Q How did you get your 'break' in the comics in­dus­try And how long did it take you to fi­nally get pub­lished?

In which we learn the dis­parate routes into the in­dus­try, which will hope­fully pro­vide those start­ing out with a few ideas.

Comic Heroes - - Feature -

Al Ewing (Judge Dredd, 2000 AD): I saw the sub­mis­sions guide­lines in 2000 AD and sent off a ‘Ter­ror Tale’ – a fivepage twist-end­ing hor­ror story, cousin to the fa­mous ‘Fu­ture Shocks’ for­mat. A few months later, I sent off an­other, which was re­jected, but got Tharg ( 2000 AD’s ‘alien’ ed­i­tor) to take a closer look at the first. He sug­gested some re­work­ing and gave me a cou­ple of tips on how to write, and I man­aged to get the sec­ond draft ac­cepted, so I was pub­lished about a year or so af­ter I started try­ing. That wasn’t the open­ing of a mag­i­cal door, though – it never is. It took an­other year of re­jec­tions to get pub­lished again and I got an aw­ful lot of small press work un­der my belt be­fore I was get­ting any kind of reg­u­lar gigs in 2000 AD. Si Spurrier (Sil­ver Surfer, Ghost Rider): “I’m a bit anti the whole no­tion of A Big Break. I worry that it’s a re­ally un­help­ful im­pres­sion – one which I think a lot of would-be comics writ­ers cling to – that there’s this One Sig­nif­i­cant Hur­dle, and as soon as you’re over it you’ve got your

foot in the door and it’s an easy ride to fame and for­tune. It just doesn’t work like that, sadly. There are hur­dles ev­ery step of the way and the sec­ond one is just as high as the first. Higher, some­times. I know a lot of guys who’ve landed one gig and then can’t un­der­stand why the sec­ond one doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally fol­low. Tony Lee (Doc­tor Who, X-Men): The fun­ni­est thing with most peo­ple’s sto­ries about how they ‘broke’ into the in­dus­try is that a lot of them sound like the per­son was an overnight suc­cess even when they weren’t. For ex­am­ple, my first pub­lished story was an 11‑page strip in a Marvel comic, X-Men Un­lim­ited #1. Peo­ple were shocked – the fact that this un­pub­lished comics writer had a Marvel comic on his first bat out was al­most un­heard of. But I was pub­lished by Marvel when I was 34. I’ve been a pro­fes­sional writer and jour­nal­ist for over 20 years now. I worked for pretty much ev­ery­thing, from Ra­dio 4 to TV, news­pa­pers to trade pa­pers to mag­a­zines to com­mer­cial ra­dio ad­verts. If I hadn’t had 16 years of solid writ­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that I could show the ed­i­tors, there was no way that I could have got that ini­tial meet­ing. Andy Dig­gle (The Losers, Dare­devil): I took a fairly un­con­ven­tional route into the in­dus­try, by get­ting a job in editorial be­fore I be­came a writer. I was gear­ing up to start bom­bard­ing 2000 AD with story ideas when I heard they were look­ing for an editorial as­sis­tant. I got the job and spent four years mov­ing up through the ranks there be­fore I fi­nally jumped ship. I’d never had any am­bi­tion to be an ed­i­tor, but it was fan­tas­tic train­ing for a would-be writer – see­ing how comics get put to­gether from the in­side. Apart from a cou­ple of anony­mous Tharg sto­ries, my first pub­lished comics work was Lenny Zero in the Megazine, with art by Jock. Dan Ab­nett (The Au­thor­ity, Nova): My first pub­lished comic work was on ju­nior and nurs­ery li­censed comic prop­er­ties at Marvel UK in the late 1980s. I was an editorial as­sis­tant and a lot of work like that was farmed out in-house. We’re talk­ing the likes of Care Bears and Ghost­busters. Once I had the con­fi­dence, COMIC HE­ROES

