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
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QDo you hire unpublished people?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.