How To: Create A Comic/Part 3: Creating the Foundation

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Every story has a foundation that it is built up from. The stronger the foundation, the better the story. The City of Heroes MMO is a good place to start, but it is far from being all that you will need.

Writing the Bible

Since a comic book is really just a graphical version of a story, the first thing that you need to figure out is what kind of story you are going to tell.

Is this going to be a drama? Romance? Science fiction? Horror? Crime Drama? Mystery?

When does it take place? Is it present-day? The past? The future? Somewhere in-between?

Where does it take place? In the City of Heroes MMO, the story takes place in several locations, including a fictional city in Rhode Island, a fictional chain of islands just east of the United States, and several places in alternate realities and timelines. You don’t have to be limited to the in-game environment, although it would help since that information is already provided for you through the MMO.

Who is going to be your target audience? Who do you expect to be reading the finished product? If you’re talking the “general audience”, then realize that there is a wide range of age groups involved. You better make sure that your images and language are appropriate for your target audience. The City of Heroes MMO is rated “T for Teens”, but that doesn’t mean that your work has to be.

Who is your protagonist? The protagonist is your main or central character, around which most of the story revolves. This doesn’t have to be a “hero” in the traditional sense. Indeed, with the City of Heroes MMO, your main character could be a hero, a villain, or something in between. Perhaps an anti-hero or an anti-villain?

Who is your antagonist? This is the enemy or enemy group that serves as the foil for the protagonist. Again, they don’t have to be a “villain” in the traditional sense. If your central character is a villain, then your antagonist could be the police, a do-gooder, a hero, or it could even be another villain.

Are there any supporting characters? Who are they? How are they connected to your main character and to all the other characters? Family members? Friends? Allies? Frenemies?

Take some time and cobble all these things together.

The best way to do this is to come up with a sheet of paper or create a word-processing file where you jot down all of these thoughts. Come up with the characters, their roles in the story, the general setting of the story, and what the prevailing story is about. In the world of comic publishing, this is called a writer’s bible, and it can not only help you out, but it also helps any other comic creators that would use your characters or to continue your works. The writer’s bible spells these things out before you actually create the story.

Title

Come up with a working title for your project, even if it’s going to be just one issue. It doesn’t have to be what you eventually use, but it should be something that reflects the main theme of your comic. Try to keep it simple if possible. Maybe the name of the group or main character?

The one title you should not use is the name of the MMO itself. In other words, do not call your work “City of Heroes”.

There are several reasons why you shouldn’t and the biggest one is that “City of Heroes” is the name of the MMO itself. The other big reason is that there have been three official comics published with that title that were approved by the MMO and its parent company NCSoft. You could be inviting some legal trouble if you call your fan-made comic by that same name, especially since it is owned by NCSoft.

However, you could use “City of Heroes” as part of your comic title, such as “Stories from the City of Heroes” or “City of Heroes: Other Stories”.

Life Story

In order to get a feel for your characters and establish their place in your story, it’s good to come up with a backstory for them. This is where you answer all the questions about who they are and why they do what they do.

Go crazy with this, especially for your major characters. Go over significant events, insignificant events, who their parents were, what kind of education they have, what kind of hobbies they have, and where they’ve worked previously. These don’t have to be epic moments. In fact, these moments could involve something rather inconsequential that could be used for a future story.

Maybe this person had a one-night stand? Worked a minimum-wage job? Dumped at the prom? Each of these events, both major and minor, help to develop the character as people and also spell out how those characters interact with others.

Nobody lives perfect lives, nor do they live entirely in misery and torment, even though it may seem like that to others. The key is to give them some gray to work with.

Remember that this is still just information for your use as the creator, so don’t worry about “giving away the store” or “revealing too much” about a character. This will actually help you to develop that character and set the stage for future stories.

A quick word about intellectual property

Right about now is a good time for you to go over your characters and ask how original they are. How close do they resemble certain “familiar” characters?

Paragon Studios and NCSoft, the company that owns City of Heroes, is very sensitive about copyright infringement, especially after being sued in 2004 by Marvel Comics over this. In fact their End-User License Agreement says:

“You may not select as your Character Name the name of another person, or a name which violates any third party's trademark right, copyright, or other proprietary right…”

In other words, if you have a super-strong flying guy with black hair and a blue bodysuit and red cape and he goes by the name Super-Dooper-Man, you’re probably going to be accused of violating copyright and you may be asked to either change your character ASAP, or you could lose your character completely.

There are some legal workarounds, such as a “pastiche” or using characters in a “parody”, but, unfortunately, Intellectual Property (IP) attorneys usually don’t have a sense of humor that would allow either.

It’s always better to make some changes to your character now, before the comic is created, than to try to publish the work and then be told you have to make those changes later. (This is something that the author of this article knows all too well.)

The consequences can be pretty dire. At the very least, you would not be able to promote your City of Heroes fan-based comic through their forums. At worst, your character could be deleted or your account could even be terminated. You could even be sued by the company that holds the intellectual property itself.

