YOU CAN’T DO IT ALONE
Or you can, I suppose. But it’s going to be awfully more difficult.
Breaking into comics, that is.
As I’ve mentioned before, I was born and raised in Smalltown, Alabama. There wasn’t anybody from my neck of the woods who worked in comics. The only professional creators I ever met were at Dragon Con, where I waited in line to get their autographs, nervously mumbling “thanks” and likely little else. I had no idea how comics were put together, other than that it happened in New York, which seemed very far away. The idea of me actually someday having a career writing comics seemed for the most part to be a ridiculously far-fetched fantasy.
Remember, these were the days before the internet, so I knew absolutely nothing about the industry except what I read in letters columns or “Comics Scene” magazine. I had no idea how to approach editors or put together a pitch or write an actual script. And no one around to learn from.
My best friend since middle school, Jon Falkner, was the only other kid in school who liked comics as much as I did, and he was a great artist, so we talked a lot about collaborating on a comic. He just recently sent me back the first script I ever wrote, which I gave to him years ago to draw. Unfortunately, issue #1 of “Sweet Bullet” never came to fruition as my script is an embarrassingly bad clusterfuck of nonsense. The first page, which features the titular character in a wild shoot-out narrated with lines from “I Saw the Light” by Hank Williams, calls for about as many panels as you’d find in your average 4 page sequence. And that’s not to mention all the pages torn from tattoo magazines that I sprinkled in as reference, along with clipped out images of scantily-clad women, Beetle Bailey, Benny Hill and an ad for La Toya Jackson’s Psychic Network (I am not making any of that up, I swear).
I quite obviously had no idea what the hell I was doing.
I also, apparently, was in desperate need of getting laid. But that’s neither here nor there.
In 2000, the weekend the first “X-Men” movie came out, I moved to Kansas City. Kind of on a lark. I didn’t know where I wanted to be, but I just knew I needed a change.
I had no idea before I moved here that Kansas City had a vibrant comic book scene.
The first week I was here, I found a comic shop and started a pull list: Elite Comics in Overland Park. I’ve been buying my books there ever since. Through that shop I first met local comic folk like B. Clay Moore, Ande Parks and Jai Nitz, and later some fellow KC-transplants like Tony Moore and Matt Fraction. Here were people who actually made their living making comics. I couldn’t believe it.
In 2001, after I won a Marvel Comics talent search contest, I finally had enough confidence and enough of a handle on my craft to start sending out pitches. I never badgered any of the local comic folk about helping me out, or at least, I hope to God I never did. But plenty of them offered their assistance. Clay was greasing the rails at Image for me when I was planning on pitching “The Other Side” there. Jai gave me the email address for Will Dennis, who eventually signed me to do “The Other Side” at Vertigo. Seth Peck, a KC writer who if you haven’t heard of yet, you soon will, listened to my ideas and urged me to keep going. Ande Parks and Phil Hester, who at the time were in the midst of their terrific “Green Arrow” run with Kevin Smith, let me interview them for a local paper I wrote for, offering their insights into the industry and teaching me by example how professionals were supposed to conduct themselves.
All of that encouragement, assistance, insight and most of all, acceptance, proved invaluable.
Meeting the people of the Kansas City comic scene helped me to realize that yes, people actually can break into comics, people just like me. They encouraged me in a way I can’t even quantify. And I honestly don’t know that I would be here today if it wasn’t for them.
So I guess my point is, it’s hard to work in a void. It’s hard to grow and develop as a creator if you’re not meeting other people who are in the same boat and striving for the same goal. Yes, the world is a much smaller place today because of the internet and it’s relatively easy now to make connections with people online. But there’s still no substitute for having peers locally you can get together with, commiserate with, bounce ideas off of — all of that. There’s no substitute for feeling like you’re part of an honest-to-God scene, even if you’re the only ones who even recognize it as such.
Does that mean you have to move to Kansas City or Chicago or the American comic book Mecca known as Portland? Not at all. Make your own scene. Usually, all it takes is one good comic book store where folks like to hang out. Or a good local convention. Or just a small group of folks who get together at a bar once a month to talk comics.
And having a local support network isn’t just helpful when you’re breaking in. In fact, I’d say it becomes even more important once you’re actually a professional.
As a working comic book creator, you spend all your time cooped up behind a desk. There’s no banter with the co-worker in the next cubicle. Nobody to chat with in the lunchroom. If I didn’t have other creators in Kansas City I could get together with and talk shop now and then, I think I’d go crazy. Or, well, crazier.
Speaking of which, my wife saw that “Sweet Bullet” #1 script lying around my office the other day and asked about it, wondering if perhaps some mentally-deranged fan had sent it to me.
No, baby, I had to tell her. That mentally-deranged fan is me.
Did I mention it features a “vampire porno king” named Seymour Snatchole, an “ex-athlete turned schizophrenic Christian” named Jack Flash, someone known simply as “Smegma” and that the main character, Enid, the Sweet Bullet, also goes by “Superbitch T.N.T.?”
I can’t understand why my friend never drew this.
Too busy with his damn Spidey-Friends website, I guess.
Oh, what could’ve been…
Jason Aaron is an Eisner and Harvey Award nominated comic book writer whose current work includes the critically-acclaimed crime series “Scalped” for DC/Vertigo and “Wolverine,” “Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine” and “PunisherMAX” for Marvel. He was born in Alabama but currently resides in Kansas City. You can follow him on Twitter (@jasonaaron) or his blog. His beard is bigger than yours.