visual scripting: using InDesign to write scripts native to comics

This is the first of a series of posts I hope to make on methods of writing comics. I’ve gone through a long (and ongoing) process of development of my own process, and finally have arrived at a method I think is very worth sharing. I don’t plan to talk all that much about what goes into the actual story, just how to use tools and formats to get whatever ideas you have onto paper (or screen). A further note: if you are really interested in all this kind of stuff, I mean enough to get all the way through this post, you should definitely have my two textboks on comics, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures and Mastering Comics. They are the kind of thing you’d enjoy. 

Also, you might be interested in the second in this series: Using Scrivener to create fictional comics.

from page 1, tome 2 Trish Trash


Alison Bechdel is an not only a cartoonist, she’s an inventor. Between the Bechdel Test and the Bechdel Method, she’s more than earned her place in the comics pantheon, and her Guggenheim Fellowship.

what’s the Bechdel Method?

Back in 2009 or so, I was talking to Alison Bechdel about her writing process, and she told me about a new technique she’d developed that has since turned out to be absolutely transformational for my comics. And no, it wasn’t the part about photographing herself posing for every single one of her characters. It was the idea of using graphic design software to create a mutable, flexible script with the initial stages of visual storytelling built in. See the first couple of minutes of this video of Alison Bechdel walking you through her technique for glimpse of it. (As an aside: I’m proud to say I was able to simplify her life slightly by suggesting Adobe InDesign as opposed to Illustrator as a basic tool!) I wrote up Alison’s technique in detail in Mastering Comics. Since then, I’ve made a few refinements, and I’ve come up with a name for it, visual scripting.  Continue reading

¿Qué es una “novela gráfica”? (i.e. ‘What is a ‘graphic novel’?”)

Comics in Colombia are on the march, friends, make no mistake. Under the youthful and very energetic direction of Daniel Jiménez Quiroz, editor of the anthology Revista Larva (with the assistance of a large group of friends and collaborators, of course), Colombia now has a very internationally-oriented annual comics festival called Entreviñetas (“between the panels”). Entreviñetas has hosted, among many others, Matt in 2011. Matt’s had several comics published in South America this year as a result, and now, schools and libraries across Colombia are apparently graced with this very informative poster:

¿Qué es una "novela grafica"? —What is a"graphic novel"? poster in spanish detail view Continue reading

Trish Trash on view at FIBD

For the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée (FIBD), the giant comics festival descending on the small town I live in on January 31—more on that to come in a post in a day or two—the Maison des Auteurs is putting on an exhibition of work by all the artists who have been resident in this past year—that’s 44 people, people. So I’ve got just a few pieces in this show, and it’ll be the first time finished Trish Trash pages are seen by the world. Well, strictly speaking, the color will be tweaked a bit and they’ll be in French…but more or less. I’ll also have the original drawing for a book cover I drew this fall for an upcoming Susan Choi novel, My Education. Check out that fantastic poster by Lucas Varela! I’ve gotta get me one of those.

Trish Trash volume 1 page 6 color preview Continue reading

Out of the frying pan


Ask not for whom the little yellow la Poste truck comes for me.  by jessica abel ©2012


Hot on the heels of six years of reading hundreds of American comics every year for the Best American Comics, I’ve agreed to do the same (much smaller volume, but IN FRENCH) as a member of the Grand Jury of the Compétition Officielle of the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée, to be held here Jan 31 – Feb 3 2013.

I’ve developed a Pavlovian fear of mailmen.

Studio time

I moved into my own studio in September. It’s big, two rooms, one for a large computer desk, the other with a small round table and a huge drawing table. Top floor, angled roof, two dormer windows (known here as “chiens-assis”, “seated dogs”). It’s roomy, well-equipped, comfortable.

And a little bit lonely.

