Feb 25 2009

Comic Book Writing Tip of the Day: Sell the Next Issue

Published by at 2:43 am under Comic Book Art,Writing Superhero Stories

I’m very fond of Spiderman Loves Mary Jane, particularly the way it ends its issues. The last page of each issue wraps up the plot of that issue and foreshadows the next issue.  The cliffhangers are usually pretty strong and make the reader want to keep going.  For example, check out these sample concluding pages.

The second issue is mainly about whether Mary Jane can get a good part in the play. This page tells us that she gets the lead and immediately launches into the next plot. Can Mary Jane survive the wrath of her jealous opponent?

The third issue is mainly about Mary Jane trying to fend off her jealous rival and trying to woo Spiderman. Spiderman finally asks her for a date on the last page, which is an interesting cliffhanger. (How do you date a superhero? What’s that like?)

This one requires a bit more explanation. At the end of the fourth issue, Peter Parker asks Mary Jane to go on a date with him instead of Spiderman. (Peter Parker is Spiderman, of course, but Mary Jane doesn’t know that). She shuts him down.

The fifth issue covers the date. Towards the end, Mary Jane grows concerned that a mysterious new girl is hitting on Peter. The final page reveals her, which makes her more threatening for two reasons: 1) she’s clearly good-looking and 2) she’s Gwen Stacy, one of the most important characters in the Spiderman universe. If anyone can steal Peter away from MJ, it’s Gwen.


30 responses so far

30 Responses to “Comic Book Writing Tip of the Day: Sell the Next Issue”

  1. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 25 Feb 2009 at 5:31 am

    Poor Peter, that’s gotta hurt. Was he testing her or something? There’s only one way for that to end, and that’s trouble.

    Gwen in the bottom one reminds me of a girl I know. It’s probably her stance. She’s wearing a nice jacket, too. It’s the sort of thing I want Kamari to wear when she becomes Sentry, except in red with a hood. Dammit, now I want one! Haha.

  2. Dforceon 25 Feb 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Wow. I had yet to see any Western hero (other than a pic of Robin-ette, and that was somewhat strange) in manga form. lol.

    At the risk of sounding somewhat obnoxious, manga Spiderman looks full of Win. (My apologies everyone)… although… the color is a bit of a put off for me… but that’s just my taste.

    Tying loose ends and foreshadowing looks easy on here, but I can’t believe its really that easy. What do you do if your plot extends more than one issue?

  3. B. Macon 25 Feb 2009 at 3:18 pm

    If you’re doing a plot arc that extends more than one issue, then I’d recommend ending each issue with a major discovery and/or cliffhanger. For example, let’s say you’re doing a four-issue arc about a superhero that’s investigating a crime.

    In issue #1, the superhero narrowly survives an assassination attempt. The issue ends with a climactic battle that reveals this is much, much worse than he had thought. For example, maybe one of his defeated enemies refers to some much larger plans to take him down, or the enemies know his alternate identity, etc.

    In issue #2, the superhero begins investigating the shadowy forces that tried to assassinate him. His search brings him closer to home than he had expected… the villain orchestrating this sinister plot was a close friend!

    In issue #3, the hero confronts the villain as the villain tries to pick up some intermediate Macguffin, like the diamonds he needs to power his death-ray or whatever. The villain beats the tar out of him…

    …but at the beginning of issue #4, the hero escapes. There will probably be some soul-searching here as he tries to think of how to beat the villain. Then the hero barges in the villain’s lair and the final fight commences. This time, the hero wins and saves the day. Spend a few pages on denouement and foreshadowing the next arc. The End.

    What do you think?

  4. Dforceon 25 Feb 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Huh. So the key is to reveal a big answer and leave a question per issue?

  5. B. Macon 25 Feb 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Yeah, I’d say that sounds right.

  6. Dforceon 25 Feb 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Ah, OK then.

    But, say it’s the first issue of a new arc (or the first one) or a stand alone; where do you introduce the Big Question of the issue? (As in how soon before the middle of the comic).

  7. Dforceon 25 Feb 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Funny thing. I just noticed that your clock is an hour before mine. lol.

