The History of Comics Project

Last week, I did a page for a very cool project on "The History of Comics" being orchestrated by Curtis Lawson, writer of Kincaid and founder of Broken Soul Press. Curtis wrote a script and has recruited different artists to each draw a page. This book will be collected in a comic and the art is going to be displayed for the public.

Here's my page. I wish I could have spent a bit more time on it, because Curtis' script gave me a lot of free reign to draw cool stuff. I think it came out okay. (Click the picture for a larger size.)

PAGE SIX (Four Panels)

Panel 1. This is a large panel across the top of the page with Paris standing in the foreground. In the background we see numerous golden age style heroes and villains battling in the back ground.


With the introduction of Action Comics #1, Superhero books exploded onto the scene. Super powered do-gooders could be found on every news stand, fighting for truth and justice.

Panel 2. Paris and some character that looks vaguely like Captain America are fighting Nazis.


Many of these early comic book heroes found popularity by fictitiously taking part in the American war effort against Germany and Japan.

Panel 3. Paris is standing next to the Captain America looking character. The captain has his foot on the prone body of a knocked out Hitler.


But after the war was won, American readers found their tastes to be drifting from costumed avengers.

Panel 4. A shady, criminal looking character and a sultry pulp vixen glare at a caped super hero and gesture him off panel.


Get out of here, tough guy.


Although the superhero never went away, its popularity did diminish as readers were drawn to the darker world of crime and suspense stories.


My Writing Process Part X: An Artist Ready Script

I made it! Several months ago, I committed to writing a ten part series reflecting on my writing process. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of people have found my musings on craft helpful. Over the past few months, I've written about developing the Great Idea, conducting Research to develop that idea and and crafting a Killer Pitch. I've written about ways to write Characters That'll Make You Give a Damn, ways to make your stories Structurally Sound, and how to plot your tales Beat by Beat. I've written my views on what makes Scenes Memorable, listed rules for writing Sharp Dialogue, and given tips for attacking the Re-Write. At this point in the writing process, there's really not a whole lot left to do. You're almost ready to put your baby in the hands of other talent. Let's talk about those finishing touches.

X. An Artist Ready Script

A year ago, I didn't have much to say about this topic. Because I've always done all of my own drawing and lettering, I really haven't had much need to share my comic scripts with other people. But, last summer I made the decision to try to work with a few outstanding artists to bring some great new comics to life. Now I wasn't only writing for myself, I was writing for an artist. Because of this, it was important to take my scripts to another level of professionalism and quality. What follows are some suggestions of things you should do prior to sending your scripts off to the artist.

Proofread. Should go without saying, right? Unfortunately, it needs to be said. You're the writer. Proofreading is your job. It's not your artist's job and it's not your letterers job. It's not even your editor's job, if you have one. I'm shocked at how many people posts scripts online on sites like Pencil Jack or Digital Webbing for feedback or for artists to try their hand at sequentials who have God awful errors in spelling, punctuation, sentence structure and syntax. We're talking scripts that aren't even fit for a remedial high school English class. I'm not even including the content here, I'm simply talking about easily corrected errors. I can't count how many times I've looked at scripts online and haven't made it past the first line of the script without coming across a typo. And punctuation? From the looks of many of the scripts online, you'd assume there's a gene common to aspiring comic writers that makes them allergic to commas and periods. I even read one script that was posted online looking for feedback, where the writer said at the top, "Hey, I'm looking for feedback on this script. Don't worry about the spelling or English mistakes. I've got people who will take care of that for me later." Trust me. I didn't worry about it. Because after coming across 15+ easily correctable errors on page 1, I stopped reading.

No, it's your job to do the best you possibly can at proofreading your script before you put it in the hands of your artists. Look at it from the artists perspective. If you're an aspiring writer, you're likely partnering up with an aspiring comic artist. (I'd suggest partnering up with someone a little more seasoned than yourself...they'll make you look good.) Realize that when it's all said and done, they're probably going to put more time into the comic than you have, simply because it takes longer to draw than it does to write. Also remember, most of the time you're going to care about the script a lot more than your artist partner will. It's your baby. It's going to take the artist a while to get invested. So, if the artist gets a script that has typos and easily corrected errors, what's he going to think? Well, either, A.) You're not a great writer. (This is not good. If I'm an artist trying to make a name for myself, I want to partner with the next undiscovered superstar, ala Matt Fraction or Jason Aaron, and not some guy who doesn't know the difference between "there" and "their.") Or B.) You just don't care that much about this script. (Also not good. If the writer doesn't care enough to run his script through spellcheck, why should the artist. So, maybe instead of doing his or her absolute best work, he'll cut corners here and there, leave out little details, fake perspective, etc.)

You want the alternative. You want to send the artist a pristine, engaging, dynamic script that inspires him to do his best possible work. Be professional. Proofread.

Be clear. When you turn your script over to an artist, you are entrusting your vision of the story to another. The only way to ensure that your story is told the way you want to tell it is to be as clear as possible. When you're writing descriptions, you need to describe as best as you can, the precise picture of the panel you have in your head. Who is in the panel? What's the setting? What's the action? Where is the camera positioned? What is the focal point? The more of these details you include, the more likely it is that your artist will deliver.

Remember, with a rich and detailed descriptions, a strong artist can deliver the picture you have in your head. The more details you leave out, the more you'll get the picture in the artist's head.

Provide reference. Drawing comics is time consuming work. Think about it. Brian Michael Bendis can write five different comic books a month. How many can Bryan Hitch draw? Ten a year, maybe? Because penciling and inking is so time consuming, as a writer, you want to make things as easy as possible for the talent you're working with. You want them spending most of their time drawing. But, it you write in your script something like, "The sky is filled with a squadron of World War II-era planes," and leave it at that, what's the artist going to do? Most likely, he's going to spend time Googling old warplanes. Think about it? Do you want your artist Googling, or do you want him drawing?

