Special Edition NYC: Writers Unite: Pitching Creator Owned Comics

Another panel on Saturday afternoon that spoke to breaking in to the comics world, and as such, there I had to be. The panel was moderated by Jim Zub (Skullkickers, Wayward), and featured Greg Pak (Planet Hulk, Action Comics), Charles Soule (Death of Wolverine, Letter 44), and Marguerite Bennett (Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, A-Force, Butterfly).

The panelists started by telling their origin stories:

  • Marguerite wrote a novel after college that she used as a submission packet for grad school at Sarah Lawrence. While there, she took a class taught by Scott Snyder who liked her authorial voice. Awhile after the class, he recommended her to Mike Marts and she worked her way in before her first published work in Batman Annual #2.
  • Greg grew up writing short stories every week (after Ray Bradbury’s advice in “Drunk and In Charge of A Bicycle”), and went into political science. After a short time there, he went to NYU Film School and made several short films and a feature. Eventually, his agent told him Marvel was looking for indie filmmakers to write for them, and he got in touch with them. They spent a year developing things that never saw the light of day before he got the Warlock ongoing series, which led to X-Men: Phoenix - Endsong, which led to Planet Hulk; the rest is history.
  • Charles eschews his traditional “breaking into comics” narrative and states that he got into comics when he decided to do it. When decided the sacrifices of money, time, relationships, etc, were worth it for the attempt, he got in.
  • Zub got into traditional animation in the Canadian animation industry, and built up contacts and skills before launching Skullkickers.

A lot of similar ideas popped up from the earlier panel. You have to build your work with short pieces, and hone your craft. Do 1-2 page samples. Do as much as you can as a writer, because writing is cheap and art is expensive. The idea behind short stories: they force you think on your feet and not be so precious. Marguerite had to write so many short stories in college that it forced her to jump around genres, just so she wouldn’t get burned out. It allows you to take a multitude of ideas and whittle them down to the important ones; much easier than trying to build too few ideas up into something more.

As always, the panel advises to use the internet to your advantage. Tumblr, DeviantArt, personal websites--these are the ashcans for our generation, to get a cheap, direct relationship with your readers.

When you’re choosing a project to write, try to write with some authority. For example, Soule’s first project, 27, is modeled on the 27 Club in music. As a lifelong musician, it was a project he knew he could lend authority and authenticity to. If you’re writing about things you have authority in, you’re writing what you know, which they recommend, but they add the caveat: “Know a lot.” Take gigs that are scary to learn new things about yourself and your writing; Pak was knowledgeable about the Holocaust before he wrote a Magneto origin book, but he had to do the research to know it well.

The panel advises everyone to write so that you can think things through that confuse you. If you’re writing about something you’re 100% confident about, you run the risk of regurgitating the media that you’re fed, which can oftentimes be wrong.

From there, the panel went towards pitching advice. Pitching boils down to two things, really: Why should a company choose your comic over someone else’s?; and make sure your pitch is short and concise. The panel went through and gave elevator pitches for major projects of theirs as examples, while they emphasized that this is a job. You have to be good at it.

Since these writers broke in, the industry has changed, in a lot of ways for the better. Networking has never been easier, with the rise of social media. The industry itself is more accessible over Twitter, Tumblr, etc; the rise of how-to books like Understanding Comics by McCloud and Words for Pictures by Bendis; a lot of the members of the panel have blogs to help increase accessibility. Zub’s blog features a lot of advice on pitching and the art of writing, while Soule has a blog called “Agree to Agree” that features legal advice for creative types. If you use the social component of the industry nowadays and become a cheerleader for fellow creators you like, networking becomes a whole lot easier.

As far as networking, the panel advised us to think of the industry as a ladder. You’re on a rung of your own, and you can meet anyone on your rung, or below yours at any level, and anyone one level above you. For example, I probably can’t network with Tom Breevort or Axel Alonso, but I can definitely network with new creators who have just gotten their first professional gigs, or people that are in my own social circle.

The panel ends with everyone being reminded that we all climb this ladder together. It’s a more optimistic, motivational-seminar kind of panel than the earlier one, but it was a good one to end the day on.