By Troy Hickman
Since I started this column, I’ve heard from a number of folks who want me to write something about how to break into the comics business. I suppose that would be a natural, given that (A) I’m a teacher and tend to be didactic, and (B) I’m still relatively new to this, so I’m fairly fresh from the womb (and the metaphorical doctor probably slapped my backside AFTER he read some of my comics).
Perhaps the best way to go about it, though, would be to start with what you SHOULD NOT do if you’re hoping to get into the comics business. Since a lot of folks go the route of trying to sell themselves at conventions, that’s a good place to start. A few thoughts:
(1) DON’T TALK TO ME! Er, wait, that didn’t come out right. Yes, if you see me at a con, please, please come over and talk to me. Talk about my comics, talk about comics in general, talk about the craft of writing (I’m always glad to work with you to improve your stuff)…heck, talk to me about your love for Betty White if you’d like. But if you’re hoping to break into this business, I’m really not your best bet. You want to approach an editor, as they have the power to give you work. The BEST I can do is just maybe put you in contact with someone else, but even then your chances are not great, as I’ve yet to really master the fine art of networking myself. No, you need to seek out an editor, and they’re easy to spot; they’re the ones holding a red pen and wearing a scowl that makes Vladimir Kozlov look like Mary Tyler Moore.
(2) FOR THE LOVE OF ZOD, PULL DOWN YOUR SHIRT! Look, I’m not unsympathetic, as I’ve got a gut that makes me look like I’m just about to give birth to octuplets. But I’m careful not to ADVERTISE it. The simple fact is that it’s tough for folks to pay attention to your pitch when they’re distracted by not only by the image of Judge Death on your t-shirt, but also by the dessert plate-sized belly button a few inches below it. Unlike some current comic scribes, I am absolutely not Mr. GQ, but even I know that you want to make a good first impression, and you don’t do that by extending your prodigious abdomen eye level to a sitting editor.
(3) DON’T USE THIS PITCH! Even though I can’t be much help to you, I still have tons of folks approach me with ideas at conventions and shop appearances (I think it’s my friendly face, like a big happy moon that says “talk to me, babycakes!”). Without fear of contradiction, I can tell you that probably 60% of the pitches I’ve heard are EXACTLY, word for word, like the following:
“So I wanna do this comic, right, and it’s about this really bad ass chick, and her name is Demonica Abyss, and she used to be a prostitute on Earth, see, but then she was murdered by a vampire cult, and she went to Hell, but when she got to Hell, Satan…well, maybe Satan, maybe Beelzebub…or Mephi—Mestiph—well, you know what I’m saying…anyway, he tells her that he wants her to go back to Earth and claim souls for him, and he gives her this totally awesome sword, the Soulstealer, right, and it can cut through anything, and she’s got these really kick-ass wings, like dragon wings or somethin’, and she’s like really hot, kind of like Hayden Panattiere but with some Jessica Biel thrown in, and she comes back to Earth and gets a job with a government agency so that she can find out where evil stuff is happenin, right, but what she doesn’t know is that the head of the agency, I don’t know what it’s called yet, I’m still workin’ on that, but she doesn’t know that the head of the agency is actually Mordecai, the leader of the vampire cult that killed her, and it’d be so cool and totally change the industry, dude.”
The last part is always, ALWAYS “it’ll totally change the industry, dude.”
(4) BE PREPARED! Don’t just have a verbal pitch memorized. Make sure you have it in a coherent written form to leave with the editor if need be, and it wouldn’t hurt to have some scripting samples available. If you’re like me (and really, what are the odds?), then the strength of your work is not so much in the concept, or even in the plot synopsis, but in the SCRIPTING. I have no doubt that if I had approached some editors with nothing but my concepts, they would’ve been less than enthusiastic. “So…it’s a comic about superheroes…eating donuts and talking? Uh…OK. What else you got? She’s…what? She puts on a hooded sweatshirt and walks around her neighborhood…um…do you have a day job?”
In my case, one thing I had going for me is that I had self-published my own stuff. Yes, it was in photocopied mini-comics form, and yes, that will unfortunately get you some dirty looks at convention tables from less enlightened passers-by, but it also enables you to have something in COMIC FORM that an editor can easily review. I’ve been an editor myself, and I cannot overstate the goodwill factor you will gain from making an editor’s job as easy as possible.
(5) KNOW YOUR PUBLISHERS! Generally speaking, you wouldn’t approach the editors at Archie Comics with the same pitch you would the folks at Vertigo (though I’d like to be there if you do). Ask yourself what this company publishes, and if it’s a place where you might find work. Yes, there are certainly exceptions (Twilight Guardian, for instance, is a very different comic than Witchblade, though you should be buying both!), but as a rule of thumb, it may not be a worthwhile idea to submit your idea for “Cowgirl Strippers on Meth” to Marvel or DC (though feel free to email me a copy at CrullersComic@aol.com).
Those are just a few caveats. Your mileage may vary. Void where prohibited. Loose lips sink ships!
Troy Hickman writes comic books, good lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise. Check out his Twilight Guardian mini-series later this year, and in the meantime, the Eisner-nominated Common Grounds trade paperback is available at fine comic shops and bookstores everywhere…except Venezuela, by order of Hugo Chavez, the @#$%.