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The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics Paperback – June 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

There must be dozens of books on how to draw comics, but even the best artists need to tell a good story. Who can teach them? Dennis O'Neil. A comics writer and editor for more than 20 years, O'Neil oversees DC Comics' Batman titles--one of the most successful comics franchises ever. In addition, he's a bestselling novelist, a screenwriter, and a writing teacher. So when it comes to storytelling, O'Neil knows his stuff. In this guide he delivers his knowledge in a succinct, no-nonsense style.

O'Neil explains three-act story structure and examines subplots, characterization, and methods for developing drama and suspense. He then applies these concepts to comics' specific forms: graphic novels, miniseries, maxiseries, and the rare megaseries (such as Batman: No Man's Land, a year-long über-narrative played out across five comics titles). As in good comics, words and images work together in this book. Every idea is illustrated by panels or pages from great moments in DC Comics lore. Especially illuminating are the script excerpts that come paired with the comic book pages they describe.

Strangely, the book ignores the visual side of comics writing. Modern comics scripts specify shots, angles, and blocking in movie-director fashion, but that craft is never addressed. (DC has a good opportunity here for a second volume.) However, what this book sets out to teach--storytelling--it does quite well. Aspiring comics writers won't just learn theory, they'll be empowered, because O'Neil provides a framework for crafting new tales. --J.B. Peck

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-This witty, clear, and concise guide is tailored to those who want to create comics. O'Neil is adamant that there is no One True Way, although he stresses the importance of practice. He discusses story structure, characterization, script preparation, and other general writing topics. He also covers those more specific to comics writing such as miniseries, maxiseries, and continuity. O'Neil addresses the visual component of the art, the importance of page layout, and the relationship between the writer and the artist. He concludes with a short essay, "Writing Humor Comics," by Mark Evanier. The book is lavishly illustrated with black-and-white examples from various DC comics. In addition, the author includes many pages of scripts, which are usually juxtaposed with the finished page. He provides excellent advice and guidance for beginners. Although the examples focus on DC characters and stories, the content should have broad appeal. This is a nice balance to the many how-to-draw-comics books in most collections. Even for nonwriters, the book is interesting for the background look it provides into how comics are created.

Susan Salpini, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Watson-Guptill; 1st edition (May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0823010279
  • ISBN-13: 978-0823010271
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.4 x 10.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
First off, I'd like to do the mini-review for those with limited attention spans: "Buy This Book".
Following is a list of why I think you should buy this book:
1) Although it's about comic books, in my opinion, many of the lessons Dennis O'Neil teaches in this book are valuable for writing in general, especially the point he makes about never letting the reader get bored.
2) It's doesn't cost a arm and a leg.
3) It's well written. O'Neil's style is very fluid and natural, sometimes funny, and always very clear on the lessons he wants to teach.
4) It's full of examples. Almost every page in the book has an example from a comic book or script that clarifies and illustrates O'Neil's points. Half the fun in this book is reading the examples.
5) It's short. 120 pages long, and about half the book is examples.
Reasons you might want to not buy this book:
1) It's pretty basic. It rehashes a lot of material experienced writers may have already learned.
2) It doesn't hold your hand. O'Neil doesn't tell you a single method and have you go through it step by step. The book is very general, and is meant to enhance your existing writing abilities, rather than give you a single recipe. ;-)
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Lawrance Bernabo HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 1, 2003
Format: School & Library Binding
"The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics" is author by Dennis O'Neil, who wrote some of the classic Green Lantern and Batman stories (usually drawn by Neal Adams). In this volume O'Neil covers the various methods of writing scripts, procedures for developing a story structure, creating well-rounded characters, and more. Although most of what is covered in here is basic to all forms of writing, O'Neil does keep the focus on how these key concepts apply to the writing of comic books. The book is divided into two parts, with an appendix:

Part One: (1) What are Comics? is answered in terms of a comprehensive vocabulary of comic book terms such as speech balloon, story arc, and inker; (2) A Full-Script Versus Plot-First compares the latter, which is the Marvel method developed by Stan Lee, with the former, the traditional approach for writing film and television scripts, with the strengths and weaknesses of each; (3) Story Structure provides a listing of the basic kinds of structure used in comics, including a detailed look at different examples of "The Hook"; (4) Creating Drama looks at the importance of keeping the action going and offers a key distinction between suspense and surprise; (5) Subplots presents the advantages and inherent dangers of subplotting; (6) Characterization spends as much time talking about dialogue and humor as well as about the hero and other characters; and (7) Script Preparation is about the physical act of writing and producing something that can be turned over to an artist (assuming, for the sake of argument, you are not going to do the whole comic book yourself in the spirit of Dave Sims, the early years).
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Michael Swanson on January 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
I've read about a dozen books on writing and screenwriting, and most have been very helpful, especially J. Michael Straczynski's "The Complete Book of Screenwriting." None of them, however, have just laid it all out like Dennis O'Neil's book. While Straczynski's tome can tell you everything you night ever want to know, O'Neil's book tells what you what you MUST know, and very clearly lays out the basics, without which your story will not work. It's short - and half illustrations at that - but insightful and concise.

It is written specifically for the fast-paced, melodramatic writing style of comics, especially action comics, but it's lessons are useful in any story.

I especially like that it is not about teaching you how to write, but about utilizing tools that will clarify your writing, or help to get you out of a bind.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ryan S on July 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
When I saw this book, I thought it would be a great way to pick up some tips ... and it was, but not as many as I had hoped for. It's great for beginners, but for anyone who has been at this a while (like myself), it seems pretty dumbed down. Another bad thing is that I expected a book and I got what looks like a trade paperback comic. It's fun to read, but I just think there is more to be said. This book focuses more on format & structure than content. And even at that, O'Neil (an outstanding writer) spends half his time saying how there are more than one ways to do anything, and this way may not be the right way for you. HOWEVER, I was able to get a few useful tips and pointers from its 128 pages. Personally I feel that if you can get JUST ONE useful tip from it, then it's worth the .... And I did get several, so I'm happy with it. But don't look for writing tips on how to make compelling characters (there is a breif bit about it, but not much). This book is more about style and format. But at the end of the day, I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who wants to write comics. Format & structure are very important. As I said, if you can get just one tip from it, you've got your money's worth!
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38 of 51 people found the following review helpful By steven pond on December 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
Half of this thin volume consists of B&W repro's of DC comics pages. 3/4 of the rest consists of tips cribbed from Hollywood Screenwriting books. (Note to O'Neil, comics are not movies. Or TV shows.)
What's in the guide specifically for comics writing? Well, the answer to one beginner's question - "What format do I use?" is: "There's no one right way." The answer to another beginner's question: "Do I write out the whole script, panel by panel, balloon by balloon, before the artist gets it, or do I just write a plot outline for the artist, then script the captions and balloons after the penciller is finished?" is: "There's no one right way."
Mr. O'Neil repeats "There's no one right way" about 53 more times, just in case you can't read.
The only thing interesting and worthwhile here is "the Levitz Paradigm" a way to organize plots and subplots across different issues or even across titles. But as O'Neil notes, nobody gets a chance to do anything like that at DC unless they have already been working there for many years.
O'Neil has been writing comics a long time. He must know what he's doing. Maybe he can't articulate it. Maybe he doesn't want to release the REAL secrets and foster competition.
I just don't know.
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