Welcome back to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.
The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to [email protected] and we’ll add them to the list…
This week’s question comes from Jamie Warr and is as follows:-
How do you break into the comic book industry now? Is it a case of self publishing and hoping you get noticed? How you did you break into the biz?
Kev F Sutherland :
I’ve recently started working full time in British comics again, for The Beano, and I got into that in a similar way to how I broke Brit comics 15 years ago. I sent scripts and samples until they bought them.
The first time round, in the late 80s, it took me literally a year to break in. There were two big comics at the time, 2000AD (the sci fi comic, which survives to this day) and Oink (the pig-themed humour comic, which doesn’t).
Every week I’d send something to at least one of those comic. 2000AD would say “your styles too funny, send it to Oink”, and Oink would say “your style’s too dramatic, send it to 2000AD”.
After 12 months of this, Oink bought something, and went on to buy something more every week until the comic got cancelled. If you find a copy of the final issue of Oink you’ll see a third of it is written and drawn by me. Of course, once it got the chop (excuse the pun) I was back at square one.
Lucky I hadn’t given up the day job, eh?
The same process got me regular work in a string of adult humour comics in the early 90s, and I stayed on that treadmill until the late 90s at Marvel.
When I last worked for Marvel it was just before their bankruptcy and implosion, so it was a case of “last in, first out”. Some artists clung on in there, but after you’ve been sacked from the lowliest job in comics (inking) on the least read of titles (Dr Strange and Star Trek) and you even have the added ignominy of owing THEM money (the next job I do for Marvel, apparently, I have to pay them $250 overpaid royalties), you say the hell with it and get out.
A good way of breaking into the biz is showing portfolios at comic conventions. Our next UK convention is in May, so I’d advise artists to start selecting their best work now.
Writer and artist on most genres of comic from (currently) The Bash St Kids in The Beano, thru Tarquin Hoylet He Has To Go To The Toilet in Viz, to Star Trek and Dr Strange for Marvel, plus Dr Who, Red Dwarf, Gladiators, Goosebumps and heaps more.
Basically. That’s sort of what I did, although the small press was a little different 10 years back. I also sent in the usual samples, using 2000AD characters and sample scripts, but the thing that worked best for me was having a whole 200 page book under my belt already. The important thing to note here is that this time spent doing small press isn’t about “I’ll do it till someone notices me”, it’s more about “I’ll do my book and make it the best I can because I may never get any further than this”. That way the work improves, and one gets better at one’s craft. If the only intent is to “break in” then I fear the work will be forever stunted.
Frazer Irving: Essex boy, artist, philanderer. Did the small press
for 5 years, then 2000AD for another five, moved onto the glorious silky pages of DC recently. Not one for pigeonholing, he rejects the penciller-inker-colourist team-up and has merged 3 clones of himself into 1 so that he does all jobs. Possibly known for work on 2000AD’s Necronauts, Judge Death and The Simping Detective, currently doodling Klarion the Witch-Boy for DC.
I’d like to know how to break into the industry myself. I’ve never made it to that point. I’ve got a lot of devoted editor pals, and a good number of fans, but the big guys just aren’t giving assignments. I have one cooking that MIGHT get me noticed.
So the answer to this one, as I see it, is that you try to draw as well as you can. You perspire, persevere, and pray a lot. IF you can make a living at it, then be thankful. If you can’t keep trying.
To those who seem to feel that I HAVE broken into comics (what with 20+ years of published work behind me). I got into comics by answering a classified ad. I’m still doing that sort of thing today. I use the Artist and Graphic Designer’s Market, and send out a couple of hundred self-promotional’s every few months or so. I go to shows. I network with friends who are similarly employed. I shmooze. But I don’t buy drinks for editors at shows. Maybe that’s the problem
James E. Lyle is a cartoonist and illustrator, including co-creating titles Escape to the Stars, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and DoorMan, plus work on Fright Night, Cynicalman Sells Out, and the accurately-spelt Wiindows. More recently Lyle worked on Turok, the “missing” Paul Gulacy T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents, and DRASTIK #1.
