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Comics Script Format Part-4

Started by Rob, October 18, 2010, 08:53:46 PM

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A writer's tutorial on presentation

Part 4

By Kurt Hathaway of

Read Part 1 here:

Read Part 2 here:

Read Part 3 here:

In the previous 3 installments in this series, I went over the units of a script's comics panel (Scene Location, Panel Description, Lettering Elements), explained the importance of clarity in your writing, and even covered a lot of common typographical mistakes that I see new writers make.

So to wrap up this series on script formatting, I'd like to cover a few related topics that weren't covered elsewhere.

Every artist is different -- I've worked with hundreds of artists -- superstars and journeymen -- and they all have their own preferences and working style. The better you know your artist's script preferences, the better. That's not to say to alter the format -- just the level of content -- or rather the level of specifics. Some artists want to be directed; others want to be let loose so they can create. This may mean not including any references to the camera angle in your script. A general description of the panel's action may be enough for experienced artists to "direct" the scene on the art page. It's a choice the writer makes, depending on the artist. If your artist disappoints on issue #1, go ahead and add the camera information in the script for #2 to try to get a better result.

Try not to over-direct your artist (unless he's literally never drawn a comic book before)... and allow wiggle room in the interpretation of the written material.

For instance, in a simple panel of a teenage girl walking down the street a simple mention of "casual dress" would most likely suffice as a costume direction. Unless there's a specific need, try to avoid: "she wears an argyle wool-kit sweater with a purple cotton skirt that falls just below the knees. On her head is a stylish headband that pulls her hair behind her ears. She has one ring on her left hand, two on her right. Her purse is a cute clutch from a mid-priced department store."

Character descriptions should be part of the panel description -- especially in a pitch script where the editor/reader is encountering them for the first time. Give your reader a "mental picture" they can use while reading the script.

However, sometimes a writer works with an artist on the concept and character sketches before the script is finalized. Often in these cases, the writer feels no need to describe in the script characters the artist has already worked out in advance (eyepatch, beard, glasses, etc). After all, the artist knows what Joe and Red look like. But the letterer doesn't, so fill him in so he can point Joe's balloon to Joe and Red's to Red. Otherwise, you may get the wrong words coming from the wrong character. A simple note is all that's needed in the script.

Kurt: Joe is the guy in the eyepatch with the broccoli on his shoulder. Red is the other guy.

And this informal style is fine for the artist, but if the script is being sent off to an editor for a job consideration -- add the character descriptions for presentation purposes. More formal is better when seeking assignments.

Always, always, ALWAYS include your name, e-mail address, and even your phone number on everything you send out -- even if it's just to a friend to look over. I can't tell you how many times I've agreed to read / critique something for someone and when I finally get around to opening their script file, I have no way to contact them because their contact information isn't in the script or proposal. It may be only a couple weeks since it was sent to me, but I deal with tons of people every week. Needless to say, if I can't email them with my opinion, I won't take the time to read it. And they'll never know I even tried.

The best pitch script I ever read was found in the Image Comics slush pile years ago.  And when I went to call that writer to hire him, I couldn't find any contact information on the script.  This was before regular emailing of script samples, and his script had been separated from the shipping envelope long before I picked it up to read.  

So -- contact information in everything you write.

A basic first page for a full script may start like this:

Fly-Guy #6
Full script for John W. Editor at MegaPublishing Comics
22 pages / sample script for review
written by Orson Writer / [email protected] / 555-765-0942

or for a new multi-part story arc:

Fly-Guy #1
Series Opening Story Arc: "Let it Be" / 4 issue arc / Part 1 of 4
22 page script prepared for John W. Editor at MegaPublishing Comics
written by Orson Writer / [email protected] / 555-765-0942

or not a proper script, but a pitch of various materials (pitch, outline, misc. presentation art):

Ongoing Series Pitch Proposal {or mini-series pitch}
prepared for John W. Editor at MegaPublishing Comics
written by Orson Writer / [email protected] / 555-765-0942

And "22 pages" refers to the number of eventual art pages. Your script may be 31 pages in actual script format page count, but it tells only a 22 page comics story (or 24 or whatever the projected page length).

And if it's an actual commissioned script and not a sample, remove any sample reference.

A good idea to get your contact information on every page is to include it in the header of your word-processing program (see your program's manual to set up a header). One line in small type is enough.

Fly-Guy #6   full script 22 pp.   by Orson Writer / [email protected] / 555-765-0942

Using version numbers in your file name as your script progresses is a smart way to keep track of the script files.

Version 1 might be only a rough outline (or part of an outline).  The next time you sit down at the keyboard, make a copy of the version 1 file and rename it version 2, etc.  Then work in that file and build on what was already there.  Follow the pattern as your work progresses.

