For many Americans, the ultimate employment dream is to one day quit your job, start up a company and become your own boss. It's certainly not an easy goal to realize, but that doesn't stop thousands and thousands of people from starting their own small business each and every year.
One name you can add to that list of entrepreneurs is former Marvel Comics editor Andy Schmidt, who earlier this year left the company to strike out on his own. During his almost six-year tenure at Marvel, Schmidt edited titles including "X-Men," "X-Factor," "Secret War," "Alias," "Captain America: The Chosen," the "Annihilation" saga and much more. Now he plans to take that experience and share it with aspiring comic creators in a new teaching and consulting venture he calls Comics Experience. CBR News spoke with Schmidt to find out exactly what he's up to and what kind of experience he plans to impart on comics creator hopefuls.
Andy, introduce our readers to Comics Experience. What is it you're offering?
It's pretty simple, really. I'm trying to make Comics Experience the place to go to learn not only how to write great stories or do phenomenal comics art, but also how to break into and thrive in the comics industry.
Sure, there are other places you can go to learn about story, but no where else to go to learn how to write for comics. There are other places you can go to learn about art, and even a handful to learn about comics art, but nowhere else gives you the practical advice about the industry that Comics Experience offers.
Ultimately, I think most people who take the intro class for either writing or art will want to come back for the advanced class. I'm building the classes that I would want to take. They should be ideal for anyone just interested in comics to die hard professionals.
Where will these how-to classes and seminars be held? And will you have any affiliation with an existing school?
In Manhattan, to start. They are held in a classroom setting in the evenings (7:00pm to 9:00pm) during the week. The one-day seminars are held on Saturdays. We cram a lot into these courses, so any perspective student won't want to miss a second of it!
No current affiliations, though I've been talking with a handful of institutions. I've already been teaching for years. Before I was a comics editor at Marvel, I was a teacher at two colleges in St. Louis. During my six years at Marvel, I taught classes at The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art and I just finished teaching an art course online at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. So, there's teaching history here for me. I love doing it, and I'd be happy to link up with another institution if we really felt that it made for a better environment for the students.
You've assembled an impressive list of guest speakers and lecturers for your seminars.
Well, I'm always paranoid that whatever I'm working on isn't good enough. I was that way with "X-Factor" and "X-Men" and definitely that way with "Annihilation" and really all the books I edited at Marvel. So, I'm always worried someone's going to say, "Why isn't such-and-such included or covered?" I figured the best way to avoid that was by creating courses that I would want to take myself. So I asked myself who would I want to learn from if there were guest speakers -- answers quickly came to me.
If I'm a writer, I'd love to learn from a veteran writer who has worked for nearly every publisher in the industry and has done novels and TV and film. So, I called Peter David and he agreed. Then I thought it would be great to get a newer writer -- someone who only recently broke out into his own in the industry -- so I called up Dan Slott and asked if he'd join us and he agreed! It was great.
Peter's work on "The Incredible Hulk" and "X-Factor" and "Spider-Man" made me want to work in comics. And I was there when Dan started "She-Hulk" and moved over to "Avengers: The Initative." They're both super talented and great communicators. They'll be great in the classes.
What about on the artistic side?
Well, if I'm an artist, I want to learn from the best. No one else has made such a splash and has told stories so dynamically as Walter Simonson. His run on "Thor" alone assures his seat in the comics Hall of Fame (if they had one!). He's also a teacher, too. So I called him up and he agreed to come in for a night, too. Then I thought I'd want someone who is younger and has done a smaller body of work, but has also made his mark on the industry and so I called Jae Lee and he was up for it, too. His work on "Inhumans" and now Stephen King's "Dark Tower" is really not to bee missed.
Now that I think about it, I'd be surprised if anyone taking the class is more excited to be there than me! I can't wait to hear what these guys bring to the classroom!
In addition to the seminars, you'll also be offering consulting services. What do you plan to offer and what does your experience as an editor lend to such a venture?
