Pipeline: Bendis' New Writing Book & SDCC's Scheduling

Tue, July 15th, 2014 at 2:58pm PDT | Updated: July 15th, 2014 at 3:13pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist
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BENDIS AND BUDDIES EXPLAINS THE INDUSTRY: THE BOOK

Brian Bendis' "Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels" is not a book on how to write comics. It's a book about how to become a comics writer. This is not Bendis' version of Robert McKee's "Story," breaking down story structure and character creation. It isn't even about formatting your script properly and using the right terminology in it. Yes, there are nods to those things, but the book is more like Bendis and His Friends telling you what to expect inside the industry. It's a little about how to break in, a lot about working well with others, and filled with insights into all aspects of how the comics industry runs.

The first 50 pages is Bendis, solo, talking about how he got into comics, how he broke into the industry, the lessons he's learned from friends and fellow professionals, and how a comic is put together. There's an on-going theme of teamwork throughout this section as well as the rest of the book of teamwork.

If you've followed Bendis for any length of time -- from his Tumblr to his Word Balloon podcast appearances -- you won't find much new here with the personal anecdotes. You've probably heard them before somewhere. For someone who doesn't follow Bendis on-line, though, it'll be a nice introduction to his worldview and experiences.

The text is illustrated profusely with art from various Bendis-penned comics, but also with examples of his scripts and proposals.

After that, Matt Fraction runs through how he writes "Hawkeye," and Bendis interviews Ed Brubaker. A section on working with artists makes up the next 60 pages of the book, featuring a Q&A with Walter Simonson, Klaus Janson, Chris Bachalo, Sara Pichelli, David Marquez, and nearly a dozen others. The questions are generic, with answers that range from predictable and repeated, to insightful with strong examples.

That's followed by a conversation with Alex Maleev and David Mack, specifically about working in comics when your art style isn't the normal superhero pen and ink job.

Michael Avon Oeming is interviewed next, and he brings an entirely new perspective to the book, not just from the point of view of a guy who writes a lot of his own stuff, too, but the guy whose artistic weapons are so bare bones and simple. You can see lots of art school students either cringing or erupting in jealousy when they read Oeming say things like, "If I can't buy it at Staples or another office supply store, I don't want it." The original art collectors balk when he mentions that he'll draw comics in ballpoint pen if that's what works for him. The results, though, speak for themselves. It's never about the tools; it's about the results. Bendis mentions this in his opening section briefly, when he mentions working with Final Draft, though others work with far simpler tools.

Editors get the next section, in the form of another Q&A with modern comics editors that will be the must read section of the book for those who want to break into the industry. The chapter doesn't break down everything an editor does or all the best ways to get work from them, but it does lay out some strong guidelines, tips, and landmines to watch out for.

C.B. Cebulski talks a bit about developing creators and how creators can break into Marvel -- spoiler: it's by writing somewhere else first -- before Bendis presents a greatest hits of his Tumblr writing advice. Legendary editor Diana Schutz gets a chapter, too, to share some blunt words of wisdom to those looking to break in. (It also gives the book a chance to spend a few pages with Dark Horse art in the margins, instead of Spider-Man and The Avengers.)

Bendis' wife and business manager/company president, Alisa Bendis, talks about the importance of contracts in creative dealings, and presents a handy list of terms that should appear in such writings. It's a nice introduction to the business side of things that no other "How To Make Comics" ever touch on. It could fill a book on its own, but the audience is a bit too limited to ever make such a necessary book successful. So take what you get here and then go research more general IP lawyer books and people when the time comes.

Really, if you're concerned with "Warranties and Indemnities" before you've written a comic script, you've successfully put the cart way out in front of the horse.

Bendis wraps up the book with some writing exercises and lessons learned about people who fear writing.

It's an enjoyable read and sure to be of intense interest to those who aspire to "break into" comics and work their way up in the industry. It's all about attitudes and professionalism. If you're looking for more nuts and bolts writing tips, there are lots of other books that will handle that for you. You'll likely enjoy the book the most if your comics reading tastes lean towards Marvel and Bendis' writings. You'll feel right at home.

