Writing comics is quite different from regular writing, but in producing Gone Case, we also took a non-regular approach. I’ve done some other comic book scripts, whose pages might see publication one day, where I write the script and text. Those are more conventional, but even then, there’s no one way to do it. Some comic writers, like Alan Moore, dictate the graphics, mood and flow, and their scripts are very detailed.
Other comic book writers give the artists more leeway in laying out the page. They don’t even break it down by panel description, but describe the action on the page and the artist is the one who plans it out.
When Hong Teng wanted to adapt Gone Case, we discussed how to work together. Adaptation is a tricky business, as any who have seen the Charlie Kaufman film would know.
I didn’t want to overly dictate the adaptation, and didn’t want Hong Teng to be utterly faithful to the book. Nor did I want blocks of text all over the place, obscuring Hong Teng’s gorgeous artwork. I think blocks of text or having the characters sharing almost equal space with word balloons is a big problem with various book adaptations.
We talked about character motivations, how the plot turns, what would be emphasized and toned down. In this case, I didn’t provide him with a page by page breakdown, but he took the story and adapted it.
At certain points I intervened, when I thought he was not emphasizing important parts of the story, or certain bits had been lost. It was very much a collaborative process.
Those who have read the novel and the graphic novel will find big differences between the two, and that’s fine. Comics, just like film, are a visual format, and I enjoyed seeing Hong Teng’s interpretation of the story.
My other contribution was the text of the story. This was a balancing point; the original novel uses a lot of Singlish, and how much of it was to be kept in the original. It was a difficult balancing act, as Singlish is also quite subjective. We’re preparing a Chinese version of the graphic novel, so there’s no big problem with Singlish. In fact, when I was writing the book, the dialogue I had going in my head was mostly in dialect or Mandarin, so those problems are gone.
Right now we’re doing Book 2 of the graphic novel and hope to have it out in October. It’s been an intriguing experience; but seeing the pages with Hong Teng’s incredible art, and the characters come to life, is quite an experience. It’s great to work with such a talented artist, and for Gone Case to have a second life.
For anyone thinking of doing comics, I’d suggest checking out Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Making Comics. Also, check out comics, particularly those that have script samples. You’ll probably find there’s no one decisive style. It’s more important that you find a system where you can work with the artist, to produce a piece of work that you’ll be proud of.
About Dave Chua:
Dave Chua, author of the novel, Gone Case, was the recipient of the Singapore Literature Prize Commendation Award in 1996. He currently works as a freelance writer. His work, entitled Father’s Gift, made him a joint winner for the SPH-NAC Golden Point Award for the short story category in 1995. Chua is actively involved as a programming manager with the Singapore Film Society.