Saturday, January 30, 2010

Breaking Into Comics: You Can Do It.

I meet a lot of people at a lot of shows, over email, on the phone, through typed and hand-written letters, at comic stores, signings, in my classes or book club, doing lectures at book fairs and schools. I meet a lot of people--most of whom want to work in comics.

All of whom can.

The stunning thing that I find out about most people who want to write or draw comics is this--they are neither writing nor drawing every day. Seems odd, right? It seems so obvious. So, breaking into comics tip here is simple.

You want to write? THEN WRITE.

You want to pencil? THEN PENCIL.

And so on and so on. If you're not DOING it, then you're not GOING to do it. You don't become a writer by someone asking you to write and then all of a sudden you're great. You practice. You find the time every day.

I'm not saying it's easy. In fact, believe me, I know it's hard. I have a full-time job, a business I own and run, and a young son and family. I don't have a lot of time to write. But I do. I find the time. I don't watch much TV. I don't go see a lot of movies. I suggest shifting your priorities around.

You can watch "American Idol" or read the celebrity magazine, or you can start to hone your craft. Start somewhere and just start doing it. Stop thinking about doing it and do it. Nike had no idea what it was onto with its old slogan.

Now here's the best part. Everyone has talent. You can self-publish a comic. You can get work as an artist or a writer. You can do it. I wasn't always in the comics industry. But I am now. I wasn't born with connections. If I can do this, you can do it too.

I mean it. It may not happen overnight (wouldn't that be nice) but it definitely can happen.

Breaking Into Comics Tip: You can do it. Believe it. Own it. And most of all, start doing what you love.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Book Club featured in Local Newspaper

This was cool to see! The local San Diego newspaper asked me for an interview about the new Comics Experience Book Club. It's great to see comics get this level of attention from a local paper. Thanks very much to Patrick Healy for the article and fun interview!

Here's the link to the article!

You should join us! You can sign up right here!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Guest Blog: Nick Spencer - CE Alum Goes Big Time!

People move to New York for a lot of reasons. Jobs, romance, a taste of the big city life...

Me? I moved to New York to take Andy Schmidt's Comics Experience class.

I should back up a bit.

Back in 2007, I was like a lot of aspiring comic book creators. Writing scripts, reading how-to books, searching for artists to collaborate with, and visiting conventions for the sole purpose of annoying editors. Comic book writerdom had been a dream of mine for as long as I could remember, but it felt like this was the time to really take my shot. I felt ready, I felt like I had some good stories to tell... but like a lot of folks in that position, I just didn't know to take it to that next level and make it a profession.

Then I saw a story on Newsarama about Andy Schmidt, who was leaving Marvel to start Comics Experience. Here was an editor who had overseen some of the best superhero comics of the last decade, offering people a way to gain his insights and instructions on becoming a better writer and breaking into the industry.

The catch? The classes were in New York, and there I was in Cincinnati.

But when you want something bad enough, when you're serious about making your dream a reality, you don't let things like that get in the way. So I boarded a Greyhound bus and after 16 hours, I was in New York, and enrolled in Comics Experience.

The classes themselves were enormously helpful. You learn a lot about breaking a story down, and making the most of every page. You learn practical advice about how to approach industry professionals. You work with your fellow classmates, and meet comic pros and editors. For me, it was an eye-opening and exciting experience, one I'll always be thankful for. I know for a fact that it made me a much better writer.

Later that year, the things I learned there paid off, as Image Comics greenlit my first published work, a sci-fi actioner called EXISTENCE 2.0. From there, I've been lucky enough to see several new projects take off-- the sequel to EXISTENCE 2.0-- EXISTENCE 3.0, a club caper called FORGETLESS, and an upcoming supernatural noir thriller, SHUDDERTOWN (all from Image Comics). And every step of the way, every time I sit down to write a script, I fall back on some of the things I learned in Andy's classes.

I realize a lot of the people reading this blog are probably in the same position I was in a couple years ago. And if I had any advice, it would be this: talent is only one part of the equation (albeit a big one). The people who make this dream a reality are the ones who show initiative, the ones that work the hardest. And now, thanks to online classes, you don't even have to be as crazy as I was.

This is the best job in the world. The feeling of getting new pages in from an artist, seeing your book on the shelf, signing at a convention-- it really is everything you dream of. It's worth every second of hard work that you have to put in. And Comics Experience is a great way to set yourself on that road.

And by the way, if you'd like to support a Comics Experience graduate, feel free to pre-order my books ;) SHUDDERTOWN #1 is in this month's Previews!

--Nick Spencer

Hey folks, if you want to hear Nick speak, check out his podcast on Geek Bombast! - Andy

Monday, January 18, 2010

IDW Is #4 publisher in 2009!

Congratulations to IDW Publishing!

Holy Moses! I don't believe this has happened before, but a non-premiere publisher has beaten a premiere publisher in over all market share and sales. There is a lengthy and very cool (lots of behind the scenes business goodness) interview with IDW Publishing co-founder and President Ted Adams on the Comics Reporter blog. (Found here about a quarter of the way down) that talks about the outstanding achievement.