Design-wise, the book is profusely illustrated with almost exclusively modern Marvel images. It often doesn't matter what the text is talking about, there will be an image in the margins from a page of story. Alisa Bendis' chapter on business is exclusively illustrated by Klaus Janson images because, well, business is tough and a hard-hitting Daredevil story about bad deals where people get a bullet between the eyes makes thematic sense? Maybe?

In some specific instances, it highlights the process an artist might go through. Otherwise, it's just filling what would otherwise be white page space, I guess. Images of comic scripts and pitches are also interspersed, where appropriate. Overall, though, the art feels a lot like noise in far too many places. This isn't supposed to be an art book, and the art images are too small to qualify it as one. I know people don't like to read straight text for 200 pages at a time, but a lot of the art is unnecessary and distracting. Even the images showing the process of creating art from pencils to colors can be distracting, because your mind tries to connect them to the text you're reading, but there is no connection.

I suspect the attempt is to create a glossy colorful coffee table book with this text. The french flaps are a nice touch, the paper is a great heavy shiny stock, and the art reproduces very well. Pages change colors for specific chapters mostly when others are writing, and they're faded enough that they never compete with the text, like they might have in the late 90s when everyone was just discovering computers and overdoing it all. (Remember "Marvel Visions"?)

"Word for Pictures" will be available in time for the convention in San Diego next week. Published by Watson Guptill, the cover price is $24.99, making it cheaper than many collected editions from Marvel these days. For those looking to break into comics as a writer, it's a strong compilation of advice and specific tips to help you survive an industry that's wildly different on the inside than it might seem from a fan's point of view on the outside.

SAN DIEGO IS NEARLY HERE

By Saturday, #SDCC was a trending topic on Twitter, and it has been ever since. The convention doesn't even open for another nine days as I write this. As usual, clicking through on that hashtag brings up a lengthy stream of tweets from people who don't realize there are comics at a comic convention, but who are excited by the TV presentations, video games, and the toys. The occasional comics pro interrupts that stream with their own scheduling announcements, but it's dominated by the TV, video game, and animation folks. There are just more of them. C'est la vie.

I don't have the strength or the stamina to read the entire San Diego schedule this year to present highlights. But one thing did pop out at me in Saturday's schedule that might have further implications:

10:00am – 12:45pm PLAYBACK: Featuring The Simpsons, Warner Brothers, and Once Upon A Time: The Playback Room, Omni Hotel, 4th Floor ball Room
Please note: these rebroadcasts and playbacks will include only the panel discussions and special on-stage moments with the panelists. None of the film clips or footage shown at the live events will be shown here.

First, it's another convention event happening outside of the convention center, as the event spreads its tendrils into the city.

More interestingly, it means they have immediately available video of the presentations, sans the exclusive content that Hollywood doesn't want to leak out beyond the two to four thousand people who might be in the original panel rooms.

Is this a dry run for some kind of streaming package we could buy to watch CCI: San Diego events at home? This is a growing thing at conferences and conventions. It's the norm at tech conferences. Just check out ConFreaks.com to see thousands of free examples. It's starting to happen at comic book conventions now. For the last two years, Emerald City Comicon has offered a package of videos from their panels. Many are free, and for a small fee, you can get access to all of them.

The convention in San Diego can't grow any further in the convention center. That space is done, until (if) the addition comes in. They can grow out into the city, but even that space is limited. More importantly, that audience is limited. How can the convention reach the rest of the world and spread its mandated not-for-profit message of pop culture education?

Internet streaming.

Because of the copyright issues, they won't be able to stream the big Hall H and Ballroom 20 panels live, but these time-delayed packages could prove very popular. Maybe they start with the Hollywood panels, which will bring in the biggest audience. From there, might it be too much to hope that other panels get such treatment? I'd pay for a quality video of the Quick Draw panel, for example.

