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TGON Reads: Comics Experience Guide to Writing Comics

Comics Experience Guide to Writing Comics both serves as an excellent guide to writing fiction in general and the differences that set graphic narratives apart from more traditional media.

Quick shout out to NetGalley, for providing me with an ebook ARC of this book! Veteran comic book editor Andy Schmidt leads an intro to comics class in his new book, Comics Experience Guide to Writing Comics, affiliated with the writing resource website Comics Experience. Of all the books I would classify as “the book-of-the-website” most seem to be comics, and most seem to superfluous (except Hyperbole and a Half. I liked that better as a book), but this one, however, found me highlighting and bookmarking the Kindle edition on my phone. Comics Experience Guide to Writing Comics both serves as an excellent guide to writing fiction in general and the differences that set graphic narratives apart from more traditional media.

So what is Comics Experience? I read somewhere that being a famous cartoonist means being famous to a very small number of people. I apologize for my naivete on the subject to all the veterans reading this who know a lot more than me about Andy Schmidt and co. When I stumbled upon Comics Experience, I assumed it would have a few cheap DVDs for sale. I should be more optimistic. It doesn’t sell DVDs; it sells classes, like if Dave Ramsey had an MFA. But there’s free stuff, too. They offer classes on everything from character development to marketing at a rate that competes, at least, with my state university’s asking price per class. However, the most valuable part of the site has to be The Script Archive, which offers samples from Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughn, Neil Gaiman, among others.    

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Angelic choir (burst): FREEEE! Photo source: Aaron Heil

To those who can decipher a comic book script, the Archive has excellent examples to keep in mind when writing, and the Guide helps readers make sense of them. The Guide explains nearly everything. Schmidt thoroughly describes the anatomy of comic book pages and the jargon associated with it such “splash” or “the bleed.” He describes how comic book scripts have to direct and inspire artists in a delicate balance between prose novel and near-total dialogue filled movie format. Schmidt frequently references movies and even books when describing the storytelling process because he knows that nearly everyone in the English-speaking world can grasp Star Wars. Schmidt offers some of the best arguments I’ve ever read for outlining – and this is coming from a writer who outlines nearly everything. He lists the pros and cons of a meticulous story structure and provides clear examples of characters who act on the plot rather than reacting, and why the graphic medium values them so much.

While informative, The Guide suffers from a little too much enthusiasm sometimes. I’m sure the sidebars look lovely in textbook form, but it leaves digital readers thoroughly confused. Furthermore, some of them could easily be their own chapters. The information probably could best fit in an appendix after the main text. Readers looking to break into the comic book world will leave wishing for a little more detail on some of the comics publishers that Schmidt lists, but hey, he’s not writing a directory here.

Schmidt provides a solid place to begin a comics project or sharpen other literary pursuits. He relates awesome tips on storytelling and character development in terms that his readers universally understand. As for comic book lingo, I basically couldn’t look at my copy of Batman: Dark Victory the same way after reading this book. “That’s a splash panel,” I’d think. Or,  “Ooh, this is a grid page.” or “Man, they don’t even have to write hostile dialogue to show when Gordon’s angry.” Nerdy writers and comic book neophytes should definitely spring for the print version of this resource when it comes out on June 17.

Check out Comics Experience for that sweet Script Archive and more free stuff!

Four stars out of five.

Page count: 176 pages

Favorite Quote: “The paradox of exposition is this: No reader wants it, even though he needs it.”

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Photo source: NetGalley.com, where I also got an ARC of this book.
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