Process Junkie: Scripting Part 1
Here's where we talk about the phases of scripting...and you get a first time ever treat. Mmmm. Intriguing!
Something I get asked about a lot, and it makes sense as it’s literally one of the only skills I possess, is to see my samples of my scripts.
But there’s a lot of cool stuff to learn in and around this topic, so rather than lumping it all in one too-long post (too late), I’m going to do a series of them. This first post will attempt to break down the actual comics scripting process for you a little bit and includes a link to a full script of mine. Future posts will include a sort of post-mortem on a full script - breaking it down piece by piece; a comparison between a script and the final comic; and even a post that includes a bunch of different (short) samples from other great writers in comics so you can see what creator X does compared to creator Y.
Something to keep in mind before we dive in is that every writer, every editor, and every publisher varies a little bit. So every experience can be a bit different, but what I’m giving you here are pretty good guidelines and encompass my experiences across a wide range of comics publishers - Marvel, IDW, Dark Horse, Archie, Boom, and Dynamite in the last 10 years. I’ll also say that this post is not specifically about how *I* do a thing or advice about how to do these things, but more a step by step guide to how Scripting works in comics - what you can expect. It’s info I would have loved to know when I was first trying to break in.
For your reading pleasure - and for the first time ever on offer! - a full script of mine - BLACK WIDOW #3 can be downloaded AT THIS LINK. The password is: NATALIE
STAGES OF A SCRIPT
Since there are a lot of different kinds of comic scripts, and I’d say primarily two different methods these days - “Full Script” or “Marvel Style” - it’s important to note for the purposes of this post that I’m talking about “Full Scripts.” I have never written more than a few pages at a time “Marvel Style” so I’m no great expert to talk about writing in that style, but I AM an expert at “Full Script” so that’s what we’ll be focused on here.
The other thing to note here is that I say SCRIPT. There are very important stages before you actually get to this point - like brainstorming, outlining, and even pitching. But those are all their own things, separate from writing your draft (and I’ve got some fun future posts planned for those too - especially the brainstorming post, that’s a favorite of mine).
But once you’re to the point that you’re actually scripting, as a good rule of thumb you’ll have these basic stages for your script:
DRAFT 1 - your first draft of the script that you submit to your editor(s).
DRAFT 2 - your second draft based on your editor(s) notes.
Obviously you may need more drafts than this, and sometimes if you are very very lucky, you maybe only need 1 draft! Yay! How many drafts you do really depends on a ton of factors however including everything from you and the project to all the other parts of the team involved in creating the word.
For fun: the fewest number of drafts I’ve done on one script is 1. The largest number of drafts I’ve done on one script was 9 for POWER RANGERS: PINK #1. Gah. But that was a co-write and so it was more like 4 or 5 drafts for me and 4 or 5 drafts for Brenden Fletcher. I’m pretty sure the largest number of drafts I’ve done on one script that had a sole writer was 4. A quick look at my files tells me that both HAWKEYE #4 and WEST COAST AVENGERS #4 got four drafts each as did DEADPOOL #1 and CAPTAIN MARVEL #1.
And I don’t know what that tells you other than…BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS ARE HARD. #Truth.
Oop - CAPTAIN MARVEL #2 had FIVE drafts. That might be our winner!
I guess all of that is to illustrate that this comics writing thing can be weirdly hard and even though you will absolutely get better at it (most of my scripts these days only need a second draft at most) there can always be exceptions - and those extra drafts can be for a lot of reasons - some of which have nothing to do with you.
It’s also important to remember that while only having to do one draft feels like a homerun, a huge part of the beauty of comics is the collaboration of it all. So while it’s fun to hit that homerun and show off how great YOU are with a “perfect” first draft. There’s nothing wrong with getting great feedback from smart people and making something that’s different - and maybe even better than your homerun attempt - on a second pass.
Uh. This went slightly off the rails somewhere after I introduced baseball for analogy purposes, I apologize.
Anyway, so here you are, you’ve turned in Draft 2 of your script and everyone is happy and the artist is now working on the script. How much you are involved in THIS part of the process again really depends on a lot of factors. Some writers like to step back and not be involved again until it’s time for another script pass, others want engagement at every step. I prefer to be involved - especially to review layouts - not because I WANT to make changes - but because if we do NEED any, I’d rather alert the artist when things are loose and easy to fix, instead of later when it will be a nightmare for everyone - most especially the artist. So I typically give notes on layouts - but I keep them as minimal as possible.
This ISN’T a chance to micromanage your artist - this is a chance to see what they’re bringing to the table, embrace it and lean into it, and only give them notes if there are legitimate errors or things you fear they might have missed in the script (or perhaps things you were not clear enough about in your script. Gasp!)
