Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels – Book Review

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Publisher: Watson-Guptill Publications

While it probably isn’t the ‘best’ book on how to write comics, this is probably the ‘best’ practical guide on working within the comics industry.

Warren Ellis states in the front flap “there is no one better qualified in the field of graphic novels to write this wonderful book,” and it’s hard to dispute him. To justify my opening statement, Bendis is no McCloud or Eisner. You won’t find any deep investigation of how to develop thematic elements or anything that literary here. What you will find is an incredibly successful writer’s opinion of how to write comics.

There’s no questioning that Bendis is one of the most successful comic writers of the 21st century. Name a character (providing it’s a Marvel one) and he’s probably written them. Add to that his creator owned work and it would be daft to look past this book.

If you want to learn how to write a story this isn’t the book for you. Thankfully Bendis assumes a knowledgeable reader. He never patronises you quite like some other ‘how to write comics’ books do. At its core this is a book that teaches writers how to format their comic scripts well. Many times during reading it felt a bit like a lecture handout. Bendis appropriately refers to his time teaching comic writing occasionally during the book. It’s dry but I liked that. Bendis is as to the point as he possibly could be and personally I found that to be a very respectful thing to do. He never sugar coats any of his tips. Throughout the book there was a real ‘hey this is how I did it but don’t feel like I’m telling you this is the only way’ tone and it worked.

I write this review as a student in creative writing expected to graduate next month. So I’m somewhat biased towards Bendis’s no nonsense approach that assumes the reader has a basic grasp of storytelling. When I look for tips and advice for ‘making it’ as a comics writer I mainly look for genuine advice on formatting, writing for an artist, how to talk to editors etc. That’s exactly what this book does. I read it at a perfect time in my life. This helped me have a great time with the book but I understand not everyone will be in my position.

Bendis goes over how he writes his scripts, how he builds relationships with artists and editors, how he develops business contracts. He really goes over everything imaginable. I’d argue that the information he gives the reader is invaluable. So far I’ve never came across anything as helpful in regards to dealing with artists, editors and the business.

With that said, it must be pointed out that Bendis doesn’t actually say that much. With seven chapters, his blunt tone means there isn’t that many words to a page. Ironically it’s his guest contributors that offer the most advice. Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, David Mack, Alex Maleev, Michael Avon Oeming, Diana Schutz, C. B. Cebulski have guest chapters within the book (some running longer than Bendis’s chapter on the subject). Honestly, if you took Bendis’s contribution out of the book and considered it a compilation of comic creators’ advice on comic writing I’d probably still recommend it. These supplemental writers offer some fantastic advice. I’ve had this book recommended to me by an industry professional for these guest chapters. On top of this other creators offer their scripts and sketches.

Maybe the combination of Bendis and the guests is why the book is so expensive. At $24.99 this is no cheap read. In my opinion, the book could be cheaper if the printing cost wasn’t so high. It’s a large book physically, being the same length as a graphic novel but a little wider. It really doesn’t need to be this size. While the art inside is stunning, most of the time it is used to pad out page space where Bendis hasn’t written much. His book on comic writing genuinely has two page spreads. How very Bendis. I’ve got a feeling if many of the pictures were removed the book would be significantly smaller. I’d still buy it but probably not at $24.99.

I should add that Bendis finishes the book with a few fun writing exercises. Having never had a class in comic writing I found these exercises interesting.

All in all, this book offers mature advice to writers looking to produce comic book scripts. From formatting to pitches to contracts, Bendis covers it all (albeit sparsely). If you’re looking to learn about comic writing then you should check this out.

Recommendation: pick up the book – if – you seriously want to learn about the comic book writing process.

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Author: Alex

I review comics and books. I also take issue with a lot of things.

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