How to Write a Comic Script with Monstress #8

In this issue of the stellar Monstress, there are some good examples of developing character in a fantasy themed story. Looking closely, it’s possible to identify some of these elements. My attempt, in this article, is to look closely, and distill some of these patterns into useful ideas for writers. If you’ve Googled the question “How to write a comic script” there are some good ideas and techniques showcased in Monstress #8.

Monstress #8 forces its characters into a restrictive environment. They’re on a boat, sailing to a forbidden island. Restricting the setting for a comic script might cause writing blockades, with only limited space to move the characters around. However, close environments allow for conflict and character growth to play out more quickly.

Maika Halfwolf is a character with deep internal struggles. She experiences two powerful conflicts. She is caught between two distinct races within the Monstress world, and battling a powerful, old god living within her called a Monstrum. In contrast, her traveling companions Kippa and Ren face complex problems. They face more pressing obstacles.

Kippa must learn to Swim.

Ren must avoid evisceration by the ship’s pirate crew. They despise Ren’s race. Ren belongs to an intelligent race of talking cats, called Nekomancers.

From this sample, one core writing elements emerge:

Character challenges can line up with the weight of the character’s role in the story. For example, Kippa is a younger child character with a smaller role, and therefore face a problem that matches their stature within the story (learning to swim, compared to Ren and Maika’s problems of identity turmoil and discrimination).

Monstress has excellent comic script elements – a detailed and expansive world building ethos combined with clever wordplay.

Fans of the fantasy genre might remark on the word choice of Nekomancer, which combines the Japanese word for cat (Neko), and the suffix “-mancer”, deriving from Greek (mantea) and Latin (mantia) origins meaning “oracle or divination”. A wordplay on the word and Necromancer, and the act of Necromancy.

Here, we can see another core writing element: looking for patterns in sound and meaning to create new words. These words contribute toward the tone of the fantasy world under construction. It’s good to see some basic instructions for fantasy naming.

Issue #8 is a great example of the Monstress world building ethos. Being on a boat at sea might seem restrictive, but Monstress #8 inviting elements of the ocean into the story.

Maika’s internal struggles rise to the surface again, as she fights with the pirate crew, and has to be separated and isolated. Maika’s isolation represents a large struggle for her character.

As a person caught halfway between two races in the Monstress world, Maika’s struggles explore the theme of isolation – and the fear, rage, and pain that follows.

To enact these themes, and play out Maika’s internal struggle, Monstress #8 introduces shark and octopus characters.

The octopus character has a tentacle torn off by Maika, after they strike her across the face. The stakes are low for the Octopus, who can grown back a limb, but for Maika, the stakes are raised. The consequences of Maika’s rage and violence? The ship’s captain isolates Maika up in the crow’s nest, where she is separated from almost everyone. Isolation, anger, and violence are a cycle. This is an example of how a close space can intensify a characters personal struggles.

In script writing, and when exploring themes of isolation, having the captain suggest Maika accompany her to the Crows Nest – the highest point on a ship – is a deft way to use a limited setting – a boat in this issue – to further character growth through a setting.

This scene is one example of the detailed world building ethos, and expertly enacted combination of character desires and theme expansion in Monstress comic scripts.

You can read more about Monstress on the Image comics website.





Southern Cross #3 – Comic Review

Alex Braith wants to bring her sister home. Lost on a Mining Station in Saturn’s orbit, Braith needs to solve the mystery of what happened to her sister, and elude the attention of the unnerving Zemi mining corporation. Southern Cross #3 offers:

  • Artwork that builds a strong science fiction setting and shows off excellent scene transitions.
  • An investigator in the main character, Alex Braith, who takes up agency, and unravels the mystery around her.
  • A tense science fiction mystery with themes of gravity.

Artwork of the ship’s dimly lit interior strikes a heavy tone, while a flashback to Briath’s childhood is a short reverie, which fades quickly, but marks an excellent scene transition.

Supernatural apparitions rise against the hard and heavy science fiction setting. The corridors of the spaceship are lit sparingly. Light emanates from one source behind the characters in the foreground. Lit from the front, the characters faces are clear, but they cast long shadows. Stars fly past the wide window into space.

Artwork on one page flashes back to Braith’s childhood. She runs after her sister through a field of grass. The image resembles a similar scene from the Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly, where one sister chases another over the introductory cut scene. The colour of this artwork is a pale peach. Transitioning to the next scene, two pale orange tablets dissolve into a glass. Braith’s vision of the past dissolves quickly. The reverie fades. Instead, the harsh, industrial yellow light of the Doctor’s office marks the tone of the next scene.

