A Week in the Life of a Comic Book Writer
How do you get things done when all you really want to do is write? (Spoiler: I'm still trying to figure that out for myself)
Seventeen years into my full-time professional comic book writing career, my weekly schedule remains a work in progress.
I’m sure I’ll nail it down any day now.
I don’t know how the other comic writing folk out there do it (pretty sure Chip Zdarsky has a team of sexy Westworld robots who do his writing for him), but I don’t imagine I’m far outside the norm when I say that the only thing I’ve ever really been able to do consistently in life is write.
And even that will inevitably vary in time from day to day. I might get 12 solid hours of writing done one day and 2 the next. In part because the writing always happens in stages (the first stage consisting of a lot of staring into space, shifting plot points and characters around inside my head). But also because there’s always plenty of other work stuff that takes up time.
Last week, I wrote and submitted a new pitch (one that brought me particular joy), wrote a script, appeared on a podcast and answered a fuckton of emails about cover ideas and interior layouts and character designs and coloring notes and contracts and an upcoming signing appearance and upcoming press and business shit from my accountant.
This week, I’m working on a different script and a lettering draft for another book and hey, also this newsletter you’re so graciously reading right now, while also doing a couple calls about future comic work and a non-comic project and answering more of those same emails all over again.
Sometimes I wish I had a more formal schedule for how best to manage all of that, but I’ve never really been able to hold to one. It helps to have a school-age kid, because then I have to get up in the morning and work something that at least resembles a 9 to 5 schedule, but my natural state always tends toward being a night owl, so there’s ever a tug of war going on there between morning dad and vampire writer. Sometimes I answer emails first thing in the morning, sometimes late at night, sometimes sitting in the bathtub with my iPad. Other times, not at all, and the emails just pile on top of one another like heaps of festering corpses until the day there must come a great culling.
Really, I just want to be writing. Closed off from the world. Lost in a story. For me, that’s the good stuff. That’s the fruit of the tree of life.
But like I said, the writing time still varies in length and productivity and effectiveness from day to day. I generally like to have a week to write a script. But that’s really just to get it down in a script format. The process actually takes a lot longer than that. Because the hardest part is always what has to happen in your head before you’re ever typing Page One, Panel One. Figuring out the overall story, the arc, the issue beats. A good outline is always your friend. When I sit down to start a new script on a Monday, I’m always grateful to the me of a few months ago if they’ve left me a solid outline from which to work. Otherwise, my Monday will consist of lots of that aforementioned staring into space, wrestling with story, getting stuck, taking a break to fold laundry or go for a walk, then coming back with a fresh perspective and a new wrestling hold to go at it again.
This Monday, I got finished eight pages of script I feel good about. Some Mondays it’ll be a good day if I can just get the overall gist of an issue nailed down. Just a general breakdown of pages 1-20 with a sentence for each. Some weeks I can get 30 or 40 pages written. Other times it might be a struggle just to get 10.
Not because the muse has taken the week off. Whenever someone talks about muses and the act of writing like it’s some sort of mystical fucking process, it makes my stomach churn. The only muses are the muscles in your brain that you have to train and exercise and nourish and then exert to build stories, step by step, like a team of architects, carpenters, electricians and plumbers all working together to build a house from the ground up.
Some weeks you get more writing done than others because every story is different, every book and character is a different challenge. Also because, you know, there’s fucking real life going on and every week in and of itself is different. And then of course there’s all those goddamn emails.
So yeah, my schedule is always one of fits and starts, always messy, but I think the creative process is bound to be a messy one. I think of the Rolling Stones, who in my mind recorded a string of albums from 1968-1972 that may never be equaled in terms of pure rock perfection. Through that entire period, they were an ever-increasing mess with a sound that always teetered on the edge of chaos.
Stones bassist Bill Wyman once said: “Something happens when we play together. It’s impossible to copy. Every band follows the drummer. We don’t follow Charlie. Charlie follows Keith. So the drums are very slightly behind Keith. It’s only fractional. Seconds. Minuscule. And I tend to play ahead. It’s got a sort of wobble. It’s dangerous because it can fall apart at any minute.”
It’s got a sort of wobble. Yeah, that’s a week in the life of a comic book writer. And I’m over here every day loving every motherfucking second of it.
Thanks for making that happen.
And one last note, when I talk about my process, it’s because people tend to ask. And because as a writer I’m always interested in how things work for other creative folk. It’s not because I’ve figured out the way that you should do it. I think an important key to life is accepting that pretty much nobody has figured out shit. We’re all just making it up as we go. So I only know what the creative process looks like for me. No one else ever gets to tell you that there’s a right or wrong way for how your own process should function. If it works for you, then it’s right.
This Week’s New Releases
God, I fucking love this book. I fucking love this cover. So somber and simple and so lushly rendered by Jesús Saíz. I think a part of me would like to write this book forever. But the other parts can’t wait to show you where this is headed and how it ends. God bless the Beast.
