Welcome 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 panel@silverbulletcomicbooks.com and we’ll add them to the list…

This week’s question comes from Darren Schroeder and is as follows:-

” What are the benefits and drawbacks of the large-scale comics publishers predominantly choosing comics readers to be the next generation of writers/artists/production staff?”

Scott Allie:

That’s like asking about Simon and Schuster’s habit of hiring authors who also read.

Scott Allie edits and writes for Dark Horse – a trade of The Devil’s Footprints is just out, and is not only a superb collection but is an excellent story too.

Stephen Holland:

Damn, I thought this was going to be an easy one, but I’ve written, rewritten and edited it to death already.

There are plenty of benefits. I think the danger lies in comics written by those who read only comics; who don’t read fiction, biography, non-fiction or, worst of all, don’t read newspapers.

I’m certainly not amongst those who are immediately overawed by any hype that a publisher has found a real, live novelist to pen their corporate wares. I mean, above all I welcome any fresh, literate voice; but just as an Olympic-level sprinter may not necessarily be any cop at executing a javelin throw that could take your eye out from fifty yards, someone at the top of their prose craft will have to learn a completely new discipline when it comes to structuring sequential art, and their dialogue within it. Likewise someone used to decorating the Sistene Chapel ceilings isn’t going to be a certain dab hand at keeping the eye and mind moving slickly across a page of panels.

On the other hand, although you might suppose that someone who can already read comics might understand better how to structure the art form to its strongest advantages, reading isn’t necessarily understanding. Again, you really do need to think about what you’re doing (a quick course of Will Eisner’s Comics & Sequential Art is probably in order, as well as Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics).

Nor is a library of the complete works of Sir Christopher Claremont going to be a sure-fire route to producing mind-altering issues of The Uncanny X-Men. You might think that, so equipped, it’d be easier to keep Cyclops consistent. Well, your consistent is my tedious repetition.

I think Marvel and DC and doing well to look outside their narrow fields. I commend them for doing so; and, in the case of known names like Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith, so does our till.

Stephen Holland runs Page 45, a comic shop in Nottingham, England, with Mark Simpson and Tom Rosin. Donna Barr was one of the first creators to sign there, journeying all the way from the US of A. They’re terribly grateful, but still haven’t recovered. 😉

Donna Barr:

Good – Who else is going to work for the promise of a good party? Or buttons and cards?

Bad – Nepotism? Insular viewpoint? Stale stories and repetitive cookie-cutter art? Tiny market that can’t get outside of One Bomb?

“Large-scale” is a relative concept.

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.

Mike Collins:

Good and bad. Good, as they’re aware of the industry and how it functions – bad as in they know little else. We’re not talking specific people here – it’s a trend. Before I worked in comics I went to college, trained as a lawyer and worked in computer graphics at Xerox… lived in what laughably passes as ‘the real world’.

I entered comics with a sense of it being a job – a fun, lunatic, absurd one, but a job none the less. Would I liked to have gone straight into comics from school? Hell yes! But my time out working before I could turn professional gave me a perspective, and as my career has gone off in various directions (advertising, design and education work) that work ethic has sustained me (well, that and having three kids to feed).

Folks coming from outside comics have a perspective that the industry itself lacks- it’s just another publishing/development medium.. we like to think it’s special but essentially it’s not. If we stay cloistered we won’t be able to see that bigger picture.

Mike Collins has worked on many properties, including Batman, the Transformers, Captain Britain, Dourdevil and Judge Dredd.

Roger Langridge:

Benefits: they have a really good idea of what will please your hardcore comics fans, who are the primary audience these days.

Drawbacks: they don’t have a clue why the general public find the current comics output completely inaccessible. They’re too close to it; they assume that because they can follow who’s who, everybody else can. They can’t see the bigger picture.

Apparently Ted Turner once suggested turning Batman and Superman over to Cartoon Network, removing DC’s control entirely, because Cartoon Network seemed to be the only ones who knew how to present the characters in an accessible way. I think they should have done exactly that — it’s one of comics’ great missed opportunities.