Braith is an investigator, but experiences a sense of being haunted, along with startling apparitions. The Captain of the Southern Cross, and the ship’s cook, offer support, but the atmosphere remains uneasy and grave.

Braith unravels a mystery onboard the space freighter The Souther Cross as it travels on it’s way from Earth’s orbit to Saturn’s moon. Erin was her bunkmate in cabin 17. She disappeared the same night an apparition of a man – a phantom – arrives in the cabin. Later she learns that a man died in that cabin. Haunted throughout the comic, a crew member always seems to be following her. At one point, someone seems to be behind her, but nothing is there.

Inside the doctor’s office, Braith takes steps to find out what happened in cabin 17. She finds a tape, and a list of passengers the doctor saved from a past voyage. The name “Flask” appears on the list, and on a tape. a small black dot marks the man’s name. Similar to a scene from the Alien universe, she watches the damaged tape, gaining some insights into how deep and dark the freighter’s past becomes.

The Captain of the ship and the ship’s cook both offer Briathe support. The Captain is a mystery. He matches Braith’s intense gaze with one of his own. He dresses in a long coat and hat, cutting a dashing figure.

A theme of gravity covers this comic. Gravity controls the ships power, and each character is burdened with some kind of weight, mission, or secret, adding to the tense science fiction mystery.

Gravity themes complete this science fiction comic book. Gravity control technology powers the space freighter Southern Cross. Themes of gravity run through the comic itself. Braith’s room becomes more and more grave-like, with Flask’s death and her bunkmate’s disappearance. Some characters literally struggle with weight, while others are burdened with secrets.

The sense of unease compounds with the grave atmosphere. Braith tries to elude corporate spies from the Zemi mining corporation and unwanted help from other crew members. It’s a tense science fiction mystery that strikes a tone similar to not just Alien, but games like Nintendo’s Metroid series. Braith’s trials are not over – another apparition emerges, this time from the gravity core of the Southern Cross – as the issue ends on a cliffhanger.

Southern Cross #3 is published by Image Comics ($2.99 USD). Becky Cloonan (W.) Andy Belanger (A.) Serge LaPointe (L.) Cover artwork by Becky Cloonan.

The Wicked + The Devine #8 – Comic Review

Despite having only two years to live their lives and use their powers, the incarnated gods of The Wicked + The Devine head in a more relaxed direction. The Wicked + The Devine #8 offers:

  • Artwork that plays with, modifies, and stretches perceptions on panel arrangements
  • Art choices that interact with character development effectively.
  • A value: taking steps to reduce others heavy and problematic emotions is a good thing, even
    if personally costly.

Dionysius’ altered states are created through contact. This contact high introduces wild colour to the comic, and shifted perceptions on panel arrangements.

The artwork for this comic takes a leap into a new direction. Contact with the most recently introduced god, Dionysius, creates an altered state. Laura, the protagonist, describes the sensation as vintage acid. Parties created by Dionysius are a  shifting parade of colour. The artwork captures a glimpse into this altered state. It is the panel arrangements, however, that bring the altered state to life.

Following a moment of contact with Dionysius, Laura starts to see numbers appear in front of her.

The panels are a close portrait shot of Laura. The numbers are layered, transparent, over her. They act as a guide to the reader what order the page can be read.

It’s a clever way to warp the reading order and basic perception of panel arrangements on a page. While the party continues, the numbers appear in two by four grids across each page. The comic story reads from the top left to the lower right each single page. Alternatively, the events can unfold across two adjacent pages, following the sequence of numbers. the pages could also be read diagonally. Dionysius also makes a reference to his powers causing heart rates to accelerate to 120 beats per minute. The numbers are a representation of these rapid heartbeats.

Colour choices are also changed dramatically by character. When the dour, underground god Baphomet arrives at the party, the neon-acid glow that Dionysius brought to the party goers drains from their heads down to their feet, leaving black shadows on the floor. Black ink fills the gutters between panels. These two deities powers are entirely opposed to each other.

The Party brings the characters together, and contrast them. Art choices interact with character development, and it becomes clear that heavy emotions bring down Dionysius’ happy, altered state.

Contrast between opposing characters is highlighted in this comic. The party brings together most of the cast. Cassandra, a journalist cataloguing the deities behaviour, contrasts with Laura. Cassandra has not taken Dionysius party drug. Dressed in black, she is a monochrome opposite to Laura‘s garish glow.