Okay, so what is a premiere publisher and why is this significant? A premiere publisher is a label given to only Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Dark Horse, and Image Comics. And it's significant because they get some big privileges from Diamond Distributors. Here are a few of those privileges:

1. Retailers get bigger and better discounts on those four publisher's books. This means they are encouraged to buy more of them and sell more of them because they get a bigger profit. That in turn means that most retailers will give them more prominent display spaces in their stores to maximize their profits.

2. All other publishers have a penalty fee associated with re-orders on their books, but premiere publishers do not. This means that if a book sells out for IDW or Boom! or whomever, the retailers are actually penalized for ordering more copies. But not so for their Marvel or DC book.

3. In the Diamond Previews catalog that goes out to both fans and retailers, these four companies are automatically given six (I may have to double-check that, but I believe it's six) covers per year to the catalog to promote whatever they want--for FREE. Other companies get zero covers.

4. Within the Diamond Previews catalog, the four premiere publishers are given large numbers of pages that they get for free. Everyone else has to pay for their ad space, also making it very difficult to maximize the impact of the expensive ads. So Marvel can put two solicitations per page, but other companies don't have that kind of spending cash (and Marvel doesn't have to pay it even though they do). So smaller publishers are forced to put four or even six solicitations to a page. Hard to make anything stand out that way.

And those are just some of the perks. Read the interview with Ted Adams to see what this all really means and his thoughts on how IDW overcame these hurdles and became (we think) the first publisher to ever break into the premiere publisher realm in market share and sales--it's an impressive tale and I'm proud to have done my part as one of their editors.

Pretty impressive stuff. And a great sign for the comics industry, I think. Maybe we don't have to rely solely on super heroes forever...


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Club Inauguration Complete!

Tonight’s book club was the first one and it was awesome! We reviewed THE ULTIMATES vol 1 – Super-Human. But what was really great about it was the enthusiasm of the people in the group. I set out with several topics and questions to think about as they read the book and asked if anyone would like to present on any of the topics and got several volunteers (no one has to present if he or she doesn’t want to).

And those really made the club something special. Yes, I work in the industry (and in this case, had some—not that much, but some—inside knowledge about the book. But I’m still only one person with one point of view.

Rob Anderson presented a section on Mark Millar’s career. He is the writer of ULTIMATES as well as several other high-profile books including WANTED and KICK ASS. And Rob’s presentation was just fantastic. He did a great power point to illustrate some of the highlights of Millar’s career. See below.

Then Joe Sergi presented on the creation of Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics and compared the formation of The Ultimates to the original formation of the Avengers, the super-hero team upon which The Ultimates are based. Again, extremely throurogh, but Joe took it in a really fun and funny direction. He even got some good New Universe gags in there!

And Fred Kim gave an in-depth presentation on Captain America, explaining why he was the protagonist of this first volume of the Ultimates. It was great to see all of these participants bring something new and refreshing to the table. Every presentation brought up points I hadn’t thought of and I found my opinion of the work overall changing as they spoke.

And then we moved onto other topics. Talking about the treatment of women in the book. And as a group we were divided—some thinking the book was insulting to women and others saying that wasn’t the case. Both sides of the argument were articulated well and with respect to differing viewpoints.

I came out of this thing super-charged to get back into my own writing and reading of other great comics and graphic novels!

I hope more people will join us in the future as this one really exceeded my expectations! Join us.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Adoption and Comics

Sorry for the sporadic posting lately. My wife and I are taking very long classes to learn more about adoption and meet the requirements to take a new child into our home.

We were in class all day on Saturday and it was honestly fascinating. Most of the classes so far have seemed to be a bit on the obvious side but this one was about what they call "attachment parenting." What that means is essentially, how to form bonds with a child that is not used to having attachments and how to help that child bond with you. It's really interesting stuff.

Why, you may wonder, am I writing about it on a comics blog? Well, because I was often reminded of the essential building blocks of stories while sitting in the room. As we heard horror stories of outrageous, abusive and violent behavior by children when it comes to their adoptive parents, at the core of those actions, were very basic and understandable human emotions and motivations.

Some of these children don't feel like they're worth anything because they haven't been properly cared for. So, they act up and act out to prove they're not worth anything. And it can be destructive. Yes, that's terrible. But it also reminded me of how characters work in stories.

Stories are defined by conflict. Conflict comes from character. And character's are defined by their actions. And their actions are dictated by their motivations.

I've known that in the storytelling sense for years and I don't know that I ever stopped to think about if it was really true. But it is. The reason those are "rules" for good storytelling is because they're rules for life. The trick, and this is true for abused and neglected children as well, is to figure out as best you can what the motivation is for any given action.

It's not easy. I have a perfectly well adjusted 2 and 1/2 year old and I have no idea why he does have the stuff he does. Fortunately, he's not setting the house on fire or anything, but it's really hard sometimes to figure out why he doesn't want to take a bath, or why he has decided to discard one toy, or to hit another child. Or, on the flip side, I also don't always know why I get a hug or a kiss on the cheek. And I try with Cale to understand these things. To figure out what motivates that particular action--and it's hard.

