Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Arpy, Oct 22, 2008.

  1. Allyn Gibson

    Allyn Gibson Vice Admiral Admiral

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    There are some good sources for writers wanting to learn about the comics writing process.

    TwoMorrows publishes a quarterly (roughly) magazine entitled Write Now!, which features articles on the process, script samples matched to artwork, and the like. Best of Write Now! features a nice mix of articles from the first dozen issues or so.

    Peter David has written a book on comics scriptwriting. So has Denny O'Neil. And Avatar Press published an essay by Alan Moore on writing comics (though Moore approaches the problem from a theoretical, rather than a practical, perspective).
     
  2. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    ^^Yep, I've got the O'Neill book. Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is also valuable as an analysis of how comic-book storytelling (or more generally "sequential art") works.
     
  3. Andrew Harris

    Andrew Harris Writer Red Shirt

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    Christopher RE: #18--you're taking this much too personally.

    Ferd--

    Go back and read your message again--and you'll see that you're exactly making the point I had discussed: presuming that comics and prose writing are so similar as to simply require "fine tuning" between the two.

    I didn't want to parse Christopher's previous words too exactingly, since I think he was being more casual than precise when he said this, but comics aren't "stories told visually"; they're visual stories. And, before you think that difference is purely semantic, consider a story primarily of two people having a conversation. You can obviously depict that visually, but it won't be a "visual story".

    I once saw a great pitch for a story of Spock and Data having a 3-D chess match in their heads, simply calling out the moves to each other as they discussed the nature of life, death and sacrifice. (Data had contacted Spock by viewscreen after his cat Spot almost died saving one of her kittens, remembering what Spock had done at the end of TWOK.)

    A great idea, full of metaphor (chess sacrifice), foreshadowing (Data's sacrifice at the end of NEM) and the philosophical differences between a person interested in enhancing his logic and a machine interested in enhancing his humanity.

    The makings of an outstanding prose story, right? But as a comic...it was a couple of issues worth of two guys, playing chess.

    And not even real chess--imaginary chess.

    By viewscreen.

    I encouraged the writer to depict the story more visually--flashbacks, some sort of action interspersed with the conversation, whatever he wanted--but he felt that would be "blunt" and cheapen the narrative. C'est la vie.

    This is, of course, an atypical example, but comic book writing is rife with these kind of differences with prose on virtually every page and in almost every panel. Economy of dialogue, issue pacing, page cliffhangers, page-turn reveals, character blocking, panel-sequence techniques, miniseries vs. ongoing story arc construction, eye-movement composition, page-unit composition, text and visual transitions...the list goes on and on.

    Most prose writers who want to "dabble" in comics probably don't even know what half those things are--and most readers probably don't know either, because they're not supposed to. You want to give them economy of dialogue without them realizing that they're only getting 35 words per panel. You want to move their eye around the page without them realizing that they're being intentionally led. You want to have them look at the characters in a panel and not realize that they're positioned a certain way primarily to make sure that their word balloons don't criss-cross or land on top of someone's face. And so on.

    Can prose writers learn these different processes? Well, duh--sure, and many do all the time. But they learn them by, you know, learning them,
    which usually involves actually writing them. Not "dabbling", or thumbing through a published script and thinking that you've got it, or even reading an entire book on how to do it. You can read a book on how to drive, but it's not really going to teach you how to actually drive.

    Or, perhaps I can summarize it this way: If you were a book editor, and a comics writer came to you and said: "I don't have any pitches or samples, but I've read a book on how to write a novel, and years ago I dabbled for a couple of pages, they must be really similar, and I know that Peter David does both, so could you challenge me with an assignment?"--would you say "Yes"?

    Because, if you wouldn't, then that's exactly the kind of diminished perception of comic books that I'm talking about--since those are the traits that people here are saying would qualify a prose writer to work in comics.
     
  4. TheAlmanac

    TheAlmanac Writer Captain

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    Not to step on your particular example, but one good reason to reject such a pitch is that, IIRC, the idea of Spock and Data playing 3-D chess by calling out their moves has already been done in comics--by Peter David in The Modala Imperative.
     
