A collection of top indy comic book writers united at Comic-Con International in San Diego for a panel discussing the state of independent books. “I don’t really understand what we’re uniting against,” admitted Mark Waid, who moderated the panel featuring Terry Moore, Carla Speed McNell, Larry Marder, and Van Jensen.
“I guess my first question would be, ‘What’s a mainstream guy like me doing up here?'” said Waid, a veteran writer and Chief Creative Officer at independent publisher Boom! Studios.
Waid kicked off the panel with a discussion about what each of them though being ‘indy’ means. “I’m not sure ‘Indy Comics Writer’ means at all what it would have meant five or ten years ago,” said Waid. “It seems to me like there’s not this line between the majors or indies or ‘the big two’ because there’s just so much back and forth and crossover.”
“I’ve never really considered myself an indy person. I’ve always considered myself an alternative comics person,” said Larry Marder. “I don’t think the word alternative is necessarily used anymore. The joke in the 80s would be we’re independent because we have no alternative.”
Waid also pointed out that there may be fewer differences between ‘indy’ and ‘mainstream’ companies than people think. “Some of the other up and coming non-big two publishers are just as corporate or just as financially backed,” said Waid. “Indy gives that delusion of three guys in a basement. I think we’re all sort of past that.”
In contrast, Mark referred to Terry Moore’s and his “one-person business,” which incited the audience to remind him about Moore’s wife, Robin. He quickly corrected himself. “No, in fact when I said ‘one-person business,’ I meant Robin,” Waid joked.
As one who publishes his own books, alongside his wife, Terry Moore offered his perspective on the business. “I like the freedom to totally screw myself in public,” Moore joked. “It also worked out that self publishing was the only way I could survive because you get all the money,” Moore said more seriously. “I didn’t have to sell as many books as a Marvel comic just to survive.”
The necessity of good business sense as an independent writer was deemed very important by the whole panel, especially as even independent work becomes more complicated.
“I do think though that as dull and perhaps frightening as the business side of things may seem, that it is important, very very important, for a creative person to know as much as he possibly can because otherwise you have no idea whether or not you’re being ripped off,” said Carla Speed McNell.
Moving onto art, the five writers talked about the issues they face when working with artists and how to best convey their scripts, especially when working with international talents through a translator. To address these challenges, Moore offered advice given to him by Peter David, saying “Write a script that doesn’t need to be drawn to be enjoyed.”
The advice impressed Waid who said, “Between the five of us we’ve been in the business for… 350 years… and I’ve never heard that.”
The panel discussion then moved onto promotion, with Van Jensen explaining how he systematically targeted three different demographics for “Pinocchio: Vampire Hunter” and reached out to them in different ways. “You want to be as good at marketing as you are at writing if you want to succeed,” said Jensen. “I think what helps most is knowing the entire industry really well. Knowing how it’s supposed to go through start to finish and hitting each of those areas to let people know it’s coming.”
Larry Marder offered his own experience, emphasizing self-promotion along with promotion of the work.
“In today’s world, it’s all about maintaining yourself,” said Marder. “I have Twitter, I have Facebook, I promote myself endlessly but in a way I think isn’t obnoxious. I talk about things that I think will be interesting to people interested in my work.”
“All you’re trying to do is maintain a relationship with people who love your work in a period of time when there isn’t any work,” he continued. “As far as that goes, this is the golden age.”
Moore spoke about frequency of updates or releases, keeping people interested. “Frequency matters. That’s why I draw as fast as I can,” joked Moore. “It’s just out of sheer fear that I publish that fast.”
McNell agreed, saying “Giving little doses of the fix is always a good idea. It’s always the prime marketing tool. That or a 100 foot sign on the side of a hotel.”
Finally, the panel ended with a discussion of writing techniques and the balance between planning a story and writing on the fly. “I’ve never met a writer that was like a chess master,” said Moore, describing the process of creating “Strangers in Paradise.” “When I started it, I really had one scene in my head,” said Moore. “I actually drew that scene first and thought that it needs a set-up, and then another one. And the rest of the series for the next umpteenth generations was ‘what happens next?'”
Marder also described his process, saying that he starts with creating little scenes and then determining how they go together and what comes between them. “Then they just become like a big jigsaw puzzle,” said Marder.
The panelists agreed that giving yourself the freedom to write on the fly provides an energy to work that can’t be replicated with a fully planned out work. It also creates opportunities to script stories in original ways. “You don’t want to be writing words that can be found on the page of a newspaper,” said Waid. “You’re supposed to be dealing with English like an artist deals with rhyme or lines.”