With The Walking Dead comic approaching its 100th issue and the AMC television series of the same name enjoying immense success, the writer behind it all, Robert Kirkman, spoke in front of an audience of fans at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books last Saturday.
As someone working on a graphic novel for the first time, I was all ears when L.A. Times writer Geoff Boucher asked Kirkman about his writing process.
He confirmed my initial thoughts on the nature of writing a comic, describing the script as a really long email to the artist. Kirkman added that because comic artists often spend a 12-16 hour day on one page, it’s his job to keep them interested. That compulsion not only leads to better material for the artists to work with, but also better material for the reader.
Characters can also dictate the story, Kirkman said. There are times when writing where he has part of a plot laid out but, getting closer to the event, he realizes that it doesn’t work for the character involved.
When asked about his writing routine, Kirkman said he handwrites plots, jotting down notes by each event, plans by page, and builds out from three to four events. But when typing the scripts, he sometimes ignores the handwritten plots and sometimes follows them.
The Walking Dead isn’t Kirkman’s only project. His super-hero comic, Invincible, is also approaching its 100th issue, and his newer work, Thief of Thieves–based on the life of master thief Conrad Paulson, has been optioned by AMC. Kirkman noted that multiple projects help with writer’s block because he can bounce from project to project when stuck.
During the Q&A session, an audience member asked Kirkman what advice he has for people who want to start writing comics. He offered the following tips to aspiring comic writers (particularly on pitching to a publisher):
- Find an artist before pitching
- If submitting to a publisher, write short, compelling pitches, rather than a script (five pages of comic with a one-page synopsis–shorter, if possible); he added that his publisher, Image Comics, looks at each pitch that comes in
- Hone your scriptwriting skills so you can actually follow-through if your pitch is accepted
- The pages submitted should show the premise in an engaging way
- Make it as original as possible…but not too weird
Boucher asked Kirkman about his thoughts on The Walking Dead nearing its 100th issue. He said he looks forward to continuing to build his characters over a long number of years, and that he isn’t jaded by the job.
“Every day, I roll out of bed and say, ‘Oh, I get to write comics today!’” Living the dream.