Creating Commando - The Scripts
- Thu 01 Sep 2011
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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!
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...
As with Ferg's script, Norman Adams' tale "The
Phantom's Revenge" - a follow-up to a previous issue,
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
'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
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.
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
Richter: Whatever you say, Kriminal
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
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
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
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
2nd guard: Ahhhhh!
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
(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.)