Apr 12 2009
Many authors here aren’t really sure whether they want to write a superhero novel or a comic book. Here are a list of factors you should consider when deciding which one will work better for you.
Time vs. Money: What You Need to Succeed
1. Novels take more time, because they’re drastically longer. Unless you’re writing a novel for young adults or kids, your novel manuscript should probably be at least 70,000 words or so. In contrast, a 24-page comic book script will probably range between 5000 and 7500 words (including the panel descriptions and other details that won’t make the page). Realistically, you can do a comic book script in a few months and, as you get experienced, you should be able to get it down to a matter of weeks. In contrast, a novel takes at least one year and usually longer.
2. Comic books take more startup money, probably $400 or more. If you’re an unpublished writer, most comic book publishers will only consider your proposal if it includes around five illustrated sample pages. Because those pages are so important to whether your proposal looks professional, competent and interesting, you should hire someone that’s genuinely good. (Also, this artist should be the same person that you’ll actually be working with later on; it would be seriously unprofessional to do your sample with one artist and then later try to switch to another artist without asking the publisher’s permission). Five colored pages will probably cost you at least $400.
1. A first-time novelist has to complete his novel manuscript before he can sell it to publishers. In contrast, most comic book publishers will consider a first-time author that has completed merely a single issue. If there are additional issues, it’s usually acceptable to describe those in the synopsis without providing a full script for them.
2. For both novelists and comic book writers, it’s easiest to get in the door with a standalone work that can be expanded later. When you start throwing words like “trilogy of novels” or “ongoing series” around, it suggests that you will be expensive to work with. It also raises questions about your ability to pace a story. Publishers generally want proof that your work will actually sell before they make a long-term financial commitment to you. If you’re a new author, you probably don’t have that proof yet.
3. A comic book needs a cliffhanger at the end of each issue, something to keep readers interested. You need your readers to want to come back for more. You need them to agree that your story is worth another $4. A novelist benefits from cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, but it’s not life-and-death. When someone finishes chapter 9, you don’t need to convince them to spend more money to pick up chapter 10.
1. Generally, the readership for comic books is pretty narrow. Most comic book readers are males between 15-30, particularly between 18-25. If your comic book’s target audience is very different from that, you will really have to work to reassure publishers that there actually is a market for your work. In contrast, novels have a substantially broader readership and are substantially more woman-friendly.
2. Comic books are mostly sold in specialty stores like Dreamland Comics; novels are mostly sold in general-interest bookstores like Barnes and Nobles. This is a problem if you’d like to sell a comic book to an unusual demographic; your prospective readers are literally not even in the store.
3. It’s a bit easier to sell digital comic books than it is to sell e-books. Right now, e-books are just absolutely a non-factor.
4. It’s much easier to find an audience for a fantasy or sci-fi novel than it is to find one for a fantasy or sci-fi comic book.
Publishers and Agents
1. There are more novel publishers, and they’re generally a bit more accessible. By impressing the right agent, you might be able to publish your first novel at an A-list publisher. In contrast, there is virtually no chance that Marvel or DC Comics will even consider an unpublished comic book writer. None.
2. I highly recommend that a novelist consider sending off queries to literary agents. That will make it much easier to get published. In contrast, comic book writers don’t need an agent and I am not aware of any agents that deal mainly with comic books.
Strengths of the Medium
1. For a variety of reasons, but mostly length and the presence of pictures, comic books handle action much better than novels. They also tend to focus more on one-liner comedy and quips. In contrast, novels tend to rely more on deeper plots, more complex characters and drawn-out dialogue.
2. There are exceptions, but successful comic books are usually set in the modern real-world. If you’d like to work with a fantasy or a sci-fi setting, I highly recommend writing a novel instead.
1. A novelist has very little artistic work. Your publisher will present you with a cover and you will have very little control over it. In contrast, a comic book writer usually has to lay out the panels and has a great deal of influence on the cover. Being able to tell a story with sequential pictures is the defining skill of a comic book writer. Novelists also benefit from the ability to help readers see the story, but it’s much more important for a comic book writer than a novelist.
2. If you’re a first-time comic book writer, you will probably have to identify and hire a competent artist.