Writing and art go hand-in-hand, especially when it comes to successful storytelling. So what happens when a writer, an editor and a painter come together to help tell the story for a huge blockbuster project? Below, Andy Schmidt, editor and author of Comics Experience® Guide to Writing Comics, shares lessons learned from working with a painter for the first time while editing Marvel Entertainment’s Secret War.
Learning Lessons on Storytelling | Marvel Editor Andy Schmidt’s Perspective on Painting
Back in 2002 when I was editing comics for Marvel Entertainment, I was given one of my first truly giant projects. It was called Secret War, and it was written by arguably the biggest writer in comics: Brian Michael Bendis. I was stoked! The artist for the project was a painter named Gabriele Dell’Otto. He lives in Italy and, at the time, hadn’t done much in the way of comics before.
Overall, this project came with a lot of firsts: It was one of my first big projects; it was Gab’s first large project; and it was the first time Brian had written for a foreign artist. So, there was a learning curve for all of us.
For the project, I would work on the scripts to make sure they’d translate more easily, and I’d review Gab’s layouts before he’d start painting. I’d offer suggestions to make the storytelling more clear and pump up the dynamics on the page. It wasn’t that Gab was doing anything wrong — oh, boy, are his paintings beautiful — but he was new to incorporating aspects of storytelling that go along with comics.
I learned two incredibly important lessons while working on this project, and I want to share them with you, below.
Storytelling at the Script Phase Is Crucial
The first lesson I learned while working on Secret War is that the basic elements of storytelling need to be broken down in the script phase in order for an artist to properly and most effectively bring that script to life on the painted page. You’ll find many of these elements and tips in my new book, Comics Experience® Guide to Writing Comics. It’s not a book just for writers, but for artists, too.
The underlying building blocks aren’t about how to write more concisely. You can learn that in any college English class. It’s really about how the writer communicates, and when doing his or her job correctly, inspires the artist to do his or her best work.
Drawing vs. Painting in Comic Storytelling
The second thing I learned is that painting is different from drawing with pencil and ink. When Gab painted, I wanted to give him the same kind of notes I’d give someone working wth pencil to create art for a comic book page — and that wasn’t appropriate.
The tools are different, the methods are different and the entire process is different. Related, yes, because we’re focused on a specific form of communication, but what works for one doesn’t work for the other in all cases. So again, I had to learn how to be a better editor for Gab so that I could help him succeed.
That learning curve took some time, but we all got there. I think the proof that we figured it out — all of us working together — is in the final product. Gab’s paintings look gorgeous as they always do, and Brian’s story beats loud and clear.
Impactful Experiences and Resources
The lessons learned working with Gab — and, more specifically, with painters in general — and how painting is different from drawing with pencil and ink, were impactful. They informed much of my approach to Comics Experience® Guide to Writing Comics. It’s a book about writing, no two ways about it. But it’s built so that the scripts one should be able to produce will inform and inspire any artist who wants to tell a narrative story with comic panels on any canvas.
*All images of art by Matt Triano used in this article, besides the first photo, are from Andy Schmidt’s project currently in production, Exalt, and are therefore not available to the public.
Meet Andy Schmidt
Andy Schmidt is a former senior editor at IDW Publishing, former editor at Marvel Comics and comic writer of Five Days to Die, X-Men: Divided We Stand, G.I. Joe: Future Noir and Achilles Inc., to name a few. He launched Comics Experience in order to help others who wanted to make comics or work in the industry.
Schmidt edited popular comic books, including X-Men, X-Factor, Alias, Secret War, Captain America: The Chosen, Iron Man/Captain America: Casualties of War, Avengers Classic and the Annihilation saga, during his six years working at Marvel Comics. As an assistant and associate editor, Andy worked on nearly every major character in the Marvel canon — from Fantastic Four to Spider-Man and the Avengers.
Schmidt’s latest book, Comics Experience® Guide to Writing Comics, is available now.