Smilin' smedley
February 2, 2006 11:47 AM   Subscribe

It's been touched on before (but not directly) - how do you become a comic book writer?

Spider-man thread got me to thinking about it. I don’t know that I’d want to devote all my time to it, but I wouldn’t mind seeing if I can get some stuff published or even looked at. But I haven’t the faintest idea where to start.
posted by Smedleyman to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don’t know that I’d want to devote all my time to it

That probably means forget it, because there are lots of people who do want to devote all their time to it, so unless you are a brilliantly creative part-timer you are not going to make it.
posted by pracowity at 11:53 AM on February 2, 2006

There are actually colleges with degrees in Sequential Art.
So take a look around, maybe get a few classes in fine art, or try e-learning (on-line classes).
posted by UnclePlayground at 11:58 AM on February 2, 2006

If it's simply a matter of wanting to see the stuff in print and not caring about distribution, having a publisher, or other such things, then all you really need to do is find an artist to work with and then make the comic.

Write the script + have someone draw it = comic book.

If you want to know about how to format a script: try this.

For printing, you could self-publish with any number of POD publishers -- I know that Lulu handles comics, but I haven't seen any of them myself, so I can't say anything about the print quality. (In any case, the best you're going to get is high-quality laser print).

You could spring for offset printing, or you could even just go extremely indie and photocopy the pages.

(BTW Stephen Grant's column at Comic Book Resources, Permanent Damage is a good place generally for insight into the comics industry from a writer's perspective.)
posted by camcgee at 12:06 PM on February 2, 2006

I have to concur with pracowity, though there's no harm in giving it a shot. Your best bet is to find illustrators and artists who are looking for material, and then to have material that they find compelling enough to want to illustrate.

There are a few books you can read

The Art of Comic Book Writing
By Randy Stradley, Dark Horse Comics 2002
ISBN: 1569715793

Alan Moore's Writing for Comics

And Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics
ISBNs: 006097625X & 0060953500

I seem to recall that there was one more book on the subject that I had read but my moemory and my booklist is totally failing me.
posted by jessamyn at 12:08 PM on February 2, 2006

If you want to write for one of the bigger companies (Marvel/DC, and, say Dark Horse),* it's pretty much a don't call us, we'll call you situation. If you don't know anybody at the company, your best bet is to make yourself so well-known that they come to you.**

This is a pretty loooooong long shot, of course, but the good news is that it really just means making comics on your own and getting them out there. Which is exactly what you'd do if you didn't care about working for the bigger companies.

We're at one of those technological crossroads where, thanks to the internet, it's pretty easy and cheap to make DIY comics widely available. The trick, then, is to make your DIY stuff so good that you'd attract attention, and to get the word out about it.

So, then. For starters, just work out stories that you'd like to tell. And read a shitload of comics to get a feel for the right flow for telling stories with words and pictures-- it's sort of like writing a screenplay and sort of like writing a novel, but not really like either.

*Some smaller companies would have more of a submissions process, and that's something to look into; but, to get to that point, you'll probably need some sort of DIY work to show them just to establish that you mean business.

**One thing that's happening a lot lately is people who're established in some other field (TV writing, screenwriting, novelists) getting brought in. So there's another way to get well-known.

posted by COBRA! at 12:09 PM on February 2, 2006

I have two acquaintances who have had comics published (and even optioned for a movie). Although they made connections through their work in video games, I believe both actually got their work published through cold pitches and were set up with artists.
posted by lunalaguna at 12:12 PM on February 2, 2006

What companies did they do the cold pitches to?
posted by COBRA! at 12:15 PM on February 2, 2006

Yeah, that’s kinda what I was thinking COBRA!
(No problem with the ‘reading a shitload of comics’ part)
Really, I just want to tell stories.

So you’d get some DIY stuff - from there maybe pitch to one of the smaller companies?

I’m about as brilliant in drawing as, say, Harvey Pekar. Pretty much the box/stick figure thing. I’d mostly write.