Since you've done research anyway, (and if you haven't, here is why you should) providing links in your script or creating a shared online photo album with potentially helpful images should be easy. Cut your artist some slack and do some of this work for him. You may also find that a lot of the same reference material that inspires your writing on a particular project will help inspire the artist, too.

On ICE: Interrogation Control Element, for example, I wrote this in the script I sent to Damian Couceiro:

Panel 1- Full black panel, save a stream of water pouring down the center of the panel.

There are sixteen authorized interrogation methods consistent with the Geneva Conventions.

Panel 2- Close in on the face of Iraqi prisoner Number 240, HESHAM FARUK. He is strapped down on a table, with a blindfold over his eyes. There is a strap around his forehead, which is attached to the board he's lying on. The stream of water is filling up in his mouth and he is clearly in panic and pain. He's being waterboarded.

This is not one of them.

REFERENCE NOTE: This opening approach was inspired by this short clip. Watch for great reference.

Sketch a layout. Sometimes when writing comics, you're going to ask a lot of an artist. Maybe there's a particularly tricky action sequence that just has to be done right. Maybe there's a page with a heavy amount of dialogue, and every word truly matters. Rather than fire that page off to your artist and hope for the best, it's a good idea to try to layout the page yourself first.

Sure, easy for me to say. I've drawn a couple hundred pages of comics in my lifetime. So it should be no problem to layout a page, right? When I'm telling you to layout a page, I'm not asking for a beautifully rendered piece of art. Anyone can draw rectangular panels and stick figures. Below is a page from one of Jeph Loeb's scripts for Batman: The Long Halloween. You'll see Jeph did a quick and dirty layout for his artist, Tim Sale.

By taking a stab at laying out a page, you will better be able to answer questions: Will it all fit on the page? Will these panels have impact? What's the most important panel on the page? Where are my word balloons going to go? You want to have confidence that the script you send your artist will work as written. Doing some quick layouts is one way to get that confidence.

Do these things, and you're ready. Once you've proofread your work and are sure it would pass muster in English class, once you've been as clear as you need to be, once you've provided reference where helpful, and once you are confident the pages will work as written by sketching or laying out your page quickly yourself, you're ready to turn your work over to an artist. Congrats!

And now things get fun. You get to take off your writer's hat, and put on your producers hat, to shepherd the project from written page to finished comic. This brings up it's own set of challenges, and is outside the scope of this article series. But trust me, once those pages start showing up in your email box, all the work you've put into writing suddenly becomes so worth it.

Alright, that's it for this series on writing process. Thanks for reading. My enjoyment for writing this series and the fact that others have found it beneficial has lead to an exciting new opportunity. In a few weeks, I'll be starting up a weekly column titled "Creating Comics! The Art & Craft" which will run on the popular comic news site Comic Related. There I'll be expanding on the topics I've been talking about in this series, and hopefully bringing some tools, perspective and a whole lot of inspiration to a wider audience. I'll be talking more about that series as it gets closer to launching next month. Hope you'll join me there.


Tears of the Dragon #17: Chapter 1 Cover Layout

I got a fresh batch of layouts from Koko Amboro, artist extraordinaire on Tears of the Dragon. A lot of good stuff from Koko. There are two pages I want to take a stab at re-laying out myself. I think it's my fault in that these two pages were trying to incorporate a lot of action. But for the most part the layouts were approved by me and Koko's ready to start cranking on those pencils.

For a sneak peek, check out this cover design for the print version of Tears of the Dragon- Chapter One: To Become King.

Pretty cool, no?


April Projects Update!

Here's a quick update on what's going on in Tyler James Comics land. Though I'm seemingly busier than ever with comics projects, this is going to seem like the calm before the storm of what I'm anticipating will be a crazy summer. Here we go...

ICE: Interrogation Control Element
  • All quiet on the ICE front now that she's been submitted to Zuda. There's not much I can do but wait...Well, that's not exactly true. There's a marketing plan to create, banner ads to develop, I could do a production website...you know, I did all those things in anticipation of both Tears and CounterTERROR getting into a Zuda comp, and it may have jinxed me. So, for now, all I'm going to do is keep reading and researching.
  • If there's one thing ICE is, probably more so than any comic ever to appear on Zuda, it's topical. ICE is being helped by the headlines, what with the interrogation techniques memos being released recently and the torture debate flaring up again on cable news and talk radio. It's clearly a topic that gets people fired up. Right, Shep Smith...

