ECCC: Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way

The Marvel way to break into comics, it appears, is by any way short of being a jerk.

At the Emerald City ComiCon on Sunday, Marvel talent scout C.B. Cebulski rounded up a handful of creators who'd landed at the House of Spidey by one route or another. The panel members on "Breaking Into Comics the Marvel Way" determined that the best method, really, is any combination of hard work, talent, and networking that gets you in the door.

"In the end, you're the one making it happen," said Jeff Parker, writer of "Thunderbolts," "Atlas," and "Fall of the Hulks." "There's no magic bullet, there's no one kingmaker. It just doesn't happen that way."

"It helps if you're a pleasant person," said artist Colleen Coover ("Girl Comics," "X-Men: First Class"). "Networking is the thing to do."

"I basically just worked my ass off," said "Runaways" colorist Christina Strain, "and I'm still doing that now."

Each of the panelists -- including Cebulski, who came into mainstream comics as one of Marvel's first manga gurus -- had a story of ferocious work and deprivation that eventually led to a steady gig. All started with personal projects for little or no pay, and circulated on the convention scene until their work and names became known.

"You might detect a common theme here of working your ass off for nothing," Coover said.

Cebulski noted that Marvel hired 144 new talents in 2009. "That's almost three people a week, and there's not a lot of other industries with that kind of record of hiring at this point." But getting paid, in an era when Internet access means art and stories circulate for free or cheap, is less likely.

A portfolio of completed work -- a finished comic -- is the best calling card, all agreed. Far better, anyway, than a raw script, Parker said. "No one will read your script. Don't try to give anybody your script. Even if they take it, they're just gonna trash it later. The only way they're gonna read it is in comics form, because then it's much more digestible."

Panel onlookers accepted that there are few shortcuts to working for the majors, and instead offered questions about process. "I like to draw very cartoony," one visitor said in Q&A, and wondered if that was a handicap in today's market.

"It's not cartoony vs. realistic or whatever," Coover told him. "It's whatever's appropriate to that book."

"Marvel's open to all kinds of styles," Cebulski said. "There was a particular point, in the Marvel dark days I remember, when a certain someone said, 'We're not doing cartoony anymore.' But Marvel will never tell a guy, 'You can't work here because we don't like your style.' If the art is good and it fits the right project, that person is gonna get work. And hey, we're Disney now, right?"

Writers in the audience wanted to know how to find a good artist. The panel suggested web communities like DigitalWebbing, the Jinxworld and Millarworld comment boards, Facebook art groups and gutterzombie.com. Cons like Emerald City are invaluable. And know the strengths of the artist you're writing for, not to mention your own strengths and weaknesses, they offered.

"You don't want to call shots for the artist," Parker said. "If you can't draw, don't say, 'Use this angle and blah blah blah, and go for this approach.' You have to find an artist you can trust."

For instance, Coover said of Parker, "He doesn't write airplanes into my scripts. He'll write pretty, cute girls going shopping or at the beach."

Marvel and DC to harvest the best talent among the smaller presses and independent creators, panelists said, because they're in a position to do so. Cebulski advised creators to lean on their own original stories and characters, rather than Marvel Universe spinoffs. "Just from a legal standpoint, we cannot read anything you write with Spider-Man in it. It's an unfortunate circumstance of the litigious society we live in."

And don't forget the networking -- carried out with a pleasant demeanor, no expectation of favors and an eye toward developing your work to its highest level.

"Ninety-five percent of the people that work in this industry are good people who love what they do, and we like each other," Parker said. "The other five percent aren't good people, we don't like them, but they're talented."

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