ouyangdan asked:

Serious question this time: How do you approach longer narrative arcs (say, with JiM over many books and a long period of time) versus shorter narrative arcs, like, say, Origin II, or even YA, which was contained in a shorter span of books. The way you can slowly build and tell a story is something I think you in particular do well, and I was wondering what the magic is there.

kierongillen answered:

There’s a line I got off Ellis who I think got it off Gibson which is basically “you never learn to write books. You learn how to write the book you’re writing.” All long-form creative endeavours require the development of the bespoke tools to create that individual task.

In which case, I’d warn you against drawing any conclusions about the long-form plotting in JIM versus (say) the long-form plotting in Uber. They are stories happening in very different contexts.

The trick of JIM - and “trick” seems the appropriate word - was about designing for resilience. Any plans were subject to change, because I was aware I was writing the book in an era of crossovers and books that got killed after an arc. When planning for JIM, I wasn’t thinking of a master plan. I was thinking about redundancy. It was having a lot of story ideas, knowing I almost certainly wouldn’t hit them all, and looking for opportunities to tell them.

JIM subverted every single cross-over it was involved with, using it as an excuse to do something I wanted to do. For example, when EXILED was suggested, I realised I could probably use it to tell the story of THE DISIR and wheeled Dan and Andy into it.

I had exit plans at most points. I planned that JIM could end at the end of Everything Burns. In some ways, that was the realistic end for JIM, in the marketplace it existed. It would have formed a solid, narrative lump. It’s also worth stressing that the first arc was originally planned to be 8 issues, and expanded to 10 in the process of scheduling.

Reading those first 10 issues with that in mind may be illuminating about how I approached writing long-term. You can see all those plots I’ve started. These are - to use the Gaiman line - balls thrown into the air. If the book was cancelled, they would just be details, because I threw them subtly enough that they don’t leave the reader demanding an answer. There’s plots that I started there I never found a way to resolve, and no-one has ever commented on them. It’s world-building.

(The only ball that demanded to be caught was NIGHTMARE in the Mephisto issue. I threw that one harder as we were clear to do the arc after FEAR ITSELF by that point, so I knew I’d get a chance to catch it. Compare and contrast to the Throne of Hell. Yes, I use it eventually, but it doesn’t necessarily demand further elaboration.)

The other part of JIM the long-term plan for an ending. With JIM, I knew the final point specifically well, but the execution was the mystery I was journeying into. The end was basically “Two end of the world plots happen simultaneously, Loki only noticed one, so has to sacrifice his existence to avoid it.”

You’ll notice what that gives you. It gives me a lot of parts. More importantly, I’m writing it with a higher understanding of theme and character, and what the book is meant to be doing.

If anything gives a long form work that feeling, it’s that. It’s not the plan, for me. Long-form comic writing seem to demand a certain improvisation, or they sit dead. The great - say - Vertigo runs, for all the large scale plots, seem primarily devices for writers to explore their growing interests across a five year period.

In other words, too strict and brittle plotting in a long scale work when there’s so many things out of your control - including who you will be as a human being by that point - is a waste. 

(In a real way, you will discover stuff along the way, and if you haven’t, something’s gone dreadfully wrong. In serially published comics, there’s also no other choice.)

 The difference to a shorter work is that all the stuff above doesn’t apply. If you can see the end at the start, you can plan things in a more perfect way. The shorter it is, the more that’s true. ORIGIN II is much more structured than YOUNG AVENGERS was, though for considerably different effects. 

(YA was in part an experiment to see if I could get to the mad energy of those last eight issues of JIM much earlier in the run. (The answer, generally speaking, was “no”, at least not if you’re trying to do a plot as complicated as YA).)

In short, with works you can’t see the end of precisely, you’re relying on your ability to explore and develop these core concepts and themes. Who is this character? What do they want? That’s the basic writing stuff. What Do They Mean? is the big one, at least for how i do things.

You know - I contrasted UBER and JIM earlier, but I’m not sure. Yeah, UBER lacks any of the external restrictions that JIM had to dance with, but the core elements of how you do it is pretty much there. Moreso, perhaps, in that I can just think “Hey - probably time we went to check in with Maria” and lob an issue or a scene or whatever in there.

Knowing the story even if you don’t know all the specifics, I guess. Trusting yourself to be able to invent what’s required when you need it, because that gives the book a certain life.

But, as I said at the start, it’s always a book by book basis.

Resilience strikes me as a good thing to cultivate, however. Because the one thing that’s sure in comics is that something with fuck with you.



Siegfried is a comic book adaption by Alex Alice of Wagner’s classic Norse Mythos inspired opera Ring of the Nibelung, it follows the titular Siegfried on his archetypal journey toward destiny. It has been published by Archaia and volumes 1 and 2 are available now wherever fine comic…




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