Writing For Comics And Graphic Novels

Comic books and graphic novels have spawned a plethora of material adaptable to screenplays. Despite their similarities with screenplays, they have marked differences in story and writing conventions. The relative explosion of comic book creations is related to their low cost in relation to film and TV. Their distribution mechanism ranges from print to online media, making them widely accessible.

The beauty of comics and graphic novels is they don’t yet have a standardised format unlike screenplays. As long as the material in comics is visually appealing with a strong story, you can write what you like.

The strictest rule tends to be page length. Comics tend to be 24 pages long and graphic novels around 80-120 pages. There are several page sizes too. Similar to screenplays, comics must entice the reader to turn the page.

While screenwriters use a fixed set of plot points, story beats and turning points at specific page counts, comic and graphic novel writers tend to save major plot points for the end of each page.

There isn’t a standardised number of frames and panels required per page. Comics are primarily a visual medium, so are designed so the eye can scan them in a downward left to right cascading pattern.

There also isn’t a fixed type size in comics. The font tends to skew toward capitals, but there are numerous exceptions to this rule.

Although comics cover similar genres and story types, they aren’t bound by budgetary considerations in films and TV such as location, sets and CGI. It costs the same to draw a comic set in a living room as it does to one set in outer space.

Comics and graphic novels have more limited space than screenplays. Consequently, these writers must write considerably less dialogue and action.

Dialogue must fit inside speech bubbles. This often leads to a perceived reduced complexity in story compared with screenplays. There is less room for subtext or implied meaning. It’s a more direct, single layered form of communication so the characters often say what they’re doing or feeling.

The action and dialogue panes must match the visuals in comics and graphic novels even more than in a screenplay.

While screenwriters are also encouraged to write minimal dialogue to convey maximal meaning, comic and graphic book writers are encouraged to use no dialogue where they can.  Like directors, they must master the art of non verbal communication.

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