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Thread: Week 39- Being Taken Seriously

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 39- Being Taken Seriously

    Itís Tuesday! Itís Tuesday, Iím drinking Earl Gray tea, and listening to Kiss by Prince. I promise, Iím not on the Prince playlist. Iím on the megalist, and heís on it. Next is Tiny Dancer, by Elton John. Strange mix? Yup. Thatís what happens when the Ipod is on shuffle. But itís Tuesday, which means itís time for more Bolts & Nuts!

    Just like itís kinda hard to take my mix of music seriously, this week weíre going to talk about taking yourselves seriously in the work you want to do. Thereís a lot more to it than just saying ďIím going to write the next seminal Swamp Thing.Ē Thereís a LOT more to it than that. So letís talk about it.

    In order to be taken seriously as a writer, there are a few things you have to do first. This isnít going to be pretty, and it makes certain assumptions. (You know what happens when you assume, right?) Sure do, but still, Iím going to do it.

    The first thing Iím going to assume is that you know how to write. Honestly, if you donít know how to write, you have no business calling yourself a writer. (WOW!) I said it wasnít going to be pretty. Iíve seen too many so-called ďwritersĒ trying to get things done, when it is nearly impossible to understand what theyíre saying. And, yes, English is their first language. So you have to know how to write. If spelling, grammar, word use, and punctuation are your bane, then go back to school. If you canít remember that a period goes at the end of a sentence, I want you to sit at the FRONT of the class, because you need special attention. (Steven, thatís not right. Not everyone is you.) True, but there are basic things that need to be said. If this isnít you, then you have no need to worry. If it is you, I donít want you to be offended. I want you to get off your butt and learn how to write. Writers write, and writing means using the language. We deal in words, folks, and if you want to get a writing gig, you have to show the editor that you wonít be taking up a ton of their time as they go over your script and then try to teach you things you should have learned in elementary school.

    Again, if you donít know how to write, you have no business calling yourself a writer. Go back to school if you need to. Thereís no shame or honor lost in it. This is about being taken seriously, and thereís no easier way to be considered a joke than to have poor spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills. Youíre just not going to get the job.

    The next thing I want you to consider is the story you want to tell. Iím not going to bag on you for wanting to tell a superhero story. Damn near everyone has a superhero universe in them somewhere, just waiting to burst out. But what I donít want you to do is to recreate the glut of the 90s, when those universes were crap.

    Face it, there are a LOT of craptacular stories out there. These are stories that just arenít going to sell, and it wonít matter that Jim Lee is drawing it. If youíre writing March of the Killer Soda Cans, and have had the idea for a long time and are just in love with it, understand that itís not going to be published unless you do it yourself. Say what you want about Marvel and DC being bankrupt in their ideas, canceling and restarting series left and right with little change to the characters over decadesóit doesnít matter. What matters is that they are professionals that know what will sell. Even the low selling books that get cancelled do better than the bulk of the books that are out on the shelves in the indies now.

    (So, what are you saying, Steven? That I canít do the book I want to do?) No. Iím not saying that at all. Iím saying that if you want to be taken seriously, you have to know what will sell, and more than likely, your story about a ninja vegetarian Kodiak bear in the Outback more than likely wonít fly.

    The story you want to tell has to be worthy of the time and expense youíre going to be pouring in it. If you have money to burn, give it to me. If you donít, why are you trying to finance a book about superhero crabs from the VD nebula? I donít care that youíve had the story since you found out about sex, the storyís not going to sell. Understand what will sell and what wonít. (How?) Great question.

    Great comics come in two halves: unique idea, and great execution. The unique idea should be something that is familiar, but turned on its side in order to be looked at from a different angle. Something that is simple, obvious, and hasnít been done yet. Yes, that is a HUGE order, and it MUCH easier said than done. However, weíre talking greatness, and reaching for greatness isnít easy. And Iím not talking about follow-on series, either. When the damned Turtles hit television, one of my friends decided it was a great idea, and wanted to do a comic about mutant ninja cockroaches. In a word: No. Donít do it. Come up with your own unique idea.

