About a year ago, AHOY Comics published the first issue of my first-ever comic book miniseries, PLANET OF THE NERDS. AHOY Editor-in-Chief “Torrid” Tom Peyer’s decades of experience saved me from a boatload of first-timer mistakes, but I also learned a few lessons over the course of writing NERDS that I’d like to share with you.
You may ask, “who the hell is this guy, who has written exactly ONE five-issue miniseries, to tell ME how to write comics?”
I respond by kissing you gently on the forehead and whispering: “Shhhhhh. Just this once, in the middle of a literal plague, let me fulfill my lifelong dream of hijacking a comic publisher’s newsletter, okay?” Okay. Here goes.
1. Give each character a secret, and never reveal it. In order to really get into each character’s head, I made up something about that character that only I would ever know: a shameful experience, an allergy, maybe a surprising opinion about a piece of pop culture. Sharing a secret with a fictional character is a great way to help you care about that character, no matter how villainous they are.
2. Write for the rush. For comics writers, there’s no drug greater than the high of opening an email containing a freshly drawn page. I’d have to sit down when I got a new email from my partner on NERDS, Alan Robinson, because his artwork would literally make me swoon. So I started writing pages with that moment in mind: give Alan the raw material he needs to draw a dynamic page that makes me faint from joy when I see it for the first time. That goal helped create a more artist-friendly, visual book.
3. Make a playlist and stick to it—no matter how much your ears bleed. When writing NERDS, I compiled a playlist of songs that were in heavy rotation in 1988, when the story begins: “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” “Hazy Shade of Winter,” “Bad Medicine.” I listened to it every time I wrote. Eventually, I got sick of the songs. Then, my body started to reject them like a bad heart transplant. Finally, John “Cougar” Mellencamp stalked me, Freddy Kreuger-like, in my dreams. But I stuck with the playlist, and it was essential to keeping me in the world of the book.
Every writer has to find the process that works best for them, but these three tips improved my process. Did they produce a good comic? You can find out by buying PLANET OF THE NERDS from a comic shop or independent bookstore near you! And be sure to join me next time, when I’ll share three tips on how to awkwardly market your comic in the last paragraph of a writing craft listicle. (Number two will blow your mind!)
(This piece was originally published in the AHOY Comics newsletter.)