It struck me that reading comics doesn’t mean you know how a comic script is laid out and since we had over 12,000 inquiries in the first three days of our Millarworld New Talent Search last year it seems wise to give you a wee example to work from.
One of our current releases is a book called Jupiter’s Legacy (art by Frank Quitely) and I’ve copied the original first script for the second volume below and hope this is useful to you in terms of layout, panel descriptions and average number of balloons for dialogue.
Some more pointers:
*I would advise working around 5 panel pages, especially for a short story. This is just enough room for an artist to clearly tell the story visually and, in a short story, give you enough room for a satisfying beginning, middle and end. Six panels should be your absolute max as anything else essentially becomes a series of close-ups for your artist and neither of you will be happy. Yeah, Frank Miller did a sixteen panel grid for Dark Knight Returns, but he was drawing it too, which makes a complex page much easier to write and anything too fancy at this stage and you’re going to trip yourself up. Focus on the story as opposed to potentially interesting panel arrangements. The story itself is hard enough.
*Your first page should have a panel big enough to take the logo and the credits for you and the artists. I’d recommend opening with a four panel page for this reason as it will give your opening room to breath and immediately separate it from the previous strip in the anthology. This isn’t an issue with a regular-sized issue, but for a short story in an anthology it’s an easy rookie mistake to make.
*Panel descriptions should be as little info as you need. No artist is going to thank you for talking about something they don’t need to draw. Just give them the minimum to get the story across and trust them to do a good job.
*Dialogue likewise should be stripped down to essentials. This is especially important in short stories which are a brilliant way of learning to cut flab. Not one panel or balloon should be here if you can comfortable strip it out. Denny O’Neil brilliantly described comics as Newspaper Headlines Written By Poets and that’s the aspiration you should have here. Three balloons is the absolute max you want in a panel or your page looks ugly and it disrupts the flow. There are exceptions, but this is my rule of thumb and you should count the words in an average panel and try to keep each balloon to that number as a maximum.
*Don’t feel daunted by the four to five page remit. Some brilliant stories are only three or four pages long and Alan Moore is an excellent example of someone who did this more right than anyone else. In ye olde days, writers started on short stories to learn how to tell a story in the shortest space possible because if you can do it in 5 pages you’re going to be brilliant over 22 pages. DC and Marvel trained people up with back-up strips and 2000AD had Futureshocks. If you want to see characters and a situation and a great story and a phenomenal twist told in 5 pages I recommend googling Chrono-Cops by Moore and Gibbons. Yeah, the guys who did Watchmen. This shows you what you can do with even the tiniest number of pages and should be inspiring.
Anything else, pop your questions below and either me or one of my pals here will try to answer, but I hope this is all useful.
ORIGINAL SCRIPT FOR JUPITER’S LEGACY VOL 2 #1
FAO Nicole Boose, Editor
JUPITER’S LEGACY 2
Script by Mark Millar
Art by Frank Quitely
22 Script Pages
Revised: 12th July 2015
1/ Open with an establishing shot of a modest little house in a quiet part of Santa Fe back in 1991. It’s night-time and there’s nobody else around. These people clearly don’t have much at all and the chat comes from inside.
CAPTION : Santa Fe, 1991:
SPRING : Are the superheroes coming?
2/ Cut to interior and we see George Hutchence standing in a dark kitchen with a mixed race woman in her late thirties. She’s pretty alternative looking and standing here in a pair of flip-flops, looking nervous as she looks out the window. George seems subdued and considered, like they’ve just had a very difficult conversation. He’s wearing his Skyfox uniform, but the helmet is sitting on the kitchen table. He’s smoking.
GEORGE : We’ve still got a little time.
3/ George subs out his cigarette.
4/ Close on George, looking serious. He’s quite middle-aged looking here, but still cool. A little grey in his hair.
GEORGE : Can I see the boy before I go?
1/ Cut to the next room and we see Hutch as a little boy, around seven years old, sitting here with his toys in a mostly dark room illuminated by a TV set. He’s sitting on the floor and playing with action figures and Lego. One of the action figures is Blue Bolt from our prequel series. He doesn’t look around as his Dad stands in costume in the background. No helmet still.
2/ George sits down beside him, the kid still transfixed to the screen. It’s a lovely quiet moment.
GEORGE : What are you watching?
KID : The Real Ghostbusters.
3/ George looks a little confused, the kid still staring at the screen and looking kind of blank. We can see they look quite alike.
GEORGE : Why’s it called real if it’s only a CARTOON?
KID : I don’t know.