The consulting is one-on-one over the phone. It's for people either too far away for the class or for people who have taken the class and want more -- something specific to their needs and goals.
So, it's pretty easy and, honestly, isn't my main business here. The consulting naturally came up while I was teaching my classes at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. I was asked often if I could personally consult with people. At the time, I felt that would be a conflict of interest with my job at Marvel, so I never agreed to it. But now I've left Marvel and I know I have valuable insight to offer folks, so yeah, I'll do it now.
As long as the person I'm consulting with and I both feel like we're moving in the right direction, I'm all for it.
I am also happy to do consulting work and freelance editing for companies, but they can just e-mail me to get that ball rolling.
There are other comics consultants out there and certainly schools that teach similar types of classes -- what sets your work apart from the rest?
The first thing is my track record. While editing, my comics always did better than projected. I get along well with both talent and publishers, and I like doing it. Honestly, it's a passion. For example, if a company finds itself without an editor suddenly, I might come on temporarily just to ease the transition until they fill the full-time slot, or if a publishing company is having trouble with its marketing or its identity or just plain getting work in on time, I can help.
Why did you decide to leave the world of editing and do your own thing?
Looking back, I'd been headed in that direction for a while. It's not that I didn't like editing comics -- I love editing comics, but I felt like I wasn't learning as much as I'd like and I wanted to do too many other things in addition to editing. I looked around one day at Marvel and realized I had, at that point, now worked on every major character the company had to offer and I thought I could either do another tour of the Marvel Universe, or I could go fulfill some other dreams.
And then I found out my wife was pregnant (by me, I'm pleased to say). With a baby on the way, it seemed like either the worst or the best time for me to try something new. Still not sure which it was, but here I am. [Our child] Cale is healthy and awesome and my new business is up and running, so I guess it worked out!
Let's show our readers just what kind of consulting you can do by giving away some free advice this one time -- what are some of the common mistakes new creators make trying to break into the comics industry?
I'd break that down into a couple of categories:
- The "Eager Beaver" is the guy who is as persistent as can be, but doesn't have the credentials yet to justify getting a mainstream gig. God bless him, he's got the drive, no doubt about that, but he just needs to figure out how to build to writing "The Ultimates" or "All-Star Superman."
- The "Nonchalant Genius" is the guy who probably really does have the goods, but doesn't know how to present himself very well. He's low key and isn't great talking with people. He's the next Grant Morrison, but no one will ever know because he's too humble and isn't enthusiastic when speaking to editors. If you're not excited by your own idea, how do you expect me to be?
- The "I-want-the-World Monger" is the guy who does have a bit of publishing history and thinks that he should be able to write his own ticket wherever he goes. He's lost sight of the fact that publishers -- even when dealing with a creator-owned property -- have to get something out of the partnership. This guy is in serious danger of burning some important bridges.
There are specifics that could go with each one, of course, and rarely do you see someone as blatant as I've spelled out here, but these are the three common pitfalls I see in writers especially, starting out.
The best advice, and again, this is over-simplifying because each person is different and has different needs, is to watch yourself or bring someone along with you who will honestly give you feedback on your approach. If you're the "Eager Beaver" the first thing you have to do is realize that -- and then go get some help. Hone your craft and get some smaller publishers to hire you for gigs. Then build from there.
But like so many things, it's hard to see the cracks in ourselves. Sometimes you just need an outside pair of eyes. My eyes can do that, and then I can offer good advice after that.
You've certainly got your hands full with this new job, but can we expect to see you writing comics sometime soon? Any plans there and if so, what are you up to?
Actually, if you go to the website, you'll notice an awesome looking character on the top banner. He's a character that I've co-created with a friend named Marco Checchetto from Italy. I hope you'll see the character on the racks soon. But who he is and what he's up to will be an announcement for another day....
One last plug, both Introduction To Comics Writing and Introduction To Comic Book Art start the week after Thanksgiving -- so give us a call at 341-527-1766 for more information or hit the website and shoot us an e-mail!
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