Roger Langridge is the creator of Fred The Clown, a new issue of which is right now … your orders are to look out for it

Vince Moore:

I think the benefits of companies hiring former fans as creators are that they will bring a love for the characters into their work and a solid knowledge of the characters. But I think those qualities can also be the biggest drawbacks. If you love a character too much or are too aware of its history, then you might be tempted to repeat the kinds of stories you fell in love with in the first place. That’s probably where the recent Marvel policy of ignoring continuity originated. In the right hands though, hiring a fan works out for the best. Grant Morrison’s work on the JLA and Mark Waid’s on the Flash and the Fantastic Four are proof of that. I mean, what else would I say? I’m a fan and I would love to work on some of my favorite Marvel and DC characters if given the chance.

Vince Moore is the writer of Platinum Publishing’s upcoming book, Kid Victory & The Funky Hammer

Alonzo Washington:

I think comic book readers should become comic book creators. The drawbacks are some of them are brainwashed by the old school and may lack new ideas. However, I feel comic book creators should come from everywhere. We need new ideas & people to reinvent the industry. Some comic book readers can bring the goods and others can’t. The deeper question is what readers will the industry choose. Will it only be White males again? The industry needs innovation from everyone.

Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man and a noted black rights campaigner

Rob Williams:

Being clinical, the drawbacks probably outweigh the benefits. Comic fans becoming creators does bring a warmth and respect for the subject matter but we’re an art form that badly needs to reach outside our current cult fanbase. The fans becoming creators or editors just adds to the insular nature of the comics world and, let’s face facts, there’s an awful lot of fans who don’t read much else aside from comics. These people becoming the next generation of pros isn’t healthy. We need to be drawing inspiration from other sources. We need people to be inspired by movies, art and literature as well as by comic books. We need people bringing objective new ideas into the medium.

Having said all that, people outside of comics fandom don’t tend to just fall into creating comics. First off, you normally have to put in a lot of work and effort into trying to get a break in the industry and, even when you do get in, this isn’t exactly the best paid job in the world. You’re going to get a lot of rejections along the way and a lot of people not returning your emails or phone calls. In short, you’re going to get put through the wringer in the comics industry. Who’s going to do that unless you’re a fan? You talk to any comic pro and while they will whinge to high heaven about all the drawbacks and frustrations of working in comics they all have one main reason for staying in the industry – they love comics.

Rob Williams is the writer of Cla$$war for Com.X, Family for the Judge Dredd Megazine, a bunch of stuff for 2000AD, including the upcoming Low Life, and Star Wars Tales for Dark Horse.

Kwanza Osajyefo:

I think most of the people in comics are readers turned “pro” and one of the benefits is dedication. There is nothing like having someone working for/with you that loves what he or she does. Despite my bad experiences working at a large-scale publisher, I still love what I do. When people put their heart into a work you get some brilliant stuff– and fans know their shit so they can produce accurate and cohesive work.

There are many drawbacks to geeks in the Idea House–numero uno being zombie-like fanboyitis. This manifests itself as a number of weaknesses. Lack of experience outside of comics, i.e. they can’t bring anything to the table except an encyclopaedia of comic facts. Comics need more well-rounded, diverse individuals to help them grow.

Another is a zealot’s inability to find fault in anything the company produces or does. Yes-Men suck, and they seriously hurt the creative process.

My last one is “pack mentality.” How are new ideas and stories going to emerge from a bunch of doods that all have the same resume? You’ll end up with a bunch of tired, retread material that has just slightly different spins on the same concept. “So this time when Fight-Man battles Senor Evil, Evil uses a RAY GUN!” Oooooh a ray-gun! What will they think of next?!

The point being that, having a few fanboys on the team is great in a consultant capacity but comics are a business as well, so having experts in the other capacities is essential.

Kwanza Osajyefo is the founder of funkyComics, home to Jim’s Ninja and a number of other forthcoming comic book properties.

