The Green Lantern. X-Men. The Incredible Hulk. Captain America. Movies based on comic book characters are all the rage these days. Whereas in the past it was not exactly “cool” to read comics (in fact, “Comic Book Guy” on The Simpsons made it hard to love your local comic book reader), these days comics are a part of the everyday pop culture.
Now you can try your hand at the popular trend of sequential art, the more accurate name for comic book writing. Online instructor Sean O’Reilly teaches Writing for Sequential Art: Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels (Online) this fall, and he recently sat with the Writers’ Program to talk shop.
Writers’ Program: Where do you see the world of comics going in the future?
Sean O’Reilly: The digital revolution is here and it will never go away. I think with DC’s major announcement of releasing the digital comic on the same day as the print comic there will be a number of people analyzing the impact of sales, the industry and retailers’ and readers’ trends. I don’t think there’s any danger of printed comics going away in the near future as I believe, especially for fans of a series, it feels great to own something you are a part of and love. Readers might consume weekly comics digitally, but I know I still want a graphic novel or prestige format book of something I love. Overall I think the floppy (32 page self-cover comic book) is becoming more of a marketing, and sampling, format for bigger graphic novels.
WP: What got you interested in writing comics?
SOR: The incredible imagination you can have while writing. It’s like directing and producing a movie without a budget and without a boundary. It’s fun to have heroes picking up trains, flying into space, aliens, gods, etc. and you can do so the same way one can make a slice-of-life comic book about a blanket. Overall I’ve enjoyed the process and think it’s one of the most creative forms of writing one can participate in.
WP: What liberties do you have in writing comics that you don’t have in writing traditional prose?
SOR: You can show a story. In prose it’s critical to describe details of settings, characters and even actions. With comics and graphic novels it’s a visual medium so one doesn’t have to describe every detail, it can be seen. Once a writer is working with an artist and they have good communication it’s similar to the relationship between a producer and a director. You won’t want to over-narrate the story and you don’t want to rely too much on all the visuals. It’s a delicate balance where the reader is able to pick up on the details from the tone, the color palette, the style of art, the number of panels on a page, the onomatopoeias and numerous other embedded visual cues.
WP: What can students expect from your course, Writing for Sequential Art: Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels (Online)?
SOR: A better understanding of this visual medium and a completed script. I’m a result-driven person and with the courses I’ve taken, I felt best when I come out with a tangible object. It’s great to learn about comics, learn about the industry, understand why this medium is so unique, but ultimately it’s important to dive into it. The process we go through from concept to comic is sequential and grows with the student as their knowledge of the medium grows. We have brought in guest-lecturers from the comic book industry, movie industry and even editors from major publishers.
WP: Tell me about your recent success.
SOR: I was on the team from Platinum Studios that set up Cowboys & Aliens, based on a graphic novel, and was lucky enough to go to the world wide premiere. It was fantastic and I was lucky enough to meet Jon Favreau and Harrison Ford. We were also in Variety recently for a project that is being developed into a feature film.
WP: How has the San Diego Comic Con, and the commercial success associated with it, changed comic writing?
SOR: It’s given writers and publishers another outlet for their business. I believe because comics and graphic novels are a visual medium, the process for making comics is similar to the process of film making. Writing prose about aliens, one must describe in detail what the alien looks like, while in comics the right image is worth a thousand words. I think the commercial success has had people put more detail and thought into their comics and it has overall created better books.
WP: What are some “must reads” for aspiring comic writers?
SOR: In the class I have always had students read Kingdom Come, Walking Dead and Clockwork Girl. I have chosen these three very different books because they show diversity in genres and art, and each one has had success.
Sean is teaching Writing for Sequential Art: Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels (Online) this fall, starting September 21. Enroll online or by calling (310) 825-9971.
Sara Bond is the Program Assistant for Creative Writing (Online) and Events.