May 26 2009
Magical superheroes are rare and haven’t sold very well since the Silver Age of comics (late 1950s and 60s). Here are some tips to help you write a magical superhero story that a publisher might take seriously.
1. Do it as a novel, not a comic book. Comic books depend on male readers aged 13-25. The problem is that the people that are most receptive to magical superheroes (kids and women) generally do not buy comic books. This is one reason that magical superheroes are very, very hard to publish as a comic book. The magical superhero stories that tend to sell even remotely well tend to be TV shows (Sailor Moon or Jake Long) or novels (Dresden Files).
2. If you are absolutely dead-set on a comic book, I recommend using Japanese-style art. American teens are somewhat more tolerant of magic in anime stories like Sailor Moon than they are of American-style stories like Dr. Strange or Zantanna.
3. Make it easy to understand what the character’s magic can do. Make the limits as clear as possible and keep them steady. If the hero’s powers fluctuate over time, it won’t be so interesting when he is suddenly able to overcome an obstacle. If you change the rules to allow the protagonist to succeed, your audience will feel that you’re cheating.
4. Keep the number of spells low. That will help your audience remember what the character can do, and it will help minimize the time you spend describing the content of the character’s spellbook. If all we know about the character is what’s in his spellbook, he’s probably not very interesting.
5. Restrict the protagonists’ access to magic. That will force them to devise nonmagical solutions once in a while, which is interesting. For example, maybe he can only use spells at night or when he’s not tired or maybe he uses up his reagents. If the character has to go without magic once in a while, he will help prove to readers that he is impressive even beyond his magic. For example, the protagonists had to solve puzzles at the end of the first Harry Potter book without using magic. Good stuff!
6. Most successful magical superheroes have Masquerade problems— nonmagical people can’t know about magic. That can create a lot of interesting and dramatic situations. How does your hero save the day and maintain the secret? It also helps keep the world somewhat relatable. Well, there are a lot of magical creatures running around, but life is still more or less the same for 99% of humanity.
7. Give the characters spells that can be used outside of combat. For example, Raven has telekinesis, which is fairly versatile.
8. I generally recommend against mixing magic and science fiction. It usually doesn’t work. Mixing fantasy and science fiction is usually tacky. I think that’s why audiences hated the alien twist at the end of Indiana Jones and Peter Parker’s deal with the devil in One More Day.