This allows you to keep all your ideas about the project on your hard drive.  While working on version 4, you may want to put back in something that was cut in version 3.  Version 2 would have that information.

If you want to tell the world that you're a writer, there's no excuse for placing ads or corresponding with others in a creative field and using improper grammar, spelling, and other mistakes that an actual writer wouldn't make.

Writing mistakes in correspondence with others (especially if you don't know each other) just takes away your credibility as a writer.


If you call yourself a writer -- write like one. Nothing tells me an e-mailer isn't really a writer when their correspondence is full of typos.

Proofread your ad before you post! Proofread that email before you send it to the big-shot editor in New York City [or to me in Los Angeles]. And of course proofread your script carefully before you send it to anyone -- you never know who's going to get their hands on it.

If you get hired and your editor is your pal after a few months, you can relax your email rules, but at first, be sure to be professional.  It may make the difference between breaking in to the industry as a pro -- or taking the night shift at the Kwik-E-Mart.

When you're writing, keep your browser at  They have an excellent online thesaurus that you should use for every page -- especially if your vocabulary is lacking.  But even if it isn't, there are sure to be synonyms you didn't think of for your caption or powerful dialogue speech.  A large hardback thesaurus is also handy.  Working with a thesaurus can really make your words sing, rather than lay flat on the page.

The number one book you should read every year is "The Elements of Style." It may be dry reading, but your command of the rules of writing will impress educated editors and make your work stand out from those who choose to use /only/ improperly and think that basic punctuation is the domain of trained scholars. It's out there in paperback and isn't very big, so read it on the bus, on your lunch break, or on the toilet. I covered some of the material in this series, but there's lots more.

Writing stories for comics is really writing stories -- just in a comics format. If you want to learn more about the actual nuts and bolts of story creation, any number of books are out there to teach you. From structure, to conflict, to character, and more. Many screenplay books are perfectly suited to teaching story. Your job will be to take what you learn and convert the presentation to the comics format (still pictures, 22 page installments, short dialogue, etc). There are also lots of books on novel writing that may come in handy. Again, take what you learn and convert it to comics format -- or start writing novels or films.

Books I've found helpful over the years:

The Complete Book of Scriptwriting -- J. Michael Straczynski (a sometimes comics writer)
Creating Unforgettable Characters -- Linda Seger
The Art of Dramatic Writing -- Lajos Egri
The Screenwriter's Bible -- David Trottier

For those of you who slogged through this series: Congratulations. I hope you learned at least something about formatting the comics script that will help you to make your work more presentable to potential clients.

It really does make for a more pleasant reading experience for an editor when the script is formatted in an intelligent, cogent way.

See you in cyberspace!

About the author:
Kurt Hathaway studied art & design at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and studied film and screenwriting at New York University's world-famous film department.

He's been a comics freelancer for 25 years. His client list reads like a who's who of publishers: DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Eclipse, Malibu, and tons of others. He has thousands of lettering credits including two for Newsweek and Esquire magazines. A DC editor nicknamed him "The Comics Commando" for his timely delivery of deadline work.

He letters the webcomics "Master Jesus" and "Chicago 1968" both written by Len Kody.

In addition to lettering and logos, Kurt Hathaway's Cartoon Balloons Studio does custom font design, page/book/magazine design, pre-press (setting up press files for the printer), and animated motion graphics for video projects.

He's written material for Image Comics, DC Comics, Antarctic Press, Electronic Arts Playstation Division, and ABC/Disney Television. He's currently writing the comic series "Dawn of the Dread Force" for Jaran Studios.

Also, anyone with comments, gripes, huzzahs or those who just want to get in touch to pick his brain, can reach him at: [email protected]

Kurt's online lettering gallery of samples.

His studio's promo video:

Kurt's demo reel of Animated Motion Graphics.

A short web-comic he did waaay back.

(Editor's note: Whenever indentation was required as part of the formatting provided by the author I am forced to use a "list" tag from the forums. The list tag creates the indentation I require to properly represent the authors' intentions, however it is not designed for the purpose and leaves a small black dot at the first entry of every indented group. Please ignore this black dot. It is not part of the article as intended.)


I'd like to once again thank Kurt for this amazing and informative series. This is the kind of stuff that a lot of people would and perhaps did pay lots of money to learn. And he's giving it to us all for free.

Can't thank you enough man.

I'm actually kind of surprised. So many people have read these articles but we're not getting any comments or questions. Not even from the writers among us.

If you enjoyed the series do please let us and Kurt know. At the very least we should all thank him for his time.

Kurt you're the best.  ;)