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Cracking Into Comics

Thanks to a genre no longer dominated by caped super-heroes, one of the bright spots in publishing is the increasing popularity of comics and graphic novels. Scott Allie, senior managing editor of Dark Horse Comics, shares his thoughts on what it takes to write comics well. by Vanessa Wieland

Thanks to a genre no longer dominated by caped super-heroes, one of the bright spots in publishing is the increasing popularity of comics and graphic novels. Scott Allie, senior managing editor of Dark Horse Comics (darkhorse.com), has been a driving force in this change, publishing several critically acclaimed, popular titles, many of which have been adapted for film.

From Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Emily the Strange to The Umbrella Academy, Dark Horse has proved its stories have universal appeal. Here, Allie shares his thoughts on what it takes to write comics well.

What do comics offer that other writing forms don’t? Comics involve a unique interaction between words and pictures, so if that’s compelling to you as a writer, you can see it as undiscovered country—no one has really pushed up against the limits of the art form. There’s plenty of room for new discoveries and groundbreaking work if you want to explore that combination of words and pictures, the way they bounce off each other, stand in for each other, and do things that they can’t quite each do on their own.

Dark Horse took home more Eisner Awards than any other publisher in 2009. What’s the secret to a successful story? It needs to work on multiple levels. A story for this audience needs to be entertaining and fun, with some easy pleasures—that can be scares, action, humor, romance, suspense, even violence. But if it’s going to stick, keep readers and garner any kind of notoriety, it needs to have heart. It needs to be about something. Balance the fun genre stuff with some emotional weight, some thematic depth, and you might have something.

What does it take to be a Dark Horse writer? We have a pretty diverse line, and we want original voices, someone who can give us something we haven’t read before. For our more conventional adventure books, we’re looking for writers who can do compelling, character-driven genre stories, and do something effective with the unique visual form of comics. We have fairly traditional tastes, in many ways, but we have modern expectations. We want to get into character in ways that some of this genre stuff didn’t always do.

What should writers know about the submissions and editing side of the business? Be aware of how heavy the competition is. Editors are all busy trying to get their books out on time in a deadline-heavy business. We all want to find new great talent, but it’s our top priority to keep our books coming out, and we all know lots of professional writers who need work. On top of that, there are more people than ever trying to break into comics as the medium gains mainstream attention. … Your work needs to be amazing, not just good. There are no tricks, but you need to be able to make it stand out, to make it easily accessible for me, the overworked editor. For complete submission guidelines and script formatting requirements, visit www.darkhorse.com/company/submissions. (You do not need a collaborating artist to submit.)

Want more comic and graphic novel writing advice? Consider:
Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels with Peter David

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