Creator Confessions: How Long Should My First Comic Be?

by Frank Martin

As a writer of both novels and comics, Comicon contributor Frank Martin has a lot to say about the process of making fiction a reality. In Creator Confessions, he offers some of the discoveries he’s made in bring a story from initial idea to a complete, published reality.

 

 

One of the key questions new comic book writers can ask themselves is “how long should my story be?” Those unfamiliar with the medium might state the obvious: however long the story needs to be. While that might be undoubtedly true for a prose story, the length of a comic comes with a few more complications. The matter becomes even trickier when you take into account today’s mainstream comic market, which focuses mostly on four to six-issue story arcs.

Casual comic readers with aspirations of writing their own stories often feel like they have to follow this model to succeed. I don’t blame them. If all you’re reading is long-form stories it’s easy to assume that you must adhere to that formula. Many creators fall into this trap, myself included.

Comics is a tricky medium to write for. There’s a lot of technical aspects to consider when scripting out your pages. The best advice to give new comic writers is to start small. Short stories are best to cut your teeth on the ins-and-outs of comic writing.

This poses a practical problem, though. There are not many commercial applications for short stories in comics. You could always look for an anthology where your short might fit or create a couple of them for your own collection of shorts. But that could be a difficult undertaking.

This is where the one-shot comes in. Personally, I’m a huge fan of one-shots. They tell a self-contained story, with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s also a commercially viable product that can be sold on its own, which is hard to do with just a short.

So what’s the answer to the question? It’s not straightforward. Short stories are undeniably a great proving ground for writers, five-to-ten pages being the sweet spot. But writers also shouldn’t be afraid to test the waters into a twenty page one-shot that might be more practical to distribute. There’s no perfect game plan for building a career writing comics. One thing is for certain, though. Starting off with your grand fifty-issue masterpiece might not be the best idea.

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