Comic Book Writing with Sean Michael Wilson
Many people think graphic novels, comic books, or manga are all conceived and generated by illustrators. But this is not necessarily the case. Sean Michael Wilson flew up from Kyushu to share with SCBWI Japan about writing graphic novels.
Wilson, who is not an illustrator, has been creating and writing comic books/graphic novels since 2003, ranging from literature adaptations, nonfiction graphic novels, original fiction works, and adaptations of Japanese historical works such as The 47 Ronin and Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai—the Manga Edition. At the SCBWI Japan event, after introducing the audience to the wide range of projects he has worked on, he talked about the difference between graphic novel artist and writer: as a writer, he comes up the story line, but he doesn’t just fill in the word bubbles—he gives detailed textual descriptions for each panel on the page, while also giving enough space for artists to be creative. Wilson then discussed examples of basic graphic novel elements such as panels, word balloons, captions, and gutters. He emphasized the importance of time in each panel on a page and transitions between panels, saying, “Each panel should be a beat.” Wilson reminded participants that the most important thing for writers to keep in mind is the story and then went over the basic process from idea to plotting, page breakdown of action, and finally the script, including description, dialogue, and captions. He explained that the overall arrangement of panels is generally left to the illustrator.
After the process talk, participants were placed in pairs—generally a writer and an illustrator together. Pairs were told to create a story including a variation of two characters meeting such as two children, two dogs, or two total strangers meeting. They were assigned to plan and generate two pages with a total of ten panels to tell the story.
While the interactive part of the event could easily have been twice as long, and pairs were racing to finish, everyone enjoyed the challenge of collaborating to create the two pages. Many participants then adjourned to a nearby café for continued writing and illustration talk.