Top Cow Productions recently completed its first international Talent Hunt competition, and today CBR News announces its winners with an exclusive look at their art and story pitches. But before the big reveal, we spoke with Matt Hawkins, Top Cow's President and Chief Operating Officer, about what went into the contest, what he and CEO Marc Silvestri were looking for as they sorted through hundreds of submissions, why the decision was made to select five winners instead of the four they were originally looking for and when to expect the next competition.
Originally announced as a way to discover unpublished talent to work for Top Cow in 2013 and 2014, the Talent Hunt differed from the Cow's traditional Pilot Season competition in very significant ways. "Pilot Season is established industry people introducing new concepts and fans voting on them American Idol-style," Hawkins told CBR. "We've turned that to a digital-only initiative. The Talent Hunt is finding amateur writers and artists who've never been published by one of the big publishing houses and giving them a chance to be published and showcase their work to a larger audience. These books will be published in print.
"It was originally intended as an artist-only thing, as it's easy to do an art talent hunt," Hawkins continued. "I added the writer portion when I realized that there really aren't that many ways for writers to break in. Writers either have to buy their way in by self-publishing, or they have to get a gig at a publisher and segue into writing. I'm sure there are some, but I don't know a writer who's broken into the comic industry on a blind submission."
Once the submissions were in and the deadline was passed, the next stage of the competition began: the judging. "The art was easy -- I narrowed it down to the 20 or so that I thought were professional quality and forwarded them to Marc Silvestri and he picked those 2," Hawkins said. "The artists drew an 8-page Ron Marz sample script -- we received about 300 art submissions. We received over 800 writer submissions, some of which submitted more than once for a total of 1100 different synopsis/script submissions. With the writers, we had a list of several Top Cow Universe characters (Ji Xi, Michael Finnegan, Sabine, Glorianna Silver, Tom Judge) that writers could submit one-off, self-contained stories about. Essentially, they were pitching stories of existing characters as part of the newer Rebirth universe initiative we've been doing.
"The writing was infinitely harder [to narrow down] and took me almost three months to read, process and choose the winners," Hawkins continued. "It was an interesting experience and I learned a lot from it that I can apply to next year's [Talent Hunt]. I was looking primarily for interesting character stories. Since it's a self-contained thing, the people that turned in stories with sweeping "universe"-affecting storylines were weeded out. Many of the pitches were virtually identical on a macro level, so I started looking for things that stood out and were different and interesting. The Nottingham pitch with him not using his powers I liked a lot and was the only one out of the 1100 that had a guy proving to himself that he didn't "need" his artifact. I knew I wanted that one so I had another slot (originally there were 2) and about 25 others that I had separated out. All of which were professionally written and could have easily won. So I semi-cheated and added a 3rd winner because I was having trouble picking. It's sort of a testament to the talent that's out there that there are that many publishable writers that have not broken in yet. It took me about 15 minutes a piece to go through all 1100 submissions so if you do that quick math that's 275 hours -- took me a long ass time! I enjoyed it though, I was surprised by how few of them I found that were bad (in my opinion)."
Top Cow eventually selected writers Eugene Ward, Hannibal Tabu [who, full disclosure, remains a columnist and occasional convention reporter for CBR] and Kenneth Porter, and artists -Rom- and Martin Gimenez as the winners of the 2012 Talent Hunt. You can check out synopses of the writers' stories as well as plenty of art below.
As for future Talent Hunts, this one went off so well, Hawkins says there are already plans for another set to begin this summer. "We are doing a 2013 Talent Hunt! The specific rules will be released at San Diego Comic-Con this summer, but an advance heads up is that there will be 4 winning one-shots and they'll feature a Darkness or Witchblade bearer (not Sara Pezzini or Jackie Estacdo). We've done these before in 'Tales of the Witchblade' and 'Tales of the Darkness' stories, so historical bearers in the past or future."