By Jonny Lupsha, Current Events Writer
Like a screenplay, comics must be carefully pitched, outlined, and drafted. Whether a writer is trying to get a recurring three-panel comic strip published in their local paper or a 500-page graphic novel, the process gets meticulous fast. Actor Keanu Reeves just got that creative experience.
Keanu Reeves created and co-wrote the new comic BRZRKR, which even features a character that shares his likeness. Despite the actor’s available resources and public image, he likely encountered the same challenges as any writer entering the medium.
In the past 40 years, comics have pushed boundaries in writing—and the literary world has noticed. Art Spiegelman’s Maus, in which a young man interviews his father about the father’s experience as a Holocaust survivor, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Alan Moore’s Watchmen, often hailed as the greatest comic series and graphic novel ever published, is the only comic book to make TIME Magazine’s 2005 “All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels” list.
The comics writing process is far more involved than filling in word balloons with one-liners. In his video series How to Create Comics, award-winning comic creator Peter Bagge detailed how to get started.
Many publishers will ask for an outline for a comic idea, but whether or not they require one, it’s good to make it anyway in order to give the story a clear direction and scope.
“An outline can be represented in two stages, starting with a very basic pitch outline,” Bagge said. “In a pitch outline, you describe all the principal characters, their quirks and motives, etc. You also describe the basic plot, complete with dramatic high points and any pertinent subplots.
“If the story is to be a one-shot, as opposed to a series, you ought to include how the story resolves itself, since spoilers aren’t an issue when the conversation is just between you and the person who’s paying you to write the story.”
The second stage is to do a more thorough, detailed outline. Bagge said it would touch on all plot points and events in the story and it would read very dryly, using the story’s events as building blocks to explain everything.
The Rule of Three
Bagge said that the outline process is a good time to see if the story is using the so-called “Rule of Three.” Most stories, he said, are told in three beats, whether they’re a joke or an epic saga. In most jokes and children’s stories, something happens three times. Most storytelling follows a pattern in the rule of three as well, like the classic “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl.”
“Another big rule of three that often goes hand in hand with the boy meets girl business is your protagonist’s crisis points,” he said. “The first is when he or she resolves to do something, which usually represents the end of the first act. The second is when it looks like all is lost, and that the main character is close to giving up all hope, which often wraps up act two.
“And the third of course is when the protagonist accomplishes his or her goal, which also is the story’s resolution.”
Once a story has been developed, the writer moves on to writing the script, which is formatted very similarly to film scripts. In that case, it may be helpful for an actor like Keanu Reeves, undoubtedly familiar with hundreds of movie screenplays, to move to comics.