  8. Ragged Boyon 25 Feb 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Good advice, I’m hoping I can cram some good foreshadowing into this first issue.

    I guess I could end it after Adrian beats Raxium, and declares himself Showtime. Then he will ask Jimelly when “his” training begins. Jimelly will remark saying “Your training? Oh, your not alone” upon which he’ll show Adrian his fellow competitiors.

    Then issue #2 will jump forward a few days to Adrian in the middle of a live fire training session with his fellow competitors. They will probably have their lasers set to stun to lower the stakes. After all, this is just training and they’re not that far along.

  9. B. Macon 25 Feb 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Dforce, what’s the big question you’re thinking about for a standalone?

    For example, in Superhero Nation I’d say the main question is whether a normal and everyday human can survive being thrust into a dangerous and exotic world. We suggest that first on the cover by placing a normal-looking human next to a reptile creature that looks kind of dangerous. (We also use symbolism in the background. Immediately behind the accountant is a water-cooler, and behind the reptile is a rocket launcher).

    From there, we’re fairly explicit on the back-cover. We’ll probably phrase it as something like “When mysterious killers start murdering federal agents, it’s up to two unlikely Homeland Security agents– an accountant and a mutant alligator– to investigate.” That sentence is longer and more convoluted than I’m comfortable with, but I think the content is engaging.

    What do you think?

  10. Ragged Boyon 25 Feb 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Hey, B. Mac, our stories have nearly the same big question.

  11. Dforceon 25 Feb 2009 at 9:21 pm

    First off, make sure to inform me when the comic (or book? little confused about that) comes out. I’ve seen the design for the cover and read here and there (skimmed over since I was pressed for time at the… time). Very nice. Also, what of those pins you spoke of? How do I get on the waiting list for that (I’m sure the article said how, but alas, my memory fails me).

    For the standalone, the big Q I have now is:

    “Can jealousy lead to the murder of others?” (If I take on the antagonist as the main character, which looks likely). Now that I think about it, is the question too blah? I could phrase it a number of ways, but it would still deal with the fact that the villain likes the girl, and would kill to make himself look the hero.

    Just thought of this: “When the new kid attracts the girl, will murder make things right?” (odd, yes, but is essentially what is going through Big Bad’s mind… sort of).

    Or “If the new guy is stealing the girl, what can the best friend do?” (the villain and girl are best friends).

    … or: “Can a villain be a hero?” (kinda like this one, but seems to big a scope for a miniseries; and meaning that the bad guy is trying to distract the hero from saving the girl so that he gets to).

    Or if from the protagonists POV: “Can a powerless teen save the girl and his classmates when forced to choose?” (This one seems odd in that it tells me that the hero’s getting the girl, which he isn’t, and that it only seems to fit the ending of the story).

    This is sort of a love/hero miniseries in that the villain’s drive is to be with the girl, who seems to be pinning for the new kid, who is forced to save innocents caught in the middle from the villain’s machinations. The setting and stakes are small, but that is inteded for brevity. Uh… what I have so far is on the forum, if you wouln’t mind looking at that there for the actual fleshing out of the story.

  12. Dforceon 25 Feb 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Wow. All this critical thinking… it’s a new feeling. Hehe.

  13. B. Macon 25 Feb 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Yeah, there’s some conceptual overlap (normal people thrust into strangeness). It’s a very common concept in superhero stories, and maybe in heroic stories generally.

    I’m pretty sure that our products will turn out totally different (what with the premises, plots and settings being so different). Another difference is that Agent Black doesn’t adapt well to the strangeness. My impression is that the relationship between Adrian/Showtime and his alien mentor is mostly friendly and cooperative, which suggests to me that he probably won’t be that much a fish out of water.

    I think the fish-out-of-water element is pretty important to my story, which is why the contrast between the normal Agent Black and the exotic Agent Orange is the main theme of our cover. In your cover, I would imagine we’d see Showtime but not Adrian because I don’t think that the conflict between the normal Adrian and his exotic alter-ego is a core element of the story. (Also, because Showtime is more exotic and probably looks cooler, he will probably produce a more interesting visual). What do you think?

