SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE
Okay, so you’ve confirmed that you don’t suck, you’ve put some thought into finding the right editor and you’ve prepared your pitch. So what now? What comes next on your journey to comic book super stardom?
The waiting, that’s what.
There are two qualities that are going to prove absolutely essential if you’re ever going to break into comics: patience and persistence. Both should immediately kick into effect as soon as you send off that pitch. Don’t go getting antsy and start pelting that editor with follow-ups two days after you sent them your pitch, asking if they’ve had time to read it yet. Chances are they haven’t, and now that you’re bugging them, they probably never will. You’ve got to be patient, but at the same time, persistence does pay off. It doesn’t hurt to follow up with that editor every month or so, just to remind them, “Hey, I’m still alive over here!” If you never hear back, well, then you’ve got your answer. If they like your pitch though, hey great, you’re on your way. But don’t think that’s gonna be the end of the waiting. Oh no, not at all.
My first published comic work came in 2002. My second published comic work came in 2006. That doesn’t mean I was just sitting around for four years in between with nothing to do. No, I was working my ass off. And also doing my share of waiting. I got “The Other Side” approved by Vertigo in 2004, but the book didn’t actually hit shelves until 2006. “Scalped” was greenlit in 2005, but didn’t start coming out until 2007. Nothing happens overnight in comics, even if it sometimes seems that way from the outside. And just getting your big break doesn’t always mean you get to stop with the whole patience and persistence thing.
Just ask Dennis Hopeless.
Dennis is a friend and fellow Kansas City comic creator. He made his comic book writing debut in 2007 with the four issue miniseries “GearHead,” published by Arcana. The story of a badass chick armed with a big ass wrench, it was a well-received debut that generated lots of notice for both Dennis and artist Kevin Mellon. Yet it’s three years later, and we’ve yet to see more work from Dennis hit the shelves. Does that mean he’s just been sitting around smoking cigarettes and watching “Captain Kangaroo” this whole time? I talked to him to find out.
Jason Aaron: So Dennis, it’s been a few years now since “GearHead,” your comic book debut. What the hell have you been up to since then?
â€¨â€¨Dennis Hopeless: Ha. The short answer to that is “writing.” As much as possible. I think something like 800 comic pages since the last issue of “GearHead” came out.â€¨
Those are cumulative pages over lots of books. I always have several projects going at once. This week, for instance, I worked on 3 different books.
I wrote script pages for issue #3 of Mike Norton’s “The Answer.” I worked on the plot summary for a pitch I’m doing with Guy Allen that is almost ready to go out. And I had a stream-of-consciousness story meeting on a brand new thing that left me stumbly.
That’s 800 pages spread over how many different projects? How many books do you currently have in various stages of production?
I want to say 15 different books. Give or take. Some of those are fully dead and a few have been set aside for sunnier days.
But active production, let’s see…
“LoveSTRUCK,” an OGN Kevin Mellon and I did as our “GearHead” follow-up, is done and being copyedited.
I have 2 long term projects that will happen but don’t have firm timelines. “The Answer” with Mike Norton and a action/horror comic with Aaron Gillespie. Both have right around 2 issues drawn and are trucking forward.
I wrote a graphic novel with Phil Hester in 2009 that was being drawn by Patric Reynolds. We lost Patric to the beautiful work he’s been doing at Dark Horse and as far as I know the book is in limbo.
Beyond those, I have several pitches in various states of undress. A few short stories being drawn for this and that. A new web thing that just recently happened. A 3rd Hopeless/Mellon Joint in the works. And…I’m sure I’m forgetting something.
So, yeah, I have probably 8 or 10 more-or-less active books.
Damn, and I thought I was busy. Which of those projects should be the first to hit shelves and when should fans possibly look for it?â€¨â€¨
I wrote a short “Hack/Slash” story drawn by Kyle Strahm for Tim Seeley’s “Trailers 2” anthology. It comes out at the end of November, I think.