    The second part of that is execution. Understand that there are times when you just arenít prepared to execute a story well. Youíll need more life experience in order to do it justice. Those stories belong on the back burner, to sit and simmer until such time as youíre ready. [And to tie it back to the first thing I said, if youíre a writter instead of a writer, youíre not ready until you get out of school.] You need to be able to execute the idea well. There are a LOT of mediocre comics out there. There are a lot of books out there that you look at them and wonder just how the hell they came about. There are creators who get things done, and you wonder if they know where the bodies are buried.

    Also, study the market for what is and isnít selling. For a while, everyone was telling a zombie story, thanks to Kirkmanís The Walking Dead. Then you had Marvel Zombies, which also had two sequels. Everyone was sending in a glut of zombie stories, and no publisher really wants to see more of them. As a writer, you must do more than just have the Great Idea. You have to research to see if the time is right for it. Everything goes in cycles. See what cycle youíre in. Hopefully, you can catch it before itís over. If youíre really good [and lucky], you can catch it at the beginning, which will seem like you helped to make it.

    Remember, creating comics takes time, and in order to do it, you need to find an artist to go along for the ride with you. (Steven, of all the obvious things you could have saidÖ) I know itís obvious, but Iím getting to the point. (Get there quick!) Fine. Here it is: make sure your artist is up to snuff and ready for the task at hand.

    Here is an ugly truth that most of you arenít going to like. Youíre hiring artists who arenít ready, thinking youíre going to get a gig. You have to, Have To, HAVE TO get an artist that is able to do the job you hire them for. This means, as a writer, you have some learning to do about art, yourself.

    You have to learn about anatomy, proportions, planes, and storytelling ability at a minimum. This is the basic knowledge you need in order to tell if an artist is at least decent. If you learn about this and theyíre not, then theyíre not hirable, no matter what you think of them and how much energy they have in their art. Iím telling you now, you wonít get by with an artist that is ďgood enough.Ē Remember, a great artist will take a mediocre story and make it decent, but a mediocre artist will take a great story and make it mediocre. A mediocre artist will take a mediocre story and make it unpublishable. Remember that.

    And while Iím here, Iím going to tell you this now: donít mistake Ďdrawing abilityí for Ďstyle.í A lot of new artists do this. They donít know how to draw properly, they refuse to put in the work to actually learn how to do the job, and they call their anatomy issues and such Ďstyle.í Donít let that confuse you. They havenít learned the rules yet, so they donít know how to break them correctly.

    I also want you to look at something. A lot of new artists have art that look amazingly similar. Similar head shapes, similar hands, similar faces, not to mention stiff poses. I want you to really look at them. Look, and see, and then I want you to avoid it and them.

    The basic reason most of your submissions arenít working is because the artists you hire arenít as good as the worst artist the company has producing work for them. This is a simple fact. Iíve been hinting that youíre being cheap in trying to get work done. Now Iím coming out and saying it: youíre cheap in getting the work done, and this is why your submissions arenít going anywhere. I know that good artists are expensive. I went over the numbers, remember? But Iíll also tell you this: a good artist will do work for a reduced rate if the story is something they believe in. Iíve seen it happen time and again. It could happen to you, especially if you have that unique idea that youíve approached at an angle.

    Another ugly truth you wonít like: as a writer, we have a harder time breaking in the industry than any other part of the creative team. (I know that.) No you donít. You know it intellectually, but not emotionally. You donít feel it, because youíre still sending in crap. Youíre sending in scripts with no art, or youíre sending in art based on your writing with artists who are FAR from ready. For the scripts, editors donít have time to read them. You keep sending them in, and they keep not having time to read them. Now, Joe Quesada, EIC of Marvel Comics, gave some great information that a writer trying to break in to Marvel would do well to listen to, and that info, at its root, is pretty good for other companies as well.

