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Some Thoughts on Titles

By Greg Pak

I spent more time than I care to admit the other week trying to come up with a title for a new comic book project. I thought I had the perfect title, but then the project changed in a great way, bringing a new element to the table that the title really should evoke. And it became surprisingly tough to come up with just the right replacement.

I was looking for two or three words that instantly create a picture and action in the potential reader’s mind. Two or three words that evoke a genre and create a sensation of forward motion and intrigue — while also being able to serve as a title for an ongoing series that stretches over multiple story arcs.

Tricky, huh?

So I made some lists to try to understand what makes good titles work, particularly for comic books and serial genre fiction. Here are the categories I came up with and what they made me think about:

Titles Based on the Main Character’s Name

Superman
Batman
Wonder Woman
Scott Pilgrim
Lone Wolf & Cub
Hellboy

Pretty straightforward, right? I’d love to embrace this solution and just name the book after my main character. But it’s worth noting that “Superman” and “Batman” only launched as books after the characters had debuted in “Action Comics” and “Detective Comics,” respectively. Before the world knew about superheroes, it didn’t necessarily make sense to launch a book with the name of a superhero. If you’re creating an unexpected genre or doing fresh worldbuilding, the character’s name alone may have trouble creating that image and effect you want in reader’s minds. Of course, in comics, the title will be rendered in a specific style and accompanied by evocative art, so the words alone don’t have do all the work. But there might be ways to help them along…

Titles Based on the Main Character’s Name… Plus an Extra Description

Nausciaa of the Valley of Wind
Elric of Melnibone
Hikaru No Go
Alice in Wonderland
Y the Last Man
V for Vendetta
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (etc.)
Sex Criminals
Turok Dinosaur Hunter

This may very well work for my project. The character’s name in my project is evocative but not absolutely demonstrative of genre — but combined with a tag of some kind, it can evoke the genre and action of the whole story pretty well. I’m realizing this is a technique used frequently for fantastical stories and can be a great way to clue readers into what’s so fresh about the story in just a few words. I have a few strong possibilities that fit this pattern.

Titles Based on the Story’s Key Event

Attack on Titan
World War Hulk
Star Wars
Old Man’s War
Escape from New York
Star Trek

Love these kinds of titles — used one myself with “World War Hulk” back in the day. (Marvel editor Tom Brevoort gets the credit for that title, by the way, as I recall — it beat out “Hulkmageddon,” which is probably a good thing.) But I’m developing a book that I’d love to see go on for years, and I’m not certain that an event-based title will apply so perfectly four or five story arcs down the line.

Titles Based on the World

Planet Hulk
Battlestar Galactica
DMZ
Sin City
Astro City

Again, I love these kinds of titles. They’re particularly attractive when you’re building a new world. I’ve been rolling some world-based names around, but just haven’t found one that clicks just yet.

Titles Featuring the Inciting Character, Antagonist, or Objective

Lord of the Rings
Aliens
Predator
Akira
Wizard of Oz
Princess Mononoke
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Princess of Mars

These titles are very interesting to me — they put the objective or antagonist front and center rather than the putative main character. But this doesn’t feel right for the way I’m building this particular story.

Conceptual Titles

Ex Machina
Fables
Powers
Saga
Tooth & Claw
Pretty Deadly

I love these kinds of titles and I had a few evocative, single word titles in mind for this project — but of course they were already taken. This is a problem — folks have been telling and titling stories for a long, long time. And thousands more stories are published every year. So it’s honestly pretty tough to come up with a one or two word conceptual title that hasn’t already been used.

If all goes well, I’ll reveal what the title is and how we picked it when the project actually gets announced some time in 2015. Knock on wood for me!

For more thoughts about the writing and comic book process, check out “Make Comics Like the Pros,” a how-to book I wrote with Fred Van Lente.

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