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!

Threadless Comic Inspired T-Shirts

By Sarah Spoto, Contributing Writer

Threadless has always been a go-to for artistic, one-of-a-kind tees, and now they offer a pretty solid selection of comic tees. And this are no normal comic tees—each shirt depicts an issue in a series.

My favorite? Monkey Around, Issue 2, Vol. 4 by Colleen Coover

Sarah is an art and business student who enjoys the occasional graphic novel and the more than occasional Marvel hero movie. She is pursuing a career in the fashion and apparel industry.

A Chat with Hayley Spencer, Owner of Komix Comic Shop

You know what’s cool? Walking into a comic book shop and seeing a woman behind the counter and then finding out that she not only works in the shop, she also owns the whole darn thing! That’s what will happen when you step into Hayley Spencer’s comic book shop, Komix, located in Melksham, England. I had the pleasure of interviewing Hayley about her comic shop experiences.

If you’ve ever thought about starting your own comic shop, you especially should keep reading. Hayley started Komix simply because she loved comics (and wasn’t happy at her currently job), and the fact that she opened shop despite having little previous experience, is inspiring! Plus, like me, she was a late bloomer when it comes to comics (she really became interested when she was 22), so her story—and success—is an especially interesting one.

How did you become interested in comics?

I was actually a latecomer to the comic book world – well, the comics part anyway! I grew up with parents who are fans of sci-fi, so from a young age I was exposed to the likes of Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Files, Twilight Zone, and that’s just the TV shows! My favourite movie at the age of three was Back to the Future and my mum quite often found me reciting lines in my bedroom!

When I was twelve, I was watching an interview on breakfast television before school. It was an interview with a British actor, starring in an all-new teen sci-fi show that was debuting that evening. That show was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My life changed at 7pm that night. I was instantly hooked, and followed the show right to the very end, which took me from fighting my brother for the remote every Tuesday evening, to watching streaming episodes on my laptop in the college canteen between classes!

When the show ended and it was announced that the universe was to continue in comic book form, that was my entry point. I was 22 years old at this point. I frequently visited comic book stores in my area – my boyfriend at the time, as well as past boyfriends were heavily into comic books (I sure know how to pick ‘em!), and I have collected merchandise for many years so deciding to start collecting was never really a big deal for me. From there I started following a few other titles and it just snowballed from there!

Who shops at your store? How would you define your customers?

I have a really wide range of people that shop here! When starting up, I had to accept that my core demographic would be 15-49 males, but it was my intention right from the very start to make the store a place that will attract a large selection of the population, and possibly the type of people that have always been interested in getting into comics but the stereotypical image of a comic book store put them off!  I’ve been open nearly eight months now and the majority of my customers are men in their 20s and 30s, but I do get a lot of female friends, wives, girlfriends and sisters accompanying them, and they happily return when they realise that a woman owns and runs the store! I think it makes them feel more accepted into an industry that they figured wasn’t for them, and I always make a point of having a chat with them as well as the people that brought them in!

What was most challenging about opening a comic shop?

The most challenging part was getting people in town to realise that there is a need for a store like this in our town. During my setup, before I opened I did a lot of local networking through friends, and colleagues and the most common response I got when I told them what I was doing was “Really? I don’t think people are into that stuff around here, I didn’t think you were actually!” When people don’t have an outlet to provide them with what they’re passionate about, they tend to keep it quiet for fear of being judged for being interested in something that isn’t readily available to them.  My opening day proved to many people that this town not only needs a comic books store, but wants one too! The store was totally packed out, you could hardly move – I have about ten friends and family members helping me out just to keep everything in order and under control. We had British Marvel artist Andrew Wildman here for the opening and it went down a storm!

Did you have any relevant experience before opening your shop?

I had no experience of running my own business, but I did have experience in retail management, but it was old experience! I’d spent the last six years chained to a desk in a call centre, desperately wanting to be recognised for the work I was doing and work my way up the chain. It never happened, so I went back to my original dream – owning my own shop. I saw a gap in the market and I went for it. I studied business and journalism at college so searched my brain for any remaining knowledge, built a business plan, sought advice and here I am now!

What do you do to promote your shop?

I am constantly promoting my store in many different ways. I have a regular advert in the local newspaper, I also have a great working relationship with local journalists that work for papers and radio stations – usually because I went to school with them, and Facebook is great for reconnecting and calling in favours! The store has a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and its own website. We get plugging from other local website and organisations, and I involve myself in a number of community groups. I’m by no means a shy person, so I will happily chat to anyone about the store and the things I do in the town to get people to come and visit not just me, but all the other hardworking independent businesses we have here!

What is the UK comic scene like?

The UK comic scene exists that’s for sure! It’s a much bigger industry than people initially think, but it is also the friendliest, most supportive industry I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of. In the last year I have made many wonderful, inspirational and talented new people that without doing this I would never have met! In the UK there isn’t a comic book store in every town, you do usually have to travel quite a distance, depending on where you live, so by bringing the product to the people you’re onto a winner!

