Friday, October 2, 2009

Writing Tips ala Swamp Thing

Last weekend I visited a lifelong friend who had just acquired a huge comic book collection. He had thoughtfully pulled aside all the Swamp Thing comics for me, remembering that this was one of my childhood favorites. (Thanks Peter!) Swamp Thing #6 was actually the first book I ever purchased as a kid with my own money (while at Wall Drug, no less). Of course I did whatever any comic book lover would do when offered free comics—I took them!

Now looking through these newly acquired treasures I am reminded of why I loved the Swamp Thing series (DC Comics) so much in the first place. The writing of the first 20 or so issues that hooked me is really quite good—the original team of Wein/Wrightson did some great work that (for me) later writers/artists in this series never quite seemed to match.

Writers are influenced by what they read and for good or for bad I know Swamp Thing clearly was one of my early mentors. Flipping through these comics I realize there are many things that anyone looking to improve their writing today can learn from the gnarled, green, mossy one. I give you:

How to improve your writing, Swamp Thing style:

· Have something exciting happen right away. In one of my favorites Swamp Thing is being chased by a T-rex on page 1 and is breaking the dinosaur’s leg by page 3. You don’t see that everyday.

· Give us an original, compelling main character. When a bomb destroys his bayou lab, Dr. Alec Holland is fused with the swamp around him to become Swamp Thing—a monster longing for his humanity. Good stuff.

· Conflict, conflict, conflict. Give your character no quarter. In every issue Swamp Thing is being persecuted, hunted, blown up, put in a gladiator’s ring, flung into outer space, and so on. Between episodes he hides in the swamp—but in each story he is wading chest-deep in action.

· Put your character up against strong villains. The mutated, mad scientist, Arcane, was Swamp Thing’s main nemesis, but Swamp Thing fought and won against devils, space aliens, androids, pitchfork wielding mobs, bounty hunters and several different varieties of undead (even Batman on one occasion.)

· Don’t get preachy. The worst thing that ever happened to Swamp Thing (again, my opinion) was the environmental movement. The original Swamp Things stories were never about having a spokesperson to stop pollution or to help us become better global citizens—it was about a cool character and the crazy things he was experiencing.

· Reveal character through their actions. Swamp Thing hardly ever says a word on the pages he battles across, yet you know he is a hero by what he does. He goes looking for his lost love, he helps strangers in need, he steps in front of bullets aimed at the innocent, and he rips the arm off a killer robot and uses it to bash it to pieces. You get the idea.

So how has Swamp Thing influenced my writing? Don’t know if I can pinpoint it for sure—like most writers I have many, many books, movies, life experiences and teachers that brought me to where I’m at today as a writer. I do know I took a great graphic novel class at the LOFT last year, and found out that although I still love reading a good comic writing them is not my thing. However, the main character of my novel BLACKHEART is a kick-ass antihero who doesn’t say much and enjoys punching out minor demons. Coincidence? Probably not. ß in case you want to check out the early Swamp Thing stories yourself ß in case you’re in/near MN and want to learn more about being a graphic novelist

Mark Teats

1 comment:

Shawn Enderlin said...

Nice! It just goes to show that the things that demonstrate good writing techniques don't have to be fancy schmancy things like writing conferences or Pulitzer winning novels. Good influences can come from anywhere because good writing is good writing, regardless of whether its Steven King, the latest episode of Man Men, or Swamp Thing.