Tears of the Dragon
  • I previewed the new Tears logo, designed by Andrew Jarvis, on this blog earlier in the week. I'm pretty jazzed about it.
  • Koko Amboro is cranking on layouts for the second half of the first chapter. I can't wait to see what he's come up with, and expect an email from him soon.
  • I put in a big art supplies order this week for Koko. See, Koko lives in Indonesia, and getting his hands on top quality art supplies is often a challenge. So, I'll be compensating Koko for his great work on Tears with some professional quality comic formatted bristol board paper, as well as some curve templates, pens, and comic drawing books. A lot more fun to go on a shopping spree for Koko than it is to just send him a check.
  • Expect Tears to launch as a weekly updating webcomic this summer. Launch date to come soon.
Screenplay/Graphic Novel Project
  • Except for a few close friends and family, I've kept the details to this project pretty close to the vest. Well, I'm not quite ready to go into more details yet, but next month, I will be. And shortly there after, I'll launch it as an online graphic novel.
  • In the last few weeks, I've started the process of managing my own websites. I've now got server space/hosting through Dreamhost and have started learning to manage a Wordpress site with the Comic Press theme. Luckily, it's been easier to learn than I thought, and I've already built the template site for my OGN. All I need is the content...
  • Speaking of which, I now have 3+ weeks of comic content completed for my site. I'm holding off launching until I have 7-10 weeks of content completed. Finding an audience and sticking to a regular, consistent update schedule is going to be crucial to its success, and I'm committed to sticking to one. I'm also planning on updating three times a week, thus I need quite a few pages in the bag prior to launching. Luckily, I'm really enjoying what I'm doing. Okay, here's one more sneak peak...
Super Seed
  • I recently finished up the Blood Thinning storyline over at superseedcomic.com. I'm going to hold off launching the next storyline, Poster Child, until I hear whether ICE will be in a Zuda competition or not. Basically, if ICE gets in a Zuda contest, then I want to run Super Seed updates concurrently, and run an ICE banner ad along with Super Seed, so that people who check out Super Seed at Webcomics Nation will be encouraged to head on over to read ICE as well. If Zuda passes on ICE, then I'll start Super Seed updates shortly after being notified.
  • I recently checked out my sales of Super Seed over at Indyplanet.com. I was pleasantly surprised to see a big jump in sales recently for all issues of Super Seed. I often forget those issues are being sold online, so it was nice to check in and see people are finding it and adding Super Seed to their stacks. I think my recent appearance at the Boston Comic Con and my podcast interview on Comic Related can probably take credit for the boost in online sales.
Other News
  • Next month, I'll be starting a weekly column on a popular comics news website. I'm stoked about it. Expect an announcement with more details about the site and the column soon.
  • I'm drawing a comic page for a pretty cool "History of Comics" comic for a writer I met at the Boston Comic Con. I've got to finish the page up tonight, but will share when it's done.
  • Bummed that my Creating Comics! class was canceled this spring, but I've been talking online with one of the people who signed up (he too was bummed) and it looks like we'll be getting together to talk comics sometime in the near future. So cool!
  • I'm looking into my next convention appearances, and expect to have some announcements about the next shows I'll be at shortly.
That about wraps things up over here. Wow. If this is a quiet month...

Till next time,



Tears of the Dragon #16: Logo

Check out the cool new Tears of the Dragon logo, designed by my friend Andrew Jarvis. (Andrew got creative and tossed it on a mock up of a stone tablet, and seems to think it'll look pretty dang spiffy on T-shirts. I think he may be right.)

I hope to have a Tears of the Dragon "Launch Date" for when the webcomic will go live. However, I want to see at what kind of rate Koko is putting out new pages before I commit to any specific date. (I'm hoping no later than July.) I'm also planning on doing a fair amount of cross promotion with Tears and my graphic novel project, so I'm hoping one feeds the other.

This is going to be a big summer for Tyler James Comics. So, stay tuned!


My Writing Process Part IX: The Re-Write ('Cause First Drafts are Sh*t)

Back again. Imagine, for a moment, that I've finished the first draft of a script. I've already nurtured my Great Idea by doing Research and formed a Killer Pitch. I've developed Characters You'll Give a Damn About, sketched the beginning, middle and end so that it is Structurally Sound, and then plotted it out Beat by Beat. I took time to write Memorable Scenes and obeyed the rules for writing Sharp Dialogue. At this point, much of the work is done. I've got a script that tells a story from beginning to end. That is an awesome feeling.

Now, the real writing begins.

IX. The Re-Write ('Cause First Drafts Are Sh*t)

Whenever you finish a first draft of pretty much anything you write more substantial than a Twitter post (follow me!) or a birthday card, you should do two things:

1. Acknowledge the accomplishment of finishing that first draft. Go ahead, pat yourself on the back. Kudos! Remember 95% of people out there with ideas for stories never make it this far.

2. And after your done applauding yourself, recognize that regardless of how you feel about your writing, it still needs work.

Ernest Hemingway once famously quipped, "The first draft of anything is shit." Now, if Hemingway recognized this in HIS writing, perhaps we too should not be so hasty to call a piece of work done as soon as we type "The End."

McKee elaborates on a characteristic of a quality writer, saying "He wants to destroy his work. Taste and experience tell him that 90 percent of everything he writes, regardless of his genius, is mediocre at best. In his patient search for quality, he must create far more material than he can use, then destroy it." Sounds harsh. Sounds like a lot of work. Well, yeah, it kind of is. But you've made it this far. Often times the difference between a mediocre piece of writing and something great is simply more time and effort. But where do you start?

First, you need some distance.
If you've just finished a work of any reasonable length, you're too close to it to view it objectively. So back off for a bit. You need to separate yourself from your writing in order to come back at it with fresh eyes. The length of the work and the amount of time you've put into it should determine how long you stay away. A 10-22 page comic script? Put it down for a day or two and try not to think about it. A longer work like a screenplay, graphic novel script, or a novel. You need to put that puppy down for at least a week. When I was writing my screenplay, I was getting up a 5:30-6 am every morning and writing for a few hours and then again at night. I cranked out the first 93 page draft in about two weeks of writing fury. By the time I finished and proofread, I was way to close to the script to view it objectively. So, I let it be for two weeks.

