Hollywood gurus flip to comic books
By David Hiltbrand
Knight Ridder News Service
By David Hiltbrand
By almost any measure — exposure, esteem, money — writing for comic books is a big step down for authors who are enjoying success in TV, films or fiction.
But try telling that to the big-name scribes — including horrormeister Stephen King, Joss Whedon (creator of TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and writer/director Reggie ("House Party") Hudlin, now head of entertainment at BET — who are taking the plunge into the pulpy world of muscle-bound superheroes. They all think they've died and gone to heaven.
Thriller writer Brad Meltzer ("The Tenth Justice") remembers being recruited by Bob Shrek, the editor of the Green Arrow series.
"He waited around until the very end of a book signing and asked, 'Do you want to write The Green Arrow?' " Meltzer recalls. "I said, 'Don't say that unless you're serious.' I've been waiting my whole life for someone to say those words."
For many authors, comic books possess an evergreen coolness that far surpasses their lowbrow standing in the culture. It's a happy association that often extends back to childhood.
As a consequence, getting to dabble in the colorful realm of comics is like fantasy camp for many writers.
Of course, it benefits the publishers too. "We get compelling storytelling and a fresh outlook on over 40 years of character continuity," says Ruwan Jayatilleke, director of development at Marvel, in New York. "And obviously we're going for a crossover audience. Increasingly we're seeing these (comic) books collected into graphic novels."
"When you have stories from well-known creative types like Joss Whedon or (sci-fi author) Orson Scott Card, or Reggie Hudlin, there's more of a mainstream audience going to Barnes & Noble or Amazon or even discovering their local comic-book shop," he says.
Approximately half of the comic-book industry's $500 million in sales last year came from graphic novels and paperback anthologies — illustrated books such as Meltzer's "Identity Crisis," which wound a murder mystery around some of DC Comics' most cherished characters, crusaders like Superman, Batman, the Flash and Green Lantern.
The traditional comic book, which now typically sells for $2.99, makes up the other part of sales. A hot title may sell 100,000 to 200,000 copies.
Writing for a comic book takes some adjustment, especially for novelists. "It's a very visual medium," notes Charlie Huston, 38, author of the vampire/detective mashup "Already Dead." He's now working on "Moon Knight," a comic about a brooding, cowled superhero.
"You have to learn to reduce the text and plot, and let the pictures carry the story as much as possible. My prose style is pretty spare to begin with, but it's shocking when you see it on the page how even a few words can begin to crowd a panel and diminish the action."
Even writers who are used to working in visual forms such as TV and film have to drastically pare down their prose.
"I keep finding myself with way too much story to confine in 22 pages," the standard comic length, says Damon Lindelof, the co-creator of ABC's "Lost," who is writing "Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk."
"I'm forced to cut and compress and tell the story in a snapshotty fashion," says Lindelof. "The way you convey emotion with a picture versus the way an actor will perform it is a very different style of writing. I'm still trying to find the rhythm."