I’ve never had a studio that wasn’t in my apartment. I haven’t had a studio by myself in fifteen years. I’m happy to have all this space, and to be able to play any audio I want, whenever I want. I’m happy that my move here has allowed me to reorder my priorities so that I’m not spending all my time on administrative stuff that requires lots of office help. But I miss the hustle and bustle of the old studio, and I miss my interns. Continue reading

Boomfest: comics in St. Petersburg

Back in the summer, I was quite unexpectedly invited to St. Petersburg, Russia, for a comics festival called Boomfest. I hadn’t heard of it, but several friends had gone, including cartoonists Joe Sacco and T. Edward Bak and José Alaniz, an academic with expertise in Eastern European and Russian comics. I don’t usually write up much of a report on events I attend, but I wanted to with this one, because Russia is just so very off our–meaning North American comics’–radar. It’s a small scene, but growing, and worth our attention.  Continue reading

On arriving in France (thought, mostly, at 320 kilometers per hour*)

[ I took the high-speed TGV train last week from Angoulême, France, where I live as of about a month ago, to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, to go to a comics festival in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was the first chance I’d had to really sit and compose my thoughts about leaving my old life in Brooklyn and starting a new one in small-town France. More actual concrete details about the situation to be found below all this poetic folderol, if you’re interested.] 


If possible, don’t bring small children.

I stand on the TGV platform and carefully check my ticket time, train number, car number, the chart depicting the train showing that I’m standing at point H and my car (06) will be at point K, pre-walk like a real, if overly-cautious, angoumoisine (yes that’s what they’re called). Flashbacks to getting on the TGV at Charles de Gaulle a month ago (almost exactly—2 days short) with 2 small children, 3 overstuffed luggage carts and no charts to be found showing where our car would be, running, literally, down the platform to our train car, then running back for the other cart (only 2 adults available), chucking bags, computers (oh lord), small children into a crowded vestibule, other travelers helping, getting in the way. Porters crabbing at us for having so much crap. We’re MOVING I wanted to tell them. You think this is a lot of crap? Take a look at my Brooklyn basement. Take a look at the shipping warehouse with my 77 boxes waiting for a boat. (I would like to go to Le Havre and wave hello to them when they arrive on October 15.) What am I going to do when this train arrives at Charles de Gaulle and I visit the site of this trauma? Will I have a small (petite) heart attack?

Continue reading

Cordão de Ouro


An excerpt from this strip appears in Mastering Comics, and someone (Ryan Mita) wrote the other day in capoeira solidarity…and, indeed, Matt and I did play capoiera for a few years in Mexico and right after we returned to the US in 2000. Age, the unwieldy geography of NYC (living an hour+ away from the main places people practice) and inability fo find a group that even approaches the awesomeness of Capoeira Longe do Mar all contributed to our exit. The fact that there’s a capoeira group in Angolême, where we’ll be in a few short weeks, gives hope for a new start, despite being older than ever. Maybe for our kids, anyway.

This strip ran in Pulse! Magazine, the in-house magazine of Tower Records, where many many great cartoonists published throughout the 90s under the auspices of the amazing Marc Weidenbaum. It’s one of the few collaborative comics Matt and I have ever done. Click the panel above or thumbnail below to see the full size version. (more…)

Team Trash

I sit here just having finished the major inking on the first volume of Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars, a task I could not have completed without a teeming studio full of assistants and interns. I salute you, Team Trash! Check out our new Trish Trash Tumblr, rollerderby + mars, featuring all the cool derby photos and science geekery we’re using to create this book (and of course sketches and work in progress).

Team Trash at work. Lydia and I are on the other end of the room.

Continue reading

Outtakes from Comics: Philosophy and Practice

I’m in the midst of work on a 4-page comic reportage on the Comics: Philosophy and Practice conference, that featured a series of panels with some of the greatest cartoonists of the modern era. And as anyone who’s ever done journalistic comics (and probably journalism of any kind) knows, most of your best material ends up on the cutting-room floor. So here, therefore, is a glance at my cutting-room floor. Event info and videos available here. 

Photo by Sarah Blauser

Art Spiegelman:  It’s that rereading, that searching for the chicken fat that gives sustenance, that isn’t from about how many images and texts can you consume in 45 mins of trolling for porn on the internet, but how can you actually focus on something in a world that’s moving faster and faster. And that focus is something that books allow for. And therefore, books may have a life that’s of more interest than just what vinyl fetishism is for music listeners. There may be something specific to books that gives them a franchise on their continued existence. Continue reading