Distance does not equal downtime. Okay, you're away from your script. Party time? Nope, sorry. You're a writer now. Writer's write. Sure, crack a beer or take a night off to celebrate, but needing distance is not an excuse to stop writing or working on your craft. Here are three suggestions for things you can do to be productive in your time away from your first draft.
  • Work on the next project. That first draft you just finished isn't your only story idea, is it? For most creative people, I assume the answer is no. This is one of the benefits of having multiple projects in various stages of development going at once. When you need time away from one, you have something else to work on. As soon as I finished my screenplay, I took a "break" by plotting out the full story for "Tears of the Dragon." I think it helped that Tears and my screenplay were entirely different genres. It really felt like a vacation to write. I was also able to give more energy and effort to some of my other comic projects that had taken a back seat while I poured everything I had into my screenplay.
  • Read a book on craft. If you've just written a novel, screenplay, or comic script, now is the best time to pick up and read a book on the craft of writing and storytelling. After you've written something is much better than before. You know, about six years ago, I picked up a copy of The Screenwriter's Bible by David Trottier. This is a great reference. Read it cover to cover as soon as I got it. And immediately after...I wrote nothing. Nope, despite being a great reference and have mostly everything I'd ever need to know to write a screenplay, it did not inspire me to write one. In fact, it probably intimidated me. This likely would have been the case had I picked up McKee's Story prior to writing my screenplay. I either wouldn't have gotten through it (boring, inaccessible) or it would have depressed me (how am I ever going to write something that satisfies all of his criteria for a good story?) However, I came to McKee immediately AFTER writing the first draft of my screenplay. Because of this, I was viewing everything he had to say through the prism of my screenplay. As a result, I read it cover to cover in a few days and was fired up for my rewrite afterward.
  • Provide feedback for other writers. This is one of the best ways to develop your critical eye. After finishing a work, you'll gain a lot by providing feedback to other writers. In fact, this is the whole concept behind the exceptional site TriggerStreet (highly recommended site for giving and getting feedback on your creative works.) When you read other's work, you'll have no attachment to the material, which allows total objectivity. But as you're offering critique, you may find that some of the mistakes that author has made are similar to your mistakes. By seeing the flaws in another's writing or seeing what they do that works, it can help illuminate a direction forward for your re-write that you might not have seen otherwise. Since finishing the first draft of my screenplay, I've read and critiqued 14 feature-length screenplays from other aspiring writers. I'm definitely honing my editorial chops, and it's making me a better writer.
Get some feedback. One of the best ways to improve your early drafts of a story is to get some feedback from others. While getting feedback is something you should certainly do, first a warning. You cannot rely on others to make you the writer you want to be. YOU have to develop your own internal editor. YOU have to learn to objectively evaluate your own work with the same critical eye you apply to others. Getting feedback from others does not free you from the responsibility of learning to edit.

Now that I've gotten the disclaimer out of the way, let's talk about the value of feedback. Well, it's valuable. Unless you're writing solely for yourself (which, if you're writing for comics you are most likely not) you need to be sure you're writing to entertain an audience. Getting an outside perspective on this is often necessary. It's much better to get feedback at the draft stage prior to publishing, filming or having pages drawn. After working with an editor on the initial pages of ICE: Interrogation Control Element, I realized that I needed to insert two additional pages to establish the antagonist to really grab the audience. This cost me money, and would have been cheaper had I figured this out PRIOR to having pages drawn.

There are two types of feedback I want to discuss. I feel both have their place, but you should know their strengths and limitations.

Feedback from Family and Friends - When you're just starting out, it's hard to find people excited about reading a first draft of your scripts. So, what do we do? We turn to the people in our lives who love us and can't say no. I've heard some writers advise completely against this. I say, go ahead. Just recognize what this feedback is and isn't.

Getting feedback from mom or your buddy Chuck is good for the old ego. And you know what, you just finished a first draft and you deserve a "thattaboy." Hell, you've created something. You've put something new into the world that didn't exist before, and there's no reason you shouldn't have people that care about you have the chance to read it and acknowledge it. So get your slap on the back.

This kind of feedback is also good for getting the everyman's reaction. Human beings are hardwired to recognize a good story when they read or hear one. If something is supposed to be funny and they laugh, you've probably done your job. Likewise, if something is confusing to them, you probably were not clear enough. Sometimes it helps to watch them as they're reading. If they're turning pages and engaged in the script, that's a good sign.

However, what feedback from friends and family can't provide is honesty. If a reader cares about you and has a stake in your emotional well-being, you can't expect total honesty from their critique. Most often, rather than getting what they truly think, you'll get what they think you want to hear. And that won't help you a bit. Also, most of your friends and family aren't writers in the genre or format that you are writing in. Just because someone has seen a few movies or read a few comic books doesn't mean they can ably critique a script for either. Family and friend critiques thus are a poor means to get serious, actionable suggestions and solutions for improving your script.

Feedback from Objective Professionals - I use both the terms objective and professionals loosely here. To a certain extent, we all have subjective biases that color our opinions. And by professionals, I simply mean someone who has done what you're trying to do. Want feedback on a comic script? Find someone who's actually written a couple of them. If you're just starting out, you're probably not going to get Brian Michael Bendis to critique it. In fact, I know you won't. But try to find someone who is both more accomplished that you and has no reason not to give you honest feedback

Now, there is a drawback to this kind of feedback. Strangers have zero stake in your emotional well being. A lot of time this feedback will come from someone you'll never meet, and the removal of distance and personal interaction made possible by the internet brings out many people's inner Simon Cowell. So, if you know you can't handle someone tearing your work to shreds in a not very nice way, don't try to get this kind of feedback. However, if you're not ready for this sort of grilling, you're not ready to have anything published either. Again, better to be eviscerated in the draft stage when you can still make changes, than publish and have the world take a collective dump on it.

What feedback from objective professionals can provide is a strong road map for an improved rewrite. People who know the medium can point out specific suggestions about what works and what doesn't and often can propose solutions to the problem areas. For this reason, this kind of feedback should be sought out.

Now, the best kind of reviewer is a combination of the two above types: a friend with professional expertise who isn't afraid to hurt your feelings and tell you the truth. These are hard to find, and if you find one, hang on to him or her and treat them well. Ideally, you'll have two of these sort of people. These are the people you want to show your very first draft. I'd caution putting a first draft out to strangers, simply because a complete and total slam critique at this stage could throw you off completely. So, find someone you trust who won't treat you with kiddie gloves.

After the feedback - LISTEN! Humans are defensive creatures by nature. Upon hearing criticism of your work, your baby, your instinct will be to come to it's defense. DON'T. Don't try to explain what you were trying to do. Don't make excuses. Just listen.

