How to make it as a comic book writer, by 'Hit-Girl's' Jeff Lemire

Mark Millar has brought his Kick-Ass heroine, Hit-Girl, back for a solo run
Mark Millar has brought his Kick-Ass heroine, Hit-Girl, back for a solo run

Comic book movies have been dominating the cinematic landscape for over a decade but the genre wouldn’t be where it is, both creatively and financially, without the print comic book industry it lends its stories from or those comic book writers who penned them.

Mark Millar knows this too well as several of his Marvel stories have been adapted by both Fox and Disney for the silver screen, as well as a few of his MIllarworld originals including Kick-Ass, which featured the stand out character of Hit-Girl, played by Chloe Moretz.

Millar brought Hit-Girl (AKA Mindy McCready) back for a solo run on the page but for the next few issues has passed the reins over to the Toronto-based writer behind Black Hammer and Descender, Jeff Lemire.

So how does one go from reading comic books to getting to pen stories for some of the most popular characters out there? Jeff explains, in his own words, the journey he took to becoming a world-leading comic book writer.

I have loved comics since I was 4 or 5-years-old.

I have always been writing and drawing them, but I really started taking it seriously in 1999 when I was in my mid-twenties. I started out by writing and drawing my own self-published work and did that for a number of years to build up a reputation as a graphic novelist before branching off into also writing comics for other artists to draw.

You don’t need to do a creative writing course to do write comics, I was self-taught.

Mostly from decades of reading thousands of comics, and watching thousands of films, and just studying the storytelling. I was a child of the 1980s, so Watchmen and Swamp Thing by Alan Moore, and Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Batman were hugely influential to me.

Frank Miller’s Batman was an influence on Jeff Lemire’s career
Frank Miller’s Batman was an influence on Jeff Lemire’s career

The process of writing a comic book generally starts with a basic idea or concept.

I slowly expand that into a pretty comprehensive outline over a number of months, and do multiple drafts of these outlines, before the story is solid enough to move to actual scripting. With Hit-Girl, I was given the option of where I wanted to take Mindy and the natural choice was Canada.

It was a pretty open brief: Hit-Girl’s a 12-year-old trained assassin, basically, a Polly Pocket meets Punisher-type character, who is touring the world and taking out bad guys wherever she goes. The atmosphere of the story and feel of the dialogue had to fit the surroundings, and as I was paired with artist Eduardo Risso I knew the fight scenes were going to be incredible.

I left some of the ‘choreography’ of those scenes up to him, and they’ll completely blow you away. The final draft then goes to the artist, who works their magic on the pages, and I’ll see a lettered proof of the artwork for any last-minute dialogue edits before it goes to print.

Putting together a complete comic book narrative differs from story to story.

You try to find a format and length that best suits the story you are trying to tell; some comics work great as large, contained graphic novels, others a four or six-issue serialized pieces. With Hit-Girl, every arc is four issues each, so you have to tell the whole story in just four instalments.

The arc that preceded mine, Colombia, saw Hit-Girl wipe out all Colombian gangs in just four issues but in Canada she’s taking down a drug ring, being tracked by hunters, facing off with corrupt Mounties – it’s a lot of action packed into just 22 pages per issue.

It’s good to not get too used to only working in one way or one style to keep things fresh and keep challenging yourself.

Jeff Lemire has been brought in to write a four-issue arc for the new Hit-Girl comic book run
Jeff Lemire has been brought in to write a four-issue arc for the new Hit-Girl comic book run

I didn’t know anyone who made comics when I started.

I had no contacts in the professional world of comics, I just made my own stories and developed my own voice doing that, and eventually, the comic industry noticed and opportunities came.

But I think every writer’s path is different. Certainly knowing people in the industry that you can use as a resource will help, but in the end, if your work is good, you will find an audience.

And the flip-side, of course, is that no matter how many contacts in the industry you have, if your work isn’t honest and strong, it won’t matter.

When it comes to editing, I work in waves.

So I will work intensely on something for a period of time and then put it aside and come back to it a week or two later with fresh eyes.

Hit-Girl is out now via Image Comics
Hit-Girl is out now via Image Comics

Working with an illustrator is very collaborative.

Comics are a visual medium, so your scripts are only as good as the artist who draws them.
So, when working as a writer, you need to have a very good relationship with your collaborator.
Jeff has taken Mindy’s story to Canada, his home country

Risso, who I worked with on Hit-Girl, is fantastic. You know that his pages are always going to be out of this world, so opening your inbox to new artwork is such a joy.

He’s captured Hit-Girl and the Canadian landscape perfectly and I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator on this project.

When writing for a character I didn’t create I always start by reading the existing work.

Hit-Girl’s a complex character because she’s only 12, yet she will decapitate, castrate, torture and kill any villain in her path. She swears uncontrollably, she plays by her own rules. yet in the midst of the hyper-violence and bloodshed, she’s still grieving.

She’s a little girl who has lost her father and is trying to find meaning in a world without him, but at some point, you need to find something in every character that speaks to you and is personal to you, so you can bring your voice to them as well, and not just recycle the existing stories.

So my Canada story contains the violent, wise-cracking pre-teen everyone knows and loves, but it also addresses her own suffering and her struggle without Big Daddy.

Hit-Girl #5 is available now via Image Comics

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