Weekly Visions 8.10.17: Convention Crush, Plays, and Teaching Oh My!

Welcome back for another weekly dose of Visionary Goodness!

This week we remind all of you of our annual August-September Convention run, this year, counting last week’s Washington County Con, we’re doing seven shows in eight weeks! Crazy stuff, but, it means lots of chances to catch up with the crew!

We also shine a spotlight on Inkwell Awards with their latest auction, and a new Get Creative spot. Enjoy!

Speaking of Washington County Library Comic-Con…
Thanks to Sarah Hull and all the hard working volunteers that made it such a great show! CCO C. Edward Sellner did another round of his My Comic Life panel, talking about the history, the art form, and skills for working in comics. Thanks to Artway Alliance’s Eric Suggs for dropping by and posting a brief video segment from the panel! Check it out below!

Speaking of Teaching Moments…
Visionary is proud to announce that our sponsored Creating Comics courses will be returning in Spring 2018! The courses will now be offered at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus, through the Art and Learning Center! Studio CCO C. Edward Sellner will be starting the partnership October 18th with a workshop offered during a special program, the full course will then debut the second week of February 2018, with eight two-hour sessions. More details will be coming soon, including links to register for the course. In the meantime, feel free to check out the Fall classes being offered now!

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Visionary loves the arts, not just comics, but all forms of art! Which is why, every once in a while, we will spotlight something really cool we want folks to know about. It may be new releases in books or comics, or upcoming art focused events,  from our partners, friends, or supporters!

The Annapolis Summer Garden Theater is running a great new show called, In the Heights.

Here’s what the Bay Weekly had to say:
“The hottest thing in Annapolis these days isn’t the weather but Lin Manuel-Miranda’s In the Heights, playing through Memorial Day weekend at The Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. Under the direction of Darnell Patrick Morris, the same guy who brought us Avenue Q and Hair Spray, this production is so outstanding it’s easy to see why the Hamilton composer’s show won the 2008 Tony for Best Musical. Here at the confluence of rap, salsa, and Latin pop, the American dream meets exotic choreography in New York City’s Dominican barrio to produce a story that transcends race, age and economic status.”

August 3-September 3, 2017 :: Thursday-Sunday at 8:30pm
Music & Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda | Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes
Conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Purchase Tickets Here>>

Check out this clip from the opening number!

The Inkwell Awards Fundraising Auctions Continue for our Second Week of our 10 Year Anniversary Season!

With 19 listing of original art, signed prints and special multi-signed prints from generous supporters of our non-profit, including Paris Cullins, Matthew Clark, Fred Hembeck, Matthew Dow Smith, Nikkol Jelenic, Kevin Conrad, Bill Anderson with Angel Medina, Joe St. Pierre, Charles Barnett II, Skott Kolin, Richard Case, Afua Richardson, Ryan Stegman, Michael Golden and more!

Support the Auction Here>>


Upcoming LIVE Events

Dover Comic-Con Logo8/19 Dover Comic Con 10am-5pm / Booth 047
@ Dover Public Library

1:30pm – Join CCO C. Edward Sellner’s My Comic Life Panel in the Children’s Programming Room!
Visionary returns to Dover Comic-Con for the third year mega event! Join Visionary’s CCO for his rousing panel on building a comics career, check out all our new releases and enjoy a day soaking in the pop-culture!


Southern Maryland Comic-Con Logo8/26 Southern Maryland Comic-Con 10am-4pm
@ Hollywood Fire Department

Visionary returns once more to one of our favorite local shows, the Southern Maryland Comic-Con in Hollywood! Join Visionary’s CCO C. Edward Sellner at the Visionary table all day and check out our latest releases, new prints, and other merchandise.


Image result for escape velocity 20179/1-3 Escape Velocity @ Gaylord Convention Center
12:15pm Sunday – Be Your Own Super-hero(ine) Panel  (Location TBD)

Visionary makes its triumphant debut at the Escape Velocity event with partner Artway Alliance! Join CCO C. Edward Sellner for his fun and exciting Be Your Own Super-Hero(ine) panel on Sunday, and check out Visionary’s latest at our booth all weekend.


Maryland Seafood Festival Logo9/10-11 Maryland Seafood Festival @ Sandy Point State Park

Visionary returns to the best tasting event of the year, the Maryland Seafood Festival for our third year running! In between enjoying the live music and tasting a variety of seafood treats, stop by Visionary’s tent to pick up some great reading material and art!




9/22-24 Baltimore Comic-Con @ Baltimore Convention Center
9/22-24 Baltimore Book Fest @ Baltimore Inner Harbor

This is a huge double-header event for Visionary, as we will be at the Baltimore Comic-Con, our own home show, at the Baltimore Convention Center AND at the amazing Baltimore Book Fest just a few blocks away at the Inner Harbor! Come join Visionary’s top crew, check out our new releases, new art prints, and other merchandise at either or both events all weekend!



2017 Confirmed Show Schedule

The following are confirmed shows for Visionary this coming year. More details coming as we get closer to each! Click the Event to go to their main page, or the location for map and directions.

10/21 Hampton Comic Con @ Hampton Roads Convention Center

10/23 Superhero Workshop @ Odenton Library

12/9 Ocean City Comic-Con @ Grand Hotel and Spa OC


Where will your vision take you?

My Comic Life Sundays: Penciling 101: The Layout 2

MCL BannerAnd we’re back! Apologies for the unannounced break last week, the schedule has just been crazy and it finally caught up to me. I’m going to be working this week to try and get a lead built back up so, hopefully, we won’t have to do that again. In the meantime, hope everyone has been enjoying the launch of our Get Creative Tuesdays which will be growing in content over the next few weeks. Now, forward…

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My Comic Life Column 018: Penciling 101 The Layout 2

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Last time I started to focus on laying out a page of sequential art (i.e. a comic page) by discussing the basic structure of the page, using panels and setting them up in simple patterns for readability, such as the grid or stack layout.

This time I want to take that to the next level and begin to touch on ways of improving storytelling by mixing things up with panels and using the composition of the art itself to draw the reader in.

These principles apply whether you are a writer-artist doing your own story and fully illustrating it, or if you are an artist working from a full script. Even in those cases where you are working from a detailed, full, comic script, you as the artist still have a lot of leeway in how you choose to bring that script to life and these tips will help you take that process up a notch.

Let’s Call It a Dance with the Reader’s Eye

One of the fundamental elements of comic art is storytelling, as we mentioned last time (actually several times, but hey, it’s important). Storytelling in art has several levels of meaning, we’re going to focus on the most basic level at this point, and that is essentially how the art guides the reader’s eye through the story. Part of the artist’s job is to unfold the story through the art such that the reader’s eye is drawn naturally, even unconsciously, along through the proper sequence of actions, focal areas, and critical reveals, to engage the reader with the story, to essentially interact with them, by leading them.

Last time I showed a graphic featuring the typical panel layouts used by Jack Kirby, well, I updated that this time with simple directional lines showing reading sequence.

In the English language, we read from left to right, top to bottom, so that is the directional order western comics also follow, though obviously art layouts are more varied than reading line after line of text.

My reason for stressing the basic layouts of these grids and stacks was to create pretty simple reading flow in the story, clear direction for the reader which order to go, and as you can see – most form a Z or a stack of Z’s following that basic flow, left to right, top to bottom.

But this is only one of the means by which the layout can guide the reader’s eye, using basic, simple behavior patterns such as standard reading sequence.

There are lots of far more fun ways to do things as well.

Nudging the Grid and Stack Principle

There are also a number of very simple ways of bringing some variety into play that also help enhance storytelling while not pushing the envelope too much on simple panel layouts. For graphics, I’m using simple panel layouts where able, others showing finished pages to better illustrate the principles.

Staggered Panel Layout – while keeping the tiers of panels simple, vary the width of the panels on each tier so that instead of a locked grid you have a staggered layout of panels across the page. This will help give the page more of an organic flow as opposed to a rigid, locked pattern, as seen on the right.

Closed vs. Open Panels – closed panels are panels with full defined borders, or lines marking each edge, whereas open panels are ones that bleed art on at least one edge, thus no closing border line. Closed panels tend to feel more… well, enclosed, limited. Open panels, you got it, feel more open, more airy, imply greater space, or help focus on a specific element and pop it off the page.

Below are two pages from one of our Deadlands comics with art by Brook Turner. On these pages he kept to a pretty simple grid pattern layout, but each page has one open panel. On the page to the left, the bottom panel opens to make our hero larger than life, popping off the page. On the page to the right, the larger, establishing shot looking out over the water bleeds to the edge on three sides, giving it more a sense of scale and distance.

Dynamic vs. Straight Panel Borders – All the samples I’ve shown so far use straight, neat border lines. Adding some curve, or jagged border lines can add energy to a panel, giving it a dynamic sense of movement. This can be a handy technique for illustrating fight or other action scenes. The sample is a portfolio page from artist Dave Windett that uses curves and line textures to make even the very shape of the panels enhance the action.

We’ll get into some more rules about ‘breaking panels’ when we get a little further in, but for now, the idea is to show you can take very basic panel layouts and put a lot of variety and storytelling just in how those are laid out.

So, what about the actual art, can it also be used to help guide the reader’s eye?

[[SPOILER ALERT: Oh yeah…]]


It’s About Patterns and Cues

There are lots of subtle tricks artists can use to guide the eye across the page, to help ensure it moves through the key beats of the story. Here’s some of the most common with a little explanation on how they work.

Pattern Recognition – one of the most primal aspects of our species, and one that helped ensure our rise to the top of the food chain, is our innate ability to recognize patterns. Comics would not exist without this ability, because this is the same ability that allows our brain to interpret simple line drawings as representative of other things, including insanely simple drawings, such as everyone instantly recognizing a ‘smiley face’ as a face, or ‘stick figures’ as people.

