On graphic novel writing

Thanks to all the early adopters who showed up for the French launch of Monte Cristo, Book One! Our May festival and bookstore signings were a great occasion for illustrator Mario Alberti and me to see each other in person. (Mario lives and works in Trieste, I'm in Montpellier.)

Here's a sneak peek at our work-in-progress on Book Two of the trilogy: "The Island," on track for early 2023 release. Mario has drawn the first 19 pages (only 51 to go!), working in B&W grayscale, with color to be added at the end. He began by storyboarding the full 70-page book, working from my script; we thrashed out details via Slack and Zoom.

For those curious about the graphic-novel collaborative process, here are the script and rough storyboard excerpts for the panels above:

Every project, and writer-artist pairing, is unique. Sometimes writers dictate page layouts and panel compositions in detail. For me to do that with an artist of Mario's caliber would feel like telling a film D.P. what lens to use. I "see" panels in my mind's eye as I write, but that doesn't mean Mario needs to draw them exactly that way. A comics artist's job is like a film director, D.P., set designer, cast and crew rolled into one. In writing, whether for a graphic novel or film/TV, I try to suggest my ideas for panels and shots (and casting, and actors' performances...) indirectly through word choice and phrasing, rather than "do it this way." I want the script to be specific enough to make scenes and moments come alive in the reader's (director's, illustrator's, actor's) imagination — then leave them enough room to create those moments anew as only they can.

That said, to fit a dense, complex story into 70 large-format pages is a writer's, not an illustrator's, job. In my script for Monte-Cristo, I do specify page breaks. (I knew the panels above would be near the bottom of page 2, and that it would be a left-hand page.) But again, every project is different. For an in-depth look at the creative process on another graphic novel — Templar, with illustrators LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland — check out this free 86-page e-book.

Now, back to work — Mario on pages 20-21, and me (since I've already written the scripts for the three books) on projects not yet announced. Monte Cristo T1: "The Prisoner" is in French comic book stores now. You can read about it (and read reviews, and download color PDF excerpts) here.