What A Comics Script Is For

From: Warren Ellis

This may seem obvious, but give me a minute. I think it’s often misunderstood.

A script is a set of instructions to the artist(s), letterer, editor, colourist if applicable, and designer if applicable. This set of instructions is intended to present the mechanics of your story with the greatest possible clarity. Adhering to a precise format, as in screenwriting, is not necessary. Presenting a script whose operation is clear to everybody is the requirement.

This set of instructions must surround your story to the extent that you feel necessary and comfortable. Some writers produce reams of panel description because they require fine control of the artist, letterer and colourist to meet their vision of the story. Some writers boil their description down to a telegram because they require only that the most basic requirements of the panel be met in order to achieve their goals.

Both methods, however, and everything in between, are about manipulation of the artist. That sounds grim, doesn’t it?

Even if you and the artist have previously agreed on content and scenes and set-pieces, clear and specific notation of the mechanics of the comic is down to you. You are telling the artist what to do. The trick is to get the artist to like it.

When you’re starting out, you may well find yourself writing “blind”: not knowing who the artist will be. This is why people like Alan Moore evolved that hyper-descriptive style — so he could get the end result he was looking for regardless of who was drawing it. You may prefer to do that. I would prefer that you took some art classes, and talk to some illustrators (this may involve sign language and grunting sounds).  Investigate art, even if your drawing hand, like mine, behaves more like a flipper. Understanding what is joyful about illustration is important. It’s important to create a thing that will delight an artist. (And even a letterer, although that’s going to be harder as many of them have the demeanour of a demented gravedigger.)

You are, in many ways, writing a love letter intended to woo the artist into giving their best possible work to the job. A bored or unengaged artist will show up on the page like a fibrous stool in the toilet bowl, and that’s not their fault — it’s yours.

(Unless the artist is crazy. Which they all are. But you take my point, yes?)

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