SHOP TALK: J.T. Krul on writing team books vs. solo series
Whenever I tell anyone that I am a comic book writer, I always get the same response:
"That's amazing. How do you do it? How do you draw all those pictures?"
That's how I know I'm talking to someone who probably hasn't ever picked up a comic book. You can spot the writers just as easily because they'll quickly go from plot points to the craft of writing comics. One that's come up quite a bit is: How do I approach writing a solo book like Green Arrow, as opposed to a team book like Teen Titans?
Let's put aside the tonal differences, which are plain to see - Green Arrow is a much darker book than Teen Titans - and focus on the structural differences. With a solo book, the overall focus is naturally the one character. That's not to say Green Arrow exists in a vacuum (although one might argue the isolating nature of the forest in Star City is a bit of a vacuum…but I digress). For the most part, the story unfolds primarily through Green Arrow - as he experiences it. Obviously, he interacts with various people, be they allies or enemies or both, during his stories - but I am placing an emphasis on his viewpoint - filtering most of what we see through him.
Look at Green Arrow #2 - This issue highlights that personal perspective throughout. The book opens with an image of the strange new character called Galahad, wandering through the forest, but the narration is Ollie - talking about the hazy nature of the forest. Having this figure pop up in the forest is a true mystery, but the key may boil down to how his presence affects Green Arrow. Later, as Green Arrow and Green Lantern fight the Royal Guard Soldiers in the forest, we hear Ollie's commentary about the fight and about Green Lantern. And although it's a team effort, the focus is clearly on Green Arrow's actions (and not merely because Green Lantern's ring is made powerless inside the forest.
For me, another aspect of a solo book showcased in Issue #2 is the importance in keeping your hero highly visible within the story. Green Arrow is only absent from four pages in the entire issue: those opening two pages with Galahad I mentioned (but since we are hearing Ollie's words that doesn't really count); the one page scene with the Queen as she watches her goons heading off to hunt after the Emerald Archer; and finally the one page where Green Lantern gets his juice back and neutralizes the helicopters circling above the forest. Beyond that, it's all Green Arrow all the time. Surely, the time comes to highlight other aspects, but it's important to be mindful that a big part of a solo book is seeing how our protagonist reacts and responds to events around him - sometimes even outshining the events themselves.
Case in point - Moving forward in Green Arrow as the epic conclusion to Brightest Day approaches, more visitors will be finding there way to the forest - but the focus will remain on Green Arrow. How the events of Brightest Day will affect him and how he will react to them.
On the flip side, in a team book such as Teen Titans, the focus exists on a giant wheel, constantly spinning - constantly shifting from one character to the next. The amount of narration and head time is reduced because a team book unearths more about character through interpersonal relationships, as each titan shifts from central role to supporting role and back again.
I'll use Ravager as an example because in some ways her personality is similar to Green Arrow. In Issue #88, I use narration a bit - delving into her feelings about her father and the possibility that her mother (long thought dead) might still be alive. It's a very private matter - not something Ravager would easily share with even those closest to her (hence the narration).
But in terms of her character and the dynamic with the team, it comes out in direct conversation - such as the exchange between Ravager and Wonder Girl in the aftermath of the battle with the Feral Boys.
With that short exchange, we can tell that Ravager doesn't really like following anyone's orders and thinks Wonder Girl is too timid. Wonder Girl may have a problem with bloodshed, but Ravager doesn't. For her, the ends justify the means - "We won."
But this scene isn't really about Ravager, as much as it's about Wonder Girl - which carries over into Wonder Girl's discussion with Beast Boy. Ravager may be involved in the topic, but the focus in on Wonder Girl and her view of what the team needs to be. Even the fact that she is having the conversation with Beast Boy is important, given their recent clashing over the role of leader.
Obviously with Robin coming on board, he'll take a bit of the focus as the new kid on the block, but he'll quickly have some competition in that department. The second main arc will bring the newest titan - Solstice - into the fold, thus giving her a chance to shine (yes, the reference to her powers is blatant). And much of her story with Teen Titans will be how certain members react to her - particularly Beast Boy and Raven (again - interpersonal relationships).
Looking back at what I've written, it sounds as though the differences are monumental - seismic shifts when writing - but really they are shades of gray. It all boils down to wrapping your heads around the characters, place an obstacle in their way (the bigger and the badder the better), and see how it all unfolds - see how the drama reveal their character. And I can promise you the obstacles to come are going to be just that - BIGGER and BADDER!