    For the artwork youíre having done for your submissionsÖI donít want you to have illusions that the art is adequate. Hereís what happens when you have adequate art for a submission: either you or the artist gets a call back from the editor/company. Itís that simple. If thereís no contact, or no other contact besides a rejection letter, then you know one of three things: the art sucked, the story sucked, or you submitted to the wrong company. Iím going to say that the art sucked. Itís just easier that way, because even with a horrible premise, at least the artist can get a call back if the art is up to snuff.

    Your best bet is to pay an artist for the work you want done. And I donít mean just enough for the submission pages, either. Have the money for at least an issueís worth of art, because if the book gets picked up and the company doesnít pick up the tab, youíre stuck with a property you canít publish because you donít have the money. This is especially true of trying to go through Image.

    This means you have to be picky about the story you choose to develop. Your money is going to be tied up in hiring an artist [and the rest of the creative team, really], so you want to make sure you have the best chance possible. Which do you think has more of a chance of getting published: a book about ninja elephants, or a horror book about psychic children? Start with your strongest story, and everything will follow from there.

    While youíre going through the trouble of paying an artist, HIRE AN EDITOR! For the love of all that is good and holy, hire an editor! Think of the children! I know it seems counterintuitive to hire an editor for a book youíre going to submit to a company whoís going to have their own editorial needs, but youíre trying to get your foot in the door. Hire an editor to make sure youíre putting your best foot forward. You want to be published? That freelance editor will help steer you in that direction.

    If you do all of this, it will show that youíre serious about being a comic creator, and will lead you to being taken seriously as a creator. Let me tell you a short story.

    I was on Digital Webbing a few months ago, and there was someone in the Writerís Showcase who was going to send a pitch in to a company. The pitch was bad as pitches go: it was too long, went into too much detail, and killed any interest that an editor could have had. But that wasnít the worst offense. The worst offense was that this thing wasnít spell checked, grammar checked, or proofread. It was about three or four pages long, and was basically one huge pile of excrement. (WHOA! Steven!) Hey, I call Ďem as I see Ďem. You know that. It was worse than bad. And this ďwriterĒ was going to send it off to a company as is. They were given advice on a few things, and pointed in the direction of an editor to help them, but they never contacted the editor about their services. [It is possible that this ďwriterĒ contacted someone else to help.] But no matter what happens, hereís whatís really happening:

    You ever meet someone online in a chatroom and they send you a pic, or you find someone on one of the dating sites, and you see their pic, only to finally meet them in person and they arenít the same person that was in the picture? This is very much akin to that: youíre a terrible writer, you hire someone to pretty you up, you get a gig, and then the editor gets to see the ďrealĒ you. Itís a riff on Cyrano at its worst [or at least, its most damaging]. How do you think youíre going to be viewed when you already know whatís going to happen? How seriously do you think youíre going to be taken when you have the interest of an editor from a very clean pitch, and then you send that first script? Poof! Youíre instantly Cinderellaís extremely ugly step-cousin.

    Personally, thatís not my idea of a good time, and my idea of a good time is pretty liberal. If itís not embarrassing to you, it should be. Do yourself a favor: take yourself seriously in order to be taken seriously. It doesnít matter what it takes: going back to school to learn basic English, hiring an artist that knows what theyíre doing, getting only one story out the door, hiring an editor for your submissionsÖif creating comics is what you want to do, then you have to do the needed things in order to get to where you want.

    This weekís homework is to take a long, hard look at your abilities and the abilities of the people you surround yourself with, whether theyíre artists or writers. See if youíre a writer or a ďwritter,Ē and if the submissions youíre sending out are truly representative of your best efforts. Self-inspection is hard, because it is very easy to deceive yourself into thinking youíre better than you are. Take that long, hard look, and then start the process of doing what needs to be done in order to shore up your deficiencies. Youíll be a better creator for it in the long run.

    See you next week.

  2. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    Great article, as always, my friend.

    I will just add to, and semi-counter two points.

    SPELLING. Like I tell my students, you don't actually have to know HOW to spell, just how to look for errors, and more importantly, how to look things up when you're not sure. My kids love to give me a hard time for always having a dictionary with me when I write anything, be it an assignment, a hand-out, or a letter home. And I tell them, "It doesn't matter if I know how to spell the word before I write it, just so long as it's spelled correctly after I'm finished."

