Comic Series

Writing comics week 1: class notes

So here we go again. Had the first of the six week creating comics class at the Irish writers centre in Dublin. I enjoyed it, hopefully others did too.

Week 1 was about creating stories. Specifically Future Shocks. 2000ad’s short sci fi stories with a twist.

The basic format of a future shock is pretty simple – four pages. One twist (though the more twisty the better). The twist really needs to come out of the story though, no “suddenly they all became aliens!” It helps if it’s an ironic result of the protagonist’s actions. 

There are lots of ways to come up with ideas for stories, anything should be able to inspire, the trick is to tease a story out of that inspiration. 

During class we used a bunch of words to suggest stories, here’s one such:

The word scar. This suggest a scar in the landscape. From that we talked about a planet that’s ripping itself apart. The visual of a giant planet starting to gape with a scar across its entirety suggested the idea of two factions who believed that that the other side was the cause of this. And what if those sides fought and had a battle, only for the planet to fully split because it’s giving birth to giant indifferent God-creature.

(Look, it was made up on the hoof).

We talked about theme, and figuring out what the theme of the story is/was – is the story about how God is indifferent to suffering, or is the story about how two sides can disagree over stuff that’s utterly immaterial. (Trump leading on faction, Ian Paisley the other suggested some nice visual humour – always good in 2000ad)

Irony, humour are very important to future shocks.

We then burned through a half a dozen different ideas for stories, taking each and teasing out bits that felt unimportant – is this really a sci-fi story? If that laser was a Tommy Gun would it change anything at all? 

Identify whether you’ve written a future shock (sci fi story with twist) or a horror story or time twister. Depending on what you’ve written you’ve got to go back and start pulling it more into that shape.

The four page format of a future shock is interesting too. Each page will have, roughly, 4-5 panels, and the last panel of each page will be a little cliff hanger (or a twist or at least something to hook the reader, a reason for them to turn the page)

Broadly speaking the four pages become:

Page 1/ Setup 

Page 2/establish the stakes/escalate

Page 3/escalate

Page 4/ironic twist

Using that four page format to fill the sorry out – if the idea isn’t big enough, expand it, if it’s too large start to figure out how to cut it short.

We don’t have a word count, but we have a page count.

We want to build world, introduce characters we’re interested in and make sure our ideas have visual hooks – a disease that leaves characters with sense of melancholic ennui isn’t as good as a disease that gives characters giant spines poking randomly from their bodies.

One of the suggested story ideas came from “witness”

A child taken in to an interrogation room to be interrogated about his parents murder,only for it to be revealed the child to reveal he’s the murderer and kills the cops.

We taking this idea, visually it’s weak – and for a horror story (which is it’s closes fit) it’s not really horrific.

So what if the child is actually some sort of monster? We get to see the child describing the monster eating the parents and then the cops are killed by the monster.

Better. But still a little obvious.

But what if, instead, the make the good cop the monster. Bad cop interrogates the child, child describes seeing the monster. Bad cop isn’t having any of this shit. Good cop turns up to placate the child. Good cop leaves. Bad cop turns into monster eats child (or, at the very least we see bad cop running out, saying the 10 year old just had a heart attack)

Ramp up and ramp up again. Figure out your theme and embed it in the story. If it’s horror what’s the most horrific it can be.

Anyway, there was more, but that was week 1.

Next week script writing!

Teaching Comics

Tomorrow I start teaching my six week course on creating comics (in Dublin). It’s all built around creating future shocks, but filled, I hope, with interesting/useful observations (and really it’s about any sort of short story writing). Each class is two hours long, and, with the exception of week 5, it’s really a 2 hour lecture and q&as sessions.

This is my second go at teaching this course, and it was interesting to see how it evolved from my first ideas. 

My initial pitch looked like this:

Week 1: Coming up with ideas (what makes a future shock, mining ideas, turning those into stories with a twist)

Week 2: Writing a script.

