The Immersion Factor: Comics + Novels

I wrote part of my new comic book this morning, and after lunch switched gears to the novel.  This is something I’ve been doing for years — and I don’t usually give it much thought.  I’m a visual storyteller, and the language of visual storytelling doesn’t change that much, from one medium to another.

Well, that’s not quite true, actually.  But that’s also not really the focus of this post.

Instead, I started thinking about how it feels to switch gears.  How it feels to write a novel compared to a comic.  The difference inside my head is tangible, physical, as if one is silk and the other is cashmere.  I can almost touch it.

Now, that’s just me.  But I’d argue there’s a more universal shift that happens for anyone who writes in two different mediums.  Creating a deeply immersive experience for a reader requires deep immersion for the writer.  It just does.  You have to be fully in — in the characters, in the world, in the conflict.

But the type of immersion changes from novels to comics.  Writing a novel means that you, the creator, are solely responsible for making people and worlds that readers can believe in and empathize with — and your only way of doing this is with your words.  That’s it.  Your words are the building blocks, your words are your tools.  You, and you alone accomplish this.  So when I say, for example, that I become immersed in the book I’m writing — you better believe I am all in.  In ways that I find difficult to describe, because I’m really somewhere else, out of body.  I have to be, in order to craft those words into something more than just letters on a page.

Writing a comic require another kind of immersion — equally strong, just as intense — but different.  Because here’s the thing — you are not alone when you write a comic (well, unless you’re both artist and writer, in which case my hat is off to you).  And the script you write?  A reader will likely never see it.  You write that script for your artist.  Your artist and your editor, your colorist, your letterer.  Just a handful of people in all the world.  You tell a story that will be interpreted and brought to life by another.  You and the artist create a world together, and even though your words might set the framework, at the end of the day that’s where the artist does her magic and brings these things to life.

I am fully immersed when I write comics — I am in that world, in the heads of the characters — but because what’s needed of me isn’t completely reliant on the strength of my prose (unlike in a novel), the texture of my work and my focus changes.  I’m focusing on moments within scenes, scenes within parts, parts within arcs — visual cues, dialogue, the importance of a look — and how all these things build and build within a serialized format to make a whole story, over time.  It’s the same as when I write a novel — but again, different.

Different muscles.  Different mental textures.  Different and the same.


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