It isn’t a bad story. To the contrary, the conflict is clear and intriguing and the plot moves along at a good clip. But the Ambien on the page comes from the fact that the writer’s a novelist. He’s accustomed to introducing his characters by writing hundreds of riveting words describing how they view the world, what their hopes and dreams are, and what’s going on inside their heads from moment to moment. But there is no room for that on the comic book page, so he just left it out, and now I’m holding a script starring a bunch of plot puppets who are indistinguishable from one another, who don’t reveal themselves through action, and who are interesting only in the writer's head.
Comics is a visual medium. That means the writer has to find a way to externalize the conflicts--literally or, with practice, symbolically--and not leave them locked inside the protagonist. I’m not saying punches have to be thrown--not every comic is or need be about Spider-Man--but if comics is the avenue through which you want to tell your story, it had better be a story that is, in its telling, visually interesting. If it isn't, you have chosen the wrong medium. I have been in awe of E.M. Forster's talent since I was fourteen, but I can imagine nothing more tedious than a graphic novelization of A Room With a View.
It sounds absurdly obvious, but I am so continually confronted with writers so in love with their dialogue that I'm going to say it again: comics is a visual medium. Bring every important character on stage by having him or her doing something--spinning a basketball, operating an electron microscope, taking a fistful of vitamins, anything--that instantly tells us something about them. When there's conflict, find a way to make it visual. Witty dialogue and clever repartee are priceless, yes, but probably more than in any other medium outside of, oh, mime, comics depends on the writer showing rather than telling. So give your artist interesting things to draw. Can this dramatic revelation happen in, say, a planetarium rather than in a hotel room? Can this confrontation happen on a Ferris wheel instead of a generic alleyway? Can these characters be acting rather than reacting?
One last time: comics is a visual medium. Use that. I am a huge, huge believer in page one of any comics story of any genre having an unusual image that will grab the reader and draw him in. It doesn’t have to be “super-heroey”--in the right story, a shot of a woman looming over an empty crib has just as much impact as, I don’t know, Superman punching a meteor--but by now, any comic book that opens up with four pages of guys in business suits standing around a generic boardroom is just death. D-E-A-T-H. Every issue, we have twenty-two pages, give or take, to tell readers a story that they paid good money for, so as a writer, I get very nervous opening with (or, once I’ve opened, spending more than about two pages on) something you can see on TV every day for free, without my help. Always think visually. Always, always look at your scenes once they’re drafted and ask yourself if they have more visual impact than two guys in business suits standing around a boardroom. If not, rewrite.Next: Economy Of Storytelling