Creating Graphic Novels by Sarah Beach (book review).

I have to confess from the start that I did wonder where publisher Michael Wiese was going with releasing Sarah Beach’s book, ‘Creating Graphic Novels’ but was soon enlightened from the introduction. This book is for scriptwriters who having been told to do something more visually orientated to sell their story first than as a film and finding themselves contemplating creating a graphic novel. When you consider that so much film material comes from the comicbook industry these days and, not all from super-heroes, then it can be seen as a good way to develop a fan base and the notice of the suits in Hollywood. I should point out that this book is aimed at the American market although even if you’re not from there, this might still give some useful information.


Although this book gives a lot of details of creating a graphic novel, it isn’t a guide beyond the basics with the fiction itself. Think of it more as a step-by-step guide to getting the entire book off the ground which can often start as a multi-part comic before taking that final graphic novel. Even so, a couple things could have been included to remind potential creators of key selling points. A element of an original idea is always useful and, just because something like zombies are popular now, doesn’t mean it will be two years down the line. That’s still a useful number to remember based off of how long it takes to get a project completed and published without any stumbling blocks.

A lot of Beach’s advice is very sound although, unless the scriptwriter is rolling in money, I would think it would make more sense for them to approach publishers than finance it off your own back, although she does point out some publishers, whom I would call packagers, prefer this option. Even a smaller publisher will have been distribution than anything you might do yourself. Fortunately, Beach does cover this later in the book but I would have put this much earlier on as this also takes out a lot of the problems in locating a penciller, inker, et al to do the work. The professionals won’t do freebies and certainly would want some assurance that they’re being paid by having something up front or any novice would be after their time. Having further pondered this, having a few sample pages to show willing editors might entice them to wanting to see the final product. Beach also gives some useful advice about publishers that don’t welcome unsolicited material and how to get around that. If they read this book, they’re likely to know this method so think ingeniously.

One thing for sure, it helps if any writer has a sense of the visual in being able to tell the artist just want they want but also to give some latitude for the artist to interpret as well. After all, any comicbook material is a collaborative effort and in each department you are paying for their expertise in doing what they think is right or you wouldn’t be having them as part of your team.

Beach makes a strong point about not doing too much ‘talking heads’ dialogue. If you’re choosing that route, then you might as well write a novel. Comicbook needs some level of action to take full advantage of the visuals you need presenting. It also needs to work within the confines of the printed page and Beach aptly points out you can’t expect every last detail to go in from a film script when creating an illustrated continuity. When you compare the movie storyboards to a graphic novel, the differences are obvious. If you learn that they are different disciplines from this book then you will have learnt something.

I’m glad Beach compared the full script to the Marvel method of preparation. The latter will always give the artist more freedom to interpret but the writer has always got to ensure enough detail of what is wanted is given. I did ponder on some scriptwriters looking at, say, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ ‘Watchmen’ as the example to go by, especially as samples of the script are given in some editions. However, Gibbons also points out that Moore’s scripts were far too detailed and he had to yellow-line what he wanted to use and I suspect it would have made his job easier if Moore had gone that route. It’s a fine balancing act in how much detail you give so ensure you and the artist have frank discussions so you both know what is needed and that egos are left at the door to ensure the final product is achieved. With comicbooks and dialogue, less is often more. Something I might add to this is when you’re looking for a collaborator see if you can find some common ground like favourite films and directors because it saves a lot of time if you say you want some like Hitchcock or whoever and its instantly understood.

There is a lot of useful advice and information here, even for the non-scriptwriter to pay heed to, although I suspect the latter will first become a writer-for-hire in the industry before trying to get support for personal projects. Another thing Beach missed is no creator can afford to be a one-trick pony. If you get one comicbook or graphic novel off the ground, then you must certainly have more that you can do.

It’ll be interesting to see if scriptwriters will see writing graphic novels as something to do between touting scripts. I suspect it will also sharpen up their visual sense which can’t be a bad idea neither.

Despite any disparaging remarks about, I found Sarah Beach’s book a useful read. The fact that she interspersed visuals throughout made a lot of it even more easy to remember although readers should be reminded to read these per column rather than pictures first because it’ll improve the context.

GF Willmetts

July 2013

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 172 page illustrated oblong enlarged paperback. Price: $26.95 (US), £15.90 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-194-1)

check out websites: and

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.