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Archive for April, 2005
Member of the Week: Jack Walsh
As told to Comic Foundry…
So, where I grew up in (New Hampshire), there wasn’t much of a comics influence aside from the mainstream, but an early love for “Spider-Man” and “Batman” kept the flame burning for many years. When I began to befriend people interested in the same things as me — namely, art, I found a world of comics that wasn’t based in superheroes. I discovered “PopBot,” “100 Bullets,” “Sin City” and most notably, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series. These were the comics and creators that I actually gave enough of a damn to learn the creator’s names, find out the favorite medium of artists to work in, and more. This all sprung from being able to look at comics that didn’t need a new and exciting villain every issue, didn’t necessarily involve the world being saved all the time (in fact, sometimes it was damned), and the artwork didn’t bristle with pectorals and capes.
Now’s where I level with people. Although I do comics work, my true love lies in painting. I am pursuing a fine arts education so that I can pursue a fine arts career. I haven’t given up on sequential art, though, because I love to dabble in the medium, and because I think that comics are just as legitimate as anything hanging up on a gallery wall. I try to get people to notice this all the time, and recently I’ve started volunteering at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in SoHo, NYC (http://www.moccany.org).
My favorite thing to do in comic work is the same as my painting; push it as far as I can, to make it the best. However, as far as painting goes, the subject matter lends itself to much more somber, introspective and even frustrated overtones, which my work exhibits very much so. Whereas, my comic work is pop-ish; easy to digest, mainstream and I enjoy using the “archetype” to help my story.
There is great work being done in the art world today that crosses the borders of fine art and comics work. You can see it in Mike Mignolia’s, Ashley Wood’s and Craig Thompson’s work. For a contemporary example of what I mean, head over to http://youyesyou.net and look a t the work of Jason Sho Green. His style is superb, and he adds to his site constantly.
Want to be the Member of the Week? Better your chances by uploading to your portfolio…Posted by Tim Leong on April 11th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Cover (Letter) Your Ass
Your drawings are on par with Jim Lee. You use color like Henry Hensche. Your descriptions rival Hemingway. And what’s the first thing your prospective publisher is going to see?
Your cover letter.
The axiom that a single misspelled word in your cover letter will land your packet in the trash is exactly that true. Editors don’t have time to waste and figure if you can’t run a simple spellcheck, you won’t be able to deal with deadlines and similarly pesky issues. Writing a cover letter takes a few rules, a hell of a lot of creativity — or none at all, and I’ll get to that — and one simple spellcheck.
The first rule of cover letters is, don’t talk about cover letters. (I’m sorry. Can you honestly tell me you can write the first half of that sentence and not at least consider writing the second half? No!)
The actual first rule of cover letters is to keep it to one page. It’s an introduction, not a biography. If you’re including a resume, there’s no need to repeat the information from that, except perhaps to illustrate an example (”When I was drawing a comic strip at my college newspaper, I …”). Because you’ll be including clips, there’s no need to explain a lot about your style or greatest work, which will be evident. The exception is, again, if is a clip functions as an example.
Now, what to include on that one page? Start at the top with the standard. The date (in April 6, 2005 format), insert a blank line, your address (but not your name). If you’re not including a resume, you must put your phone number and e-mail address here. It’s a good idea even if you are including a resume, but if you need an extra line or two for the body of the letter, it’s OK to leave them out. Then, insert another blank line, and then the full name and address of the person you’re writing to. It is imperative that you write to an actual person. “Sir or madam” is code for “too lazy to dial 411, talk to the publisher’s switchboard operator and get the name of an editor.” These people aren’t in the secret bunker with Dick Cheney. Then insert another blank line, and begin your letter with Dear Mr. X:.
Now the path splits. There are two ways to write the meat of a cover letter. You can either do it the simple way, with “I am applying for a job/internship as a colorist/artist/writer/night janitor. Here are my clips,” or you can go the difficult route and come up with an engaging lead. Both have their benefits and drawbacks.
The benefits of the simple way are obvious. It’s easy, and it’s to the point.
It also might not get read.
This is a creative industry. You should revel in this sort of thing, especially you writers. Even those of you who are certain the verb in the previous sentence is pronounced “ree-vell” must be able to come up with ideas.
You have to come up with a unique idea. That’s a trite, overused word, and I would never use it (I can hardly remember an instance I didn’t edit it out of copy), except in this case you actually want something that’s one of a kind. When written correctly, the creative lead to a cover letter will engage the reader and encourage him or her to delve further into the packet.
The trick is, of course, to find that one-of-a-kind story or anecdote.
If you think you have one, you probably don’t. Our experiences and how we react to them are what set us apart from each other, but for the most part we have such similar experiences. And your letter is going to someone who’s read countless cover letters. To stand out, you have to make sure the lead will. If it sounds like a hundred others, it’s going the same place those hundred others did. (You know where.)
The upside, though, is that a creative, original lead will set you apart. It’s difficult to do and will frustrate you, sure, but that time will be worth the time the editor makes for you.
After all that, though, the lead is just a setup. The meat of the letter shouldn’t focus solely on you; it should focus on how your talents match up with the publisher’s needs or how you would fit in with the company in general. This part of the letter should be two or three paragraphs; try to start one of them with “you” or “your company.” They’ve read plenty about “I.”
Lastly, close with a plan of action. Tell the editor you’ll call within a set amount of time (I recommend two weeks) to follow up. Give your phone number in a sentence telling the editor how to reach you in the meantime. Insert another blank line, add a “Sincerely,” leave space for your signature, and type your name. Insert a final blank line and write “Enclosures” if there are any. (I’d explain why, but what do I look like, Emily Post?) Run my baby the spellcheck, and be careful with it just like you would with any baby. Print and sign your letter with blue or black ink.
For delivery, use a standard manila envelope and paper clip everything together. No one wants to read creased clips.
The Grammar Guru spent the past couple of weeks in a persistent vegetative state. For questions about why she’ll never be pope or let you use “unique” in writing, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.Posted by Tim Leong on April 11th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Robert Venditti on The Surrogates
By Tim Leong
CF: In the beginning, how did you start writing the series? Did you write it all at once? What format did you use?
VENDITTI: Once the idea for The Surrogates hit me, I spent a few weeks jotting down notes on paper, everything from character descriptions to scraps of dialogue to entire scenes. I carried paper with me everywhere I went, so I was always prepared if something came to mind.
When I felt like the characters and the entire story arc were adequately mapped out, I started writing the first issue. When the issue was finished, I went back and revised it, tightening dialogue and removing redundancies, etc. Then I moved on to the second issue, working with the plot outline I created in the note-taking phase. After the second issue was finished, I went back and reread 1 and 2 in conjunction, making sure they fit together and revising the places where they didn’t. And so on, until all five issues were completed. I should add, though, that the final story deviated from the original plot outline in some respects, so I did allow things to develop organically. The outline was more a guide than something that was carved in stone.
For my scripting, I used the full-script format. I like to have a more hands-on approach with my stories. This probably comes from my background in prose writing (my college major was creative writing), where the writer is involved in every aspect of the story. Plus, when I wrote the script I wasn’t working with an artist, and I didn’t even know one that I could bounce ideas off of. I was new to comics, and I was writing a script as an exercise, to see if I could do it. So writing plot-first wouldn’t have provided me with the experience I was looking for.
CF: There’s ample amounts of theology and philosophy in the story. How do you walk the fine line between subtext and smashing the reader over the head with it?
VENDITTI: My basic rule is this: If the theology/philosophy/whatever serves the story, then it’s subtext. If it serves you, then it’s preaching. We’ve all read stories or seen movies where the audience was being preached to, so we know what it feels like. As a writer, you have to be able to recognize when you’re falling into the same trap.
CF: Why did you decide to include supplemental reading in the back of the issues? How does that help aid storytelling?
VENDITTI: For me, writing is all about immersing the reader in the fictional world. I wanted to make the world of The Surrogates as convincing as possible, and including things like supplemental articles and mock advertisements seemed like a good way to accomplish this. It gave me an opportunity to provide some deep background without intruding on the plot. I mean, the journal supplement at the back of the first issue is something like 2,000 words. Imagine trying to convey all of that information with captions and balloons! Instead of having the characters talk to each other, they’d end up talking to the reader – another trap to watch out for.
CF: How did you use the futuristic world in The Surrogates to relate back to questions and events of today?
VENDITTI: It was the other way around, really. I wanted to bring some of the issues facing contemporary society – the notion of identity, the obsession with physical appearance, the downside of technological advancement – to a possible conclusion. To make this happen I needed a futuristic setting, so I created one that would let me explore the things I felt needed exploring. After all, this is the purpose of science fiction, but more on that later.
CF: Knowing that the book was going to run as a five-issue miniseries, how did you plot scripts and endings to sustain readership?
VENDITTI: From the beginning, I knew I wanted the series to be five issues. When I was jotting down my notes and cobbling together the plot, I made sure to end each issue with a revealing plot point or a moment of heightened dramatic tension, something to bring the reader back for the next issue. There was a fair amount of strategy involved, as with each issue there were several subplots that needed to develop in order for me to reach the desired ending, and I only had 24 pages to work with. There were scenes that I rewrote multiple times, only to leave them out in the final version because they were taking up space I needed for more important material. I really liked some of those scenes, too. But in the end, if something is preventing you from developing the characters and forwarding the plot as much as you could be, then it doesn’t belong. Everything has to serve the story.
CF: In creating a future universe, how much did you have to map out and know about the setting, characters, etc?
VENDITTI: A lot more than I thought I was going to! As the story progressed and I delved deeper into the world, there were things I’d encounter that needed to be addressed. This was especially true when I was writing the supplements. I found myself doing research to try and come up with a realistic figure for how many police officers there would be in a city the size of Central Georgia Metropolis, stuff like that. When there was no prior research to be found, I went with what sounded convincing.
One thing I did have to create, however, was a series bible. I described all of the characters, the city they lived in, how surrogate technology worked, etc. I also had a timeline, listing all of the events that brought about the future world, even though most of the events never appear in the comic itself. These were just good ways for me to nail some things down – a way of saying, “This is what this world is like, and there’s no deviating from it.” This reference helped me keep everything straight and avoid contradiction.
