Welcome to SBCB’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@example.com and we’ll add them to the list… (seriously we need your questions – without them the panel dies)
This week’s question is as follows:-
“How do you break into comics as a writer?”
It’s very easy. You just break in to television, have a big time comics writer notice that, and then he’ll recommend you. Simple! Now, having given that hideous answer, let me pick it apart for a second. All writers had mad ways into what they do. Nobody ever qualified from writing school, got hired as a junior writer, worked hard in the writing pool and got promotion to being a bestselling writer. It’s impossible to get work without an agent, and it’s impossible to get an agent without having work. There’s a certain kind of people who hear that and go: oh, well, if it’s impossible then obviously it can’t be done, so I’ll go and do something else. And they’ll usually yell about how unfair it is as the slam the doors on the way out.
The reason that writers all had mad ways in to what they do is: they got round that, and a number of other Gordian Knots like that. (It’s actually even tougher for actors.) Ways to get round that vary wildly. But they mostly have the following things in common: work way hard on your craft; *seek out harsh criticism* and *change your work because of it*; it’s not *just* what you know, it’s *also* who you know, so get to know some people, and be nice to them. (I don’t mean be fawning and insincere, I mean be a sociable and decent person who’s obviously a joy to work with.)
Comics is such a narrow industry now that that whole process often happens more effectively in other media. So go do some of that too.
If you work hard enough at it, you will get there. But hard means hard. Fame costs, and here’s where you start paying: in sweat! (I’m getting carried away now.) Bet this question gets loads of long replies like this. We all just like to show off because we’re now in the Grass Is Greener Section. Get jealous, put the work in, come and join us!(High horse mode off.)
Paul Cornell Writes Doctor Who Stuff. In telly, in books. He Writes WIDSOM for Marvel and its damn good too!
First things first, I don’t recommend breaking into anything. Many states have serious laws against this sort of behavior which could easily lead to jail time. However, if you’re insistent on proceeding, you need a good plan.
Usually, it helps to have a detailed map of the business, so you know what entry point might be unguarded and minimize any witnesses to your upcoming crime. You’ll also need to pinpoint your escape route, as a fast getaway may be the difference between a prosperous life and a cold room with bars on the window.
It also helps to know your objective. If you’re breaking into a bank, then obviously you want money. However, there’s not much money in the comic business, so breaking in solely for that might be a risk not worth taking.
When you’ve defined your objective, then you’ll need a get away car and possibly a place to lay low after the break in. There’s nothing worse than pulling off a successful B&E only to find the police waiting for you when you get home, so find a place other than your house. And your mom’s house doesn’t work either, not that I know that from experience or anything…
Once you have your plan in place, you might want to case the joint so you can become fluent in the day to day operations. Quite often, during break ins, things don’t go as planned, so the more familiar you are with the business, the easier it will be to adapt to adverse situations that might bring your well laid plan to a rather unplanned ending.
Next, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the people you may encounter inside. Some of these people might be helpful should you need a hostage or someone with a specialized skill such as cover layout & design. Conversely, you might encounter someone who could end your venture unceremoniously, if they happen to have their own agenda that doesn’t include you profiting from your own hard work.
Now that you have your plan, you’ve made yourself familiar with the area and people, defined your objective and tied up any loose ends such as hygiene or etiquette; you’re ready for the break in.
This message will self destruct in 10 seconds
Mike Bullock is a writer, promotion agent and President of Runemaster Studios, Inc. Lions, Tigers & Bears, his first published foray into comic writing, was published in January 2005 from Image Comics, and the equally excellent sequel appeared from Image last year. His other comic credits include editorship on Alias Enterprises’ Imperial Dragons and Dreamwave’s Warlands. Mike Also Writes The Phantom, and its darn good too!!.
Eeeeeeeeeeek. erm,well,the best way is to start as many others did. Get into the fan press; write reviews, previews and anything else to get your name in print and noticed.
I still jump at any chance to do these things because people keep coming up to me asking; “you are NOT dead then?” Ahh, the price of fleeting fame!
