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I wrote a blog once that urged comic artists to try writing their own books. I held back a bit on what I said--Punk Rock Jesus hadn't come out yet, so I didn't feel like I had the proper authority to really speak up.

Since then, there's been a lot more discussion about the etiquette of publishers toward their freelancers, the recent rise of creator owned books, and the effects of Hollywood moving into comics (or vice versa). And as friend of mine at Newsarama pointed out recently, I'm one of a few guys who's found a middle ground--not only because I'm writing and drawing my own book, but because my OGN is partially owned by DC Comics.

Certain events of the last year have created new concerns within our industry. Do you still need to work for big publishers if you want to "make it"? Do they deliver a better product than creator owned books? Are the Big Two treating creators as fairly as they've always been? Between the rise of digital comics and comic-based movies, are creators getting their fair share? Are comic companies adapting properly to the changing landscape?

Whatever the answers to these questions might end up being, two things are becoming clear to me.
1. Now is the best time in the HISTORY OF COMICS to be doing a creator owned book.
2. Being a writer as well as an artist gives you more power, which is helpful in these uncertain times.

Frank Miller is a successful artist/writer combo. So is Paul Pope. Mike Mignola, Jeff Lemire, Bill Watterson, Will Eisner, David Lapham...the list goes on. And there are a ton of indy artist/writers that also put out a good product, although many will tell you that they don't make a lot of money doing it.

So if we know it's possible to be a writer/artists combo, why don't more artists try it?

The truth is that most attempts at being a combo fail. No one wants to be the artist who mills away for years writing (what he thinks will be) his opus, only to have it end up a laughable failure. But I think most of these attempts fail because artists don't respect writing as an individual craft--rather they think that being in comics for long enough means they've developed writing skills simply through osmosis.  

Which is bullshit. And it's disrespectful to your medium. Just because you can stand on a hardwood floor doesn't mean you know how to build one.

What are other reasons not to write? Maybe you have no desire to write. Maybe you don't think you'll be good at it. Maybe you have a family and bills that prohibit you from taking the time to pursue it properly. Or maybe you feel like the industry's attitude against writer/artist combo is too steadfast.

Some of these are good reasons. But even if you don't think you want to write, the benefit of being a artist/writer combo deserves your consideration. Don't you owe it to yourself and to your family to try make the most out of your career by wearing two hats instead of one?


My first argument is to commit to one book. Over the past 7 years and in my spare time, I've read 7 books on writing and screenplays. And while I'm no expert, I've managed to have success with Punk Rock Jesus. What does that tell me? It says that it's possible to read 7 books on writing and manage to produce something (at least) average to most comics. You might not be Mark Millar, Ron Marz, or John Arcudi on your first try, but that's okay--you're not looking for excellence, you're looking for proficiency. It's possible to pull off a decent OGN if you're willing to learn the fundamentals.

Here's a list of books I've read about writing. I suggest you pick one and read it. If you finish reading and still have no interest in writing, then that's fine--I guarantee your storytelling will have improved, as well as you ability to recognize a good/bad script. But if the book is even marginally interesting to you, then you might have the chops for a decent OGN.

Screenplay by Syd Field
Good Script, Bad Script by Thomas Pope
The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus
Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (this is a popular one lately)
Story by Robert McKee
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

I have a movie screenplay approach to my writing, which isn't necessarily the best way. In fact, you might disagree with some of the things you'll read, and that's fine. The reason I recommend the screenplay approach is because it's more efficient: you can view/dissect 4 movie plots in an afternoon, whereas a novel can take weeks to read. And I feel comics have more in common with movies than any other medium.


Working as a freelance writer for a publisher, from what I'm told by my writing friends, can be really hard and unfair. Writing's hard enough, but pleasing a publisher makes it a lot harder. Here's a list of problems you might encounter while working with a publisher:

-You're hired to write X, but then X changes halfway through. And you don't get paid extra for rewrites.
-You submit an idea when suddenly a bigger writer comes along, sees it, likes it, and takes it for his own.
-You finish a plot, but are then told you can't use certain characters because another writer wants to use them.
-You have to write plots that you don't like--plots sometimes  invented by people who don't know what they're doing.
-Someone might chang your dialog without telling you. And you don't find out until it's on the stands.
-You're ready to get started, but the publisher puts it on hold. Or artist X spends too much time on Twitter and not enough time hitting his deadlines, the bastard.

