Home > Blog > FAQ – Could My Screenplay Make a Good Graphic Novel?

FAQ – Could My Screenplay Make a Good Graphic Novel?

“Could my screenplay make a good graphic novel?”

People often ask me that because they have a script that hasn’t sold and they don’t know what to do with it. For whatever reason Hollywood studios have passed on it (not necessarily for a good reason, mind you), and the writer’s agent or friend has comforted the writer by saying, “Maybe it would make a good graphic novel.”

That’s a great idea! The writer feels like the project has a second life. They feel liberated from the Hollywood gatekeepers. Their script will become a graphic novel and everyone will love it and Hollywood will pay a million dollars for the film rights and the writer will blow raspberries at everyone who didn’t believe in their project at the beginning. Ha!

There’s only one problem: the writer doesn’t know anything about the process of making a graphic novel. So, they come to me asking, “Could my screenplay make a good graphic novel?”

Let me answer everyone who could possibly ask that question by saying a graphic novel can tell any story that film can (utilizing its own strengths, of course), so, yes, a good screenplay could be adapted into a good graphic novel. But the real question is:

Do you really want to make your screenplay as a graphic novel in the first place?

When thinking about adapting your screenplay into a graphic novel, here are a few (potentially sobering) things to consider before jumping in:

1. Changing mediums will not save a poorly written story.

If studios, agents, directors and film stars all turned down your script, it’s likely your script isn’t very good and needs to be rewritten. Publishers are sent hundreds of scripts a week that have been tossed at them as though the graphic novel industry should be grateful for Hollywood’s rejects. Don’t join the trend. If the story stinks the medium won’t change that. Take the time to make the story good.

Do you have beta readers (a group of fellow writers and readers who give you tough-but-fair notes about your story before you send it out)? If you don’t have beta readers, get some. If your beta readers said “good script” and everyone else said “this stinks,” get new beta readers.

Send your script to story consultants. Often, they are the best beta readers you can get because many have industry and/or writing backgrounds, they aren’t biased to you (friends and family can make terrible beta readers because they are too nice), and they are skilled at giving notes in a constructive way. If you can afford it, try three different consultants and see who you like to work with. Who tried the hardest to help you? Who improved the script the most? (Shameless plug: Graphic Novel Story Consulting. UPDATE: I’m not currently taking any story consulting gigs. Thank you.)

Making the story great will take time, which can be a bummer, especially if you’ve been working on something for a long time already. But switching mediums won’t make things go faster, in fact it’ll take just as long if not longer.

2. It usually takes more time to make a graphic novel than it does to make a film.

How is that possible? Drawing can’t take that long.

Oh yeah? Consider this: DC can get a 32-page comics done in a month, which is often 20-22 pages of comics with 10-12 pages of ads. So, lets say 20 pages a month, and that’s usually starting with a script that was written the month before.

“Okay,” you say, “if my graphic novel is 200 pages, it can be done in 10 months. That’s doable.” But also be aware that a single DC issue has a separate penciler, inker, colorist and letterer and there is typically little to no time for revisions. Artists are often left to make decisions about the final product that are completely independent of the writer. So, if you want to make revisions, or be involved in the creation of the final product, it’ll take more time.

If you have signed with a publisher, then once the content of the book is done (which, depending on how many artists are assigned to your project, can take 1-4 years, if not more), it will still be a year before it hits shelves in order to print the books and maximize the marketing campaign.

If you have not signed a deal with a publisher, then your graphic novel has become a vanity project. You are now the boss. DC can pressure their artists to meet their deadlines for low pay because they’re DC and the artists’ work will be seen by many readers. You are most likely not as big as DC. Because of that, you will need to be more flexible with your schedule and offer better pay to compete for good artists, which brings us to…

3. Producing a graphic novel costs thousands of dollars.

How are you going to pay a penciler, inker and colorist to complete 200 pages? If you’re about to say, “They’ll do it for the experience,” you need to wake up. You’re not going to get a team and definitely not professional quality art for free. If you offer that, you’ll get someone who doesn’t draw well and/or doesn’t know what they’re signing up for (and will leave your project as soon as he/she realizes how much work they are doing for free — or at least, they should).

