Creating Blood & Valour: The Legends of the Knight Sir Bevis
Developing the Story – By Matt Beames
Whilst I have read many comics, and had many ideas for them (some that I still think will work, others I am not so sure of), Blood & Valour is the first one that I have written. When starting out on this project, I looked for some advice on how to go about writing a comic. The conclusion I quickly came to is that, just as I have found with writing fiction and writing for performance, the best way depends on a number of things; who you are, who you’re working with, the story you’re telling, to name a few.
Now that Blood & Valour Volume #1 is well on the way to being finished, I wanted to give some insight into the writing process. I can’t give you a definitive “Method for Writing a Comic”, but I can tell you how I went about writing this one. I hope it’s of interest!
Cheryl Butler of Eastleigh Borough Council introduced me to Marcus Pullen, an illustrator and a founding member of Eastleigh TecHub, to whom she had also mentioned the project. Marcus and I quickly discovered we had very similar tastes in comics, and as we spoke more about the story of Bevis we both agreed that it was a perfect story to tell in that medium. So it was that work on Blood & Valour began…
The story of Bevis of Hampton is old and well-travelled, one of the earliest written versions dating back to 1175, and translations being found in numerous countries across the years. My first encounter with the story was adapting it into a stage play for a schools project. When I began to research the story, I found multiple versions, some hundreds of years old, some much more recent. My first step in writing Blood & Valour was to collect as many of the different versions of Bevis’ story as I could find, and read them all. It’s common for stories to change over time, and Bevis is no exception; every version I discovered had something unique. Sometimes it was a small difference, like a name, but sometimes the differences were significant. In some versions of the story, Bevis’ horse Arundel was just a horse (though a majestic specimen), and sometimes he could speak and even fly.
As I considered the differences and similarities between these versions, I began to pull together my own, new version of the story, which would become Blood & Valour: The Legends of the Knight Sir Bevis. One of the things I found most helpful in this stage was telling Bevis’ story to other people; it helped me see the parts my audience enjoyed (and I enjoyed telling) the most, and so helped me find the final shape of the story.
Identifying the Story Arcs
Bevis’ story follows him from birth to death, through many trials and triumphs across many lands. The original medieval text is 4620 lines long, though some more recent versions I have found are much shorter, and in some cases only deal with part of Bevis’ life. But the full story is a long one, and in creating the story of Blood & Valour I began to split the tale into sections, each of which will make a story arc for a volume of the comic. Each arc deals with a challenge that Bevis must face and overcome. As it currently stands I have rough plans for at least 6 story arcs, and Bevis’ tale is nowhere near done.
In the first volume of Blood & Valour Bevis is a young boy, and this is his ‘origin story’. Bevis suffers great sorrow and loss and is banished from his homeland at a very young age; it is this series of events which become the catalyst for all that follows in his life.
So having decided which part of Bevis’ tale we would tell in the first volume of the comic, I began to plot out the key points of the story. I worked first with pen and paper, making short notes about the characters and events at each step of the story. I typed this document up and sat down with Marcus to talk him through the story. During that first conversation Marcus and I discussed the potential cliffhanger moments in the story and where each issue might end. At this early stage we did not know if the comic would be printed as individual issues or a single volume, so it was decided I would write the story as four issues, which would accommodate either route.
The next step was revising the story structure to identify the issue breaks, and then after a few final tweaks and revisions the story structure for Volume #1 was set. That structure document became the backbone for the comic book scripts, and the final comic matches that document almost exactly. (The few differences that have emerged have come out of the process of writing the final scripts)
So, with the story pretty much planned out, I was ready to put pen to paper start writing the scripts for Issues #1 to #4 of Blood & Valour…
Part 2 will be posted next week, in which Matt explains the stages of drafting an actual script of a comic book. Tune in next time to continue the adventure…