Graphic Novels for Writers, not Artists
September 20, 2011 10:10 AM   Subscribe

How do I go about getting some of my stories made into comics?

I write weird/Magical-Realist short stories. I have always wanted to work in the comics/graphic novel format. I have absolutely no ability to draw. Most of the advice I've been able to find on getting into this industry focuses on the artist's side of the equation. Is there a way to submit my work for consideration in a graphic format? As in, convert my work into a script or storyboard for submission to a graphic novel publisher? Alternatively, is it better to have a completed project (with art) to submit to publishers? I've attempted to find artists before that might be interested in collaborating, but I haven't had much luck. I would not feel comfortable asking someone to do that much work on spec and I don't actually make enough money off fiction writing to pay what I think would be fair for such work. I don't want to do this as a vanity project. My ultimate aim would be for a small press to publish my work.

TL;DR: is there a way to get into graphic novels as a writer with no artistic ability?
posted by Kitty Stardust to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
First off, I would start thinking of the artist as a partner, not somebody making something for you on spec. Find a partner and make your graphic novel together, then publish it together and share the reward/keep trying together.

As far as breaking into the industry, I would get an agent. Here's a lit of agents that deal with graphic novelists.
posted by michaelh at 10:14 AM on September 20, 2011

Check out Action Lab Comics. They're a small outfit who both write some of their own stuff and publish others' work. I met Shawn at a con earlier this year; he's a great guy.

You can either ask them if anyone there would like to draw for you, or to put you in touch with other people who might.

Alternatively, hang out on some of the comics forums. I'm afraid I don't know any off the top of my head, but there are always artists and writers looking for collaborators.
posted by valkyryn at 10:35 AM on September 20, 2011

First off, I would start thinking of the artist as a partner, not somebody making something for you on spec.
I've attempted to find artists before that might be interested in collaborating, but I haven't had much luck.

Any artist that's any good is going to expect to get paid. Drawing a coming book is a lot of work, and that's time that's not being spent on his or her own projects.

My advice, if you don't have money, is to start small and do a story you can tell in just a page or two so it won't take a huge commitment from an artist.

Or do a story you can tell in stick figures, so you can illustrate it yourself, if you have to.
posted by empath at 10:39 AM on September 20, 2011

I don't want to do this as a vanity project. My ultimate aim would be for a small press to publish my work.

Don't set your expectations too high. Unless you are well established, making comics is probably going to be a vanity project. If you want people to see your work, putting it on a website for free is your best bet. I don't have any experience on the small press end, but I can't imagine they will seriously consider publishing your first comic without a major artist behind it. Regardless, the publishers will want a finished product, they will not pair you with you an artist just based on a script. The industry focuses on the artist side of the equation, as you noted, because drawing comics is far more labor intensive than writing comics. There is also a larger pool of capable comics writers out there than capable comics artists.

In terms of finding an artist that won't charge $50/page...

I haven't hung around any comic or art related forums in a while, so maybe things have changed, but look into Penciljack, and webcomic forums (focus on webcomics that have good art - the Penny Arcade forum had a very active art sub-forum). Assuming the community is the same as it was a few years ago, there's a good chance you will find an artist who will draw your comic. Approach them through a private message, tell them how much you like their art, attach your script and see if they're interested.

Do you live near any colleges or art schools? See if they have a comics, animation or illustration program. Put a job posting around studios or (if possible) on the majors' email listserv.

Small press comics publishers are not in a good place (not that they've ever been in a great place). For anyone who doesn't already have a large fanbase, comics publishing is limited to the internet. This shouldn't discourage you, though!
posted by bittermensch at 11:55 AM on September 20, 2011

I would suggest that you not wait to find an artist to get started. As empath said, draw stick figures if you have to, but you are going to have to prove (to publishers, your readers, and to potential artistic partners) that your stories will work in the comics medium. There may be prose that sings on the script page, but falls flat in comics panels. It will be better if you start to figure this out before you involve someone else. Some of my favorite cartoonists (John Porcellino, e.g.) literally COULD NOT draw when they started, but now have totally unique styles because they figured out eventually what worked and what didn't. Publish online or in zine/minicomic format. Exhibit at small press comics shows in your area, make fans, and meet artists. You may meet publishers in the process too. And yes, from what I understand, publishers only consider completed works, not just scripts.

For an idea of the kind of commitment you're asking for, look at this blog post by Jim Munroe. He figures it at about an 80/20 split.
posted by mumblingmynah at 12:13 PM on September 20, 2011

I'm a comics artist and I get approached from time to time by writers who'd like me to draw their work, which I have very little interest in. Writing a comic, as some people have already mentioned above, is a hell of a lot easier than drawing it, and if I'm not getting paid and there's no high-rolling writer or publisher attached to the project, it's just unlikely that I would want to bother. There is pretty much no writer who's so good I'd draw his book for free as a "collaborator." I'd rather spend my limited free time on the self-generated stuff that made my name, because I already know it will sell, I'll be easy to work with, I'll enjoy drawing it.