Art choices also interact with character development. Line and colour choices give significant insights into the past and current relationship between Inanna and Baal. When they meet, the smooth trails of light – white lines – that the characters leave behind them as they dance change to wavy lines the moment Baal and Inanna are close. As Inanna explains to Laura how their brief relationship collapsed, the light from Dionysius party effect drains from them.

Heavy emotion brings down the happy, altered state Dionysius pours out into the space around him.

Delving deeper into Dionysius’ personality allows a value to emerge. Laura is half correct in her insights about the party god. The comic takes the The Wicked + The Devine in a new direction.

In two years, this group of talented human deities – just like popular musicians and artists trending on social media and performing on tours around the world – will be gone. In the comic, the ending is more severe and more final with the death of the gods. They burn bright in the short time they have. The comic takes a moment to examine the toll that burning bright in a short time frame takes.

Dionysius has not been alone in his head for two months, and does not sleep. His eyes are a red and inflamed.

The god reveals to Laura that while he looks happy on the outside, the truth is not glamorous. Laura is half correct about her summary of Dionysius. He is trying to help by making people happy. He is not happy though. The value that emerges here is that relief from heavy emotion is a good thing. Even if it’s personally costly, doing something to alleviate others heavier, problematic emotional states with a happy state is a good thing.

Specifically, Dionysius literally gives people a safe contact high. A party god, he stores his guests coats in a pocket dimension. These are important details, which help take The Wicked + The Devine in a new direction.

The Wicked + The Devine #8 is published by Image comics ($3.50 USD) Kieron Gillen (W.) Jamie McKelvie (A.) Matthew Wilson (C.) Clayton Cowles (L.) Cover artwork by Jamie McKelvie.

Black Science #4 – Comic Review

Black Science is a new comic book, which works within sci-fi conventions to build a large scale story. Alien worlds, alternate realities, advanced space craft appear, and clever, deep interactions between cast members make Black Science stand out

The story involves a team of scientists who are teleported across different planets and strange places with the goal to repair their machine – the Pillar – and return home.

There are several scientists, who are  working together, or covertly against each other. Layered over these character interactions, are the conflicts within the main character’s (Grant McKay) family: Rebecca, Pia, and Nathan McKay.

Danger and suspense are created in this issue when Grant McKay’s life is in danger.

Black Science #4 offers:

  • Themes of survival, and self preservation
  • Alternate history ideas – Native American Tribes feature
  • Strong use of science fiction conventions
  • Suitable for college students and teachers examining the effects of war, and potentially modern American History
  • This comic book is for Mature audiences.

Paintings of bleak, war landscapes contrast with alien horizons. Ink enhances shadow, and helps build character.

Painted war vistas where horses sprint and Great War planes fly look incredible, and capture a sense of bleak dread. Inking enhances shadows, and plays up the angular or  round character designs, which gives an insight into personality types.

As the Pillar activates, a wash of bright gold and white light floods the page.

Another key artwork appears toward the end of the comic, where the black war vistas change to the green and violent horizons of an alien world. A masked-character dressed in blue surveys this scene. It’s a great example of a science fiction artwork.

Under the pressure of war and battle, two characters make very different decisions.

Ward, one of McKay’s colleagues, drives the plot forward in issue #4.  He is a character who believes in fighting to protect something greater than himself.

In direct contrast to Ward, there is Kadir. He is the “Boss” of the scientists. A nervous character with several visual cues marking his stress. For example, his dishevelled business suit, the angular lines used in his character design, and the clear sweat beads running down his temples.

When Ward acts to save McKay and his family, Kadir makes an altogether different decision.

Similar to series such as Attack on Titan, this comic book examines how humans react and behave under disaster conditions.

Themes of Survival, Self-preservation, and War are highlighted. The Comic Book introduces ideas concerning North American Tribes.

Contrasting Ward and Kadir’s actions, themes of survival and self-preservation are brought out by the comic. Through these characters, we see a disaster and overwhelming problems weighing down on individuals. Pressure, and how humans are changed by it, plays out across these early scenes.

The setting combined with the characters actions also makes a comment about war. War and violence, are portrayed as costly, and destructive. The comic book indicates that the value of what’s lost is often not noticed until long after the battle is over.

The comic includes characters described as Native Americans with high technology.

They are refereed to as the “Sons of the Wakan Tech-Tanka”. The Wakan Tanka is a name from Sioux tradition, suggesting these warriors are Sioux. Their inclusion in the comic book ties into American history. A reversal of events. An alternate history. Instead of Europe attacking and colonising America, Sioux from America attack Europe.

The idea of the comic is to explore diverse, alternate realities. The idea of history reversing is a convention of science fiction: particularly when characters travel to unknown worlds.

