Comic book creator Jimmy Palmiotti sat down with a group of aspiring writers, artists and editors on Thursday night at Fan Expo Canada to discuss “everything you need to know about creating comics.” The panel was an intimate one, with about thirty people gathered in a quiet upstairs conference room where Palmiotti was noticeably excited and eager to answer questions about his favorite topic.
“The Internet — God if I had that when I was young I would have had pages and pages of stuff up,” Palmiotti said on when explaining the best way aspiring creators can keep up with changes in publishing. “The Internet has changed things, and digital comics have changed things so that it’s actually easier and harder these days.”
Palmiotti is a huge advocate of communities like Facebook or Twitter precisely because of their usefulness when it comes to self-promotion. The rise of social media has made getting word of your project to its potential audience easier because you have tools to get your work out there. At the same time, he said it’s also harder in some ways because it’s like shouting in the middle of Fan Expo, where everybody is already yelling to begin with.
“It’s not the biggest mystery in the world. It’s all supply and demand,” Palmiotti said. “You supply something and hope people pick it up, it’s that simple. You have to be willing to do something a little different. You have to make a little noise about it and then you have to be willing to put your body and soul out there too.”
Palmiotti, who has worked for both Marvel and DC as well as producing his own creator-owned properties, explained that promoting your own work can gets complicated because every Wednesday brings dozens of new books to readers, often multiple superhero titles featuring the same character. With Marvel and DC dominating the market, there’s simply less room for independent books. Facing this fact, creators must do more than the obvious. “As we get older, we realize there’s more to what we do than creating superheroes.”
Opening up the panel to the audience, Palmiotti was eager to create a meaningful dialogue with attendees. Straight off the bat, the industry veteran fielded questions about a writers best friend and worst enemy: their editor.
The problem with working at Marvel, DC or Dark Horse, Palmiotti said, is that the editors have a tendency to go back to the creators they know work. Therefore, a certain writer might end up writing multiple books. “The guys that are dependable, you call all the time,” Palmiotti explained. “So when you go to a con, where are [the editors]? They’re hiding in some respects because they think, ‘I’ve got my guys.’ And let’s be honest, it’s easier to hire an artist because you open up a portfolio and it’s right there. Writers are completely different. So, how do you get it out there? That’s the big question.”
Knowing your audience is part of the trick, Palmiotti said. The second part is utilizing social media to talk to that audience directly.
“I use the Twitter,” he said, laughing and joking about how Twitter is basically the new MTV. “I use Facebook and any kind of social media I can.”
Utilizing social media creates a feeling of reader and creator both being in this together, whether it’s a Kickstarter project like “Retrovirus,” his current creator-owned work with Justin Gray, or a mainstream title.
“I think what do I have to do beyond my writing to get people to buy my stuff,” he said.
The difficulty lies in the fact that the group of people who actually read comics is small, but movies like “The Avengers” sometimes cause creators to forget the group they’re aiming at isn’t the ten million who caught the blockbuster film. “I like to grab a subject that’s not being done to death,” Palmiotti said. “If I do a western, there are only a few out there. And if someone says it won’t sell, well, you have to believe in your own bullshit,” he laughed. “Right now I’m working on something about Coney Island, New York and also another one about a prehistoric virus.”
“I don’t like rules. Don’t tell me not to press that button, because that’s the button I want to hit now and creating is like that.”
This is one of the reasons Palmiotti likes Kickstarter. The crowdfunding site allows him to pick and choose which projects to promote, and then readers can donate or pledge to see the project come to fruition. In the end, those who show their support get a reward, like an original sketch.
“You need to find your voice,” he stressed. “The only way you’re going to be a good writer in this world, and I always say it — you have to fall in love and have your heart broken at some point. You need to travel the world and you need to listen to people.
“Your audience, I call them junkies, because if you give them something good they are going to come back for more,” Palmiotti continued, stressing the importance of knowing your readership. It’s important to understand how much of your audience is there and what they like to a certain degree.
Ultimately, when it boils right down to it, in order to self-publish, it’s important to create a working model where money is brought in.
“Print is always going to be there, but it’s going to be more boutique. As we get older, we tend to buy better books,” Palmiotti said. “People are going to say, ‘Why should we rent this building when we can sell digitally?'” Digital allows the final product to be sold for a more approachable price, and downloads can be bought directly from creator websites, which translates into uninterrupted income.
Another thing digital communities create is interaction between creator and reader, which Palmiotti explains is a very important thing. It not only allows him to leave an impression on his audience, but also to have some fun with them. “I’ve met actors who were so rude to me, when I left I thought, ‘I’m never going to watch a movie with them in it again.'” Therefore, it’s important to Palmiotti to connect to his readers, because then, hopefully, you have a customer for life.
“These are the guys supporting me. You have these people who read your work and then these are your soldiers when you start expanding your work,” he said. “They go out there and make noise for you that sometimes you could never make for yourself.”
Palmiotti also warned against underestimating the importance of deadlines, no matter the project. “If you’re just starting, you have to make this the most important thing you do,” he said, emphasizing that otherwise, you won’t be hired again. If you have no set deadline, create some for yourself and find your own pace. “Make it fun, make it exciting, because if it’s boring for you, then you’re doomed.”
After cautioning about the dangers of publicly criticizing other creators’ published works, Palmiotti sent attendees off with the following notes: put everything out there, set realistic goals, hit publishers hard (taking rejection with a grain of salt) and always complete the project. “I’d say 60 percent of all my work I got because I hit deadline and I finish things, all the time.”