So you've got an idea that you think would make a perfect comic book story, you've worked out the whole idea in your head or on tiny little pieces of paper spread all over your desk, now you just have to sell it to somebody.
Easier said than done.
The days of blindly sending proposals out to publishers is pretty much a thing of the past. There are still some publishers who have dedicated submissions editors, but that's slowly going the way of the dodo. More often than not, comic book publishers have adopted the 'no unsolicited manuscripts' rule you'll see in the Writer's Market. These days, someone has to ask you to send them your idea.
On a personal note, back when I was trying to break into the industry, I used to send out proposals to every company I could think of. In those days, they actually read those sorts of things. (Yes, I'm THAT old.) I collected a fair number of rejection notes with some positive feedback, but my favorite had to be the form letter from a big publisher with little boxes they checked next to pre-written comments. They'd checked several, including the 'Make a name for yourself at another company and then we might be interested in you' box.
I'll talk about that last point later on, since it actually applies now more than ever.
So how do you get your idea in front of an editor? Well... I can't speak for everybody, but what's opened a lot of doors for me as a writer and as an artist is good old-fashioned networking. Blind submissions weren't really working, but I was going to a lot of conventions and introducing myself to a lot of people. Which is slightly amusing since I'm a painfully shy guy in my personal life, which I'm sure comes as a surprise to anyone who's met me. Trust me, I'm faking any kind of self-confidence in social situations.
And while I was introducing myself to a number of editors, the thing that REALLY did the trick for me was meeting other artists and writers. I got to know a group of creative types like myself and we started hanging out. I've talked before about the man who paved the way for my first gig -- the late Jim Royal -- in an earlier post, but the long and short of it is that my friends got me in the door.
Now this gets into tricky territory. I'm not talking about getting to know people just to use them as a stepping stone to a comic book career. I'm talking about getting to know other creators you genuinely like. You're not going to be doing yourself any favors sucking up to people to get work. Trust me. We see it all the time, and it turns our stomachs. We might be blinded by the flattery, but it's not going to open any doors for you, except maybe the exit.
What does work is having a group of friends who are all trying to break in, hanging around having fun, showing each other artwork, and talking about your crazy ideas for comics. Some of them may be working in the industry already. And then they introduce you to their editor or another artist and the circle grows more and more until someone recommends you to their editor or an artist says, "I need something to draw, got any ideas?".
I know, this isn't the world's most helpful advice. Sorry. But really... breaking in is more often than not a question of networking. And producing a lot of work. You should be writing or drawing, or both, the entire time. Your goal shouldn't be 'breaking into the comic book industry', it should be 'doing some SWEET comics'. 'Cause believe me, you don't need a publisher to do a comic book. You just need a good idea, a lot of paper, and something to draw with.
Which brings me to the box about making a name for yourself somewhere else. The best way to break into comics is to actually do a comic book. It's relatively easy to get it published either through a small publisher or online, or even printing it yourself. Lots of options on the small press front. And if you've got a completed comic book that you wrote and had one of your friends draw, or that you drew yourself, you're ahead of the game and can now sit back and relax with the knowledge that you are a comic book CREATOR, not just somebody who sits around talking about wanting to do a comic.
But here's the thing. You've got a comic book now. It's the ultimate self-promotion. Give it to people. Give it to lots of people. Give free copies to people working in the business who do the books you like. It's a long shot, but you never know... someone might see it and like it.
I did my first work in the small press, drawing and occasionally writing books at Caliber Comics. I never made any real money doing it, but I got lots of contributor copies, not to mention some good experience and a whole new batch of people in my network. And at a mass signing in L.A. for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, I brought my first Caliber book to sign and ended up meeting a bunch of writers and artists who eventually became my friends and led to my first work at DC.
It was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time. One of my new friends was writing a comic book for DC and the artist on a fill-in issue had to drop out, so they asked me if I'd be interested in taking his place. Yes, please.
But that's the story of how I got into comics. How I got to be in a position to pitch my ideas to publishers is a little more complicated, and very specific to me. Over the years of working as an artist, I got to know some of my editors well enough for them to be aware that I really wanted to write. Trust me, I'm sure I bored them to tears with all my going on about wanting to write more. In the end, some of them got sick of hearing this and said, "Well, what have you got?".
See? Simple as that. But seriously, get to know some people. Do a lot of work on your own simply for the love of doing it, and if you're doing publication quality work, the doors will open for you soon enough.
But once you've got the door open, you've got to deliver. And I'll talk about that in my next post.