The Writer Species


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I must be mad. A weekly column! There is no way I’m going to find the time to produce a disciplined well-crafted column every week so what you’re going to get is a rambling piece knocked out on my laptop on a Saturday morning. The idea is to give you an insight into the day-to-day life of a comic book writer.

I’m not sure how typical I am of the species. I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a typical comics writer. There are those who do their best work in the pub, others work nine to five at a desk. A few dodgy characters work only by night. I really don’t have a fixed method. I do have a room in my house, which is officially my writing studio but I tend to wander from room to room, go for walks, sit in cafes or scribble in note pads on the tube. I guess I’m nomadic, and totally undisciplined. My only absolute rules are to work on a script until it’s as good as I can make it, and to get it in on time. But no two scripts are produced in the same way.

Right now my priority is the fifth issue of Silent War for Marvel. Frazer Irving is half way through the art on issue four, so I have to get this script in by end of the week to give editor Steve Wacker time to check it and return it with notes (something along the lines of “Great job, Dave, but you may want to re-think the Captain America scene. He’s dead.”) I’ll then do a final draft, which will go to Frazer. I’ll expect to hear from Frazer a couple days later with comments. Here’s one from last month: “Fuck you, you heartless bastard!” …Ah yes, the splash page featuring three hundred Inhumans.

Frazer particularly enjoys massive fight scenes with a zillion costumed heroes, so I’m expecting him to be thrilled with the script for issue #5 where the above-mentioned three hundred Inhumans battle the Avengers.

Frazer, hard at work on Silent War

David, hard at work
on Silent War

As an introduction to my working methods, here’s a breakdown of one working day:

It’s a Thursday. I get up at seven to take my son, Alex, to the station where he catches a train to school. It’s a twenty-minute walk and it’s a great way to keep in touch with Alex and clear my head for the day.

Back home I have breakfast and get to work. Today I’m working in the kitchen perched at the bar with my laptop, a yellow notepad and a stack of comics. I’m reading New Avengers and Paul Jenkin’s Sentry. Each issue of the Silent War mini-series has a different narrative voice and this issue it’s the Sentry, so I’m immersing myself in the character to get the voice right.

Click to enlarge

This issue of Silent War is already plotted and broken down into scenes. I know all the dramatic beats I want to hit with this issue and the structure is all there. I have a non-linear approach to scriptwriting. I think of it more like sculpture, beginning with a malleable material that has the basic shape of the work I have in mind. I’ll write sections of dialogue, work out the pacing of a scene, moving around from scene to scene until I have all the material I need. This is usually at least thirty pages of dialogue and the toughest part of the job is cutting that back to 22 pages.

Around ten o’clock the post arrives. This is one of those great opportunities for work-avoidance. Today’s post is particularly distracting. Rich Starkings has sent me a copy of the new Hip Flask hard cover collection. A gorgeous quality production. Then there are comps of Silent War #1 from Marvel and a copy of the re-vamped Comics International.

The afternoon is spent writing dialogue and ordering the scenes. There are three locations in this issue and events are happening simultaneously in each, so I need to choose the right moment to cut from one location to another. I realise that a scene set in Attilan, planned to come near the end of the issue will interrupt the build to the issue’s climax so I shift it back a few pages. At this stage I have to know exactly how many pages each scene will need. This is where I find I have far too much material and I start ruthlessly pruning.

So the structure is there, most of the dialogue is done. The next stage will be to thumbnail the scenes. I always do loose visuals of every script even if it’s only stick figures. That will have to wait. It’s Thursday and that’s new comics day so I head into town to pick up the latest books. Last week was insane with the whole Captain America death thing and I almost got killed in the stampede for the last copies of Cap #25. This week is a lot quieter and I only pick up a half-dozen books.

Click to enlargeBack home I deal with e-mails. Brian Haberlin, artist and editor on Spawn, has sent the first three pages of art from issue #167. They look terrific. Active Images designer JG Roshell has sent a link to a brilliant little Flash site he’s doing to promote the colour Strange Embrace, beginning in May from Image.

Most exciting e-mail of the day is from an editor with notes on a top-secret project. I’ll be working with one of my favourite artists on this one. Everything is looking good. One final polish to the breakdowns and we will be go.

The day’s post also brought a DVD of Deadwood from Lovefilm.  Once Alex is in bed I finally chill in front of the TV with my partner. Vikki gives Deadwood a definite thumbs down. I kind of liked it. I was particularly impressed by the number of times the writer managed to work ‘cock sucker’ into the script.


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