Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics

Stan Lee's How to Write Comics

On one level, it doesn’t matter what’s in this book. You take that name and that subject matter, and Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics is already #1 on Amazon’s search for “how to write comics” before it’s even been released. On another hand, I’ve been looking forward to this volume, because it’s co-written by our friend Bob Greenberger, although you wouldn’t know it — the voice is distinctly Stan’s.

The book is a survey/overview, but it’s well-formatted for browsing, with short sections of a page or two for each topic. It aims to be comprehensive in context, beginning with 16 pages on comic history — including a two-page splash of Marvel characters captioned, “The Marvel Universe was born when I created the Fantastic Four with Jack Kirby.” It’s a tad difficult to concentrate on useful advice with that kind of comment, because it’s a bit overwhelming to fans of superhero comics and what Stan hath wrought. I kept thinking, “OMG! He worked with HIM, too!”

Chapters that follow cover:

Stan Lee's How to Write Comics

  • Tools — using a computer, necessary reference books and sources, and insight from other working pros, including Mark Waid, Marv Wolfman, Chris Ryall, Roy Thomas, Brian Michael Bendis, and more writers and editors. This section also includes a glossary of common comic terms.
  • Basics — how comics are unique for combining prose and pictures
  • Genres — comics is a medium, with the ability to tell all kinds of stories
  • Script Styles — discussing Marvel-style/plot-first writing vs. full-script
  • Characters — how to find your cast (focused on superheroes)
  • Storytelling — three-act structure, settings, art direction
  • Subplots — working on a continuing series
  • Formats — miniseries or graphic novel? The old-school issue is considered the baseline.
  • Preparing the Script — actually doing the work
  • Continuity — dealing with a Universe
  • Finished Script — formatting your work, ballooning, working with artists
  • What Editors Want — a set of short notes from editors on what they look for
  • Professionalism — a reminder that this is a business

I was impressed with the number of well-known creators who are quoted in the book, bringing their own wisdom and advice to the volume. There are lots of other people’s viewpoints included. That’s another benefit to a project with Stan’s name on the cover — he knows everyone! As you’d expect, based on the writer, the emphasis here is on traditional superhero and genre comics.

I’m not sure how useful this will be to a beginner. The advice I read was good, but much of it I’ve already seen in lots of other “how to write” books. (Since I’ve read many, I’m not a good judge of works for the true novice, unfamiliar with the craft or comics.) I was surprised to see how much of what he says isn’t comic-specific; in fact, someone looking for details on how a writer should think uniquely to the medium will find better books elsewhere. There’s not a lot on page breakdowns or thinking visually, for instance.

However, I had a blast reading the reminiscences of Stan and the many folks he’s worked with. Wandering briefly into that world for these 200-plus pages was a lot of fun. There’s also a hardcover edition, if you want a book that’s easier to read without worrying about splitting the spine. With the lavish illustrations (many from works by Dynamite Entertainment, the book’s co-producer), the hardcover will also make an excellent gift for the aspiring comic creator. This is a better choice and more entertaining read than the earlier Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

Update: Bob Greenberger talks about how the book came to be and his experience working with Stan at his website.


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