Get into the Small Press and link up with an artist and produce a comic or several -photocopied comics are the grass roots of the industry. Most of today’s big names started via the Small Press -learn the writing skill and, most importantly, learn to think on your ass! And I mean that most respectfully -in the last twenty years I’ve had artists working on strips in magazines, comics and even local newspapers who phoned me up and said “I’ve hit a blank! I need a gag or story for __pages by this afternoon!!” I either go over an idea straight away or [old days here] faxed a script within a couple hours or, now, email off a script/gag/whatever. However, that comes from YEARS of practice. As an artist I do NOT start a comic I’ve created or working on myself with a script. No thumbnails art. Just a blank page. On bad days I can throw 4-5 pages away because I hate them or something is not right.
Start with a blank sheet of paper and visualise –I may know characters I’m going to use but that’s it. Inspiration can come from anywhere/thing/time -my Thaddeus Twatt character was inspired more than 37 years ago by a mix of Dr Who and Professor Brainstorm books [and the wonderful art of Heath Robinson]. “History Quest”, that I’m currently working on was inspired by my love of history.
I recall one writer in the 1980s asking, in a script, for a view through a keyhole showing a body in a bath. Easy: keyhole shape, body and bath centrally placed. Noooope. The writer went on to describe all FOUR walls of the bathroom, cracked tiles, old medicine cabinet and the plaster falling off the ceiling and tiled floor! IMPOSSIBLE. You either show the body through the keyhole or a bathroom scene.
The same applies to other aspects of scripting. Another writer, for a football strip, wanted a close-up of the player kicking the ball into goal…he then described what twenty -exactly 20!- of the crowd were doing and how their emotions should be shown. Yet another writer asked that the crowd section in another panel contain no fewer than 102 individuals. It HAD to be 102 because he had, for the story, sketched out in notes what EACH of those people had done leading up to the match. As the editor asked while I was present: “WHY???”
Another writer was a little disillusioned because a script he had submitted to a comic called Starblazer [a digest sized comic published by Thomson of Dundee back in the 1980s]had not been drawn as he had wanted. “The artist ruined it! He messed up the whole concept and story!!” I asked the writer if he had a copy of the script…he had, coincidentally. I looked over it; Starblazer had 1 or 2 panels per page, sometimes 3. The writer had asked the artist to draw “a full ———– space wing. This consists of ten heavy battle cruisers,20 deep space destroyers,150 fighter/intercept craft as well as 20 skirmish craft” This onto a digest comic sized page. I tried, diplomatically, to point out just how impossible this was but the writer then went on to criticise the artist who had “not designed the craft correctly”.
The point is that you CAN over-write or get over precious about your script. That seems common these days. But what anyone wanting to write for comics has to realise is that they are writing for pay. An editor might approve a script but then cut something out because he knows it cannot be drawn or will fill out the issue too much [and they are constrained by page count!]. You script, you take your cheques and buy your food and pay the bills. End of story. I’ve seen scripts I’ve written butchered by “up-and-coming new talent” who vanish within a year because they want to draw it THEIR way. I just tell the editor “gods that was drawn like crap –but I got the cheque, thanks!” Move to next job.
So you have to start by learning the trade. Look at how people like Lee and Kirby worked! Look at how scripts were written by old pros. You ARE NOT Alan Moore. An editor will not say “write me a twenty issue epic -no editing by me!” Just doesn’t happen.
Once you think your skills are passable [dependent on your ego!] send copies of your Small Press comic or even just finished/lettered art pages along with a copy of the script to publishers and be prepared to listen to what they tell you [even if it sounds like they are talking crap] because THEY are the potential employers. If you know how to contact pro artists or writers ask for their advice. Chat to pro writers at conventions but never, ever stop writing.
DC and Marvel are very unlikely to say “Hey, we want you to script the Avengers” [I can dream, can’t I??] so concentrate on the smaller publishers. Even if these are the smaller non-paying publishers because, after all, if they do use your script/characters you will see them in print in a comic. That is something to show around and send to bigger publishers.