Breaking into the comic industry is pretty much a case-by-case thing. It depends on what you want to do, your personal temperament, your levels of drive and creativity, and so on and on and on. If you’re an artist you have much better chances as EVERYONE is looking for artists (comics is a visual medium after all). But just because someone can draw doesn’t mean they have what it takes to make it as an artist in this industry. Drawing for comics requires LONG HOURS of sitting at a drawing table more often than most drawing things from someone else’s script and possibly drawing things you don’t care for. Time is spent looking for reference, doing layouts, pencilling, and sometimes inking. All the while you still have your family and friends looking for time and attention, plus your bills and expenses have to be taken care of… more than likely you’re going to need a day job as you won’t be making much in comics for a couple of years. A lot of people have the gift, but they don’t have the longevity to run the gauntlet- this is where you get artists that flake out at the last minute and some give up the medium completely from frustration or burn out.
As a writer, it’s slightly easier to juggle your writing with everything else, but the competition is fierce. EVERYONE thinks they can write, but the fact is that most can’t or need a lot more polish. Publishers don’t have time to look at writing samples and many already have more than enough writers already on hand. Like the artists, they also have to go through the gauntlet of balancing love, life, finances, talent, and the dream itself.
Personally I got into comics later than most and at first I never intended to do things for the big companies. I enjoyed reading their books, but I always wanted to get into comics doing my own things on my terms. Call me a control freak… I’m a Virgo. I’m a writer and artist, but my real calling is storytelling- I rarely do finished artwork anymore. I had stories to tell with characters that were close to my heart and I set out to put them in print. That was my path and it worked for me… your path may be different. Whatever your goals and desires, you’re going to have a lot of hard work in front of you. Whatever your craft, do it. Constantly. If you draw, you need to draw. Not just what you like, EVERYTHING. People, vehicles, buildings, animals, weapons, clothes, etc. If you write, then write. So many “writers” always talk about these story ideas that are so great, but never put pen to paper or fingers to keys. A good idea is worthless if you don’t put it into action. Research your craft- constant research. Everything you can read about your targeted profession, seek it out and devour it. Read about the people you identify with or look up to and notice their struggles and what it took for them to make it where they are today. Make connections and start producing work. It doesn’t have to be “real” comics- I started off writing and drawing my own mini comics, copying them at work or my local Kinko’s, and selling them/giving them away just to get my stories out. You can hook up with others and work on comics. The point isn’t to make money, mostly this is practice. Lots of time, energy, and money on things that may or may not ever see the light of day. It’s tough, but it makes you better at what you do and it gives you an idea of your limits and what the workload is really like.
To end this, really take a good long look at who you are, what you want to be, and what it takes to get there. Comics is a tough industry… about 85% of people who try will not make it very far. If you really want it keep plugging away and don’t let ANYONE or ANYTHING stop your journey. I can’t promise you success… actually I can promise you strained relationships, spent money (LOTS of spent money), long hours, sleepless nights, and frustration… but if this is really something you HAVE to do to survive and feel alive you will do all of it and more to make it to where you want to be.
Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics, creator of Vampires Unlimited, the Metamutoids, ChiSai, and Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs. Zombies while the writer of Lethal Instinct from Alias Enterprises and publisher of Myriad from Approbation- in stores now!!
Right now, I would say the self publishing is the best method to get your stories out there. And if you want to attract the attention from Marvel or DC, that’s probably the best way a writer will get noticed. By self publishing, I’m including web comics. The day of web comics has arrived, if for nothing else, because they have their category in the Eisner Awards this year.
As for me, I’m still trying to break into the comics biz. Hopefully this summer will change. If anybody out there needs an editor or co-writer, look me up. I need the hook up.
Vince Moore is the editor for DarkStorm Studios, a comics company started by Kevin Grevioux of Underworld fame.
Self-publishing isn’t simply just a way to ‘get noticed’ – self-published comic books *are* a part of the comic book industry. Some self-publishers (most notably, Dave Sim, Jeff Smith and Terry Moore) have used self-publishing as both an artistic means of expression free from editorial interference and a way to maintain full ownership; and as a means of regular income.