Breaking this down more fundamentally, our eyes tend to pick out lines, curves, repeated patterns, and instinctively follow where they lead. So, the superior comic artist will use this fact in laying out the art of a page in order to draw the reader’s eye right where they want it to go.

Below is a page from a classic comic drawn by Steve Ditko, to the left is the page as is, to the right, an overlay using colored lines to show the use of patterns, curves and lines to enhance storytelling.

The blue lines show curving lines implied in the art that help guide the readers eye through each panel, and onto the next panel. The curve to the furthest left, brings us through panel 1 to panel 2, a reflection of that curve then directs us back left and down to panel 3, and a final curve pulls us out of 3 and through 4.

The yellow lines are lines created by the art to direct the action in each, and thus key elements to draw the eye, or frame the panel. In panel 1, it emphasizes the flying figure, in panel 2, a line frames the pilots, giving each a focal point. The pattern of horizontal lines in panel 3 help ensure we’ll look at each row of passengers, and moves us through into panel 4. Panels 4 and 5 put focus on the plane itself, the key element of the art.

The violet lines set up circular patterns which hold the eye, keeping it focused on the key art. That pattern helps us focus on the faces of the pilots in panel 2, shows us the erratic flight of the plane in panel 4, key to the story, and zeroes our attention on that plane in the final panel as it plunges into the wormhole.

Using that same Spider-Man page above, with an overlay we can show a similar but more direct use of lines and patterns, in this case, what we call Action Lines.

Our eyes are drawn to the characters, so their placement, the curves of their body, the angle of their limbs, the direction of their movement, etc. are setup nicely such that the eye will follow along those lines through the page, following the sequence of action. This being a fight scene, the curves, actions and motion is pretty over the top and exaggerated so very obvious and clear.

But, we can also take this to more subtle levels.

This layout is a page from The Dreamer, an excellent webcomic by Lora Innes. Here the action is more subtle, but the characters themselves still help guide the eye.

This page is marked to show flow of dialogue, which is also important (and something we’ll get to on lettering), but let’s also use those arrows to look at the art.

Notice the characters in panel 1 are moving left to right, the eye tends to go where they are going, so it helps reenforce that left to right reading flow.

The foreground character in panel 2 has stopped and turned back, his body now providing a break point, to cue shifting back and down to the mid-page panels.

In panels 3 and 4, as the character looks left, his direction of view, follows the direction we read. In that 5th panel, as he looks back and down, we follow where he’s looking to then go to that last panel.

Obviously a key moment of this page, the characters now are centered to keep the eye lingering on them in their reunion.

In other words, the character bodies don’t have to be in highly exaggerated or forceful poses to provide cues. Simple movement, or where a character is looking can do the same.


So, what have we learned? That a lot of thought for a page of comic art goes into how that page is set up, structured, and laid out all for the singular purpose of telling the story. I opened this series saying that the layout is the single most important step in drawing a page of art, and now I’m guessing that makes more sense.

A lot of this are those pieces of the toaster, to use our previous analogy, that someone who just thinks they can draw comics will miss. Why? Because, when done right, the composition and layout of a page that you as the artist sweated and bled over to get perfect, will simply flow into a seamless reading experience for the reader, where the eye glides through each beat without even noticing all the carefully laid signs and guides that made it happen.

That is part of the magic of comics.


We’re going to turn our attention to THE PANEL as we explore that individual story beat that bears the heaviest burden of storytelling.


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About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Creative Services, one of the best-known production studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycreativeservices.com!

My Comic Life Sundays: Penciling 101: The Basics

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First, in case you missed our Weekly Visions Post this week, I announced a new, semi-regular time to Get Together and Get Creative. Thanks to a cool new partnership with the Smithsonian IMAX, we’ll be turning select new releases and special showings into Visionary films – I’ll be attending the show, and those wishing to can join me for an informal roundtable discussion on the merits of the movie afterward. Our first one kicks off January 29th at 5pm. Get all the details here>>

Hope to see you at one soon!


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My Comic Life Column 016: Penciling 101 The Basics

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Last time I did a quick ‘sketch’ of penciling comics in general. This time I want to start digging into the topic and getting more concrete on specifics.

But before I do, let me put out two reminders that bear repeating:

First, the 101 round of series on each stage of creating comics is aimed at the basics, for beginners, just as I did with the writing series. So, a lot of what you read here may be stuff you’ve heard already if you’ve been at this any length of time, but, I try to include some pointers and tips I’ve picked up that will hopefully still make it worth your while even if you’re a pro.

Second, very little of what I share are hard and fast rules (though there are those as well). A lot of ‘creating’ is open to any number of options including tools you use, size you draw at, stylistic choices, etc. My goal is to share some of the most common used approaches and techniques for you to use or not as you wish, but are especially helpful if your goal is to produce work that may lead to you getting hired in the industry.

Tools of the Trade

9581209To do pencil artwork all you really need is a pencil and some paper. Once you start, you’ll probably soon after need an eraser, trust me. But if you want to start working to the norms of the industry you’ll start fine-tuning that process pretty quickly.

In fine-tuning that process, the first step is making sure you are producing art that fits the standard specs for whatever kind of comic you plan on doing. Now, again, lots of freedom here to just create stuff, but if you plan to submit this comic for print or digital release, or do it yourself, then you need to be more intentional in how you approach this.


Most print comics are printed at a 6.875″ x 10.4375″ size, but the original art for those sized pages are most often done on 11″ x 17″ sized paper. For printed art of most any kind, it’s pretty standard for an artist to work on anywhere from a two to three times larger size space than the final printed format. The reasoning here is simple – the amount of detail you see in a printed comic page would be hard to include if the work were being created at that size. The additional advantage is that any small mistakes that creep into finished art at a larger size are even more reduced and fade out when the art is printed smaller.

Some artists work on different sized paper, to begin with, which is fine, but what is critical is that the ratio relationship stays the same so the page of art can print properly set on a standard comic sized page.

The most common used paper for comic art is bristol board, which is a high-quality, thick paper stock with a very smooth finish. Bristol board has even more advantages for inking, but still stands out even just for penciling work. The smooth finish lends itself to tighter, smoother lined artwork. It’s also sturdy for erasing (I’m telling you… erasers… lots of them) so that the paper does not scrape or tear. One negative is the smooth surface can also lead to smudging or smearing, so it does pay to be careful as you work.

On the actual pencil front, you’ll find a wide range of tools there. A good starting point is a 2B pencil, as it can lay down solid, dark black lines. But as you progress in your work, you’ll most likely find yourself wanting to use different strokes, shading, and varying darkness in the linework. That’s when you’ll want to expand. There are twelve grades of pencils from the hardest (H), to medium (F), up to very soft (9B). You’ll find these useful in creating different tones, shading, and textures.

Of course, beyond pencils, there are all sorts of art tools to create art, from charcoal to pastels, to paints. But remember, we’re talking about penciling comics and for the most part, those don’t enter into this discussion unless we’re talking someone doing full and finished art.

Get In the Zone

Once you get your tools set up, the next important thing is to learn the ‘zones’ for a page of comic art. This is absolutely critical to make sure the art will look right on a printed page. This falls on the penciler, and is being covered in the penciling series, because, understandably, it is the Penciler creating the initial art, which then is handed off to everyone else on the team, so it makes sense to do it right from the start.

There are three zones or areas on a page of comic art, each serves a very specific and important role in laying the art out for print.



From the exterior edge of the paper in, there should be a border outside the art, which is essentially the buffer edge of the page, no art should be in that area, and any that is will most assuredly not be seen in the final printed version once it’s setup and sized down. On a standard 11″ x 17″ art board, this border would run 1/2″ on the sides, and 13/16″ on the top and bottom, defining a space to work in of 10″ x 15-3/8″.

The next zone or area is called the Bleed Area, or Full Bleed Area. This is for a specific form of printing that can print to the edge of a printed page, with no visible border running the exterior in the printed format. Art can extend into this area, but it’s important that nothing critical or central to the image as a whole extend into it, as it may or may not be fully visible in the printed version. (See below to better understand why.) Art that can fill a Bleed Area would include backgrounds, furthest extensions of limbs, or objects that can be cropped without losing definition of the figure or object, etc.  The full work space including the bleed area is the above mentioned 10″ x 15-3/8″ as defined by that buffer zone.

Next is the Trim Line, which on a standard 11″ x 17″ sheet is 5/8″ in from the edge of the paper on the sides, and 1″ in on the top and bottom, defining a space of 9-3/4″ x 15″ in which to work. The trim line is crucial because it is the average line of where the page will be trimmed in the process of printing. As books are run through a printer, there is a trimming or cutting stage, that is pretty accurate but not 100% – so the trim line represents the average line of the cut. This is why there is a small buffer on the outside of the trim line, the Bleed Area described above, and on the inside of the line defining the final zone.

That final zone is the Safe Area, sometimes referred to as the Live Area. It is 1″ in from the sides and 1-3/8″ from top and bottom, defining a work space of 9″ x 14.25″. As its name implies, the Safe Area is that area which is guaranteed to be centered and visible on the printed page – none of that will bleed off the edge or be cut in the process of trimming. So, obviously, it is within this zone that all important, central elements of the art should be fully contained – character faces, important props or elements of the backgound, etc. This is also important when it comes to lettering, as all lettering, captions, dialogue and sound effects should be 100% in this area only, but we’ll cover that more later.

Above is a great graphic from Blambot that shows the various lines and dimensions. Now, if you’re doing this work regularly you’ll find it easier to get art boards that have these lines pre-printed on them, and fortunately, there are several to choose from. My preference, as well as that of many artists, is Blue Line Comic Pro art boards. These not only set off the bleed and trim lines, they include marked notches for dividing a page into thirds, halves, etc. for most basic panel layouts. They also use that buffer area at the edge to provide an artist space to make notes on series, page number, etc. Once you start generating multiple pages of art on various projects, you’ll find it pretty important to label the pages so you can find them once again if needed.

