Gary Scott Beatty
Gary Scott Beatty

Been There, Done That: Avoiding Cliches in Comic Book Writing

by Gary Scott Beatty

Gary Scott Beatty runs Aazurn Publishing, is publisher of “Indie Comics Magazine” and recently wrote the comic book retailer story “Number One.” The first alternative comic he produced (They were called “underground” then) was on his high school’s ditto machine, after hours, without permission. His Xeric Grant Winner “Jazz: Cool Birth,” a jazz club murder mystery, was inspired by ‘50s album cover design. He also colors and letters for the industry. Find out more at Gary Scott

Hey Gary, I'm a 20 year old aspiring comic artist and I'm having trouble thinking of original story lines for my characters. Every time i think of one, it sounds like something thats already been done over and over again. Could you be able to spare me a few tips on trying to develop a story line that doesn't sound like a cliché of another character?

We've just launched an article on creating comic characters in the James Lyle section of Comic Artists Direct, written by the man himself. Check out the index of the "How Do They Do It?" section here at Comic Artists Direct. This article is a good starting point for brainstorming. (But, of course, I have to add my own two cents.) The best advice I can give to anyone who wants new ideas for comic books is to read other literature. Classic books, modern best sellers and literary magazines (like the New Yorker) are full of interesting stories and characters for inspiration.

One of the problems with comic books is we tend to think of stories in terms of "genres" (JON-ra). A "genre" is a kind or type of writing, like mystery, super hero, horror, adventure, etc. To be sure, genre writing occurs in books, too, but comic writing is very rigidly limited to established genres.

Consequently, when a comic book writer sits down to write a comic book story, he often asks himself, "What kind of story is this?" When he answers, "It's horror," his brain automatically comes up with old, established horror plot, horror characters and horror settings. These kinds of stories can come out entertaining, but more often than not are just boring.

"Why isn't there anything new in comics?" is a question often asked among the comic book fan base. The answer, I think, lies with that fan base's reluctance to try new things. The reason Spider-Man was so compelling when they were kids was because it was DIFFERENT than other super hero books, not the same. So why keep buying Spider-Man looking for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby? Instead of trying to capture the past, why not buy something DIFFERENT?

Back to horror. I remember how Stephen King revived a lagging horror genre in novels in the mid-'70s. I remember how different it was when he combined modern situations and characters with the tried-and -true horror conventions of the past. He had talent and it worked. Now most horror book writers try to do Stephen King - his innovation became the norm!

Some of my favorite, current books are Age of Bronze (A 10 year long project retelling the story of the Trojan War), Uncle Scrooge (Adventure, with ducks) and Supernatural Law (Beware the creatures of the night, they have lawyers). If you would have told me in the mid-'60s, when I was reading super hero books, or the mid-'70s, when I was hooked on sword and sorcery, or the late '70s, when I discovered Heavy Metal magazine, or the late '80s, when I bought every book Vertigo published, that I the book on top of my monthly stack would be Uncle Scrooge, I would have said you were crazy. Because I've been reading comics for 40 years, I'm intrigued by the different.

I already lived through the Stan Lee Marvel era and the late '80s DC era that turned conventional super hero comics upside down. What else is there to do with super heroes? Well, you're a writer, maybe you'll figure that out!

Comments on our can be referred to Gary at gary -at- comicartistsdirect -dot- com. All artwork copyright © by its respective artists and publishers.

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How do They Do It? is a feature on Comic Artists Direct that explores the nuts and bolts of the creative process. Check out the below articles!

James Lyle demonstrates his working methods from start to finish on an illustrated logo project.

Gary draws, inks, colors and lays out a cover illustration for On the Shore magazine here.

James Lyle talks about brainstorming for ideas here.

Check out Gary's article here for ways to keep your writing ideas fresh and different.

Gary's step by step article on lettering for comics is here.


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