Under the watchful eye of Buddy Scalera, the editors-in-chief for Dark Horse, IDW and Valiant gathered to advise writers and artists on how to break into the industry – offering an invaluable look at the comics industry from the editorial perspective. Scott Allie, Chris Ryall and Warren Simons are some of the sharpest people in comics: this was a great panel.
First off – apologies, this recap slipped the scheduled release time for some reason, so this is coming a fair while after NYCC finished! But it’s a timeless panel, focused on offering advice and perspective for people looking to get into comics.
The panel kicked off with an immediate discussion on the best ways for people to move into writing and drawing comics as a career. Ryall started by saying that he prefers to see small pitches rather than long documents – a concise pitch can be fleshed out later, but if the core of a project interests him, then that’s all he needs. Also remember that you should keep in mind the person or company you’re specifically pitching to, and whether it’s suitable.
Allie referred to the old advice of “write”. He said everybody has 300 bad pages in them. The trick is to work constantly so you can get those bad pages out the way sooner rather than later. Work constantly, and get all your work out there. He especially recommended that writers start with short stories, which the others agreed with. Ryall said that eight page stories are some of the hardest to write, and therefore great practise.
Regarding short stories, Simons said that anthologies were a great place to start. The major companies don’t need to have their characters fixed. While he was editing for Marvel, he didn’t need for an unknown writer to ‘fix’ Captain America. Rather, he would receive already published work from creators – he cited Matt Fraction as an example – and follow up on the people he knew could already get a project out there. “Publish or perish”. Editors don’t have much time, and it’s easier to read a completed work than a script.
All three editors advised against pitching at conventions. Rather, they recommended that creators use conventions as a way to network – to find and meet other writers or artists who might collaborate with you. Ryall said that a convention was a good chance to take an overview of a company, and evaluate which publishers would be the best fit for your specific work.
Another result of networking at a convention is that you can take the time to prepare your work once you’ve met somebody who might be interested in it. Simons said that Clay Mann used to draw on all the art packages he sent to Marvel – which drew attention. Specificity was also encouraged. Editors in chief have very little time, and won’t be able to look at a range of work from different genres. By establishing which specific editors handle material like yours, you can focus in your pitching. Simons added that spamming – especially to a company like Valiant, where people are all in the same offices – doesn’t get you anywhere. If seventeen identical packages arrive, each of the seventeen editors will just assume that one of their colleagues will get to that pitch instead.
Scalera asked the editors about those who are asked to pitch – what are some of the bad practises that the editors have seen?
Allie said that one thing he had seen recently which he found distasteful was the number of writers who badmouthed their previous collaborators in pitches. If somebody is dismissing the work of people they worked with before, why should Allie believe that they won’t do the same of him? He said he’d turned down several pitches from good writers because of this.
Simons said that creators should show how agreeable and easy to work with they are. Be polite and accept criticism. The editors also agreed that productivity was important. If you come in with an art portfolio one year but don’t get hired, make sure you’ve done more work in the intervening year before you return. Don’t just have the same pages, redrawn or untouched. Allie advised artists to keep their newest stuff in the front of their portfolio, to show what your current work is like.
Be objective with your own work, and show it to other artists to get their opinion. Editors understand that artists should be improving over time.
Simons added that companies can schedule around slow artists – just so long as they know the artists will hit a deadline. If an artist takes two months to draw one issue, that’s fine – if there’s no knowing how long they’ll take to finish, then the company are in trouble.
Aspiring editors were given one piece of advice… run!
Ryall said editors should network with both writers and artists, offering themselves as proofreaders and editors to people. Allie said that he made comics and magazines back at college, and then took those publications to literary agencies, as proof he could get work done. He moved to self-publishing, and then got those comics into the hands of the people at Dark Horse. He recommended for aspiring freelance editors to ask companies about sending resumes, and to do so via email.
The panellists were asked about what happens when a deadline is missed, and Scalera mentioned the ripple effect this can cause. Simons spoke on the traditional idea of inventory issues – one-off issues which could be placed anywhere within a run, and were used when companies fell behind a deadline. Nowadays companies have replaced inventory issues with things like #0 issues of annuals, allowing the editors more breathing space should anything happen.
Ryall said that the importance of deadlines can vary somewhat. On a series like Transformers where there’s a standard style for the different characters, different artists can come on for various issues. However, he point-blank refused for anyone other than Gabriel Rodriguez to draw Locke & Key – he felt that he ‘needed’ Rodriguez on every single issue of that series, as he was an important and idiosyncratic part of the story.
If a ship does ship late, Allie noted, then there’s an immediate effect for the retailers, who will start ordering fewer issues of a series. Ryall said it was important for retailers to have faith in companies like IDW, as they offer something different for readers. In a market so dominated by superheroes, it was vital that companies keep the eye of readers and retailers. If they drop the ball for a moment, people will spring back to their default setting – superheroes.