Thursday, November 21, 2013


I'm often asked about script formats for comic books.  (I remember it being an unfathomable mystery to me before I entered the business.)  The answer is that—although there are general rules to adhere to—there are as many formats as there are writers and the template is evolving all the time.  When I started in the business at DC Comics, my first editor—the always wise and insightful Paul Levitz—handed me a sample script, explaining the way the page should be broken down:  I've pretty much followed that template ever since.   

In the end, it's easier to show than tell, so here are the first three story pages of one of my all-time favorite projects, The Life and Times of Savior 28.  (I pondered including the entire script, but it runs to nearly seventy pages, which seemed excessive.) Keep in mind that this is how I do it.  Other writers approach the script in different ways—but everyone is breaking the story down by page, panel, captions and dialogue. 

What you see below is called Full Script.  There's also the so-called Marvel Method, where the writer presents the artist with a detailed plot outline.  The artist then draws from the plot, the art goes back to the writer who then provides the dialogue and captions.  I'll post a few pages of plot soon and discuss that method in more detail.

The advantage of Full Script is that the writer is in complete control of the materials: the visuals and pacing, the flow and rhythm, of the story are in his hands.  But the truth is, however specific your script may be, ten different artists will turn that script into ten different reading experiences.  Some will raise your story up to heights you never dreamed of, others will drag it down and kick it in the head for good measure. A few will magically pull the pictures directly out of your head and draw them exactly as you imagined them.   There's nothing more exciting for a comic book writer than that moment when the art arrives and you see your story exploding across the page. (Savior 28 was illustrated by Mike Cavallaro, one of my favorite collaborators.  If you pick up the series, you'll see how brilliantly he brought this sequence to life.) 

Give the script a read and, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section.  

The Life and Times of Savior 28 is ©copyright 2013 J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallaro 


  1. So Dematteis, What's your favorite Tommy Roe song?


    1. Well, THAT'S a strange and random question. I don't remember many of his songs—but I do recall that my best friend growing up was obsessed with a Roe song called "Dizzy": in fact that became his nickname for many years.

  2. I'm going to have to bust out my copy of Savior 28 and compare and contrast! I love this kind of behind the scenes stuff...I'm almost more a fan of the process than the actual finished product. If I like something in the comics or film world, I want to take it apart and see what makes it tick. And I really enjoyed Savior 28, especially as I tried to keep it in context with the end of your Captain America run.

    Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving! :)

    1. Happy Thanksgiving right back at you, Ken.

      I know what you mean about being a fan of the process. I sometimes enjoy watching DVD extras, where they go behind the scenes, more than I enjoy the actual movie. I can listen to Beatles outtakes for endless hours, studying the stage of progression as their music takes shape.

  3. The scripting is interesting stuff. It makes me wonder...When a writer takes control of a character, how much editorial control over the character's present and future does he get? Presumably, you can't kill or marry off a "house brand' hero without approval. What about other changes, like adding a girlfriend, sidekick, major disfigurement, tampering with prior history, etc.? Does it vary by character and publisher? Rick

    1. Yes, it really does depend on the character, Rick, the editor, the mood of the company. It's always easier to make those major changes with the more obscure characters. Back when I was writing DEFENDERS at Marvel, I had a group of second and third stringers which I could do anything I wanted with. Lots of freedom there. Same when Giffen and I launched Justice League.

      At the same time, when you look at something like KRAVEN'S LAST HUNT, which was very radical for its day. you'd think that Marvel would have balked at such a strange, dark story that ended with the suicide of a major villain, but nobody blinked; in fact I was encouraged and supported by everyone from the editor-in-chief on down.

      In general, of course, the companies are more protective of their iconic characters. You can make dramatic changes with Batman or Spider-Man but you know that, given time, the status quo will reassert itself.