Ever dreamed of becoming a comic book author? Or maybe you are raising a talented future comic book author and are curious as to what’s in store for you. Well, fellow dad and Marvel comic book writer/letterer Joe Caramagna kindly gave us his time to answer questions from our TIM family of followers. Joe Caramagna is a writer and Harvey Award nominated letterer and best known for writing Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble, Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man and Iron Man & The Armor Wars to name a few.
And here is our conversation. We hope you enjoy reading it, as much as we enjoyed writing it.
What are the steps you take to write a comic book? What is the process?
It all starts with an idea, which is sometimes the easiest part, but sometimes the hardest. Once I have an idea, I just start writing and I let the story write itself. By that, I mean that I just start writing. If I know the characters well enough, I start to imagine how they’d react to the situations that are happening in the story, and before I know it I have a few paragraphs with a complete beginning, middle and end. Then I take those paragraphs and break them up into groups of sentences for however many pages that I have to work with (a standard comic book is about 20 pages long). Then on each page, I break those sentences up into 4,5, or 6 actions or story beats, then fill in all
of the dialogue. That’s how I do it, but I’m sure if you ask 10 different writers, you’ll get 10 different answers. And I know it sounds super easy here, but things don’t always go as planned!
Where do you get your ideas?
I’ve heard comic book writer Peter David joke that he buys his ideas for a dollar from an old man who lives in Schenectady, New York. I wish it were that easy! Sometimes ideas just come out of nowhere when I’m in the shower or while driving. Those are the easy days. Sometimes the ideas don’t come so easily. When I have trouble thinking of ideas, I have these little blocks called Rory’s Story Cubes that have little pictures on each side. I toss a few on my desk and try to tell a story based on the pictures that land facing up. Many times when I’m writing a super hero story, I think of a good villain first and give him a plan and a motive, and then think about how my hero would react to it. After all, without some good danger, there would be nothing for super heroes to do. The more interesting the threat to the hero, the more interesting the story.
How long does it take to write a comic book?
It depends on the story and the circumstances. It could sometimes take a few hours, or it could take weeks. I average about a week, but it’s usually less because I like to put the story away and not look at it for a day or two before my deadline. Then I’ll read it again with fresh eyes.
How did you become a comic book writer?
I’ve always loved to write, but when I was a kid I loved to draw even more. I wanted to be a comic book artist, but I worked hard to improve my writing so that I could draw my own stories and not have to work with someone else. My art career never took off, but my writing got better and better. Years later when I was working as a letterer for Marvel Comics, one of the editors needed a script written over the weekend and asked if I could do it. I did, and I’ve been writing fairly regularly ever since!
You are also a Letterer, what does that mean?
A letterer is the person that takes the dialogue from the writer’s scripts and arranges the words into word balloons on the artwork. And I also do the sound effects like BLAM! And WHACK! And my personal favorite KRAKKA-BOOM!
What age did you begin reading comic books? Who introduced you to your first comic book?
I had read some Batman and Superman comics at a very young age at a cousin’s house, but at that time I was more into the cartoons and the ’66 Batman TV show that was shown in syndication. I fell in love with comics in the 5th grade when someone in class gave me a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #278. I still have it!
Do you make up the characters? Do you hope they will be made into games and movies?
The best character I’ve created for Marvel so far is Melvin The Pigeon, and I don’t expect to see him in any movies anytime soon! But it would be great to see a movie made from some of my self-published characters for sure!
How do you work with the artists?
Most of the time when I’m writing my scripts, I don’t know who the artist will be, but on those rare occurrences when I do know ahead of time, I’ll put some things into the script that I know he/she likes to draw (or what I’d really love to see them draw!)
Do you have a comic book collection and did you pass it along to your children?
I do have a comic collection, but I was never really into collecting. It’s more of a hoarding situation, haha. Many comics in my collection are worn from me flipping through them. That’s what comics are for, right? When I sign comics for kids at a store or convention and I see the parents take the books away so they can preserve them, I tell the parents that comic books are meant to be enjoyed. Let the kids enjoy them!
Is comic book writing different than other literary expressions since you are writing around around a visual element?
Comic book writing is very different. Lucky for me, I started out as an artist and graduated from the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, so I’ve always been a visual thinker, which really helps. But I really have the most fun when I’m writing prose, probably because it’s more challenging. In comics, the artists do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of storytelling, which is great and it’s fun to see how an artist interprets my script, but when I write prose, such as my ebook Halloween Double Feature. I’m all alone in conveying the story to the reader and helping his imagination draw the pictures. But one thing I love about comics writing is that there is so much you can say in the artwork without having the reader read a single word. You can’t do that in prose.
Who is your favorite character to write and why?
Spider-Man is my all-time favorite character, and the character I’ve written the most, so I’d have to say him, but I also really love writing Iron Man and Captain America. Tony Stark is so arrogant, but irresistibly charming, and Steve Rogers is so earnest.
What comic book characters would you like to see brought into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe? (It could be your creations, but also from other writers)
It’s complicated with certain characters and their movie rights. Realistically, I’d love to see Captain Marvel and Black Panther brought into the cinematic U, they have stories that’d be great additions. The Sub-Mariner might be harder to pull off for contractual reasons, but can you imagine what that movie’s underwater scenes would look like? Yowza!
Will AXIS event bring the X-teams back together or split them apart further?
Seems like there will always be two camps in the x-universe, and that’s the way I like it. Who wants to read about people who get along? Blecch!
Who would win in a fight, Millie the Model or Night Nurse?
I have a soft spot in my heart for Millie The Model. I didn’t know much about her other than what she looked like until fans of my self-published comic Model Operandi said it reminded them of a Millie action movie.
What’s the difference between DC And Marvel or how come Marvel comics and movies are more fun than DC’s?
Haha! I hear that from a lot of people, but let’s not forget that DC does VERY well on television. Smallville ran for ten–TEN–years, and now Arrow is doing really well. The Flash looks like it’s going to be good too. It depends on your definition of fun, I guess. Fun, to me, is something I can share with my kids. The Avengers is fun. Guardians of the Galaxy is fun. I can’t really share the DC movies with my kids and that’s a major bummer. But my son Joey loves Arrow!
What advice do you have for aspiring comic book writers?
Read a lot! To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. But don’t ONLY read comics, read everything. The better books you read, the better writer you’ll be!
We picked up Rocket Raccon at Free Comic Book Day and we love it. Will we see more of Rocket Raccoon? What did you think of GOTG?
You can read more about Rocket Raccoon’s adventures every month in his solo series written and drawn by Skottie Young, who is responsible for the awesome Free Comic Book Day comic cover. And I love all of the Marvel movies, but Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite since the first Iron Man movie!
What are you working on now?
This November, Marvel is relaunching the Marvel Universe (all ages) comics with Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors #1 and Avengers Assemble: Season Two #1, adapted from episodes of the animated series of the same names. And both are adapted by ME! And I’m writing some other Marvel things that haven’t been announced yet, so follow me on Twitter @JoeCaramagna to stay up to date.
Also, on September 10, 2014 I am re-releasing my 2013 ebook Halloween Double Feature for the Kindle device or app for iOS. Look for it in the Kindle Store on Amazon.com!
Thanks to our TIM moms, kids and comic geeks who so enthusiastically participated in this posting.
Comic Book Cover image by Marvel.