These problems are mostly avoidable if you're doing your own stuff. Even if you're not as good as a professional writer, the grueling editorial process imposed on most writers might be enough to give you an edge.


While publishers have the most money, the best creators and the best distribution/advertising, they're still LIMITED from doing whatever they want. Batman brings a lot of money into DC, and while they want to have the best Batman stories possible, a writer can't do anything he wants with the character. They need Batman to be relatively unchanged, because merchandizing and movies necessitate it. That's obviously why comic "deaths" aren't usually permanent, and we all know it can lower the quality of the books. Now when Captain America dies, some of us just shrug. That's the cost of the "limiter" on comics--it keeps us from telling the Shakespeareanly-epic stories that freelancer writers are capable of.

In a way, a major publisher is like BMW--they've got a recognizable brand, a long history, and more capital than a "do-it-yourself-er" in a garage. BMW can afford to spend $100,000 to make sure the sound of the locking mechanisms isn't too loud. They even makes some of the best engines--some are so fast, that they even put a limiter to make sure it doesn't go over 200 mph.

Now why would BMW add a limiter? Why build an amazing engine and then stop it from reaching maximum performance? The reason is this: adding the proper brakes, suspension and other gadgets that allow a car to go over 200 mph safely would make that car too expensive. In other words, BMW wants to make an impressive car, but they know it's not practical to make it go "full tilt".

So what's Punk Rock Jesus?

PRJ is a custom car built in a shed by a single mechanic, me. While it might not compete with BMW, it does have some of the same parts (same paper, drawing supplies, DC distribution, and a DC editor). I also have the help of a BMW caliber designer (me the artist). And while I don't have the normal pit-crew BMW has (DC colorist, writer, inker, or the recognition of a character like Batman), I also don't have a limiter so I'm relatively free to make the car as fast as I want (I can create any character, subject, background, kill anyone at will, etc). At the end of the day it might not be a Z4, but my car just might beat it in a drag.


Sometimes I think it's better to be a combo artist/writer on a "C" level book than an artists on an "A" level book.

As I said before, being a writer gives you more power. Even if your script isn't at Scott Snyder level, at least it's YOURS. Tons of artists talk about doing their own thing one day, but you actually DID IT. You'll gain new readers, do more interviews, be invited to more shows--a writer/artist combo is way more likely to get comped at a convention because for the same price, they're flying in both the writer and the artist--YOU.

Yes, being on Batman is also great, because Batman is giving you a boost. But it's easy to forget that Batman is going to outshine you, and many people won't give your art the attention it deserves. That doesn't happen when you're doing your own book.


In my opinion, artists who have been in comics for decades but OWN NOTHING are irresponsible.  After years of toiling away on your craft, dragging your ass to shows, pouring thousands of hours of sweat into pages and commissions, you never found the time on the side to do even ONE 4-issue miniseries that you own?!

Shame on you. Even if you didn't want to write, you could have owned something with a writing friend.

Owning something that turns into Hellboy is unlikely, of course. But ownership of your characters pays off in lots of little ways. Maybe a second edition will make you some extra cash. Maybe the European editions will make you more. Maybe you've got enough of a hit to get more money for a sequel. Maybe  you saved your process sketches and can sell a sketchbook on the side. Or maybe it won't get made into a movie, but the option money alone could pay for a mortgage.

With the digital age of comics, writing and drawing your own stuff is easier than ever. Big publishers are nervous about the options small press and self-publishing offer--and they should be, especially when you see what some of these guys are getting on Kickstarter! Even if you decide writing isn't for you, I just wanted to write this post and encourage you to give it more thought.

Good luck.
  • Listening to: Beethoven piano sonatas
  • Reading: Attack of the Theocrats
  • Watching: Science Channel
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thejohncarmine Featured By Owner May 2, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
"you're not looking for excellence, you're looking for proficiency."
Fuckin' A.   Well said. You going to Heroes con this year?
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner May 5, 2014
Not this year, sorry to say.
rmendesjr Featured By Owner Sep 11, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Hey Sean, I'm a new fan.

Of the screenplay and writing books you've read, can you recommend a couple?

Great post.

seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Sep 11, 2013

Screenplay by Syd Field

Good Script, Bad Script

Story by MacKee

Andrewhuerta Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2015  Professional General Artist
I'm a comic artist and I'm currently working on my own comic, drawing AND writing, but writing is tough! So I had to come back to this to help me out. 

