Dennis O’Neil has a long history in the comics industry as both a writer and editor. He’s best known for writing Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman, through the seventies, Spider-Man in the eighties and for editing Batman-related titles in the nineties. A widely published novelist and screenwriter, he is currently lecturing at the NYU on Writing Comics And Graphic Novels. Bleeding Cool is grateful to receive a taster of the course every week.
Brace yourselves, buckos, because I’m about to throw a lot of information at you. That’s mostly what I do when I’m supposed to be teaching innocents how to write comics—provide information gleaned over the past half century or so and hope that some of those listening and/or reading will find some of it useful, or at least not boring. I don’t teach writing because…well, because I can’t. I don’t know how to do it. Does anyone? Is it teachable? It’d be swell if there were a story algorithm, a defined process that would result in a story that’s a prize-winner. (But we’d settle for a story that’s just publishable, wouldn’t we?). If such an algorithm exists, I haven’t yet gotten my copy.
And that brings us to our first and mightiest mantra: There is seldom any one absolutely, inarguable, unimpeachably right way to do anything.
But you don’t have to believe that. Or anything else that issues from me. The Buddhists have a saying that I like: If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him. Meaning (I think): Don’t take anybody’s word for anything. Listen. Read. Think and heed and then decide: Is this true for me in the here and now? If, in your expert opinion, it is, then—swell! Maybe you’ve acquired a new tool. And if it isn’t, let’s give it a no harm no foul and move on. And if you have no idea whether it’s true or not…hey, ain’t life interesting?
If we’ve learned anything from our national discourse for the last decade, it’s that nothing dribbling from the maw of authority figures is to be trusted, no?
Okay, enough with the preliminaries. Time for some of that information I mentioned. Let’s begin with a reading list, 10 books I enjoyed and that might be useful to comics writers, be they tyros or old pros. (There are 11 books on the list, but one I wrote and let’s not count it.)
1. Screenplay – Syd Field.
2. Adventures in the Screen Trade – William Goldman.
3. Hitchcock– Truffaut
4. The Scribbler’s Guide To The Land Of Myth – Sarah Beach
5. Comics and Sequential Art – Will Eisner
6. Graphic Storytelling – Will Eisner
7. Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud
8. DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics – Dennis O’Neil
9. The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler
10. Save the Cat – Blake Snyder
11. Writing for Comics with Peter David – Peter David
That’s a bare-bones list; some of you can surely add to it, and you might even want to do a bit of subtracting. Call it a starting point.
Now, buckos (you are buckos, aren’t you?) let us declare this blather at an end. Next week, we’ll discuss story structure. (Ah, but will we? Are you sure that’s true? Am I? And isn’t that Buddha coming over the hill?)
Dennis O’Neil teaches a ten week course on Writing Comics And Graphic Novels at the New York University. Classes are every Wednesday evening from 6.45pm to 9pm. For further information, please call NYU’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies at Studies at 212 9987200