Techniques in Comics and Graphic Novel Writing with Pat Mills

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Comics writing has its own rules and these are different to those of graphic novels, Pat Mills tells us. A graphic novel is more of a creative expression.

Pat admits getting himself into trouble over his firm beliefs that the reason for comics’ demise, especially in the girls’ aged 7 & 8 year olds market, is down to the lack of love and care from their eager-to-move-on young women creators. Snobbery settled into publishing turning it elite. The title of Editor of girls’ comics such as Jinty was seen as a blot on the writer’s CV, nobody wanted these roles and the comics folded. Added to which; sophistication took over, comic cons were held, readers defected to America and the 7/8 year olds’ market was lost. A trend of merging comics raised sales. But this was temporary; the readers had been cheated.

The storytelling formula of Robert McKee was then adopted by mainstream comics publishing. 2000AD took this formula and whittled it down to its bare bones.

  • Key to girls’ story lines is that the heroine must be proactive – a modern day MistyPatMillsCinderella. All sorts of terrible things may happen to her, some of which horrify parents but the market has proven their love for these storylines. In hundreds of years, tastes have not changed. Heroines have become harsh. Or is this how writers are showing their many layers?
  • A cruel or upstaging parent is a taboo! The heroine can be given a wicked uncle, teacher, step parent, but their own mother and father must always be good people.
  • Friendship is the all important element for girls’ storylines.mistyannual1979

Pat learned these lessons the hard way. In the 7/8 year olds market, both girls and boys are bitterly outspoken and Pat has received hate mail for the wrong storyline. A Comic’s storyline deadline may be only weeks ahead of the reader giving the editor the freedom to shout for a failing storyline to be ‘killed.’ Beware though; churning out what works can bring a writer down. Keep the readership at the forefront – the storyline must be wrapped-up properly.

Avoiding the tyranny of the mainstream publishing world; Pat and his wife, Lisa, set up their own publishing imprint. Their list of publishing professionals possess one main difference – they are friendly, helpful and on-line.

It is entirely possible for a mainstream comic to feature an anti-establishment storyline. If mainstream, e.g. Marvel, is your style then traditional routes of submission can work. The trick is to keep the Sci-Fi storyline from becoming simply escapism.

Pat’s advice to writers wanting to break into the comics’ market is to use the indie publishers – assuming of course that you are not up against the economic clock! Study your market. Use the free web comics.

Evidence of a girls’ comics market is provided by the success of Manga. ‘Finding an artist is a whole talk of its own,’ Pat points out.

reademandweepPat Mills’s latest project, Read Em and Weep is in the form of a book consisting of formal prose about Dave Maudlin a ‘Young Foggie’ suspended in the time of Gam Rock’s era of mainstream comics writing. It is not a biography, he tells us. It does, however, feature many of the ironies which have plagued Pat throughout his career.

 

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