I know artists/writers have different methods, but when it came to PRJ, did you have the ending already figured it out before you started? Or did you figure it out as you went on?
rmendesjr Featured By Owner Sep 11, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I see you did. Thanks
johnchalos Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2012  Professional General Artist
I understand why some artists aren't interested in writing but I've always loved both and I hope to tell my own stories very soon. Thanks for the encouragement.
aNg76 Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2012
Thanks for this, I've been kicking an idea around in my head and you might have given me the courage to give it a go! You rock
RangyRougee Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2012  Professional General Artist
Hey Sean! So Im reading this like, 2 months late...but it rings so true though.
Since I was born everyone keeps telling me that I should work for Disney, or Pixar/Dreamworks whatever.
The truth is the older I get, the more I want to do my own thing and work for myself. Work on my own creations and dreams.

I'm on it, but it's hard as hell, since virtually nobody gives a crap cuz I'm not famous.
It's discouraging to be making something that you know is up to par and sometimes even better than what "the pros" are churning out there, and still get absolutely no recognition due to the lack of popularity.
Still, I won't give up. Making it better is the only way to succeed.
AndrewKwan Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Awesome post. It really IS a great time for creator owned properties. Working part time in a comic cook shop and seeing the growth of new creator owned comics (especially ones being published by Image and such) makes me wanna work harder at returning to me own cast of characters and stories a created a while back. Definitely gonna check out some of the those books you mentioned too!
Teknik1 Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Very inspirational post. Even though I don't have nearly the art skills, nor the ambition to really improve it, it's inspirational to me in other fields as well. Mostly you point of view is what I like to see in artists of any kind, and my favourite thing about comics have always been OGNs. But I think the same goes for film making for example. I've been wanting to make a short film or something of the sort for a long time now, but writing has always been my weakness. Your post is helping towards inspiring me to write that short film I've been wanting to make. So thank you for that.
Rockness-Monster Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
I love your posts. They are always very inspirational and informative. I am having a hard time turning my ideas into good stories. I will check out some of your recommended books and hopefully that will help.

Keep the awesome posts coming!
JTGuilber Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2012
Hey, Sean! That's a very nice post. I have a series of text fragments with me, aside my sketches. Merged in a world of doubts about where and when start writing in more detailed way. for sure this post comes to brings more energy.
Thank you very much for sharing it.
God bless your lines and words.
JTGuilber Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2012
PS.: Beethoven was the soundtrack around here too. hehe
reveur59 Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2012
I know those talents are very different one from another and some great team made incredible books or collection. But my favorite characters always came from one creator, stories and drawing. I am more in french comic than american. There it is more commun to see artist doing everything. Such great creators like Hugo Pratt (Corto Maltese), Andreas, Cosey or Moebius (sometimes alone sometimes with someone else), The fact is maybe they aren't the best technicaly but they have a strong identity and personality. I can't imagine working with others. Maybe I am too selfish or dificult. ;-)

DeaconStone Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Brilliant and well stated, thank you for this fantastic piece of writing.
EarthmanPrime Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
This is quite amazing. I saw the link on CBR, and followed it. I really liked what you had to say, thank you for saying it.
Hellequin0 Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2012
Great post, tks !
GenjiGlove Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2012  Student General Artist
I have had this very topic mulling around in my brain for almost a year now and I have been sitting on the fence. Your insight really pushed me to go for it.

Thank you good sir.
GREYY Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2012
sean, its great to see your talents here. you bring up some great points to add to everyone's awareness.
Nicky-Fingaz Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2012
Amateur here with a non-art related job. I don't know what it's like to be a pro and to have to wager your food/rent money on a solo project. So, i'm leaving those concerns to you and the other pros in the discussion. I have a few thoughts.

The comic market is very weird right now. Kids dig the superheroes but are consuming via TV/movies/games not comics. Comics just are not really in the picture. It looks like webcomics are the best angle I can see although I'm not sure how to make it profitable. Subscription-based, advertisement-based, combo? We're in a media transition mode right now, particularly between generations. I'm 39 and I'm still paper based. My parents are almost 70 and barely look at the computer. Paper and paper sales are probably going to trend down as tablets become ubiquitous. I know I'm not presenting an solutions, just more questions, but it's worth thinking about to some extent, I think.

Webcomics are also very interesting to me in that although they are technically new, they are actually nearly identical to the origins of comics - the comic strip. As webcomics become a greater percentage of comic consumption it's actually a return to an older model. The daily/weekly strip model, with cliffhanger endings every page or 4 panels.