I started to pitch ideas to ed­i­tors at Marvel US in New York and I also went free­lance so I could con­cen­trate on the writ­ing. David Hine (De­tec­tive Comics, X-Men): I be­gan by self-pub­lish­ing when I was at art col­lege. I wrote and drew a mag­a­zine called Pri­mal Scream, with a few con­tri­bu­tions from friends, and used the art col­lege print­ing press to pro­duce the printed copies. I even made the pho­to­graphic plates and op­er­ated the print­ing press my­self, cropped and ca­ble-stitched the fin­ished copies and then dis­trib­uted it. A lot of ef­fort was in­volved but it gave me a good all-round above: Si Spurrier’s Gutsville is a highly orig­i­nal comic. Read it if you can ex­pe­ri­ence of the process. It took a cou­ple of years af­ter leav­ing col­lege to get my first strips pub­lished in un­der­ground comic Knock­about and then 2000 AD. I did a lot of bread-and-but­ter ink­ing work for Marvel UK as well. Antony John­ston (Dare­devil, Waste­land): If you date it from when I made my first for­mal sub­mis­sion to a pub­lisher, then it’s about three years. But even that didn’t hap­pen un­til I’d spent maybe a year fig­ur­ing out what to pitch. My first ‘break’ was Fright­en­ing Curves, which was an il­lus­trated novel, not a comic per se. It started out as a web thing, then got picked up by a small in­die pub­lisher who also did comics, so af­ter FC, my first graphic novel was for the same peo­ple. That early work was enough to get me a call­ing card with other, larger indies. Get­ting some early en­cour­age­ment and en­dorse­ment from War­ren El­lis sure didn’t hurt. Jeff Mar­i­otte (Wild­cats, Des­per­a­does): I was man­ag­ing a book­store and hired Jim Lee’s wife). She be­came my as­sis­tant man­ager and I got to know the fam­ily, and they read some of my pub­lished work (which at the time con­sisted of short fic­tion and jour­nal­ism). Af­ter the com­pany that owned my store shut it down, Jim asked me to work for him as a writer, work­ing ini­tially on what would be the first set of Wild­Cats trad­ing cards. I kept bug­ging peo­ple un­til I got the chance to script a Union is­sue, then a Gen13 is­sue. My first orig­i­nal comic story was a War­blade back-up in Wild­Cats #9, with art by Travis Charest. Ke­iron Gillen (Thor, Phono­gram): My first pro­fes­sional gig in comics was ac­tu­ally for Games Work­shop when it was do­ing its Warham­mer Monthly comic. But in terms of a real break, we’re talk­ing about Phono­gram. For the first half of the 00s, I’d been do­ing small press work, we­b­comics and an editorial car­toon with Jamie McKelvie (‘Save Point’ for Of­fi­cial Playsta­tion 2 mag­a­zine). He’d just done a book with Eric Stephen­son, Im­age’s Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor, now Pub­lisher. Im­age knew we were work­ing on some­thing, and asked us to pitch. They said yes. Joshua Ortega (Gears of War, Bat­tlestar Galac­tica): My break came from writ­ing and pub­lish­ing my first novel, Fre­quen­cies. I was able to do a 40-city book tour for the novel, and that re­ally helped to es­tab­lish my name and ex­pose peo­ple to the work. From there, I had some talks with DC, then met with Top Cow, Dark Horse and Marvel, and Marvel ended up be­ing the first comics pub­lisher to put my work out there (though it’s worth not­ing that DC did pay me for some un­pub­lished work). The first pub­lished book was Spi­der-Man Un­lim­ited #8, which, iron­i­cally, was Joe Hill’s first pub­lished comic work.

You’re an un­pub­lished writer with your pitch/story in hand and you at­tend your first comic con­ven­tion. What should you do to get an ed­i­tor to read it?

