Wednesday 26th November 2014,
Comic Booked

Getting your work published! How, where, who?!

Comic Booked Guest Writer 08/15/2010 Reviews

Comic book companies fall into two camps. Several companies use talent to work on books they put together in-house in the service of licensed properties. This is the assembly-line way of doing comics most Americans think of as standard comic book production, where various people take on specific tasks assigned to them. Marvel hires outside contractors to write and draw the various Spider-Man books, for instance; ditto DC and Superman. Those companies pay their creators a page rate and if the book sells enough copies, there is generally a royalties program that kicks in. The company in most cases tends to retain ownership of the property, although some high-profile creators may share in the ownership of a character or two or participate in all future profits derived from them.

Other comic book companies operate more like book publishers. They take comics wholly created by either one individual or a few working together and sell them through their various distribution channels. They pay the creators a percentage of the money the publication brings in. If there is more than one person involved, they are partners going in rather than brought together by the company, and work out whatever split in the book’s profits are appropriate (many creators working at such companies are one-man gangs, writing, drawing and inking their comics books entirely from scratch). Depending on the company, there may be an advance.

Some companies have lines they service that involved licensed properties and others that are brought to them by the talent, mixing the two models. (Hello, Dark Horse.) But generally one of the models dominates.

I sound silly saying this, but you should think about gearing your submission towards which area of comics you’d like to work. You can’t sell yourself as a potential inker on The Authority by sending pages to AdHouse Books; DC and Marvel are likely to have little interest in your 300-page octagon-shaped disquisition on Expansionist policies in the Antebellum South, although these days you never know.

Having spoken to a number of submissions editors, I’ll offer what I hope is practical advice.

Please note: Everything I am about to say takes for granted that if you’re at the stage where you’re seeking work, you already know what writers, pencilers, inkers, and colorists all do and generally how they do it. I know of no companies with training programs these days. I also presume that if you’re interested in submitting for publication you believe yourself skilled enough to compete with those already working. If not, there is an avalanche of how-to literature with comic books; most general writing, computer and art skills that you can receive in school are applicable; and there are even colleges where these skills are explicitly taught.

But if you’re ready to go and loaded for bear, here’s some of what you might need to hear about the realities of the submissions process.

Anything You Read From the Company to Which You’re Submitting Completely Trumps Anything I Say and Trumps Anything You Believe Would Be Better.

I mean, duh.

Follow the Instructions

Do whatever they tell you to do as far as submitting. It may be true that your particular creative genius is such that if they paid your work the attention it deserves that they would recognize its magnificence even though it’s not presented as asked. Unfortunately, you’re not going to get that kind and caring submissions editor. You’re going to get the unpaid intern or harried assistant looking for any excuse to reduce the submissions pile. Don’t get in the way of your own work.

If for some strange reason a company is instruction light on its submissions pages, I would imagine really clear Xeroxes, contact info on every page, succinct introductory material, and masterful displays of skill on as many pages as you can muster wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

Research, Research, Research

If there’s one complaint I hear most often from the poor saps that do submissions, it’s that a majority of the submitted work they see is horribly and completely inappropriate for their company. Submitting comics or scripts to a company whose product you’re not conversant with is almost always a complete waste of time.

Sorry, But Everything is Harder for Writers

Art talent is at a much higher premium than writing talent in comics, for whatever reason, all of which I’m sure are very depressing. Part of it may have to do with the fact that an artist’s component portion of a comic book looks like a comic book, while a writer’s contribution looks like a letter to the bank. That may color perceptions at publishers that assemble work from various components, and it may keep the writer completely away from those publishing house that are interested in comics submissions that can be turned into books as opposed to displays of virtuosity that can then be marshaled behind a certain project.

Another factor that may make it harder for writers is that working writers can often more easily take on multiple gigs, whereas artists are slaves to how much work they can do in a given month. This would make open spaces harder to come by.

Whatever the case, the hardest thing in the world is to break in via simply writing scripts, let alone writing synopses or being an “idea man.” Give up on the latter, and make sure you’re really, really good before keeping at the former.

It’s Hard for Colorists and Letterers, Too

The craft of comic book coloring and lettering are hard trades to break into as well. In many cases, an artist working on a book will provide these services, or a company has someone on-staff. Many letterers and colorists are artists with a particular skill who start getting work from artist friends and build a career that way. Occasionally a company such as DC will put out an ad for an art department staff position.

Never Send Original Artwork or Anything You’ll Need Back

Stuff gets lost. Plus, and let’s be honest, submissions in general is a low priority for many companies up and down the sales charts. Most comic book companies are desperately trying to muster enough resources to publish the stuff they already know and are excited about.

So even if a comic book company says they will return stuff in a self-addressed stamped envelope provided; if it arrives, consider yourself blessed.

Take Advantage of Public Work Reviews, But Don’t Count on Them

I know very little about portfolio reviews and on-table talent look-sees except what people have grumbled my way in casual conversation. The gist is as follows. A lot of companies will do portfolio reviews at the larger comic book conventions, or even when an editor visits a class or gives a speech or something like that. All of the rules for regular submissions should apply here if not more so — particularly appropriateness and research. It makes sense that you should also take care to present yourself in a good light, by looking presentable and being friendly, because it’s not a great leap to suppose a lot of companies are buying a working relationship as well as the work. Schmoozing editors and gateway company employees after-hours is overrated, and it really must be unimportant for people to admit this and risk no longer having things purchased for them. As far as the reviews themselves, take any advice you hear to heart, and ask if you can follow up so you don’t waste your time following up with an editor who is not interested.

