THE ED­I­TORS SPEAK

There are two sides to any hir­ing trans­ac­tion: the per­son who wants the job and the per­son ca­pa­ble of giv­ing it (or of in­form­ing them that their giant-war­rior -ant maxi-se­ries isn’t quite what the mar­ket is curently lok­ing for). Since much of this fea­ture

Comic Heroes - - Fea­ture -

Andy Dig­gle: The page is struc­ture. The is­sue is struc­ture. The arc is struc­ture. [It] just means, ‘be­gin­ning, mid­dle, end’. Dan Ab­nett: It’s very im­por­tant, though it de­pends on the project. Some of my 2000 AD strips have very strong ver­bal struc­tures in them – rep­e­ti­tions and vari­a­tions, and so on. Some­times I work with an artist to get vis­ual struc­tures in place: par­tic­u­lar types of panel shapes or size and par­tic­u­lar views. David Hine: The struc­ture of your story is im­per­a­tive: there’s Setup, Con­fronta­tion and Res­o­lu­tion. After that there are all kinds of com­plex­i­ties. As a rule, though, you should know how a story be­gins and how it ends be­fore you do any­thing else. That sounds ob­vi­ous but there are a lot of comics out there that are no more than a lot of ‘cool’ ideas strung to­gether with no real di­rec­tion. I al­ways plot out a se­ries in lot of de­tail and I’ll have worked out most of the key scenes for ev­ery is­sue be­fore I start on is­sue one. When I write an is­sue, I cre­ate a de­tailed plot break­down, then de­cide where the page breaks are. There’s noth­ing worse than get­ting to page 20 and re­al­is­ing you’re only half­way through your story. If the struc­ture is strong, then all the other prob­lems will solve them­selves. The char­ac­ters will evolve. Antony John­ston: Struc­ture is ev­ery­thing, but that’s be­cause I can’t write with­out an out­line, and if I have to choose one over the other, I’ll al­ways take plot over char­ac­ter. But that’s just me. There are many very suc­cess­ful writ­ers (and happy read­ers) out there of the op­po­site opin­ion, and that’s the beauty of fic­tion. Jeff Mar­i­otte: It’s pos­si­ble to have plot with­out struc­ture. It’s pos­si­ble to have a ran­dom se­quence of events, too, that don’t lead any­where. Nei­ther one is go­ing to make for sat­is­fy­ing read­ing.

QDo you hire un­pub­lished peo­ple? Is it a case of a writer get­ting their work pub­lished else­where first? Randy Stradley, Dark Horse Comics: Since the ma­jor­ity of what I’m edit­ing right now is Star Wars, I’m wary of hir­ing writ­ers who’ve not yet been pub­lished. There’s so much about writ­ing comics well that’s spe­cific to comics, it’s not re­ally pos­si­ble to tell from a prose out­line if a writer un­der­stands how to script comics. Still, I have hired a cou­ple of first-timers – but al­ways for short jobs first and usu­ally after ex­ten­sive dis­cus­sions with them to get an idea of how they think about comics. Matt Smith, The Mighty Tharg! 2000 AD: Very rarely do I hire peo­ple who haven’t had work pub­lished else­where. Al Ewing’s first ‘Ter­ror Tale’ for 2000 AD, ‘Scene of the Crime’, was pub­lished in 2002 and is a sin­gu­lar case of a script be­ing plucked from the sub­mis­sions pile, but that’s un­usual. Usu­ally, writ­ers who get their first work for Tharg come with a back­ground of hav­ing worked for other pub­lish­ers, whether it’s in pro­fes­sional comics, jour­nal­ism or the small press. Chris Ryall, IDW Pub­lish­ing: We do pub­lish un­pub­lished peo­ple, but it's an ad­mit­tedly rare and dif­fi­cult thing for new writ­ers to ac­com­plish. The pri­mary rea­son for this is that we're of a size where we can make some li­censed books work with writ­ers that don't have a long, es­tab­lished track record, but we're not able to ‘break’ new tal­ent in most cases. And as a pub­lisher com­pet­ing with Mar­vel and DC for shelf space, our books re­ally do ben­e­fit from the for­mula of 'li­censed ti­tle plus fa­mil­iar cre­ator’. So it does ben­e­fit writ­ers to get pub­lished by smaller pub­lish­ers and then work their way up.

