The first ever issue of the new Frenemies title by Monty Nero and Yishan Li has gone out digitally – to backers only – so it seemed like a good time to ask co-creator and X-Men writer Monty Nero to talk about writing your very first issue of a comic…
First issues of a new comic are a lot of fun. In Issue 1 you can do anything at all, it’s a blank canvas. Cool character moments, intriguing mysteries, all centred around an exciting central premise.
You should always have a clear idea what the core theme of the book is, and the most exciting event. That’s the focus. In Death Sentence it’s a sexually transmitted virus that makes you brilliant and powerful, but kills you in six months. In Frenemies, we meet seven rivals who compete to find a missing planet which will either save or destroy the world. If you find your Issue One script concerns something else, have a rethink.
Within this context, raising questions within the issue tends to work well. What would you do in this situation? How would this scenario really affect society? How might it feel? Issue One is a good time for raising questions. Answers can be revealed in later issues, as long as you’ve worked it all out.
It’s tempting to do too much. You’ve got a whole universe worked out – you want people to know how cool it is – but what do you reveal? Editing is essential. Pare your ideas back, your speed of delivery. Let it unfold, so people can enjoy the ride.
Without rushing the story, it’s important to grab your reader’s attention on Page One. Death Sentence Page One lays out the whole dilemma in a very stark, powerful, concise way. Frenemies opens with a compelling tease: “It was at the Camford Comic Con, light years from the bitter war raging across the stars, that the pivotal moment in human evolution occurred.”
There’s a lot implied there – along with a sense of place and the hint that whoever’s speaking is somewhat bombastic and faintly comical. It should get readers thinking.
Death Sentence and Frenemies are different comics at different times for a different world. Frenemies is online, crowdfunded, digital, and the print copy comes later. Having backed it, you know people are going to give the comic a decent go. The trick is to excite and amuse them by the time they put it down. Whereas with Death Sentence, I was a complete unknown trying to get people to read and buy my print comic. If the first page wasn’t amazing, no-one would ever bother with the second.
That battle is a microcosm of storytelling in general. Every page, you’re trying to move the story on, change the perspective, put a new twist on the situation. That’s how you keep people reading. If the scene you’re writing doesn’t do that, it’s not the right scene. If the conversation or action simply maintains the status quo, the story feels dull and inert.
Issue One’s are harder when it’s a team book. You have to give everyone their space, their narrative arc, without getting bogged down or crowding the story. The first Avengers film did this very well. Death Sentence had three main characters, Frenemies has seven. I wanted to give myself a real challenge. I like exploring new territory. Introducing seven different people and telling a flowing tale which grips and entertains is hard, but it excites me. Everything should appear to unfold effortlessly. Beneath the water, you’re peddling like fury, but on the surface the comic should glide.
How far you ever succeed is really up to each individual reader. Everyone has different experiences, likes and dislikes. All you can ever do is write a comic you love, with villains and heroes you adore, and a premise which excites the hell out of you. Entertain yourself with panache and there’s a good chance you’ll find kindred souls.
Visuals are crucial. Some kind of gripping central image, pertaining to the core idea. To me, the characters are the window to the soul of each story. They should look as startling and exciting as the comic itself. They set the mood, and a mood is much overlooked quality.
I spend much of my time establishing a tone, or a feeling, in each comic. Key to the whole process is hiring an artist much more talented than you are. Every artist I’ve ever worked with can do things that thrill me, in ways I can only applaud. I’ve been truly blessed by the art gods with co-creators like Mike Dowling, Yishan Li, and Martin Simmonds – but whoever your artist, give them the space to fly and write to their strengths. Give them the space to fly, and write to their strengths. Treat them as you’d like to be treated yourself.
I don’t have any marketing tricks for selling new comics. It’s making the comic itself that interests me. They live or die on their quality and their ideas. Where a comic works for me, it’s because people are genuinely enthused, which equates to long term success because readers spread the word naturally: “Hey, I read something cool yesterday”. You can’t fake that kind of thing. There’s no point even trying.
I focus on making the books, and talking about making the books, and the best I can manage in terms of marketing is letting people know what I’m doing via social media and emails in a somewhat underwhelming and haphazard fashion. It’s primitive stuff, but keeping my focus on creativity – on the comics themselves – genuinely keeps me sane. It’s the rock I cling to in terrifyingly capricious waters.
All I need to focus on is “Make sure this comic is great”. If I spent my days marketing… I think I’d lose focus and everything would dry up.
Kickstarter is great, because you don’t need advertising. If comic fans like the look of the comic on the site, they’ll back it. Success in other arenas counts for little. If people enjoy reading it, they’ll back the next one too and your audience will grow. It’s the complete opposite of comic shops, where sales generally slowly die away no matter how good or famous you are. Then it’s relaunched and the whole process starts over.
As a general rule, I don’t put anything out I wouldn’t die for. Life’s too short for filler material, copycat projects, work for work’s sake, or the same old same old. If issue 1 doesn’t encapsulate something new and exciting, don’t make it. If you don’t believe in it 100%, don’t make it. But that’s just my opinion. Creatively, you need to find what works for you, and if that means doing something completely different go for it! There are people out there who swear by marketing and only ever reheat proven ideas. It seems to work for them.
Write what you love. Hope to meet friends and allies in this wonderful community, and treat them all like family. Enjoy the process. That’s the joy of comic creation, in a nutshell.
Monty Nero is an artist and writer published by Marvel (X-Men and Hulk) Titan, Delcourt, as well as short comics for Vertigo and 2000AD His writing has been described as “easily the equal of Dostoyevsky or Dickens” (Popmatters) and “work that ranks up there with greats such as Alan Moore and Warren Ellis.” (How to Love Comics). He’s also an award-winning comics scholar primarily interested in defining how the verbal and visual interplay of comics elicits emotion and meaning.