Posted by: markfender | November 25, 2014

The Writers Room

Television has the writers room. Why don’t other industries?

writers-roomWith the evolving nature of television in telling season-long arcs, I think other entertainment mediums could jump on this trend. In the generic writers room, you have a group of writers. They hash out the season’s arc. They also breakdown individual episodes, figuring out what important season story bits should be revealed, as well as the episode’s story (Sometimes even into an A, B, and C story). Individual episodes are assigned to writers, who then go away and write up their scripts. Then, the room comes back together to ‘punch up’ the scripts, inserting better jokes, pointing out continuity flaws, or whatever.

It strikes me that this would be an interesting model for comics. I don’t know of any comics that have taken this approach. I believe crossover events tend to get this treatment, as the various comic companies have a writer’s conference that brainstorms ideas for that season’s crossover. But it’s still up to the individual writer to craft all the issues of that crossover.

Because comics tend to deal in story arcs, I could definitely see the writers room model being applied to them. Imagine if four writers were working on Spiderman all at the same time, for instance. They could plot out the latest story arc, and then go away to write their individual issues. The room would come together once again when all the scripts are done and punch them up before being assigned to the artist (I do think art would be immune to this process. I don’t see art by committee working out).

The reason I think this approach would be interesting is because I don’t think the current method of handling comics works well. There’s the creator-owned side, where one writer (and sometimes one consistent artist) are responsible for every issue of a particular comic. Willingham’s Fables or Gaiman’s Sandman are particular standouts when a comic has been able to keep a consistent vision due to their being one central writer. But most comics assume you’re interested in reading about the character and don’t particularly care who’s writing it. And that may not be always true. Spiderman changes with every writer and, for someone like me who isn’t necessarily interested in reading yet another story about Spiderman, I’m liable to drop that book if the current writer isn’t doing anything for me. But by using the writer’s room format, I think a more consistent tone could be kept to some of these ‘character-based’ comics and perhaps keep only mildly interested readers into buying it month after month.

One of my primary examples is Marvel Comics’s Civil War storyline. While it was dreamed up in committee, it was Mark Millar who was responsible for the crossover’s scripting. And I don’t think Millar really understood American politics. I tend to think, that if the entire thing had been designed by committee, the scripts were assigned to a team of writers, and that team had then reconvened to punch up the scripts, that the Civil War story would have been better overall. While Millar doesn’t have a grasp of the American political system, other writers would have and been able to correct his mistakes in his particular issue. Meanwhile, he could be adding his own take to some of the other writer’s scripts and the whole thing would have worked better.

I don’t know. I imagine it’s budgetary reasons that comics don’t do this. But I think it’d be an interesting experiment to try.

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