But it really is get up at 7am, type. Stop for lunch 12 Noon. Start work again 2pm…..until you get that break and only one in a hundred [more likely 500 but I’m being up-beat here!] is likely to get that break. Whatever mummy or daddy says about your genius they ARE biased. You could even look around and see if there is a comic forum in your town where like minded individuals get together.
Until that break comes, unless your parents are paying the bills: get a job that pays!
I’m always here for you, Sweeties so don’t be shy!
Writer, artist and freelance editor as well as Small Press publisher. Has toyed with writing for magazines, TV and radio outside comics. Drew and wrote for Marvel UK, London Editions [Manchester],Blue Comet Press, Fleetway/IPC as well as for Fantagraphics imprints Monster and Eros Comics where he wrote the best selling Two Hot Girls On A Hot Summer’s Night [!]. Has also worked in Europe, India comics and, more recently has been putting together projects for Chinese comic publishers. Published Zine Zone International between 1983-1995 and Comic Bits since 1999. Recognised as a talent spotter and got several well known artists their breaks into comics. Comic historian to boot and currently working on The Who’s Who of British Diamond, Golden & Silver Ages Comics.
Kev F Sutherland :
I can only tell you what I did. Which was, in short, to break in,then get dropped, then break back in again, then get dropped, then break back in again, then get dropped, then break back in again and – wait, this isn’t making me sound good!
I’m Kev F, I write and draw for The Beano comic in the UK. Here’s how I broke into the comic business. The first few times.
My first break was writing Captain Klep and some Future Shocks in
2000AD when I was still at school. I had those things accepted by then sub-ed Alan, purely as a result of sending samples, all written and drawn by me in that case, through the mail, and getting replies by mail. It was the olden days.
I could have built on that introduction to the business, but I got distracted by going to art college, and when next I got onto 2000AD asking for them to look at my samples, Alan had moved on and the sub-editor in his place didn’t favour my stuff. They’d found some new guy called Alan Moore.
So my next break came when I spent one solid year sending script and art samples to the two comics that were worth bothering with in 1986, Oink! And 2000AD. 2000AD said “your stuff’s too funny, send it to Oink” and Oink said “your stuff’s too dramatic, send it to 2000AD”. It took literally a year, from June 1986 to June 1987, sending something to at least one comic, often both, every week until eventually Oink bought something. I kept up the work, and they kept giving me more.
Then, in 1988, my work made up one third of the final issue.
After a glorious year of being a comics professional, just as I was on the verge of giving up the day job, I was back to square one.
Next break was the wave of humour comics that rode on the shirt tails of Viz. I sent stuff to Brain Damage, got stuff bought for a follow up comic Gas, and I was back in the business. Again I got the work by sending samples in an envelope, enclosing an s.a.e. (I just remembered the question I’m supposed to be answering here).
For a couple of good years I became a most sought after writer and artist for humour comics, expanding into Zit, Blag, Smut and others. I gave up the day job and have been a full time freelance since July 1989. Then I found myself a publisher willing to take a punt, and made for myself the chance to edit some titles, which I also wrote and drew for, inc UT, Kack and a horror comic Bloody Hell. The humour bubble burst in 1992 and all of those comics ceased to exist (or in the case of Zit changed ownership and fired all previous talent, owing them all lots of money, me included).
I showed entrepreneurial flare by creating The Big Comic, a syndicated newspaper strip section. It ran for one week in Weston Super Mare. I self published Captain Clevedon and BS1. They weren’t big sellers.
From then on I went for whatever I could lay my hands on, while I still had something of a reputation. This led to Red Dwarf Smegazine – I was in the final issue of that; Zig & Zog’s Zagazine, I was in all 5 issues of that; The Gladiators Comic – I created, co-edited, wrote and drew all 3 issues of that. It wasn’t going well. I’m even in the last issue of Warrior, would you believe?
