I’ve been asked, more than once, about tips on “breaking in” to the comic book industry. And my answer is: “Fuck if I know.” I don’t think I’ve broken in. I don’t know what breaking in looks or feels like. I’m not writing Batman yet, so…(and yes, I have exactly ONE Batman story in me that I’d love to tell.)
But…having several books published and being involved in the industry/comic book community, maybe I have some advice to give. Whether it’s good advice or not, I’ll leave that up to you, but here it is anyway.
1) Don’t be a dick. This is probably the biggest piece of advice I can give. Don’t be the guy no one wants to work with, don’t cultivate a bad reputation, don’t be unreliable.
2) Learn to accept rejection. Yeah, it sucks, but this is comics – there are a thousand other guys in the same position as you that want the EXACT SAME SPOT YOU WANT. You’ll get rejected more than you’ll get accepted. You’ll bust your ass on a pitch only to get told “it’s not for us” over and over. Learn to roll with those punches, or you’ll drown. If you can’t deal with rejection, you can’t deal with making comics.
3) Treat it like a job. For a lot of us, making comics is a hobby and is treated like that. That’s fine, if you want it to be a hobby. But if you want to pursue something more in comics, then treat it that way. You want to have a career in comics? Treat it like a career. Do the work. Put in the hours.
4) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You might have the world’s greatest comic book idea…but what happens if that one doesn’t get picked up? What else have you got? What else are you working on? Have you created something else, something new? Making comics is like throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. Keep creating new shit.
5) Show a commitment to your work. This question gets asked of me a lot: how many pages should my submission be? First off – read the submission guidelines of the company you’re submitting to. They’ll tell you what they want to see. But in my opinion, there’s only one way to do it: you want a company to publish your comic? MAKE YOUR COMIC. Create a full issue. Show you can do it, show you’re reliable, show you have a commitment to your work, that you can be counted on to create a full comic book. This might not be the right advice for everyone. Especially if you’re a writer, because that’s a big commitment to get an artist to agree to. But in my opinion, it’s the only way to go. For example: 3 of my published works had full first issues completed when I pitched the ideas to the publishers.
6) Know your story. This might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s not. Know your beginning, your middle, and your ending. Don’t go off half-cocked on something because you had a great idea for a comic story, or a great piece of dialogue that you just HAVE to get out. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and the work suffers. Know what you want to do, where you’re going, and how you’re getting there.
7) Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t take on a ton of work if you can’t get it done a) on time or b) at all. Again, I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I try to pride myself on getting scripts written in advance, to stay far ahead of the artists I work with, so that no one is ever waiting on me to finish something. It doesn’t always happen, because I over-extend myself. I need more self-control over saying “Yes, I’ll do that”. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
8) That epic you have? Don’t start there. Start small. Write self-contained stories, 6-8 pages, get them into anthologies, get your work noticed and get your name noticed. You’re not going to land that 100-issue epic story you’ve been cultivating since you were thirteen. It’s just not gonna happen. To be honest, the way the industry is now, you’re probably never going to land that 100-issue series. Work on a smaller scale. You’ll have a lot more success that way.
9) Work with an editor. This one’s mostly for the writers. If you don’t work with an editor, find one. It’s of the utmost importance. You want your story, your work, to be as good as it can be, right? Why wouldn’t you want a second pair of eyes on it? I used to be absolutely convinced every word I wrote was pure gold. It didn’t take long for me to realize that was bullshit and I needed help. We all do. Even the big-money-making pros get their work edited and sent back and corrected and re-worked. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re better than that, because chances are? You’re not. I know I’m not.
10) Get involved. Comics is a community. I preach this all day long: get involved in it. Don’t sit in the dark corner and expect things to come to you. Get out there, see what others are doing. Cultivate relationships. Encourage and support your peers. Generate hype for yourself and your collaborators. Make things happen. Be involved, and you’ll be rewarded for it every day.
Sorry if that came off a little rant-y. It felt that way, but it wasn’t intended to. And as much as I wanted it to be “advice”, the list came off more as a “what not to do”, which I guess can help too. Maybe I’m not as good at the advice thing as I think I am.
I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in the comic book industry…but I’ve also worked my ass off. I’ve made sure that my name is associated with quality. That’s not easy, and I work hard at it every day. Because I love comics, I love making comics, I love creating. I’m involved.
Happy Friday. Do yourself a favor and go listen to “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel.