Inevitably when I write my annual "how artists can break into comics at San Diego" column (last week) I get the questions from aspiring writers, inkers, colorists, letterers and even editors on how they can also use San Diego as their entrée.
The good news first: editors, colorists and letterers have it easy.
To the extent that anyone's looking for those things.
Coloring and lettering are increasingly being done in-house by companies or handled, where parties have the required technology at their disposal, by writers or artists, so the market for those disciplines is shrinking. But it's fairly easy to demonstrate your abilities on such things. Get your hands on some artwork, scan it into a computer, then letter or color. You can use pages from existing black and white comics if you'd like. (Remember to blow them up to double size before you work.) Do your stuff, print it out, show it around. There's still some market for hand lettering if it's really good, but computer lettering has become the norm. I'm not sure how much coloring is not done on computer anymore, but as computer coloring is used to generate separations for publishing, eliminating that step, hand coloring has become a dinosaur and is headed for extinction. If you want to color comics but can't do it on computer, learn.
People don't just "get" editor jobs anymore, they usually have to work their way up through the company, though that process can be fast or slow. I'm not sure I've ever heard it done but theoretically you could convince an editor at San Diego to hire you as an assistant editor, if you can sell yourself properly. Be pleasant, imply a willingness to learn and to get the job done, and ask around. Editorial staffs seem in shrinkage around the business these days, but openings do pop up. You're not likely to get an editorial job via San Diego, but you're not likely to get one in any case, so no harm no foul. If editing interests you, give it a shot. All you have to sell is yourself.
Unlike inkers and writers. Which is the bad news.
Inkers need pencilers. If you want to be an inker, find a penciler (preferably one who's already working professionally; it's hard to prove you're a professional caliber inker on amateurish pencils) willing to provide you with either penciled pages or Xeroxes of published pencils (and make them the size of original art, not published comics). Don't ink on the pages. Use an overlay or photocopy the pages and ink the photocopies. Why? So an editor can compare your inks to the pencils you're working on. It gives them an idea how dependent you are on pencils (some inkers basically do line for line tracings of the art given them) and how much you change. (Some, like Wally Wood or Alfredo Alcala, virtually redraw the underlying pencil work and make the art their own.) But that's what editors need to see: not just your line but how you affect the look of the overall work. An inker isn't required to be a slave to pencils, and the personality of the inks is ultimately the personality of the finished work. And some inkers, like Tom Palmer and Terry Austin, become draws in their own right. Show your work around according to whatever system whatever company has in place for showing samples. Inkers should also show to pencilers, as they sometimes prefer to attach their own inkers.
Then there are aspiring writers.
These days there's only one good way to show your work at San Diego: get it published. With good artwork. As amateurish lettering can sabotage an otherwise professional looking product and make everything look amateurish, it's very hard for even good comics writing to survive bad art. To reiterate: art is the immediately comprehendible element of comics. Most editors can scan art pages at a glance and get a sense of whether it's bad or good. They have an immediate emotional response. Assessing writing is a comparatively slow and tedious process, and most editors simply don't have the energy or attention span for it in a venue like San Diego. It doesn't help that "writing" subdivides into idea, plot, story, script and various other facets. Most comics fans think idea is everything, that if, say, you think it would be really cool if Batman fought the Hulk on the Planet Of The Apes (and all those properties were available for use) an editor might agree on the coolness factor but that doesn't mean he'd trust you to write it.
Give them a comic to read.
If you can't get published by a small publisher, self-publish. Again, with good art. If the story doesn't stink and the art is good enough, the emotional response an editor may have to the art is likely to carry over to the story. Not that you should depend on that. Write your heart out, put everything you feel capable of into your story and throw your bread onto the waters. Black and white is fine. The art is a sort of cheat to get you noticed, but if you have to depend on piggybacking on art, you're not going to have much of a career.
Like it or not, this is increasingly becoming a business where you need to be established on a smaller level to move to a big level. Few people "debut" at the high-pay end of comics anymore. Lesson: if you want to do comics, start doing comics. It's how you prove you can do comics. And an editor might take out a comic book on the long flight home and start reading it, whereas that plot sample or script sample is much likelier to stay in the suitcase for a later day that never quite arrives. (Most editors are pretty well-intentioned about these things, but they are just human.) At the very least, even if no editor bites, you still have your own comic at the end of the day and some of those have gotten successful on their own.