CF: How did you decide what futuristic elements to include in the story? (For example, there are no flying cars.)
VENDITTI: I didn’t want The Surrogates to be more about the setting than the characters, so I tried to supply only what futuristic elements were needed to get the story told. I didn’t see a need for flying cars, so why have them? Aren’t there enough stories with flying cars?
What I discovered was that being selective with what I did and did not give the futuristic treatment, ended up solving some of the story’s problems. For example, early on it occurred to me that a surrogate would be a pricey purchase, so how would everyone be able to afford that as well a nifty flying car? To address this, I gave Central Georgia Metropolis a network of motorized skywalks for its citizens to get about, meaning the money they no longer had to set aside for hovercars could now be spent on surrogates. Then the skywalks themselves became important to the story, providing the setting for a major plot point in the second issue. So the careful choices I made early on wound up informing the story in ways I hadn’t expected. This is the organic part of the writing process that is the most exciting for me.
CF: What are the qualities of good science fiction? What does it mean to create Top Shelf’s first foray into the mainstream? What was their editorial interaction? How did they treat this “mainstream” book differently than their normal fare?
VENDITTI: I’ve not read a lot of science fiction, but it seems to me that good sci fi uses the tropes of the genre – robots, aliens, time travel, etc. – to raise serious questions about contemporary society. I’ve been lucky that the science-fiction books I’ve read have been successful in this regard. I can only hope that The Surrogates reaches some level of this.
As for working with Top Shelf . . . where do I start? They’re one of the premier art-comics publishers, so having them select my story as their first mainstream project is an incredible honor. Editorially, they held The Surrogates to the same criteria as all of their books: The story had to be fresh and compelling. They found the first draft I submitted met their standard, so there wasn’t much revising to be done. I’d say the only way they’ve treated the book differently from the rest of their line is in the way it’s being promoted, with an eye more towards the mainstream comics audience as opposed to the art-comics set.
CF: This is also Top Shelf’s first in-house book – how did that work differently for them?
VENDITTI: I think it was a surprise for everyone involved. When I first showed Chris Staros the script for the story, it was with the hope that he would help me shop it around to more mainstream publishers. I knew it wasn’t the kind of material Top Shelf normally publishes, and I wanted to avoid an uncomfortable situation where Chris might think I was saying, “Publish this, or I quit!” So I told him from the beginning I had no expectations of it becoming a Top Shelf book.
Unbeknownst to me, however, Top Shelf had wanted to publish a mainstream story all along, and they felt The Surrogates was what they were looking for. It just so happened that it came from a guy who was on the company payroll. I’ve been very fortunate because the situation has afforded me the opportunity to be involved in the entire publishing process at a level that would be impossible if my publisher was in New York or Portland. Other than that, I guess the only difference for them is that I’ll be the only creator with two tax forms on file, one for wages and the other for royalties.
CF: This is your first published work. What were some of the better lessons you learned in the process?
VENDITTI: The most important thing I learned was to be patient. It takes a long time for a comic to go through all of its phases, and no matter how much you may want to see it on the racks, you need to take as much time as needed to ensure that the finished product is as good as it can be. For me, this meant giving the artist on the project, Brett Weldele – who’s unquestionably the right guy for the job – the time to work around his hectic schedule. It meant giving the book’s designers, Dave Bissel and Jim Titus – who’ve made some amazing contributions – the time they needed to make each issue shine. It meant giving Top Shelf the time to make sure the book would get released at the best possible moment and then stay on schedule for its entire run. If I’d been in a rush and sacrificed any of these things for expediency, the book would’ve ultimately suffered.
CF: What was the hardest part of this whole thing?
VENDITTI: This is an expansion on the previous answer, but to me the hardest part was the waiting. With prose writing, you finish the story and it’s done. All you have to do is drop it in an envelope and wait to hear back from somebody. With comics, however, the writing is literally just the beginning. Then there’s the penciling and the coloring and the lettering and so on. Almost three years will have passed from the time I finished writing the miniseries to the time the first issue hits the stands. That’s the plight of being a comics writer.
Luckily, Brett Weldele is a one-stop shop. He excels at all of the artistic aspects of comics, so we didn’t have to spend time hunting for a colorist, letterer, etc. Seeing him translate my script into these beautiful pages has been a real joy. That’s the fun of being a comics writer.
CF: What did you not expect, or what weren’t you prepared for?
VENDITTI: How different comics scripting would be from the prose style of writing I was more accustomed to. Going in, I naively thought that a story was a story, no matter the format. This is true from the standpoint that all stories have a plot, characters, etc., but I quickly learned that, in addition to these things, comics writing has its own unique set of rules. Using the page breaks effectively, moving a story forward with dialogue rather than exposition – these are just two of the lessons I had to learn.
CF: What have you learned about the comics business from the other side of the desk as Top Shelf’s first full-time employee?
VENDITTI: The amount of effort it takes to bring a single book to the public. From the submission phase to the day the book arrives in stores, there is a seemingly infinite number of tasks that need doing. Publishers in this industry have often been maligned for various reasons, but I can tell you, as a guy who’s seen Top Shelf operate from both sides of the table, that they devote a tremendous amount of time and resources to each and every book they do. Anyone who has a publisher like that owes them a debt of gratitude.
CF: Looking back at the whole process and knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
VENDITTI: I would’ve started writing comics sooner! I’ve come in a little late in the game, primarily because I didn’t start reading comics until a few years ago. It took me a while to find something that I really enjoyed doing, and now that I have, I wish I’d found it earlier.
I guess what I’m saying is get out there and do it. Go to the conventions. Meet the publishers. Get involved in the comics community. If you want to be a comics professional, then be one. Even before I started reading comics I knew I wanted to be a writer in some form or another, but I didn’t pursue it as much as I should’ve because I didn’t have the confidence in my ability. I’d give anything to have that time back. But if you’re here, reading this interview at Comic Foundry – a site dedicated to helping the aspiring comics professional – it’s because you know you want to create comics. So start creating.Posted by Tim Leong on April 8th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
Besides having a fun last name to say, Jim Calafiore is a guy every comic fan should recognize. He’s worked on nearly every Marvel character at some point and is now penciling Exiles. He took a moment out of his grind to talk to Comic Foundry about the simple answers to a comic artist’s big questions.
What are mistakes amateur artists make?
Not understanding basics, like the tools, professionalism, etc.
Where do you get your ideas?
If you mean other than something that comes as a plot/script, it’s just whatever comes out of my head.
How did you learn to draw?
By drawing. It’s something I’ve always done and always will do and learned only by doing. Like anybody with a passion for something, I just did it. I took some classes in high school and went to art school, which refined my drawing, but I learned by doing.
How do you know if something you draw is good? How is that different from someone who is bad but thinks they’re good?
They’re not different. Artists can never really be objective about their own work. I can’t always tell when something I’ve done is bad, and just because I think something is good doesn’t mean everybody (or anybody) will too. It’s all subjective. I just try to satisfy myself.
How did you get your break?
I mailed in samples to a small publisher who folded immediately but passed my stuff along to Caliber Press; after doing work for that small publisher for a bit, someone I met through it started working for Valiant. I got “in” through that association.
What type of practice would you recommend for both new and seasoned artists?
Just keep working. Most aspiring comic artists will spend a week on one page, a month on just a couple, to try and get them perfect for a con. (That’s not being fast enough to do a monthly book.) I found that the repetition forced on me by a monthly deadline helped my drawing. The more you do something, the better you get. Even if they look like crap, chuck them out and do more.
What pitfalls should new artists avoid?
Not working hard enough on their figure drawing; it’s the most important thing, and even if you’re doing something like ultra-cartoony manga, it’s still important.
What do you suggest for someone who is just stuck?
You mean like writer’s block? Take a break, but just a short one, and get right back at it, and keep at it until you’re unstuck.
If you had to give just one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t give up.
What’s the editor-artist relationship in comics like?
It varies from editor to editor. Some just hand out assignments and are hands-off; others are very involved. Just depends on the editor.
What’s the best way for a new artist to break into the business?
Conventions are good for introducing yourself and your work to editors, following up with mailed samples. Otherwise, that only leaves the mail, which is dependent on sending stuff regularly to the same guy.
On average, what types of deadlines do you have to work with?
Monthly book, monthly deadlines. 22 pages a month.
For a new artist, how does the pay scale work?
It’s a page rate, and for starting artists it’s not the greatest. But we do this because we love it, right?
We know aspiring artists shouldn’t go to their moms for feedback, so who should they turn to instead?
Editors and artists, either at cons or through the mail. Just have thick skins; you may not be as ready as you think. If you ask for criticism, be prepared for it.
How does it work between a penciler and a colorist? Do you have things in mind when you start?
Like editors, it varies. Some artists and colorists work closely together; some never speak. If I have a particular color scheme in mind, I relay it to the editor and/or colorist and hope the suggestion is taken. Sometimes it’s not.
What do you say to someone who’s edited and re-edited and submitted his stuff everywhere yet still can’t break in?
Are they shooting too high? Try some smaller publishers, or think about self-publishing.
Is there any specific terminology people need to know, so they can at least talk like a pro?
If they can’t draw like a pro, then talking like a pro won’t get them much. Let the work do the talking: Is it clean and tight? Does it show knowledge of clear storytelling? Does it show understanding of need for room for balloon placements? Professional-looking work speaks volumes more than words can.
—Interview by Tim LeongPosted by Tim Leong on April 8th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Rookie Scribe, Veteran Talent
This is part two of Comic Foundry’s interview with Young Avengers creator Allan Heinberg. If you want to start from the beginning, click here.
Between this and The O.C., how do you manage your time?
I’m actually no longer writing The O.C. anymore, though I’m still a consultant on the show. I’ve actually got several other projects in the works right now, though, and am generally working on whatever is due soonest.
How does writing dialogue for television characters affect your writing for a static medium such as comics?
Writing dialogue for comics has been a bit of an adjustment actually. In a static medium like comics, the writer doesn’t have the benefit of an actor’s voice, charm or inflection to rely upon. So as far as comics dialogue goes, the writer has to make certain the words carry the weight of the scene’s (or the panel’s) comic or dramatic intentions all by themselves.