Are conventions a decent way to meet artists?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:17 PM on February 2, 2006

Some friends of mine own an independent comics press; one of their books was reviewed in Entertainment Weekly a few weeks ago, and another has been optioned by a major studio (likely never to see the light of day, but it makes a cool story at parties). They are always open to looking at good work, but they will only put money behind an original idea that they know the artist(s) are serious about, which will be relatively successful in the indie comics scene, and which will elevate the status of their press and their other books.

Plenty of small, self-published titles get picked up and put into wide distribution by bigger publishing houses. The Goon, for instance, was self-published before Dark House bought the rights. Rex Mundi was a little black-and-white outfit before Image picked up the rights and put enough money behind the title for full color pages. (There may be much better examples, but those are two with which I am most familiar.)

Once you're publishing a successful title of your own, the guys at Marvel or DC are more than happy to let you take a crack writing for some of their characters in capes and speedos. Without an established writing/publishing history though, they aren't even gonna bother to look at your stuff.

One of the most important aspects of becoming a successful comics writer is to READ COMICS and know what's going on in the industry. Who's writing what, which characters are coming back in which titles, what pr0n Mark Millar is enjoying these days and how many brilliant books Bendis is churning out whilst sitting on the toilet and masturbating.

Oh, and a lot of presses can connect artists and writers, if you have a story but need someone to draw it. The best place to find an artist though, is to hang out at your local comics shop.
posted by junkbox at 12:18 PM on February 2, 2006

Are conventions a decent way to meet artists?

Most cons have an artists area where it is possible to meet the artists face to face and see their work. I suspect that pitching them on your idea will work better if you have at least some part of it already scripted. Pie-in-the-Sky ideas for comics are a dime a dozen, but actual finished scripts (that are any good) are pretty rare.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:42 PM on February 2, 2006

COBRA---Not sure who all they pitched to. One comic is published by Digital Webbing, the other on Tokyo Pop.
posted by lunalaguna at 12:43 PM on February 2, 2006

COBRA---Not sure who all they pitched to. One comic is published by Digital Webbing, the other on Tokyo Pop.

Right-o. Thanks.

I’m about as brilliant in drawing as, say, Harvey Pekar. Pretty much the box/stick figure thing. I’d mostly write.

It might be worth your time to take a drawing class, or to get a book and try to teach yourself. I'm in exactly the same boat you are, and I ended up deciding to write and draw my own stuff for a while, just for education. My art stinks (although it's getting better), but it's made me a way better scripter because I can think more about what works and what doesn't work for storytelling.
posted by COBRA! at 12:51 PM on February 2, 2006

Yeah, neither Marvel nor DC are accepting unsolicited scripts or pitches right now, and it's tough to get them to look at your pitch even if you have previously published work. They're actively seeking out the people with whom they want to work.

Peter David has said that the best way to break into the Big Two is to work for a comics company in some other capacity. He was in distribution, for example, before he published his first comics work. But this was years ago; I suspect that it would be harder these days to try that route.

And the Big Two are hiring an increasing number of people who have published or produced work in other media.

The best way right now to get published (as a writer) in the industry is to work with an artist, produce some work, and pitch the package to the smaller publishers.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:53 PM on February 2, 2006

Follow-up: it is better to pitch your work to a small publisher than to self-publish in print, IMHO, because the distribution system these days is increasingly biased against self-publishing. If you can't sell (something like) 3,000 copies of a book, Diamond (who sells 95% of all direct market comics) won't carry your book. A real publisher will, in the vast majority of cases, be better able to market your work than you can, so that it'll sell at least enough copies to get carried.

You can make a name self-publishing on the web, though. Scott Kurtz has published something like 30 issues of PvP (6 through small press, 24 through Image Comics), and Aaron Williams (who writes and draws Nodwick) just had his first 12-page Spider-Man story published.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:58 PM on February 2, 2006

Image accepts unsolicited submissions. So does Dark Horse.
posted by BackwardsCity at 1:55 PM on February 2, 2006

cool. Thanks all.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:43 AM on February 3, 2006

Just saw this DVD at my public library today, might be worth checking out as the case said it had info for aspiring comic book writers:

Countdown to Wednesday: An Inside Look at the Comic Book Biz & How to Break In
posted by Otis at 12:16 PM on February 3, 2006

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