Things I Learned in Comics

Long before The Big Bang Theory and the deluge of superhero flicks, long before it was considered cool, I was a nerd. Still am a nerd. A comic shop regular, long box having, homemade X-Men encyclopedia making nerd. I felt a little collective cringe there. It’s okay. I’m more than used to it. As gross as that all may sound I’m raising two more nerds in my image.

*insert evil laughter*

I came about my nerdom through necessity. Where I grew up there was no library to speak of. Also there was no real way to consistently get to a bookstore. Yes, such places exist. What I did have however was a corner store. That corner store had a revolving black rack filled with comics. Costing only a buck and a quarter back then it was right in my eight year old price range. Week after week I’d come in and buy the next issues to come out. Thus my nerdom sprang to life.

Today I get weird stares when I include comic book writers in my list of influential writers, because although nerds are more accepted there’s still a stigma attached to the moniker, and that my skills must be juvenile since all my influences aren’t the greats of literature. Seriously though, comics are just another medium of writing and I’ve learned quite a bit about writing from them. Oh and Stephen King, Laurell K. Hamilton, Jodi Picoult, and Margaret Atwood  have written or are writing comics.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from the comics world:

Don’t make your characters too powerful.

When Superman was first created his only powers were leaping tall buildings, running faster than an old-timey train, and he was bulletproof. That’s it! So where did these other powers that make him near god-like come from? The 1948 serial series where the writers would consistently write themselves into a box. And when that happened *ka-blamo* there was a new power.

We accept these as his powers now, but not without consequence. Nowadays, the character is considered boring by most because there’s almost no chance for him to lose, all because of lazy writing years ago. We want to see ourselves in the hero. The audience wants to feel some connection to the characters, and that can’t happen if there are no stakes involved.

Set the rules and stick to them.

Spider-Man in the comics is able to swing from building to building through vials of web fluid he keeps on his person. This is common knowledge. So how weird would it be if a few pages before he runs out of web fluid, yet he still is swinging? Or what if he was on the moon and just started to swing on the surface of the moon? Two problems there: one is he’s human and shouldn’t be able to breathe and two would be there is nothing for him to swing off of! The audience isn’t dumb so keep the rules you set for your universe in check.

Know how to end a chapter.

Practically every issue of a comic is a chapter. Every issue is important. If an issue ends without compelling the reader to come back next month then it fails. The reader won’t get that next issue which means the writer loses readership, which means their job is put on the chopping block.
That’s true for traditional writers as well. If that chapter isn’t compelling, if the characters are just meandering about, what’s making the reader want to push on?

Be weird but believable. 

One of my favorite series at the moment is called Chew. It’s a series that revolves around a USDA agent in a near future where poultry is banned thus making it a hot commodity on the black market. People are making fake versions of chicken or even killing for the real thing. So it’s up to the USDA to handle these cases, led by Tony Chu who is a cibopath, meaning he can get psychic visions of the last moments of whatever he eats. So every once in awhile he may need to nibble on a corpse.

Weird, right? Well it gets weirder. But it all makes sense. At its core the story is a police procedural. Think Law and Order: Human Buffet. No matter how strange things get, the world that this all takes place in is anchored firmly in cop drama and never strays from that. No matter how unique your story is, you have to make sure your story is tethered in reality somewhere.

There’s plenty more I’ve learned from a lifetime of being a nerd, but I’ll stop for now. So be a little strange, be a little nerdy, and always be writing. Until next time have a writeous day!

Matt Williams is an avid reader, a collector of many pens, an ever improving father of two, and an all-around fanboy. When he’s not wrestling with cats or a long commute you can find him hunkered down writing something imaginative. He’s working on publishing his first book Beyond Here, a middle grade story involving a coma and a singing flower with a bent stem sometime in 2016, along with a few projects with his other daughter.