    Speaking of your cover… you might want to think about what kind of artist you’d like to hire. You’ll probably want an illustrated sample for your pitch to publishers.

  14. Ragged Boyon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Now that were getting to the technical stuff, I’ll definitely need more support. I’m not exactly sure how to post a thingy(I can’t think of the word), that is looking for an artist on DeviantArt. If you can give me a format I can type it up and you can tell how to post it on DA.

    Also, I’m still dead broke, I’m not sure how smoothly that will work out. I also doubt the prospect of me getting any money any time soon. Teen hiring is WAY down.

  15. B. Macon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Hi, Dforce. In order…

    1. We’re working on getting Superhero Nation published as a comic book series. However, it was originally intended to be a novel. It’ll be at least 3-6 months before the first issue comes out, but when that’s ready I will plug it so often that you’ll buy it just to get me to shut up. At least, that’s the hope. :)

    2. “What of those pins you spoke of? How do I get on the waiting list for that?” I’m sorry, I don’t remember anything about pins. What sort of pins?

    3. Hmm. I probably need to put more thought into how to structure a villain-centric story. My initial impression is that Abban is kind of bland. He’s probably not yet interesting or likable enough to drive the story as the main character. Please see Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog for an example of a villain that was mostly likable and relatable.

    Also, I think it’d be hard to do a pilot issue for a villain-centric work. For one, will we want him to succeed?

    I like the setup that has the villain and the girl as best friends, particularly if the new guy is either an obnoxious hero or perhaps a super-suave villain.

    “Can a villain be a hero?” I don’t think this would fit well into a pilot. This sort of character development will almost certainly take a lot more time than you have.

    “Can a powerless teen save the girl and his classmates when forced to choose?” This one would probably be hard to market.

  16. Dforceon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Drat! Confusion abounds B. Mac!

    This was for a pilot, a COMPLETELY different story than the one Abban is in. The villain here is named Rune.

    As for the pins, they weren’t exactly pins (but I remember them made of something metallic). Something about “business cards” as a joke advertisement that you wanted to hand out, but wasn’t about to pay for more than needed because it didn’t make sense. The piece said to e-mail someone if interested in getting a tin card, or something. Oh well.

    And as far the now-known comic, rest assured I’ll buy it if I come across it.

  17. B. Macon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Ah. Yeah, I did have a few business cards printed on dog-tags, but they were expensive. I’ll let you know if we make any more, but I didn’t find them very practical. For one, you can hardly fit a URL on a dog-tag.

  18. Ragged Boyon 26 Feb 2009 at 10:28 am

    Assistance please.

    http://www.superheronation.com/2009/02/25/comic-book-writing-tip-of-the-day-sell-the-next-issue/#comment-18615

  19. B. Macon 26 Feb 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Ok, Ragged Boy.

    1. The first thing I would recommend is applying for summer jobs now. The economy’s not great, so try applying to a ton of places. (I applied to 20 places during the summer of my junior year of high school and got one offer). You’ll probably want 5-6 pages and a cover illustrated (at least inked, and ideally colored). For the art and lettering, you’ll probably need $300-$450 total. The good news is that a typical summer job pays $6 an hour for ~35 hours a week, so you could have that much money within a few weeks of the start of summer.

    The places that are most likely to be hiring for the summer are stores that are relatively recession-proof, like super-cheap restaurants (McDonald’s, etc) and grocery stores.

    If speed is really essential, you could try looking into job opportunities that you can take on immediately. For example, at my high school there was a school store that let students work 5 hours each week. That could give you a head start.

