Comic Books 101: The Finale

My Comic Books 101 series, which detailed all the wisdom I learned from my comic book writing class this past semester, sort of faded away without much explanation. Long story short: I graduated.

Happily, I finished the class with a professional portfolio that contained the entire script for my graphic novel Fusion (which, admittedly, I also wrote as my senior thesis in English), the first six pages penciled and inked by an artist, a springboard, and other goodies (like character profiles, visual references, etc.). So while I’m certainly no expert at the comic creating process, I’m at least considerably more experienced than I was four months ago.

So here’s my plan. This post will act as my transition from the Comic Books 101 series to my new series, I Can Write a Comic Book and So Can You! (which will detail the adventure of creating my first ever graphic novel).

And to pretend like this post contains serious content, here’s a list of what you’ve learned in Comic Books 101:

Resources for Comic Creators

Writer-Artist Collaboration

Selling Your Comic

Breaking Into the Comic Book Industry

Writer Rights

The Elements of an Effective Comic

Pearls of Wisdom

Comics Are…

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Comic Books 101–Part Seven

Collaborating with Artists

The panel of five comic creators I mentioned in the previous Comic Books 101 had much to say on the topic of collaboration.  I say this often, but one of the major reasons why I love comics is because it’s a naturally collaborative medium. Only in rare cases is a person able to write, draw, print, promote, and sell her comics all on her own. Unlike traditional writing, which is a generally solitary endeavor, comic creating is a dynamic, collaborative process. I love it (and, yes, it kinda weirds me out at the same time) that what I write isn’t actually what my readers see when they read my comic. Rather, my readers see how my artist interpreted my script. Comics are collaboration at its finest!

Here are some gems of wisdom regarding collaboration from some seasoned comic professionals:

“It’s always easier to start a fight than end one.”

Find an artist who balances you out. If you’re shy, find someone who’s more talkative. If you’re immersed in the fantasy genre, find some with experience writing noir crime.

Don’t confuse collaboration with friendship. Your friend might not be an ideal collaborator. An idea collaborator might not end up being your friend.

Listen to your collaborator. Respect can go a long way.

Have a contract ready before you show your artist anything. More on contracts here.

And my advice (I’m currently working with student artists willing to draw the first six pages of my graphic novel in exchange for collaboration and an addition to their portfolio.):

Find an artist you can trust. DO judge them by how promptly they reply to emails or if they often skip out on meetings.

DON’T just judge an artist by her art. A novice artist who is willing to work her butt off for your project is better than a brilliant seasoned artist who can’t meet deadlines.

DO cast your net wide. Tell everyone you’re looking for an artist. Put up posters. Advertise on Craigslist. Find artists on deviant art. There are artists willing to work at any price point, so don’t be discouraged (although, DO consider the trade offs).

Look out for next week’s Comic Books 101 about online resources for comic writers!

Comic Books 101–Part Six

Selling Your Comic

Instead of a typical class, this Friday we got to listen to five comic creators talk comics, self-publishing, dealing with feedback, and collaboration among a whole slew of other topics. Honestly, I can’t recall the names of all the creators present, but notably among them was Garrett Anderson of Newton’s Law, Dan Dougherty of Beardo, and Onrie Kompan of Yi Soon Shin. Two main topics discussed during this panel I found most significant: how to sell you comic and how to effectively collaborate with an artist. I’ve broken up these two topics into two Comic Books 101 posts. This post, Part Six, will discus selling your comic. Look out for Part Seven for tips on collaboration.

Okay, you’ve written a comic. You found an artist (or several), spent hours getting the thing formatted and printed, and got yourself a booth at a comic convention. If you think all the hard work is behind you, think again. As a self-published comic writer, you gotta learn how to sell.  Self-publishing comes with an often-times hefty price tag, which you’re hoping to pay off through sales of your comic. Not to mention, you’d like people to actually read the thing you’ve slaved over for the past couple of years.

The comics panel had some valuable insight into the process of selling one’s comic. Kompan suggested finding yourself a gimmick, something you can do that nobody else can. Search for alternative revenue streams (consider advertising on your website, striking a deal with an airline to put complementary copies of your comic in the back seat pockets, write articles based off your research and submit to magazines and newspapers). Don’t just rely on comic conventions to make your sales.

