodes inward, the glass flutters everywhere. Matt’s dialogue will be cut off because there is a boom from the exploding window.

The rewrite would be, keeping in mind the axiom that a panel is frozen action, Largish panel, medium shot while Matt Murdock, sharp in a three-piece suit, stands before the seated jury, his dark glasses in one hand as he watches. staring at the jury. jury: a mixture of various body types and races, with their eyes blind. Foggy is behind him at the defense table, wiping his sweaty forehead, sitting next to a handcuffed and subdued Mr. Hyde. Matt begins his final arguments.

The second panel, pushed in like Foggy, still with a handkerchief on his forehead, now faces the window near him that is exploding inward, glass going everywhere. Mr. Hyde raises his arms to protect himself from the flying glass. Matt’s dialogue will be cut off because there is a boom from the exploding window.

The general idea here is that the comic book script is all about sequencing, what follows what and when do I need to better isolate an event and when is it better to move the story forward, to jump forward?

For more on this, I recommend Will Eisner’s comics and sequential art and his graphic storytelling and visual narrative, Dennis O’Neil’s DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, and the print versions of Charles Fuller’s work, A Soldier’s Story and David Mamet’s House. from Games and Glengarry Glen Ross – What can I say? I am very fond of dialogue. And while you can’t go crazy with dialogue in a comic, you want your characters to say the right words at the right time. As you do so, read a couple of Walter Mosley books, as well as Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer books, for their graceful use of dialogue to reveal, and not reveal, characters.

The stories of Gary Crime and mystery novelist Gary Phillips have appeared, most recently, in Los Angeles Noir (Akashic) and Full House (GP Putnam’s Sons). He is a member of PEN and a former member of the national board of Mystery Writers of America. Phillips previously wrote the Angeltown comic series for Vertigo, as well as Shot Callerz and Midnight Mover for Oni Press, but is best known for a series of mystery novels starring private detective Ivan Monk. He is also currently writing Citizen Kang, a weekly prose political thriller hosted on The Nation’s website. High Rollers, a new four-issue comic book series detailing the rise of a Los Angeles gangster, debuted in June 2008 at Boom Studios. Visit their website,, to read more of his work.

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