Week 3: Thumbnails

Week 4: Pencils

Week 5: Inking Comics.

Week 6: Cram lettering/colouring in to one week.

Not being exactly sure who would attend such a class, it turned into a “how to write stories for artists” class. While touching on broad drawing techniques (which were heavier on storytelling than actually drawing).

I maintain you don’t need to be a “good” artist to be a good storyteller. You can tell some pretty good stories with stick figures (or just cutting out  collages).

I blogged the course as I did it week by week and I intend to do so again. Those blogs will remain free (I’m not a monster!) but I will encourage you to sign up to patreon for any extras!

Tomorrow, week 1, will be about coming up with story ideas, and types of futureshocks/stories and why short stories are the best place to learn. Using some simple word-seeds (I pluck a bunch of nice random words and we start burning through story ideas) the class is pretty packed though so it’s going to be a learning experience for me too.


Dentist today. Possible one of the most painful visits I’ve ever had to the dentist (marginally beating the last visit when I popped in to replace a bit of a filling that had popped out only for the dentist to announce I needed a tooth removed, that is a day that will live long in infamy)

AND WORSE! Nothing got done. It was literally too painful. So we’re giving it a day or two to rest before proceeding.

My dentist is also one of the ones going private. I find myself entirely frustrated about this, firstly I genuinely believe in the NHS and am willing to pay more for the damn thing to work properly, second of all, sure sometimes I can afford the odd private dental treatment, but I’m a freelancer, at some point I’ll be faced with needing dental work and not be able to afford the damn thing, and finally – and this is particuarly frustrating, now I have to be an expert on what detnal plans are best for me. I don’t want to know the difference between dentplan and bupa dentists. I DON’T CARE. I just, occasionally, want a dentist.

(Back on friday)

My patreon is still sort of functioning, obviously I haven’t updated it in some time, and I feel a bit guilty about that, but I’ve decided to consider it a gift from some people to me to keep you know… internetting. (I’ve given people lots of opportunities to cancel!) There’s a bit of a chunk of change once a year in there that I can download to my bank account (not serious money, but enough to make the effort worth it) and I don’t like locking my posts behind a paywall, though I do like having somewhere I can consider off-the-record (for advance looks and so on)

I’ve just linked the patreon to the blog, not sure how that will work out, we’ll see I suppose.

What does this mean to you? absolutely nothing. If you wanna sign up for my patreon, I can guarantee you nothing beyond my forgetting it exists and then suddenly remembering, but equally I can guarantee as little as you might think it is, in this perilous freelance life once a year it is actually make a quantifiable difference.

Youngest son had a sleepover, well, more of a talk-over last night. First time he’s hosted. Kept wife up all night from yakking, so may also be the last time for that.

The radio DJ Steve Wright died, he was a fixture on radio in the UK since the 80s, and as a spotty teen working my first day job in the mid-to-late 80s, he was the background noise of every single afternoon in work.

The shop, Botanic Computer Centre, was a family owned/run shop that started as a radio hardware shop, in 1949 (originally called Ideal Radio)- run by two brothers Bert and Davey (though actually Davey did a lot of the legwork, it was almost certianly Bert’s shop). By the time I started they were old men, in their 60s and Davey, who spent a surprising amount of time driving me from job to job (we’d sell Amstrad PCW8256s and PCW9512s – giant beasts of machines, with integral crt monitors, and often with vast daisy wheel style printers) and in the process he’d turn on the radio, hear Steve Wright, then complain about “bloody yaya music” and turn it to radio ulster (which was more talk radio)

I find the older I get the more I hear music and think “that sounds like bloody yaya music”.

Me at work in the sister shop to Botanic – A&F Corner. I suspect this was actually around early 90s?

It’s weird when a company you worked for for so long no longer exists, especially an IT company, but then Bert – a very smart man, with – even in to his lates 60s/70s was fascinated by tech (I remember us looking at the images from the first rover on mars) always thought the internet might be a flash in the pan.