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Brian Michael Bendis, one of the leading writers in comic books and for the last decade a guiding hand at Marvel Comics, has signed a deal to write his first book.
Titled Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Graphic Novels, the non-fiction book will be published in 2013 by Random House and is designed to give those looking to break into comic writing a leg up.
Bendis began his career with black-and-white indie crime comics, then wrote a mini-series about his adventures in Hollywood, which he followed with the plum assignment to pen Ultimate Spider-Man. The acclaim and strong sales of that series had led to him writing almost every single Marvel character and becoming an architect that helps decide the course of the Marvel universe.
Additionally, his work has impacted film and television. Several of his indie comics have been set up at studios, while one, Powers, was recently made into a TV pilot and saw additional scripts ordered. His Marvel work has influenced the recent movies, and Disney XD this past weekend launched a Marvel block anchored by Ultimate Spider-Man.
As a way to pay his A-list success forward, Bendis began teaching a graphic-novel writing course Portland State University. Editors at Random House heard of his teachings and approached him to write a book.
Bendis says he hears from many aspiring wordsmiths looking for information and advice, and “it would be nice to just hand them a book and go ‘Here is everything I would tell you if we were hanging out.’”
But don’t call it a how-to book. Bendis is quick to point out he wants to avoid the “How to Write Like Me” book. For one, he explains that unlike film and television, which demand a certain format, there is no universal format to comic-book writing.
At one extreme, for example, there is the so-called Marvel Style, the classic technique of handing a plot to an artist, who interprets as he sees fit and in effect can co-write the story before submitting his drawn pages back to the writer. On the opposite side of the spectrum are the legendary pages from Alan Moore, detailed to the point of being obsessive-compulsive. (One produced Fantastic Four and The Avengers, the other Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Who is to say which one is correct?)
Bendis’ aim is to explain the many theories and techniques, including the ones he and his writer colleagues use (he wants the book to have many voices), tally up pros and cons, and let readers/prospective writers choose what suits them.
There will also be a focus on how to set up a corporation and how to guard your writing. “We read in the paper every week someone did something wrong, someone didn’t sign something, someone didn’t protect themselves,” he says. “Every minute there are more and more platforms in which you can succeed and get ripped off. You need to protect yourself.”
No book about comics would be complete without art, and Bendis has already secured permission from Marvel to use artwork. He is also calling in favors from writers and artists to use their work as well.
A lot of comic writers secretly harbor dreams of becoming novelists and want their jump into books to be a nice tome of fiction. Some of Bendis’ comics predecessors such as John Byrne, Chris Claremont and Jim Starlin made forays into fiction in the 1980s.
Bendis, repped by Circle of Confusion and Katz Golden, says he’s not against the idea but it’s not an idea whose time has come for him.
“It seems for my friends that do write novels that are in comics as well, you kind of have to stop doing your comics for a while to get your novel done,” he remarks. “And I’m not ready to do that at the moment.
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