As far as Young Avengers is concerned, I have the good fortune to be working with one of the most talented artists in the business. Jim Cheung is extraordinary. His characters’ emotional lives are just as clear and dynamic as their superheroic ones.
What type of advice would you give for young writers for realistic dialogue?
Listen to the way people really talk to one another. The pauses, the repetitions, the stresses and rhythms. Develop your “ear” for dialogue. I very often end up speaking my dialogue out loud at the computer to see whether or not it feels right in my mouth. It’s weird, but it works.
Then, as you’re writing, make sure your dialogue is always in the service of your story. Try not to over-write or waste words – to write for writing’s sake.
I try to write as little dialogue as possible, to be honest. I think there’s a common misconception about writing in that “good” writing equals more writing. But the opposite is true. There’s always so much more drama in what lurks beneath the surface of a conversation – everything that remains unsaid because it’s too dangerous or too emotional.
And not all comic readers crave realistic dialogue. Personally, I love it. It’s part of the reason I’m so in love with Brian Bendis’ work. Brian has an infallible ear for the way people communicate (or fail to communicate). That said, he doesn’t just transcribe the pauses and the repetitions he’s discovered in everyday speech. He skillfully crafts uses them to craft the dramatic shape of a particular scene or story.
What’s the target audience for Young Avengers?
There is no target audience. It’s an all-ages book for people who love comics. It’s for longtime Avengers fans, for New Avengers fans, and for people who’ve never even heard of the Avengers.
Do you have any advice for writing characters outside your age group?
I try not to write them as “younger” characters. I try to write them simply as characters. I actually don’t think much about the age of the Young Avengers. I try to focus on the circumstances of the daily lives, their backgrounds, their relationships with their parents and authority figures – all the universal, human stuff we all share regardless of age.
Do you feel like you made any rookie mistakes?
I’ve made countless rookie mistakes, but that’s how you learn, right? I’m new at this and am trying my best to become a better writer every day.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from this?
To have respect for — but not be intimidated by — the form itself.
When I started writing YA No. 1, I was paralyzed by self-doubt and had a million questions: What should a script look like? How do you break a scene into panels? How much dialogue goes into a panel? How many panels go on a page?
In fact, I quit YA three times before the first script simply because — after having been a very opinionated fanboy my whole life — I didn’t want to be a bad comics writer.
And it turns out, the mechanics are important, but you can learn that stuff. The key to writing comics is the same as the key to writing any dramatic narrative: it’s all about STORY. And the story is all about the CHARACTERS.
With comics going appearing more in pop culture in The O.C. and success in film, do you see comics going in a certain direction in the future?
I would like to think that comics’ success in other media will bring more people to comics – that people who enjoy The O.C. will be more inclined to pick up a comic and read it. The same with movies like X2 and Spider-Man 2.
And I’m optimistic about the future of comics. There are more extraordinary writers and artists in the field than ever before. And both Marvel and DC seem to realize that success comes from investing in their core characters and in bringing the best talent in the business to bring out the best in those characters.
Allan writes Young Avengers, which is available on the stands now. He’ll also have a stint co-writing JLA with Geoff Johns starting in June.
—Interview by Tim LeongPosted by Tim Leong on April 8th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
How to Make Your Own Game
Step into your average comic book
store, and you’ll find not only comics, but also gaming material of all sorts. Card-gaming, miniatures war-gaming, role-playing gaming — these hobbies appeal to comic book fans. And like comic book writers, authors of gaming material must have dedication and perseverance to make it. Just ask Jeff Barber. He founded Biohazard Games in 1994 because he had a great idea for a science-fiction role-playing game set on a water world. The result was Blue Planet, a critically acclaimed role-playing game nominated for Game of the Year at the 1997 Origins gaming convention. But success only comes from hard work, and as Barber tells Comic Foundry, it’s not all just a roll of the dice.
What inspired you to create the setting for Blue Planet?
I was one of the founding members of Pagan Publishing — a little publishing house that did a digest, campaign books and other pubs for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game from Chaosium. After parting ways with Pagan I wanted to stay involved in the gaming industry. Having already been part of starting a new gaming company, I figured starting another would be the easiest way to maintain that involvement.
Given my experience, available capital, and the market at the time — 1994 — basing the company on a new role-playing game line seemed the best bet. I had always been a sci-fi fan first, and at the time sci-fi was making a resurgence in gaming. The trend in gaming was from generic to more specific settings, and rather than add another title to the ubiquitous space opera or cyberpunk lines already out there, I opted to focus the setting on a single non-Earth planet.
At the time I was playing a lot of a PC game called Subwar 2050 by Microprose — a fighter sub simulator — and it had me thinking along underwater lines. I also understood it would be easier to write what I knew and, being a science teacher with a marine-biology background, the water world setting seemed a no-brainer.
From there I guess I took a sort of workmanlike approach to developing the setting. I just kept asking myself ‘What makes a fun role-playing game?’ Conflict, mystery, history, context, detail, cool technology, scary creatures — all things we tried to include. The frontier, man-against-nature and environmental themes basically came from my own personal likes and interests and through the logical development of the setting.
Describe how you and your friends came together to form Biohazard Games.
Biohazard’s formation was sort of random and its staff has always been rather fluid. Almost everyone I knew in my own gaming circles had something to do with the company at some point — play-testing, development, writing, Web design, etc. Those that really stayed motivated and produced tended to stay involved and became the core of the company. My partner, Greg Benage, actually discovered Biohazard through some Internet message boards and contacted me early on in the development of Blue Planet. His involvement was critical to our success and to be honest the game would likely never have seen publication if not for Greg coming on board. Jim Heivilin and Jason Werner were also core staffers, doing everything from development, play-testing and writing to webmastering.
How did you go about marketing Blue Planet? What worked out well? Anything self-publishers should avoid doing?
Marketing is expensive and our resources were always limited. We bought listings in Games Quarterly and attended the large national conventions and lots of smaller, local cons to push the line. We produced about 6,000 color posters with the main book cover art on the front and lots of info about the game on the back, and disseminated these through our distributors and at conventions. We also maintained an active Web site with lots of useful and growing content.
The posters were cool, but we really had no way to know if they made sales for us. They were also expensive. The cons were great as we usually made enough through direct sales to pay expenses and certainly spread the word about the game. The Web site was an inexpensive and effective promotional tool as well. We were also well served by reviews in various venues. The best marketing, of course, was word-of-mouth. When gamers like a product word gets around. Even though most gamers have never played Blue Planet, many have at least heard of it.
My advice to self-publishers it to avoid print ads and focus on the Web and the national conventions. The Web is the cheapest and most effective way to reach gamers these days — especially if you can effectively utilize various forums and game review sites. It is also important to develop good relationships with distributors and to maintain effective communication with them.
Talk a little bit about the success of Blue Planet and its transition to Fantasy Flight Games.
Blue Planet was surprisingly successful for us. Most decent role-playing games that come out of small publishing houses sell about a 1,000 copies of the core book through the life of the line. We were at about 2,700 sold when we put together the deal with Fantasy Flight Games.
We approached FFG because we were looking for a partner with some fiscal resources and a stronger distribution system to help us keep the line going. Greg and I had been bearing the financial burden and the primary workload for three years at that point and were tired. We wanted the line to continue, however, and a partnership of some kind seemed a good way to do it.
We looked for a company that had some resources but no flagship role-playing game line and FFG fit the bill at the time. They had just had a big hit with their Diskwars game, and were looking to expand into role-playing. In the end they decided they could only handle the line if Greg or I came on board as their role-playing game guy. I didn’t want to do the game-design thing full time, and Greg was looking for a new gig. He moved to Minnesota and has done very well for FFG. He is responsible for the development of some of the coolest and most interesting role-playing game settings on the market today, including Dragonstar, Midnight, the Horizon d20 line and Fireborn.
Part of the deal with FFG was that we did something to the Blue Planet line to encourage interest and sales as they took over publication. Initially FFG wanted to advance the timeline. Much of the setting appeal for Blue Planet, however, comes from the fact that all the factions in the setting are poised at a time in the setting’s future history, a point where the human tension, potential and threats are all at their greatest. In the end we convinced FFG that a new mechanics system would better serve the game. The first-edition system was never very good as mechanics are not my strong suit. Greg created the Synergy system for version 2 and the game is much stronger for it.
FFG sold another 2,000 to 3,000 copies of the primary game and world books, and published five additional books focused on different aspects of the Blue Planet setting. I made primary contributions to Fluid Mechanics, Natural Selection and Ancient Echoes, while parts of these and all of the other books were written by Greg and various freelancers.
In the end, the deal with FFG had mixed results. The game got a great new system and they sold and published far more Blue Planet books than Biohazard would ever have had the time or finances to put out. However, most of those new books didn’t get the attention to craftsmanship I would have wished, and once the d20 craze hit, and FFG refocused the efforts of their role-playing game department, Blue Planet became a sort of afterthought in the market and at the company.
From a writer’s standpoint, what was the best part about having a major distributor such as FFG pick up the game? What was the worst part?
The best part was that all I needed to do was write. I got to quit worrying about money, freelancers, artists, layout, printers, warehousing, advertising, distribution shipping and taxes and simply create. And I could work on a project — or not — which meant there was a lot less stress and I could finally pursue parts of my life that running Biohazard had precluded — like actually gaming!
The worst part was the other side of the coin: I lost the complete creative control I had had over the line. I knew this would be the case, but it was still hard to swallow when it happened as Blue Planet had always been a labor of love for me.
The notoriety of publishing Blue Planet enabled you to score some other contract work from Fantasy Flight Games, including spine credit on a game setting called Midnight. How much freedom did you have on Midnight compared with Blue Planet?
I ended up with quite a lot of creative freedom actually, far more than I expected. Greg and Wil Upchurch had put together a four-page promotional flier for the game, and when I was offered the project, that brochure was the only material that existed. I took it and ran with it, Greg bought my take on the setting and FFG published it straight up. Sort of caught me off guard, actually.
I understand the intellectual property rights to Blue Planet have once again lapsed back to Biohazard Games. Anything on the horizon for you guys as a games company?
