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From Scripts to Comic Pages

Comics can be one of the trickiest mediums to write for. It's like watching a movie while also looking at a single image of artwork. You gotta tell the story in a very limited amount of space.
Where do you even start? Or, maybe you have, but you constantly have to stop and ask questions, like:
  • Where do I split these actions into panels?
  • How do I plan for what happens in those panels?
  • How many panels should I cram onto a page?
By that point, you probably want to rip your hair out! Believe it or not, it's all really about getting your mind into a flow that makes writing more natural for visual storytelling.
That's where thumbnails come in. Thumbnails are simple sketches or doodles of the way your page is going to be laid out. It's more or less like storyboards for a comic.
One benefit of writing for comics is that it's still a very loose storytelling process. From what I can tell, there's not really a standard scriptwriting method out there (at least not like how it is with movies or TV shows). Which means, it's really up to you (or sometimes, your client)!
You can also decide what you'll use to write, whether simply typing it up on a Word Processor or using script software like Celtx, WriterDuet, and Fade In. I personally went ahead and forked over the dough for Final Draft. (Scriptwriting tools make it a lot easier for me since they automatically format the document the way I like it—more on that in a minute!)
Here are two writing methods that I do myself:
This might be a more commonly recognized way of doing it—I've seen similar scripts out there for some of the more successful published works. It's very concise, but it takes a lot more visual planning mentally.
The idea is to map out all the visuals on the page in wording:
As you can see, each panel is listed as if it were a separate scene or shot, including:
  • Page with number of panels on it.
  • Scene location, inside or outside, time of day.
  • Size/location of panel, as well as any special notes about it.
  • Description of moment as a still image.
  • Character dialogue.
  • Sound effects.
Then it's just a simple matter of laying out what you wrote into thumbnails:
Pretty simple, right?? Simple, but not necessarily easy. If the panels don't fit like you planned, then you're looking at reworking the page or even the script itself until it all fits together.
This is the method I personally prefer since I typically see my stories playing out like movies in my head. It's a looser version of the method comic writer/artist Doug TenNapel uses (if you can still find it on YouTube). The hard part is planning the size of your screenplay in accordance to the size of your book (something you'll just have to feel out and investigate through practice).
You start out by writing a movie or stageplay:
We've technically got all the info we need here:
  • Scene location, inside or outside, time of day.
  • Description of the scenario with key words and actions.
  • Character dialogue.
Now the only things missing are the panels. Here's how I break it down:
For the most part, you can see that actions in the script almost naturally work as panels in the comic. Once the page is divvied up, I can then start to think about how each panel will look as an individual image and where it'll fit on the page.
Now, I just need to translate that into thumbnails:
A little more to it than the prior method, but it allows me to write more freely, prioritizing the story and flow over imagery. Then, I can come back around to make it all fit on the page in a compelling way.
One last note: I typically trace a 3"x5" card for my thumbnail page as it's pretty close to comic book proportions.
And that's about all there is to it! I hope this was helpful. And remember, practice it all a few times until you get the hang of your writing style/length and figure out which method you prefer. It's basically a difference in whether you want the story to serve the artwork, or the art to accentuate the story.
If you'd like to see how the final pages came out after using the latter method, you can pick up a copy of my comic, Mad Rad Ninja! Chapter 1, on my storefront:

Best of luck to you, talk again soon!

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