Comics Creators

Artists as Collaborators, not "Art Monkeys"


I’m reading WORDS FOR PICTURES by Brian Michael Bendis and came across the following quote: “You don’t want to get in the way of the artists and their choices. They are not your art monkeys. They are your collaborators.”

What has been your experience as either a writer or an artist? How involved in brainstorming and idea development are artists vs. writers? Does the script style matter (Mavel vs. full)?

I certainly don’t want to treat artists like “art monkeys.” What are some common pitfalls that I can avoid?



Avoid calling your shots! I love that Bendis book btw, and one thing he touches on is that when he stopped telling artists how to layout the page in the script, he got better work. I found this to be true professionally in my design/art direction gigs. Hire good people and guide them to solving the problem, but don’t micromanage them. You hired them, trust them!

In my scripts, I might make a suggestion “this might be cool as a sweeping overhead shot” just to convey to the artist what i’m thinking about the scene, but i try not to be too heavy on that stuff like you’d see in a screen play. I avoid all instances of directing camera angles and such and just stick to “establishing”, “medium shot” “close/on” etc. Unless there’s a very specific story need i.e the brand on a pack of smokes as a foreshadow or something like that. And if i’m trying to show characters talking instead of indicating “closeup” i’ll say “on character name” that way the artist can interpret a talking heads scene in a way that works for them.

However I do think its important for artists to respect the script as well when collaborating. Maybe the writer has a reason for spreading out an action over 5 panels instead of just putting it in one panel. etc. It def goes both ways and should be a conversation, i think.


I’ve only had a couple of experiences so far. In one of them, I just handed the publisher a script, they provided an artist and the artist interpreted the script (different shots, more/less panels per page). I had zero input after turning the script in, but the essence of the story I had written was still there. In another one, I had long conversations with the artist as he interpreted the script and he pushed me to tell the story more visually. I did a couple of drafts of the script after that first one, we added another page and, in the end, the story ended up changing into something else, it wasn’t just an interesting story with a twist at the end, now it had depth and ambiguity. It was a lot more time-consuming and even harder at times, but I think it made up for a better story. What I currently do in my scripts is still call the shots as I see them, but make sure to put a note in the beginning of the script saying how th shots reflect my vision of the story and are merely guides/suggestions and I encourage the artists to change/ignore them if they have a better way to tell the story.


I haven’t had chance to read this book yet but it’s on my ‘to buy’ list.

I can only speak for myself, but as an artist who is still a relative Novice, I would have to say TOO much freedom is crippling me.
I have a couple of projects going and one of them is an existing Novel I am translating into a comic and the writer has given me complete freedom.
Most artist would love this, but it presents me with an unlimited amount of different ways to tell the story and I cannot honestly commit to a layout without second guessing myself.
I assume you are asking as a writer, so I can only advise you to present YOUR vision but as a guideline and invite the artist to change, add or remove anything they think is needed.
I know this answer is a bit vague, but I find that my best art is made when I am presented with a direction to which I can use as a starting point.Only then do I see what does, and does not flow.

I hope this helps.


I tend to communicate a lot when I’m collaborating.

Most of the time when I’m scripting I’m also the artist though, so I am in the habit of some stage direction in the script. Normally no more than “LARGE PANEL” or if there is a particular angle necessary I’ll mention it as “BIRD’S EYE”.

I try to be really open to seeing what comes from having EVERYONE involved hand be visible in the finished work.

I’ve been working with an inker (who has a really strong style all his own, very different than mine) on a new project recently and it’s still a pleasant surprise every time I get to see another page done. In the end because I WANT him to make decisions and interpret what is on the page they end up not looking purely like either of us. And I honestly believe they’re stronger for it.

In the end I think the final product is always better if all parties are engaged and present in the creation of the work.


I think you hit the nail on the head. That’s what I try to do and what I think is the correct approach for writers when working with young and begginning artists. The problem (a good problem to have) is that, as you start working with professional artists, you might have to loosen up on your shot-calling and your panel descriptions so that they don’t fell insulted or creatively smothered. As I writer, I think that, if you have the chance, you should talk with your artist about the story, characters, plot, world-building and how he’s used to working beforehand, and then write them the script. I’ve read Bendis’ book awhile now, but I think one of his other great points is “write for your artist”.


Pardon my vocabulary but: Shit! Your art is amazing!


haha Thanks Pedro.


Yeah, No doubt as I get more experienced I will want more control over story. But I have heard about writers and artist who are too controlling of a story and that can destroy a book before it even see’s print. Writing for an artist is always best. Making sure you know what the artist likes to draw and show their strengths, while also yours.