Vito Delsante:

I think I kind of fit into this category since I am just getting work now, so I’m in a unique position here coming up with answers. I remember reading in Writers on Comic Book Scriptwriting that the next generation of writers, the current one, will consist of, “…sitcom fans” or something to that effect. By and large, I find this to be true, even in my own writing. I don’t find that to be a good or bad thing, but I recognize the effect that TV has had on my life, and specifically, my writing. Many of the writers that I admire (Waid & Busiek among them) have editorial backgrounds. These days, that seems to be the exception rather than the rule…it seems as though we may be going back to the days when a comic fan would write tons of letters and then become a creator (a la Roy Thomas). The current generation of comic book creators is one that was deeply affected by Saturday morning cartoons and rushed home after school to catch Adam West pontificate on what it was like to be a hero in the 60s…but in reruns.

So, what are the benefits and drawbacks? Well, the drawbacks, to me, are few but are also essential nonetheless. It goes back to what I just said about writers coming from editorial. If said writer was an assistant editor for a company, then, after X amount of years he decided to write, he would have seen first hand the way that company does business and would have the upper hand over those of us that were fans first. Those of us that were fans first don’t necessarily have a publishing agenda at our fingertips. But, thankfully, the internet is the great equalizer. With it, I’ve been able to find artists, learn the difference between screenplays (my first vocation) and comics scripts and read interviews with editors on what their personal preferences are. That wasn’t available 20 years ago. Editors still have their A Team, their Beta Flight, and everyone else falls in the C category. The hardest road to climb is the one between C and B, and that road (pitching, schmoozing, etc.) is one that I wasn’t prepared for. I’m certain that my peers will agree with me when I say that when coming in, we thought it would be as simple as, “I’ll knock them dead with my story. They won’t be able to resist!” Being on the outside, we never knew the channels we’dhave to go through or something as simple as an editor’s scripting preference. But really, I think it comes down to trust. Editors trust those they’ve worked with in the past. There is no reason for an editor to trust a fan with delusions of grandeur. And if you’ve ever witnessed a fan accosting an editor at a convention, you know exactly why an editor would be leery to trust their characters in the hands of one. Whic leads me into the benefits…

If any editors are reading this, then let me make an impassioned plea: “Give the ‘kid’ a break.” Before you stands a “kid” that watched G.I. Joe, Transformers, Super Friends and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. To your left, a “kid” that has read the full run of Uncanny X-Men from #168 to the current issue. To your right, one that has worn every costume that Wonder Girl worn for Halloween…even the Darkstar costume. We are the kids whose parents didn’t allow us to vote for Jason Todd to be killed…the kids that cried when Phoenix sacrificed herself.

In other words, we’re the fans. The ones who love and believe in your characters. We’d like to tell you an interesting story about one of them if you’ll give us a chance.

Vito Delsante is currently pitching his creator owned mini-series, “The Mercury Chronicles”, with artist Jim Muniz. He can be seen in June’s “Batman Adventures Vol 2: Shadows and Masks” from DC Comics and in a forthcoming issue of X-Men Unlimited.

Brandon Thomas:

Seriously, where else are they going to recruit them? I think there’s an understanding that the people who enjoy a healthy respect and appreciation for the industry, are people that already belong to it in some way. Because of this, comic readers are much more likely to pursue careers in the industry, and it’s just law of averages that see some of them eventually graduate to professional status, if only to continue the torrid cycle. If the people that are dropping cash on these things every Wednesday are somehow compelled to become part of the machine themselves, I’d say something is working properly.

There’s always going to be the concern that the above scenario will breed a situation where comics become solely about other comics, and while that is legitimate, that’s going to be largely the exception and not the rule. Everyone’s experience reading comics is going to be slightly unique unto itself, and as with anything, the most important things are in the details. Breaking into this damn place is hard enough, and if somebody’s intent is to simply regurgitate every memorable storyline they ever read, in most cases, they won’t last long.

So, it’s natural, nothing to be afraid of or rebel against, just the industry actively manufacturing people to keep itself going.

Brandon Thomas is one of the writers of Spider-Man Unlimited #3, scripter of Youngblood, creator of Cross and long-time Ambidextrous columnist.

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