Doing It Digital

Wait, what does penciling have to do with digital? I know at least someone out there is asking that and it’s a fair question.

Penciling in comics is not so much the means or tools used as the step in the process, still referred to by the name it acquired before computers existed. Those of us who create comics fully in digital still go through a process of ‘penciling,’ meaning we set up the page specs (file specs in this case), and create the initial art using custom tools, and the process of composing and defining the art generally looks similar to sketching and pencils on paper.

In most art software the Pencil tool is generally not a tool you want to actually use as a ‘pencil’ for drawing. There you go pretty exclusively with brushes. As above, you can use any number of settings to accomplish the same, and different artists will have their own preferences. Personally, when I’m ‘sketching’ or ‘penciling’ art in Photoshop, I used a standard round brush, set to multiply and around 40% opacity. Most of my work I set the brush to 3 pixels, though will sometimes thicken that up in the initial sketch when I’m doing thumbnails or roughs (more about all that stuff later). The point though is the process is similar, even if the venue is different.

Now, if you work exclusively in digital software, but are working on comics intended for print then you need to setup the same specs as listed above, especially concerning setting up your zones on your page. I’ve included download links for my own personal digital page templates I use for art, which are template files set to standard size for original art, and have both a layer with guidelines, as well as Guides you can make visible by clicking View > Show > Guides for Bleed and Trim lines. I’ve even been extra nice and included single page and double-page spreads.

For digital comics, if you’re creating the work for a specific digital venue, the best starting place is to review any and all guidelines and specs for that venue. They tend to differ a lot based on how the venue loads and displays art. However, most of the same general principles apply here, just as above, with differences accounting for format and venue.

As with physical tools, you can create the art at a variety of spec sizes, as long as the final file hits the right ratio and proper resolution or DPI for the art to display well. Art intended for print must be created at a minimum of 300DPI, any lower and you risk the art looking pixellated on the page. More detailed art, like full digital renderings, will often jump to 400, or even 600DPI to keep crisp edges and rich colors defined in print. Digital venues range based on their format. Apps and panel based venues often require higher resolution images so that the art remains crisp and clear even when you zoom in super-tight.

Obviously, one major difference here is that most digital venues for viewing comics do not match fully to standard print size. Reading comics on a computer means you’re going to want to lean more toward horizontal or landscape art to better fit a standard computer screen. Comics that display on a smartphone are usually panel by panel, so if you are targeting this type of venue you will want to lean toward more standard sized, smaller panels that then work zoomed in on the smaller screens. Of all digital devices, tablets are the closest reading experience to print with the ability to display decent sized, full print pages and still be readable.

The Best of Both Worlds

I’ll do a whole series on this somewhere down the road, but worth at least mentioning here – I generally encourage creators to think about all their options when they create a comic. You may start with releasing this comic you’re doing in a digital format on Comixology or Drive-Thru, but if it were to take off and you got that call from a print publisher wanting to do a collection – just how much would you hate yourself if you created all the content only for digital and not a high enough resolution or format to work in print? Don’t do that.

I think DC does the simplest, best answer here with their digital first series like Injustice and Legend of Wonder Woman. Their file specs for digital comics create web-screens that are optimized for most computer screens, but also, happen to line up to 1/2 of a standard comic page. The screens are then paced storywise and artwise to allow each consecutive set of two screens to be assembled into a single page for print. So, keep all this in mind as we press forward.


Now that we’ve got those basics out of the way, next time we will start getting into some actual art! Promise!


Blambot is a definitive resource site for lettering comics, with fonts, tutorials and additional resources.
(I feel it only fair to mention them now since I plugged them above.)

Blue Line Comic Pro art supplies provide perhaps the most popular comic art boards on the market. With Pro and Custom boards marked with bleed and trim lines as well as panel hash marks, these are great time-savers for artists.

Standard 300DPI Comic Page Template TIFF File Download

Standard 300DPI Double-Page Spread Template TIFF File Download


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About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Creative Services, one of the best-known production studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycreativeservices.com!

My Comic Life Sundays: A Wrap on Writing!

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My Comic Life Column 010: Writing Comics 101: The Story

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Welcome back as we wrap this round on writing (say that three times fast). Remember, this column looks at the entire process of creating and selling comics, so, I’ll focus on one arena for a series and then move into another.

Writers, you’re going to want to stay tuned to future editions simply because the more you know about creating and selling comics, the more skills you bring to any project you’re signing on for. Not to mention after the penciling series, I’ll be focusing on collaboration, then not too long and another writing arc for more advanced stuff. Ok?

So, we’ve looked at the mechanics of the script, the panel, and the page, now as we bow out on the art of stringing words together, let’s look at…


Telling the Story

There are tons of resources out there that can help you learn the basics of storytelling in general, from character development to plot, pacing, etc. There is also a good number that focus on storytelling and writing comics in particular. I’ve already started listing some great resources on our Archive page and will be adding to that a good bit before the end of the year with my own recommended reading for everyone’s wishlist this holiday season.  Any of those listed would be great resources for aspiring writers to check out.

For here and now, let’s focus a little on the specifics of telling a good comic story and some of the general principles you need to be aware of.

Beyond the Panel and Page

In previous columns, I focused a lot on the mechanics of the script as well as the comic book panel and page. I talked about how each of those represented ‘beats’ in a story and the potential and limitations for each. However, once you start linking those small beats of panels into pages, then those larger beats of pages into something more, then you’re getting into storytelling.

And just as I mentioned how important it is for a writer to be thinking visually at each of those levels, that becomes even more important here, because the broader story being told is one that is a meshing of word and art, a flowing sequence that will be breathed into life by art, so it’s critical that you as a writer are thinking on some visual level. You’ll see what I mean as we go.

There are several general factors a writer should be aware of when working in the comics’ medium, in order to make their comic writing as effective as possible. Let’s take a look at each.

1) Let the Art Tell the Story

A common mistake among aspiring and neophyte comic writers is when they feel the need to describe the action in captions or dialogue that could much more easily just be shown in the art. This includes settings, actions, even emotions. It’s true, a picture is worth a thousand words, which is what our medium is built on, so, when you can, let the art tell as much story as possible and get out of the way.

Double-page spread by Ale Aragon

Double-page spread by Ale Aragon

2) Make Sure the Art IS Telling the Story

The flip side of the above coin is when the writer passes up great opportunities to let the art carry more details of the story by failing to give proper direction to the artist. I can’t tell you how many scripts I’ve read that fail to include any body language, facial expression, or other visual emotional cues to the artist that can add depth to the story. The majority of scripts I read in submissions and from new writers mention WHO is in the panel, but only in the rarest circumstances mentions anything to give more insight into those characters.

Telling us our heroine is in the panel is fine, but pointing out “our heroine should be standing hands on hips with a broad smile on her face” helps carry the emotion, mood and depth of the story, especially in those times it may not be clear to the artist just what those feelings and emotions are. Only you, the writer, may know the deeper motivations of your characters so it’s on you to communicate those underlying elements.


Page art by Ale Aragon

Now, if you’re working with a great artist who recognizes the importance of such subtle elements to the art, such as body language, expression, etc. then they may be great at adding it in anyway, but without direction, they may assign different motivations than you had in mind. If it’s a character you both have worked on a while, then even those deeper motivations and little character bits may come naturally.

But if it’s a new story, and a newer artist still feeling their own way, and you as the writer don’t share some of those cues, you may also end up with a bunch of listless, boring people just standing around, and that will be partly on you.

Beyond expressions and emotion, this kind of visual storytelling can happen on a lot of levels. Establishing a setting of ‘a city street’ is basic, but establishing a setting as ‘a city street in a bad neighborhood, with boarded up windows, trash littering the sidewalks, etc.’ sets the tone. Letting an artist choreograph a fight scene is best, but pointing out ‘one fighter is clear, smooth, skilled and simply defending themselves, while their opponent is desperate and savage’ helps the artist add layers of depth to that fight scene that will tell more story with the art.

You can even craft a story such that this ‘visual storytelling’ element is crucial to the actual story working. Some of the best comics, to me, are the ones that once you finish the story, you want to go back and read it again for all the little visual clues you missed. For example, if you’re writing a mystery, make sure certain props or features are clear in the art, so that they can be revealed later as the clues that lead to the solution.

Use of iconic visuals, as mentioned previously with Watchmen, also adds elements to a story. They can be specific symbols, or simply powerful, iconic shots that bring the story to a critical focus, such as a drop of blood falling into a pool of blood, a character sitting with their head in their hands, dejected and lost, or someone cradling the corpse of a fallen loved one. Think about some of your favorite comic stories and I can pretty much guarantee you there was at least one image somewhere in that story where the art told it all, no words were even needed, and that image stayed with you a long time.

Incorporate these things to add depth and detail to your work and help your artist tell the full story.

3) Use an Economy of Words

Because comics are a visual medium, you want to strike a fine balance of text and art. Make sure you aren’t overwhelming your story with narrative. Lots of words on a page make it look cluttered, detract from the art, slows the pace and tends to drag for the reader, increasing the chance they will get bored or frustrated.

Of course, there are going to be exceptions. There are times when there may be a need for heavier narrative. It may be an expositional scene to give necessary backstory or an important dialogue between two characters that explores their relationship, but these should be exceptions, not the rule.

4) Comics Are a Visual Medium So Make It Visually Dynamic

This is obviously something we will explore more in the art end of things, but it’s an important concept for writers as well. There is a reason the abundance of comics have over the top storylines that include lots of action, fantasy, and other visually dynamic plots. Simply put, dynamic, exciting visuals grab reader’s attentions and interest MUCH faster than pictures of people sitting around talking.

Yes, there can be perfectly good comics that do not include world-saving battles requiring two-page spreads for all the explosions. However, whether it is a use of setting, a purposeful focus on mood and tone to add dramatic tension, or any other tool, the more visually dynamic you can make a scene, the better it will play in an illustrated book.