4/ Close on the kid, still looking at the screen despite this being a huge question. It’s that very child-like reaction of wanting to ask something huge, but not really being brave enough to look you in the eye and confirm it matters.
KID : Are you my DAD?
5/ George gives a little smile, slightly worried. He wasn’t expecting him to be so direct.
GEORGE : Yeah.
1/ The kid just keeps playing with his toys, but the body language here suggests they’re getting comfortable with each other.
KID : Will I get powers when I’m older TOO?
GEORGE : I doubt it. Your mother’s genes appear to be dominant, but at least
you’ve got my beautiful IRISH HAIR.
2/ The kid plays with his Blue Bolt, still not looking up.
GEORGE : So who’s your favourite superhero?
KID : Blue-Bolt.
3/ George smiles as the kid looks around at him, taking the kid’s flashlight and about to get into a little father/ son bonding. The laugh seems to have broken the ice.
KID : What’s so funny?
GEORGE : Nothing. He’d LOVE this. Here, gimme that flashlight.
4/ Spring stands in the doorway watching, a little worried, as George starts taking apart the kid’s flashlight. He’s a technical genius, remember.
GEORGE : Spring, could you get me a hair-dryer and two feet of kitchen foil?
I’m going to MAKE him something…
5/ Cut to an amazing shot from above a group of twelve superheroes descending from the clouds and down towards this little house. They’re all standing upright and just slowly dropping, which I think is creepier. We shouldn’t see their faces. Utopian isn’t there, but the other famous ones are plus a few others we’ve never seen.
1/ Close on boots as they quietly touch down in a controlled manner.
2/ Spring is looking out the window, the superhero arrival feeling very different when you’re the ex of a super-villain. George is still playing with all the nuts and bolts he’s adding to this flashlight, sitting down here with this fascinated kid.
SPRING : They’re here.
GEORGE : I know. I heard their BOOTS touching down. Just give me another
3/ He smiles and hands the kid the flashlight.
GEORGE : …now I’ve made you a power-rod just like Blue-Bolt’s, but your
Mom’s going to keep it ‘til you’re old enough to be RESPONSIBLE
4/ George stands up and the kid looks pleased as he looks at his prize. This is now the very same rod we saw him use in volume one.
GEORGE : I’m going to go away for a while and might not even SEE you again
so I want you to promise you’ll only ever use this to HELP people.
5/ Close on the kid as he looks down at the torch and away from us, again saying something huge without looking us in the eye.
KID : I love you.
1/ Close on George pausing, looking a little sad. Spring looks sad too. He’s holding his helmet.
2/ Close on George, almost feeling sorry for the kid.
GEORGE : I love you TOO.
3/ George puts his helmet on as his girlfriend opens the door. He’s heading out to deal with these guys and struts with a supreme confidence.
4/ Pull back and a big panel as we see all the heroes standing in a semi-circle here, Walter at the front, as Skyfox now in full costume strides towards them. Spring and the kid wait in the doorway.
SKYFOX : Be good.
1/ Cut to Paris in the rain and we see an American government vehicle containing a super-villain driving along at night with a convoy of the anti-super troopers we saw in the previous issue. This convoy is entering the airport and taking the guy in the containment truck back to the States.
CAPTION : Paris, 2020:
INSIDE : Now I see why you guys like your SECRET IDENTITIES so
2/ Cut to interior and we see some armed guards sitting here with a super-villain they’ve just captured. The uniforms should be identical to the ones in the last issue, but the super-villain should be dressed in regular clothes. All these villains are really stylish and good-looking, multi-ethnic and being prepped for the series end as the heroes who replace the more traditional comic heroes of the last 75 years. This guy is like a better-looking Vin Diesel and he’s sitting here either stripped to the waist or in a designer vest, hands in big super-cuffs to contain his size-powers. He’s sitting here glowering as they tease him a little.
GUARD ONE : …that’s NINE-THOUSAND MILES we had to chase you. All the
way from MELBOURNE.
GUARD TWO : Maybe you and that girlfriend of yours can get cells NEXT DOOR
to another, huh?
3/ Switch angles and a shot from behind Hutch as he teleports inside this truck, everybody surprised.
HUTCH : Oh, Tornado’s not going to the SUPERMAX, boys…
GUARD ONE : What?
4/ Cool shot of Hutch pointing his power-rod down towards the main guard and he looks pretty cocky here. I like the idea of playing around with clothes and mixing it up like real life. Hutch should be wearing the kind of stuff the F and F actors are wearing in photo-shoots. The sort of stuff an eighteen year old would look at and be wowed. All the villains coming in here are really cool.
HUTCH : …he’s coming with ME.