And when you listen, do so with the understanding that what you are hearing is one person's opinion. And that their opinion MAY be right. Not that it is right. But that it may be. And because it may be right, rather than defend, ask questions to clarify. Ask things like, what lines didn't work for you? Wouldn't it be funnier/scarier/better if I tried ____? Which character do you think needs the most work? Which scenes go on too long? Again, you need to recognize that your story needs work. Getting feedback is one of the best ways to assemble a game plan for a re-write.

You will need to kill your babies. Another famous writing cliche, but a truism that all writers know: In re-writing, you're going to have to destroy a lot of what you've created, even some stuff that you absolutely love. Maybe it's for reasons of pacing. Maybe it's because the scene stalls your story's momentum or doesn't quite work for the characters. This can be hard to do, but it's a necessary part of the writing process.

I'm going to share with you a baby I had to kill. This was a semi-important scene from the first draft of my screenplay. Given that my script is a romantic comedy, the beat is an important one- this is "the cute meet" scene. Read, then we'll discuss...


Felix confidently strolls to the bar and tries to flag the barkeep unsuccessfully. He glances around the bar, checking out the talent.

He sees Faith for the first time, talking to a guy looking like a circa-1980's DON JOHNSON.

Felix and Faith make eye contact. Felix looks away, and tries in vain to get the barkeeps

Felix looks back in the direction of Faith, and sees her leaving Don Johnson walking towards him.



I just told that guy over there that
you were my boyfriend and quite the
jealous type. Will you talk to me
for a minute until he finds someone
else to bother?

Felix smiles.

Not sure I can do that.

(looking around)
Oh. Do you have a girlfriend?

No girlfriend. It's just...I
believe that might technically
qualify as a cock block.

(enjoying the banter)

So that's a clear violation of guy
code. It's in the manual. And come
on, he seems like a perfectly nice
and harmless dude. No visible
deformities. And a nice bonus, he's
channeling Sonny Crockett, so-


Guess that reference is a little

Guess so. I'm young. But you don't
have to worry. It's not a cockblock
if he never had a chance.

Ouch. Not your type?

Not my type. And, I have a

(slightly disappointed)
(looks around)
Why isn't he saving you from Sonny's

He's not here. Long distance thing.

Got it.

An awkward pause, then Felix extends his hand.

Sorry, I never got your name. I'm

Faith slides in close, covering up the shake.

You're really bad at this fake
boyfriend thing.

Right. Sorry.

Felix tosses a hard glance over at Don Johnson, who has been watching them. Don catches the look, pretends not to notice, and walks away. Faith turns and sees him go.

My hero. Let me buy you a drink.

Why did I kill it? Was it the best scene ever? Certainly not. But it served the beat...the guy meets girl and they hit it off. It actually survived another draft largely in tact, with some of the dialogue cut to be less chit-chatty. But this entire scene was rewritten in the third draft. The reason, my third draft's focus was the elimination of cliche. Guy meets girl in a bar. Been done to death. Sure, I liked the banter about the cock-blocking, and sure guys and girls do meet in bars all the time, but this scene just didn't scream originality. Additionally, about twenty pages earlier in the script, there was a much funnier scene that also takes place in a bar. Mixing it up would make for a better story. And finally, Don Johnson...worked for some, not for others. While I love people still stuck in the 80's as much as the next guy, it too was cliched.

So, this scene had to go. The beat is the same. The guy and girl still meet and hit it off. But I changed the setting, some of the dialogue and some of the characters. The result is a more unique scene that better serves my script.

So, good luck with your rewrites. Hopefully some of these tips are helpful as you comb through your story and put some solid effort into making it the best it can be. Next week will be the concluding article of this ten-part series. We'll talk about getting your scripts ready for your artist.

NEXT: X. An Artist Ready Script


Super Seed #22: Catch Up on Episode 2

Hey, just wanted to point out that the Super Seed Episode 2: Blood Thinning storyline has completed over at the Super Seed website. If you want to read the whole story, check it out here.


A Double Dose of Bad News, and Why I'm Still Smiling

I suppose yesterday could have been viewed as a bad day. Before it was over, I got not one but two pieces of disappointing news.

First, I found out that this Spring's Creating Comics: Writing for Comic Books and Graphic Novels would have to be postponed until the fall, due to insufficient enrollment.

Shortly after, I received an email from Zuda Comics, confirming that they were passing on my submission of Tears of the Dragon.

A one-two punch for sure. Both bits of bad news mean a loss of some cash, but more importantly, I was really looking forward to both teaching my class and for debuting Tears. I spent much of Sunday night revising my syllabus, and I was really pumped to teach the course again. And Tears is a story I absolutely love and have no doubt it would have found an audience if given a chance on Zuda.

Two bummers. So, why am I still smiling?

I wrote a blog a while back titled "Big Victories and Small Defeats" and I still feel much the same way. In the grand scheme of things, these are a few more small defeats. As far as setbacks go, they are minor. After some of the things I've had to work through in my personal life this past winter, hell, just about everything seems minor in comparison.

But it's the spring, and I'm all glass half-full. So, I'm focusing on the silver lining of these disappointments.

- Without my comics class taking up 3-4 hours of teaching and prep time each week, I'll be able to devote more time to my graphic novel project, which I hope to debut this summer.
- With Zuda passing on Tears, I'm still able to repurpose some of the art from Tears for use in my graphic novel. This probably would have been a problem had I won a Zuda contract.
- I get to keep all the rights to Tears, and can take full control over how that comic is dispersed.

A rejection from Zuda is only more motivation to make Tears bigger and better and a success. I hope to launch Tears as a webcomic on its own site in the late summer, so you'll be continuing to hear more about it.