As I said before, Blue Planet has always been a labor of love and as such I do not want to see the line fade completely away. The current plan is to revamp our Web site this summer and make the entire line available there as PDFs. We will also resurrect the Undercurrents newsletter in a new format that can be added to by us and by players, creating a rolling venue for the development and publishing of the line and our metagame plots.
Writing game books is similar to writing comics in that they both pay terribly and they’re usually only enjoyed by a niche audience. What tips would you have to offer aspiring writers looking to self-publish their own stuff?
I would only have ever gotten into the business for the love of creating game material. That has to be the primary reason and sufficient reward in and of itself. Any other reasons, expectations or hopes should run a distant second. I would also advise folks that the money end is a real gamble, and as in gambling, I would never commit more resources than you can afford to lose. Paper publishing and distribution is always way more expensive than you ever expect and you need to be willing to accept the loss if the line does not support itself. If I were starting Biohazard Games today, I would Web-publish first, then consider paper books only if the line showed promise.
—Interview by Patrick RollensPosted by Tim Leong on April 6th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Inside the Mind of Rags Morales
Who is Rags Morales?
Here’s a hint: He drew the bestselling title in 2004, DC’s mammoth event, Identity Crisis. Need another? He’s the headlining penciler of DC’s biggest project (literally – it’s 80 pages) of 2005, Countdown to Infinite Crisis and will take over Wonder Woman in April. Still not sure? Read CF’s exclusive interview with him — you’ll find out how he became the artist he is today, and even his real name…
Where did you receive your art training?
I went for two years at the Joe Kubert School [of Cartoon and Graphic Art].
When you were at Kubert, was there anything you learned in school that you already knew coming in?
Well, at the Joe Kubert school what they try to do is basically take away anything you learned and start you from scratch. So the first year was an affirmation of things I already knew. There were a couple of new insights, but outside of scale, position, layout and design work or mechanical illustration, there was very little that I didn’t already know. Maybe anatomy – the bones and the muscles and things of that nature. And then, of course, things that I couldn’t have learned in high school, like animation.
Is there anything you wish you’d learned from the Kubert school that you didn’t?
Yeah … I only went for two years and never got my third, so I didn’t learn enough about the business end of it, which is something that is as important as writing. Those are third-year courses and they help you become a more well-rounded creator and those are the ones I missed out on.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on you and it seems that you take your art very seriously. Is that something that’s important for a comic artist?
It’s important for any artist. It’s important for anyone who wants to excel in their position they have in life. It’s the only way you can have fun. It sounds like an oxymoron, but the only way you can have fun is by taking it seriously. If you don’t take it seriously, then you’ll have a very difficult road ahead of you. The fans won’t respect it, the other professionals, the powers that be – the editorial staff, the publishers – none of those people will take that seriously unless you do. It’s very important to educate yourself in the history of whatever it is you’re doing, keep an eye out for who’s doing justice to your craft and to take yourself seriously enough to respect the fact that you want to succeed.
Have you noticed an evolution in your work over the years?
Oh, sure. There’s so much involved in this kind of storytelling. You have to know anatomy well. You have to know composition well. You have to know narrative and storytelling well. Your draftsmanship has to be done well. You have to research. You have to do so many things that it takes a really long time. No one is good at everything all at once at the very beginning. It takes a lot of time to pursue that and sometimes you’ll add more emphasis on basic drawing techniques, like light source or texture, or you might concentrate more on the storytelling aspect, making sure from panel to panel is a smooth transition. Sometimes you just want to draw landscapes better, or environments better or for lack of a better word, technology, better. All these things take time and they take concentration and they take focus. And sometimes when you’re concentrating on one thing you’re not necessarily focusing on another. It takes time to progress. It’s always a challenge to every young artist to try and get everything down as best as possible. Be patient. You’ll get that as long as you’re aware and you’re not kidding yourself and you continue to pursue your talents.
How has your art evolved over the years?
I’d like to say that I’m pretty well-rounded. At this point it’s more of a fine-tuning process rather than an overhaul. Initially I envisioned myself as someone who did just about everything well because the people I admired did everything well. Jim Aparo, John Buscema, everybody had an intelligent approach and it showed. You could see the intelligence in the draftsmanship and the storytelling and the anatomy. When I first broke in, it was more sporadic talent and not any one particular thing that I did well. I couldn’t particularly draw anatomy as well as I do now, but it was good enough to get a job, good enough to keep working. And I was a lot farther along in my head than I was in my hands. So it was important for me to know that I had a lot farther to go and to make sure to pursue it.
How much planning do you have to do?
Initially it’s probably a lot more because, over the years, it becomes second nature. You really do have to concentrate on a lot more things in the beginning. A lot of it also depends on who you’re working with. Some of the writers will leave it up to the artist to do more of the heavy lifting, whereas as some writers are very meticulous and have a very distinct way of looking at things.
Greg Rucka, the writer I’m working with now (on Wonder Woman), is one of these people that puts it down a specific way but is open to changes so long as it keeps the spirit of the story alive. You have to make sure you keep the story first and foremost. You don’t want to get too wrapped up in outlandish design because that’s a lack of focus. Those things are not good – or anything is not good – in overabundance. You have to pick and choose the moments when you do those things so it has the most effect. In terms of approach, you approach it the same way any good writer would: who, what, when, where and why. You would approach it from the scene and the atmosphere first, you approach it from the characters first, and their interactions long before you worry about how much detail you put into the side of a building. Those kinds of things are impressive to people who aren’t in tune to the subtleties of it.
So the first thing you do when you read a script is you consider the amount of space you’re working with. With a tight script you’re lucky enough to have the panels already planned out for you, in terms of panels per page. If you’re working in plot form, chances are it’s just a rundown in the things that happen and you have to go in there and figure out how many panels it takes to convey the story within the narrative there.
The first thing is to count the number of panels and over the years you learn your basic panel layout. Typically it’s the top from left to right – in thirds and in half and vertically on one side, in thirds and in half. So you run one big splash panel to a grid of nine panels on the page and any number of variations in between. Once you consider the amount of panels you decide which panels are going to be the most amount of space based on dialogue and based on the focus of that particular page. If you want a certain part of that page to stand you have to make room for that. But that’s always secondary to the amount of dialogue because it’s most important to make sure the story gets out.
After that, by the third panel, you establish from head to toe. You want to give yourself an opportunity to pull back far enough with the camera so you have a good representation of the characters and the environment that they’re in. You try to get that done by the third panel and you try to squeeze in a nice headshot, a close-up. The play between pulling back and pulling in is where the storytelling happens. And, of course, you pull in at distinct points when the character has an emotion or when you’re emphasizing a specific dialogue that has the most impact. That’s when you want to pull in and you want to pull back if you want to show the scope of the atmosphere you’re working in or establish the number of characters in that scene. Once you establish this really well you should consider from scene to scene, as well as panel to panel and page to page. There’s a lot of noodling that goes on in your head when you consider the amount of emphasis you put on panel to panel, page to page, scene to scene. It’s always important to read the entire story ahead of time so you get a chance to think it all through.
As far as Countdown to Infinite Crisis goes, was visual continuity ever a concern between the artists?
Actually, no, and a lot that has to do with editorial. I never read beyond my chapter in that particular project. I knew the basic concept of what was happening with the characters. I knew which characters were going to be more focused on, but outside of that there was very little interplay as to who was working with whom. In my particular chapter I drew Blue Beetle in his old costume and I most recently found out that in JLA: Classified, Blue Beetle’s costume was more dark blue and the trimming wasn’t black, it was light blue — I didn’t know this. It was like a negative of the character that I drew. So, in certain things like that you really have to rely on your editor to give you a sense of what’s important because you can’t think of a costume change unless they tell you there’s one.
Hopefully those kinds of things will be adjusted and considered so there’s no confusion in the fan base. You hope the editor says, “You’re doing your job, I won’t give it to the next guy until you’re done and then they can see it.” I don’t know if that happened, but that thing really depends on the editor because they want to get everybody involved and we’ll all exchange the ideas and show sketches and character designs. Then in other times they’ll do chapter one and hand it off to the next guy, and then when chapter two is done, they’ll hand it off again, etc.
How did you work with so many characters in Countdown? Was that difficult?
In Countdown it was just a couple characters and sometimes you’d just do a little spot with computer screens where I had to put a character in there. Other times I might have to address an entire story arch. It was just a minimal amount of characters – there were four main characters, one supporting character and little bits and piece of other characters that showed up on computer screens or in any of the flashbacks.
What about something like Identity Crisis – did you do anything differently to work with so many characters?
Before I got Identity Crisis, so much of it was already planned out. That’s Mike Carlin’s influence, he’s a very hardworking editor and he’s one of the editors who make sure everything is planned out ahead of time. So when I walked into New York to meet with Brad Meltzer and Michael Bair, I was handed reams of reference of everybody who was featured, but I only had scenes for the first two scripts. It was so well-planned-out, especially with writers who are more meticulous, like Brad, and he had everything planned out in the layout that he wanted. There were very few changes that I added. When you’re dealing with a mystery/thriller, you have to have a specific kind of pacing that’s very different from your standard comic book. A lot of his referencing came from movies and TV techniques and he had a very distinct vision. For Identity Crisis, I had tons of reference ahead of it and a very tight script that was very easy for me to go from panel to panel and page to page. Working with someone like Greg Rucka, where you need more input from the artist, it’s more important to get the script ahead of time.
What other types of reference do you usually use?
Well, I buy a lot of different kinds of books. I have an encyclopedia of how things work. It has inventions over the years and they break it down into how they work. I’ve got an encyclopedia from elementary school, actually. I held onto it because it has so many photographs in it. Joe Kubert had it right the first time: “Every book becomes a bible for an artist.” Time Life has a series of books about American landscape where they take you from Baja, Calif., to some swamp, to the Everglades. I’ve got books on bugs, books on animals, books on people, books on things around the world. I’ve got books on anatomy by Burne Hogarth and George Bridgman. I’ve even got “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.” I also have a VHS library and I tape a lot of things off The History Channel for reference.
