SDCC 2011: Breaking Into Comics The Marvel Way

A comics news article

Comic-Con had just started, and I was already running out of coffee. Not too quick, I told myself. You'll just want another one. My mind treats me like a 6-year-old. What a dick. My legs were a bit tired, so why not sit at a panel? I don't want to be cranky for the rest of the day.



Maybe my mind's right to treat me this way. After all, it decided I should go to "Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way," hosted by Marvel Comics' very own C.B. Cebulski ("C.C. Beck? But he's dead!"), joined by a diverse (in profession) array of Marvel people: Arune Singh (Director of Communications), Axel Alonso (Editor-in-Chief), Skottie Young (artist), Daniel Way (writer), Frank Tieri (writer), Jeph Loeb (Executive Vice President, Head of Television), Humberto Ramos (Artist) and Joe Quesada (Chief Creative Officer).

(Sorry, got distracted -- there's a cute girl here with magenta hair.)

I sat in on this panel when Marvel did it two years prior, and it was a flurry of obvious advice (make comics, spread the love, one day someone hire you) followed by a flurry of repetitive questions ("What advice do you have for someone who's aspiring to be the guy who pulps the comics where they accidentally print a swear?"). You can't blame 'em -- everyone wants an answer, none more so than the up-and-comer, finally up close and personal with the successful.

Comics culture is a funny thing, as fans have matriculated to professional status since at least the 1960s. I suppose this is one of the benefits of working in a miniscule, niche medium/industry. You know not all filmmakers are obsessive Tarantino types -- some are just money-grubbing douchebags. The people sitting at a table on stage ahead of us are thankfully not douchebags. You can't afford to be one in this industry.

(Oh god, her Vitamin Water is the color of her hair.)

"You want the secrets? You want the answers? There are none," warned Cebulski. The point of the talk isn't to give concrete answers, but to share the diverse stories of how various Marvel superstars got into the industry. Jeph Loeb's screenwriting work got him a gig at DC. Frank Tieri (who has a glorious Jersey accent) went from inker to Marvel.com employee to writer. Daniel Way got a Xeric grant. C.B. Cebulski got Skottie Young's business card from his Artist's Alley table. Axel Alonso wrote a news article that trashed the guy who stole an editor's girlfriend. Joe Quesada just happened to be meeting with Jim Owsley the day an artist quit. Arune Singh got invited to visit the Marvel offices by a friend. Humberto Ramos drew a comic for Quesada before he worked for Marvel.

(Crap, she left early.)

The one thing their stories have in common is that they're all completely different. Doing comics isn't something you can apply for -- it's something you just do and then keep doing until the right people see it and then someone starts paying you for it. Everyone has their own method, and the only way to break into comics is to figure out your own way.

(Stop being creepy!)

When the Q&A came around, I got nervous. The last time I attended one of these things, some mouth breather accused Marvel of only hiring screenwriters and made everything uncomfortable for everyone. This time, the answers were thankfully lacking in the repetition I dreaded. Lots more decent advice came out: be nice to people, get to know them so they'll read your stuff, get published elsewhere (even if it's self-published), pitch smaller stories (not epic event crossovers) so that publishers will know your ability to tell a story. 

It's like losing weight -- people want an easy way out, but it's something that requires hard work. As such, this is one of those panels where the information you get isn't going to change very much over the years. I'd been telling people they only need to sit through a "Breaking into Comics" panel once, but this year I realized that having a different lineup of panelists each year is what makes these worthwhile. You hear about the various ways they've made it, and should try to make it happen your own way -- not other people's ways.

Cebulski was wrong, by the way: there is a secret, an answer to breaking into comics. That answer is "make comics."

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