There’s this photo that’s posted on a museum website that makes the rounds on the internet from time to time. It shows a modest drafting table and a dingy chair in an unglamorous office. It’s nothing fancy. And at first glance, one might be inclined to think that the artist it belonged to would never create anything imaginative or enduring. The space is so uninspiring. But it belonged to Jack Kirby. It’s almost hard to reconcile that so many brilliant ideas sprang from the imagination of one man, despite his meager studio.
But then you realize that all the fancy tools and studios don’t matter. It’s all about the personal creativity and the discipline of an individual.
That’s one of the reasons I am so enamored with this new book: Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics. This one isn’t about the fancy tools needed to create. This is not a how-to about getting a fancy new software program, or even formatting scripts in one particular way. This new book gets to the heart of things and provides solid, useful guidance in memorable ways.
Paul Kupperberg is a long-time comics author, having written so many of my favorites. I was excited to see him sharing his insights. After reading this book, I asked him about his fresh approach.
“The thing is, I only know one way to write a comic book story and that’s the way I write a comic book story,” said Kupperberg. “Every writer has their own way of working, of course, their own ‘do’s and don’ts’ for creativity. I’ve read a lot of how-to books on writing, and not just for comics, and I’ve found a surprising amount of contradictory advice out there, all because those writers seem to think what works for them should also work for everyone else. But I don’t believe there are any one-size-fits-all rules for creativity, so what I set out to do was explain how I go about doing it and, more importantly, why and let the reader figure out their own means to reach that end.”
In this inspiring book, Kupperberg also shares lessons from writers beyond comics. For example, when discussing the reality of fiction writing, he references lessons learned from mystery writer Harlan Coben, and he suggests that readers may also learn from Lawrence Block’s excellent guides to writing fiction.
Show and Tell
Paul Kupperberg has enjoyed quite a career. He makes his point using examples from throughout his career. Kupperberg includes illustrated examples from so many comics, from different publishers and genres. It’s more than just eye candy. I think it’s important. It allows aspiring writers to jump around this volume, cherry picking ideas in a non-sequential manner, or even revisiting ideas and concepts.
It’s fun for non-writers too. Kupperberg provides a mix of his own “greatest hits” with memorable scenes from the historical tapestry of comics. He pulls back the curtain just enough so we’re able to appreciate it all in a new light.
The author weaves quite a bit of comics history into this volume. Parts of this book feel like an issue of Two Morrow’s Back Issue Magazine, especially when he is discussing the twists and turns of writing (and creating) characters like Arion, Lord of Atlantis and the New God, Takion.
The Big Party
Kupperberg’s a likeable, witty guy with a deep respect for the medium. As such, he has a quite a network. For this book, it sometimes feels like he is hosting this grand Gatsby style party at his house for the top comic creators, and you’re invited. And all the esteemed guests are very generous with their nuggets of wisdom.
Each chapter ends with a “PRO Tips”, where writers, artists and editors provide additional insight on the main ideas discussed in that chapter.
And this book takes both a big picture view and gets down to the nitty gritty details. I was impressed to see that Kupperberg even focuses on comic book lettering, and even recruits the leading letterers to share their insights and knowledge with the readers.
It’s About Time!
I’ve seen Kupperberg at conventions with fans and other professionals. He’s always upbeat and encouraging. It’s no surprise that this insightful book is also upbeat and encouraging. It kind of makes me wonder, what took him so long?
“I guess the idea of writing the Guide was kicking around in my head for a while,” Kupperberg reveals. “In fact, I’d pretty much been writing bits and pieces for years, in online columns I did for ComicsCareerNewsletter.com and random blog posts, not to mention in answering all the questions I get from developing writers at conventions and store appearances. After a while, enough people said to me, ‘hey, you ought to write a book!’ that I pulled all the material and wrote that book, Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics.”