Friday, August 1, 2014

So You Want to Write a Graphic Novel? Great!

It seems like every conference has at least one workshop on writing a graphic novel. I bet you’ve even tinkered with the idea yourself, right? Of course, how to write one is the follow up question that causes problems.

Been there. Done that. Slipped in the gutters.

That’s a graphic novel joke (not a good one), because gutters are the spaces between the panels in sequential art, and…


Okay, bad terrible jokes aside, the idea of writing a comic or graphic novel appeals to a lot of us. Heck, my own writing journey started after taking a “creative vacation” that included a week-long class on writing comics taught by Peter David. Yes, the Peter David of the Eisner award winning run on The Incredible Hulk (all the fan boys just perked up…).

That week awakened my interest in writing. Not specifically writing comics, but as they say, “write what you know.” And so, like many an aspiring writer, I started buying craft books (we should have a support group), and mine included more than a few on comics and sequential art. At VCFA, I spent much of my time researching words and pictures as storytelling tools, and in this past May I presented a talk at NESCBWI on that topic. All of which is to say, I may not be the world’s biggest expert, but I have some bona fides in my corner, and a short list of craft books you might find helpful when approaching your graphic novel. Ready?

Before I start that list, I want to make one more point (or maybe my first point, I’m tired and need more coffee). It helps to become familiar with the medium you’re writing for. Makes sense, right? So do yourself a favor and read the best ones out there. Here's some links to help ferret them out:

Kids Comics Awards 2014
Kirkus Graphic Novels & Comic Books Reviews
School Library Journal Graphic Novel Reviews

Bookmark those for future reference, because here come the craft books.

Craft Books for Graphic Novelists

A very nice overview of the comic writing process that looks at everything from story structure to word balloon placement to script format.

A real nuts-and-bolts approach to every aspect of independently producing and self-publishing your graphic novel. If you're a motivated, self-starter this book will be a valuable road map for you to follow.

Scott McCloud's follow-up to Understanding Comics is even better, in my opinion, for the writer of comics. I love his books on comics, and can lose hours at a time re-reading and unpacking everything McCloud puts into them. This book will raise your writing game, no matter what format you're writing.

Speaking of format, that's very often the first question new graphic novel writers ask. This collection of actual comic scripts from Brian Michael Bendis is invaluable for granting access into one writer's specific way of doing it. Better still, with a little digging in your local comic shop or in trade paperback collections, you can find the published comics and see how the illustrator translated the script into a completed comic. 

More Bendis, and with good reason. He's been one of Marvel's top writers for well over a decade, and he brings a Whedonesque approach to his work. Epic conflicts, fueled as much by small character moments as cataclysm, are a hallmark of his writing, and that always works for me. In this brand new book, Bendis not only discusses his approach to writing, but also interviews other top creatives in the field, including illustrators, and editors. It's a terrific guide to the craft and the business.


My list of craft books tends to lean heavily into the superhero genre, but that doesn't mean they are the be-all and end-all of graphic novels, not by a long shot. What it means is that I think anyone looking to write graphic novels can learn how it's done from the industry professionals that have driven the format's popularity. 

Learn the format, then tell your story with it. 

Up, up, and away!


  1. If never thought of writing a graphic novel, but I certainly need a support group for buying craft books!

    Thanks for all the information: invaluable!

  2. I have a few friends who have written hybrid novel/graphic novels (Andrew Smith, Shaun Hutchinson, forex), but none of them are MG, and none of them (yet) are purely graphic novel. I would love to see a MG one.

  3. My boys LOVE graphic novels. I would love to see more of them for MG!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!