When every comic I’d ever worked in had gone tits up I had a stint designing t-shirts (I designed Red Dwarf’s ‘Let’s Get Out There And Twat It!’, the best selling t-shirt of Christmas 1993) then found myself sharing a studio with Mark Buckingham and picking up crumbs from his table. I started helping him ink Chris Bachalo on Ghost Rider 2099, then I became a Marvel inker in my own right!
At last, I was working for Marvel comics. (I got the break through sharing the studio with Mark, we lived in the same town, then got the work by doing good inking). I built on inking Mark’s work on Dr Strange and Star Trek, to ink Gary Frank, Pasqual Ferry, Tom Morgan and others. I pencilled a couple of Dr Stranges over Mark’s layouts and was on the verge of being a penciller in my own right. I even got a break writing – I wrote one issue of Midnight Sons featuring Werewolf By Night, which I also inked.
It was going great. I was working full time for Marvel comics, my childhood dream, the biggest comic company in the world. What could go wrong now?
What went wrong was that Marvel was bought by Ron Perlman, they filed for Section 11 bankruptcy, titles were slashed by two thirds. And as far as talent was concerned, it was last in, first out. The last comic I was working on ceased to exist. Its editor ceased to work for Marvel.
Suddenly I was no-one again. Mark went to work for DC, who had other people in mind to ink his books. And that was that. I needn’t tell you I was pretty depressed.
In 1998 I drew educational illustrations for classroom packs and trained to sell double glazing. I got on the phone to the guy who used to edit the kids comics I’d been working on. He was now selling orthopedic furniture.
So I got out of comics, through no choice of my own, and kept my connection with it by running the Comic Festival from 1999 to 2004. Even that didn’t end as neatly as I’d have liked. Long story, I lost money.
But, as luck would have it, I’d made new connections during my running of the Festival, one of whom was the editor of The Beano. I asked if he’d look at my script and art samples. Once more I sent stuff through the mail, once more he replied by mail, and once more I was in work.
Since November 2004, the month after the last Comic Festival ended, I have been writing and drawing for The Beano comic. I’m onto my second editor and I’m still hanging in there.
It’s nice, for as long as it lasts.
By the way, why the hell would you want to work in comics?
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.
As an artist in comics I’ve mostly worked with writers. In recent years I’ve been doing much of my own writing, since I have had a hard time keeping a working relationship with many writers. Maybe that’s my fault, but I try to be pretty easy going.
So all I can do is comment.
The thing I’ve noticed about most writers in comics is that A) they are frustrated artists, and B) they tend to be manic-depressive (using this term loosely, as I had only once class in psychology in college). This is not to say that I the artist have not tended to be easily discouraged, but the problem seems to be greatly magnified on the comic writer’s part.
As a consequence of this I have spent a lot of my time as an artist encouraging my pal(s) the writer of whatever I’m working on presently. Trying to get him up off the floor and out of a funk to finish whatever we’re working on seems to occupy much of my time. This is a mixed bag. While I consider it my Christian duty to help out the downhearted, it makes earning a living difficult at times.
Thus the statement above, about becoming my own writer. I can write my own stuff and have only myself to blame if it doesn’t come off. And it often doesn’t. But there’s the added advantage of having only my own mouth to feed rather than splitting the payment with another person.
I’ve also often found myself at cross purposes with a particular writer who doesn’t see the world the same as I do. This is always a difficult issue to deal with. So now I’m either telling the writer up front what I will or won’t do in a particular story or series, or I’m going off to write my own stuff.
But to answer the actual question (bearing in mind that I’m simply guessing based on my own experiences with other people who write), I’d say:
First, know how to write. There’s nothing worse than someone who thinks they can write handing you a story and it’s completely incomprehensible! This happens a lot more than you’d think. Having a screenwriting program does NOT make you a writer, any more than having a camera makes you a photographer.
Second, be courteous. Even if you CAN write, handing someone a script at a convention and then hanging around for them to read it is a bad idea. I can’t read a script unless there are no distractions at all. I often wait for weeks until I have some free time to read a script. Imagine my disappointment if that script turns out to be in the incomprehensible category.
