FAQ – 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.