There’s a lot of different types of reference that you can pick up. A good source would be the photography section of a bookstore. Waldenbooks always had that island of bargain books and I picked up a lot of good stuff there – books on dog breeds, flags, knots – that came in handy for Identity Crisis when I had to do the bowline knot with a Dutch marine twist. There’s all kinds of great books out there and you can get them cheaply because there’s not a large market for them. A book on flags from around the world might not be very interesting, but it’s interesting to me. If you have to draw the United Nations flag it’s gotta be in there. If you’re drawing another country and you want to represent part of the atmosphere, there might be a flag on the side of a building so you know where you are.
There’s a lot of great stuff – even video games can become a great source of reference. When I did Hourman there was a lot of visual magic, and Final Fantasy Tactics became a source of reference for me. And the way they display manga is terrific for the way they do sci-fi and magic and explosions. So, the special effects can be done from a lot of different sources, you basically just have to keep your eyes open. If you’re sensitive to it you’ll pick up on what you need.
Do you ever use actors?
With Identity Crisis, yes, because I had a lot of lead time. Lead time is the number of months you have to work on a project before the first issue hits the stands. With Identity Crisis, I started in January of ’04 and the first issue came out in May. I believe I was just wrapping up issue four when the first issue hit. That lead time is very important to an artist because it gives you enough time to absorb everything before you have to worry about deadline crunches. I had time to consider the characters and with the entire ream of reference they handed to me, I was able to say: “OK, Mirror Master to me, reminds me of Eric Roberts.” If you take the mustache off of Tom Selleck he makes a great Bruce Wayne. Johnny Depp makes a wonderful Dick Grayson for me. Lesley Ann Warren was terrific, in my mind, for Jean Loring. I had some books on Hollywood and headshots of people and the more I looked at the books the more I wanted to put a distinct look to every character. I went to the Internet to Web sites for actors and publicity photos and I printed out a lot of those and it grew from there. Sometimes you fall in love with the referencing as much as you do the drawing as well.
How does Mike Bair affect your work?
Mike Bair is an embellisher. That’s an important inference. Inker is a very broad term for embellishers and inkers. An embellisher is someone who actually adds a little something to the work. His line weight is a little bit different. His interpretation is different, but it’s always in the mind of “This isn’t just what I’m capable of doing, this is where I perceive.” An embellisher is someone who has a vision for the artwork. Bair likes to call it “tickling the work.” It’s very important to have an embellisher who works with you who understands your influences and can draw from the same people. So when they see it on paper they can see what you’re trying to do or where you’re coming from.
Mike Bair and I have a great relationship in that regard. We’re fans of the same artists and there are times he’ll try a different line weight or he’ll try a different kind of brush. At the end of Identity Crisis a lot of people thought it was a different inker but it wasn’t, it was Mike Bair and he was trying something new. I like it when things get a little muddied. I don’t like it to be too clean or too slick. Too me it looks a little too sterile. I like things to have a little more teeth to them, a little more interpretation to them, a little more style. You need a guy who’s going to be really good at drawing a tree and the leaves on a tree. You need a guy who’s really good at drawing water – and not just the technical stuff, that’s important too, but you really need a guy who’s got the versatility to do something rustic versus something that’s very contemporary and ultra-clean. You have to have someone with that kind of ability and sensibility and Mike Bair is among the elite in that category. Very few inkers are in his company. He’s just that good.
An inker is someone who doesn’t necessarily add or take away from a particular project. But he puts in a workman’s effort, is on time and does simple, basic line weight – foreground, heavy line weight; middle, middle line weight; background, light line weight. And then they do their best to keep up with you. I’m a very demanding penciler and when I put something down on paper it requires a lot of thought and a lot of consideration. You have to have an inker who’s going to embellish. If not, it’s going to be a mismatch and it’s going to be very obvious.
Is there one lesson you wish you’d known before you got into the industry?
There are a lot of things I wish I could’ve done better with the business aspect, for sure. The whole accounting of money coming in and money going out is very important because it is a freelance field and you don’t have people taking out taxes for you, you don’t have people keeping track of your receipts – you have to do that yourself. But probably more than anything – and it takes time to get to this level – you need to know that you’re part of an assembly-line process. For you to get paid, your writer has to be on time. For your inker to be paid, you have to be on time. For the colorist to get paid, the inker has to be on time. So, you have to consider that everybody is trying to make their money and you have to do your best to make sure everyone is covered around you. The first person in is the writer and he or she has the ability to work more quickly than a penciler or an inker. Colorists and letterists, as well, require less time to finish a project. Just keep track of where you are work-wise and understand how much you’re capable to do in a week’s time because basically that’s how you’ll be hired. A lot of people will be hired on their greatness and how they can render. That’s important too, but the most important thing is to be on time and to be professional. If you’re willing to take less time to pursue your craft, you’re probably willing to take less money because you’re not going to be on time.
What is your first name, by the way?
My first name is Ralph. The thing is, I broke into the industry with a pen name and it’s funny because anyone in the industry can’t conceive of calling me “Ralph” and anybody in my personal life has a difficulty calling me Rags. I kind of grew up that way because my father’s name was Ralph so I grew up in a household with two names anyway. My mother called me by my middle name, which is Anthony, and my father called me Ralph, my friends called me Ralph and my immediate family and aunts, uncles and cousins, because I mostly saw my mother’s side of the family, they all called me Anthony. It’s the kind of thing I was used to.
—Interview by Tim LeongPosted by Tim Leong on April 6th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
A VERY GOOD AVERY
Fiona Avery already has the trifecta. TV? Check. She dazzled television viewers when she wrote for Babylon 5. Novel? Check. Fiona’s book, “The Crown Rose,” is coming out in May. Comics? Check. She penned Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men and now the new series Arana: Heart of the Spider. In addition to all that, Fiona now has a publishing company that just launched this month. Success? Check.
You’ve written for many mediums. How is writing for comics different? What have you learned from those other mediums that made you a better comic writer?
Writing for comics is like writing as a photojournalist. You have to pick the most important moments as snapshots and put those on the page, utilizing only about six to eight shots maximum for the page on average. Narrative still counts in comics, and you still need to bring your bag of tricks from prose in order to provide poetry, flow and casual narration where it matters.
What is Lucky Bamboo Productions? How did you form it?
Lucky Bamboo Productions is like my private label winery but for comics. My creator-owned titles that are my favorites go into LBP and are made into series or mini-series for fans to enjoy. It’s not technically a small press since Diamond is interested in distributing my comic books, but it is small in the sense that it’s something I do pretty much on my own. I actually didn’t account for needing a Web site and the time it takes to maintain one, and that has been a new and fun challenge.
How do you approach your writing duties with an established title vs. one you’ve created?
I treat them identically. If you hold anything back on a work-for-hire, it shows. If you’re being mercenary and just doing a crap job on someone else’s title, you won’t work on it very long. On a personal level, you have to understand that it’s not your property when working for hire, and you have to let other people call the shots. That’s about the only difference.
I’ve read about your interest in anthropology and archaeology. How is research part of your job as a comic writer?
I like myth and legend, and I think all stories that touch on the fantastic are rooted in our love of ancient mythologies and legends. Stories first sprung from these sources. People want to understand mysteries in some way, and superheroes are no different than Greek gods when it comes to this. Superheroes are today’s modern saviors in many ways. Whatever I write always seems to have a touch of the historic, legendary or mythic in it. I tend to go back to source and draw from classics when I write.
Sex and a disproportionate female form sells comics. So you write your characters with realism?
I do. I write my characters as people first and then add layers on top of that. I don’t know any woman who wakes up in the morning and has a cup of coffee just because she has breasts. You know what I’m saying? We’re all human at the most basic level, and you start there and add layers that differentiate and show unique qualities as you go along. You create by saying, “I’m human, but I crave a smoke often; I’m human and I’m a woman, I’m human but I’m really half-Vulcan. …”
What tips would you offer to aspiring comic writers?
Don’t be afraid to write outside the main publishers. There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing in this day and age, and it’s very affordable. Stories were meant to be told, and if something is interesting to you, it will interest someone else. Cerberus is an example of a story about an aardvark, of all things, that has been extremely successful. If someone can write about an aardvark with feeling and realism, you know publishing is for everyone. (I love that Cerberus made it on its own, by the way.)
So find ways to tell your stories, and let your craft grow with your reputation over time. Our society is obsessed with product over process, and everyone’s often looking for “the next big thing.” For example, book publishers tend to market the hell out of, say, a new Stephen King book, but generally very little is spent to promote new writers. To them, King sells, he’s a sure hit and he’s always the next big thing. Your job is to move beyond the market mentality and write what you love. Writers are innovators; let the big houses be the conservators. Write anyway, and worry about how you get marketed later. Worrying about how you get marketed without writing won’t give you any stories to market in the first place.
Are there repeated amateur mistakes you see out there? How can they fix them?
The biggest mistake I see with new writers is that they didn’t spend time writing. They spent their time marketing, writing query letters, convention-hopping, lamenting the lack of jobs over a beer or even daydreaming. Write if you want to write. The act of writing generally opens doors for you, but you must commit yourself to writing first and publishing second.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since entering comics?
It’s a good idea to self-publish. Even if it’s a four-part mini-series or a one-shot, if you self-publish, other people pick this up and see your vision completed. It’s very hard to pitch, but it’s far easier to show a complete work and say, “You now hold exactly what tone, style and vision I had in my head when I wanted to do this. Do you like it?” What’s nice in addition about self-publishing is that you have full control over the rights if it is ever adapted to TV or film.
You can also see Fiona’s other work at her Web site - www.fionaavery.com
—Interview by Tim LeongPosted by Tim Leong on April 6th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Raven Gregory’s Guide to Breaking Into Comics
By Raven Gregory>
CHAPTER ONE — SO YOU WANNA GET INTO COMICS
(Please forgive me if this sounds familiar. I can’t separate what I’ve heard before from what I’ve learned.)
So you want to get into comics. You have this Wolverine story that will change the way people look at comics and the world forever. Your buddy is an artist, and you both have the most original idea that either of you have ever heard of. It’s better than the Matrix. It’s that good.
If only you could finish writing/drawing/inking/coloring/distribute/advertise/creating it. Or, and here’s the big one, if only you could afford it.
So how do you get into comics?
Good question. The best and easiest way to answer that question is with three simple words. (You writers pay attention. You’re going to have to learn how to say things in the least amount of words.)