And Creating Comics will be back in the Fall, better than ever.


Boston Comic Con: More Sketches

And here are the rest of the free sketches I did for the Boston Comic Con.


Boston Comic Con: Free Sketches

I ended up knocking out 10 free sketches for Boston Comic Con attendees. Here is the first batch of five I did.


Boston Comic Con Report

What a show!

This past Saturday and Sunday, the Back Bay Events Center was crawling with comic book enthusiasts, creators and even a few super heroes. It was a great time. Each show I do, I seem to be stepping up my game in terms of table layout, products offered, and refinement of my pitch. As a result, I moved a bunch of books and talked to a lot of people. Here are a few highlights:
  • My Free Sketches campaign was a success. All but one sketch went unclaimed, and it seemed that everyone who recieved a free sketch was very happy with it. This is a promotion I'll continue to do at shows.
  • Debuting Tyler James Comics Presents...Vol. 1- This book sold well. I'm very proud of it, so it was easy to pitch.
  • Super Seed continues to attract a lot of interest. My favorite pitch was to a couple dressed as Green Arrow and the Black Canary. I said, "You know, some day you might be considering having children, and you might need the services of the world's first super powered fertility clinic." They bought a few issues.
  • Met some cool new creators. Ben Bishop, an extremely talented illustrator, was at the table next door. Ben's 300 page graphic novel Nathan the Caveman sold pretty well, and it made me realize the importance of having an item on the table that's a little more expensive and has a bigger profit margin than my $3-$5 books. Otherwise, it's very difficult to even break even at these shows...which is my next goal for a con.
  • I also met Curtis Lawson, writer of Kincaid, who had a table across from me. Curtis is working on a very cool project, a history of comics comic book, being drawn by a number of different artists. I'm going to do a page for that book. He sent me the script today and it should be a lot of fun.
  • Got my CounterTERROR pin-up from Chris Gibbs. It's pretty hot. I'll have to color that bad boy up soon.
  • Also got up from my table for a bit and got my copy of Wetworks #1 signed by Whilce Portacio and New Avengers Illuminati signed by Jim Cheung. Talented dudes, the both of them.
  • Several members of my family came through the con and stopped by. That was great.
  • And finally, I got my picture taken with Supergirl. You know you're jealous.


Boston Comic Con: Why I Love Comics Interview

Still trying to recover after a wild Boston Comic Con weekend. (After getting back from the show on Sunday, I climbed into bed and slept for 13.5 hours straight.) I'll be posting pictures and a full con recap soon, but I wanted to post a link to a podcast interview that just went up.

Saturday I talked to Eric Ratcliffe of the Why I Love Comics column and podcast at the Comic Related website. Eric stopped by to talk about Super Seed, ICE: Interrogation Control Element and more things, well, comic related.

You can check out the interview, which I share with comics heavyweight Mike Allred (pretty cool), right here.


Boston Comic Con: This Weekend!

The Boston Comic Con is this weekend!

I'm expecting a huge turnout at the Back Bay Events Center (180 Berkeley St, Boston, MA) this Saturday and Sunday. I'm expecting this to be the biggest show I've done to date, so obviously, I'm bringing more product to the show than ever before.

Here are five things I'm looking forward to:

1.) Debuting Tyler James Comics Presents...Vol. 1. This Boston Comic Con Exclusive book will be unveiled for the first time at this weekend's show. I love this book, and it represents a good portion of the work I've been up to over the past 8 months or so, and my first professional collaborations with a number of extremely talented artists. I'm actually kicking myself for not doubling my print run, because I think this book is going to sell very well. (Knock on wood.) Actually, I'd be surprised if there are copies left by Sunday. (Knock, Knock on wood.)

2.) Catch up with local creators. I'm looking forward to talking to a number of local creators who I seem to only see at the cons. I didn't get a chance to check out Chris Gibbs' CounterTERROR sketch at the last con I was at, but he's planning on bringing it to this weekend's show. I'm hoping to talk to some of the Boston Comics Roundtable guys and check out their new book. And I'm looking forward to meeting new people this year as well.

3.) Hand over those FREE SKETCHES. I said I was going to do five, I ended up doing ten free sketches to people who contacted me requesting them. So, I'll have a nice stack of sketches to hand out over the weekend. This was a thoroughly successful promotion. I got to draw some characters I've never drawn before (everyone from Rorschach to Kitty Pride to Darth Vader) and I'll be able to give some comic fans a one of a kind take away from the Boston show. Everybody wins.

4.) Talk to Whilce Portacio. The Image founder is going to be there. I'm hoping to get him to sign my Wetworks #1 (Vol. 1) and to pick up his new Spawn book and get an autograph on that as well. I'm a big fan of his work, and he was definitely a "big get" for the Boston show.

5.) Take my table to the next level. Each con I've been stepping my table up just a little bit. This show, I've had some high quality "Tyler James Comics" signs made, so I'll be easy to spot, and I'm going to be doing some things with my table arrangement to try to make it a bit more eye catching to attendees. I'll have pictures, don't worry. We'll see how it turns out.


My Writing Process Part VIII: Sharp Dialogue

Back again, with the eighth installment of my ten-part series on writing process. In case you missed any of the previous installments, here are quick links to them in reverse chronological order. How generous of me, no?

Well, that's enough dwelling in the past. Let's get on with the new and exciting.

VIII. Sharp Dialogue

I'm going to come right out and say it at the top, because it deserves to be said: Writing great dialogue is extremely difficult. Sure, there are your David Mamets and Quentin Tarrantinos in film, and your Brian Bendises in comics. These are writers incredibly gifted at putting words in their characters' mouths. And while these masters of their respective crafts should certainly be studied, imitate them at their own peril. For there is a second statement that needs to be said: Writing bad dialogue is very easy. Hell, after Pulp Fiction came out, every new writer on the block was writing scenes with tough characters waxing poetic and riffing on pop culture...and it was ugly. Likewise, a disciple of Bendis runs the risk of writing a talking heads book, which is not something an aspiring creator should try to do.