    GRAMMAR. Grammar is a pet peeve of mine. Did you know grammar was never intended to be taught? What we think of today as "GRAMMAR RULES" were actually just the machinations of a group of linguists who were simply trying to study the growth and changes of language, not set up the rules for language. The only reason we learn grammar at all is for bureaucratic reasons. Politicians and legislatures wanted something that could be "measured" in the teaching of language, which, is a highly abstract art/science. That's why so many grammatical "rules" contradict themselves and/or each other. They aren't really rules at all, but a means to measure the growth of language.

    The irony is, by using grammar as a rule, we actually prevent the very growth grammar was set up to measure.

    That said, I understand the need to get your point across clearly and intelligently.

    I just figured I would point out that language is always changing, and what we think of as correct today, is in fact, the error of yesterday, and so on and so forth.

    ...and knowing is half the battle. Yo, Joe!!
    Last edited by SebastianPiccione; Wednesday, May 06, 2009 at 05:16 AM.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  3. StevenForbes Guest

    Thanks, Seb.

    I didn't know that about grammar. I like it. It's suddenly clear, and makes little sense altogether. Nice!

  4. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    Yeah, I learned that during Grad School, and suddenly felt INFINITELY less frustrated!
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  5. potatocubed Guest

    I'm not a comic book editor, but I have edited roleplaying games, fiction and nonfiction work, so I'm guessing this is as true in comics as it is everywhere else:

    If the company you're submitting to has a style guide, for the love of God USE IT.

    Companies like their written submissions in a certain style for a reason, and it's not just to make your life difficult. (It's usually 'so we can drop it into Indesign without too much hassle', but not always.)

    Plus, following style makes for happy editors, and happy editors are more likely to look favourably upon your work. Or at least are less likely to reject the whole thing rather than manually correct the entire document.

  6. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    Excellent point, Potato!

    (Ok, that's the weirdest thing I've ever written! )

    But, yeah, that's the kind of sound advice that you would think you shouldn't have to tell people....but, saddly you do have to tell people.

    Common sense isn't as common as it used to be.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  7. StevenForbes Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by potatocubed View Post
    I'm not a comic book editor, but I have edited roleplaying games, fiction and nonfiction work, so I'm guessing this is as true in comics as it is everywhere else:

    If the company you're submitting to has a style guide, for the love of God USE IT.

    Companies like their written submissions in a certain style for a reason, and it's not just to make your life difficult. (It's usually 'so we can drop it into Indesign without too much hassle', but not always.)

    Plus, following style makes for happy editors, and happy editors are more likely to look favourably upon your work. Or at least are less likely to reject the whole thing rather than manually correct the entire document.
    99.1% of the time, the public won't see the script. Seeing the script is becoming more common, but the bulk of the time, it won't be seen.

    While what you say about a house style is true, I think it is for two reasons: weeding out those who can't follow directions first, and readability for the editor second. With the different types and formats that scripts could be written in, there is no way to say "this format is right." You can't even really say "this format is right for us," because we're just talking readability.

    The only company I can think of offhand that has a style guide is Dark Horse. For just about everyone else, you're on your own.

  8. Sliverbane Guest

    Epic... Love this. Adding to my reference library!

  9. StevenForbes Guest

    Thanks, Silverbane.

    But, really, what's epic about it?

  10. Sliverbane Guest

    A lot of what you write for the column I wholeheartedly believe in and I've shared that perspective with others [writers/artists] only to be shot down... Reading this is ...vindication. I'm not the only one who understands these concepts. For instance the grammar issue... And the 'style' topic. I can't tell you how many 'artists' claim they have style when they need so much more work on their understanding of the basics. That's why this is epic for me. When I'm reading this at home I am usually nodding and muttering 'Preach on!' or 'Yes, tell it like it is!' Had to control my reaction this time - I'm at work... LOL

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