Creating Commando - The Scripts

Published:
Thu 01 Sep 2011
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War Stories BEFORE the Pictures...

Comic scriptwriters are often asked (after the questioner has found out that, no, they don't draw the strips, they write them) "...so you just put the words in the bubbles, then?"

The natural response to this is, of course, to draw your trusty old service revolver and shoot the questioner between the eyes. This is generally frowned upon these days - after all, you might find you've just lost a loyal reader - so the preferred reply is, "There's actually a little bit more to it than that..."

Main Script Image

To help clear up what goes into writing a comic script, and avoid any unfortunate revolver related incidents, here's a quick guide to the scripting process, illustrated by examples from recent "Commando" issues "Machine Gunner" by Ferg Handley, and "The Phantom's Revenge" by Norman Adams.

Before a writer even starts work on a script, there are several stages to go through. Once the idea for a story has been thought up, some writers will discuss the notion with the "Commando" editorial team, before preparing a synopsis. This is a fairly detailed document, usually between 4 and 6 pages, detailing the characters, background, and flow of the story. It allows the editorial team to suggest alterations - a story may be too similar to one which has come in from another writer, or there may be an additional dramatic twist the team would like to see incorporated.

An extract from the opening to Ferg Handley's "Machine Gunner" synopsis reads; Crimea, late 1943. We start with a Soviet infantry unit in action (having established the sector); a rifle company rather than a more elite Guards company (it has infantry and machine-gunners). German troops are attacking, and we focus on a machine-gunner named Alexi (a veteran corporal, but he's not the 'hero'); he has an M1910 model MG, the wheeled type - OR, should we use its replacement, the SG-43 (also wheeled, but less cumbersome)? He fires calmly and steadily, remorselessly gunning down enemy troops. During the fighting, his loader is wounded, but manfully stays at his post until the Germans are driven off. Alexi gets the loader to a field ambulance, but doubts the man will ever see active service again.

As shown by Ferg's references to the types of weaponry used, research is a vital part of any "Commando" script writer's job. That single paragraph not only sets the scene but, in the published issue, provides the first 6 pages of action.

Scripts

Following approval of the synopsis, Ferg's preferred approach is to then provide a breakdown - literally breaking the story down into individual frames to ensure the pacing throughout the issue works and that each incident is allowed to develop properly, while fleshing out the initial synopsis. For example, again from the opening section;

1.  Western Russia, spring 1943... we're in the region between the Don and Dnieper rivers, which includes the Kursk area). We establish the situation: the Germans hold swathes of Russia, but the Red Army have re-organised and stemmed the tide.
2.  We cut to German infantry attacking some Soviet positions (we focus on the Germans here).
3.  We then focus on the defenders, a Red Army rifle company, as they take losses and fire out.
4.  We then zoom in on a machine-gunner named Alexi (a veteran corporal, but he's not the 'hero'); he has an M1910 model MG, the wheeled type. He fires calmly and steadily...

From this 6 page document, a full script, running to 66 pages, is developed, giving full descriptions of each scene for the artist and adding the dialogue and caption panels. The editorial team may make some final tweaks to the wording but it is now ready to be sent out to the artist - in this case Morahin.

You can compare the scripted version with the final, printed frames below;

Pic. 1. Full page pic. We see German troops and armour in 1941, advancing across the Russian Steppes, with smoke and explosions.

PANEL ABOVE: IN THE SUMMER OF 1941, WITH WESTERN EUROPE SUBDUED, THE GERMANS TURNED THEIR ATTENTIONS TO THE SOVIET UNION. ONCE UNLEASHED, A MASSIVE ARMY SMASHED ITS WAY EAST, CAPTURING MASSIVE SWATHES OF TERRITORY AND THREATENING MOSCOW ITSELF.

PANEL CENTRE: HOWEVER, THE RUSSIANS ABSORBED ALL THAT THE ENEMY COULD THROW AT THEM AND, AFTER REORGANISING THEIR FORCES, MANAGED TO STABILISE THE SITUATION. BY THE SPRING OF 1943 THEY HAD ACHIEVED SEVERAL VITAL VICTORIES AND THEIR COMMANDERS COULD LOOK FORWARD TO THE LIBERATION OF THEIR MOTHERLAND.

Machine1

Pic. 2. 1/2 page. Spring 1943. in the Don\Dnieper region. A company of German troops (Wehrmacht infantry) are attacking some Russian positions (but we don't really see the Russians here). Plenty of smoke and the odd explosion; the Germans are advancing; we focus on a lieutenant who is urging his men forward. NB - we generally use Wehrmacht troops in the story, except where SS are specifically mentioned.

PANEL ABOVE: THE GERMANS WERE FAR FROM BEATEN THOUGH, AND WERE STILL CAPABLE OF OFFENSIVE ACTION. EARLY MARCH SAW A SERIES OF LOCALISED ATTACKS IN WESTERN RUSSIA, IN THE REGION BETWEEN THE DON AND DNIEPER RIVERS - AND ONE AFTERNOON, A WEHRMACHT COMPANY FOUND ITSELF ATTACKING SOME SOVIET POSITIONS ON THE FRINGES OF A FOREST.

LIEUTENANT: VORWARTS! EXTERMINATE THE RED SCUM!

Machine2

Pic. 3. 1/2 page. We cut to the Russians, a Rifle Company (as opposed to a Guards unit); they are dug in at the edge of some woods, and are firing out at the Germans. A lieutenant calls to his men as they fire out. In the background, a Russian or two is killed (by bullets). we can just about see the advancing Germans (but don't show them if space is too tight).

PANEL ABOVE: THE DEFENDERS WERE A RED ARMY RIFLE COMPANY. AND ALTHOUGH THEIR UNIT LACKED THE PRESTIGE OF THE ELITE GUARD FORMATIONS, THE TROOPS FOUGHT LIKE WOLVES TO HOLD THE ATTACKERS AT BAY.

