Artist Paul Allor Talks About the Secrets of Creating Single Issue Stories

Posted by at 10:38 am on May 30, 2017

Stan Lee’s famously charged to his creators that every comic could be someone’s first, and it should be accessible to any reader. This summer, Marvel readers will have the opportunity to feast their eyes on a number of standalone issues from the summer event taking place with Secret Empire to later in the season with the release of GENERATIONS.

Many readers may not be aware of the amount of work that it takes to craft a single-issue story that delivers all the goods in just one shot. Many readers may not be aware of the amount of work that it takes to craft a single-issue story that delivers all the goods in just one shot. SECRET EMPIRE: BRAVE NEW WORLD writer Paul Allor recently spoke about some tricks of the trade given his experience in working within this format on Marvel’s web site. Paul, you originally cut your teeth working on short stories and one-shots. How did this help you with your current work?

Paul Allor: Oh man, it helps tremendously. Like you said, it’s been a big part of my career thus far; my first self-published book was a collection of 12 five-page stories, with 12 different artists; I followed that up with a one-shot called Orc Girl; my first couple of work-for-hire gigs were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one-shots, and most of my work for Marvel has been in the shorts-to-one-shot category as well. And honestly all of that experience made my writing as a whole so much stronger, and, I believe, really pays off in my longer work.

The reason is that, when it comes to the craft of comics writing, shorts and one-shots are basically a microcosm of larger stories. The best ones contain within them everything that makes a great story of any length, but with no room for error. If your short story or one-shot lags, it’s painfully obvious. If the character motivation isn’t there, it shows. If you have nothing to say, there’s no hiding from it. So yeah, it helped my current work in a real and significant way, by giving me a platform to solidify all the basic elements of the comics writing craft. When it comes to writing a stand-alone issue, what are the most important elements a writer needs to keep in mind?

Paul Allor: Well, as indicated above, everything you would need to keep in mind on a longer story also applies here. But some things are a little more important. With limited space, it becomes even more important that every moment carry its own weight; every panel, every beat, every line should serve a storytelling purpose. That doesn’t mean that every single line has to be load-bearing—that if any element is removed, the whole thing will collapse, though some very short comics are constructed that way, and it is, when pulled off, rather magnificent—but it does mean that every moment has to do something. It has to move the story forward, to tell us something we wouldn’t otherwise know about our characters, to foreshadow the story’s end or provide subtext. Your space limitations demand it.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of your pre-planning will be just as involved as in a longer story. You still need to put as much thought into who your characters are, what motivates them, how to best tell their story, and on and on and on, as you would for any length story. Your characters, and your world, should feel just as fully realized, just as complex, as any 20-issue run.

An analogy I like to use is to think of a comic as being like a mountain. With an ongoing, or even a [limited series], you get to see a lot of the mountain. You have time to really explore its contours, get a good sense of the terrain, the caves and ridges, the fauna and flora. By contrast, a short or a one-shot is like a tiny oceanic island that’s really just the peak of an underwater mountain. You can only see one little piece of it. But, the rest of the mountain still has to be there.

A couple of other things I would say to focus on, just because I often see them done wrong: No matter how short the story, you still need to have something to say. I know some people are allergic to the word “theme,” so call it whatever you like. But your story, and your characters, should have a point, and a point-of-view, and a purpose lurking behind all the kicking and punching and laser eyes.

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