Thursday, November 27, 2008

Breaking In

In one of the forums I frequently visit, I was following a thread about breaking into the business. First off, the forum was at Rantz Hoseley's Panel and Pixel site which was inspired by Warren Ellis' Engine. ( It's primarily for comic creators and often times, has interesting conversations. One of the most common themes regards breaking into the business, whether as a new voice or establishing yourself after you had your first taste of being published. I find this topic fascinating not because of the pitfalls that people face or the daunting task of standing out from the pack, but rather from the excuses that people make for NOT making it. Yes, I realize that there are some people struggling to grab that foothold and doing everything that they can to "make" it, but that's the same in every business. And just the same are those who face obstacles that seem insurmountable...and often constructed by themselves. A common question about people trying to break in is "what's the secret?". It's as if there is a magical method to get into comics. But the problem is there is more than one...there's thousands. Because for everyone that got in the business, they probably got in completely different than the person they're sitting next to at the upcoming convention. There is no easy way, no secret. You just have to prepare yourself by honing your skills, sending out submissions, or what seems to be the most successful method nowadays, publish yourself to get your work out there. What I do find confusing is what constitutes "making it". For some people, it's simply getting published. I have a professional friend who struggled to make it and when he landed a job at Marvel, he completed the assignment and felt that he had made it. But he also decided that he wanted a different career path so the work at Marvel sort of vindicated his struggles. He "made it" and walked away from it. Another person struggled for years and finally got the editors from Marvel to send him tryout pages. He kept getting short pieces to do in a specified time. He became frustrated with these endless streams of samples and even after I explained that they were likely seeing how he worked under deadline pressure, he decided that it no longer seemed fun, but rather a job and a job that he didn't particularly like. So, he left...and left comics completely after years of struggling to make it. A job at Marvel seems to be the qualifier for a lot of people. Some prefer DC and some view them equally. But realistically, there's only so many jobs at Marvel and DC that go around so not everyone is going to get them. I think newer creators are not so geared towards the Big Two as the artists and writers from 10-15 years ago. There's success with other publishers and in some ways, an even greater respect. For those people who thing making it is being able to make a living at comics, well, that's going to be a harsh reality check for most people save for the few that can actually make a good living from comics. Of course there are those who do quite well at it but generally, most people cannot make a living from just doing comics. That's true of most creative fields...most writers, artists, musicians, actors, etc. can not make a living solely on their creative craft. But for many people, that's okay. A lot of times, people just want vindication that they are "good" enough to get in the door. Opportunity and luck is often what swings the door wide open. Back to the point I started off with before my does seem that a lot of people have the wish to make it but not necessarily the desire and by desire, I mean the effort and perseverance to succeed. I see all kinds of examples of derailment...sick kids, disabled parents, financial troubles, etc. All good reasons but is that truly what is stopping people from "making it"? Far too often, these barriers are not true impediments but rather excuses in not making it. Before anyone asks, do I think I have made it? That depends. Am I a well known writer that can live solely off my writing. Nope. Sure, I've gotten some good gigs and did quite well with them. I'm not likely to make a living wage in comics and in the novel field, well, I'm just one of millions out there with a "book". But I'm content. I do what I want to do and I have plans to venture into more things that tie in with my biology teaching so I feel very comfortable with my situation. I guess that I can say I made it but certainly fans of Marvel and DC comics probably never heard of me, therefore in their eyes, I haven't. Not really sure where I intended to go with all this. It started as a response on the afore-mentioned message board that I decided to expand a bit instead of having my message truncated...but I think the point I wanted to make is that if you want to make it in this field, I think a definition (to yourself) of what making it represents and remembering that having a good reason in NOT making it doesn't change the fact that you didn't make it. Hey, just got notified about the KID'S COMIC CON coming up in June. I don't know yet if I'll be able to make it (Chelsea, MI) but they promote my Spirit of the Samurai young adult novel on the front page, so that's cool.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Planning Ahead

I was just contacted from a convention organizer about a show next year and it dawned on me that I have to start planning things for not only the upcoming convention season but my writing schedule for next summer.

As for conventions, not sure which ones I’ll be doing. It’s likely I’ll be at Motor City in May since it’s in my backyard. The show gets good attendance, they treat guests well, but I’d like them to shift more towards the comic side of things as it has become more of a celebrity show in recent years. I haven’t decided on the Wizard World Chicago this year and I was considering some other shows such as Mid-Ohio and Heroes Con but conventions are just so time consuming so it makes it a touch decision.

