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Words for Pictures: A Book Review

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

As a child, the first book I recall getting my hands on about the comic book industry was How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. After I got out of law school, I got my hands on Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. The first book exposed me to comics as a technical skill and not just a bunch of cool pictures. The second book reintroduced me to comics as an art form and not just a childish obsession. Words for Pictures is a book on the same level. It describes the creative and practical aspects of comics as a business and belongs on the radar of anyone with any interest in the medium.

Brian Michael Bendis is an award winning writer who has worked on seminal franchises including Spider-Man, X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s also had success with his own original titles including Powers, Torso and Scarlet. Bendis brings years of experience to Words, walking an aspiring creator through major aspects of the writing business including:

  • The motivations for writing
  • The form and function of the script
  • Collaboration with editors and artists and;
  • Protecting your business interests

Bendis doesn’t just rely on his own perspective for this book. He adds the insights from dozens of top writers, artists and editors to create a behind the scenes look into the business that is now driving the blockbuster movie industry. One of the most important lessons in the book gets a chapter to itself. Bendis advises anyone and everyone who gets into comics on any level to protect their creative investment by seeking out and listening to lawyers and accountants when it comes to handling their career.

Even if you’re not interesting in writing comic books, Words for Pictures still has value. If you’re a writer on any level, the advice he offers transcends the comic book page and extends out to novelists, playwrights and screenwriters. If you simply love iconic artwork, Words is filled with art from some of the top comic book artists of the past and present. In the same way you don’t have to read comics to enjoy comic book movies, you can enjoy Words for Pictures without trying to be the next Walt Simonson of Brian Michael Bendis.

Have fun.


How to Break into (and Stay In) Comics

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

Finding your way into the entertainment industry is often a mix of persistence, talent and luck. Almost every successful actor, musician and writer went through a convoluted path to achieve their goals. The road they traveled had a lot of detours, failures and dead ends, but determination (or stubbornness) carried them over their obstacles, and back on their chosen path. The life of a comic artist isn’t any different. The people at the top will be the first to tell you that.

Some of the top writers and editors at Marvel recently relayed this message at their annual panel at San Diego Comic Con. (See Breaking Into Comics the Marvel Way). C.B. Cebulski, the SVP at Marvel who oversees talent acquisition and development, sat down with Marvel’s editor in chief and several of their top talents to discuss both the road to success and tips for aspiring artists.

The main thrust of the discussion was twofold:

1) There is no “right” way to get your shot at working for a company like Marvel. You can try as many methods as you can think up, as long as you keep it professional.

2) Once you get your first “big break”, your work has just begun. You have to continue to prove your value and your professionalism or you can lose your spot to the next fifty people trying to get in.

C.B. reinforces this message in a new book about writing for the comics industry. Brian Michael Bendis adds the insights from dozens of top writers, artists and editors to his own experience in Words for Pictures. Bendis, Cebulski and the other contributors do a great job of redefining success. For them, it’s not enough to break into comics. You have to keep pushing yourself to stay in the industry.

Recent history is full of examples to support this idea:

  • Joe Quesada could have been content to draw Batman and create characters like Azrael, but he went further first with Marvel Knights, then becoming EIC at Marvel and helping move the company into the golden age of comic book movies
  • Frank Miller could have been happy to redefine characters like Batman and Daredevil, but he kept pushing, creating independent properties like Sin City and 300 that made it all the way to the big screen
  • Jim Lee could have just drawn Spider-Man, but he went out on his on and built Image into one of the largest independent comics companies, before going back to DC and taking a major leadership role there.

There are a lot of other examples, but you get the idea. If you take the long view of your career, you’ll see your first deal or your first book as the stepping stone to more work and bigger things. You might not become the next Frank Miller, but your professional and creative development will extend far beyond the first big break.

Have fun.