If you're determined to do this the old-fashioned way, here's what I suggest: put together a package. Choose the editors you wish to approach. For each editor, include three springboards, no more than a page each, for characters the editor handles. Single issue stories are preferable, since editors do need fill-ins now and then. If you're really feeling daring, mini-series. DO NOT give them outlines for multi-part epics. These scream "fanboy." Why three? To indicate you're capable of more than one idea, without inundating them.
Also in the package: one plot outline for a story not involving one of their characters. This is your sample. Make it clear, briefly, that it's simply to show you can write a professional plot. One 8 pg. full script, same condition. One 22 pg. full script. Put these together in a manila envelope. Label the front (in type, not handwriting) with the editor's name (where you'd put the mailing address if you were sending it) and your name and phone number (again, in type, where the return address would go). Ask the editor if it's all right to give them a sample pack before you shove it on them. Include a business card with your contact info inside the pack, and give each editor one separately. Top to bottom: business card, springboards, plot sample, short script sample, long script sample.)
Odds are an editor isn't going to read all this. If the work is crap, he's certainly not going to. (Even if your samples aren't good enough, putting them together has already given you considerable experience in your chosen craft; assess your mistakes and get better for next year.) But if an editor becomes interested he doesn't have to wonder what you're capable of. He'll have it in front of him. All he'll have to wonder about is whether you can take instruction and produce.
Above all, be pleasant and courteous. Remember: in a face-to-face situation, you're selling you as much as your work. No one wants to work with a pain in the ass. (Unless they produce brilliant work that will make millions, and that type is a lot rarer than any of us wish to believe.) And, as much as you might want to work in comics, no one owes you work. Some people earn it, some people get lucky. But no one has a right to it just because they want it. Don't act as though you do. (But don't be obsequious either. Unless your name is Eddie Haskell.)
Speaking of writers and San Diego: got the second update for Comic-Con International a couple weeks ago and it was open on my desk to the last page of this year's Eisner Award nominations, and I happened to notice the nominees for the Hall Of Fame.
Sergio Aragones, Vaughn Bode, John Buscema, Al Capp, Nick Cardy, Gene Colan, Dan de Carlo, Will Elder, Lou Fine, Herge, Bernie Krigstein, Joe Orlando, John Romita, John Severin, and John Stanley. (Charles Biro and Osamu Tezuka are in via Judges' Choice.)
Which is a fine list. Personally I'd go John Buscema, John Romita, John Severin and Bernie Krigstein (certainly Krigstein, one of the most amazing talents ever to work in the field) but it's easy to make a case that all of them deserve to win.
After a second, it sunk in: there are no writers on this list. There are writer-artists, but no nominees who worked solely as writers. I checked previous years (at the Comic Book Awards Almanac), and it turns out that in over twelve years, between the Jack Kirby Awards Hall Of Fame and the Will Eisner Awards Hall Of Fame, exactly five writers (among numerous artists and writer-artists) have been inducted: Jerry Seigel, Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Gardner Fox, and Bill Finger. Again, all great choices, but five? Only five?
This isn't an evil situation. Nobody's to blame and I don't think anyone having to do with the awards should be making any adjustments to them. The situation just is. With a handful of exceptions, comics writers are the "invisible men" of comics, particularly from those years prior to 1962 when the vast majority of comics didn't list credits at all. (Even Bill Finger has never been given credit for co-creating Batman, despite considerable evidence of his influence on the character from the earliest stages, and though acknowledged Batman creator Bob Kane stated after Finger's death, "Now that my longtime friend and collaborator is gone, I admit Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved," without specifying what form that recognition should take, Kane denied to his own grave any Finger involvement in Batman's creation.) For so long, it was just the way of the business to treat writers as unimportant, or interchangeable, and it's no wonder that for a long time writers viewed themselves that way and comics readers were barely aware they existed. Even now, I get the feeling many are barely aware comics writers besides the high profile ones exist.
When I was discussing this over the past few days with a group of comics pros, we quietly decided maybe it's time to institute a new hall of fame just for comics writers. Not to supercede any other comics hall of fames or aggrandize ourselves – I think, like the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame, inductees would have to have been in the business at least 25 years (or last published at least 25 years ago) – but to celebrate the great, ignored comic book writers. Because if we don't, who's going to?
