Process: Script to Comic Page

Whether it’s writing, making a film, or even watching cooking shows, I’ve always been interested in process. I like learning about how things are made, and seeing all the steps laid out separately. So going with that theme, I figured I’d take a crack at one of those on the topic of comics. I’m right in the middle of my latest project Rum Row, and thought this was a perfect opportunity to illustrate how an idea goes from the script to the final colored page. If you hate learning “how the sausage is made”, you can at least look at some cool pictures. Now onward!


Some concept artwork for the main zeppelin of our story Rum Row, along with a small headshot of its Captain, Katherine Blanchard.

If you’re a comic fan, you’ve probably seen something similar in the back of a graphic novel or collected edition. After the initial story and characters have been fleshed out, I’ll sit down to write the actual script. I write in “full script” format. I don’t want to bore you with the different styles, but if you’re interest you can go here.

Basically this is where I describe how many panels are going on the page, what happens in each one, and write the dialogue (word balloons) for each character. I copy and pasted page ten of the recent script, then put the finished pencils directly following it. In this example, this is simply an action page. So there won’t be any word balloons. But I think you’ll still get the idea. All the beautiful artwork is courtesy of my collaborator Michele Bandini.

Rum Row Script Page

Page Ten (4 Panels)


Outside of the Duchess, we see a group of police zeppelins that read NYPD on the side poking through the clouds, dispersing the air balloons and other ships.


Cut to the back of the NYPD zeppelin opening up and police biplanes are exiting. One plane, The Albatross, is larger and different looking then the rest. It actually has helicopter propellers in the wings, so it can hover in place. This is for boarding other ships.


The police planes fly by the hot air balloons at full speed. A woman watches through opera glasses, as her drunk husband is puking off the side.


Cut to the back of the Police chief looking out the viewing panel of the lead NYPD Zeppelin at the Duchess.

Pencils based on script above


I think right off the bat, you’ll notice how informal the script is. Unlike prose, or even screenplays, there’s no poetry to comic book scripts. Generally the only people that read them, are the artist, and maybe an editor if you’re working on a hired gig say for Marvel or DC. It’s basically like a letter to the artist. I write them almost like I’m having a conversation. If you’ve never read one, they can feel disjointed and hard to read with all the panel and page breaks. But you get used to them eventually.

When I work, I usually send over the script to the artist, and he/she will do thumbnails of how they see the page. We discuss it, and once we both agree, then move on to the pencils. I’m not married to any of my scripts. If the artist has a better way of getting the story across, I’ll go with it. If that means more panels, less panels, or even changing things around slightly. Whatever is best for the story. This is collaboration after all, and hopefully both of us want this to be the best we can. I try to think visually when writing these of course. But usually what I envision is nothing compared to what the artist can turn out.

Here's some thumbnail examples of a page, like I was talking about earlier.

Here’s some thumbnail examples of a page, like I was talking about earlier.

Then finally, after the pencils have been drawn, it’s time to ink the page. In professional comics the pencils can be passed off to separate inkers, or the artist may do it themselves. It really depends on time availability and preference. For this project, Michele did both.

After the pencils are inked

Rum Row pag12

Once the page has been inked, the files are sent to the colorists. These days everything is done digitally, and the color options are endless. But back in the early days, they only had four color options to make all their combinations with. Below is the colored version of the page above, and it’s almost finished. The lettering of the page is the final step.

The color is added (Colors courtesy of Derek Dow)

RR_12bAnd that’s it for this page! If there were any dialogue, it would be added now. Then once all the pages have been lettered, they would be sent to the printer or put in PDF form so people could read it digitally.

I hope that wasn’t too painful, and hopefully interesting to non comic fans. I know most, if not all of you are not. But I think if you gave them a chance, you would really dig them. In Japan adults read comics all the time. And they can cover any topic from sports, romance stories, to giant robots. There is no stigma, and they sell like crazy. But in America, they tend to be associated with children and super heroes. Attitudes have improved slightly in recent years, since every other movie made these days is based on a comic, even the non super heroes films surprisingly. Although I still think we’re a ways away from most people reading comics. The Walking Dead is an exception, but hopefully that will change.

One thing I always like to remind non comic readers of, is there is no budget in comics. If you can think it, it can be drawn. If you’re ever interested, or want some suggestions. Just shoot me an email, or tweet at @IhateMaxwell. If you let me know what things you’re into, I promise I can find a couple comics for you. Alright I’ll stop rambling now, and thanks again for reading!


Failing the Internets

I’m a powerful man in the failing arts. Whether it was early attempts to lose my virginity, playing sports, or just trying to make a decent salsa. (Which is actually way harder than you think. After you read this go make an attempt. It will probably taste horrible. )  I even did stand up for a couple years in college, which is like asking for failure on purpose. Failure that you seek out every night from strangers. Even waiting in traffic to do so. Ludicrous I know. I guess all I’m saying is, I have a track record.

Then last summer I was approached to put out an eBook based on this blog. I’ll give you a hint. It failed. I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

When asked initially, I was flattered. The fact that someone besides a parent or friend liked my blog was nice. I’d never had any intentions to do anything with this blog except write it really. It was mainly a thing I just did for fun sometimes. Also the word eBook was fairly new to me. I know, I’m a technology grandpa. But the only experiences I had of “straight to eBook” books, seemed to be from authors looking for a cheap way to put out their glamour projects, and self publish. (Which by the way is definitely not true. There are some talented writers out there that are selling the shit out of their work, and more power to them.) I’m just explaining my mindset when I took on this project.

But first, the publisher wanted to test some of my “articles” on their website. I thought calling them articles was being kind, because I write haiku about dung beetles and pizza. But that aside, I thought it was a fine idea. Some were received fairly well, and then others not so well. And that’s when I got my first taste of internet comments. I’m sure you’ve all read your fair share of horrible comments. But I’ll do my best to explain how they feel when they’re written directly at you. It’s basically like enjoying a perfect day at the beach. The sun is out, you’re getting a tan, and the water is perfect. But then, all of a sudden, a giant great white shark jumps out of the water, and bites off your genitals. It feels kind of like that.

After that response, I couldn’t wait to release the book! (Read in a sarcastic voice). Which we did. And worse than a negative response, it got no response at all. Like “Dad, can you tell Grandma to buy another copy” bad. Suddenly I felt like the thing I was doing for fun became a huge chore, that I invested a ton of time in for nothing. I had something new to add to the failure utility belt. Failing the internets. And after that, I didn’t feel like blogging a whole lot.  Hence the blog sabbatical. (Cry me a river. Why should I care?) Well, I was just going to tell you! Relax! There’s a light to this long, self indulgent piece of nonsense!

As much as I hated this whole process, I learned a lot. That if I you want to write or create things for any type of audience, there will be people that hate it. Even hate you for that matter. And if you put out something, there’s a huge chance that no one will give a shit. But that’s not a reason to stop making things. I have to create things, because my brain will explode if I don’t get them out. I have ideas that I want made, and people will always have their opinions. I’m a nobody with a very small readership. And I’m sure as hell glad I got to experience this on such a small scale, when it doesn’t really matter.

I will have my first big comic project coming out this year. Hopefully in the next 3-4 months, which I will talk about more as we get closer to the date. But in the current days of twitter, blogs, and anonymous commenters. It’s important to get used to the noise. If you read this far, you are a hero. I don’t normally write this long, and rarely get this personal. But I needed to get this out. Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your similar stories of failure. Failure stories are always fun to trade. Also come find me on twitter at @IhateMaxwell too. We can tweet about stuff. Later!


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