    2. When you have the money, then I’d recommend going to DeviantArt’s Job Offer forum and posting a notice that you’re looking for a comic book artist to pencil, ink, and color. I’d recommend including the following elements:

    –Size of your project: how many pages you want illustrated. I’d recommend mentioning that there could be more pages later on.
    –Budget (optional). You might want to mention upfront around how much you’re thinking about spending. For example, if I were doing something like this, I’d say something like $300+ (negotiable). Or whatever your price range is.
    –Include a link to the script for the sample you want illustrated so that artists know what they’re getting into. Make it look as professional and easy to read as possible. If you’d like, I can post it on SN. (We did that for David, and over 50 people have seen his script excerpt).
    –What kind of style you’re looking for. You’ll probably want to list 2 or 3 series with similar styles. You’ll probably want to mention your target audience here.
    –Encourage people to do a 5 or 10-minute sketch of one of the characters, probably Adrian because he’s probably the character that will appear most in the sample. Most of the artists that apply won’t actually do the sketch, but you might get a surprisingly good sketch by one of the artists that does.

    I imagine you’ll probably get 10+ credible offers, and I’d recommend taking a week or two to evaluate those.

  20. B. Macon 26 Feb 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Another thing you could consider is rewriting the sample so that you don’t show exactly what the aliens look like. One of the things I learned was that character-design for exotic characters (like a mutant alligator or aliens) is exceedingly difficult. I tweaked my cover so that we don’t see Agent Orange’s head, which means that I only have to design A.O. once I get published.

    Including an exotic character in the same raises the risk that an an editor will think “dear God, this art looks absolutely goofy/awful.” I think a character like Agent Black or Adrian is less likely to have a risk of repelling an editor, because there are fewer ways to go wrong with a relatable human.

  21. Ragged Boyon 26 Feb 2009 at 7:06 pm

    You could be right about the character design. Jimelly is simple, like Orange he also wears a longcoat. In addition to that he wears a turtle neck sweater underneath. It’s a pretty generic chemist outfit with futuristic additions. He’s really simple-faced, no lips, no nose, large black eyes, and blue skin/membrane, plus a futuristic headset.

    Lae’Trell may be a little more difficult. I suspect it will take a few attempts to make large ram horns that don’t look menacing.

    I think I’m ok though, I’ll work it out.

  22. B. Macon 26 Feb 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Ok. Good luck. You are much better at pencils than I am, so what would you think about doing a few concept drawings before you bring an artist on board?

    I mean, umm, we did ten sets of eyes for Agent Orange and none of them felt like they clicked. It was a lot of work.

  23. C.R.on 27 Feb 2009 at 7:07 am

    Hey, is it just me or the manga Pete Parker looks a lot like Agent Black.

  24. Ragged Boyon 27 Feb 2009 at 9:01 am

    I’ve already got the concept art for Lae and Jim, I need to make adjustments to Lae’s physique. I wanted her to be plus-sized, by modeling standards of course. But I think I’ve got Jim down. I’m really struggling with Adrian though, I’m finding it difficult to make an attractive black face. But I suspect an artist will be able to pull it off. I’m better at abstract concepts and art, anyway.

    Unfortunately, our scanner cords were never found, so I don’t know when I’ll be able to post any art.

    Fortunately, I”m in no rush to get my stuff produced just yet. I want to at least be done with the script and synopsis by the summer. Then I can focus on the art production and getting money. My horoscope said that Aquarians will have fortune in searching for jobs soon. Although, I only partially believe in astrology. Sometimes it spot-on and sometimes it’s a complete miss.

  25. Ragged Boyon 27 Feb 2009 at 10:36 am

    I like Peter Parker’s style for some odd reason. Did you know that geek chic is in right now for men’s fashion? I like his red sweater and brown jeans combo. Although the sweater is a little plain, it would benefit from a deeper V-neck and maybe two or three vertical stripes on the face of the shirt. But not in the middle, middles are cheesy, maybe slightly to the right. And a colored undershirt to contrast the red. He’s could also roll up the sleeves. Alternatively, he could throw on nice tan blazer or, if he was feeling adventurous, a dark blue one.

    I like the pants, especially the fit, I would hope that they are denim and not cotton like khakis. Khakis are so straight edge, they can work though. I suspect he’s wearing some lumpy brown shoes, those can stay.

    If I were Petey’s friend, he’d always look stylish. Then again, my style is a little showy and I’m sure that’s not Peter’s personality.