It’s. not. easy.
Oh. Here’s the other three words you’ll need to remember.
Never. give. up.
Still with me? Good. Because if you want to get into this biz there are a few things you’re going to need to know.
Because I’m a writer I not going to talk about the path for the artist, inker or colorist, as I haven’t the slightest fucking clue.
So what’s stopping you from getting started? Doubt, fear, worry, nervousness, all these, and just a downright fucked-up sensation of not knowing where to begin.
Which takes us back to the first thing you need to do. Write.
Sounds easy? It should. We’ve all been doing it since we were 3. The idea you have is so fresh, so real that the ideas are just pouring out onto the paper. You have pads full of notes for what is most assuredly the most epic journey ever told in the English language.
Writing is like anything else in this life. If you have a talent for it, if you practice every single day, if you love and enjoy it more than anything else you do, if you keep seeing yourself getting better and better, and if you would do it knowing that you might never, ever get paid, and you are willing to sweat … blood, sweat and tears and have no problem with working a job 40 hours a week and putting another 50 hours on top of that to work on your writing …
Then come get a hug because I know exactly how you feel. The journey is long (started writing “The Gift” in ’99) and not for the weak of heart, but for us there’s nothing else that completes us as much as story.
And nothing makes the journey move faster than to write.
So why aren’t you writing?
CHAPTER TWO — BAD SHIT WILL HAPPEN
So let’s say you have started the journey. You have sat down and begun writing your masterpiece. You have developed a routine (you must do this) and are writing every day for at least two hours. You have never been so hyped and jazzed in your entire life. Wow! How cool is this? This is great! How could it have taken you so long to discover something this cool that you love this much?
Pretty cool feeling, ain’t it?
Well, get ready because here’s where shit happens. You’ll get a ticket, your wife will divorce you, you’ll find your boyfriend cheating on you with your best friend, your dog gets cancer, you get a flat tire, someone steals your car, you lose your job, your parents kick you out, your boss yells at you, your wife cheats on you, your mom dies, you lose all your stories because your computer fucks up, your artist flakes, your backer dumps you or any of the bullshit life will throw at you at any given time happens.
What do you do now?
First, you get through it. Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. This is not some blurb, or cliché bullshit. It is the absolute fucking truth. And how do you get through the above shit? Simple.
Time. Time heals all wounds, no matter how bad. It does.
And once that wound is healed enough for you to think straight, it’s time to write. The best stories are the ones where the writer is trying to deal with the fucked-up shit that floats around in our heads. It takes the art form to another level.
I loved writing issue three because I just couldn’t figure out how normal people could turn around and kill their kids.
I loved writing issue six because I got fired from my job and got to use all that anger and hate to fuel the story.
I loved writing issue 11 because my wife cheated on me, and writing it into a story helped me deal with all those pent-up feelings that shred your belly in those lonely moments late at night.
Writing is our therapy. It’s what gets us through — the love of story.
Now if you’re still with me and you’ve got through the bad shit and are still standing with your head up and shoulders tall, let’s get to the good stuff.
CHAPTER THREE — THE FIRST THING I EVER LEARNED
This is the exact e-mail I sent five months after I started writing “The Gift.” Excuse the extra, current-day comments I made, but I couldn’t help myself.
12/9/00 1:39 a.m. Ravengregory@aol.com wrote:
I have begun to think that my questions will never be answered or that my thoughts will never be heard. God, I was such a drama queen.
I am a freelance writer currently working on a (HA! YEAH RIGHT!) 12-issue run of a book of my own creation. I have absolute faith that my book will change the face of the comic book industry and give something back to the readers that they have long been yearning for. For future reference, NEVER, EVER, say this shit to anyone, I can’t believe Renae replied
Six of the 12 books have completed scripts and plots. I have a conceptual artist who has designed most of the characters with my supervision. I have the financial backing to put a finished or semi-finished product in a publishers’ hand.
NOW THE QUESTION
How does an individual who has no experience or contacts get into the industry?
I wrote countless artists, creators, and writers with no reply. I would like to know what steps should be taken in trying to establish myself. Any help that could be given would be greatly appreciated. I realize there is a long road, much hard work, and no promised success, but a start I have made. See … this is why you NEED an editor
Any advice would help.
I sent this e-mail to everyone I could, and only one person answered. Renae (Zod) Geerlings
then: managing editor of Top Cow
Now: vice president of publishing of Top Cow
Hmm. You caught me on a Friday night/Saturday morning deadline. Good timing.
Yes, I am quite familiar with the Catch-22 that is this industry. You can’t get work without a name, but you can’t get a name without work. The best thing IS to self-publish and show that kind of forethought. Once you have a finished first couple issues, the company will know you mean business and it won’t be such a risk to take you on. Also, make friends in the industry. That’s big. Go to shows, cons, etc. Meet people. Get your face and work out there. Bang doors down. It works.
And THIS is what really started it all. One single e-mail. God, I love Renae.
CHAPTER FOUR — GETTING STARTED
Besides writing, you should be reading. The more you read the better you will write. The better you write the more enjoyable shit I get to read, so it’s better for everyone if you just take my word for it.
So what should you be reading?
“On Writing,” by Stephen King, for inspiration
“Story,” by Robert McKee, this will be your bible
“Fortune and Glory,” by Brian Michael Bendis, for the light at the end of the tunnel
Start with those, and then read everything you can get your hands on. The information in those books is priceless. If you’ve been doing all of the above, pretty soon that first story should be nearing completion.
Now here’s where things get interesting.
CHAPTER FIVE — I’M DONE. HUH. I’M NOT DONE?
You’ve finished your first story. You’ve read all the above material and after months of not looking at your story you pull it out to give it another looksee and …
It’s shit. You spot misspellings, plot holes, and after you read it aloud you know, you just know that no artist in their right mind would be able to understand the shit you wrote down.
Don’t panic. This is normal. It’s rewrite time. Pick your head up and rewrite your ass off. Now put it away for a couple weeks and repeat until you are satisfied with the final product.
Now it’s time to find an artist.
CHAPTER SIX — PRODUCTION
Find an artist. Not going to explain how but you have to find an artist to make your vision into a reality. Publishers (especially if you don’t have a name) rarely read scripts. Hell, it’s hard to get them to read comics. But once you find an artist, you’ll have to find an inker, maybe a colorist and a letterer. Once you do that and finish your book, it’s time to take your book to the big leagues.
CHAPTER SEVEN — PLEASE SIR, MAY I HAVE SOME MORE?
Your book is done (well, at least the first issue) and you’re hitting the cons and giving out samples of your book and no matter what you do, no matter who you talk to, no matter who you beg, no one wants you.
In fact, they tear your book to shreds and say there is no way this crap will ever sell. FYI - It’s time to start developing a tough skin or you’re not going to make it in this biz.
It happens. Happened to “The Gift.” Hell, I was lucky to have an initial cut, let alone a director’s cut.
What do you do next? It’s time to go to the big leagues.
DIAMOND COMICS DISTRIBUTION.
These are the guys who distribute all the comics to all the comic book stores in the world. If you have your book done then you’re ready for this. Submit your book to them and if they decide to carry it, then you have just gone national, baby. Congrats. Now the real work begins.
CHAPTER EIGHT — THE GIFT MARKETING PLAN
Here’s what I did. It’s not the only way to do it, but the most important thing you have to do is get the word out about your book. It could be the best comic ever to hit the stands, but it just doesn’t matter if no one knows about it.
The first thing I did was make a list. I pulled out all the comics I had been collecting over the past 10 years and wrote down every e-mail address I could find in the letter pages and e-mailed them about my book. I also went to www.the-master-list.com and sent a free copy of my book to every comic book store in the country. Then I called them and talked to them about my book. Then I called them and pretended I was someone else looking for “The Gift.” Then I hit the message boards and private message everyone I could about my book.
In other words, I got the word out. I also got a lot of hate mail about spamming people. Nothing says keep working hard like getting, “If you ever e-mail me again I’m gonna FUCKING SUE YOUR WORTHLESS HACK ASS, BITCH. FUCK OFF!” at 1 in the morning.
After you do all that and you get some buzz on your book, start hitting Wizard. Send them whatever you can. If these guys give you even one good word, good things can happen. Be persistent because while you’re doing your thing, about 10,000 other people are trying to do the exact same thing.
So why aren’t you writing right now?
CHAPTER NINE — HEY! I’M MAKING COMICS
You’ve climbed the mountaintop and can officially say you’re in the industry. What’s next?
You go back to the first thing you need to do.
Write. And you do it all over again. It should be easier this time.
Keep in mind that anything worth getting isn’t easy. Sacrifices will be made, and they won’t be small. You have to decide how bad you want this. If you decide you want to jump out of the plane without the parachute, keep on reading.
The most important thing I can say is this. Comics are not about the money. The telltale fiction that Hollywood will buy any idea that gets turned into a comic is false, so don’t buy into it. It does happen, but it’s rare. If there is a thought in your mind about doing this for money, turn around right now and don’t look back because this is not for you. But if you’ve been reading comics since you were a kid, if you love telling stories more than anything, if there is something about comics that just gets you, then I can say this with 100 percent honesty.
There is nothing in the world like this. There is nothing like finishing that first script, or going to your first con, or meeting your favorite writer for the first time, or seeing the pencils turn your words into an image, or seeing the finished product on your computer and reading your comic for the first time, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing cooler than seeing your book hit the stands.
Nothing makes you feel better than having fans write you and say how much they likes your book, or meeting them at a con, or just the quiet joy of sitting down and reading a book that you created. It’s a beautiful thing, and for those lucky enough to experience it, welcome to the world of comics. It’s all about the love.Posted by Tim Leong on April 6th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
What Art School Didn’t Prepare Me For
How do you take on the art duties for books
by Alan Moore and Warren Ellis? SCAD graduate Jacen Burrows explains to Comic Foundry how he did it and what the secret is.
What made you want to pursue a career as a comic book artist?