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Okay, Drew, you've talked a lot about what's the wrong attitude for a novelist wanting to get into comics, so what's the right attitude, the right approach? There's limited value in knocking something down unless you have something better to offer in its place. How does a novelist who has a sincere respect for the comics medium and a sincere desire to participate in the field go about earning that opportunity?
     
  6. Andrew Harris

    Andrew Harris Writer Red Shirt

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    C'mon, Christopher, do you really need this explained to you? You do it the same way that you learned to write anything else: You read. You learn. You practice.

    You do writing exercises, draft sample pages, get them critiqued by your peers. Redraft, resubmit, practice.Take a class, join a writer's group, whatever works for you. And, oh yeah, did I mention practice? It makes perfect, gets you to Carnegie Hall, and lets you look good in front of the cheerleaders before the big game.

    When I'm dealing with a prose writer (or screenwriter, etc.) who's actually made the effort to learn the craft of comics writing, then I'm more than happy to take a look at what they've got--and, quite frankly, the effort that they put into learning the craft usually immediately shows in their work. It's almost always head-and-shoulders above the work from prose writers who have "dabbled", maybe written a couple of comics pages years and years ago, flipped through a couple of comics scripts and decided that their reputation qualifies them for comics writing, like the writer that I mentioned in my initial message here.

    The difference between the two is really that obvious; and, as I said, it's the difference between prose writers who take the prospect of comics work seriously and professionally, and those who simply see it as an extra closet in the basement of their talent.
     
  7. Andrew Harris

    Andrew Harris Writer Red Shirt

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    Yow! You're right! After 600+ TV episodes and countless books and comics, I had completely forgotten about that. No wonder I liked the idea so much.

    What's even weirder is that this pitch came from a fairly well-known, published professional writer. (No, don't try to guess; you'll get it wrong.)
     
  8. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I'm just trying to turn the conversation in a more constructive direction. You've spelled out one side of the issue, now let's talk about the other side. And yes, I would like to know. I'm not one of those alleged dilettantes you're going to such great lengths to condemn. I genuinely do want to get into comics, and that's why I'm asking.

    For instance, when you talk about drafting sample pages, what should they be? If someone's trying, specifically, to get into writing Trek comics, should they write sample pages of a Trek comic? Or should they be of some other extant comic, or an original creation? You also mention writers' groups; where does one find a writers' group for comics writing?
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2008
  9. KRAD

    KRAD Keith R.A. DeCandido Admiral

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    Out of curiosity, how many novels have you written? I ask that not to be a smartass, but legitimately, because I can't imagine that you'd believe that if you've ever written both.

    Speaking as someone writing both at the same time right now (Farscape, StarCraft, and Star Trek comics in addition to my prose work, which averages four novels per year), they're completely different in terms of story and story outline. For starters, the storytelling space in a comic book is much much much smaller than it is for a novel. Even the 160-page StarCraft manga I'm working on for TokyoPop has much less room to tell the story than a novel does. By the same token, the method of storytelling is also completely different because you don't have narration (or if you do, it's considerably less than it is in prose -- unless you're Don McGregor in the 1970s, anyhow... ;) ), and you do have visuals. Plus having artwork completely changes the way you construct and pace your story.

    There's a bit in Farscape #1 that's an amusing joke, an exchange between Crichton and Jothee, but the sequential artwork method of telling the joke makes it considerably funnier than it would've been had I done it in prose. For that matter, there's an exchange between two characters in #3 that would be boring talking heads in prose, but by doing it as a traditional nine-panel page (three rows of three identically sized panels) it becomes a more effective back and forth (especially since one character is constantly changing facial expression and the other stays the same the entire time). It's the words and the pictures that are telling the story together.

    In prose, you're completely on your own, and you've generally got more room in terms of word count.

    Yes, you're still telling a story, but the two methods are much much different.
     
  10. Ferd Burfel

    Ferd Burfel Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Will Eisner wrote a bunch of stuff about graphic storytelling and visual narrative as well. All are excellent books.
     