In which we deal with the im­por­tant, and un­writ­ten, pro­to­cols of get­ting your prop­erly for­mat­ted, spellchecked and, cru­cially, gram­mat­i­cally cor­rect doc­u­ment in front of the per­son who may ac­tu­ally hire you – the ed­i­tor. Al Ewing: Walk away – and show your pitch to the small press peo­ple in­stead. The fact is that an ed­i­tor will be much more likely to take you se­ri­ously if they have some sort of ev­i­dence that you can write. See­ing a fin­ished, let­tered, printed comics page will give them an idea of what you’re made of, and give you an idea of what needs im­prov­ing in your­self. And, for­tu­nately, in this coun­try we have a thriv­ing small press scene – you can find an ed­i­tor will­ing to pub­lish you in a small press an­thol­ogy with­out too much bother, or you can self-pub­lish on a pho­to­copier. Once you’ve got a few of those un­der your belt, you’ll be in­fin­itely bet­ter and stronger as a writer. Si Spurrier: Just in­tro­duce your­self to the ed­i­tor – noth­ing more. Don’t be sleazy, don’t be des­per­ate, don’t be a cliché and, above all else, don’t give them the pitch. It won’t be read. Se­ri­ously, put it away. Don’t even get it out in the first place. If you’re a wannabe writer and your aim is to get into comics by wav­ing sheets of pa­per in ed­i­tors’ faces, you’re al­ready pretty much fucked. The worst you can hope for is that they tell you to pitch it ver­bally, then and there, on the spot. This – un­less you’re pre­pared – is guar­an­teed to turn you into a gib­ber­ing id­iot and to re­duce your glo­ri­ous story idea into a stam­mer­fest of use­less­ness, which is kind of what the ed­i­tor ex­pects. And se­cretly enjoys. No, best prac­tice is this: In­tro­duce your­self. Tell them you’re a writer with an idea and you’re con­fi­dent they’re go­ing to love it. (And that had bet­ter be true, by the way, or you’re fucked again.) Ask if it’s cool for you to post or email them your idea, when the crazi­ness of the con­ven­tion is all over and done with. Tony Lee: Sell your­self, not your work. If an ed­i­tor meets you and gets to know you, your name will be more recog­nis­able to them when they see it. They will have a bond with you now that will help you get feed­back, be it pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive. It’ll be eas­ier to speak to them by email, ask for ad­vice and dis­cuss what sto­ries they’re ac­tu­ally look­ing for – that way you can tai­lor fu­ture pitches to their needs. So my sug­ges­tions are, firstly, never has­sle them on their time off (for in­stance, at the bar) un­less you’re buy­ing them a drink – and even then, don’t talk shop. When you do in­tro­duce your­self at a con­ven­tion, ask if they have any free time to speak to you over the week­end. Do not men­tion the script. You want this to be a long-term pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship. Never ar­gue with them if they shoot your idea down and only give them the pro­posal if they ask.