For example, say you’re writing a scene where our hero is talking with his lady love about their relationship. It’s an important story element. It has emotional drama, people love the characters so they will be invested in it, but can you help make sure it plays out better? Sure. Do they decide to chat in her apartment? Or maybe he flies her to a mountaintop at sunset? Think about what choices you can make to give room to and ensure the art stays as dramatic and dynamic as possible, no matter what the content of the scene itself.

5) Comics Are a Visual Medium, Play to That Strength

As a comic writer, keep in mind you have multiple levels you can tell a story on. There is the narrative caption box, the actual dialogue, the internal monolog, and the actual portrayed events. Those portrayed events give you a whole level of storytelling you don’t have in prose so exploit it where and when you can.

For example, a prose novella I wrote, Legend of Fire-Mane, that was published in our first run with Visions, was later being adapted for a proposed original graphic novel. The opening scene in that story is a prophetic nightmare of the aged Dwarven-Lord in the story. In the prose edition, I had to focus on ‘painting’ the dramatic scene of crows feasting on mounds of dwarven corpses and the two elemental giants that then appear and fight. But, once the artist, Revin Denisya A Putra, illustrated those pages (seen above) and brought that scene to life, I didn’t need to use words to do it. So, I added the haunting words of a Dwarven funeral dirge that anchors the images, alludes to them, but adds more to the story.

Work on ways to maximize the story being told in the comic. Don’t include tricks for the sake of including tricks, but ask yourself how you can enrich or deepen the story by playing to the unique strengths of comics.

6) Write to the Format and Know the Limits

As I started this series I pointed out that one thing that makes writing for comics unique is the need for the writer to continually be mentally aware of the finished product. I kept a tight focus on that as I discussed the panel, the page, composition, etc. This also applies on a larger level in terms of the story as a whole.

Most comic writing opportunities are going to come with a set of expectations and thus limitations that will need to be considered in your approach to the story. This will often include having a certain page count to hit, which could range from 6 to 240 pages. It will also include the means by which the story is going to be released – serialized chapters, or a single collected edition, digital or print.

This will even be true if you’re creating your own thing alone, or with an artist. You’ll need to have a platform to release your comic, set up a schedule that can be met, and however those logistics play out, should then be considered once you begin writing.

The point here is that you need to know WHAT format you are writing a project for and write accordingly.

A stand-alone story should, obviously, be a complete story with beginning, middle and end. You’ll need proper pacing that will carry the story through the allotted pages, if that is a limitation in place. That story will also need a definitive enough resolution that the reader feels they got the desired payoff and the story wrapped up for a satisfying finish. Sure it can hint at more, set up a sequel if desired, but by and large, THIS story comes to a definitive end.

Serialized writing, such as doing issues of a comic series, or chapters of an ongoing webcomic, begins to introduce new elements to storytelling that are also important. Here, each issue or chapter becomes yet another beat to a still larger story. Oh, sure, maybe any given story – an origin, a specific conflict, or adventure in general – may end in any given chapter or issue, but the nature of serialized writing is that that ‘story’ then becomes part of the larger story for that series.

So, once you get into serialized writing of any kind it becomes even more important to be able to craft overlaying storylines, plots, and sub-plots, etc. that can weave in and out of the spotlight of the larger, ongoing storyline. It will also become important to be able to learn to write each chapter or issue to serve two very distinct purposes. First, each chapter or issue has to provide the reader sufficient payoff to make them feel the time invested was worth it. Second, and just as important, each chapter or issue in some way, shape or form, needs to provide enough of a hook to ensure the reader will want to come back for more.

And that will form the basis of our next writing series!


We break next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, so HAPPY THANKSGIVING to everyone who will be celebrating! We’ll return December 4th for a one-shot column topic critical to freelancers everywhere – The Contract!


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About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!

My Comic Life Sundays: Family and Writing Comics 101

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Apologies for the delay on our Sunday post – our site was experiencing technical difficulties which prevented posting. We’ve now got the problem fixed.

Thursday, during our Weekly Visions post, we introduced our new staff and interns – Visionary’s biggest class ever! I actually got to spend some great quality time with all those fine folks over the last couple weeks.

Gary Cohn, our new Special Projects Manager was gracious enough to let me come stay with him in Richmond the night before the Hampton Comic-Con to help make the morning drive-in for the show a little easier. We got dinner with Aaron Riley, who’s done all the amazing covers for our Deadlands novels, then chatted about the future of Visionary. I also got the grand tour of the Cohn Archives, including original art from folks like Paris Cullins, Ernie Colon, Ron Wagner, Billy Tucci and others. Also got a chance to check out designs, sketches and other notes for projects that never were – but really should have been.

I then hosted our first full class Staff Workshop with our new interns Saturday. We did a training on comic-book coloring, self-promotion, and marketing, and talked about creative work for our new class, stuff we should be announcing something about by end of the year. What a crew!

So, while working in comics may just be the most fun job in the world, its also brought me a whole circle of wonderful people who’ve become such an important part of my life – from the full team at Visionary, to many of the great creators we’ve worked with, to the professionals whose work I’ve admired for years, that now invite me to their homes. That’s My REAL Comic Life and My Comic Life Family!

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My Comic Life Column 006: Writing Comics 101: The Script

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I’m going to use the next few columns to do a run on writing. Let it be said here and now, I’m doing this column for every aspiring talent, from the newest beginners to folks who’ve been at this a while. So, you’ll notice with every series, I start from a very basic viewpoint and get more into the fine art of each arena as I go.

However, as a word of advice, I wouldn’t skip reading a column and just assume, ‘oh, that’s pretty basic, I know all about that.’

I’m willing to bet there will be at least one nugget of wisdom in each that you didn’t know, even if you’ve been in this business a while. So, put that to the test and let me know how I do.

Writing: The Script

If we look at the most basic fundamentals of writing comics, you can’t get much more basic than looking at the form in which comics are written. You will find throughout the production process of comics that they have far more in common with film or television than prose. That commonality begins here. Comic stories are written in script format, much like screenplays, and that script, as I’ve mentioned before, will be the central tool everyone else on the team producing the book will use in their work.

Since this tool is so central to the production of a comic, there should be some care and consideration in how it is crafted. There is no universal rule of formatting for comic scripting but there are some pretty general and shared guidelines that you will find most companies either require or prefer. Following these guidelines not only makes you look better and more professional as a writer, it will also make things much easier for anyone working with you in producing the book, from the editor on down to the letterer. It will also help you in your own growth to focus attention on areas needed and be more cognizant of things you’re doing yourself – right and wrong.

All of which means any writer wanting to work in comics needs to have a good mastery of the technical form of the comic script. With that in mind, let’s look at the script and its format.

General Rules of Formatting

1. Keep your page margins at a healthy one to one and half inches.
Again, since multiple people will be using this, space for notations and edits is always helpful. Granted, a lot more editing is done on computer these days, still, an editor might prefer reading a hard copy and making notes in the margins to pass on to the writer. Likewise, many artists like having a physical copy of the script they can keep at their drawing board to use to jot notes on for ideas in layout, camera angles, colors, even thumbnails. Give them room to annotate for their own use.

2. Mark Page breaks in the Comic with page breaks in the script.
Most comic pages should not require a full page of text to setup in the script. Unless you’re putting a lot of detail into the art direction, or probably too much dialogue, most comic pages will only require a half to three quarters of a standard 8.5×11 letterhead page. You should still start a new page of the script for every new page of the comic. That way there is a clear distinction from one page to the next so that everyone else can see where one ends and the next begins.

3. If a page of the Comic runs over a single page of script, notate it accordingly.
In general, this is to prevent any confusion of what belongs on what page. If it runs over, the script page should have a note of MORE at the bottom corner, and a heading of PAGE # CONTINUED at the top of the next page, with the actual page number inserted. In these cases, hopefully the continued page will only be a small paragraph at best. Still start the next page of the comic on a new page in the script.

4. Use Numerals for Numbers to designate things in the script
Never spell numbers out when using headers or tags. Using actual numerals makes it easier for artists and letterers to glance at them and get a feel for totals. The eye can pick out the numerals quicker than the spelled out versions.

5. Use Page Headers, include appropriate information needed.
If the script is a submission, then the main thing to include here is all your personal contact information so if the script is accepted, they can get in touch with you. If you’re doing the book professionally the company may have specific things needed, in which case, follow those guidelines.

In general a script Header should include the following:

  • Your name
  • Name of the series
  • Issue number of the series and total issues if limited (such as #1 (of 5))
  • Version or revision number or date (such as Draft 1, or Revision 3, or Revision 10/23/16), this can help ensure people know they are working on the most current version.
  • Script page number, and total script pages.

Pros reading this may think I’m being a bit anal in the amount of info included here, but, trust me, it doesn’t hurt. A well-established pro friend of mine just commented on his twitter that he needed to send an entire issue back to be re-lettered because it was done using an older draft of the script. Likewise, I’ve seen artists print a script, lose a page of it and not even realize it because of poor formatting and labeling.

Again, if this is a tool, then the easier you make it for everyone else, the smoother things will go. If any other member of the team is missing a page, or somehow jumbles the pages, and can’t determine what happened easily, it slows things down. Good, clean formatting can help people quickly figure out if something is wrong or make sure everything is indeed okay.

Breaking down the Script

The script, like a movie script, should properly be laid out almost in an outline form, so that various people know directly where to go for the information most pertinent to them at any given time.


Every page of the script should have the comic page number clearly at the top and set off so it’s the most noticeable. Again, this tells each following person on the team what page they are actually working on and helps to make sure things flow smoothly.

If it runs over a page of text…


Again, always starting a new page of the comic on a new page of the script.


Panels need to also be clearly designated so the story breaks at the appropriate moments, from penciling to lettering.

