Interview w Andrew Aydin, Scripter of The March, Part I: How to Write a Graphic Novel if You Can’t Draw!

I’ve been traveling, but this interview is definitely worth the wait. Last week, I got to chat with Andrew Aydin, co-author of the amazing GN The March which I reviewed last week. (A copy of which is still very much up for grabs to the person who comments the most this month.) He’s also some sort of fancy political person. His current job title is: Digital Director & Policy Advisor to Rep. John Lewis. But I’m not very political, so I’m more interested in the writing bit.

There was so much information and wisdom in our chat, that I’ve decided to break it down into three Parts. Today’s piece focuses on the craft of writing a Graphic Novel and how you work with an illustrator and tell someone elses’ story. Monday I’ll post the bit where he talks about the history of comics in the Civil Right’s Movement (did you know Martin Luther King edited a comic for the movement, himself?!) and why the medium is so powerful for social action. And next thursday I’ll finish it off with the section where he talks about why independent comics are so diverse compared to traditional comics and the Children’s Publishing world. I hope you enjoy!

Me: First I wanted to ask you about the process of making The March because a lot of my readers are children’s book writers and they find the process of writing a graphic novel kind of mystifying. So I wondered if you could talk about how the book came into being, who did what, and how you actually wrote it.

Andrew: Sure. I guess first the idea for this graphic novel came from another comic book called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. The congressman told me about it when I was working for him on his campaign back in 2008. And when he told me about it there was just sort of a lightbulb moment where you’re like, “Oh my gosh. John Lewis, you’ve led this incredible life. You were 18 or 19 years old when you first sat in for Nashville and you went on to basically be part of every seminal moment in the Civil Rights Movement and you did it at an incredibly young age and now you’re telling me that you were inspired by a comic book? Woah. You need to write one.” It seemed almost self-evident and yet, to everyone I said it to, it seemed totally strange.

So I just asked him, “What if you write a comic book?”

At first he sort of demured and was very polite about it and said, “maybe” which, you know, in politics generally means, “no.”

I must have asked him a handful of times. Finally, he had an executive session with himself and he thought about it and he got what I was saying. Here we are trying to figure out how to get this next generation to participate in the electoral process and be an active citizen again and they’re frustrated and they don’t necessarily know how to fight back.

So, he said, “OK, let’s do it. But only if you write it with me.”

So that’s how I became a co-author. And it was tough finding a publisher because not everybody fully grasped the potential for what we were doing. We got shot down here and there. But finally we got introduced to Chris. I’ll never forget Jimmy Palmiotti—some call him the Mayor of comics—he said, “you’ve got to call Chris. Chris Staros is the only guy who will do this right.”

And lo and behold, we did. And Chris [at Top Shelf] has been an amazing publisher. Someone we’ve really been lucky to work with. And it was through him that we found Nate [Powell]. Because he worked with Nate quite a bit, and that was a real lucky break for us because Nate really brings so much to the project. And before we ever got a deal we started writing the script. Before anyone agreed to publish it.

It was sort of a weird process. I’d never written a graphic novel before and neither had the congressman {laughs} obviously. So we just sort of started from scratch. I was reading things like Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and some of the old Will Eisner books. I’d always been a comic book reader myself. I’d been reading them since I was five or six years old. And it just started to take shape. You see how other people write scripts. I bought books of other peoples’ scripts just to see what the formatting looked like. You know there is no real set format for a comic book script. I’ve seen it get incredibly specific. Alan Moore scripts read like a novel in themselves.  But then you see other guys and they’re just writing the dialogue and a brief description of what’s going on which leaves it up to the artist’s imagination. So we tried to find a middle ground. It was sort of a movie-scriptish style. And I would lay out these outlines with which stories we would talk about. The congressman and I would discuss which ones to include. And we would take those outlines and I would put together lists of questions. “Tell me this story. Tell me that story. Do you remember when . . .?” And it was just nights and weekends for months and months and months and months. I think it took two years to put together the draft script for what became the trilogy (because we wrote it as one book.)