    Sorry for the fashion tangent. Haha

  26. B. Macon 27 Feb 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Agent Black does look a lot like Peter Parker. When we asked our artist to design Agent Black for the comic book, the reference we gave was of a fairly well-known political scientist.

    To make the character look more young and relatable, I specified that he should look like he had just rushed out of bed that morning.

  27. Dforceon 27 Feb 2009 at 4:42 pm

    While on the subject of Spiderman: Anyone watch the Spectacular Spiderman animated series? It’s pretty decent.

    While they are “stuck” in high school, the story seems to mesh that and the villains pretty nicely. Gwen and Pete are gonna clearly be the canon couple (since its a cartoon, I don’t think they’ll kill her off on this continuity). Doc Oc is one of the serious villains (though they did replace the Kingpin with a shark who reminds me of Kisame of Naruto, lol). By season two, Venom has come and gone and is back again, and Jameson’s… son (lol) doesn’t turn into a werewolf but a– well, watch and see. Most of it’s on youtube under webslingspiderswing’s account.

    Just felt like sharing.

  28. B. Macon 04 Mar 2009 at 7:12 am

    I like the way they handled the origin story as backstory. Leading with Vulture, Reptile and Electro rather than A-listers like the Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus was a pleasant surprise. However, I thought that it was questionable to use both Electro and Shocker early on. Their fighting styles and powers are very similar.

    I didn’t like the dialogue as much as the plotting. I’ve never been fond of Spiderman’s quips, and they irked me here. However, Norman Osborne was executed very well. He had style without going completely over the top. For example, “don’t apologize, Peter. I never do” sticks out as something that develops the character without making him feel cartoonish.

    Also, some of the storytelling is a bit cliche. I wince whenever the story cuts back to Peter’s high school… the geeks vs. jocks conflict feels tiresome. (Then again, I’ve probably seen a lot more of these stories than the average TV watcher). I liked the high school setting better in X-Men: Evolution because the setting was more unusual.

    Also, I found it a bit amusing that the show is broadcast on a station owned by Warner Brothers, the company that owns DC Comics. (Spiderman is owned by Marvel Comics, of course).

    Incidentally, I notice that the superhero shows I enjoy most are consistently DC. Has anyone else noticed that? For example, compare Justice League, Lois and Clark and Batman: The Animated Series to the Spiderman or X-Man cartoons. I enjoy the Spiderman and X-Men cartoons out of nostalgia, but I wouldn’t actually want to watch them now. I think DC does better in television than movies or comic books because superhero shows tend to rely more on funny writing than interesting fight scenes. DC’s fight scenes tend to be less interesting because DC heroes tend to be more powerful and less creative. (Teen Titans was one notable exception).

    Television characters also tend to be very simple– the best examples I can think of are the teenage mutant ninja turtles with a single defining personality trait each. To overgeneralize a bit, I think DC heroes tend to be easier to simplify than Marvel heroes.

    Also, on an entirely personal level (and one I don’t think that will apply to the target audience for these shows), I feel it’s easier to relate to the stars of DC shows because they’re usually portrayed as adults. In contrast, Marvel heroes are usually notably younger than me, like the high-schoolers and junior-high students in the latest Spiderman show and X-Men: Evolutions. On the DC side, I think teen versions like Smallville and Teen Titans are the exception rather than the norm. Justice League did a pretty good job of playing its characters in such a way that older and younger watchers could relate. For example, the Green Lantern–Vixen–Hawkgirl romantic triangle had some elements of a high-school romance, but it never seemed kiddy.

  29. DemonEyeon 30 May 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Hey what about a villain seemingly dying and then showing up alive and shushing the audience(yes the deadpool thing)?
    Or a villain higher up(demonic superhero is the theme for my novel so it’s the big one coming) deciding to enter the battle him/herself?
    Or a character goes missing?

  30. B. Macon 30 May 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I really like the character going missing in the last page, particularly if it seems like the character is in danger. That’s a solid cliffhanger.

    The main villain entering the battle could be interesting as a cliffhanger. I think that you would need to establish the character well for it to feel important, though.

    I’m not confident about the first one. I think most readers would get pissed off that a character seems to die but doesn’t actually.

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