No, let those creators do what they do best. What I'm going to say here is this: Don't strive to write great dialogue. Going for great with dialogue writing will probably make it look like you're trying to hard. For now, good is good enough. So I'm going to give you a number of rules that if you follow, your dialogue will, in fact, be good. What do I mean by good? I mean you'll write dialogue that at worst won't hurt your story and at best will help it a great deal.

And you want to know the best part? If you write good dialogue long enough and consistently enough...well, that's a great thing, a thing very few aspiring writers are capable of. And pretty soon, guess what word they're going to start using to describe your dialogue? Great.

Rule #1: Dialogue has a function!

Your job as a writer for visual media is not to put words in characters' mouths just for the sake of filling in those word balloons. Every piece of dialogue you script should have a function. What function? Well, here's a primer from Syd Field. What follows are all the functions dialogue can and should have in your scripts.

Dialogue should...

...Move the story forward.

...Communicate facts and information to the reader.

...Reveal character.

...Establish character relationships.

...Make your characters real, natural, and spontaneous.

...Reveal the conflicts of the story and characters.

...Reveal the emotional states of your characters.

...Comment on the action.

...Foreshadow future action or events.

That's the list. Stick to it. Often times, good dialogue will perform several of those functions at once. Here's a page from my comic CounterTERROR that I feel has good dialogue. (Genius? Certainly not. But it is solid.)


How many functions does the dialogue on this page satisfy?

1.) Moves the story forward- The previous scene was 15 minutes earlier and ended with a National Counterterrorism director contacting the New York FBI SWAT team. Now we've jumped ahead in time, and the dialogue establishes that the team is assembled and ready to move.

2.) Communicates facts and information to the reader- Here we find out a little more about their target.

3.) Reveals character- Montoya in particular. She's got a sprained left hand, but still cocky and ready to roll. That bravado will come to play throughout the story.

4.) Establish character relationships- The easy way Montoya and Dexter Mason interact suggests a closeness. This is a cohesive team. Also, Rivera texting McCullough, who is actually the story's main protagonist, introduces that character as a missing part of the team.

5.) Foreshadow future action or events- I needed to call out the brace on Montoya's left hand through dialogue, because I'm not sure it would have been noticed in the art. This is important, because that brace is going to save her life shortly.

So you see, I didn't just fill in word balloons. All the dialogue on this page serves one or more functions. Not bad, huh?

Rule #2: Don't write dialogue until your story is finished

What? What do you mean, Ty? How the hell am I supposed to finish my story if I don't write dialogue? Here me out. On this point, I have the great Alfred Hitchcock to back me up. Hitchcock once said, "When the screenplay has been written, and the dialogue added, we're ready to shoot." When writing for visual mediums like film and comics, nailing the imagery should be your primary task. Filling in those word balloons should be a secondary concern.

Think about it. If you were given a comic book with all the words removed, could you still follow the story? In most cases, sure. And if asked, you could probably add in words of your own and tell a halfway decent story yourself. How many movies can you follow with the sound turned off? Sure, they're not nearly as compelling, but you can still follow the action in most cases. You know who the good guy is, and often, you can figure out what he wants and what's standing in his way...all without hearing the dialogue. Even David Mamet, reknowned wordsmith though he may be, recognized this. "The story is being carried by the shots. Basically, the perfect movie doesn't have any dialogue," he said.

Now, please don't go out and write a dialogue free script. But definitely do consider the point, that the imagery and action in your story needs to be mapped out before you should be concerned with dialogue. McKee suggests, "The wise writer puts off writing dialogue for as long as possible, because the premature writing of dialogue chokes creativity." If you fall in love with bits of dialogue before you've had time to fall in love with your characters, or even know what happens to them in the story, this can hinder organic developments in the writing. Forcing words into your still developing characters mouths will stunt their growth. So the general rule is to figure out your story and your story people before you start making them talk.

Rule #3: It's okay if it sucks...at first.

When you first get rolling on the writing of your scripts, your dialogue probably isn't going to be very good. No, this statement isn't meant to discourage. Quite the opposite. I'm giving you permission to stink it up for a while. See, the first 10-30 pages of your script, you're still getting to know your characters, and it's going to take a while before you fully get a handle on how they speak and act. And that's perfectly fine. Your first crack at dialogue will likely be uneven and cliched, and will be difficult to plow through.

But plow through you must. Just keep writing. Now, what you want to do when writing your first draft is just steadfastly move your story forward. Again, you want to do this regardless of the verbal diarrhea spilling from your characters' lips. If you have to toss in awful catch phrases like, "Lock and load!" to convey confidence and ready for action, throw it in and keep going. (But good God remember to change it later!) Trust that writing dialogue will get easier, not harder, as you continue to write and become more familiar with the characters you've created.

As I mentioned in the last article on Memorable Scenes, content follows context. Sometimes writing the actual content of the dialogue (what is actually said, the words actually spoken) are difficult to craft, and risk holding up the writing. So, you know what? Just fill in something, anything, that speaks to the context (the purpose of the scene, the story moving impact of the conversation) and continue. As long as the context is strong and that story beat important, the story will stay solid. You can always go back and fix the dialogue in a later rewrite.

Rule #4: In these tough times, write economically.

You will write too much dialogue.

Trust me. You will. Writers like to write, and the words they put in their characters' mouths always seem like the most important words they write on a page. While action or panel descriptions are important, the dialogue and captions are the only words you write that the readers will actually get to see. As a result, many rookie writers tend to write way too many of them.