But if you’re really asking, “how to do I get to work for a major comics publisher?” then that’s a slightly different question. Certainly, showing that you have the chops to put together an entire comic and publish it yourself demonstrates to a publisher a degree of skill and commitment; but whether your work would be deemed good enough is possibly down to the personal preferences of the hiring editor.
Building an audience through low-paid work for other publishers, demonstrating a consistency and an ability to meet deadlines can also help your reputation within the industry. It may be a more proactive (and rewarding) approach to take than simply sending samples off to unresponsive publishers or standing in line at convention portfolio reviews.
While there are a huge number of highly talented comics creators currently unemployed or under-used, and with major publishers preferring to share their jobs among a select “hot” few, or to import talent from other fields (such as TV), self-publishing might not only be the means, but also the end.
Gary Spencer Millidge is the creator of the weird and wonderful Strangehaven comic, of which issue sixteen is coming imminently….yay!
I never intended to become a writer. I was trained as an editor–which, by the way, may still be one of the best ways to break into the publishing business. It wasn’t until I realised that instead of rewriting other people’s material, I could be creating my own–and earning considerably more money than an editor–that I took the plunge and went freelance. (I have to confess that my potential sacking in the near future played a large part in the decision.)
While self-publishing is a viable option, and will ensure any talent gets noticed sooner or later, it can be financially ruinous. Despite having John Wagner and Simon Bisley aboard for “Shit the Dog”, for instance, in the short term I lost £6,000 publishing it.
Anybody wanting to break into comics who’s computer savvy should be publishing their own stuff on the Net.
And don’t feel you have to aim your talents at the majors like DC and
Marvel–who, as I understand it, are no longer accepting unsolicited proposals. There are thousands of magazines out there, many of whose editors have never thought of running a comic (yet).
I’ve been selling one-off gags and 3-panel scripts to magazines as diverse as ‘VW Motoring’, ‘Caravan, Camper and Mobile Home’ and ‘Forest Machinery Journal’.
Alan Grant, writer of Dredd, Batman, and the slightly mad Doomlord, can be seen currently with Arthur Ranson on Judge Anderson in the Judge Dredd Megazine, and the superb Com.X trade collection of The Last American.
There’s no way to really answer this first question truthfully because there are as many ways to break into any business as there are people who try and break in. My only advice on this is that if you want to do comics, you must do them slowly and then you will do them the right way. Focus on a few things and do them well. Many things that look like an overnight success are not; it took time and pain to create long-term careers. The illusion of “fame” as propogated by the media generally pretends to launch successful people into overnight fairy-tale careers. Most of us have held down three jobs, and still may even hold down a part-time job as a successful writer / creator / artist. Historically, this is a common concept. Legendary writer Virginia Wolfe ran a printing press to make money on the side for example. Another famous writer (who’s name escapes me right now, sorry) sold insurance. So don’t be afraid to work a day-job and make writing your night-job. You must be prepared to work hard, work slowly, and be in it for the sake of writing, not for the fame. For most of us, writing is a calling not just a past-time or hobby. We write for a career because we can’t not write. Writing is not always pleasant, and doesn’t always come easy, but to write is better than not writing. In truth, not writing is not an option. Most of us would go nuts.
I broke into the biz because I was a credited screenwriter for TV shows like Babylon 5, Crusade and Earth: Final Conflict. I was able to get an appointment with Top Cow to pitch my series No Honor and we created that comic as a four issue mini-series. From there, I began work with Marvel doing additional dialog over pencils and plots. You read that right — I went from creating my own comic book to polishing someone else’s comic book. Happily. Work is work and every type of work has something to offer whether creating from scratch or collaborating on an existing comic. I then started working on fill-in issues of Amazing Spider-Man and a few short mini-series. Then DC asked me to do a Thundercats mini-series, and Top Cow asked me to do a Tomb Raider maxi-series. Last year, I received a phone call from Axel Alonso about doing the new “spider” style comic, Araña: Heart of the Spider and we opened that storyline in their revamped Amazing Fantasy series. I started playing in comics in 1999/2000. It’s now 2005 and I’m just now writing my first long-term series (Araña) for Marvel. So, it takes a while to build your career. You should turn nothing down and be ready to work as the letter opener for the company if that’s your only way into the business.