What do you hope for the future of Komix?

Our online store is launching within the next couple of months which I’m really excited about! The “big picture” dream is to expand into a larger store, be able to hire some staff and create new and fun jobs in the town, possibly get some office space to handle the online side of the business, maybe even open stores in other towns. But that’s a long way away, for now I‘m focusing on getting people to know I’m here and supporting what exists right now, because without the customer base building today, I can’t expand tomorrow!

What advice do you have for those aspiring to break into the comic industry (whether it’s working in a comic shop, becoming an editor, or creating comics)?

Get involved as soon as you can! Whatever it is you’re wanting to do, you need to start talking to people – get yourself known (without being stalkerish). If you want to work in a comic book store, you need to go and chat to your local store owner. They may not have vacancies right now, these are tough times after all, but independent store owners, when they do need staff, are likely to hire people they know and trust right from the very start, so make sure you support their store, shop there, tell your friends and so on. If they have events coming up, offer to help out for free, hand out flyers, anything! It’s all work experience too, even if you’re not being paid!

If you’re looking at getting into the industry as a writer, artist, editor, publisher, printer and so on, it’s best to talk to someone who is already doing that job, and get the information on what it’s really like, and how they got into it. Most of all, if you really want to do something, you’ll do it no matter how long it takes or how difficult it is. If you don’t try, then you don’t really want it. It’s as simple as that!

Visit Komix online at komixonline.com

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.

Ms.Comix T-Shirts, Hot Off the Press!

Ms.Comix t-shirts are now on sale! And for only $10! These cool graphic t’s are available at Mosaic Shirts, a small student-run design and shirt printing company. I’m not a graphic artist in even the loosest sense of the word, so I turned to Max from Mosaic shirts. I showed him the Lichtenstein I chose to brand my blog, and he did the rest.

So what are the perks of owning a Ms.Comix t-shirt?

1. You look cool.

Amiright?!

2. You support women.

Ms.Comix interviews some awesome female comic writers and artists. By wearing your Ms.Comix shirt, you’re helping the blog keep doing what it does best–supporting awesome women!

3. You support a small business.

Mosaic Shirts is student-run, and everybody knows that students are the future (and, btw, entrepreneurs are the foundation of our economy!).

When Fashion and Comic Books Collide

Image

By Sarah Spoto, Contributing Writer

This December, designer Phillip Lim, known for his effortless, feminine, and wearable fashions, launched a pre-fall collection that combined high fashion with a touch of comic book inspiration.  Most obviously, tops and accent accessories sported blocky, vintage comic book letters (think: Dick Tracy). Less explicitly, but no less stunning, Lim made his collection pop with traditional comic colors like bright yellow and red. The outerwear pieces look as they just stepped out of a vintage, noir comic, and Lim’s use of bold color blocking and geometric designs is an effortless success at weaving comic book inspiration into reality.

In Lim’s own words, “Everyone wants garments to be superheroes. This ‘fill in the blank’ should save your day, your week, your year.” Forget Superman; all a woman needs is a good outfit. That makes Phillip Lim and his pre-fall collection the superhero for the season. See the whole collection here.

Sarah is an art and business student who enjoys the occasional graphic novel and the more than occasional Marvel hero movie. She is pursuing a career in the fashion and apparel industry.

Comic Books 101 — Part One

Fridays at 8:30 in the morning, I sit in a class filled with fiction, gaming, art, and film majors to learn about comic books. More specifically, how to write them. I recognize that I’m insanely lucky to have this opportunity, so I’m going to share my experiences. Let’s call it Comic Book 101. And this is part one.

The first class blew my mind. I was told I’d have to write a script, a proposal, an elevator pitch, and convince an artist to draw the first six pages of my novel for my final project.  HOW COOL IS THAT!?

I was told there’s no money in comics (I’ve been told this before). I was told it’s difficult to find work as a comic writer.

I was also thoroughly convinced this is something I want to pursue.

So what did I learn?

Comics are special. They have their own unique culture, cliques, and genres.

Comics are corporate. Comics are about doing whatever you need (even if that means writing Scooby Doo) to get work.

Comics are commercial. You can make a lot of money off licensing. Or, you can make no money at all.

Comics are changing. People don’t read comics like they used to or in such volume.

There is nothing shameless about working in a comic book shop to break into the industry. Self-publishing isn’t only for losers who can’t get their stuff published; it’s for serious writers who want to attract some serious attention from publishers.

Comics are a community. It’s a small world.

Comic writing is not poetry (mostly). It’s creating a foolproof script any artist could understand. Comic writing is the foundation of comics, but it’s like being the drummer in a band.

That’s what I learned this past Friday. Check back next week for what I’ll learn next.