In my pursuit of refining the different skills I need to create a successful comic I have been reading various books on writing comics.  Two books I purchased were Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis and The Art of Comic Book Writing by Mark Kneece. So far I have benefited the most from The Art of Comic Book Writing. There are always lots of areas of comic writing that are well explained. Character development, themes, conflict and script layout are some of the more common topics I see in ‘how to’ books.

In The Art of Comic Book Writing I have recently found a very practical point that is going to help me with issue one of Catapulted. So I thought I’d share. First let me explain the background to why I found this particular point so useful.

As I’m planning to have issue one of Catapulted to sell at LSCC2017 I need to determine the page count. Part of this will help me when going to a print company (something I’ve already started doing). When getting quotes I need to be able to specify the total page count. Now depending on the printer being used there are various things that can be done to ensure efficient use of the paper, thereby making the best economical use of your money. Sometimes its best to have a book divisible by 8 (on large printers using A2 paper) or sometimes even 16 (more on this later maybe in a separate post). For the print company I’m talking to, the book only needs to be divisible by 4. Once I subtract some pages for the front and back cover, introduction and afterword pages I can figure out how long I want the actual story to be. Now I recently read an article that was basically saying that 1st issues are too short in page count in order for the reader to be truly invested in the story. Although there are many factors I agree with this. So instead of doing a 32 page comic I wanted to opt for a 40 or 48 page book with the other issues being more standard at 32 pages.

Now why am I bothering to consider all this and what does it have to do with writing comics. Bear with me, I will get there…

Figuring out page counts first allows me to figure out how many pages the book will be in general. In the example of Catapulted I already knew that I wanted this to be a 4 issue miniseries. Using my page totals for issue one at 48 pages and the rest of the issues at 32 pages I can figure out the total amount of ‘story’ pages (keeping in mind each issue will have non ‘story’ pages). Once I have final page total for the story, I can now look at how this particular point from The Art of Comic Book Writing will help me.

Part of the book talks about the Three Act Structure for a comic. What is the Three Act Structure?

It breaks down to this:

Act I: Introduce an interesting incident

Act II: Understand the main challenge / risk to the story

Act III: Show the greatest risk / Climax

Now these acts are a little more involved than these high level descriptions. But if you are writing a story for the first time this can be pretty helpful to break up a story in these acts.

Considering this I now need to figure out how long each Act is going to be in terms of page count. If its too short, perhaps the reader won’t care about the story or characters enough by the end of issue one. However if its too long, readers may get bored and not bother picking up issue two because the first issue was too boring.

As a rule of thumb the book gives this formula:

Act I: 25 %

Act II: 65%

Act III: 10%

Again these are just loose percentages. Can you use different percentages? Totally. But if you are a newbie to writing like me, you value a guide that can help you break down the writing process, allowing you to focus more on the creative side of writing.

So lets take a simple example. If I want to create a 4 issue mini series at a standard 32 page comic book. The numbers would break down like this:

Number of story pages per book (excluding covers, afterwords etc.): 24

Total number of story pages across the series: 24 x 4 = 96

Act I = 96 x 25% = 24 pages

Act II = 96 x 65% = 62.4 pages

Act III = 96 x 10% = 9.6 pages

Now maybe it makes sense to round up and round down in places but this helps me to understand where the story should be by the end of 24 pages. This stops the story from taking too long to get interesting and ensures that the correct proportion of pages assigned to certain parts of the story.

To make things a bit more complicated for me, I’m going to make issue 1 a lot longer, as mentioned earlier. I want the first issue to begin Act II as I believe this gives maximum opportunity for the reader to be invested in the story and provides a bigger pull to pick up the next issue.

Now, to get busy with finishing issue 1 of Catapulted…