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B&N Week 106: Storytime–Medium & Commerciality

| January 1, 2013

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It’s Tuesday, it’s a new year, and we’ve got the first installment of Bolts & Nuts upon us! This is the way to start the year, folks, let me tell you!

New year, new beginnings, so we come around again to the very beginning. We’re going to talk about storytelling. However, since this is a comics writing column, I’m only going to stay within that. I’m not going to venture outside to a broader storytelling sense, even though it’s all basically the same.

This week, we’re going to talk about two things when it comes to story: medium and commerciality.

When you’re constructing your story, the first thing you have to decide is if your story is right for the medium. Some stories just aren’t, no matter how hard you rail against it. Let’s take a trip back into time. Remember when a hot movie was coming out? You had novelizations of the movie [and you still do], but you also had comic versions of the movie come out.

They never sold well. That’s why you don’t see them anymore.

Comics is a visual medium. Never forget that. The Bridges of Madison County won’t make for a good comic, simply for this fact. I’m not saying that a good romance comic can’t be made, but one with the slow pace and buildup it needs won’t be the greatest fit.

Think of the medium in which you plan to tell your story. Think of the world you’re going to build. Novels can build a world with as many words as necessary to do the job. Comics have a different thrust: that world has to be built with pictures. While words can just describe, pictures can also express. This means you get into the storytelling action with the very first panel, no matter what that panel is of.

Your medium is of words and pictures. Never forget that.

Put great thought and care into your story. Make sure it is right for the medium. Not every story is.

I used to be of the thought that comics that were nothing more than a film proposal on paper was a bad idea. I’ve since changed my stance on that. Just because the comic is born to give life to a story in another medium doesn’t mean that it’s a bad idea. Just understand that, if you’re being true to yourself, it isn’t going to be a true translation. You have to know what does and doesn’t work for the medium in which you’re telling your story.

I’m talking about commerciality.

Yes, you can literally make your story about anything. Literally. Cannibal lemurs in the wilds of space, fighting off alien hordes of bearded frogs by doing an interpretive ballet of the Declaration of Independence? Go for it. But will it be commercially viable? More than likely not.

I don’t care what story you want to tell, making a comic is too hard, frustrating, and expensive. The investment in time, money, and effort is too great not to get a return on it. Getting a return on it means that you’re compensated adequately for it. It will be up to you to decide what type of compensation you require and how much you deem to be adequate.

(Huh?) It isn’t all about money. While money is a great thing and it will help further the goal of continuing what it is you’re doing, but compensation can come in other forms, too. It can be in reader gratitude; if you’re doing a strip on the web, it can be in hits; it can be in peer recognition; it can be in winning awards. Compensation isn’t just money, although it is the motivator that most of us want.

Commercial viability means that a good number of people are buying your book. You’re at least breaking even, if not moreso.

It’s a light one this week. Next week, we’ll talk more about story, getting into construction and translation.

See you in seven.

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About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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