Now this doesn’t mean an artist might not add a panel, or combine two you mention, especially if they are strong storytellers themselves, but if they do, its usually for a good reason, and any script can be adjusted accordingly.

Art Description:

This is one of the key elements of a script and one of the main sections editors will look at to see how well a writer knows his or her craft. The art description should be formatted in more standard, single spaced lines, like a regular paragraph. It should also include full sentences that provide a brief, yet detailed description of the setting, characters, actions and interactions important to the telling of the story. These, obviously should focus on cues and details the artists need to know to include.

I generally like to describe the setting at the beginning of a scene…

Setting: This scene takes place outside, at night, on a street and a nearby alley in downtown Manhattan, one of the seedier parts of town, so some boarded up buildings, trash on the street, etc. Its pretty late, and no one except our characters are around.

This gives the artist the environment right away, let’s them picture the space the action is happening in so they can set up and lay out that space to use it effectively in the following panels.

Then each panel gets a specific art direction immediately under the heading…


Our main character, Joe, is standing on the sidewalk, back to an alley, looking nervously up the street, waiting for his contact to arrive.

I will expand on this more when I focus more on the art of writing a good script, but notice the description very succinctly gives the artist the most important elements of the story:

  • Who? Joe.
  • Where? On the sidewalk next to the street his back to an alley.
  • Action? He’s looking up the street.
  • Feel? He’s nervous.

It also allows the artist to take cues in the script and add something of his or her own flair to help emphasize. Maybe Joe is sweating from his nervousness, maybe he’s tapping his watch. In other words, the art description should setup the scene, but not obsessively describe it to its most minute detail. Let your artist do some of their own storytelling, but do give them the cues they need so they know what will work and what won’t.

Obviously some scenes will require more detail if there is more happening than a character simply gazing up a street, but the writer should scrub descriptions down to the most basic level they can before moving on. Include what helps move the story forward and let the artist do the rest.

Now, sometimes a writer can include more specific visual suggestions to the artist as well. For example:

PANEL 2 (Largest Panel)

Joe is suddenly grabbed from behind by a huge, hairy werewolf!

Noting a specific panel is the intended focus of the page, or noting one panel should be an inset of another panel to more closely link the two beats are typical. Another good example of this is a more cinematic sequence where the writer suggests using two or more panels with the same camera angle, same view, but single, simple elements that change to really put the focus on that single piece of storytelling.


We see the werewolf crouching over Joe, clawed hand poised to strike, as Joe is terrified, arms raised to protect himself.


Same shot, same angle but the werewolf has paused, his arm half-lowered, Joe now looking up, his hands lowered as well.

The point here is most artists don’t mind some direction from the writer on layouts or camera angle, if there is a particular storytelling reason for it. To create a cinematic sequence that really emphasizes a critical moment, or a layout that makes a nice visual setup is something that a writer can include to help enhance the art.

The important corollary to this is that unless there is some specific reason for such direction, leave it to your artist. Let them pull together a layout, choose camera angles, how much or how little to include in the background. The better the artist, the better they will take what information you do give them and really play it out in a way better than you could have imagined.

I’ll focus more on this when I talk about the writer collaborating with the artist, but again, another good point to be mindful of.


Under the art direction for each panel comes the dialogue section of the script. This section is set off visually to make it easier for the artists and letterer, but there are also several key things the writer should be focused on while drafting these sections.

1. Don’t overwrite – let the art tell as much of the story as possible and get out of the way.
The biggest mistake from most aspiring comic writers is some deep rooted need to fill a page with captions, dialogue, and text, sometimes to the point of cramping the art almost out of existence. Comic scripting is an art of minimalism – include what is needed to move the story forward, give the characters their own voice, and set the scene when needed. If something can be done in the art, use the Art Direction to set that up and let it work its magic. Much better to have the artist draw Joe as nervous than to have him say he’s nervous.

2. Be mindful of how much text you are putting on a page and how that impacts the room for art.
This kind of spins out of the first point, but needs to be considered for a whole page as well. You can’t have nine panels on a page, each filled with multiple speech balloons and captions. The more text per panel, the bigger that panel has to be.

This is important to the artist as well who needs to be aware of how much text is going in a panel in order to leave sufficient space for balloons and captions in the actual art itself. Lettering cannot go over key elements in the art, so, an artist will make sure there is enough ‘dead space’ to include the dialogue. A writer who is keeping that in mind as well makes it easier.

3. Be mindful of the sequence and flow of the dialogue and how that will work in the art.
For example, if you have three characters in a panel, and they are each talking, the ideal layout would be to have the characters go from left to right in the sequence they speak. So, if Joe speaks first, he’s to the left, then Mary second, so she gets put in the middle, and John speaks last, so he goes to the right, that way the sequence flows left to right with the reader’s eye. As a writer, make sure you aren’t giving conflicting cues for the artist to have to figure out.


It’s also the main focus of the letterer who will be translating the dialogue from the script to the actual comic page. Like the other sections, it should be setup to help make their work as easy as possible in order to help ensure fewer mistakes.

Lines of dialogue, narration and sound effects should be indented and double spaced between each, so they are clearly set off from one another. Each line should start with a tag identifying the source in all caps, and the text in normal type, like so…


Our main character, Joe, is standing on the sidewalk, back to an alley, looking nervously up the street, waiting for his contact to arrive.

1 CAP:         New York, 10:30pm

2 JOE:        Man, I wish he would get here already.

Notice, I number my lines. This is not as important, but I like to do it so the letterer can easily glance and see how many lines, balloons, caption boxes etc. go on a page. It’s also a good reminder for me, because if I get up to 7, I know I’m starting to crowd the page and probably need to shut up more and let the art talk.

The tag at the beginning is set off by being IN ALL CAPS, identifying it easily so the letterer knows what the source of the line of dialogue is. Having the actual dialogue indented from the source tag and double spaced from other lines makes each bit clearly visible at a glance, so the artist and letterer can more easily picture the space needed and where to place lettering.

Also, note in the actual line of dialogue, some words are in bold, sometimes instead of bold, you’ll see words in ALL CAPS. These are called Stressors, and however they are noted in the script, the Letterer will then make those words bold in the final book. When we read a line of comic dialogue, we tend to emphasize the words in bold. By choosing certain words to be stressed, we help the reader create a rhythmic tone and lilt of voice that makes it sound more conversational or ‘spoken’ in the reader’s mind. This is a standard motif in comics that you don’t find in other mediums as much.

An alternative layout is more along the lines of how dialogue is noted in screenplays and works just as well.


Our main character, Joe, is standing on the sidewalk, back to an alley, looking nervously up the street, waiting for his contact to arrive.

New York, 10:30pm

Man, I wish he would get here already.

I’ve known a number of writers who feel the formatting and layout doesn’t matter. They often put single line spaces and breaks and everything clutters together. The writers who feel that way are often not writer / artists, and usually are less visual in their thinking. Part of the reason behind the spacing, especially in dialogue, is that it helps an artist to glance at dialogue and get a feel for how the spacing will work in the drawn page. The more set off each line is, the easier to picture it in a balloon on a comic page and then leave enough room for it in the artwork. Same for the letterer as they are figuring how to approach placing these words in the art. When everything runs together, this becomes more of a challenge for both.

The source tag is important to the letterer for obvious reasons, such as ensuring the dialogue balloons point to the right person, but they also provide a wealth of other information for the more subtle aspects of lettering. Let’s review some common source tags.

CHARACTER’S NAME: Indicates the person speaking.

2 JOE:        Man, I wish he would get here already.

CAP: Refers to a caption box for narrative or internal monologues.

1 CAP:         New York, 10:30pm

CHARACTER NAME CAP: Distinguishes when more than one character has captions or any kind of narrative appearing in a caption. Letterer’s will often use different shades of color or effects in the captions to distinguish them so readers can more easily track who is talking. This motif is often used when the reader is hearing a conversation taking place somewhere other than the scene visible in the panel, or if the narrator of a story shifts during the story.

CHARACTER NAME (OP): Usually refers to when someone is speaking, so their voice would be heard in that scene, but the character is not visible, thus Off Panel. It will usually also include, either in the art direction or here, some indicator of where that voice is coming from so the letterer can place it.

3 WEREWOLF (OP from the alley shadows):         GROOOWWWWL

CHARACTER NAME (SHOUT) or (whisper): Indicates the voice tone of the character speaking, shouts are stressed with bold or all caps, whispers in smaller fonts.

SFX: Indicates the line is a sound effect. Important note here, and a distinction from screenplay work, it’s the comic writer’s job to give the actual sound effect (BANG!) not the classification or source of the sound effect (gunshot sound) as that shows the Letterer how they want the effect to actually appear.

DEVICE (Electric) or CHARACTER NAME (Telepathy): Such notations here help to distinguish when a voice is coming through a device, like a radio, or when a character is using telepathy. In these cases, it’s important to note, because the letterer will most often make the balloons for such dialogue distinct to stand out.

There are many others that can be used. Basically, the point I’m making here is that the source tag is a handy way to alert the letterer as to what they are doing with that line of dialogue. Is it a sound effect? Is someone speaking in a standard word balloon? Are there dialogues off panel that need to stand out in unique caption boxes? Is a specialized balloon needed to show the dialogue is different than normal conversation?

Clearly noting such things helps ensure the letterer can easily track what they are doing and plug things in accordingly. It’s also common practice to use abbreviations, or simpler notations if something is used often in a certain book. For example, PROFESSOR XAVIER could be tagged as PROF X, or XAVIER. A book that has telepaths reading each other’s minds might have a note at the beginning saying that an * next to the name tag means it’s telepathy. The important thing here is to be consistent and clear to make the letterer’s life easier.

A writer who leaves such to the guess work of the letterer can’t really complain when it comes back wrong.

And just so no one leaves worried for Joe…


We see the werewolf crouching over Joe, clawed hand poised to strike, as Joe is terrified, arms raised to protect himself.