  11. Ferd Burfel

    Ferd Burfel Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    The most honest answer is nothing published. A very wise teacher once told me if we were all professional authors nothing would ever get done. Unfortunately for me all my work is my own. And I take no offense to that at all and can understand why you asked it. But I don't believe that makes me unqualified to comment on my experiences with the two. They may be different than yours or Mr. Harris' or Mr. Bennett's, but that doesn't mean that because they differ I'm wrong.

    I think (to no one's fault but my own) that I was pretty misunderstood with my original post. I will admit openly and loudly that the mediums are very, very different. Again, I am no professional so this is all from an amateur's perspective. But the work (however limited it's been) I've done has included both mediums. And it can very much be apples and oranges. Outlining/storyboarding (however one plans) a comic and a novel are incredibly different. When Mr. Harris pointed out the difference between visual storytelling and telling a story visually the semantics were not lost on me at all. I was merely saying that my experience (again limited) has shown me that framing a story is very similar with both. Laying it out so that it fits all the criteria can be a big challenge as well, but so can things like description and dialogue in a novel. I understand the difference but don't see it as extreme as Mr. Harris appears to. I will point out I am not saying Mr. Harris is wrong, but I don't believe I am either. All in all I never meant to step on anyone's toes or offend anyone, I was merely offering up my opinion. I enjoy all three of the men's work I am currently discussing this with, so you can imagine how surreal this is for me (getting conversationally backhanded by KRAD, Chris Bennett and Mr. Harris is crazy!). But I think after this I should just sit back and let you guys discuss it, professionally. Amateur hour is over.
     
  12. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    The use of narration, whether by an omniscient narrator or by a character in internal monologue, seems to be less common in comics that it used to be. Heck, back in the '30s and early '40s, pretty much every panel was described with a narrative caption even when it didn't need to be. And Stan Lee's comics were loaded with his distinctive, lively, fourth-wall-breaking narration, a style that Marvel (and to some extent DC) followed for decades.

    And is it my imagination, or are thought balloons becoming less common too?
     
  13. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I can't think of a current comic that I read that uses thought balloons. I'd assumed they'd died off decades ago.
     
  14. Chris McCarver

    Chris McCarver Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    You're not wrong, Christopher... thought balloons are almost completely gone as a storytelling device in modern-day comics. It has a lot to do with the current school of thought of making the art tell as much of the story as the words on the page. If it can't be told through dialogue, the current generation of comics writers will instead have the artist show what he intends to convey rather than spell it out for the reader.

    About the only time I've recently seen thought balloons used was in Brian Bendis' run on The Mighty Avengers, something of which much ballyhoo was made since he wasn't known for using them much or at all, even before it became the aesthetic choice du jour.
     
  15. KRAD

    KRAD Keith R.A. DeCandido Admiral

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    For the record, Ferd, I was trying to backhand you at all, and I'm sorry if I came across that way. I was merely saying that my experience differed wildly from yours. *shrug* Sorry if I came across snottier than intended....
     
  16. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    Looking over this thread, it seems to me that Christopher and Andrew Harris are talking past each other. Christopher was talking rather casually about his desire to get into comics, and Andrew seemed to take that as being a sort of superior attitude that prose writers have towards comics writing. Christopher tried explaining himself to Andrew, and Andrew then took the term "challenge" as referring to an incapability rather than a new goal to achieve. Christopher tried to ask about the kinds of attitudes that a prose author should have because of Andrew's seeming preoccupation with the lack of respect for the discipline of comics writing, and Andrew took it as Christopher asking something that should have been common sense.

    What we have here is a failure to communicate.
     
  17. Deano2099

    Deano2099 Commander Red Shirt

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    Well writing message board posts is an entirely different skill to writing prose and comics, as you're working in an entirely different medium. :vulcan:
     
  18. Dayton Ward

    Dayton Ward Word Pusher Rear Admiral

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  19. William Leisner

    William Leisner Scribbler Rear Admiral

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    Yes, I'm just slumming here. ;)
     
  20. Dayton Ward

    Dayton Ward Word Pusher Rear Admiral

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    ^ Saaaaaaaay. Nice avatar. :cool:
     

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