HOW TO WOO THE EDITOR OF YOUR DREAMS
In case you haven’t heard, the New York Comic Con is this week. I’ll be there, scribbling on comics and kissing babies and such. Don’t be afraid to come say “Hi” (unless I’m scratching like mad, in which case my beard has become infested with bed bugs). Hordes of aspiring comic creators will be there as well, all looking to score some face time with any editor they can find. When you see editors wandering the con floor at a show like this, they often look like a kidnap victim who’s only just escaped from captivity; disheveled and shell-shocked, staring off into space, mumbling incoherently, in a hurry to get somewhere, anywhere, just away from this place. More seasoned editors stick to the shadows, always scanning their perimeter like salty combat vets, ever on alert for ambushes.
Trying to have a meaningful conversation with an editor at a major convention like New York is usually like trying to have a prolonged chat with your friend at his wedding. It’s just not going to happen. Sometimes the best you can do is just make an appearance and hope they remember you were there.
So how do you distinguish yourself from the horde of folks just like you, all chasing after the same editors, hustling for the same jobs?
You can start by being selective about who you chase.
Almost everything I’ve ever done in comics has been because of two editors: Will Dennis at Vertigo and Axel Alonso at Marvel. They’re not only the two best editors I’ve ever worked with, but they’ve also become two of my closest friends in the business. Of all the comics I’ve read over the last several years, most of my favorites were edited by those two guys, so it’s no coincidence that we ended up working together.
At some point as I was trying to break into comics, I realized that my goal wasn’t just to write whatever comics I could get my hands on. It was to write comics for my favorite editors.
I’m not writing Wolverine and Punisher right now because my dream was always to write Wolverine and Punisher. I do love the characters, it’s true, but really, my dream was to work with Axel. Wolverine and Punisher happen to be the characters that Axel currently edits. If Axel was editing Power Pack, I would be pitching the shit out of Power Pack right now. Same with Will. I love Vertigo, always have, but in particular, I’ve loved the kinds of books that Will edits for them.
When you’re first trying to break into comics, it’s natural to want to chase after work wherever you can. After I won a Marvel talent search contest back in 2001, I started pitching ideas to every Marvel editor I could get in touch with. I pitched everything under the sun. None of it went anywhere. So eventually I stopped. But as I started working for Will at Vertigo, I began sending copies of my Vertigo work to just one guy at Marvel: Axel Alonso. A few months later, I had a couple of Marvel gigs. A few months after that, I had a Marvel exclusive.
I got the career in comics I’d always wanted, not by carpet-bombing every editor in the biz with submissions. I got it because of two guys. Because I convinced two guys I was worth their time.
You don’t have to make every editor in comics love you. You don’t even have to hit it off with two, like I did. You just need one. You just gotta find that one editor out there who’s on the same wave length you are. I pitched my first book, “The Other Side,” to every publisher under the sun but didn’t get anywhere until I got it in front of Will. He was the one guy who saw something he was willing to take a chance on.
One editor, that’s all you need.
So how do you find them?
Just look at the books you read. Looks at your favorites. Do they have an editor in common? Think about what kind of work you wanna do and figure out which editors seem to do those sorts of books. Find the editor that seems to have sensibilities close to yours, and then focus your efforts on them. Now that doesn’t mean you bug the shit out of them. It just means you’re being smart about who you pitch to. Trust me, you’ll save yourself a lot of headache and heartbreak by focusing your efforts on editors you’re more likely to hit it off with.
If you see something in yourself (you read my last column, DON’T SUCK, right?), then an editor with similar sensibilities will hopefully see it as well.
Now if your dream is really just to write Brother Power the Geek comics and you don’t give a damn who the editor happens to be on Brother Power the Geek you just know you’ll never be happy until you’ve written 100 issues of “Brother Power the Geek,” then by all means, chase your dream. But in my experience, true peace of mind in comics comes when you find editors you truly connect with.
So what do you do when you find your true-love editor? How do you woo them? How do you distinguish yourself from all the other suitors lusting after them at comic cons? Well, I plied my guys with porn, you can always try that.
A much safer way is to first just be a fan. When you see them at a con, don’t instantly whip out your stack of pitches and start assailing them. Just go up and politely tell them why they’re your favorite editor. What books of theirs do you like? Why do you like them? What music or movies or books are you into that you suspect they might be into as well? Don’t lie. Just be honest. If you’re gonna break into comics, it helps to first be a fan of comics (you’d be surprised how many guys aren’t).
Don’t ever be afraid to be a fan.
Will Dennis edited Garth Ennis’ “War Stories,” the best war comics of the last 20 years. That’s why I pitched him “The Other Side.” He edited “100 Bullets” and “The Losers.” That’s why I pitched him “Scalped.” Axel edited “Preacher” and Garth’s Punisher run and “Truth: Red White and Black” and the Bruce Jones Hulk run and loads of the early Marvel Knights books. That’s why I wanted to work for him at Marvel.
By telling this editor what you like of their work and why you like it, you’re also in a way telling them why they should be interested in anything you might want to pitch them.
So now that you’ve got this editor all hot and bothered from whispering sweet nothings in their ear and you’re ready to whip out your pitch and do the deed (God, I’m even creeping myself out with the sexual innuendos here), don’t! Most editors don’t like to be handed pitches at conventions. Hand them something, and by the time you walk away, it’s probably already been tossed or lost or forgotten. Those guys and gals get inundated with shit at cons. The last thing they want is something else to have to cram into their bag and carry back home. Your best bet is just to chat them up and ask if you can send them something later. If they say yes, then follow up in the next couple weeks. And remember, be polite and professional. Don’t act like you’re already best friends just because you shared a few laughs. Be persistent, but not annoying. If an editor says they’ll take a look at your pitch, don’t email them every week asking if they’ve read it yet. Following up once every month or so is plenty.
Follow these simple and easy steps and perhaps you too can win the heart of the editor of your dreams. And then the two of you can sail off into the sunset together and live happily ever after.
At least until you fuck up a deadline and get screamed at.
See ya in New York.
Next week: my post-con report. After that: “The Art of Pitching Without Pitching”
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.