Same shot, same angle but the werewolf has paused, his arm half-lowered, Joe now looking up, his hands lowered as well.

4 WEREWOLF:          Joe? Is that you?

5 JOE:                           Harry! You made it, you old dog!

In Summary…

Basically as a writer, keep in mind your script becomes the central tool for your entire team to create this comic book you’ve written. The more care you put into crafting that tool, the more professional you appear and the more the people working with you will enjoy the process. Not to mention the less chance of complications in the process.

When you’re reviewing a script you’ve written, try to look at it as your penciler, then as your letterer. Are things clear? Laid out neatly to be picked out easily? Is everything noted so they don’t have to go back and infer things? The more care you take in your scripting, the less likely mistakes will happen down the road!

To get a better feel for scripts, check out the Comic Book Script Archive, a site that hosts a huge collection of scripts from numerous writers. Its a great resource, with a simple caveat…

Everything I’ve mentioned above is the basic introductory tools for any writer to use when drafting a script, especially if doing so before an artist or letterer is even attached. Any creative team who works together on a regular basis will develop a number of mutually agreed shortcuts between them that are fine, because they know what those shortcuts mean. Don’t make the mistake of reviewing a script written by a professional writer, who knew the team doing the book a script is for, had worked with them for years, possibly on that very series, and thus took a lot of shortcuts in formatting, presentation etc. that his team would know, and think that undermines my advice above. Different beast.


We’ll start getting more into the actual mechnics of comic scripting, and start applying some of these basic principles.


What are your thoughts on comic scripts and script styles and formatting? Is this what you expected, or were you surprised at the mechanics and logistics of the process?

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About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!

My Comic Life Sundays: Getting Serious!

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Thanks to you fine folks, our little Sunday feature is gaining some ground! Please feel free to share links and recommend our little weekly get togethers! Also, please, by all means, feel free to comment, share your experiences as a creator, or ask questions. That’s the whole point.

Let’s get to the fun stuff!

021 It'll Never Work

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My Comic Life Column 003: Building Up 001: Getting Serious!

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Last week we broke down the myth of “Breaking Into Comics.” There was weeping and gnashing of teeth, ashes, and sackcloth, rending of flesh and bone. Fun for everyone, and something you should check out here if you were lucky enough to miss it.

This week I promised I would start a small series on developing a much more realistic approach to building a career in comics, one aimed at providing the fundamental necessities and important steps to help improve your odds. Far be it from me to let you down on that.

And again, I want to stress, this isn’t a how-to on making comics and being a comics creator, it’s about shooting for a part-time or full-time career of creating them. Worlds apart, but we’ll get to the fun of creating the little buggers soon, promise.


Are You Serious?

If you're getting all my pop-culture references in my column sub-headings - you're on the right path!

If you’re getting all my pop-culture references in my column sub-headings – you’re on the right path!

Comics are cool; we get it; which means that 99% of folks who enjoy comics have, at least once, thought about how great it would be to work in comics. For a majority of those folks, it never moves past that fanciful thought; they simply get back to life and move on. For many others, unfortunately, when it does go beyond a mere fancy, it leaps straight to dreams of the big time, giving no thought of how to get there. Everyone wants to create the next “Walking Dead,” but most folks have no real sense of what it takes to do that, or the odds against it happening.

As a professional who runs my own studio, and a professor of comics for non-credit college-level courses, it amazes me how many people express a desire to work in comics, and yet have obviously never seriously considered just what exactly that entails. Chalk it up to the “breaking in” myth we talked about last time, or the challenge many creative types have with being practical, but still…. Yes, it’s comics, not rocket science, but any pursuit you plan to dedicate a majority of your waking life to, and hope to be able to support yourself and possibly a family doing, much less one with such intense competition, is one that you should really come to understand if you plan to pursue it seriously.

I say this, first, as someone who has proven I have that level of commitment and who made it happen for myself, so I know the importance. But I also say it as someone who has had the opportunity to be that gateway for others to start their journeys as professional creators, so I know the importance of those considerations, and how challenging it can be when someone doesn’t.

Beyond raw talent and skill, the next biggest filter most talent scouts and editors use in deciding what aspiring creators are worth the time to invest in, is if those candidates are serious about their intent. I’ve had many promising, talented people approach me at conventions, or via email, show me their work, and tell me their hopes for working in comics. Sometimes, by the second sentence, I can already tell they aren’t taking it seriously, which means no matter how great the portfolio, I’m not interested in working with them, and most likely no one else who knows what they are doing will want to, either. When I hear a stream of serious misconceptions and unrealistic expectations, I know they have no idea what they are getting into and very possibly will disappear as soon as reality sets in.

I’d much rather work with someone whose portfolio is rough, and needs definite improvement, but who shows a strong, well thought-out and intentional plan to pursue a career in comics and is genuinely seeking the kinds of critical feedback they need to grow. Why do you think recruiters for comics use that grooming process I outlined last time? Again, we don’t look for just a spark of talent, but for the makings of a true professional.

Okay, So How Do You Get Serious?

Whether you feel you’ve been serious about it or not, here are some critical first steps to take.

First, Step Back and Check Yourself

bd9936817c2a897faa74038b50191711I think the biggest and most challenging stumbling blocks for many creators are personal issues involving their perceptions of themselves and their work as well as the relationship between the two. I’ve seen it go to both extremes, positive and negative, and neither extreme is going to help you make it.

On the negative side, I know creators who have talent, and could develop the skills to do great work, but because of their low self-esteem, and them seeing any critical feedback as a total rejection of themselves as a person, they aren’t able to handle the process. I feel for those folks because that can be a huge challenge in life, and one that will impact a lot more than just a hopeful comics career. But, the simple fact is that any creator who can’t take criticism, sometimes harsh criticism, and not step back, separate themselves from their work, and take it as an opportunity to push themselves to improve, isn’t going to cut it in the industry.

If you’re one of those who wrestles with this end of the spectrum, the first step is to realize and acknowledge it. The next step may be to focus on that underlying low self-esteem and its causes, then work to realign your relationship with your craft. It can be a big challenge, but an important one on so many fronts.

On the flip side – and these are the folks we in the industry deal with more often because they keep coming back – you get folks who are overly enamored of or invested in their work. They can’t step back from it and put it and themselves in any real context or perspective, sometimes to ridiculous extremes. Yes, I’ve had potential creators present themselves to me as my good fortune they are giving me the shot to work with them, and in doing so, I should pay for everything, all in order for them to develop their ideas into mega-series telling their magnum opus. Seriously?

Now, most aren’t that bad, but yes, I’ve had folks approach me with pretty out there requests. Writers want to write prose or loose outlines for some lowly editor to adapt into a script; artists expect production folks to massage their page art to the right specs, all of whom are genuinely stunned when I say ‘not interested.’ I’ve also had portfolios put in front of me and the second I start offering critical feedback on challenges and areas of weakness, they either zone me out or argue with me. Others I’ve offered to try and help, who, when I send critiques for them to review and incorporate into their work, instead send me new material, as if maybe this round, I will see the perfection in it.

If you truly want a shot at a career in comics, you need to step back from your work and be able to view it objectively. You need to recognize you, more than likely, still have a long way to go in developing your skills and talent and be willing to work on doing just that. If you’re the exception to that rule? We need to tell YOU that, not the other way around.

Second, Step Back and Check Your Expectations


Yes, there have been creators who have done extremely well and made a lot of money in comics. Yes, there have been plenty of folks who have made full-time careers of comics, working for publishers, selling their own work, etc. But one doesn’t get to the top of those mountains by only focusing on the peak itself.

You need to do some serious reflection on what your goals are in comics. You may also need to step back in order to provide yourself the opportunity to find other goals or to achieve all the goals in between to get there. For example, a writer, or artist who is determined to write or draw the top-selling book from the top publisher, and keeps submitting pitches and portfolios solely for that position, is going to be disappointed, because that’s not how it works. Likewise, any creator who develops their own project and thinks it will surely be the next MEGA success, selling hundreds of thousands of copies and getting the movie and TV deals right out the gate, are going to learn otherwise very quickly.

You first need to reach a whole host of goals in between!

These range from very simple, initial goals, like actually learning the process and mechanics of the job itself in order to produce work in the right formats and specs. From there, to actually producing a body of work on your own or with collaborators, all with no pay so that you can get it out there yourself, on a webcomic, blog or copies you print up directly and sell at local shows.

From there working your way up to getting your work published anywhere (other than FedEx Kinkos) and having any company invest anything in your work at all, and by that, I mean working with you, putting their brand on your work, shepherding you, etc. not necessarily paying you money. Most comic publishers do not pay creators unless they are working on properties the publisher owns. Marvel and DC being the most obvious, but smaller companies with in-house properties and licenses also pay creators. But no smaller publisher is going to pay you to produce your creator-owned series, especially if you’re untried in the market.

wake-up-with-determination-go-to-bed-with-satisfaction-wake-up-quote-share-on-facebookPush hard enough, long enough, and you might start getting shorter term gigs on much lower profile books from smaller publishers or studios, or getting out some of your own projects in a finished form, for the digital, or small press markets. Keep pushing, and you might then level up, getting steadier and actual decent paying work, maybe even finally getting your foot in the door at the company of choice, or getting a project that starts building a little buzz, then slowly moving your way up further, to MAYBE finally hitting that peak.

All along the way, you have to work hard on improving your skills, finding multiple opportunities to gain practical experience and training. Hopefully, some of those will include working with those more experienced than you who will push you to up your game. Through it all, you’ll be taking a lot of beatings, disappointments, and stall-outs along the way.

You may even realize, on this particular odyssey, that you want to do something else entirely than what you started out to do. I’ve known plenty of folks who started out wanting that big job with the top two, only to find they really enjoyed the little niche they carved out for themselves along the way. Others I’ve known, and many you can point to in the industry, have reached that goal of working for the big boys, and then decided to leave that to blaze their own trails back in creator-owned.

