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Book review: “Words for Pictures” by Brian Michael Bendis (2014)

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Words for Pictures (2014)

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“Words for Pictures” is an interesting text— More-so because it is exactly that: A textbook. The author, Brian Michael Bendis, is a writer that I have read for years; he has written some of my favorite superhero tales from the modernization of the New Avengers to his current X-Men runs to the stellar Secret Invasion and Age of Ultron Marvel events. He is the quintessential rockstar of the comic book world, or as he would put it: Comic book famous.

Rarely do audiences get to see the man behind the curtain. We get see their art, but we are removed from their perspective and upbringing. How did they get into the comic book industry? What drives them to write or draw? Where did they go for schooling? How does the editorial process work? How do I become published in the comic book industry?

There are a myriad of questions that get lost in the shuffle of the work, which is not necessarily a bad thing but sometimes there are people who want to know more. The final product, whether it be a piece of writing and/or art or an amalgamation of the two such as comic or graphic novel, should be viewed in the most holistic light as possible, but there are some of us who want to peel back the layers and learn more about the industry and the process to better understand the human experience.

Luckily for us, Brian Michael Bendis followed in the footsteps of the greats before him and created “Words for Pictures,” which is along the same lines as Dennis O’Neil’s “The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics,” Alan Moore’s “Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics,” and Will Eisner’s “Comics and Sequential Art.” It is a modern guide for the aforementioned who want to learn more about the industry. Whether you are curious about breaking into the business or are merely a perspective reader, “Words for Pictures” strikes a chord.

The book covers all aspects of the industry. It begins with a thoughtful introduction by Joe Quesada praising Bendis for his work and ability to create such a guide whilst anecdotally speaking of his own career. The book then segue-ways into the basics and career of Brian Michael Bendis as a writer and educator, as described by him. As he starts to get into the nitty-gritty of script writing he begins to have fellow writers interject and describe their own writing processes and collaborative efforts with fellow artists. This is a unique and clever structure, because it allows the reader to see Bendis’ methodology as well as several others which begins to coalesce into working idea of the readers’ own take on the writing process.

The middle of the text unfortunately becomes a little dry. The narrative shifts abruptly to focus on the artists. This normally wouldn’t be a negative, but the information is conveyed poorly. Essentially a large group of artists were gathered (or at least their responses were) and given a series of questions. This style was executed poorly because as a reader you are subjected to a main question and then the artists’ dozen or so follow-up answers that were merely the same ones reiterated over-and-over again. After the first ten-pages or so of the interview responses they began to blur with another and I was loosing sight of the information being presented. I ended up taking a breather and coming back to it, to finish that particular section.

However, the final portion of the book closes out with a bang and ticks up wonderfully. It is chalked full of helpful inspiration for writers at all stages in their career. There is an entire section devoted strictly to the editorial and submission process, another focusing on the business aspect of writing as told by Bendis’ wife and business partner, a FAQ, and finally tips and tricks of the trade which includes what it truly means to be ‘a writer’ as described by Brian Michael Bendis.

All-in-all, “Words for Pictures” is a fantastic text. It comes from the heart of an educator, but more importantly, the mind of a writer. It touches base on all the important facets of the comic book industry and creative process. Save for a brief dry spell in the middle, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of the craft and business of making comics.

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