That being said, an artist also needs to have their boundaries pushed. for the sake of the story.


I usually call the shots in the few projects I’ve done but, as others have said, I also stress to the artist that they are welcome to innovate to a certain extent.

One reason why I do this is because, so far, each project that I’ve done has been the first project that I’ve done with that particular artist. So, I have no idea if they know how to tell a story. Just because someone can draw, it doesn’t mean they know how to tell a story visually.

I can even recall seeing an artist show us the back of a character’s head at a pivotal, tense moment when one would think you would want to show us the character’s facial expression/reaction. And this was a “big time” artist in a mainstream book.

I would think that, if you worked with an artist over time, you could loosen the reins a little bit.

I also think that being too loose with the script puts an unfair burden on the artist. I mean, it’s easy to write, “Jesus and Santa Claus have a slobberknocker match to the death in the fiery pits of Hell” but how you actually depict that, shot by shot, takes a little more thought and time. This is another reason why I think Kirby, Ditko and their generation STILL don’t get the credit that they really deserve.

Also, I was disappointed by that Bendis book. I think it could have had much more depth and breadth. There was a lot of white space in that book, is all I’m saying.

That’s my $.02


Absolutely. I always tell my collaborators that the script is just a guideline, and if they can make it better, go for it. But I think it’s important to put some direction on the page so they have a starting point.

My favorite artists to work with have been the ones that took what I wrote and re-interpreted it through their own lens. My least favorite experiences have been when the artist simply drew what I wrote verbatim.

It should be a dialogue, not a dictatorship.


It’s very helpful; thank you!

I’m coming into comics as a prose writer and the idea of collaboration is thrilling and intimidating. I think that writers (in general) get too up tight about their “vision” of their work. I’ve seen many an author become a pain in the butt with a critique or an editor or an even the illustrator. I think that much can be learned from this collaboration between comic writer and artist and how it can be BENEFICIAL to the creation of art, not a threat to it.


I appreciate your perspective! Certainly there are instances where more description and guidance is necessary (the same could be true of any relationship–namely, the people in it determine the amount of work it takes to function).


actually they are being paid for a job so not really collaborators I would love to have a collaborator with my comic book but all I seem to get is artist who want to draw what they want and not what my story calls for that’s my issue at the moment


I’m sorry that’s been your experience.

I don’t agree that the term collaborator means the artist is not being paid. I come from a writing background where an agent and an editor COLLABORATE with the author and they make BETTER art as a result. Both of these people get paid. Agents and editors are NOT millionaires. Talk to them. The reason that they do what they do is because they love the collaboration and the art the comes from it.

I think that this same spirit can be fostered in the comic book industry. Indeed, I think it is alive and well among top-tier professionals (just follow @Mark_Millar on Twitter to see his respect and regard for the artists he works with).

What do you think makes a storyteller?

For me, this goes beyond the surface. I can write a compelling description or a line that sounds poetic on the lips, but can I connect the pieces into something that matters? Into something that lifts and inspires? That’s the difference between a writer and a storyteller. I want to be a storyteller.

No, I want to be a storyteller working with another storyteller. That’s the magic of comics.


I wish I could find someone to work with but I’ve been the one paying them and they still want to draw what they want and not my vision I have written well over 200 short stories and am in need of someone easy to work with who can take my vision and put it into comic pages. I do follow him on twitter so far we have 478 followers for The Unsettled and growing I will be doing a show in April and kickstarter in the spring I need someone for Sequentials . I have a cover artist Anthony Spay and Ivan Nunes providing the color . I’ve had artists take money and do no work or just back out after signing a contract or just not easy to work with so maybe a collaboration would be easier not sure.


I know to some extent I’m talking in ideals and you’re sharing your reality. I wish I could draw! I’d help you out!

I’ve heard suggested on this forum that if the artist is active in the brainstorming of the characters, plot, and setting, they are more invested in the work.

Keep at it! You will only be a better writer when you do find that right artist.


thanks and hopefully I’ll find someone sooner than later and I keep coming up with new stuff everyday to add to the crazy world of the unsettled thanks for the reply I appreciate it


Been writing for awhile. Getting my first real collaboration work going with a really talented artist who is my secret weapon. He’s really smart and fast and loves any detail I can give him.

He’s actually given me some inspiration with some questions about characters as he’s sketching them. A later part of the story arc I thought was bad has been improved by him asking, “Why doesn’t he appear again?”

It’s not that I’d written off an important character, it’s that I’d made a villain just a punching bag instead of using him and the other foes of my hero as a means of tieing two storylines together and making the world that much better.