Andy Dig­gle: Never, ever pitch sto­ries to ed­i­tors at con­ven­tions. It’s the wrong venue for it. In­tro­duce your­self, by all means, so they can put a face to your name, but don’t pitch them there and then. Put it in writ­ing. Dan Ab­nett: Be po­lite. Be as pro­fes­sional as you can. Have copies of your pitch or sam­ples of your work in neat, clean mul­ti­ples that you can hand out and leave with peo­ple (clearly tagged with your con­tact de­tails). Don’t give any­body too much – don’t ex­pect some­one to read, on spec, your 880-page graphic novel script. If pos­si­ble, know your tar­get – don’t try to give sam­ples or pitches to an ed­i­tor or com­pany that has stated it’s not so­lic­it­ing. Similarly, if a com­pany has pub­lished sub­mis­sion guide­lines, read them and, you know, stick to them. David Hine: The only an­swer is to get it drawn and let­tered. I don’t know of any ed­i­tors who will look at scripts or even pitches from un­pub­lished writ­ers un­less they can see how they work with an artist. No ed­i­tor will wade through a fat script by an un­known writer. If you know some­one who can draw, then get them to draw up at least a few scenes and ide­ally pro­duce an en­tire comic book. These days, you can eas­ily run off a dozen copies on a home prin­ter to hand out to ed­i­tors. Even if you don’t know an artist per­son­ally, it’s not hard to track peo­ple down on the in­ter­net. Artists need scripts to work from and if you’re good then an un­pub­lished artist will ben­e­fit from in­ter­pret­ing your story. Af­ter all, that’s how Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman started out. Antony John­ston: Don’t do it. Maybe ten years ago it might have worked, but these days ed­i­tors barely have time to read all the pitches they re­ceive from pro­fes­sional writ­ers, let alone new­com­ers. Ed­i­tors want to see fin­ished comics from un­pub­lished writ­ers, not pitches. It doesn’t have to be huge, or ex­pen­sive; a ten-page short pub­lished on the web will give any­one a good idea of whether or not you can write. Think of it like a band’s demo CD. Jeff Mar­i­otte: You should put it away. It’s okay, at a con­ven­tion, to talk to ed­i­tors and let them know what you’ve writ­ten (ver­bally). You can even buy an ed­i­tor a drink at the ho­tel bar later in the day. But if you put a piece of pa­per with words on it in front of an ed­i­tor at a con and ask him or her to read it, you’re mak­ing a mis­take. If you leave it with an ed­i­tor, chances are it’ll never make it out of the room. The best thing to do? Ask if you can send some­thing in af­ter the ed­i­tor is back in the of­fice and away from the fre­netic paces of the con­ven­tion floor. Get a busi­ness card! And then fol­low up. Ke­iron Gillen: If you’re pitch­ing cold, with no rep­u­ta­tion… well, you may as well play the lot­tery. If you’re pitch­ing com­pany-owned char­ac­ters, then it’s par­tic­u­larly hard. Even with a bril­liant pitch, the sta­tus quo you’re pitch­ing for may not ex­ist by the time they could even con­sider pub­lish­ing it. About your only hope is that the ed­i­tor is al­ready, in some way, in­ter­ested in your work – in which case, you need to get on the scene and make your­self known. Don’t worry about pitch­ing at the con. Just go to meet peo­ple, hang out, have a few drinks and don’t be a dick. Es­pe­cially at Bri­tish cons, where there’s a tra­di­tion of every­one drink­ing in the same place and fewer bound­aries be­tween cre­ator and the pub­lic, this is easy to do. The sort of peo­ple who like to weaponise any form of hu­man in­ter­ac­tion call this ‘net­work­ing’. I just call it be­ing so­cial. My ad­vice would be: don’t be a writer pitch­ing. Find an artist and pitch with them. Joshua Ortega: Get pub­lished else­where. Have a body of work to back up your writ­ing. The ‘hu­mor­ous’ side of me can’t avoid these four handy tips: 1) Be male; 2) Be white; 3) Be over 40, or at least over 30; 4) Be a for­mer ed­i­tor or cur­rent pub­lisher.

Above: Judge Dredd and 2000 AD have been a breed­ing ground for Bris­tish comics tal­ent be­low: Itch­ing to write a Ghost Rider story? Si Spurrier did. Who knows, maybe one day you'll get your chance, too…

top: Tony Lee writes for Doc­tor Who. We’re very jeal­ous above left: More Doc­tor Who, of the David Ten­nant va­ri­ety. left: Antony John­ston is cur­rently writ­ing Dare­devil

be­low: Rob Wil­liams wrote post­mod­ern su­per­hero tale Cla$$war for the pub­lisher Com.x

mid­dle: Dirty Frank is an­other Wil­liams cre­ation for 2000 AD

top: 2000 AD still re­mains the most vi­tal of Bri­tish comics top right: More art­work from Rob Wil­liams’ Cla$$war

above: Antony John­ston penned the script for the game and comic of Dead Space: Ex­trac­tion Above Right: The Simp­ing De­tec­tive, by Si Spurrier right: Dan Ab­nett's Sin­is­ter Dex­ter © 2010 Toky­opop be­low: David Hine wrote the manga Poi­son Candy

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