From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass


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.

Topics include: The Idea for Sandman #19 · Start With Thumbnails · Writing the Script · The Page Is the Unit · Working With Artist · Narrative Collaborators


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.

Topics include: The Idea for Sandman #19 · Start With Thumbnails · Writing the Script · The Page Is the Unit · Working With Artist · Narrative Collaborators

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

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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.


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

I took a lot of inspiration from Neil's words to get writing again. I write for different audience and through prose, so not all of the lectures were directly relevant, but they all contained good information and suggestions that I am making use of now.

As an experienced writer, I felt like a child listening to these lessons and hopefully will look at things from a brand new perspective.

Keep going. Write. Finish things. Do it again.

Through Neil's generosity of encouragement he instills a belief that, with diligence and perseverance, one can become a teller of stories...a writer.


Alexandria S.

After this lesson I really want to read the Sandman. Comics are both my strength and my weakness. I am a great drawer, but I tend to add effects that maybe shouldn’t be in the comic. I like to reference off of the Japanese variations of comics called manga, and I’ve read those since I was about 12. The words he said really fit with how comics from all parts of the world are made. And though in America you should put the surprise on the left page of the comic, in Japan they would put the surprise on the right page of the manga, since they read from right to left and not left to right like westerners.


This half an hour lesson was a joy. Longest masterclass lesson I have done and felt no different, well done

Janet J.

I have the whole book with thumbnails and script and animation i did just want to add to the story

Carolyn S.

This was a powerful lesson on how to visualize the story. I love the idea of creating a comic strip with the story beat concepts. I have actually used illustrations for the same purpose - while much more labor intensive - the illustrations helped me FEEL and see the story. I took the photos and created this photo paintings. Each painting helps me to tell the story.


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Tauna S.

As a writer and artist, I find that stories come to mind first as pictures, story-boarding. When it is well formed I draw it out in the essence of scenes on cards and shuffle these until they fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. Then I make a more detailed illustration of the essence of the story, which might change the overall story, or cement it Then write it and make a finished illustration. I miss nice leather books that are illustrated, with print that is readable by old eyes. Audio and e-books aside, I think there is a resurgence, or should be, in books with style. There are already beginnings of such, I have seen through Patreon and Kick starter. Also a blending of manga, graphic novels, light novels, illustrated audio and the new beginnings of interactive stories. Virtual Reality is in the future for stories once equipment is perfected and the price of good systems levels. I used to like comics, I have many friends I support in their production of them. However, the small hand letters make the reading of them impossible for me. I have been told hand lettering is becoming a thing of the past, in favor of more readable, legible machine text. It remains to be seen. I would like to see good calligraphy used in portraying letters if used in stories however. How wonderful to be able to pick up a book and have maps, photos, drawings, letters, etc. all portrayed realistically. An actual world between two covers.

ORi K.

This- this is what I want to do , to comibine my illustrations with writing. Thank you for including this.

Lou Nell G.

Wonderful. Neil’s sharing of the process of building a comic, I believe will help me building any kind of story. I love his consistency in care for the story and the reader. Using the left hand page for the twist or surprise...brilliant. Watching the shaping of the panels from pencil to ink to color...brought an audible “wow” along with a smile. This is also a great primer in “how to read a comic” for those not familiar with them.

Aaron G.

Exactly what I've been wanting to go deeper into, thank you Master Gaiman. I have a question, though. How much of a story, The Sandman for example, is chartered ahead of course before the details of the initial issues are written in concrete? The reason I ask, is because I had written a twelve thousand word treatment, which reads very much like a comic script, and is a complete, arcing story on its own. However, after writing it, and being very happy with finishing it, I realised my predicament. It wasn't going to fit into the larger story for the main characters, not at least since later realising the themes I had written into their decisions, while adventurous, action-grabbing, and creative, were very wrong for the course I want their larger journey to take. I have struggled a lot to rewrite it, or even edit it, because so many of the locations, the other characters and what motivations they belong to, and the main characters' arrangements are achieving a completely different commentary to one I feel this story should be responsible. The upside of simply going at a story from the hip, is learning how to be creative, and how to tie loose ends into preluding triggers, which was immensely satisfying. It has its own rhythm of closure, and on its own is colourful and fun. So my sequencing is working really well, but the accumulative total wasn't going to work as a prequel or sequel to a story I'm in control of, nor able to tell for any socio-political ideal. It's just creative writing that's structurally sound. Is there an amount of far sight that needs to be understood, before a certain amount of initial ground work is laid? Writing creatively, with few but strong elements in mind, is really fun, mysterious, and personally exciting. But it seems I'm running the risk of sabotaging something I can't deny, which sooner or later is a need for my creative writing to have a real-world bittersweetness of truth, or prediction of consequence. I'm still working out how to apply a plan to the creativity.

Michele H.

As someone who had no idea how to approach the writing of comics/ graphic novels, what an enlightening lesson. Working my way through the Sandman omnibus now and to glimpse the process behind those stories is amazing.