I questioned the values lining up behind these ideas though: Are the warriors depicted in a negative or positive light? It might appear negative on the surface, as they attack Ward and Kadir, but it’s made clear their goal is to rescue a Shaman that Ward kidnapped. Ultimately, they are soldiers fighting in a war. They are part of a story, but not deeply developed.

Since the Shaman has began to travel with the McKay family and their colleagues, the character may yet develop into a key cast member.

Popular Culture References:

Doctor Who classic episodes, starring William Hartnell, featured historical settings and alien worlds. In addition, the Doctor had limited or no control over the TARDIS, similar to the problems with the Pillar.

Black Science #4 is published by Image Comics ($3.99 USD). Rick Remender (W.) Matteo Scalera (A.) Dean White (Painted Art.) Rus Wooton (Lettering and Design.)

Rocket Girl #3 – Comic Review

What Rocket Girl #3 Offers

On July 3, 1985, Back to the Future opened in American cinemas. A July release date means the film, with it’s ground breaking and long lasting time travel themes, opened to audiences in the summer.

When I was younger, I watched similar movies and read similar comics about characters going on wild adventures, usually during the summer. They left me with a sense of nostalgia and adventure.

Rocket Girl #3 gave me a similar feeling. The Back to the Future popular culture link strengthened the story: it recreates the 1980’s strongly with excellent interior art and attention to detail.

Rocket Girl #3 offers:

  • A comic about power, and responsible use of power
  • Great visual narrative
  • Time Travel themes for science fiction fans
  • Police Service themes, and criminology ideas
  • Youth versus Age themes

The first and last themes would be useful to educators looking to teach about power, youth, and responsibility with comics.

The comic might be confusing for new readers, however, since the plot might confuse at times.

When collected into a trade paperback, and read as a graphic novel, Rocket Girl might make an excellent introduction for readers interested in a new super-hero and time travel themed comic.


Rocket Girl is Dayoung Johannsen. Only fifteen years old, Johannsen has an unusual name, and lives in an alternate time. She comes from 2013, a world unlike the 2013 we just experienced: a major corporation called “Quintum” has taken control of New York City, and turned the Police into privately owned law enforcement.

Rocket Girl belongs to a Police Force of teenagers. Equipped with powerful technology that can gather information from radio waves and wi-fi, and a small but powerful jet-pack, these young officers bravely defend the law.

The comic tells the the story of her current mission: traveling from 2013 back to 1986 to prevent the Quintum from gaining a toehold, which will one day develop into dominance outright. A pop culture link is Trunks from Dragon Ball Z. Just like this young time traveler, Rocket Girl wants to make a few alterations to the past in an attempt to help everyone living in the future.


The 1980’s setting is rendered with such authenticity that in a scene where a character sings along to The Final Countdown (by Europe, released February 14, 1986), you can heard the distinct 1980’s sounds.

In a two page artwork, Rocket Girl is without her jet-pack, and escapes captivity in a Police Station with clever gymnastics, and Parkour. These action scenes shop off dynamic artwork.

Themes, Ethics, Values

In an interview with Comic Book Resources staff writer TJ Dietsch, series creators Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder talked about the moral decision making they wanted to include in the story.

After reading through issue #3, some moral decision making from Rocket Girl herself is clear. There is a question of power, and how power is used.

Rocket Girl travels to the past carrying not just advanced technology, but knowledge of history, and a collection of skills – gymnastics, marital arts, parkour – not common in the 1986 time period. Her possessions could cause catastrophe and change: ripples on a pond. With this weight on her back, Rocket Girl makes a set of choices that show she is trying to weild that power responsibly:

  • She does not cause excessive damage. She is defensive, but not aggressive.
  • Responding to difficulty, Dayoung shows strength and a desire to help.
  • She accepts help from friends offering it. She does not attempt to work alone.

Then there is the Youth versus Age themes. It captures a sense of the generation gap. In the 1960’s, The term “generation gap” was used to describe the unusually large differences in music, fashion, and values observed between younger generations and their elders.

A gap is clear in Rocket Girl, which sets up and appears to continue to include scenes and ideas on younger character’s values in opposition to older character’s values. Rocket Girl herself comments to “Never trust anyone over 30”. Clashes between generations abound throughout the comic.

Rocket Girl #3 is published by Image Comics. ($3.50 USD). Brandon Montclare (W.) Amy Reeder (A.) Cover artwork by Amy Reeder.

Works consulted: Generation Gap.

Saga #17 – Comics Review

Warning: Saga #17 contains mature and explicit content, which this review mentions and discusses.