“Okay, okay,” you say, “So, how much does it cost to have freelance professionals pencil, ink and color 200 pages?” The 13th edition of the Graphic Artists Guild’s Handbook Pricing and Ethical Guidelines says freelance pricing is:

Pencils: $100-400 per page

Inks: $75-300 per page

Colors: $100-150 per page

So, at your lowest, a single page (with separate artists or all three tasks done by one artist) = $275.

$275 x 200 pages = $55,000!

And that’s the low end of the scale. The high end costs $850/page (x 200 = $170,000!!!).

“That’s crazy,” you say. “Publishers don’t pay that much.” You’re right, but publishers also offer royalties, shelf space in bookstores and brand recognition. And if the publisher is as big as DC or Marvel, the artists’ work will be seen by thousands, if not millions of loyal readers (not to mention artists can sell their original pages to DC and Marvel collectors for more money).

If you are not going to pay the going rates, what do you have to offer? If the artist(s) love the story, they may do it for less money (see #1 again). What else?

To summarize: Make the story great. Know that it will take time. Make friends with editors and publishers at conventions. Send them your script and see if they’ll buy it. If they don’t and you still want to do it, start saving money, fundraising, or learning how to draw.

It can be done. And if Hollywood was dumb enough to pass on your awesome script, I want to see it as a graphic novel. But, the question is: Do you want to?

I hope that helps.

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  1. 06/24/2011 at 12:54 PM

    Great post. I have turned my script into a graphic novel not because Hollywood doesn’t want the story, but because it’s perfect for the graphic novel medium. Art by Iain McCaig (Star Wars I,II,II, Harry potter, Dracula) and Liberum Donum (Kingdoms of Grace)

    Preview:

    http://www.aquarianna.com

    It’s a lot of work, but I am confident we’ll get it out there, just need a publisher!

  2. 11/11/2011 at 4:47 PM

    Tim, thanks for the concise and straight-forward explanation of the process and the cost of turning a screenplay into a graphic novel. I am a produced screenwriter with a screenplay that I thought would translate well to a graphic novel for a great pitching platform, but now think maybe the time and expense would not be justified.

    • 11/14/2011 at 10:23 AM

      Hey Jim. Glad to have spared you the expense (both financially and timewise), but I hope my tough love won’t keep you from trying something that’s important to you. If you want to see your work as a graphic novel, go for it. Make it a labor of love. Take what I’ve said here as the challenge to get over and around. A pitching platform would require only a few sample pages, am I right? That would cost a bit upfront to see if a financial backer would be game for funding your work. If it’s important to you, you can make it work.

      • 11/14/2011 at 4:36 PM

        Doh. Tim you make a valid point. And considering that one of the screenwriter workshops I teach concerns how to use the creation of a Quick Pitch into a tool to explore and heighten the key sequences in a screenplay, I need only look to my very own process to uncover the few sample pages I would need. I guess it was an example of not seeing the forest for the trees. Thanks.

  3. P.G.
    03/22/2012 at 6:13 PM

    I think a fundamental issue was NOT addressed in this particular discussion. One that should come before any other consideration, either of quality or cost:
    Should it BE a comic?
    By that people I mean an issue rarely mentioned except by comic creators (eg writer-artists, those who are simultaneously BOTH) like Scott McCloud, Dave Sim, Paul Pope, Dave McKean and others, that the intrinsic nature of comics is very, very, very different from that of film. Quite simply, it’s static and soundless. You are not forced to view it at the film’s speed, but can either skim or take your time. Secondly, the nature of static art is that it can do much more than a film image can.
    Examples:

    These are an example of something that a comic can do that film should never even try. The different representation of space and time.

    It is a lazy and uniformed screenwriter that simply tries to make something that should only work as a film (if it was a good film script, it would only work as a film) work in a completely different mode of communication – comics. It shows you neither understand comics, but perhaps more fundamentally worrying, you do not understand writing, and what can be said in different mediums.

    The use of film-scripting tools adds to this misconception, that comics is a ‘secondary’ choice. I recently spent an hour at a comic signing with a comic-writer, who had made his fame writing film scripts, one of which became quite famous. Everytime he talked to the comic fans that came up, he would insist he was ACTUALLY a screenwriter. His comic was not terribly good.

    Comics are not films, films are not comics. Conflate writing for the two at your peril.