That was an interesting process because the congressman and I had worked closely on other things together but this was something totally different. Once we got it into the script format—that’s about the same time Nate came on board—so we sent it to Nate. He was like, “this is a very long book.” That’s where the idea for the trilogy came from because it was so much story you wanted to be able to show this to people sooner than five or six years, however long it would take Nate to sit down and draw four or five hundred pages.

So we did that. We tackled book one first. I re-wrote it into a single script draft, and then Nate started laying them out and putting them into rough pencils and bringing them to the congressman who would look at them and then Nate would ink the pages and we would look at those and then Lee and Chris helped edit the whole thing. It was crazy because we actually ended up finishing the whole book several weeks before our print deadline. Which is rare.

Because it is such a tight turn-around between book 1 and book 2 and all of us have been touring profusely, this is a really tough deadline and Nate’s really just put his shoulder to the grindstone. I actually just read through a complete draft of the whole thing last night and there was a point where I just lost it and started crying and I knew it was going to happen.

Book 2 is to book 1 as Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars. It’s gonna rip your heart out. It’s just brutal, but it’s so beautiful at the same time. I’m really excited to show it to people.

Me: In the traditional Children’s Publishing world, and it’s picture books usually, but the writer and the illustrator never talk. So basically the writer gives the completed manuscript to the publisher who matches it with an illustrator who does whatever they want with it. But it sounds like there’s more conversation between the two with comics. So did you do the page layouts or did Nate come in and do that?

Andrew: I always put in a page-layout, just sort of what the visual should be. Especially if I’m referencing a photo or something like that. But then Nate comes in over the top of that and breaks it up his own way. So we may end up some of the same images laid out a different way. Nate may change some of the images, and we’re talking constantly about this. Because Nate is a very gifted visual storyteller. He’s incredible at this. When you have that kind of talent on your team, you want to take advantage of it.

Me: So, would you recommend if someone is interested in writing a script that they do describe the visuals and give page-layouts?

Andrew: Yeah, I think it’s important to give cues so the artist knows what he’s going for, but I don’t think you should be rigid. Do your best and then talk to your artist. And listen to what they say because they’re the one who has to put it down on paper. You offer your suggestions and you trust the people you’re working with.

Me: So, short of having a congressman to grab and become best friends with, how do you think that somebody would get to write  a graphic novel, would get into that world?

Andrew: You just have to do it. Before Chris ever agreed to publish March we wrote what effectively became book 1 as a script. And when Chris read it, he said, “OK, this is good. I want to publish it.” But he wasn’t going to publish it without a script. And so even if you’re not an artist, if you write a good story, a publisher will se that. Again that’s what’s so great about Independent graphic novels. You can go talk to these publishers. You go to a show and they’re there. And if you seem like a pretty reasonable person with a good idea, and you can articulate that to them, then you can get them to read it. And if they read it and they like it, then your’e in.

And I think so many of us are like, “OK, where’s the form I have to fill out?” And it’s not. You have to go talk to people. You have to be sort of aggressive. You have to get out there. You can’t just do it via internet. You have to meet people and talk to them face to face and go to conventions. And put your work out there. And if you can’t get a publisher to do it, there’s all sorts of talented artists who haven’t had their big break yet who are looking for writers to work with. And that’s another reason to go to these conventions like SPX or APE where these artists are exhibiting and if they like your story, then maybe they’ll work with you. And you guys can put something together and then a publisher will publish that. I know a lot of the indie’s prefer to look at something completed. They like to have the team already together. They don’t want to have to go out and look for an artist for you. It differs from place to place, but the central point is just do it. Just start trying. Start writing. Start talking to people.


About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
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2 Responses to Interview w Andrew Aydin, Scripter of The March, Part I: How to Write a Graphic Novel if You Can’t Draw!

  1. Pingback: Interview w Andrew Aydin, Scripter of The March, Part II: Comics as a Tool for Social Change | Strong in the Broken Places

  2. Pingback: Interview w Andrew Aydin, Scripter of The March, Part III: Diversity in Indie Comics | Strong in the Broken Places

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