Third, be professional. By “professional” I mean, “do not pitch a fit if someone doesn’t like your script”. You aren’t helping anyone by freaking out that people don’t love your work. It’s an opinion. Sometimes that opinion is correct, but either way getting all emotional about it isn’t helping.
Fourth, if you get an assignment, be prompt. I can procrastinate with the best of them, but if you get a job writing something don’t mess around and blow it by not being “in the mood”. A half-baked first draft is better than no draft at all. There will always be tweaks.
Fifth, aim high, but don’t obsess about perfection. Do not annoy everyone around you, or sink into depression because you can’t achieve perfection with your latest piece. Perfection is not possible in this life. In comics we often complain that the last book we did wasn’t all that we wanted. If we’d had more time we would have done better, etc. But the book got done, and the readers enjoyed it, so don’t sweat it. Realize what you did wrong and move on. Use it next time. Don’t wear out yourself and your collaborators re-writing, over and over.
Sixth, be pleasant. This may be restating number two, but locking eyes with a potential collaborator (editor, publisher, etc) at a convention or other meeting and refusing to leave them for the rest of the day (or hour, sometimes quarter hour) is no way to get anyone’s positive attention. If you have a pitch, keep it short. Say your piece, shut up and move on. If the work is worth comment you’ll get feedback, assuming you haven’t annoyed the person you were trying to get interested in your work.
If you have to explain your idea in minute detail to get a glimmer of understanding from whomever you are talking to, it may be that your idea is either too difficult to grasp, or too stupid to be believed.
So, I hope this helps. Didn’t mean to go on and on like that. Hey, where are you going? I was going to shut up!
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.
How did I start as a writer?
I always wanted to get into comics doing both words and pictures (I naively assumed it was just one job).
I broke into comics as an artist (with the assistance of Alan Moore, to whom I’m eternally grateful) and was in position -having gotten through the Catch 22 of ‘no one will hire you til someone else hires you’ – to pitch my tent as one of them ‘typer-drawers’. Working for Marvel UK on toy tie-ins, I was in a position to pitch script ideas (as I dropped off art based on other people’s scripts). Editors Bernie Jaye and then Chris Gill gave me a chance and lo, I was a published writer. However, it was working as co-writer with Steve Moore on an abortive Spider-Man UK run that I learnt how to compose, structure and shred a script down to the bare essentials. It was invaluable to understanding how much better scripts can be for what you leave OUT.
For several periods in my comic’s career, I’ve done more writing than drawing– but ideally I like the ability to create whole pieces of work, as I currently do for Weekly World News and occasionally on Doctor Who Magazine.
Mike Collins is the artist and (sometime) writer on Doctor Who Magazine, the writer/artist on Matthew Daemon for Weekly World News and artist on Varg Veum for Norway.
There’s no one way to break into comics as a writer. Keep reading, keep researching, and keep writing are the only main themes.
If you want to go with a certain publisher, research their submission guidelines and follow them to the letter.
The road will be long and tough as many think writing is easy and will try it on a whim. It’s sort of like American Idol… many think they have the gift, but how many really do? Even if you actually have writing talent, competition will be fierce and it’s much harder to gain attention for your work from an editor than say for an artist (an editor can see talent or slush from quick glances of a few pages… they’ll have to actually devote time to read a writing submission, and time is something they usually don’t have much to spare).
The comic writing road will be a long and perilous one. Eventually you’ll discover that it’s far easier to get into comics than stay there. I’ve watched many people (many of them very talented) leave the industry after five or more years of trying to follow more “regular” pursuits.
Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics and creator/writer of Vampires Unlimited, ChiSai, Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs. Zombies, Amour, the Evil Inside, and MiKayla. He is the writer/co-creator of Blood, Shells, & Roses & Lethal Instinct volume 2: Starchild.
Get published. Long and short of it.
Honestly, that’s the snide (and truthful) answer to a nebulous question.