I’ve been drawing all my life. It was always the one standout talent I had among my classmates, and it was clear from an early age, like 7 or 8, that I would be in an art-related field. I had some comics as a kid, but I was never a collector of anything but maybe Mad Magazine and I didn’t really think about the comic scene until I turned 12 and a friend dragged me to the comic shop because of the G.I.Joe cartoon ads for the old Marvel comic. At the time I was all about G.I.Joe and Ninjas and typical boy stuff, and I remember looking at the racks and spotting the Elektra Saga. On the cover, in the background, were a bunch of tiny ninjas jumping around, so I bought it and loved it, which led me to Ronin and then back to Daredevil and from there I was hooked.
I was living in Connecticut at the time and I went to a tiny convention where I meat Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, who had just released their second oversized issue of TMNT, and talking to them made me realize that anyone with a little talent and some hard work could make comics. It wasn’t just superstar artists in New York doing this stuff, so I started drawing my own derivative, silly vigilante comics and just stuck with it till I got better. I even had a two- to three-page comic that would run in the back of my school newspaper when I was in junior high, so I was focused pretty early on and even then I leaned toward pretty graphic material.
I’m still amazed the teachers let me print that stuff. Nowadays a kid would be suspended and hauled off to therapy for drawing the stuff I was publishing in the school paper, but my classmates loved it and my teachers were very supportive. It usually consisted of a vigilante in a cape and metal face mask slaughtering criminals in an alley with Mac-10’s and a sword. It was hyper-violent and goofy, but everyone seemed to enjoy it.
You graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in 1996. How did your time there prepare you for your career?
The main thing you get at art school is an opportunity to constantly do art. You are surrounded by it at all times. Art history, appreciation, technical lessons, theory, mediums, criticism and deadlines. All of those things are vital to developing a mentality as a professional artist, and it is a world of difference from just drawing in your spare time between jobs or treating it like a hobby.
Drawing stops being something you do for fun when the impulse hits and becomes a technical skill you can tap into whenever you need. People talk about lazy artists all the time, and (the) real problem is that lack of discipline. They are waiting for inspiration or motivation. SCAD taught me that a professional doesn’t have that option. You have to be able to do your work no matter what you are feeling because this is a job. At the same time, the more you make yourself work through those bouts of low motivation, the easier it becomes to get into the zone every day.
SCAD was also incredibly supportive of experiments and different styles and, through the work of other students and their particular direction in art, you are exposed to all kinds of new influences. It helped created a much more broad definition of what comics are, and that is a lesson that is becoming more and more vital in this market.
But the most important thing you learn in art school is the ability to take criticism. It is the most vital thing a working artist can learn. If you take things personally, you will never improve and you’ll give off an attitude that will ruin your career. If you want to be a pro, you can’t be that socially inept, introverted kid that gets pissed off every time someone points out that they don’t use perspective properly or that their “style” isn’t a good enough excuse for a lack of knowledge in anatomy. Some of those critiques were just plain harsh, and that was great. You really learn from that.
During school, did you ever feel like you weren’t learning anything? How did you get around that?
The way I looked at it, I was being given tools and opportunities to learn, but it required a lot of personal effort for it to have any effect at all. You can’t expect to get better simply by going to class and doing the minimal amount of work required for the assignments. You have to seriously want to be better and be willing to work your ass off to get there. Certainly, there were classes that just didn’t seem to be useful to me in the long run — 3-D design and the incredibly elementary music appreciation requirements come to mind — but that is just part of any sort of bachelors program.
The best way to improve is simply to draw as many pages as you can, and the professors know that. They can’t give you tricks that will suddenly make you a professional level penciler. You draw pages, you get constant critiques, you apply the criticism and improve with the next batch of pages. That’s all there is to it so if you feel like you aren’t learning, it is likely because you aren’t drawing enough.
If there was ever a problem in the sequential art department for me, it was that it was too easy to drift through without much effort, and I know a lot of guys who got degrees who really never did work all that hard. Of course they weren’t able to find work in comics after school was over, so it all comes back to you in the end. Yeah, if anything, the curriculum should have been much more brutal and demanding, focusing more on professional discipline and output, more like a good Illustration program.
What didn’t your studies prepare you for?
Well, when I was getting out of school, the entire industry was collapsing inward. There was simply no work. Well, not for a low-end beginner, anyway. Even the indies that were still publishing had stopped looking at submissions, which is a pretty harsh reality for a guy getting out of college with $25K in student loan debt.
Artistically, I wish we’d had more discussion about different masters of the medium and how they approached the work. There was a history class, but it had to go through a lot of material so there wasn’t a whole lot of deep discussion beyond titles, companies and landmarks. I would have liked a whole semester on just the old masters like Wally Wood, Gil Kane, Alex Toth, Angelo Torres and Roy Krenkel, all those EC era masters.
How did you break into the industry?
Since there were nothing but closed doors in comics, I went to the role-playing game industry for work. I could work within my own style, get some experience and get paid a moderate amount for the work. It was actually a lot of fun, but unfortunately, that industry is even more unstable than comics and in the course of a couple of years I had two major publishers go under owing large amounts of money. It was a harsh lesson but it was really out of my control.
Financially, I’d have been better off working at 7-Eleven than TSR or West End Games, but I was prepared to have to “pay my dues” so I just kept working. So then I got work with London Night Studios. They went out of business owing me money. Then on to Caliber, and yes, they went out of business owing me money as well. I’ve paid serious dues here. It wasn’t until I got to Avatar that things stabilized.
How would you advise aspiring artists to compile their portfolio?
Style is a minimal concern to editors and publishers despite what artistic ego tells us. Clear, concise storytelling is the most important thing along with a strong knowledge of the fundamentals. You need to prove you can draw anything using proper perspective and a good knowledge of anatomy and rendering mass. Splash pages and cover images are virtually worthless in a submission unless you just plan to be a cover artist, which is a pipe dream itself.
I read somewhere what the perfect submission would be once: four to eight consecutive pages. Start out someplace mundane like an office full of people in regular, everyday clothes. Make sure you draw all the props and build a believable scene. Make sure you have different body types, sexes, races, etc. Show that you can draw anyone.
Then bring in some action, some big superhero or superhero team (it really doesn’t matter if you show X-men pages to a DC editor as long as the samples are strong) busts through a wall fighting. Show all that destruction dynamically and show off your superhero proportions and anatomy but remember that they are looking for clear, readable storytelling, not pointless splash images.
Don’t skimp on backgrounds. Move the fight outside and draw a realistic city scene with cars and buildings. Then move the fight into a nearby park to show nature, maybe a mounted police officer.
With all this, an editor will be able to see your versatility, storytelling ability and consistency or, just as important, the areas you need to work on. If you aren’t concerned with working in the mainstream, then you have a whole other set of sensibilities to deal with. It’s all kind of moot though since I don’t think anyone but the mainstream (publishers) are even willing to look at freelancers.
If you are going into indie or small press, you generally have to have your own book and creative team, and you’ll be judged as a whole. That’s a different game altogether. Know the publishers. Check their Web sites for submission suggestions. For instance, you can’t just apply for a penciler job at Slave Labor. They publish creator-owned material, and while they might be able to pair you with a writer looking for an artist, odds are your submission won’t lead anywhere.
What’s a typical work day like for you?
I tend to sleep whenever I’m tired. I don’t really adhere to a specific schedule, but I tend to be nocturnal. Any given day, I’ll wake up at noon, take care of e-mail, bills, errands, etc. then work till around prime time. Then I usually break for a few hours to hang out with friends or just relax or do me stuff (movies, reading, video games, etc). Then, when 9 or 10 rolls around I start my serious push and draw through the night till 5 or 6 in the morning, taking small breaks to keep my sanity. It can be a bit weird for friends and loved ones to deal with, but you just have to do what works for you.
What’s your thought process when you approach a project?
I read through the script several times without a pencil or paper. I want to get a feel for the flow and vision of the writer before I start doing any paneling at all. It runs like a movie in my head and when I sit down to do thumbs, the angles and settings are already sort of defined for me. The story is everything and I’m simply trying to translate the writer’s vision as clearly as I can, which sounds pretty basic, but talk to some writers. They’ll tell you the average penciler is really out to serve themselves over the project, sacrificing flow and tone in favor of big splashy show-off panels. Granted, those kinds of pages have a place, but my focus is very writer-centric.
You’ve done a lot of work with Warren Ellis. How can an artist develop a strong rapport with collaborators?
When Warren started his Avatar work he had already seen some of my samples and thought I showed a lot of potential, but he hardly trusted me yet. The scripts for Dark Blue were full of angle suggestions and paneling ideas, which was great. I was still learning my storytelling aesthetic and a writer with a strong vision and a deep knowledge of what really works can teach a lot, but after he saw how I handled the denser scripts, things became gradually more shorthanded.
He trusts me now to make the right decision for the story. The writers I’ve worked with know I’ll put every effort I can into improving my own abilities while handling their proverbial babies with the utmost respect. Like them, I’m not just looking for a paycheck. I want to do memorable comics and be proud of a collection of self-contained, creator-owned, cross-genre graphic novels in the end. They understand that I am passionate about this stuff, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to get paired with writers who really care about their ideas. I think when your writer trusts your devotion to a project, that rapport will develop automatically.
Any advice for aspiring writers on how to tailor their scripts to cater to an artist?
It really depends on the level of the artist as well. If they are starting out, don’t be afraid to give them more info. The bits of a script that the readers will never see is essentially a letter to your artist. Explain your vision. Don’t just go with the minimal “Man walks into a room.” Describe the ambience of the scene, the style of the people, the stuff cluttering the room within reason. Maybe it won’t all make it onto the page, but you are building the scene up.
A beginning artist might not go that extra mile if he/she is worried it will stray from your idea. Give them some meat to work with, and you’ll get more results. And as you grow as a writer, you’ll find yourself needing less and less to convey exactly what you want to the artist. Paneling and angle suggestions are fine if you have specific ideas, but don’t hamstring your artist either. I’ve had scripts where panel one is a small, vertical headshot panel and panel two is a page length horizontal establishing shot. That doesn’t make sense unless you inset panel one or leave a lot of blank space.
Let your artist figure out how the page will flow. When you get to scenes where you really think the artist can cut loose, back away and let them. Let them know it is their chance to shine, let them know what needs to be conveyed and then let them at it. If you are working with a more seasoned artist, let them do their thing but be clear about what your vision is for the story.