LIEUTENANT: HOLD FIRM, COMRADES! THE FASCISTS MUST NOT PASS!

Machine3

Pic. 4. 1/2 page. We now focus on a Russian machine-gunner, firing an M1910 Model MG (the type that has wheels); he is corporal Alexi Demidova, a veteran (he has light hair, he's stocky and aged about 30). He is firing steadily, looking grim. His loader - Private Pjotr Grinkov - is feeding in the ammo belt. We see Germans falling from Alexi's fire.

PANEL ABOVE: AMONG THEM WAS VETERAN MACHINE-GUNNER, CORPORAL ALEXI DEMIDOVA. HIS WEAPON WAS AN OLD M1910 MODEL, WHICH HE FIRED CALMLY AND STEADILY...

GERMAN: AAARGH!

GERMAN: HRRK!

Machine4

As with Ferg's script, Norman Adams' tale "The Phantom's Revenge" - a follow-up to a previous issue, "The Phantom's Strike" - begins with a synopsis. As the following extract shows, Norman is already thinking of dialogue for the characters, as well as ways to introduce new readers to the already established character of 'the Phantom'.

'You should feel honoured, Richter,' sneers Gestapo chief Helmut Wepper, who is accompanied by his assistant, Fritz Kell, and Milice chief, Claude Lamy, three of Richter's foes. 'The general asked for you personally.' But Richter is far from flattered. He recognises Gessler as one of those responsible for the execution of his father, Colonel Manfred Richter, on a false charge of treason. Rudi also had been suspected but had convinced Gessler he was a committed Nazi. FLASHBACK: After dark, he becomes the masked Phantom, enemy of fanatical Nazis and their fascist allies. After the introductions Wepper asks Gessler: 'Might I inquire the reason for this visit?' Gessler flashes an enigmatic smile: Why to sample the good food, good wine - and good living.'

From this synopsis, Norman moves straight into the script, which, following the usual editorial approval, goes to "The Phantom's Stike" artist, Keith Page.

Pic 1. Night Maquis ambush a German transport column on a woodland road. A landmine erupts and hurls the leading truck into a gorge.

Panel Above: After four years under the heel, France turned against its Nazi oppressors. When allied armies broke the bloody stalemate in Normandy, following the D-Day invasion on the sixth of June nineteen-forty-four, the French Resistance stepped up its action.

Driver: Arghhh!

Phantom1

Pic 2. Day at an airstrip on the outskirts of Paris. A Fiesler Stork touches down. Hauptmann Rudolf Richter is among the welcoming party of black-garbed SS officers, grey-uniformed Gestapo officers (Helmut Wepper and Fritz Kell) and the seedy Milice chief Claude Lamy, in Militia uniform. Wepper sneers at Richter.

Panel Above: At an airstrip outside Paris, area commander Hauptmann Rudolf Richter, a Captain in the German army, was among SS, Gestapo and pro-Nazi French militia officers who welcomed SS-General Fritz Gessler. Because of allied air superiority Gessler had completed the last lap of his top-secret flight from Berlin by scout plane.

Wepper: You should feel honoured, herr Hauptmann. The general requested your presence at our conference.

Richter: Whatever you say, Kriminal Inspektor.

Phantom2

Pic 3. The plane has taxied to a halt, and fleshy Gessler steps onto the tarmac to be greeted by high-ranking SS officers. Wepper fires a parting remark at an amused Richter as Gestapo and hard-nosed SS guards form a protective ring around Gessler.

Panel Above: Gestapo chief Helmut Wepper's sarcastic remark needled Richter. Gessler was one of the joint SS-Gestapo investigation team whose trumped-up charge of treason led to the execution of his father, General Manfred Richter. But Wepper's next comment was greeted with a secretive smile.

Wepper: Security is tight, ja? Not even the Phantom could pentrate our ring of steel.

Richter (thinks): Dummkopf! If only you knew.

Phantom3

Pic 4. FLASHBACK - Night. The Phantom, astride a bucking motor bike, crashes through a road block (a striped pole with roadside sentry box) knocking the two armed Milice men aside like skittles.

Panel Above: For Richter was the mysterious Phantom, who waged a secret war against Nazis and their die-hard fascist friends. He was with the Afrika Corps when told of his father's 'accidental death'. He suspected otherwise. After he suffered a head wound in action in Italy, he was given a desk job in Paris in forty-four, where he discovered the awful truth of his father's death in Gestapo files.

1st guard: Sacre bleu! He's a demon on wheels!

2nd guard: Ahhhhh!

Phantom4

Many writers have been involved in bringing us tales of action and adventure throughout 50 years of "Commando", and the approach may vary from writer to writer - for another example, you can download a complete "Commando" script by Chief Sub-editor Scott Montgomery here - but as these extracts show, there's just a little bit more to comic script writing than just putting the words in the bubbles.

(This article originally appeared as a tie-in to the National Army Museum exhibition Draw Your Weapons: The Art of Commando Comics - September 2011-April 2012.)


Have your say 4 comments so far…

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  1. fbotsford
    fbotsford15 December at 2:53PM

    Very interesting! Just one thing though, in the second script the commander Wepper is refered to as Hauptmann, when in the SS the rank of captain was Hauptsturmführer! Great job though anyway!

  2. murd-ed
    murd-ed22 October at 9:30PM

    I really like this, the scripts are well detailed so the artists can do an awesome job. Keep it up!

  3. CommandoCO
    CommandoCO29 November at 10:22AM

    You're very welcome. Glad that you enjoyed it.

  4. BristolChris
    BristolChris28 November at 9:09PM

    Fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing with us footsloggers :-)