Maybe they could simulcast The Eisner Awards on Friday night? That doesn't have exclusive videos to hide. Heck, with slightly more production values, they could turn that sucker into a cable tv special on SyFy late at night or something.

HBO is presenting the Masquerade. Cosplay is already a topic of multiple cable tv series. Showtime is sponsoring the Eisners. You'd think they'd straight up buy out the rights and not just the ad space there. Cheap TV for them.

Also noticeable in the schedule is that there are special events that require tickets, and are being held down the street at the Horton Grand Theater. I'm not sure exactly how the ticketing works here. They say "drawings for tickets" will happen at 9:00 a.m. on the same day as the event. OK, so how does one put one's name in the hopper to get picked? The schedule doesn't say.

I'm also unsure if the ticket grants you access to all events for that day, or just one specific event. There's only a half hour between panels. I suppose that's enough time to clear out the theater and bring in a new group of people with proper queuing and all, but it seems tight.

Of note, one of the events is Weird Al doing a one hour Q&A. Can't beat that. You know, there was a time when there'd be Al sightings on the show floor on weekends. I never had one, but I know people who did. I was always jealous.

That all said, is this a dry run for ticketing more events? Is this the way to get rid of those Hall H lines? (Wait, maybe not. They're trying wristbands in Hall H this year, it was just announced.)

Here's another interesting parallel: DisneyWorld is allowing people to get Fast Passes weeks in advance now with their new MagicBands. It's getting to the point there where a trip to DisneyWorld is going to have to be pre-planned in 15 minute increments if you want to ride the rides, or you'll be faced with tremendously long times the whole day.

Maybe that's the road SDCC needs to go down next? Here's the schedule, check off the panels you want to attend, and your RFID-enabled wristband will have your schedule programmed onto it. You'll only be allowed into panels you added to your schedule, and no conflicts are allowed.

Let's hope it never goes that far.

PIPELINKS: SAN DIEGO AND COMIC ART

  • Speaking of San Diego, Chuck Rozanski at Mile High Comics has a very large booth at the show. He's published some hard numbers in his newsletter. The rent for his booth is $14,000 for the weekend, and he estimates needing to pull in $50,000 worth of business to break even. The funny thing is, with just one or two sales, he could pull that off. The trick is in finding the right high end buyer looking for some historically significant older comic. But if that buyer doesn't come along, doing it the hard way will be a lot of work.

  • "Surprise guests" on a panel listing for San Diego usually indicates they don't know who else they'll have yet. They're not holding anything back to surprise and delight you. They just didn't nail it down three months in advance. I do giggle a little bit when they try to make it into a feature, though.

  • For the convention in San Diego's blog, Steve Lieber broke down the storytelling choices in part of a Will Eisner "Spirit" story. I'd love to see more blog posts like this, from all sorts of artists.

  • One of these days, someone has to explain to me what the difference between "Comic-Con International: San Diego" and "San Diego Comic-Con" is. The home page uses both without any differentiation. Their own blog header calls it "SDCC" while the URLs are all "CCI". CBR's official style guide says we need to refer to it as "CCI: San Diego." The rest of humanity calls it "SDCC".

  • Fantagraphics is debuting "Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: The Son of the Sun (The Don Rosa Library Vol. 1)" at the convention next week. Get there early to grab your copy, if only to make me jealous. It will work.

  • Recently, William Stout annotated Moebius' 18 principles of comic art. This is must reading for any serious comic book reader interested in the ways that artists work to make the comics page sing. The examples he provides spell it out so beautifully, including work from Moebius, Alex Toth, Jack Kirby, and a host of others. It's a long series of articles, so start on the front page I linked to above and dig your way through. I really liked the most recent one, with all the Toth examples.

  • Mickey Jedi is very cute.

  • Weird Al's new album leads with "Tacky," a song that includes a reference to Comic Sans. As it should.

  • The McSpidey Chronicles returns next week.
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