Saw THE BOURNE IDENTITY on Saturday largely because I love director Doug Liman's previous film GO (if you haven't seen it, go rent the DVD right now), and was pleasantly surprised. Not that it's any great revelation – the story from the Robert Ludlow novel, about an amnesiac with two bullets in his back, a Swiss bank account, and half the civilized covert world gunning for him, is a stock item in spy fiction – but because the script is crisp, Liman's filmmaker's instincts and visual sensibilities are flawless (he shows us things in Paris I don't think have ever been on film before), and the cast is a potpourri of top-notch actors like Brian Cox, Franke Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen and OZ's Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje. Used well. Some of it's a little dodgy – the CIA overreacts pretty drastically, and I can't figure out what that business with the fake corpse was supposed to accomplish – but like most films of this genre, what THE BOURNE IDENTITY's about is movement, and Liman handles movement better than virtually anyone, well anchored by surprisingly convincing action hero Matt Damon (let's face it: that he's convincing at all is a surprise), who's a much cooler and tougher protagonist than his Siamese fraternal twin Ben Affleck, way too superheated in flicks like REINDEER GAMES and THE SUM OF ALL FEARS can apparently even conceive of being. THE BOURNE IDENTITY isn't a great film by any measure, but Liman, Damon, Potente and Owen (in particular) give it enough snap to make it a pretty good action thriller. Some Saturday afternoons that's all I really want from the movies, and most Saturday afternoons I can't even get that.
Has anyone noticed how much a blonded-out Freddie Prinze Jr. in SCOOBY-DOO looks like Dick Van Dyke in DIAGNOSIS: MURDER. What's that about? And how come the movie's producers and director weren't smart enough to figure out that Velma is not supposed to be cuter than Daphne?
More coming attractions:
New ROBIN writer Jon Lewis would like Batman fans to be aware that ROBIN #106 (DC Comics, $2.50), drawn by Pete Woods and on sale in September, will feature the first team-up of Batman and Robin on an actual case in several years.
Dara Naraghi says: "I have a short story entitled "A Night at Oldfield's" being published in August in the comics anthology Digital Webbing Presents #4, from publisher Digital Webbing. It's an autobiographical vignette written by me and drawn by Steve Black. This true story of love, jealousy and shooting pool with strangers is presented with a healthy dose of humor and imagination and should appeal to readers who enjoy of slice-of-life stories. Switching genres completely, "Xxxagnut Beefman: Alien Porn Star", another one of my short stories, should be out in time for Wizard World Chicago in the anthology book Untitled Tales from Spartacus Publishing. Chris Keane provides the art for this humorous and politically incorrect romp through outer space with the galaxy's most acclaimed porn thespian. Rounding out the cast are Lexxxi Con, the former bad girl of porn, and Scaz, the genetically engineered half parrot/half rat "petpourri". And finally, June should see the release of AKA #1, a good old fashioned detective story with modern sensibilities and a good bit of humor, starring female private eyes Allison Allbright and Katie Kristopher. This one will be self-published through my own Ferret Press imprint. Readers can get the scoop on all these projects by clicking here."
Finally, in the absence of review items this week, I've been thinking about mini-comics, and whether I haven't been going too easy on them. On the one hand, they're really a form all to themselves, so I generally don't get too upset about the art regardless of its crudity (though some have had very sophisticated art). And it's fun to see people creating comics for the pure joy of creating comics, but, as Fred Buerke once said, fun's fun but a girl can't dance all night. I've finally become bothered by how empty of actual content most mini-comics are – it takes no more than 15 seconds to read most of them and the number of actual ideas therein seem minimal even by comics' standards – and I'm not sure I can overlook it anymore. Considering that some mini-comics, like Sarah Ryan and Steve Lieber's Eisner-nominated ME AND EDITH HEAD, really show what the form is capable of. (Though I know the story wasn't originally done as a mini-comic so it might not be a fair comparison.)
Should I continue to review mini-comics? I dunno. Are they worth following? Let me know what you think about mini-comics on the Permanent Damage Message Board.
Lost an artist this week on my secret project, but it looks like another might be on tap. More next week. Meanwhile, BADLANDS: THE UNPUBLISHED SCREENPLAY, which is pretty much what it says it is, ships from AiT/PlanetLar Books this month, so pester your dealer for it. And keep an eye out for the wrap-up of MORTAL SOULS, due out from Avatar Press any week now. Soon to be a major motion picture.
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They're no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don't really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.
I'm reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.
If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions.