By Josh Hechinger
I want to say I first heard about this writing exercise in one Matt Fraction interview or another: you take a finished page of a comic, and write a script from it. It's a kind of reverse engineering; you're taking a page that works and trying to figure out how you would've achieved that overall effect with your scripting style. Or different styles: full-script, plot-first, long paragraphs for each panel, short, telegraph-esque panel descriptions, maybe even thumbnails.
(If you don't know what any of those terms mean, Google them. I'll wait.)
Basically, there's something like a million ways to write a page of comics, and it does you no harm to take apart someone's finished work with every tool you can think of in order to better understand how to write your own stuff.
Oh right: my name's Josh Hechinger. I write comics, just not the ones you'll see here. What I'm going to do here is take a page, and do some of that stuff I was talking about up top.
Since this is my first time doing this, I decided to go with the first comic I remember reading: Uncanny X-Men 295, by Terry Austin (inks), Chris Eliopoulos (letters), Scott Lobdell (script), Brandon Peterson (pencils), and Joe Rosas (colors).
And here's the script I came up with from it. I use a modified version of the Dark Horse script, which you can find here.
PAGE FIFTEEN (FOUR PANELS)
P1. A GUARD in the background is taking aim at an unaware BISHOP, who's too busy plasma-blasting another GUARD that's coming up behind WOLVERINE.
– BISHOP If it doesn't come up later—
– BISHOP (small) Behind you
– BISHOP I appreciate you trusting me to accompany you on this unauthorized mission.
– WOLVERINE No problem, kid—
– WOLVERINE (small) Thanks
– WOLVERINE —But, I ain't known ya long enough to trust ya!
P2. BISHOP is already turning towards the next threat, not noticing that WOLVERINE is saving him in return, by slashing the gun of the GUARD who was aiming at BISHOP in P1.
– WOLVERINE I needed back-up, and what we're doin' is a violation o' international law.
– WOLVERINE Way I see it, you already got a record in the States…
– SFX SLICE!
– WOLVERINE …Whereas the rest o' the X-Men got a reputation to uphold.
P3. BISHOP'S a little downcast, even as he plasma-blasts another GUARD without breaking stride. Guy's really making a point of not using his gun. WOLVERINE is slamming a limp GUARD into a wall, but is more focused on the sign that says "Records Room —>".
– BISHOP How forward thinking of you.
– BISHOP Any idea where to find the records we need?
– WOLVERINE My heightened senses being what they are—
– WOLVERINE –combined with my ability to read—
– WOLVERINE –I'd say they're down this way.
P4. Our intrepid duo…uh, run like hell down the hall, being chased by whatever GUARDS are left standing (not many).
– SFX WOOP WOOP WOOP WOOP
– BISHOP Once this is all over, if you could make it a point to tell Storm…
– WOLVERINE What? That ya subdued these guys without killin' any of them?
– WOLVERINE I'd be happy to, kid. Just between you and me…?
– BISHOP Of course.
– WOLVERINE …Ya' kind of remind me of me in my youth.
So, What'd We Learn?
– That's easily double the amount of dialogue I'd use per panel, even on a four-panel page, even with an eye towards the scene being "These guys banter while they tear up a goon mob". Is it too wordy, or do I underwrite? Probably a little of both; also, I letter what I write half the time, and frankly, I'm not Eliopoulos-good enough to legibly cram in reams of dialogue.
– It's a simple fight scene, in theory: two characters vs. a mob. They each save each other once before noticing a detail that lets them get on with the plot, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't struggle a bit with trying to keep the moving parts clear in the script; it's harder when you have two named characters and a mob of identical guys…If they'd been fighting the Reavers or someone, I could at least throw named disposable goons into the panels.
– That line about "combined with my ability to read"…this page in general, the whole "banter-y brawl" aspect…man, you can trace a lot of my tonal whatevers as a writer back to this page.
– One weird aspect of this exercise is trying to find the mid-point between what's actually on the page, and what I think I would've written, that would then be interpreted to get what made it to print. P3's a good example: I scripted the panel as both Wolverine and Bishop actively taking down guards while their minds are elsewhere, while Peterson has Wolverine propping up a limp Guard and noticing the sign as he does so. My panel's funnier to me, but Peterson's panel is actually the better bit of storytelling: by making the Guard a limp noodle, Peterson draws the reader's attention to Wolverine and Wolverine noticing the sign instead of the action.
And with that, I think we're through here. I hope this was as educational for you as it was for me, and for all you growing writers out there, I encourage you play along at home with whatever comic pages strike your interest.
Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+. He enjoys long walks, sandos, and the beach. He'd appreciate it if you told Storm that he subdued these words without killing them.