Consider skipping the middleman and sell directly to retailers. Always carry a copy of your comic with you. Pass out bookmarks or postcards wherever you go. Most people don’t turn down free stuff. Dress professionally because it’ll give your comic greater credibility.

The thought of selling freaks many people out. They think they’re going to have to push hard for sales or, like a sleazy car salesmen, cheat customers. If you think of selling in this negative light, you’ll make few sales. Rather, think of selling as sharing an opportunity. You like your comic, right? In fact, you love it and ought to want to share it with the world. With this mindset, as Kompan said, selling something you like, isn’t selling. If you’ve got enthusiasm for your comic, it’ll almost sell itself.

Got any selling tips you’d like to share? Post them as a comment and share the wealth!

Comic Books 101—Part Five

How Will You Break into the Comic Industry?

“How will you break into comics?” my professor asked the class. He chose three students to convene in the hall and discuss their determined path to becoming comic book writers. The rest of us, he told us, were to play devil’s advocate.

The three students came up with three very different plans for how they were going to break into comics. After the remainder of the class picked apart their ideas until things got a little feisty, we had developed three unique—and possibly doable—ways to break into this turbulent, unpredictable industry.

  1. Attend comic conventions and network like a crazy person. Or, as one student put it, become a comic book whore. Give your comic to anyone who walks within a three-foot radius. Stalk editors and pitch them your arsenal of story ideas. Grab a beer with some fellow comic con attendees after the day is over and continue your networking endeavors well into the night. Basically, make full use of the opportunities a comic convention has the offer. What could be more beneficial to an inspiring comic writer than a large group of comic professionals crammed into a convention space for the sole purpose of talking comics?
  2. Pursue the indie rout. Utilize your current contacts within the industry and just BE NICE (because you never know who can help you later on). Sell your work on consignment in willing comic shops. Set up shop on Etsy.com. Self-publish until a publisher with more funds and expertise is willing to pick up your work. Basically, prove your worth as a writer by creating your own stuff NOW, nurture and grow you contacts, and just get yourself out there.
  3. Brand the hell out of yourself. Start a blog. Don’t create a new you, but do hyperbolize the real you. Social media is your best friend, so utilize it. Write for other blogs or web sites, even if they don’t initially seem to be relevant to your career path. Basically, build your digital platform and launch off it as much as possible. Hell, go viral!

My personal plan for success consists of branding (hello, Ms.Comix!), networking (did you know that comic book publishers/editors/writers/artists actually really like to chat with newbies?), and writing, writing, writing.

Which path will you take?

And, by the way, some other quick tips I learned in class today:

  • Standards are tough right now, so hold yourself to them.
  • Take advantage of what might seem like a disadvantage (e.g. being a woman in a formerly all “boys’ club”).
  • The self you are selling is yourself…only more so.

See you next week for another Comic Books 101!

Comic Books 101—Part Four

Know Your Rights

Sure, writing is an art form, but (and thank goodness!) it does come along with some rights. As a writer, particularly as a comic book writer, you need to be aware of these rights.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property (IP) is the property that results from an original creative thought. IP includes patents, trademarks, and copyright material. That last one—copyright material—that’s what you as a writer care about. Everything you write is automatically copyrighted, although the U.S. government does give you the option to pay a fee.

Rights to Know—When Working with an Artist

If you need an artist but want to retain all rights to your story, find an artist who will “work for hire.” Work for hire means the artist does her work and you pay her immediately. She takes no rights to your story, so when (and I mean if) someone wants to buy the movie rights, you get all the cash (that is, of course, if you’re not working with a publisher). You can, however, give your artist the right to re-sell original copies of her work (this can really help an artist out!)

PRO: The writer doesn’t give up rights.

CON: Smaller publishers often prefer you submit your work as a creative team, not just as a writer. And teams are more fun, anyway!

If you don’t mind giving up some rights to the artist, you can find an artist who will be a member of your creative team. You and this artist will draft a contract whereby you decide on how rights are delineated.

PRO: Smaller publishers prefer you submit your work as a team. Finding an artist who is with you all the way through to publication means your writing and her art will grow to work better together. Collaboration is a beautiful thing.

CON: The writer gives up some rights to the artist.

