The latest comic from Sean Phillips & Ed Brubaker [and colourist Jacob Phillips] dropped this month and it’s a masterclass in so many things I love, but I want to shout out one particular thing I took from it that can inform me as a writer [and thus I might start a pseudo-series on things I learn from what I read/watch that I take into my writing, and maybe you can take into yours].
I’m grateful to live in the era of Phillips/Brubaker, because every single one of their collaborations has been sublime. I really dig how this new book is a graphic novel release, and not done in single issues first. I love the OGN format and style and seeing the people at the pinnacle of the form shift into this gear inspires me to do more of the same [as I’ve already done with ETERNAL and SHE, and have many plans to do more].
But this isn’t my lesson, my lesson is *COMPLETELY A SPOILER OF A STORY ELEMENT, SO DON’T READ ON UNLESS YOU’RE OKAY WITH THAT*
Okay, you’ve been sufficiently warned, here goes:
Reckless is a story about a guy who is a kind of criminal handyman. He fixes jobs from time to time, and takes money for it, and so I was ready for a seedy criminal underworld tale, which is what we get.
But about a dozen pages into it, or so, they drop this little nugget of information that adds an extra layer to the character that I appreciated.
This criminal Mr Fix It, well, he’s ex-FBI. It plays into the story, but I didn’t know it coming into the story, and the moment I read it, it made me see Ethan Reckless in a whole new light, which was cool. I don’t think they specifically hid it in the lead up to the book - perhaps I was never paying attention, and it was totally announced - but I appreciated finding this out *in* the story.
So, what did I learn? To make my characters multifaceted. Give them a little extra layer, something to make you understand them more, to build up their history. This can be as simple as a character always wearing sneakers in any situation, or it can be a reveal they’re into devil worship. A quirk, or a huge back story keystone, it’s all something to build points of connection to, which sharp audiences will use very well in their reading.
And to do that not in the press releases, but in the pages, is the way to do it. Don’t make it an incredible twist that I need to sell the book, and don’t make it something where the story described without it won’t work, but make it something that’s purely additive. Write about a superspy sent to take out a foreign power, and then in the pages reveal their son lives in that country and works for the other side. Write about a teacher trying to get funding for a program for troubled youths, and then reveal in the pages that they are married to two different people and unfold the chaos that also brings them on the side.
Or, y’know, better examples. Your examples. Have fun, I know I will.