If you have some suggestions for things to consider, this might be the place to do that too, but you should definitely sort of feel that out on a case by case basis — how open your artist is to that kind of collaboration. Every artist and every writer-artist relationship is a bit different and feeling that out and being sensitive to it is important and gives you a much better shot at developing a great working relationship with a talented artist - and the latter is worth its weight in gold. Truly one of the most rewarding experiences as a writer in comics is in building those strong writer-artist relationships. It won’t always work out, but when it does it’s almost magical and so so fun.
LETTERING PASS - After the art has been finished (and maybe colors too if you’re lucky). Your editor sends you a PDF of the finished art (no lettering or sound effects unless they were drawn in directly by the artist) and asks you to do a LETTERING PASS on your script.
This means you’re matching the script up with the art and making any changes you want to see before it goes to the letterer. This typically includes both content changes you want and any mistakes you need to correct.
But it ALSO includes simply practical stuff - for example: you notice that there’s no room in panel 3 as drawn for the multiple balloons you wanted there — the letterer will absolutely not be able to fit it all. So you solve this by maybe editing or trimming your content, or perhaps you realize some of the balloons can work in the panels before or after the one in question that is too small/tight/crowded.
This pass also typically includes tweaking the script so it better matches the art.
I know that sounds weird, but think of it like this…initially your script was the rule of law for the book, but now that there’s final art, THAT’S the rule of law and your script is now just a map of how to get to the final level. And making the gap between the final art and your script as small as possible is the best thing you can do for your letterer. Give them the most updated and correct map you can.
A simple example of what I’m talking about would be if your script asked for 4 panels on page 1, but the artist ended up doing 5 panels - you now go into your LETTERING PASS and change page 1 to reflect that it is now 5 panels instead of 4.
And that COULD, but does not always, create a cascade of new changes - did adding a panel change where you want to put the balloons? Or make it necessary to add or delete balloons, etc.?
I think the best way to explain this is really just in looking at an example of a scene. Below I posted three jpgs of page 7 from Black Widow #3 (for clarity this is the first page from a multiple page scene).
The first image is the Second Draft of the script.
The second image is the Final Page as published.
And the third image is the Lettering Pass of the script.
I picked this page not because it’s a favorite, but because it’s a complicated scene where we were trying to get a lot of information down over just a few pages. Artist Elena Casagrande did an incredible job with the scene - making it better than it had any right to be - but part of her efforts to make it better also changed it. So I came in after she did her great work, and made mine fit to hers so it would read as seamlessly as possible, while still getting across the important information we needed.
The red formatting you see is because I write in Word (a lot of writers do, but plenty also use different and often fancier programs) and when doing re-drafts I typically turn on “track changes” so editors (and myself) can see what has been changed from previous drafts. So a first draft typically has little to no red, a second draft likely has some red, and a lettering pass probably has the most red.
That all sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, yeah, sometimes it is (like above). I deliberately picked a scene that needed a lot of reworking so this is an extreme example - but many pages will have no need for any changes at all. Sometimes it’s TONS of changes and sometimes it’s just a few minor tweaks and corrections. Each project is different, each team is different, each book is different. It’s an adventure!
And here’s something interesting. Not everyone even does a lettering pass.
Yup. Not every writer/editor/publisher finds it necessary. But even then it’s not universal and is based on a lot of factors. For example though most of my Marvel issues have lettering passes, they haven’t ALL had them, and when I was doing JEM & THE HOLOGRAMS at IDW it was running so smoothly at one point that we stopped doing them for awhile as they felt redundant.
Personally, I always say it’s a good idea if for no other reason than to make things easier on your letterer.
So that’s really your last SCRIPT pass, but there is one more important step for you as the writer, even though it doesn’t create a new draft, and that’s…
THE PROOFING PASS - this is when your editor sends you a fully lettered PDF, that typically also includes both pdf and handwritten notes from editors and proofreaders. There are a variety of ways to address these notes — some writers note changes in an email to their editors, others mark up the PDF directly with notes. I do the latter as I find it both easier for me to do and easier for me to keep track of the thread of changes, without bouncing between documents/platforms - feels like it’s harder for things to get missed.
Whichever way you approach this pass, this is your LAST CHANCE* to make corrections and get it right. This is NOT, however, a chance to re-write the whole damn thing (everyone will murder you, just for starters). But it IS a chance to make the little tweaks and adjustments that every comic needs.
*Sometimes you’ll get a couple shots at this - if it’s a particularly complicated issue or there are a lot of last minute changes/issues/problems. But usually you only get one shot. Make it count.
So now you’re done. Hopefully long before you got to this point you turned in your next script and are well on your way to doing it all over again.
That’s it until next time! Unless you guys hated this, in which case, this will be the last one! Yay!
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Thanks for reading. Be good and kind whenever possible and wash your hands again! Can’t hurt!