Rights to Know—When Working with a Publisher

First Rights—The publisher has the right to be the first to publish your work. And that’s it. After a set period of time, all rights revert back to you the writer, and you’re free to do with your work as you see fit. More specific first rights include First English Rights, First North American Serial Rights, and First Electronic Rights. (Note, however, that many publishers don’t want to see previously published work, so be a bit wary here if you plan on re-publishing your work).

Nonexclusive Reprint Rights—This is a sweet deal for the writer. The publisher has the right to reprint your article even though it’s already been published. Since they bought the rights “nonexclusively,” another publisher can re-print your work.

All Rights—You sell all your rights. Yeah, all of them. That better be some helluva publisher!

Royalty—Okay, this isn’t a right, but it’s a good word to know. It’s your share (usually a percentage given to you after a number of books have sold) of the profits (net or not) of a book. You can also make royalties as a portion of the cover price.

Resources

http://www.rightsofwriters.com/

http://freelancewrite.about.com/od/legalissues/a/rights.htm

http://www.espressographics.com/text/writerights.html

 

Visit Ms.Comix next Wednesday for updates from Comic Book 101!

Comic Books 101—Part Three

Everything in a panel matters.

Everything in a panel matters.

Everything in a panel matters.

Got that?

My professor had the class watch a Charlie Chaplin silent film and then asked us how Chaplin’s techniques could be applied to our comic writing.

1. Sequential action. One thing leads to another that leads to another. Comics are also called “sequential art” because they show actions that sequentially build on each other. A good comic clearly portrays the sequential action. A good comic isn’t just a bunch of people standing around in a room and talking. Stuff actually happens.

2. Expression. Have you ever read a comic in which the character has the same mild expression on her face when she’s sad, angry, happy, tired?…you get the idea. The mark of a good comic is accurately portrayed expression. If a pair of eyes filling the panel tell you something, the comic is doing its job. Just look at Charlie Chaplin’s face. No sound, and you know exactly what he’s feeling.

3. Everything presented matters. In the Chaplin film, images—wine bottles, a revolving door, a man with a cast on his foot—repeated themselves. But everything was there for a reason. The plot and characters depended on these images, and no image was carelessly thrown in and never referenced again. As comic writers, we not only control what our characters do and say, we also dictate what surrounds them. If I put a picture of Buddha in the background, it better be significant.

So remember, everything in a panel matters.

Here are some more small gems of wisdom from my third comic writing class:

Try using Open Office Word processor for your scripts. It’s more user-friendly.

There is a fine line between too much detail and not enough. Provide models for your artist and address any cultural references.

Don’t insult the artist.

Comic Books 101 – Part Two

Another cold Chicago morning, I was sitting once again in my comic book writing class. The professor continually emphasized that in comics, words are never more important than images. That’s a tough thing to hear if you’re a creative writing major, but it’s the honest truth. Comics are, after all, a graphic medium.

Great art can save a mediocre script. Yet a brilliant script never saved bad art. That’s why for our final project, we’re required to convince an artist to draw the first six pages of our script. And it’s scaring the hell out of most of us. What if I can’t find an artist? What if my artist bails last minute? What if the art is terrible?

But this is the nature of comic writing and also what makes it unique. In typical prose, what you write is what you get. The writer (editor notwithstanding) almost exclusively controls the end product of her writing. But in comics, what you write may not be what the art actually becomes. What you write (besides dialog and captions) isn’t actually read by your audience. Sounds like a writer’s worst nightmare!

Yet, comic book writing is great in its own ways. Comic books force writers to think in a new way, to collaborate with an individual(s) they may not even know. It’s exciting, actually, if you think about it. Great things come from collaboration. Comic books are proof that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Besides learning this humbling insight into comic book writing, in my second comic book writing class, I learned:

The Rule of 35- in any panel, you must have no more than 35 words.

GGA means “good girl art.” This I might want to avoid.

Avoid writing “talking heads.” Utilize the comic book medium and create movement and action that works sequentially from panel to panel.

Original art is usually drawn on 11 by 17 inch paper.

90% of everything is crap. That includes your writing.

Take some time to email some comic creators. They actually might respond.

Don’t tell your story through captions. Captions are useful for irony (contrasting with what is shown in the panel) or to establish time and place.

The job of the last panel is to compel readers to turn the page.

Self-publishing is totally legitimate.

Check back next week to discover what I’ll learn next!