Does the question refer to writing comics or does it imply breaking into Marvel and DC where the employee can achieve a standard of living for being a wordsmith? Those are two separate things. So, let’s assume it means to become a writer of your own comics for personal satisfaction that might lead to bigger and better things.
There are some simple answers on how to break into indy comics as a writer (and every writer I’ve ever told this to, with only one acceptation, have grown these poor hound dog expressions on their faces at these truths).
If you want to become a comic book writer you should:
1) Become an artist. Alan Moore and Brian Bendis went that route. Jeff Smith, Brian Woods, Terry Moore and Frank Miller have paddled up that river. They drew comics and drew their own stories which got their tales out so folks could see their writing chops. While we still know Miller, Smith, Woods and Terry Moore for their art as well as their writing, clearly Brian Bendis and Alan Moore have focused themselves into one field more than the other (with rare exceptions).
In my less than humble opinion this is the best route because you can create and it’ll only be late if you are not making the time to create. Takes out the weakest link of the team issue because the team is you and you’ll accomplish this if you really desire to.
2) Have enough money to hire an artist if a pencil and Photoshop scare you. While most big writers can draw at least a little – Bendis, Moore, Gaiman, Millar, Johns, Miller, David to name a few – there are those that can’t. And even among those that are named, only Miller and Bendis have any volume of artwork out there. So, since many of them do not draw their stories, the answer to how they happen to be able to create comics is someone pays for the artist. With indy books that someone is likely you. Write the script, request the page rate from the artist(s), scratch together the cash and then set a timetable/deadline.
[As an aside, be leery of paying the artist until you have high-res scans of the art in hand. There are a lot of horror stories out there of fronting cash to the artists and they just disappear.]
3) Be one of the rare lucky creators that locates an a) amazingly talented, b) punctual and c) unemployed artist that is willing and excited to do your work on the backend (paid after it’s published). Most artists are two of those three things [unemployed, absolutely, and either a) or b). But rarely all three. If they are all three then it’s only a matter of time before the unemployed portion of this problem ends]. I have had two friends that scored the trifecta! For that to happen they burned through a LOT of contacts and wrote a lot of un-produced scripts and got their hopes up a lot with only a lot of she-done-left-me stories to share about the experiences. But, two of them panned out and they got their stories told by absolutely amazing artists without dropping a dime.
The question asked how to become a writer in comics and I spent a few hundred words pushing art. For better or worse this is a visual medium and despite the writer’s name always appearing first on the comic, it’s the artist that makes a comic book a comic book. If you want to break in you need art or an artist and a talented one at that so people will try your product. Once they’ve read several series by you that have received some buzz, well, at that point companies may well want to receive pitches from you as a writer. And it’s because you’ve found an artist to tell your story and been published (snide and truthful).
Egg Embry writes, draws and edits comics at the speed of an ice age. And he’s grabby in his spare time.
Beats me. Be sure to let me know when you find out.
Gary has been self-publishing his award-winning Strangehaven comic book series for ten years and his third trade paperback collection Strangehaven: Conspiracies will be published later this summer http://www.millidge.com
Lee Barnett is a writer, and funny one at that – he created Hypotheticals with Dave Gibbons which is ace and always a highlight at the UK’s Bristol Expo – see it this year, I plan too!!
Once again SBCB’s The Panel returns, later than planned – but I am back and well and on target so expect a more regular return to your panel fun.
BUT WE DO NEED YOUR QUESTIONS… otherwise I have to come up with things and they are usually about Superman, or if I should keep my comics in bags or boards.
If you are in the UK next month make sure you come along to the Annual Awesome Action packed event in Bristol know as the Comic Expo – http://www.comicexpo.net it’s the 12th and 13th of May. Silverbulletcomicbooks will be there with a table and so will I with my indy company Portent Comics.
It’s going to be wild!!
Next Month The Panel will be back – I’d like to say thanks to the Panellists for putting up with my lateness and I’m looking forward to the next set of answers!
“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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