Fiona Avery created No Honor at Top Cow, and currently writes Arana for Marvel.
What a constructive question!
It does presume, though, that self-publishing isn’t a valid goal in itself. I’d say Dave Sim (Cerebus), Terry Moore (Strangers In Paradise), Donna Barr (Desert Peach/Stinz), Gary Spencer-Millidge (Strangehaven) and Jeff Smith (Bone) have pretty much “made” it, and they’re all self-publishers. Donna and Gary may correct me on this, but I doubt any of the above saw self-publishing as a stepping stone! Plus, I think we can all agree that every one of them has been noticed.
But yes, if your own projected trajectory sees corporate whoredom as the main objective, there’s nothing like a portfolio, and there’s no portfolio better in the comic book industry than a body of completed comics demonstrating both that you have something to say, and the skill with which to say it. I’m thinking Brain Michael Bendis (Jinx etc.), Sean McKeever & Mike Norton (the beautiful Waiting Place) — and how do you you think Dr. Parsons got himself published by a major mainstream book publisher (Tony & me by George bush)? It’s all those mini-comics of his that we’ve sold over the years, like 101 Ways Princess Dianna Might Have Died.
The way I got my gig writing a monthly column for Comics International was through being invited by Antony Johnston (Three Days In Europe, Spooked etc.) to do a guest-editorial for the superb http://www.ninthart.com site. The way I got that was writing most of each Page 45 Mailshot (sign up at http://www.page45.com) for so many years. Neither spots were actually in my sights – they weren’t things I’d honestly considered – but both came through being spotted doing what they wanted me to do: write.
It’s a similar thing with retail: you want to open a comic shop? The best training you can have is through working in someone else’s comic shop for a couple of years, sussing out exactly where they’re going right, where they’re going wrong, and then doing it for yourself… only a damn sight better!
How did I get a job working in someone else’s comic shop? I believe that ties into next week’s question… 🙂
Stephen Holland runs Page 45 – a comic shop in Nottingham – with Mark Simpson and Tom Rosin. He can also be found, monthly, in Comics International.
Go to APE.
Or get somebody to let you write articles.
Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com, webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at www.booksurge.com Nothing she won’t try, at least once…including writing a column for SBC at this link!
I really have no idea how someone breaks into the industry now. I was really fortunate. I worked for a comic distributor for eight years, made some contacts. One of those contacts asked me to help him start a small press publishing company. We did that for three years and then ran out of money. He went on to get a job at a major publisher, and hired me to write for him. That’s how I started out.
Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently editing the fourth Simpsons TV Episode Guide for Bongo Comics/Harper Perennial, and writing stories for DC Comics’ Looney Tunes and Cartoon Cartoons.
I got into anthologies, like Wimmen’s Comix and Gay Comix, in the late 70sand early 80s. I also self published, Dynamite Damsels, back in 1976. I also contributed to benefit books, and in the 80s there were not too many books out there, or anthologies. Today there are almost too many comics and websites and such, so I cannot honestly say if there is either a wealth of places to have your work available or just too big a sea of material to get lost in!
Roberta Gregory is the creator of “Bitchy Bitch”, who not only stars in Roberta’s Naughty Bits comic book (ex from Fantagraphics), but also appears on television worldwide in animated adventures, the latest being the “Life’s a Bitch” series on the Oxygen Network.
A big thanks to Jamie Warr for the question, another good one this week with lots of interesting and useful answers. I also want to thank the panellists that took part and remind you, the reader, if you have a question you want answered send it now!!
The Next Panel will be out in two weeks, also a quick reminder to all UK readers… check out http://www.comicexpo.net for more information on the Comic Expo happening in the UK in May – come along, I will be there with the team from SBC and also with my own Self-Published comic company http://www.portentcomics.com! I will also be filming for a documentary so come down and have your say about the British Comic Scene and Comics in general!!
“The views and opinions expressed on the panel are solely those of the panellist who has written them. They do not reflect the views or opinions of silver bullet comic books or myself. Freedom of speech is great isn’t it – James”
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