Creating a noir comic book – Part 2

In the first article, I spoke a bit about how the idea for SPIRAL came into being. How I let the idea marinate in my head for several months, picking up more inspiration for it along the way, until I was ready to write anything down.

Olivia Jensenv3

We’ll get to the artist/artwork bit later.

Here, I’ll explain briefly how I go about getting that marinated concept and story down on paper slash screen.

I know a lot of writers like to write down the story they have in their head directly. Almost like writing prose. I’ve done that earlier on a few projects, both films and comics, but these last couple of years I’ve found that it’s easy to lose yourself in the details if you approach it like that. Approaching the whole thing.

Instead, I start with the pitch. Not necessarily a sales pitch, but more a pitch to myself. If you’re not familiar with what a (sales) pitch is, it’s basically explaining your concept and story in as short a space as possible. The movie industry has something called “the elevator pitch”, meaning you sell your idea verbally in the elevator ride down (or up) with a producer – meaning 30 seconds. Some projects are easy to pitch, some are tougher. Snakes On a Plane has its entire pitch in its title, for instance. SPIRAL is a bit trickier than that.

Back to writing down the pitch. I write the pitch for me, not for it to be a selling pitch – meaning it’s not the originality and freshness I’m looking for in this initial pitch. It’s just the key things that happen that drives the story forward. And the shorter the better. The initial pitch for SPIRAL (after a couple of revisions) was…

Brash police officer Olivia Jensen takes up the mantle after her father, the retired The Watcher, against his wishes. Her recklessness gets her shot and injured. When her brother Samuel, who was intended to take on the The Watcher personae, goes to avenge his sister he ends up in a coma. Recovered, Olivia takes on the mantle in hopes to heal her now broken relationship with her father and brother.

(Note: I changed up the names a few times to get them right. And I still consider everything a work in progress until the lettering part begins.)

With this I have a fixed idea on what the core of the story revolves around. You can lift themes out of this. Father-daughter relationship, blood thicker than water, values, justice etc. etc. And also guess at endings, knowing that I locked down on the noir genre from the get go. I guess there’s also a slight originality in there, with the mix of gender roles and genre attached.

But it’s very basic. It doesn’t say much about what actually happens. Which is a good thing for me. The details, and with details I mean plot, isn’t important at this stage for me. I have a lot of plot floating around in my head at this stage of course, but I deliberately hold back on writing plot and scenes down and focus on getting the core of the story right.

Once I had this, I could start going down the prose path, basically writing down what I knew I wanted in the story, what I thought could work and what ending I wanted. As I started writing down the outline (the story) a few subplots took on a bigger role and certain things I had imagined showed themselves to be too cliché or just not right for the story.

I won’t put the outline up since it’s too spoiler-y of course, but I’ll briefly explain how the outline turned out. For this project I wanted to have a multi-layered story with several intertwining storylines. (Having drawn inspiration from Scalped, and The Wire.) The A story was of course about Olivia and her vigilante business and relationship with her family. The B-story followed the father and son of the criminal main element of the story, as I’ve always liked stories that present a world that’s blurred, that has several perspectives. And the C-story was Olivia’s husband’s story, dealing with an ex-wife and their kid he was losing custody over. Once I began fleshing out and scripting the story, another prominent storyline came forward as well, but more on that in a future article.

(It might be good to mention that Spiral isn’t a very big project, it’s a mini-series, but if it was a larger story/project I would likely have written a few synopsises before going into the prose-like outline. A synopsis summarises the story in broad strokes, but not as broad and quick as a pitch. A synopsis helps you stay focused if you have a large body of work to map out. Navigating a 2-page synopsis is easier than navigating a 5 – 10 – 20 page outline. As it’s a small project the outline for Spiral was 3 pages.)

Once I had the outline down I knew the most important thing about Spiral. The ending. With that locked down, I was ready to go into the story, to start breaking it down into pages, which is unique for comics. There are several factors involved as you go to break down the story (publishing plan, format etc. – which you likely have in mind before typing anything) and I’ll speak more about these things, and going into the scripting phase next time.

Thanks for reading!