You should learn to draw. Seriously, invest some time and money in drawing classes. It will take you a couple of years to learn to do anything worthwhile, but it's a skill, like surfing or piano or Latin, natural talent is not required (I don't believe it exists), you can make yourself learn to do it well if you put in the hours. And then you can draw your own comic.

Feel free to memail me if you have questions or want more advice.
posted by milk white peacock at 12:32 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Though it is substantially different from your question there is some probably relevant input in this old Ask.

The bottom line is there is no venue for what you are looking to do because while there are a lot of writers who would like to find someone to illustrate their stories, there are not a lot of artists looking for writers to create stories for them. That is just the reality. Start cultivating connections within the comics creators community - get to know their websites, events, local presence. Focus on the quality and promotion of your writing. Learn how to script a comic - a short story is not a comic ready to go, if that is all of your source material you are asking the artist not just to draw the story but to adapt it as well.

Every assessment I've read of this scenario is very pessimistic. Aside from being a well-known writer, your only chance would be to get an artist invested in your story. Not to be a creep but I just stalked you around the internet for a few minutes and saw no sign of an attempt to promote your writing at all. I wouldn't have known you were a writer.
posted by nanojath at 12:37 PM on September 20, 2011

I don't want to do this as a vanity project. My ultimate aim would be for a small press to publish my work.

How familiar are you with indy comics publishing? Many, many good graphic novels are self-published without being considered vanity projects. I wouldn't write off self-publishing as an option. Some are later picked up by small presses once they've shown they can attract an audience.

Check out indy comic fests like SPX, MoCCA Art Fest, APE, and TCAF - not only are they good places to network and find potential collaborators, they're also marketplaces where you can see how other creators have addressed the issues you're running into.
posted by cadge at 1:18 PM on September 20, 2011

I recently asked my friend Jim Dougan, who writes Sam & Lilah a very similar question about convincing artists to work with someone who only wrote. (Jim is only a writer of comics and sometimes editor.) He kind of laughed and said something to the effect of "Mostly, you don't."

Then he mentioned his first story was actually drawn by Roger Langridge. Jim was hanging around various comic message boards, including one Langridge was on (I'm probably getting these details slightly wrong) and Langridge put a call out for short stories about a certain subject. Jim submitted and Langridge drew it.

Jim's recommendations to me were to offer money -- and I understand you probably can't pay an artist a lot, but offering something means you're serious and value their time. He also said to start small -- don't hand over a script for a 600-page graphic novel right off the bat, in other words. Try writing a shorter story that may be 8 pages just to see if it's a good relationship between you and the artist.

As far as finding these artists ... well, that's maybe a bit more difficult. A few years ago, I'd point you to LiveJournal or DeviantArt and while there are still comic book people hanging around there, it's definitely not like it was. But are there artists whose style suits what you have in mind? Follow them on Twitter and Tumblr. See who they follow and follow those who look interesting. Retweet and reblog. Maybe every now and then, join the conversation with relevant comments (not just "Oh, I like your art!" or anything).

Go to every comics-related event you can. Is there a signing at a comic book store? Go to it. Is there a con nearby? Go to it. Are there creators in your area? See if they meet up and ask if you can join them (in the DC area, we have the DC Conspiracy who often meets up at a bar and anyone is welcome to come. Many places have something similar). Volunteer at cons. Don't go into the situation thinking "I need to find an artist right away" because you won't. Approach the situation with the intention to make friends and be a part of the community.

Because that's the one thing I've found about comics -- it's definitely a community. It's a very welcoming and accepting community for the most part but it's also a very social scene (do you drink? do you want to?) that's pretty connected. As long as you participate somehow, it's not that hard for people to begin to know who you are. That will open doors for you finding the right artist and one who be interested in what you want to do.

As far as getting published ... well, you're not at that point yet. But there's no shame in being self-published, especially in comics, and you'll likely need to start there before a "bigger" publisher will be interested. As far as what your script should look like, it does depend on who you'll be working with and what they want, but Drawing Words Writing Pictures is a good place to start when it comes to the craft of comics.

(But drawing your comic yourself is absolutely an option, even if you think you can't. There are good artists who make bad comics; likewise, there are "bad" artists that make really great comics. It's actually a pretty forgiving medium and the barrier to entry is minimal. This is why I love it.)
posted by darksong at 3:51 PM on September 20, 2011

Thank you for your answers. Much was as I suspected. I actually used to love drawing, but gave it up in college as I didn't see my skills progressing. It might not be a bad idea to try again.

"Not to be a creep but I just stalked you around the internet for a few minutes and saw no sign of an attempt to promote your writing at all. I wouldn't have known you were a writer."

I have been trying to keep my real (writing) name off the interwebs for a few reasons that I see I may have to rethink.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:44 AM on September 22, 2011

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