While writing economically is a central tenet of good screenwriting, it's even more important when writing for comics. In movies, fast talkers can squeeze in words, and a brilliant oratory performance can cover up wordiness to some extent. But in comics, every word you write actually has to fit somewhere on the page. For comic writers, just trust me and follow the Alan Moore 35, 25, 120 rule I've mentioned before:

- No more than 35 words per panel.

- No more than 25 words per word balloon or caption.

- No more than 120 words on a page.

As David Gallaher, writer of High Moon, shared with me, "The sad thing is...comics readers today don't love to read." David tries to fill his balloons with 15 words or less, and is a definite subscriber to the less is more philosophy of writing. Hell, he recently opened Season III with 4 completely wordless pages. (Note, this strategy is usually only effective when you're working with an artist as talented as High MoonHigh Moon's Steve Ellis.) But really consider the necessity of the words you put on a page. Remember, the more words you have, the more art you're going to cover. Artists work too damn hard to have their work covered with fluff. So be economical, and make every word count.

Rule #5: Write with subtext, not "on the nose."

One of the most common critiques of novice writers is that their writing is "too on the nose." This seemingly catchall phrase for bad writing describes dialogue that feels forced or unrealistic because it carries information the writer wants the audience to know, that is said in a way a character would not actually say it at the time being delivered.

Want a simple "on the nose" check? When one of your characters verbalizes EXACTLY what they're feeling, 9 times out of 10, it's going to sound "on the nose."

Wait? So my characters shouldn't say what they're feeling? Should they say the opposite? Not exactly. Here's where subtext comes in. Give us humans some credit. We have a tremendous ability to get what we want or convey our desires or intentions without actually saying them aloud.

Here's an example. Like a girl? You could try walking up to her directly and saying, "I find you extremely attractive. I find myself fantasizing about what you must look like naked. I would really like to invite you to my bed. Boobs."

Hey, I'm no pick-up expert. Give it a try and get back to me. (Note: Ladies, this approach might actually work with guys. Be "on the nose" with us all you like.) Kidding aside, this isn't how we do things. Instead, we'll strike up conversation about something completely unrelated to hopping in the sack. We'll invite the girl out for "drinks" or "a movie" or fire off a "Going out tonight?" text. And the funny thing about subtext, is that by not directly talking about what it is we want (sex, companionship, etc.) we are increasing the likelihood that we'll actually get it.

And it's the same with your writing. The more you can intimate what your characters think and feel BY NOT writing exactly what they think and feel, the sharper your dialogue is going to be. Clever dialogue is full of inference, intimation and innuendo. Your audience is smart, and a good approach is to always write as if your audience is just a little be smarter than you are. You don't need to beat them over the head with your point to make it. The days of the cliched, overwritten comic book dialogue are [hopefully] over.

Here's a very short snippet of a rewrite I did on my screenplay that will illustrate some of the points I'm making here.

First Draft


FELIX sits in a dingy, nearly empty club, drinking a beer and hardly watching a STRIPPER in her early 40's gyrate on her knees in front of him.


Why the long face, handsome?


I miss my girlfriend.


Making men forget about their

girlfriends is my specialty, honey.

Re-written Version


FELIX sits in a dingy, nearly empty club, drinking a beer and hardly watching a STRIPPER in her early 40's gyrate on herknees in front of him.


Why the sad mug, handsome?


You're wearing her perfume.


Makin'em forget about their

girlfriends is my specialty, sugar.

Note, there were a couple small changes to the dialogue made from first draft to latest draft in this short snippet of a scene. I changed, "Why the long face" to "Why the sad mug," just because the first sounded too much like the punchline of a bad joke. But really what I wanted to point out was Felix's line change. What is Felix feeling at this moment in time? Well, he misses his girlfriend. And, in the first draft, that's exactly what he verbalizes...to a stripper no less. While there's a certain empathy that can come from a character baring his soul to a stripper who could care less, it didn't feel right when I wrote it, and that didn't change.

So what did I do? I replaced that "on the nose" line with, "You're wearing her perfume." Notice, the subtext is EXACTLY the same. Felix misses his girlfriend. The stripper gets it. The audience will get it. But Felix did not have to say it. It's better because he didn't say it.

Rule #6: Aim for "realistic sounding" rather than realistic dialogue.


"What's up, dude?"

"Hey, man, what's up?"

"Not much man. What's up with you?"

"Ah, not a whole lot."

"Cool. So, what time are people getting together tonight..."

The above is realistic dialogue. In fact, I've probably had that conversation, or something very close to it, thousands of times in my life. It's as if we as humans need to warm up before actually getting into the heart of a conversation with a lot of "What's up? What's ups?" Call it verbal foreplay or what you will. But just because this is how people actually talk, does not mean it's how your story people should talk.

Think about it. In a comic, that exchange would take up two panels at least, to fit in all those word balloons. Two panels of fluff that does nothing to reveal character or move the story forward, or any of those functions of good dialogue.

Listen to how people actually talk sometime, and try to capture it word for word. Capture ever grunt, ever pause, ever "um" and "like," every run on sentence or sentence that isn't finished. Real dialogue isn't fun to read. So don't write it.

As a writer, look out for chitty-chat in your scripts, and CUT IT OUT WITH A HATCHET. This is pretty much any dialogue that doesn't perform one of the functions listed above and does not move the story forward. Most conversation scenes in your script should be started mid-conversation. Doing this does two important things. First, it allows you to cut right to the important part of the conversation. Why is this exchange important to your story? If it's not important, it should be cut. If it is, let's get right to the good stuff and then be on our way. And second, entering mid-conversation draws the audience in. It taps into our eavesdropping proclivities. What are these people talking about? This trick engages the audience, which is exactly your goal.

So, there you have it, six rules of dialogue. Follow them to the letter and your dialogue will be good. Write good dialogue long enough, and who knows...it might just become great.

NEXT: IX. Writing is Rewriting