Remember that IP attorneys have no sense of humor. They also don’t have any mercy. They are, in fact, the worst kinds of villains one can imagine outside of a comic book, second only to IRS agents.

HOW And WHY Do They Work?

Here’s something else for you to ponder when creating your Writer’s Bible:

How do things work in your newly-created world? And why?

One of the advantages of dealing with a world such as the City of Heroes is that you have a whole spectrum of origins and environments to work with. There is magic, genetic mutation, bio-engineering, ultra-tech, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, time travel, trans-dimensional travel, alien artifacts, and even deities all in the same game.

So how do they all get along? How do they work? Why do they work? And how do these things apply to your comic’s interpretation of the world?

Let’s suppose your main character is an elemental sorceress. She can summon hurricane winds, ice, fog, and lightning. How does she do that? Does she summon them through an incantation? Does she have a talisman or some artifact she has to channel her power through? Is she born with this power or did she have to learn how to use it? And does this differ with other people, and if so, how?

These are questions you should work on as you develop the background information for your characters.

Some of these questions can be resolved through a little research, such as the information provided in this wiki and also places such as the Paragon Wiki.

Developing the Issue

Once you have all of this information, it’s time to actually work on the issue.

Traditionally, comic book writers will first come up with a script, much like that of a screenplay, which spells out how they envision each page to appear. The page is divided into frames or panels, with each frame containing one image, one scene of the action. Dialogue and narrations are written in, and then it would be up to the artist to create the scenes.

A comic script is essential in mainstream publications because doing comics is a team effort, so the writer knows what kind of scene he or she needs to create for the artist, so the coloring artist knows what color the background or narration box needs to be, and so on and so forth.

Presuming that this is a one-creator operation, you can elect to go the formal route, or you can choose a more freestyle operation. Freestyle is basically coming up with an idea, and then putting an issue together based on the images you collect that came from that idea.

In either case, come up with a new piece of paper (or a new word processing document) and hash out those ideas for the issue. Unlike the Writer’s Bible, the things that you come up with here will be what the readers will see. So ask yourself what is the general story of the issue. Is there a plot? What do you expect the readers to see when it’s over with?

This last part is really important, because while you, as the creator, know everything about the characters and their backstory, the reader will probably not know it. And it’s really a good thing to go into this on the presumption that the reader really knows very little other than what they will pick up in the issue as it progresses.

Kinds of Stories

There are different kinds of stories that you can tell.

Origin Story: Who is your character? How did he/she/it get his/her/its powers or how did he/she/it arrive to where they are today? An origin story is a great way to introduce a character presuming that your series starts here and it’s chronicling your character’s rise to greatness or infamy or mediocrity. Bear in mind that this origin story doesn’t have to be about your protagonist. It could be about the creation of your character’s antagonist and the role that your main character plays in that origin. It could even be about a supporting character and how he or she encountered the main character.

Day-In-The-Life: What does your main character do for the day? It doesn’t have to be all about saving-the-world or trying to take it over. What does your character do when he or she is not saving cat-girls from trees? This is a good fallback idea if you don’t have anything in store for the issue.

“Dear Diary”: This is a spin-off from the Day-In-The-Life story is one where your character describes his or her daily activities, either as a imaginative diary entry, as a letter, or even as a book being narrated.

TV Spoof: Television has given us plenty of sitcoms, soap operas, and crime-drama shows for people to emulate or parody. This could be a subtle homage to TV, or it could be an out-and-out parody, right down to corny title sequences. Bear in mind, though, that if your series is supposed to be serious, then you should keep the parody or homage to as minimal as possible. On the other hand, if your series is meant to be comical, then by all means play the spoof up to the absolute hilt.

Evil Twin/Alternate Universe: Coming up with an opposite character is a pretty common idea. Whether it’s just an “evil opposite” character or a whole “evil universe”, the idea of doing an evil opposite allows you to take your character into a completely different direction without changing the essential elements of the character. This would certainly not make for a good first issue, though, since you’re trying to introduce your character to the readers, but down the line it would make for a good filler storyline. Plus, the City of Heroes MMO already has an alternate universe in place known as Praetoria that you can put to use.

“Who Is This?”: A good way to introduce your main character is to build up the legend first, then show the character at the end. For instance, have a reporter do a series about the character, interviewing eyewitnesses, recapping certain events, then, once you’ve built up the “legend”, you actually introduce the character. The good part about this kind of story is that it can be used for both dramatic and comical genres.

It’s up to you to pick and choose which kind of approach to take for your issue, but whatever approach you take, be sure to stick with that approach for the duration of the issue. Don’t start with a “Day in the Life” kind of story and then switch to a “TV Spoof” approach. That will just confuse the readers.

Always bear in mind, though, that no matter if you’re doing a single-issue or a whole series, you’re still there to tell a story, so make sure that the story is told.

Moving Onward