Secondly, comic strips have always been the product of 1-2 people at most. Very often 1 person. And s/he would be called a cartoonist. I think this is really about the return of the cartoonist. Hal Foster, Alex Raymond, Milt Caniff. Just thinking.

I think DC and Marvel are attached to their properties and not so much the medium, particularly as they are owned by Time/Warner and Disney now. It's all about the business for them. I love the comic book form, you can't expect a business head to necessarily do that. Go watch The Corporation documentary and you'll see why. You can't count on Marvel/DC to maintain the art of comics. I think we have to think better than they do about keeping the medium. That's a little grandiose, but I'm thinking there are opportunities to go around DC/Marvel and get newer generations into comics as a medium.

There's a big benefit to having characters you are unafraid to kill. Look at AKIRA or Full Metal Alchemist. Long runs, good stories and especially good art by Otomo. No offence to Arakawa but some of the art on AKIRA is just off the hook. Batman can't really die. It's just stupid. I would have let Bruce Wayne age and die or retire and then pass on the mantle to a new Batman that represented the culture of the early 1960s and then again the 80s, 2000s, etc. New tragedies to give him or her the drive to by a dark avenger type.

Before I ramble even further, I'd study the crap out of Joss Whedon's TV work as a writing exercise. Individual stories that add to the seasonal story arc. I just like Whedon, but that's my thoughts. His style is very adaptable to typical comic book action/adventure long form storytelling. The TV series I feel are more instructional than the comics he wrote.

Cutting it short even though this is really very long.

neilak20 Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Super glad they added the "fave" function for journals!
You've given me more confidence to push forward on my personal projects! I"m gonna finish something damnit! Rarg!
BlastedDead Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
Interesting advice, I'm definitely going to check out some of the book you listed. It totally makes sense to go from a screen writing perspective, since comics are essentially storyboards, and therefore more akin to a movie then a novel. In fact, they are almost a hybrid of a movie and novel, in a way.
RodGallery Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2012  Professional General Artist
Man, this post is one of your best ones. Just inspired me as hell. I always thought like that, even when I had 18 years old. I already release two comic books here in Brazil that got a good success named Spirit of Amazon and Ronin Soul. But you know, I always had to draw to pay my bills. So I stay some years without publish my own comic books.

I spend 6 years working only with Concept Art, I even worked 2 years in Australia inside a video game studio, now back to Brazil, I had the feeling that we are living in the best age to do your own comic book.

Many years ago, when I released Ronin Soul and Spirit of Amazon,we didn't have You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Iphone, Ipad, now is the opportunity for all artist. I agree with you 1000%.

And this is why I'm getting back to comic book industry doing my own comic books again. Pretty soon I will release a portal website with many of my new comic book stories and Characters.

And you was one of the artist that inspired me to do that.:) Thank you for this man.
PagodaComics Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2012  Professional General Artist
WOAH, thank you VERY much for the book suggestions!!!
In fact it was exactly my probelm. Though I'm confident that I could pull out a decent art for my story (and improve further in time), I really had issues with writing and I didn't even really know how to approach the problem in the first place. But since I REALLY wanna tell the story I have no choice but to learn it anyway, just didn't know how to start. I made a little progress already where I don't feel so lost but it's very helpful to get a good source about writing. :)
ika-siyam Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2012
Over here in the Phiilppines, most of the big publishers aren't that willing to invest in comics. There are a few titles in the regular bookshops, but around 85% of the local comics are self published.

So most of the local comic here are indies (when photocopied/risograph comics are also considered small press). Not everyone is top caliber, BUT it's actually the underground comics that keeping the small industry alive. Heck, even one of them got an Eisner nomination (Elmer by :icontagasanpablo: ).