Some character spoilers also appear.

What Saga #17 Offers

A key discussion of sexuality – saga maintains a mature rating, and continues it’s bold anti-war arguments. The comics has deep themes about war and conflict, and features a key argument by one of its characters.

D. Oswald Heist tries to make sense of human nature, and advocates freedom of sexuality as the opposite of war. Themes of discrimination and censorship of journalism are also included.

The art is excellent, and captures emotions and body language. Characters raise a variety of ethical questions and discussions with their actions. The comic’s key ethics on war and sexuality would be suitable for students at colleges, and older readers. Also of relevance is ideas on the phrase “kill your darlings”, which makes the comic relevant for writing students.


Violent attacks on several characters in this issue move the story forward, and highlight real world discrimination. Two newer characters – the journalist Upsher and his partner Doff – are attacked by a character called “The Brand”.

Heist himself is assaulted by Prince Robot IV. Discrimination plays a key part in building the Saga universe: despite the fact that they are targeted not for their preferences, but for their war reporting, the idea of an discrimination is unavoidable since Upsher and Doff are gay characters under attack. Heist is an elderly character also attacked.

Evidently, LGBTIQ characters and elderly characters face discrimination in the Saga universe, which captures a relevant point from the real world.

How this advances the story is more is at stake for Upsher and Doff if they want to continue writing and reporting any news on the main characters of the comic: military deserters Alana and Marko. Heist in danger gives several characters the motivation to take action and escalate conflict.

Alana and Marko, in a moment of desperation, talk about a very dark solution to their problems as fugitives on the run from two powerful consortiums (The forces of Landfall and Wreath).


The art could not be better: it shows off cute but dangerous animals, and captures expressions of delight, anger, and panic in its characters. Glowing and neon colours are used sparingly to add a type of futuristic flash to some character’s weapons. There are powerful moments of sequential art, and great perspective choices.

What is sequential art? Comics and Graphic novels tell visual stories with sequential art – images placed in a sequence that tell a story. Sequential art is also described as juxtaposed panels.

Themes, Ethics, Values for Readers

While discrimination and censorship of journalism are key themes that are unearthed by Saga #17, The key ethic that appear in the comic is a strong anti-war argument. Because the comic values freedom of sexuality, the anti-war argument is not simply about pacifism or peace.

Anit-war movements in America during 1960’s certainly advocated for peace. Heist argues that the opposite of war, however, is sex and sexuality. The comic makes an explicit comment with Heist’s argument. Further, peace is explicitly stated as less valuable as an opposite to war by Heist himself.

It’s the image of a flower, though, that changes the argument, which lines Heist’s argument up more with peace. Heist’s argument plays out as he debates war with Prince Robot the IV. The robot is a regal character, who displays images of what he is thinking on his television set head (that’s him in the cover artwork for issue 17# below without his shirt).

The flower is a potent anti-war symbol commonly associated with the minority movements of the 1960’s in America, which featured culture changing sexual freedom. The flower lines up Heist himself with another prominent, anti-war writer. Allen Ginsberg was closely associated with anti-war movements in the mid-1960’s. According to the Poetry Foundation, He is credited with creating and advocating “flower power” – A strategy where anti-war demonstrators would promote positive values like peace and love to dramatise their opposition to the death and destruction of the vietnam war.

An interesting link between Ginsberg and Heist across pop-culture is the recent movie chronicling the life of Ginsberg: Kill Your Darlings. The last moments of the comic include a narration about how the phrase “kill your darlings” is employed to teaching writing to students. The narrator of Saga – a character named Hazel – develops and expands on Heists personality by talking about his perspective on the phrase.

Saga #17 is published by Image Comics ($2.99 USD). Brian K Vaughn. (W.) Fiona Staples (A.) Fonografiks (L. Design.) Eric Stephenson (Coordinator).

Works consulted:

Allen Ginsberg: 1926 – 1997 (2013). The Poetry Foundation.

Flower Power. (2013)

Umbral #1 – Comics Review

Umbral #1: The Day Dawned Twice

(This review contains spoilers for character names, but no plot spoilers)

I have not read too deeply into  fantasy comics beyond series such as The Unwritten and Fables. Both of these are, however, more literary than a world building fantasy: they resemble series such as the League of Extraordinary Gentleman.  Based on the opening page alone, Umbral #1 had a wonderland or fairy tale atmosphere since a girl was running through a dark labyrinth. This quickly gave way to a stronger fantasy tone with Kings, Queens, castles, bards, and sorcery. 

A trailer comic for Umbral #1 from Comics

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