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Comics and Movies in the 21st Century
By Gordon Meyer
Although comic books and Hollywood have been collaborators since the 1940s, it took the 1978 hit “Superman: The Movie” for Tinseltown to realize that comics could be a lucrative fountain of source material. That relationship has been growing ever since. Now, with the onset of transmedia and the commercial need to integrate intellectual properties across a wide variety of media, the synergy between comic books and movies has never been stronger, with more and more screenwriters scripting comics and graphic novels and vice versa. This new generation of comic book writers, spoiled by the ease of use of programs like Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter have been looking in vain for a similar program for this 80 year old print medium.
Shifting gears, I want to tell you a little about a guy named Steve Sashen, who is one of the unsung heroes of the motion picture industry, especially writers. Until the age of the personal computer, the physical act of writing a screenplay was a cumbersome one, especially when it came to doing re-writes and corrections. The introduction of affordable word processing via personal computers helped a lot, but the unique formatting requirements of screenplays bogged that down as well until a couple of USC graduates came up with Scriptor, an add-in program for WordStar, an early word processing program. Scriptor was a boon for writers as it automated the process of repaginating and reformatting scripts written in WordStar and other compatible programs. But it was still cumbersome.
Sashen had this idea for a stand-alone word processing program for screenwriting which had all of the formatting for scripts built-in and automated. The program was called Scriptware and began its life in the pre-Windows days of MS-DOS. It was the very first program to use the Tab key for things like toggling to the Character Name format immediately followed by Dialog format simply by hitting the Enter key. This has since become the industry standard for dedicated screenplay programs. For some time, Scriptware was the dominant screenwriting program, especially in the days when Final Draft was exclusively a Mac product. But then Sashen got bored and, although Scriptware continues to be available for sale online, the program was last updated over a decade ago. Sashen had moved on to other things.
But someone threw a challenge at his feet to get him back into the game. Comic books. Glen Farrington is a screenwriter with a lifelong passion for comic books. When he decided to turn his creative energies into comic book writing, he began looking for a Final Draft-like program specifically for the highly specialized needs of the comic book/graphic novel format. There was none. So Farrington and Sashen teamed up to develop the first scripting program specifically for comic book: ComiXwriter.
Farrington is far from the first screenwriter to write for comics – or vice versa. In fact, integrating comics and graphic novels with movies and TV shows in ways that the storylines in each of these media are set in the same universe and complement each other is a growing trend dubbed “transmedia.” So more and more studios and networks want to get in on the act. But when it comes to writing the scripts for comic books, the format requirements can be just as specialized as they are for screenplays and involve just as many repeated elements.
As Sashen and Farrington went about developing ComiXwriter, they spoke with a number of working writers to find out what was important. These writers wanted a program that dropped in panel addresses, remembered character names, automatically distinguished description from dialogue, allowed you to view concept art and page roughs alongside your draft script and came ready supplied with a range of script templates.
Just as importantly, they wanted an easy way for the writer to be able to collaborate with the artist and colorist. According to Sashen, ComiXwriter allows you to bring up the artwork for the page you've written in an easy side by side viewer. This will allow you to edit that script page if necessary and even make notations on the artwork. If changes are made or requested, it saves to document for return to the artist, colorist or letterer.
Right now, ComiXwriter is still in development, though Sashen and Farrington have made beta copies available to a select group of working writers. Meanwhile, since this is the age of social media, they’ve taken to Facebook and Kickstarter to raise the funds needed to complete the development and begin marketing ComiXwriter at a projected price of only $99 (with discounts to Kickstarter contributors).
I’m not terribly surprised that Sashen is now developing a scriptwriting program specifically for comic books and graphic novels. The only thing that surprises me is that it took so long for anyone to think about doing it. But then, with the geometric growth of boutique comic publishers, thanks to the power of the Internet, I guess it just took this long for the potential market for such a program to become big enough to make it worthwhile, especially at such a modest price.
If all goes well, ComiXwriter should be publicly available later this year. Meanwhile, if you’re a comic book writer yourself or considering getting into the field, it’s well worth your while to check out their Kickstarter page.
Listen to Gordon talk about what's hot in consumer electronics and home entertainment as co-host of "The Digital Doctor" with Jeff Levy live on www.HealhyLife.net Wednesday mornings at 8:00 AM Pacific time.