As for the writer/artist combo, there are a lot over here, but people are still willing to have the writer-artist tandem. But mostof them have no publisher support . But they'er also getting into the e-book market, so I think mostof them can do away with the controlling publishers.
Sakanami Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2012   General Artist
Japanese manga artists have been successful in being a one-man combo, so I believe this is possible in other markets such as the US, too, even if the latter has been used to the team system. Thanks for this inspiring article, Sir! :)
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2012
Good to hear. Although I know a lot of manga artists hire assistants?
Sakanami Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2012   General Artist
Yes, most of them do. :)
BenjiCS Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2012  Professional General Artist
Such great inspiration sir. I'm excited to see where our industry is in a few years, slightly scared, but hopeful overall. Thanks for oyur words and work!
machu9292 Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012
does this mean you are going to be writing more and more of your own stuff in the future?
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2012
Good question! I'm not sure. PRJ is a LOT of work. I might be happy to work with other writers for a long time.
bcfire Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012  Student Digital Artist
What do you think of the flip side of a writer/artist combo? A writer who dabbles in art instead of an artist that dabbles in writing? Do you think a well written book with mediocre art is worth the sweat and tears? Or do you think the writer should find an artist that could give better visuals?
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2012
It would be great if writer picked up drawing tools, but I feel like it rarely happens. Even if the art turns out sub-par, there still a lot of heart in that book, you know? I think it would be great to see some try it.
NeoDesignz Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012  Professional
Well said.
LicianDragon Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I turned to writing out my story as a "necessary evil" for not wanting to slow pace of a full blown comic but over the past year and half I've warmed up to the idea of writing and this has helped me a lot with that :)
tygriffin Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012  Professional General Artist
Thanks for the encouragement! Your post couldn't have come along at a better time for me. :)
Hawk-619 Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012  Student Digital Artist
Thank you so, so much. You know, I was thinking about making my own story theese lasts days becouse I'm collaborating in a project in which I do not own or going to own nothing only to make myself a name... The universe is talking, I guess. I'm definately reading all the books I can find from your list.

Bests from Spain, Sean. I'm a big fan of your work :hug:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012
Gracias! Thanks for reading.
nandop Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Hey man, very awesome post!

I started my own book on my blog a couple of years back cause after spending a few years drawing indy comics written by other dudes (which were great btw) and making no money, I figured if Im gonna draw for free, might as well be my own thing.
Also books like your Off Road, Reys Sharknife, Scott pilgrim and a few others inspired me to think it was possible and it might find an audience.
Then it got into Graphicly as a monthly book, and then 215ink picked up for digital and print release.

Last August 29th the printed version came out in stores. Its 160 pages long and its called Warped!

Ive read PRJ and loved it, but it was OFF Road back around 08 that inspired me, in part, to do it.

Thanks for that :)
stucklessportfolio Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012  Professional General Artist
Glad t ohear NOW is a good time to try being an illustrator/author. Good Journal entry.
origami-mimi Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2012
From a purely amateur perspective on things, I came into art by means of writing, rather than the other way around. And reading this has made me realize that maybe art is viewed differently in the comics industry? Or the role of an artist, anyway. Because I always thought that prose and art had in common their reliance on story-telling, that words and sentences created narrative tension and art did the same with composition and colors, with character traits being built into the physical appearance of characters.

Or maybe artists look at different things when they read comics, and don't get giddy at all the little bits of world-building or tension that was planted three chapters ago and is just now paying off. I guess if you typically work panel by panel stringing together a world on a larger scale might be unfamiliar and difficult - not that it's exactly easy for people who are familiar with it, either - but in my head the two didn't seem that different until now. They both tell stories, after all.

Anyway, sorry for babbling and thank you for another informative post! [link]
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012
Thanks for reading! Yes, they really do separate the two jobs here. It's good and bad at times.
origami-mimi Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2012
please ignore that link, I have no idea how that got in there aslkdjf;.
augustustodopoderoso Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Damn you, Murphy! You reminded me that I have to re-write the second chapter of my OGN and then...well, start drawing it. Or... I can write a new one called Hair Metal Evital, its about an Evita clone that gets sick of performing the Evita musical over and over, and escapes to start a Hair Metal band. Im sure it will sell like 12 dollars :)
Good reading, dude.
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012
Add some muscle cars, and you're there.
Muady Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2012
People like James Stokoe blow my mind. Orc taint is just... its hard to belive one man could even draw it on his own.

I have a hard time seeing myself work with others actually, even if my skills are weak i still want things done to my original plan.

Im writing a novel at the moment, as my drawing skills are very weak. But once im done with that i would very very much want to create my own comic.
I just hope it wont take as long as the novel is taking...
nadyasonika Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2012
Great post, Sean!
WestEnder Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2012
I know this is more for industry guys, but it makes me feel better about giving it a shot. May not end up the best, but I've got to try go for it once.
rodavlasalvador Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2012  Professional General Artist
I am on my way. Thank you for this post, it was a boost on my determination.
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