After that would be “LoveSTRUCK,” the story of a megalomaniacal billionaire Cupid and the 5 assholes he hires to take over the world. We don’t have a firm release date, but I’d guess early 2011.
You also have a wife and a day job, so how have you been able to balance all that with your comic work?
The best answer to that is that I married well.
My day job is a typical 9 to 5. My wife tattoos from Noon to 9. So, I have 3 hours home alone built into every work day. As long as I get my ass in the chair when I get home, the time is there. 15 hours during week plus all day Saturday is more than enough when I use it.
That said, I really don’t think I could do it without Jessie. She’s supportive and understanding even when sacrificing her time to take up my slack. I give up most of my free-time to play pretend. She uses a lot of hers making sure the bills get paid and that the house isn’t falling down.
Jessie is indeed a talented tattoo artist. I have a cool little eye on my wrist to prove it.
â€¨Whenever we talk, you always seem to stay positive. You always seem excited about what you’re working on, as opposed to just getting frustrated or impatient with all these different projects. How have you stayed so positive? Or has it been a frustrating experience?
Of course it gets frustrating. God yes. Nobody likes waiting, and I’m not even a little bit patient. But this is how it works. You do the work and put in the time and if you’re lucky, someday in the distant future, you end up with a book on your shelf. Sometimes I want to punch holes in things. Sure I do. But I’ve never wanted to quit.
I just bitch to my wife until she tells me to stop and then I move on to the next thing. There’s always something else I could be working on.
I get a kick out of writing comics. And as a writer I have very little control over art schedules and release dates. If I keep that in mind, it’s easier to focus on getting better at the part I can control. Even if none of these books ever come out, working through them made me a better writer. At this point, getting good is at least as important as getting published. Probably more so.
How do you think you’ve grown or changed as a writer over these last couple years?
Ha! I think I learned 90% of what I know about writing after I got published.
I will have done 3 years worth of writing in between my first two published books. If there’s one benefit to that much unpublished work, it’s that I’ve been getting better behind-closed-doors. I can look through all that work, spot the things I’ve been fucking up and do my best to fix them.
When I started doing this, I focused on the parts of writing that I enjoy most. I’m sure everyone does that. I like character drama and dialogue, so that’s where I put my energy. But when I look back, I don’t notice any good character moments or clever lines. I see plot holes and shitty pacing. I see all the spots where I was faking it when I didn’t know what I was doing.
After some forehead banging and several failed adjustments, I started developing an actual writing process. I taught myself how to plot for real. I started doing outlines and using notecards to organize my thoughts. I stopped trying to convince myself I was ready to script just because that’s my favorite part. I learned how to write a story from the floor up.
I’m a work in progress. I still try to cut corners I shouldn’t cut and I have no way of knowing what awful mistakes I’m making today that I’ll have to revisit next year. But I’m confident in my process and my ability to go back to those unpublished projects and fix what’s broken.
Dude, we’re all works in progress, trust me. Looking ahead, where do you hope to be in your career after another three years?
I hope I’m writing good comics in three years. And that people are getting to read them.
I’d like to make some money doing this. Fuck, there are parts of my body I’d sacrifice to write for a living.
But more than anything, I want to get better. I want to be great at this one day. Greatness, that’s my goal. No big deal.
If you’re serious about the body parts thing, I know some editors you should talk to. Do you have a dream job in comics?
At this point, A job in comics is my dream. I’d write the asshole out of just about anything you put in front of me so it’s hard to say.
Ooh, I got it…
“Justice League International” was what hooked me as a kid. Big, big fan. I would love to do a Han and Chewie space misadventure type story with Guy Gardner and G’Nort. That would be fun.
Dennis Hopeless, everyone.
This dude is going to make it. Mark my words. He’s got the talent and the drive, and instead of just sitting back and dreaming about it, he’s out there right now, working his ass off and paying his dues.
You wanna write for a living? You want a career in comics? Get a bit of this guy’s patience and persistence. I guarantee you it’ll go a long way.
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. His beard is bigger than yours.