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Raven Gregory created his comic, The Gift, out of nothing. But after some hard work, it was Gregory who got the real gift, when Image Comics bought his self-published title. Gregory explains to Comic Foundry how he did it, and how you can too.
You started “The Gift” through an indie company, and Image later bought it. What was the step-by-step process, and what was the process to get your original book out in the first place?
When I first decided I wanted to get into comics, I wrote everyone I could in the biz, trying to get feedback on how to break in. Eventually I e-mailed Renae Geerlings at Top Cow, and she kinda took me under her wing. Eventually I pitched her The Gift, and she helped me form a quality professional team. Even though it cost a lot, I had an indie book that looked pro, but it was still tough. People don’t trust indies for whatever their reasons, and some really good stuff falls through the net because of this.
But eventually the buzz got up enough on the book where Image decided to give us a shot. I had submitted to them previously — three times — and they had turned it down, so it was a matter of getting out there and doing it myself. That and the fact that The Gift has some incredible fans. Nothing can save or kill a book more than word of mouth. It’s an amazing thing.
What pitching tips do you have for creators looking for publishers? What were some of your earlier pitching mistakes?
There is no set design. Writing a good pitch takes practice and experience. It’s just like writing; the more you do the better (hopefully) you get. The biggest advice I can give is: You have 30 seconds — max — to grab the fuck out of someone, attention-wise. After that, you lost them. When you write those pitches, make sure it grabs, and make sure you leave the person reading wanting to know more and actually caring about the answer.
You emphasize marketing in your guide — what are the best ways you can get your name out?
The Internet is a major tool. Also, www.the-master-list.com is a great tool as well. It lists almost every comic store in the country. When I first got into this, I called and sent every store a preview copy. The main rule of thumb is that no matter what you do, you have to get the word out about your book. You could have the best thing since Watchmen, but if no one hears about it, it doesn’t matter.
How does the writer/editor/artist relationship work in your case?
It’s different for artists and me. I like to give leeway for them to bring what they offer to the table, as well as my vision. But at the same time I have KEY elements that I have to have on a page. With my editor it’s just a matter of her keeping me from sucking, which she does an incredible job of. No one else can tell me when shit is shit and when a plot hole [is there] or anticlimax just isn’t there. She’s the best.
When you came up with the idea for The Gift, you probably told yourself it was a pretty good idea, which it is. But I’m sure people who come up with real bombs think their ideas are also good. What’s the difference? Why was yours produced and someone else’s lining a canary cage?
The big thing is to believe in yourself and what you’re doing. Whether or not it sells is really out of your hand; people dig what they dig. I came up with mine while drunk and hanging out with friends. I was really lucky in writing because there was so much time from when I starting writing to when production started. That way I could continue to grow as a writer (by writing) and still be able to clean up my older stuff with where I am today. I also got to really look and see what was out there already and go off completely in the other direction. Nothing is worse than cliché. No one likes it, so you have to make sure your idea is your idea, and no one else is doing anything like it.
When someone is considering self-publishing, what are hurdles that are overlooked?
Money. Bottom line: This shit costs. But if you want this bad enough, you’ll find a way to make your dream come true.
How do you find a backer?
I did my research and made a projection chart and pitched it to various people until someone believed in me and the story enough to back it. It wasn’t easy.
So once you get a publisher to bite the hook, what’s next?
You write, you market, you hit cons and you get the word out every way you can. You don’t stop to breathe, and you bust your ass. This is your dream we’re talking about here.
How much planning do you do for your series? Do you have an entire arc planned, from each self-contained issue all the way to the tie-ins later?
When I was starting writing, I had no idea who the Ancient One was. Then I wrote issue six, and it hit me like a bag of cement. I just knew. I kept writing, and somewhere around issue 17 I knew how the series was going to end. Now it’s just getting to the end. I’m on issue 25 now, and I know the series is gonna end around issue 30, but I do break the stories down into arcs. The first arc introduces the characters. The second arc reveals the Ancient One and his motives. The third is the repercussion of his actions, but I try not to write in knowing a set thing. I’d rather let the stories happen than force it. When I’m not writing The Gift, I’m working on other projects, so that the writing always stays fresh in my head. It’s like going different places for a vacation, so you know each has an appeal that gets you and that’s why you keep going back. When that feel is gone, it’s over.
How would you typify what’s wrong with the amateur comic writing you see?
Nothing. I don’t see anything wrong because writing is a learning and growing process. Either you can write, or you can’t. But even the best writing gets better with time. There is no switch that makes you “there” when you want to be “there.” You have to work and work and get there.
How did you come up with your ideas for The Gift and The Waking? Doyou have any good tips for those trying to come with a fresh idea?
There’s no real way. They just come. For no reason or for a reason, it just comes. But The Gift major influences are the old horror comics EC used to put out, “Twilight Zone” and “Tale from the Crypt.” I always wanted to do a story where each issue could be its own story but have them all fit together. I think that was the only thing the Twilight Zone was missing, that they told these awesome multifaceted stories but none of them ever went together.
The Waking was one of those things where I thought, “What would happen if detectives had to stop zombies from murdering the people who killed them to begin with?” It’s about conflict — emotionally and physically — on a whole new level. It’s about finding the moral and twisting and turning it as much as you can to find the true story in your idea.
What writing exercises do you do?
Message boards and interviews. IM is good to because it teaches you a good handle on dialogue. It’s how people talk. It shows the character behind the words. And nothing is more important than bringing your characters to life and giving them personality. If the reader doesn’t care about the characters, your story’s dead.
If you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it. What can someone fresh in the comic business learn from the mistakes of today’s industry?
This is the double-edged sword that is comics. You have to believe in yourself 100 percent. You have to jump out of the airplane knowing you don’t have a parachute. You just have to do it because there is nothing else that gets you as much as comics.
The downside to this is even doing this doesn’t mean you’ll succeed, but there is no other way. At the end of the day we write stories or do comics because we have to. We have this love for telling a story, and nothing fulfills us like telling a good story and having it flow out onto the page. There’s something very Zen and spiritual about it. It’s also that thing that you just know you’re meant to do.
Any last bits of advice?
You never give up. You do what it takes to capture your dream. I truly believe that the only thing that separates those that fail and those that succeed is the ones that do make it never gave up. It’s all about the love.
— Interview by Tim Leong
Stay tuned next week when CF presents Raven Gregory’s Guide to Self-Publishing