Sending Work to Professionals Offers Limited Rewards, If Any

Presenting work to established professionals has worked for some people, particularly during those rare periods when comic books were enjoying a sudden surge in business. The legend of the 1990s superhero sales powerhouse Image Publishing includes on-site hires by studio heads at events like comic book store signings. The thought that an established legend will read someone’s work and pull an empty chair up to the computer or drawing table may be comic books’ version of being discovered by Hollywood at the soda fountain.

The 1990s are very much over, however. Image is a moderate house with very strict publishing submission guidelines, and this kind of spot-hiring thing has always been very, very rare. Most comics professionals are too busy trying to find themselves work to find work for you. Very few professionals are in the position to select creative partners on a project, and if they are it is more than likely they will draw upon previous relationships with dozens upon dozens of professionals, all with a discernible publishing pedigree.

Most importantly, though, comics professionals are completely unable to process unsolicited material, and will almost always toss it away. Throw in the fact that many creative people are paranoid about seeing others’ ideas because it opens them to litigation if future ideas are similar — and you’d be surprised how many surface similarities exist between some ideas — and the chances of your package being completely unopened are pretty darn good.

The Best Way to Start Work is to Start Working

If you were a baseball manager and had to replace your injured center fielder for a couple of weeks during the season, you’d be much more likely to look at players on other teams or in the minor leagues as opposed to going through a bunch of workout tapes sent in at random. Right?

Okay, sports metaphors are really poorly applied to comics, but it seems to me that the best way to get work in comics is to be already working in comics in some capacity. That may sound like a vicious cycle but, luckily, with self-publishing, small press publishing, and even mini-comics, the threshold is reasonably low for making a work that shows off what you can do. You may have to give up those Hegelian notions of your perfect, unrealized mastery of art for the reality of what gets on the page, but you’ll get better and better for doing something beginning to end.

In many cases the best way to become the pencil artist on Spider-Man five years down the line is become the pencil artist on Night of the Breadsticks right now. Most cartoonists who create their own work have a mini-comic or two to their credit before working on page one of their 400-page magnum opus. Comics chat rooms, conventions, and in big cities local artist get-togethers are a good way to network with people that might collaborate or help you along.

If nothing else, working on something right now gives you definite, concrete samples to show the next time you submit to other companies. And it may give you more opportunities. Something to think about: it may be true that no one wants to be the submissions editor, but very few people mind being the guy or gal who gets free comics.

Cut Your Poor Submissions Editors Some Slack

No one hates you or is being mean to you on purpose. Believe me, companies survive in the long term based largely on their ability to find new, great work, while reputations are made in corporate comics companies by the ability to discover fresh and saleable talent. Comic companies want to make the discovery just as much as you want to be discovered. There may be all sorts of reason it doesn’t work out, but open contempt for you isn’t one of them.

Overall, the American comics industry is reasonably efficient in finding work for surpassing talent. Keep at it, keep professional and pleasant, and your chance will likely arrive.

RESOURCES

To start you on your research, I have assembled as many submission policy statements for major companies as I can. Even if you are not interested in seeing your work published through Dark Horse, they have a reputation for having very clear and concise submissions advice. Good luck.

Absence of Ink
As far as I can tell, this company does not accept unsolicited submissions at this time.

AdHouse Books
(from front page, hit “misc.” button)

Alternative Comics
As far as I can tell, this company does not accept unsolicited submissions at this time. Owner Jeff Mason is a gregarious fellow who seeks out work at conventions.

Archie Comics
As far as I can tell, this company does not accept unsolicited submissions at this time.

Avatar Press

Dark Horse Comics

Drawn and Quarterly

Dreamwave

Fantagraphics/Eros

Gemstone Publishing

Heavy Metal Magazine

Humanoids

IDW

Image Comics

Marvel Comics
As far as I can tell, this company does not accept unsolicited submissions at this time.

MVCreations

NBM

Oni Press
As far as I can tell, this company does not accept unsolicited submissions at this time, and may actively destroy any they receive.

Platinum Studios

Slave Labor Graphics

Tokyopop

Top Cow

Top Shelf Comix

Viz LLC
As far as I can tell, this company does not accept unsolicited submissions at this time; may advertise for artists to use on production side of things from jobs portion of company web site.

*****

Ten Not-Bad Specific Comics How-To Resources

I distrust how-to for a number of reasons, but I still read them devotedly. None of these replaces the crucial building-block steps of learning how to draw, how to write, how to use a computer, researching the field, and so on.

Art of Comic-Book Inking, Gary Martin With Steve Rude, Dark Horse, 1569712581, 1997.
Back issues of Draw! Magazine
Back issues of Write Now! Magazine
Big Round Up Of Links
Coloring Links Page
Comic Book Lettering the Comicraft Way, Richard Starkings and John “JG” Roshell, Active Images, 0974056731, 2003.
Comics and Sequential Art, Will Eisner, Poorhouse Press, 0961472812, 1985.
Kurt Busiek on writing for comics
Lettering Links Page
Mark Evanier on becoming a comic book writer
Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers, Nat Gertler, About Comics, 0971633800, 2002.
Alan Moore’s Writing For Comics, Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows, Avatar Press, 1592910122, 2003.
Perspective! for Comic Book Artists, David Chelsea, Watson-Guptill, 0823005674 1997.
Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud, Perennial, 006097625X, 1994.
Writers on Comics Scriptwriting, Mark Salisbury, Titan Books, 184023069X, 2002.

Schools That Teach Comics

The National Association of Comics Art Educators (NACAE) keeps an up-to-date list of schools offering comic art as part of their curriculum here.

Anyone interested in a comics art education will probably find the site, which promotes the teaching of comics at the university level as both art education and for comics’ literary and cultural value, useful in general.

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Licença Creative Commons
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