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Arts & Entertainment

Comics

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 27:04 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.

This class was very inspiering and everytime, I startet to listen to Neil, it was easyer to get back to a new story. He helped me getting a bit of creativity back and reminding me how important you and your imagination is.

This was the best class I've taken so far. You can tell that Neil is not only a teacher, but is a living, breathing story. He talks so eloquently and I found my notes being every word he spoke in the class, basically just a dictation. Everything was a jewel.

Neil is a captivating storyteller both between the pages of his books, and here in his face to face Masterclass. I will listen again and again.

Great class. I will definitely see it again, taking my time to digest the materials.


Comments

Dawn M.

This is an enlightening lesson, but as a note it is possible to create a silent "panel" with prose. I use this method all the time when someone is talking to another character and the character is not responding: "Hello." "......" "Hey there." "......" Make sense?

Clara S.

What a wonderful idea to draw your story like a comic book--I will try it next.

Vitório B.

Definition of art: "something wich you can stun a burglar with", there's my new tatoo

Jeanned'Arc L.

Neil's demonstration of his comic process has helped me understand comics. I found comics confusing and avoided them. I do like the technique enough to incorporate it in my story book writing process.

Arjun I.

I doubt I'd ever be good enough to write the script of a comic-book. However, the key takeaways for me was the idea of giving a 'theme' or a 'heart' to any story. Why should anyone care to read it? Why should I care to write it? Is it just a collection of noise in my head or do I actually want to say something with what I write? And if I do, what is it? As someone who's always been more attracted to visual-medium (I have abhorrent art-skills though), I've never really paused to think about the 'silent-panels' as Neil says. Or the fact that surprises and/or plot twists are kept on the left page for a specific purpose. Controlling the narrative along with controlling the flow of the pages. It's not something I'd ever do (I think), but it's good to know because I'm sure I can use this while writing prose. I don't really know HOW I'll use it, but if Neil can use his editor's simple feedback to give Sandman a heart, then I'm sure I can use his advice on plotting a comic-book in some way to plot my short-stories too.

Rob C.

Love the turn the page reveal. This page I've attached - from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is my go-to example of what makes comics different from every other medium. There were a series of pages showing the depths of depravity of Gotham City, all leading to Batman's return. This page was one of them. One page that introduces you to this woman, makes you sympathize and empathize with her. Makes you care for her. And then cruely stamps her out with a blythe spoken headline by a television news talking head. You couldn't do this in film. Too much of this is exposition to get you to know who she is and pulls us into caring about her. You could maybe do this in a book, but it would be a half-dozen pages and feel like an odd departure from the plot. In a comic it was one page. We meet her. We come to know her. We come to care about her. She is violently extinguished and it MATTERS to us. That kind of storytelling power is why I love comics, and why I loved Neil's comics.

Rich G.

I'm never going to write a comic but I do read them. And am familiar with Sandman. A wonderful lesson. The "turning the page for a reveal" does remind of me of a thriller book technique. Ending a chapter with an event/action forcing (encouraging) the reader to turn the page to the next chapter for the reveal.

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.