Monday, July 7, 2014

On Writing

Some time ago now I wrote up some words on how I felt about claiming to be a "writer", in an age when it may never have been easier to do so, whilst paradoxically perhaps increasingly hard to make a living at it, at least relatively speaking. The sort version of it was whilst I certain write, I'm light on objective validation of any sort of quality, and most of my "published" work is reviews and magazine articles, as opposed to the fiction that I want to write and so far have only accumulated some polite rejections. However, you keep plugging away, if only stop the ideas overwhelming you. The thing I've never thought to try my hand at was comics, but after a conversation on Dissecting Worlds one evening I got an idea that I couldn't shake. And as of this week, you can actually go out and buy it.

I've read a lot of comics over the years but never really felt moved to write one until I saw an open submission a couple of years back that suited a short story I couldn't make work. I dusted it off, reworked it a bit and fired off a script, which to my surprise and horror was accepted. Now, at time of writing it doesn't look like that project is actually going anywhere, sadly, but it sort of popped the dam a little, and I was keen to try it again. When talking about 2000AD on an episode of Dissecting Worlds, the question came up "what do Citi-Def (MC1's cannon-fodder) actually do all day?" and the idea for "Life on the Block" was born.

I've found writing comics a totally different discipline to writing prose. I'm not a hugely structured writer, as a rule - its one of my failings, I think - but for the comics scripts I've done I've always started from a skeletal framework of pages, then panel notes, and built up from there. Reading around, there doesn't seem to be a correct way to do it; indeed the variety of advice can be quite daunting. And this is simply how to lay it out, never mind what to put in it, but in the end I just settled for a couple of lines of description and then any dialogue for each panel, on the assumption that an artist knows what they're doing and probably doesn't need to be patronized by a rookie writer.

Working with an artist is probably the biggest mental shift for a writer of prose, because it involves ceding a big chunk of your authorial control. For me it was a strange, but hugely positive experience as the guy I was working with - Simon Petersen - chopped up the panel arrangements and layouts (and therefore the pacing of the story) in ways I just hadn't thought off. I quickly realised I'd been thinking of the panel layouts in a very rigid manner, all grid layouts, and of course it's totally unnecessary if the story demands otherwise.  The nature of it as a collaborative process was eye-opening, and if I'm honest, not at all what I was expecting.

And now it's out in Zarjaz 21, for people - people I don't even know! - to buy. There may be reviews, and everyone may hate it, but it's something I've written that is properly out in the world and I'm proud of that. So on with the next one, I guess.