When I originally thought about getting into comics, I wanted to be a writer for Marvel or DC. Since writers have such a hard time getting noticed, I worked on my art skills, thinking that would be my ticket. Later, I found since I had pretty solid business acumen, I was able to get my foot in the door of the industry by offering management, marketing, and business work to smaller (often desperate) publishers. That then turned into what has become Visionary, my own creative production studio, where I get to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do in comics, on my own terms. It’s been the best possible outcome for my journey, and one I never imagined when I started.

Keeping an open mind, looking for opportunities, and working steadily on improving your comic skills, including some you may not have known you had, will open doors for you moving forward that you would miss otherwise. Stay too focused on one goal, and you will miss a ton of opportunities that may end up being a better fit.

And Then?

Truthfully? Once you’ve gone through the above steps, you may change your mind about working in comics – period! You certainly may change your mind about the specific goals you want to pursue. You may find opportunities you didn’t know existed. Heck, you may even find yourself far more invested, intent, and willing to do what it takes to make it, and now, having a better understanding of what that means, having a better shot at being able to do just that.

This is a good thing; it means you’re seriously coming to terms with your overall goal of working in comics, it means you’re processing the various factors it impacts, and specifically how it will impact your life. It means you’re serious!


This week, while you all are waiting for my next pearls of wisdom, feel free to discuss this column. Start doing some serious reflection on your own goals in working in comics, and maybe ways you now realize you need to make some changes. Feel free to share your stories and revelations, and let’s see where it takes us!


Now that we’ve got that out the way, next time we’ll start laying the foundations for this career we’re building. Get practical, real-world resources to help you reach your goals! Right here!

About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!


My Comic Life Sundays: Breaking-In and Cons Galore

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Hey all, we’re back. I’ve been on the road a lot with many, many Visionary shows, and it’s thrown the schedule a tad, but we should be consistent from here!

Speaking of shows: we’ve had a great time at shows like Baltimore Comic-Con, Maryland Seafood Festival, and Annapolis Comic-Con this month. And we are live right now at Baltimore Book Festival at the Inner Harbor – in the Geppi’s Comics Pavilion right in front of the Maryland Science Center! We’re here until 7pm this evening, come by and check it out!


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My Comic Life Column 002: The Breaking-In Myth

C. Edward Sellner cropped

As someone who’s been in the industry a while and who now heads up my own studio/digital publisher, you can imagine I’ve come into contact with a LOT of people who are wanting to “break-in” to comics. It’s a phrase we hear a lot, in a lot of different settings. There are books, articles, columns and blogs online about it, and usually a couple of panels at any decent-sized convention focused on it. It’s an entrenched, mainstay phrase about comics, as well as other creative media.

And I hate it.





Breaking… Bad

See, I’m a writer; I love words. As a writer, I recognize the power words carry and how they shape our perceptions. Likewise, I know how a bad phrase can seriously misconstrue those perceptions. As Mark Twain said, “the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” To me, using the phrase “breaking in” does no one, on either side of the industry, any favors.

When I hear that turn-of-phrase, I think something fast, and then it’s over and done. It sounds like a process that is more an impulse than a thought-out plan. It feels fast and furious; it also sounds final, as if it represents the beginning and ending all in one.

Now, clearly, folks in the know don’t intend for that perception, but I often hear many shades of this mentality from aspiring creators. So it’s apparently at least some of what they hear in that phrase and now, on some level, believe that’s how it is as they seek that elusive magical formula.

005 Breaking In

Not how you Break-in to Marvel…

The truth is NONE of that has much to do with working in comics, on ANY level.

While there may be those who truly “break in”, my guess is you could count them on one hand and still have fingers left over. When there are creators that seem to burst literally onto the scene as full-blown, full-time pros? Chances are there is a large body of work that preceded their “overnight success” that you never heard of, much less read. While every creator has a unique story of how we got where we are today, most all of those stories have common touchstones, common themes that clearly show comics are anything but a “breaking-in” business.

Nevertheless, we foster that mentality in a lot of ways, from our use of the phrase itself to settings that lend themselves to quick reviews and polite feedback instead of in-depth, critical input, all the way down to a skewed media and marketplace that focuses primarily on the upper tiers of our industry. It seems at times as if all the laboring little guys, struggling to make it happen, don’t exist, much less form the vast majority.

Now obviously it’s the responsibility of any aspiring creator who wants to pursue it to learn how truly to go about “breaking- in” to comics. That said, what are the specific elements of the myth that we can dissect and counter with the facts as we better come to understand this process?

companiesThere Is No Simple “IN” or “OUT”

People’s perceptions of what it means to be “in” comics vary tremendously, and those layers of meaning make a huge difference to many other areas of life that often get overlooked.

Am I “in” comics when I make my first comic ever? Yes. Making comics, making sequential art, means you’re a comic creator. It’s a starting point and the only true “breaking-in” point because it fits. A person becomes a comic creator the second they create a comic, even if it’s a single panel doodle. By this definition, I’ve been a creator since about age 5, and started big time, with Superman. Not bad. However, simply creating comics, in itself, is most likely not your ultimate goal, right? If it is, awesome! Go, do, stop wasting your time reading this column and create! (Keep checking back, though, else we’ll miss you!)

For the rest of us, the problem is the second we move past this starting point, defining when someone has “broken in” becomes a lot more complicated. Is it when they’ve produced a complete issue or story? How about when they’re producing comics on a regular basis? Is it once they’ve established a solid fan base? Is it when their first work is published digitally or in print by an actual publisher as opposed to on their own or a vanity press? Is it when they start making any money? Is it when they’re making enough money to cover their costs for making comics? Is it when they are making enough money to support themselves? Is it when they are working full-time in the mainstream industry?

There are folks who would define “breaking-in” to be at any of the above points, and more in between, and none of those points are always inclusive of all the others before it, except mostly for that last one. There are plenty of creators who produce work regularly, or have a solid fanbase, may even be fairly well-known for their work, with books from top publishers, who essentially operate at a loss to produce those books. Or if not, certainly don’t make enough to support themselves, much less a family.

Jim Zub, creator, and writer of Skullkickers and Wayward, has posted a lot of discussion and detail on creator-owned publishing from Image – Check it out here.


There’s More Small Steps Than Big Breaks

Again, “breaking” gives that image of fast, done and over. A career in comics is much more about taking small steps, one at a time, and then having to push through multiple challenges to take the next small step. That feeling may never quite end no matter how long you’re in the industry. To use another analogy, it’s not a sprint, but a trudging marathon uphill in mud to your knees, carrying a 50-pound pack on your back.

There is no single moment that it all comes together, but lots of smaller moments when you realize you’re making headway. And yes, there are those “big breaks” along the way, but they mostly come to the folks who are steadily taking those small steps, landing them in front of the right connection at the right time, and representing a payoff of long hard work as opposed to strokes of luck or brilliant talent.

Folks who think their first positive portfolio review will mean an instant job, or who think their first paid work automatically means steady work, are in for a surprise because none of that is a given. C.B. Cebulski, perhaps the best-known talent scout in comics, has worked over a decade recruiting talent, and once commented on Twitter that he’s only hired a small handful of artists on the spot.

CebulskiHe also regularly gives AWESOME advice to folks wanting to work in comics – FOLLOW HIM!

At best, creators whose work really makes an impression will usually start a process of grooming that in itself could take months or years. Any decent talent scout or editor will look for much more than just a nice portfolio. First, they will do their research. Has this creator done actual, published comic work? Do they regularly produce new content? Do they conduct themselves professionally online and at conventions? Etc. etc. If what the editor finds hits the right marks, then the creator might be asked to do tryout pages. If the first round is solid, most often, those pages will be returned with comments focused on areas needing improvement and another round will then begin. All the while, the editor will stay up on what that creator is doing elsewhere as well, tracking their progress and growth.

In short, editors are looking for far more than a spark of talent. They are looking for skills, consistency, productivity, professionalism, persistence, growth, and dependability, as well as the ability to work under direction. They test, sometimes for extended periods, before making any offer, which means even getting on the radar usually still means a long road ahead.

The Biggest Break is at Best a Crack

This mindset is something I find even among folks who’ve been in the industry a while, and it is a set of expectations seriously skewed to the reality. Anyone who thinks their first gig for Marvel will be the X-Men, or for DC, Batman, or in fact any ongoing monthly, much less a high profile top seller, hasn’t been paying attention. Creators who get that shot at the big time will first land a short story, or an annual or special, or at best maybe a mini-series, something to “test the waters.” These provide a first opportunity to work together and to show an editor they can deliver. It also provides a gauge of how fans will respond to the creator’s work, with a limited risk investment from the publisher. Once completed, some creators then sit back and wait for the steady work to roll forth, and it doesn’t, which is why many then quickly break right back out of comics.

Visionary_CollageOnce You’re “In, You’re Just Getting Started

I’ve heard it said that as hard as breaking in to comics is, staying in is even harder, and it’s very true. No matter what level of the industry one might reach, falling by the wayside is always a possibility. I’ve known some creators whose work I grew up with and respected tremendously, who now are often struggling to get any paying work in comics at all. Some make a comeback; others don’t. Some move on to other creative fields by choice, others end up taking regular jobs just to get by. Far too many end up being the tragic stories we hear of creators whose work inspired us, who end up spending their golden years in poverty.

I’ve noticed among my circle of professional friends that the ones who keep working the most are the ones who are constantly selling themselves. They’re the ones promoting their work, doing conventions, looking for opportunities, getting their foot in any and every door they can so they can have a variety of options for ongoing work. They recognize the need to have many irons in the fire to keep steady work coming in. They know that you’re not competing once for a career with job security, you don’t get handed the chance to write the X-Men for fifty years then get a gold watch. No instead, you’re competing for every gig you will ever get, often against more experienced, connected, and published creators than yourself, so you best be ready to prove yourself each and every time.