It's hard because we all have conflicting motivations because life is complicated. And complicated people do things that are hard to decipher. And that's true of complicated characters. We call them three dimensional characters.

Yeah, anyway, it's nice to know all this stuff floating around in my head may all be useful in a very real and positive way in the world. On the other hand, I still can't figure out my son... or my wife for that matter!

For what it's worth, the rules of great storytelling are their because they reflect real life. And that's pretty darn cool.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

What I Learn When I Write

To all writers out there, you may be interested in something about what I learn when I write. It breaks down easily into three categories:

I learn about the characters I’m writing. I know I’ve started to crack a story when the characters start telling me what they’re going to do. There’s a weird recognition when the characters have become real to you and they start taking over. It’s not like being possessed or anything, but things are clicking and I’m learning, through them—these fictional beings—about emotions I may not have experienced in a long time, or about scars that may never heal. It’s fascinating to put yourself in someone else’s shoes completely. Even if they’re not real to the world—they’re real to me.

I learn about the craft of writing with every single story I undertake. A helpful thing I sometimes do is give myself restrictions to have to dodge around. For example, with TRANSFORMERS: SPOTLIGHT: METROPLEX, I decided (at Chris Ryall’s taunting) to do the entire issue in double-page spreads. That meant I had to craft the story in a different way, paying closer and closer attention to the flow of the pages and the layout of the comic. I learned a ton by trial and error.

With G.I. JOE: COMBAT HEROES, a children’s book I wrote, the simple fact that it was a children’s book meant I had to do everything differently. Even when I’m writing these essays or when I wrote THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO CREATING GREAT COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS, I was still learning about the craft of writing. If you want to be a writer, then you have to write!

The third thing I learn about is myself. Those characters that talk to me, are sometimes a part of me (or always, I can’t tell) and I wind up writing about themes or memories that I may note ven be aware of at the time. I’m currently working on my first creator-owned project and it wasn’t until the full outline was finished and I was into the second script where the story came from. It’s an action-adventure story that I thought was a response to all the bad action movies I had seen in the last several years—and in truth, it is that, but it’s also about how I dealt with becoming a father. Whoa. It just went from being an action movie to something intensely personal. I didn’t mean for that to happen, it just did. And it was always there. Because I wrote about it, those feelings came to the surface and I am now aware of them. I’m glad I am, but I have to wonder if I wasn’t a writer, would I ever have discovered them?


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Book Club: THE ULTIMATES volume 1

Gearing up for our first official COMICS EXPERIENCE BOOK CLUB meeting on January 8th (see below for how to join in the fun!), I’ve just finished re-reading THE ULTIMATES volume 1. Man, I forgot how bizarre and great those first six issues really are.

One thing that struck me as very interesting is how it really doesn’t follow the typical three-act structure the way I remember it. Yes, there’s a big climactic battle in issue #5, but issue #6 focuses a bit on the denouement of the story but really is a character piece that leads right into issue #7 more than wraps up the first arc of THE ULTIMATES.

Here is a story about the coming together of the world’s biggest and most powerful super-hero team ever assembled and the first volume ends with the Ultimates themselves as the villains. Now, that’s a bit surprising for something built to be the corner stone of Marvel’s then still infant Ultimate Line of comic books.

Millar is writing some of his finest work. While the pop culture references are already dating the book, the overall effect of what Millar does with his characters is astounding. I find that I don’t care about the plot—that is, I don’t really care who the threat is or if the world gets dominated. Millar and Hitch (let’s not forget Hitch’s artwork) manage to pull together a story that feels like a blockbuster summer movie but is actually a carefully thought out character piece.

That said, there are things that don’t hold water as well as I remembered or feel more forced, but that’s the rarity. Overall, a great book and I’m thrilled to be leading the discussion of it on Tuesday. January 8th. Plenty to talk about and analyze. As a sample, if you’re interested, here are the questions and topics I’m giving out to the book club members to think about as they read THE ULTIMATES volume 1 and that we’ll be discussing in the group.

  1. An overview of Mark Millar’s career and work.
  2. An overview of Bryan hitch’s career and work.
  3. An overview of the creation of/reason for the ULTIMATE line of comics from Marvel Comics.
  4. Compare the characters/roster and underlying core dynamics of THE AVENGERS to THE ULTIMATES.
  5. Who is THE ULTIMATES volume 1 actually about? Which character is the protagonist?
  6. How does the protagonist’s choices dictate the act structure of the book?
  7. Notice the ways in which Hitch’s work boroughs heavily from cinema. What specific examples do you find?
  8. When these first six issues of THE ULTIMATES were being released, they were surrounded by controversy. Everything from the new treatment of the AVENGERS, to incidents of violence in the comic, to the “all-ages” label it carried. Are any of these things surprising today?
  9. What does the work say about women?

If you’re interested in joining us for the discussion of THE ULTIMATES volume 1 – Super-Human, check out the link here to the BOOK CLUB page of the Comics Experience website. We’d love to have you join us!