A dramatically different tone than PUNISHER, but I’m having just as much wild, unbridled fun with AVENGERS right now. With this current time-traveling arc, Javier Garrón continues to show that he can hit a home run with any genre you throw at him. This week, it’s the adventures of the Wild West’s Wildest Outlaws, Reno Phoenix and the Starbrand Kid. We are rocketing toward the end game here, with all boosters set to full-throttle. More on that in a bit.
My Beard Recommends
—Look, I know there’s always a horde of good TV shows out there that people are talking about, but I don’t hear enough about Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Primal,” which just returned for its second season. What a beautifully brutal show. It’s like the Northman in animated form, only with dinosaurs. I mean “Samurai Jack” was great, but clearly this is Genndy Tartakovsky at his most fully unrestrained, and I for one am here for every second of it.
VERDICT: MY BEARD SAYS PRIMAL MAKES THE GRASS GROW. PRIMAL WILL CURE ALL ILLS. PRIMAL WILL LEAVE YOU EATING YOUR OWN GUTS AND ASKING FOR SECONDS.
—Speaking of Northman. I haven’t seen that many films in the theater this year, but of the ones I have, there are a few now that have really stuck with me: Northman, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and now I’d add Nope to that list. My son and I saw it together and talked about it the whole way home. Then he was pacing around our living room, staring into space, just lost in thought about it. Which made me so incredibly happy to see, as a dad and a creator. Movies that stick with us, that haunt us, challenge us, that force us to figure out for ourselves what they’re trying to say, what they mean to us, to me those kinda films seem increasingly too rare these days. But this year I’ve seen three of them and haven’t stopped thinking about any of them since.
VERDICT: MY BEARD LIKES MOVIES THAT FILL ITS WHISKERS WITH WONDER. MY BEARD SAYS GO SEE NOPE.
Notes & Links & Things & Stuff
—Over at the News Feed on my website, there’s a breakdown of all the books I’ve got coming in October, including MIRACLEMAN #0. I’m quite proud of the story I was able to contribute to that. Those Alan Moore comics had a big impact on me when I was a kid. And I think my story speaks to the character’s legacy in a few interesting ways. Hope you dig it.
—As announced at San Diego Comic Con, I’m getting to work with the legendary artist Bryan Hitch for the very first time on the Alpha issue of AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, a massive multi-issue saga that represents the culmination of years’ worth of stories and serves to unite the AVENGERS, AVENGERS FOREVER and the AVENGERS 1,000,000 B.C. in one cataclysmic showdown. I’m pulling a whole bunch of threads into my final AVENGERS epic, leaving no character or crazy idea unexploded. And man, what a thrill to be working with Bryan. This is as gorgeous an oversized, prehistoric slugfest as Marvel has ever seen.
“Avengers Assemble.” Say the words like a prayer. And hope it will save you.
—A roundup of recent interviews. It’s always a particular pleasure to chat with the charming and insightful Chauncey Devega.
—Hey, I hope to see you in Greece this September. We’ll have a bit of ouzo together. Maybe more than a bit.
This has been BEARD MISSIVES, direct from the anise-flavored face of Jason Aaron.
This week’s newsletter has been brought to you by Trader Joe’s Chunky Artichoke and Jalapeno Dip, Boulevard’s Quirk Hard Seltzers (my drink of choice when it’s this miserably sweltering outside) and the 45 day dry-aged ribeye at Acre in Parkville, Missouri (in my dreams I am eating this steak on and on into infinity until I am become more steak than man).
Thanks for reading. Hope you’re well and well loved. Stay worthy.
KC, August 10, 2022
“Well I hope we're not too messianic.
Or a trifle too satanic.”
—Rolling Stones, “Monkey Man”
Things To Come
All ship-dates are still very much subject to change right now, for reasons to do with, you know, the ongoing state of the world.
AVENGERS: 1,000,000 B.C. #1 — August 17, 2022
KING CONAN trade — August 23, 2022
AVENGERS FOREVER #8 — August 24, 2022
PUNISHER #6 — September 7, 2022
AVENGERS FOREVER #9 — September 21, 2022
AVENGERS Vol. 10: THE DEATH HUNTERS trade — September 27, 2022
MIRACLEMAN #0 — October 5, 2022
AVENGERS BY JASON AARON Hardcover Vol. 3 — October 18, 2022
AVENGERS #61 — October 19, 2022
AVENGERS FOREVER #10 — October 26, 2022
HEROES REBORN Omnibus — November 1, 2022
BATMAN: JOKER’S ASYLUM trade — December 6, 2022
PUNISHER: THE KING OF KILLERS BOOK ONE trade — December 6, 2022
thanks for sharing all of this, as always! love your work!
Always interesting to see how people go about writing. I write in bursts and like to jump between mediums; just today I worked on a graphic novel script, radio drama script, and a regular comic script. Helps me keep everything fresh!