Even once established, chances are, a majority of leads a creator encounters will end up never materializing. A fair number of others will end up being far less than originally promised. Even that elusive ongoing monthly? Well, books get canceled all the time, right? So, it’s important always to have multiple options to help ensure at least one pays off. All of which means it is an ongoing process to “stay” in comics, and one that requires regular effort and attention, and always includes a gamble.

Now That I’ve Burst All Your Bubbles…

Take heart! Because if you’re willing to shift your mindset and change your way of thinking, next week I’m going to start telling you the secrets of NOT BREAKING in, but instead BUILDING UP your comics career. Because if you make the right moves, you will vastly increase your odds of reaching your dreams. You’ll start your first lesson this week – be patient and wait to read the next column. In the meantime, go, soak in Cebulski and Zub, and tell ‘em I sent you.


Do you hate me? What was the hardest pill to swallow here? If you’re a comics pro or aspiring talent, share your own experiences. If you can prove me wrong with your story, go for it! If not, what has been the story of your journey? Let’s get some stuff rolling on the conversation front!

About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!

My Comic Life Sundays Debuts!

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We are experimenting! No, don’t worry, no mad scientist kind of experiments – at least not yet. We want to expand and spotlight our weekly content, to better engage our fans, build interest in our properties, and give folks a chance to connect with our creators in ways other studios and publishers don’t.

To that end, we’re introducing My Comic Life Sundays! A chance every week to connect with little ol’ me, Visionary’s CCO C. Edward Sellner. Every Sunday I’ll debut a brand new My Comic Life comic strip. I’ll also be rolling out the My Comic Life Column, a weekly column on building a freelance career. Hopefully, together, we’ll build a public forum for aspiring creators to learn and discuss, as well as a place for fans and myself to connect other than conventions.


020 Ingenious

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My Comic Life Column 001 – It’s a Comic Life After All

C. Edward Sellner cropped


“A COLUMN?!?” I remember saying rather acerbically. “Yeah, been there, done that.”

“And it was a good thing, so you should do it again,” replied Charlie Hall, my business partner and one of the few guys I trust to run Visionary, my little creative studio paradise.

It was another of our conversations about raising the profile of the studio and myself as a creator, and about getting out there in the media focused on our initial industry of choice. All of which was well and good, but I struggled with what exactly I could wrap a weekly column around that would be a worthwhile contribution to the comics world in general. If it couldn’t be new and different and stand out from the rest, as far as I was concerned, what was the point? Beyond that, where would I go with it? Where could I set up my little corner of the internet to feature my ongoing rants?

So I started thinking about it and trying to come up with a different angle on things, something others hadn’t done before, at least not in the same way. The more I thought about it, I realized the most unique thing about my comic life experience… has been my comic life experience.

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The Point! 

I’ve read a lot of columns that talk about a professional creator’s road to “breaking in” (I’ll talk about why that’s a lousy expression next time). Others share reflections on various experiences along the way, and still others dig into different creative aspects and focus on the “how-to” of making comics (which I did myself for a while). I’ve also read a lot of opinion columns that focus on different aspects of the industry, from indie, to digital, to retailing, etc. But most all of them feel like pieces of a larger puzzle that don’t even try to fit together into a whole.

These approaches, by themselves, never seem to incorporate the broader perspective, to show how things do indeed fit together. The creator is all about creating, the business guys all about the numbers, the big guys about a scope and scale beyond most of us, while for the little guys, it’s just the struggle, and never shall any meet in the middle. At worst many seem either blissfully unaware of other aspects of the bigger picture, or at the least, they rarely discuss how all those other pieces should tie together.

On one level, this is understandable given people’s varying expertise and the format of a weekly column. But on another level, I’ve often thought it would be nice to see something more holistic and integrated, which might focus on a given topic in any given column, but would do so in a way that encompasses more of the totality. Something that over time, brings many of those disparate elements together to paint a complete image of the comic industry, one that peers into all the little corners and brings them to light, and even more important, in focus in relationship to one another. The simple fact is, especially for us ‘little guys,’ we need to understand most all of it because we aren’t just a creator, we’re also our own agents, marketing team, legal consultant, etc., etc.

I then started thinking about my journey on this road and realized some things. First, my story ain’t like any other story I’ve ever heard about getting into comics, which, truthfully, all of us in the industry can say to varying levels. Sure, it has its touchstones that are similar, but overall, it’s been a unique path that falls a little further outside the norm than most.

Second, I have something of that broader perspective because I’ve been involved professionally in so many different aspects of the business at so many levels. I’m a published writer, colorist, artist, and editor. I’ve worked indie and have credits from major publishers, on my own work, as well as collaborating with others, and also been a paid professional working for hire. I’ve worked with brand-new creators doing their first paid work in comics, helping to bring them up in the fold, and with literal legends in the industry. I’ve also worked the business angle for a few companies, doing everything from marketing to management to licensing work, so I know both sides of that coin as well. Now, with Visionary, working from scratch, I’ve built a growing studio and digital publisher, which has created its own niche in the industry and made an impact. No wonder I want a column that tries to connect the dots to all these different aspects of the industry, and no wonder I find some of the others out there narrower in their perspective than I like. Don’t even get me started on our move into other media and now balancing multiple industries in our daily operations.

Third, I’m walking this path at a time the comics’ industry is at several very major crossroads. In many ways, NOW (I don’t think Marvel has trademarked that yet) is probably the most exciting time in comics since their original inception. A lot of what I’ve done COULD NOT have been done just five years ago. A lot of the opportunities that Visionary has jumped on—sometimes even led on—have been new opportunities that didn’t exist for long before we were there. In a couple of those areas, I like to think that we helped light the way for those who came after us.

What we’re doing at Visionary is different, it feels different, and it’s working for us, as our recent expansion announcements make clear. It’s opened incredible opportunities and allowed me to look back and realize that somewhere along the way, by my means of measurement, I’ve become successful in comics. By that, I mean I’ve accomplished a lot of the goals I originally set out for myself when I started pursuing this career. As we roll into the rest of 2016, I realize that this year marks the point where I can focus on the work I want to be doing, be picky about my jobs, work with an excellent team of top professionals, and have a blast on everything I’m doing. All that, and still make more than enough to support myself responsibly as an adult without outside employment or assistance. Imagine that!

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It’s All About Success Baby! 

Now, maybe you define success as working for Marvel or DC and having everyone in comics know your name. Fair enough, I’m not there… YET. Which may be one reason you’re wondering if I really have something valid to say.

But if you consider success to be multiple published credits, from multiple publishers; multiple current projects doing writing, coloring, and art; each of which is a book I’m invested in as a creator, love working on, and getting paid decent page rates? Then yeah, been there, doing that!

If you consider success being able to focus more and more of my time on my creator-owned work from a foundation that gives it a good shot to phase in as my primary source of support within three years while making enough as a freelancer to live comfortably? Looks that way from where I sit.

Or if you consider success as having worked with some of my idols in comics, working with top publishers and having a lot of friends throughout every level of the industry, many of whom have made a point of telling me how much they enjoy working with me and admire my work? Bagged and tagged.

If you consider success as having enough paid work to pay all your bills and do what you want, having work lined up for the next four years, and having launched a studio that has generated well over a quarter of a million dollars in contracts and investment? Yep, done that too.

So, column? Yeah, I think I can come up with something to say every week, something to share that will come from a different angle. Some will focus on my personal experiences; some will be my take on new developments or various aspects of the industry. Others will focus on looking at a solid path of getting into comics (actually the next few will do just that). Some will spin out of questions from you readers, or hit topics suggested by you. Some just might be random rants. But all of them will paint a bigger picture; all of them will look at any given topic and how it relates to the whole. I’ll also no doubt develop features and additions as we go, just to liven things up. Feel free to make suggestions, by the way. I’d love your feedback.

Hopefully, these forays will be insightful and entertaining. Heck, hopefully, they’ll be unique and a little more holistic ways of thinking about comics as an industry. As for where, well, that became obvious, right here on Visionary! Now we’ll get to see how it goes, and if anyone finds my ramblings worthwhile. (NoI’mnotnervousatallthankyouverymuch.)

I certainly hope you’ll continue to join us and join the discussion that I hope will grow out of it.


What do you mark as measures of success in the comics industry? When is someone successful or not? What would you like to see this column focus on? Share your story or add your thoughts. Let’s make it lively but respectful, because if I can’t get you people talking about stuff I’m not doing what I set out to do.


Not for the faint of heart! I dismantle the myth of “Breaking Into Comics!” There will be bubble-bursting galore! Read it Now!

About C. Edward Sellner 

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!  

Be a Visionary – Intern with Visionary Comics

CMYK_LogoVisionary Comics will be doing interviews for our internship program at both the United Fanboyz Con in Glen Burnie on October 18th, and the Annapolis Comic-Con on October 19th. Candidates should be 18 years or older and local residents to the area. They must have a passion for comics and willingness to work on growing their skills and contributing to the studio.

Preferences will be given to those showing some skills and expertise in one or more of the following: marketing, social networking, or computer skills in Word, Excel, Photoshop, or Illustrator. Interns will receive one-on-one training in practical comic related work, on actual projects in development, as well as skills in managing a freelance career and working in comics in general. Group sessions and cross-training will also take place.

The internship is an open period for as long as the intern and studio feel the relationship is mutually beneficial. Interns who excel may be offered more long term positions and / or paid work.

Download our Visionary Internship Overview.

For details on the shows check out our EVENTS PAGE.

For questions, please contact us through [email protected]://www.visionarycomics.com/

Creating Comics for… YOU?

danny 7smallNeed help creating a comic? Are you a creator looking to develop your idea into a comic? A publisher needing some support on specific titles? Or a company with a great property in some other media you want to bring into comics?

Visionary is the place to go! Check out our updated Services Page.

We can provide single services such as editing or pre-press, up to the complete development, management and creation of the comic you’ve always dreamed of!

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