What’s the one thing every aspiring artist needs to know but probably doesn’t?
In most ways I am still an aspiring artist myself! If it is one thing it is this: Perspective is the whole game. Every time something looks odd or awkward, odds are the perspective is screwed up or you aren’t thinking three-dimensionally enough.
Even the most organic thing has to adhere to perspective. You might be drawing a face and the eye axis isn’t lined up parallel to the mouth axis relative to the vanishing point, and suddenly the whole face is wonky. The more you use it properly, the more your work will improve.
Most comic artists, particularly the ones who learned to draw by looking at other comic artists, tend to approach things very two dimensionally. They develop tricks to quickly represent folds in fabric or faces from certain angles that repeat through the books constantly instead of thinking about things in 3-D and being free to draw anything from any angle conceivable.
When you understand viewpoints and picture planes you can line up panels that look so much more believable you’ll shock yourself. Everything becomes easier and with time this stuff becomes second nature. Go over to Amazon and pick up some basic perspective books on the cheap or sign up for a perspective class, and you will see some serious improvement. Start applying perspective as much as possible to your pieces and you’ll start noticing things like grounding your figures on the picture plane, getting the scale of props and settings right all improving.
Never skimp on perspective. It may seem like the most tedious and dull part of drawing, but I promise the results will inspire you and improve your overall satisfaction with drawing.
You can check out Jacen’s work on 303 here and look for his upcoming Texas Chainsaw Massacre series.
—Interview by Lenar ClarkPosted by Tim Leong on April 6th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
The Business of Comics Explained
Tony Caputo forever changed the comic publishing industry after he published his book, How to Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book. Commercial information that was previously unavailable was now at everyone’s disposal, thus providing self-publishers with crucial information about contracts, budgets and public relations. Tony talked with CF to reveal even more about what you need to know to get started.
Why do I need a contract?
A contract is a binding agreement between two individuals and/or companies that protect the approved arrangement should something unexpected occurs — merger, acquisition, bankruptcy, etc. My experience with having literally negotiated and signed about a thousand contracts is that it’s a piece of paper that is ONLY as good as the two people that sign it. When I sued my ex-partner for breach of contract, he even signed a “personal guarantee in writing” — something beyond the documents generated between his company and me. It took five years of legal battle to settle.
My solid advice is doing what they do in Europe. First, get to know the person you’re signing a contract with. Is he legit? Does he have references? Is he a family man or a wanderer who travels around and would be hard to find? Is he a lawyer (they know the ins and outs of the law so well, they can sometimes dance around it for years, costing you money). The contract is only as good as the people that sign it.
How does someone new to the game know if they’re being ripped off?
Anyone who’s worked freelance in any commercial art industry knows about being paid late because of cash flow problems or because the person’s a thief. Cash flow can be a problem with ANY new or small business at various times in their growth cycle — one of their distributors goes bankrupt, bank cuts them off for working capital, printer raises prices unexpectedly, art director messed up and there’s a substantial late fee tacked onto all work done, venture capitalists call in a loan, power struggles, hostile takeovers — man, I’ve see it all. This is where the freelancer has to make a decision between, OK, do I continue to work with this guy because I’m loving it and I trust that I’ll get paid eventually, and if not, no big deal, I’ll get work elsewhere, or quit.
If you can’t take the heat, just quit. Freelancers as freelancers have that luxury. If you signed a contract with a guy that checks out, he’s not screwing you on purpose — you would know if he was screwing you on purpose because he wouldn’t be in business long. Recently, 40 federal agents raided Efoora, a bogus (biotech) company run by three guys Grosky, Rappin and Dokuch, who swindled millions of dollars from unsuspecting investors in an IPO fraud. They’re out there.
Is there a standard range for pencilers/writers/colorists/inkers?
I’ve recently received quotes from computer colorists for turning Vespers into a color graphic novel. Their ranges were from $50 to $150 per page; otherwise the numbers in my book would still be about right, based on my research, but I’m not a production company any longer. I can’t see prices getting higher with a shrinking market.
What guarantees should a contract have?
— A kill fee?
If you can get them to add this, yes. However, more important than this would be the copyright, if it’s not work-for-hire. You can team up with the writer and bring it elsewhere for possible publication.
— Deadline overage fees?
If the publisher can guarantee that his check will never be late to the day, than this is acceptable. If not, charged for being late a few days is ridiculous. There are always obstacles that are out of everyone’s control that will cause delays. This is reality. A project plan should include a contingency plan for being late. If the publisher doesn’t have one, they’ll fall behind and eventually get slammed with late charges. Don’t blame the artist for being late; blame the collaborative process.
Always and forever.
How much room is there for negotiation in the business side of comics?
It all depends on the projects. If it’s a packaged blockbuster. In time, a publisher knows the market, their market, their fans and what are the projected sales. It’s the point when your financial projections turn from fortune-telling to forecasting when you really get a handle on things. That’s when there’s room for negotiations because the publisher feels more comfortable with the prospective profits.
Do artists/writers need a lawyer?
Lawyers are dealmakers; they’re deal breakers. They are, unfortunately, a necessary evil. However, lawyers must be interviewed and reviewed through references just as anyone else. You could end up with a lawyer that sits on his butt and does nothing and bills you for it, or puts in 10 times more time into the contract review than necessary. Try some creative art associations for contract review services, or a lawyer with a flat fee.
What’s the most common business mistake artists and writers make with publishers? The solution?
Depends on the publisher, but I would think that it’s probably good to remember that it’s a collaborative effort that requires teamwork. Everyone has their specific job function, and only while working together does the magic happen.
Are there any differences between what an artist should look for as opposed to a writer?
I think that if a writer can keep the copyright to their story, that’s a plus. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone else’s characters in this particular version being published, if it’s a good story, the writer may want to embellish on it later somehow. Thanks to Harlan Ellison, all the Twilight Zone stories written were creator-owned, meaning that the story reverted to the writer (not the art or the mention of Twilight Zone, just the story).
This is cool because I was quite fond of my own Twilight Zone No. 3 story and am adapting it now into a new science-fiction graphic novel called “Little Big Shot.”
Of course, the artist should get his physical artwork back.
What’s the most important thing to know for self-publishing?
You are selling the consumer, NOT the distributor or retailer. Create your market by finding new readers. Don’t waste $2500 on a full-page ad in Diamond Previews when that $2500 can be used to generate interest from readers, who will then generate the interest from retailers. Also – sell copies online. You can now give that one consumer in Rhode Island the opportunity to buy it if he can’t find it anywhere. They will spend their money elsewhere.
What if I’m trying to get someone to publish a comic I created?
Professionalism. Follow submissions procedures, but most importantly, don’t stop writing or drawing samples. Also show new stuff and find a way to meet the people in person.
What does “work-for-hire” mean?
Work-for-hire means that the work you’re doing is owned entirely by the company for which you’ve contracted. This is made to stop those who draw X-Men or Batman from taking it and selling it to the licensee in France. (You still need the rights to use the trademarked likeness of X-Men or Batman.) If you didn’t sign a work for hire, you own the copyright for the artwork (not the trademark), so you could legally sell reprint rights to legitimate X-Men or Batman licensors (someone who’s purchased a license from the owners to reproduce the likeness of the characters). However, licensing contracts between licensor and licensee may forbid the licensee from buying any work other then the licensor’s authorized materials, and in order to become authorized, they get a cut.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
I’ve had many experiences, in and out of the comic book industry, so it’s hard to say that there’s one most valuable lesson. There are many at various levels.
However, I made a decision in 1986 to sacrifice personally drawing, coloring, painting and creating comics to publish them. Creating them and self-publishing is much more fun.
—Interview by Tim LeongPosted by Tim Leong on April 3rd, 2005 filed in Story Archive |
Pull Out Obscenity’s Feeding Tube
Q: So, I just started my own comic. What’s a good way to market it?
A: FIRST, FIGURE OUT WHO YOU WANT TO READ THE THING.
Analyze this target person. Find out what makes them laugh, cry, seize. Whatever. Then you can bait this person, once you know what they want. It’s like this: If your target readers were all four years old, you would make cupcakes with your comic’s name written in sprinkles. The more creative, the more memorable. I remember one day in high school when a plane spelled out “Con Air” above our school the day that crummy movie came out. Admit it, that’s pretty rad. But chances are you have a limited budget, so maybe you’ll just have to write your comic’s name in the snow with a urine stream, it’s the next best thing. Or stage some kind of media event, like one where you pull out a feeding tube of someone in a hospice who doesn’t mind, then give everyone who shows up a magnet or some kind of promotional crap.
Q: Everybody seems to be against kids and violence. But we have violence incomics, which kids read. Is there a line?
A: YOU KNOW WHAT? I’M SICK AND TIRED of Christian conservatives ruining it for all of us. Ok, so kids shouldn’t see a small Amish girl raped with a Swiffer. I agree! But why do they have to prohibit all of us from seeing this? For God’s sake! These are the same people that are always all about the market determining what sinks and swims, not government. Look, if people have a problem with you crossing the line, they shouldn’t buy your comic. If some kid reads your comic that involves a semi-automatic street sweeper in the hood, then mimics it and murders an assload of people, the kid had problems way before ever picking up your comic. You can look forward to asking said kid all about them when you’re rotting in hell with him.
Q: How do I come up with a hook when I’m pitching to publishers?
A: GIVE THEM SOMETHING THEY’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE. Think about it, these people see an assembly line of boringness day in, day out, it all looks the same. Try running down the escalator at the Rosslyn Metro subway stop in DC. This is the longest escalator in the country next to one at the San Diego zoo, or so I’ve been told. It’s like three miles down or something. You can’t see the top at the bottom. Anyways, if you walk up or down it, the stairs all start too look so eerily the same that you become entranced by the monotony. That’s what all those pitches look like to these publisher types. So throw them a bone. Have a wild opening line. Be like, “I couldn’t believe a raccoon had made it into my bed and was now giving birth.” Make that the opening line. Who cares what follows, point is, they’ll read it. Just follow through, you know, Christ, make sure your comic doesn’t suck.
Ask Terp the Bartender about your dire needs at email@example.com or catch him in the message boardsPosted by Tim Leong on April 3rd, 2005 filed in Story Archive |