Writing

Comics

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 27:09 min

Writers don’t need to shy away from comics just because they’re not illustrators. Neil demonstrates his process of plotting and scripting a comic, using an award-winning issue of Sandman as an example.

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Neil Gaiman
Teaches the Art of Storytelling
In his first-ever online class, Neil Gaiman teaches you how he conjures up new ideas, convincing characters, and vivid fictional worlds.
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When you get an idea and you start turning the idea over in your head and inspecting it and trying to figure out what the strengths of the idea are and what the weaknesses of the idea are, a lot of the time, that's when you start to figure out what medium the idea would work in best. When you get to comics, you have a whole different area of territory. We get to use the pictures and the words to try and do things inside the head of the reader that you might never be able to do in prose or in film. For example, why don't I take you through the process of plotting a comic. And not just plotting a comic but of taking an idea through to a script. Now, bear in mind that one of the strange things about writing comics is as far as I can tell, there are probably as many ways to write a comic as there are people in history who have written comics. I do it my way. I'm sure everybody else does it their way. But I can give you how I do it and how I did it. "Sandman #19." In "Sandman #19," this is the first of "The Absolute Sandman" volumes. It is huge. It is very heavy. You could use it to stun a burglar, if necessary, which has always been my definition of art. I have been to a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." I loved it. I'd forgotten how funny it was. And it was an open-air theater, and there was something very strange and magical about being outside as the play began in daylight and moved into night. What would be interesting about "Midsummer Night's Dream?" How could I do this? I thought, well, look, the first performance of "Midsummer Night's Dream" outside with Shakespeare and Shakespeare's men putting it on before an audience consisting of Oberon and Titania and Puck and the fairy creatures would all be a little bit more dark and dangerous than they are in the play as a gift. I like that. That feels like it's about something. And it also felt dangerous, felt hard. Nobody had ever done anything like that in a monthly comic. So then I reread the play-- "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Just made notes. Just put little pencil marks where I thought lines would be important because I realized, of course, I was going to have to have various layers of action going on through the story. There would be the play always ticking on. There would be the front row of the audience which would be Morpheus, the Sandman, the Lord of Dreams, and Oberon and Titania and Puck. There would be the back row of the audience. I loved the idea of just a bunch of idiot fairies commenting on the action and explaining it to each other. I thought, that'll be fun. And then I began. [PIANO MUSIC PLAYING] The way that you begin, if you're me, if you take some paper, you take a bunch of sheets of paper, you staple them together, you fold them over. And I knew I had 24 pages, so I numbered 1 to 24. Actually, all I needed to know. I didn't fill in very much detail in the middle. Normally, I'll fill in roughly what's happening on each page. But...


Unleash your imagination

Award-winning author Neil Gaiman has spent more than a quarter of a century crafting vivid, absorbing fiction. Now, the author of Stardust, Coraline, and The Sandman teaches his approach to imaginative storytelling in his online writing class. Learn how to find your unique voice, develop original ideas, and breathe life into your characters. Discover Neil’s philosophy on what drives a story—and open new windows to the stories inside you.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I have never felt so alive. After this class, I have seen a lot of things differently. I have taken a lot of classes on masterclass but this class was the one that told me to do what I am doing but do it better. Thank you so much for this class, Mr. Neil.

Honored to be taught by Neil Gaiman. He seems to have a natural talent for teaching. I am stretched as a writer and thinker by each new assignment.

Hugely valuable. I'm so grateful for having been gifted this wonderful class.

It’s the best thing that ever happened to me I really appreciated all this class because this is the first time that I’m going to start being a writer


Comments

JL N.

i keep on coming back to this - new scenes new chapter - this technique has opened up my structure - thank you so much

Dorothy E.

Loved hearing about the process. Many similarities to working on childrens' picture book. The unanswered question, though, is: how and where does a writer finds artists with which to collaborate on a comic?

James B.

Dear Mr. Gaiman. My name is James Barbatano and I am a published author. I like the comic book formate, but I don't think I'm adept at writing it. So, what I did was cross comics with children's books. One of the books I've worked on is called Vampires Don't Eat Donuts. It's about a vampire princess who tries a donut for the first time. It's a children's book, but there are comic book elements in it. Thank you so much for being such a wonderful teacher.

A fellow student

His words are magical, using them to inspire. I just purchased two Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances books. One for me and the other for my granddaughter. Loved the Genie and Hazel.

Ian C.

I like the description and use of the silent panel - making the reader think - useful to translate into novels also. Thanks Neil.

Sam

I prefer to write novels, but I have this one idea that I felt would work better as a comic. When I first came up with the idea, I drew out a page of it with some dialogue. Since then, I've sort of planned out some more, but without making any real commitment to the story. This lesson is urging me to take a closer look at it now, with new knowledge.

Scott M.

Favorite quote: "You could use it to stun a burglar if necessary, which has always been my definition of art".

Ekin Ö.

Comics are not my favorite, but the lesson was fun to watch. Coming out of Neil's brain, I felt I may give a chance to Sandman.

Karl T.

I love comics and graphic novels, I've always wanted to write one, since I have a story that I believe would fit best that particular format. This class was great, it gave me some insight into how a script can be made and the plotting. Sadly I can't draw a thing for the life of me, I may be able to sketch the issue like Neil does but not more. I just need to find an artist.

Aaron B.

Comics are unfortunately dying out now. We have comics that are lucky to make over five thousand sales and it's really disheartening that this once great cornerstone of American culture fall. It falls because of the people that are in charge of it and really the movies that they are making for it. Sure, we all loved Avengers Endgame, who didn't. But because of that, we are taking away from the comics and now we are getting stories like Cecil Castelucci's run of female furies, which is borderline psychopathic with it's misandry and blatant disregard for Jack Kirby. Now, we're getting female thor in the form of Jane Foster and really the whole thing is disgusting, embarrassing, and frankly it's insulting to all of the people who have dedicated their lives to this once great industry. I want to go into making comics, or at least graphic novels, and write for them. The reason being is that I am a very visual writer. I write things that people can see in their minds and that's because I borrow a lot of conventions from scriptwriting. I'm not the strongest novelist I'll admit that. But, I think that if I am given the opportunity then I can make a rather good comic that people would be interested in reading, not to sound arrogant, just saying. I want to see people care about comics and graphic novels and reading in general again. I want to see a movie trailer hit and no one's talking about the politics or the gender or the sexuality of the characters but the characters themselves. This may seem like idealistic babble, but I believe that in a way, stories are for idealistic dreamers who believes in a better world. Writing is meant to be not an escape but an invitation to another world that can hopefully change yours.