The writing schedule for the summer is usually projects that I mull over and then spend the time off school to get the physical part of the writing done. I should have the Deadworld novel and the next Deadworld comic story arc done prior to that as well as completing a couple of projects in the works (a thriller and a mystery story…both original graphic novels)…so not sure what I’m moving on to next. There are a number of projects that are not related to comics that I might move towards. I love the medium of comics but it does get frustrating that the audience is limited.

Comic fans, for the most part, stay with their superhero characters and they have the right to. It’s hard to find new fans for non-superhero material but the Internet continues to show growth in exposing people to some different titles and the occasional big hit lends credence that there is a market out there…just have to find a way to tap into it. Of course, I don’t believe it’s that simple…and just because you do a story that doesn’t feature superheroes, doesn’t automatically elevate the quality. When VHS first arrived and all these foreign movies were suddenly available, there was a great interest. They were cool…cutting edge…daring…yet when you started watching many of them, well, yes there were some instant classics, but there was a lot of horrible films too. Just because its’ foreign, didn’t make it good. That sort of snob appeal hit the book market with the trade paperback fiction books. If it wasn’t mass market sized, then it was considered literary and deep…well, a lot of it was crap as well.

Once we can move past comics being solely identified with superheroes and the superheroes just become a genre within comics, I think that comics as a medium will continue. Does that mean comic shops will? I don’t know. I don’t know if the superhero expanded universe as it stands now will survive well enough to support the comic stores. I mean, you’ll always have Batman, Superman, Spiderman, etc. but I can’t see a long future for the pamphlet market as it is set up today. There likely will be specialty shops but I don’t think they’ll be reliant on superheroes as much as they are. Yes, I know stores are adjusting but when it comes right down to it, almost all comic stores, no matter how expansive they are, still rely on the core of the Marvel and DC universe for their business.

When I went into a comic shop recently, I felt like a stranger in a strange land...a foreigner. Now, I have a long history in comics and they're been a part of my life for some 20 years when I was an owner---and I was an active owner until the latter years. I knew creative teams, characters, plot lines, etc. Yet, when I was walking through the store, nothing held any interest to me. Sure, there were some characters I used to follow but I know that they've probably gone through some dramatic changes but it didn't matter. The next creative teams will just do something else to it. There are no permanent changes so it really just doesn't matter. Granted, readers of those comics likely enjoy watching the twists and turns that the characters go through and can appreciate the methods and events that push them into different directions. But when you come in and evaluate years of changes and then see the pattern of change-restoration-different change-restoration, well, it just seems all so pointless.

I think I have just moved on and I don't mean that in any condescending way that "I've grown up" and left the medium behind. It's just that I have memories of certain titles and characters and now they're no longer recognizable. Names and powers stay the same (most of the time) but their motivations, values, and personalities seem to change with the whim of every writer that comes along. Of course, costume changes give the artist some changing as well.

The problem comes from the market not letting go of these characters. They can't seem to create new characters so the old ones get re-invented over and over. Imagine if we did that in movies...every detective story is Sam Spade...all westerns featured John Wayne..., it would get monotonous. Literature is constantly re-inventing itself...we don't live and die with the exploits of Jules Verne characters or follow new re-inventions of Tarzan and the Lone Ranger to the exclusion of newer material. Yet in comics...we do.

There are many interesting titles that I come across the internet but saw very few of them here. The store's selection was Marvel-DC with a good selection of Dark Horse and Image. Some of the other publishers were represented but not too many titles. I saw none of Slave Labor, Archaia, Desperado, APE, Devil's Due...and only samplings of Dynamic Forces and IDW. None of the "alternative" press (i.e.-Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Top Shelf)...except a graphic novel or two.

Again, this was a good store and likely supplies 98% of its customer base with exactly what they want in a store. Maybe they tried the other material as I did see some graphic novels from smaller publishers in the liquidation shelves. So, is the store to blame? When you're a retailer you quickly learn that you can promote specific titles and areas but your customer base ultimately determines your selection. Market realities don't let you decide what you carry....your customers do.

Oops, got sidetracked there. So, I plan to announce the convention season for myself shortly and hope to announce what projects I plan to embark on for next summer. In the meantime, Deadworld: Slaughterhouse is just about finished on my end, A Murder of Scarecrows original graphic novel just needs some lettering corrections, the collection of the Sinergy comic series is nearly finalized as is the third Saint Germaine graphic novel (with some new material), and I plan to get a full color graphic novel out on the life of El Cid with paintings by Wayne Reid. And look for a new book coming in the spring called Subversives, a factoid type of graphic novel.

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