    Undoubtedly some readers of this may disgaree, either out of personal investment in the process of conversion, or a hopefulness arising from the current comic-to-film conversion rate increase.
    SO. Let me ask you a question that will test whether you understand what I mean. Would you know how to convert your dialogue from film to comic? No? Or, if yes, do you think it just means shortening it? Not quite. Do you understand where a speech balloon should be placed in a panel, and how that affects where the next person’s speech balloon should be placed? Or the next step up, where in turn THESE affect the choice of placement of speech balloons on the NEXT panel? Why should you be interested in this? If you don’t know that this should be something a comics writer needs to be aware of when writing, to aid the artist, and more importantly, how the reader’s eyes will move over the page (yes, there is a general pattern understood to be natural and therefore informing the structure of what you write), then you need to not only think twice about conversion, but perhaps admit you shouldn’t come near comics in the first place.

    • 03/23/2012 at 6:28 PM

      Thanks for the comment, PG. I completely agree that there are elements left unsaid in my post.

      I would like to take a moment and say that the majority of individuals who have come to me asking the FAQ of this post have come out of respect for the comics medium. The fact that they are asking questions in the first place is a sign of respect.

      There are indeed many film writers who view comics as a “secondary” medium, just as there are comics creators who consider film as “secondary” to comics. Personally, I don’t have a side in that argument. I like them both and I enjoy exploring and learning from the similarities they share just as much as the differences.

      I also think that stories can be told in many different mediums. A story that works well as a novel can work well as a film (sometimes better, sometimes worse, sometimes equally as well but in different ways), and a story that works well as a film could work well as a comic when tailored to the medium’s strengths.

      Lastly, I doubt any screenwriter knows the answers to your questions in the last paragraph right off the bat. They need to try writing scripts and learn through practice. If they are still game for adapting their work despite the three points I made above, then I think they will seek out the answers to your questions. The point of this post was not to discuss HOW to actually adapt a screenplay but whether or not they are up for it in the first place, considering the investment of doing so. I also think that not knowing the answers to your questions doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. In fact, I think that’s a reason to get excited. Explore the medium! Expand your skills as a writer. Take what you’ve learned in one medium and apply it to the other. Mashup! See what happens.

  4. Troy
    01/29/2013 at 10:26 AM

    This is very true. I have been working in my graphic novel for about 6 months. I am doing everything myself including the art. It is a very time consuming process. I don’t think many people realize the amount of work that goes into this level of art.

  5. 03/14/2013 at 11:58 AM

    This video tackles some of the questions you raise: http://youtu.be/mzu-mfNYW9E

  6. IllustratedForVertigoAndDarkHorse
    06/19/2013 at 1:23 AM

    A video created by anyone who has worked for Dark Horse or Marvel or DC or the like can answer such questions, or a video created by someone who can greenlight a comic-to-film project for actual money. If not, then not. “Dabblers” and debutantes never create work that is “the same” or is as desirable to execs as people who have bothered to put over 7 years of self-raining into comics or screenwriting (specifically), and no amount of seminars from “The Writers Store” can change that. Also, the Elephant In The Room: fanboy crap is always crap. The only people who get offended by that are…. you guessed it, fanboys. Bad spec scripts by wannabes who just “wannabe” Kring, from Supernatural, or any of the goobers who afflicted us with Grimm or The Cape, always are laughed at, no matter how politely contact-people at studios respond or how much an agent bullsh*ts you.

    If you write from a “wahhhhh, I wanna be Neil Gaiman, wahhhhh” perspective, without being willing to do the many things Neil has done ASIDE from writing, you will never rise above “fanboy level” and no studio needs to pay fanboys. They can have fanboy interns for free. If your work looks like just one more forgettable page from any free art portfolio website or face book page, no-one in Hollywood or Britain gives a crap. Seriously. The most important thing you can do, which is nigh-impossible for most Gen Y’s and half of Gen X, is resist the urger to cut off your own whing-wang and tackle by gutlessly co-opting someone else’s stuff, plagiarizing their work and barely changing it at all, then pretending you have a “hot new property” to shop around. You ALWAYS get seen for what you are when you do that, and all money and time you spend on getting a derivative comic together to show the suits is WASTED.

  1. 06/03/2011 at 9:40 AM

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