QArtists can put their work in front of an ed­i­tor and make an im­me­di­ate im­pres­sion. What does a writer have to do? Randy Stradley: Demon­strate that they know the story they’re telling. Sum it up com­pletely, yet con­cisely. I want to as­sim­i­late it as quickly as pos­si­ble. Give me a short syn­op­sis to give me a taste, then a longer out­line to flesh out the char­ac­ters and story. If my first ex­po­sure to your story is a ten-page out­line or a 30page script, I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to drag my feet get­ting to your sam­ples. Matt Smith: It can be harder for writ­ers to grab the at­ten­tion, but putting your script sub­mis­sion in an em­bossed folder, printed out on lam­i­nated pages, doesn’t make a blind bit of dif­fer­ence. I’d much rather see a clearly laid out script, and a short and snappy syn­op­sis. In fact, know­ing how to lay out a comic script goes a long way to­wards keep­ing my at­ten­tion. Joseph Ry­bant: Writ­ers come to us in a va­ri­ety of ways: they pitch a prop­erty we’re work­ing on and have a great take, or they’re work­ing on other books and we like the work they’re do­ing there, or we have a re­la­tion­ship in some other form. Chris Ryall: Show us pub­lished work, which does two things: it shows that some­one else thought enough of their work to pub­lish it and it also gives us a sam­ple that can be more quickly read than a full script from a new writer.

QWhat’s the main thing that you look for in a pitch? And how quickly can you tell if some­one’s work is of a pub­lish­able qual­ity? Randy Stradley: I ask that each story/se­ries pro­posal be­gins with one or two sen­tences about each of the fol­low­ing: Plot, Story and Theme. I want to know that the writer un­der­stands the dif­fer­ence be­tween the three. The Plot cov­ers the me­chan­ics of what hap­pens – the frame­work for all of the ac­tion. The Story is why what hap­pens in the Plot mat­ters to the char­ac­ters (and, by ex­ten­sion, to the read­ers) and how the char­ac­ters’ mo­ti­va­tions and de­sires drive the ac­tion of the Plot. And fi­nally, Theme is the point of the story – what the writer is try­ing say about life, the hu­man con­di­tion and so on, with the char­ac­ters. Matt Smith: An orig­i­nal and in­ter­est­ing idea is the first thing that grabs you. Some­thing that’s ini­tially easy to get your head around but with depth and po­ten­tial. It’s of­ten said that the most en­dur­ing 2000 AD char­ac­ters can be summed up in a sen­tence: Judge Dredd – fu­ture cop; Stron­tium Dog – mu­tant bounty hunter; Rogue Trooper – clone sol­dier out for re­venge; Neme­sis the War­lock – alien free­dom fighter. If you have to spend a para­graph ex­plain­ing why the pro­tag­o­nist does what he does, then maybe it’s too con­vo­luted. You can tell quite quickly if some­one can write – you’re look­ing for a voice, some­thing that’s unique to the writer. Joseph Ry­bant: When we’re work­ing up a prop­erty, we have a gen­eral idea of our tone and ap­proach, though we al­ways move one way or the other de­pend­ing on the cre­ative party brought in (writer or artist). Some­times we ask a writer to pitch cold, not giv­ing them any di­rec­tion one way or the other, and what we’re look­ing for there is to see if the writer has a strong gasp of the con­cepts and the voice of the char­ac­ters… and a good story to get us out there for four or five is­sues. Chris Ryall: I look for some­one with the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate the story in a con­cise man­ner. As hard as it is to find the time to read new pitches at all, the chances of one be­ing read is de­pen­dent on it be­ing short. I think this is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion with new writ­ers, who of­ten feel the need to put ev­ery­thing into an ini­tial pitch.

On the con­trary, the op­po­site is true. You want to hook me with your pro­posal – and you want to make me want to see more. If you can get an ed­i­tor ask­ing you a fol­low-up ques­tion after they read your pro­posal – “I’d love to see more, what comes next?” or some­thing – you’re that much fur­ther along to it ac­tu­ally get­ting ac­cepted. As to how you can tell if some­one is of pub­lish­able qual­ity, it’s just that abil­ity to con­vey a story with a page or two at the most that gives me an ini­tial sign of a per­son’s sto­ry­telling abil­ity. If they can make me care about a sit­u­a­tion, char­ac­ter or sto­ry­line in a page, that shows me a lot.

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