The three books I’m flacking on this page are all at different stages of development, and none are quite ready to purchase yet. The Ballad of Brighid of Atlanta is likely to be the first in publication, and will likely be available through online outlets like Comixology and Farrago. It’s interesting to me that I’ve been working on these projects since 2011, at the earliest, and it’s simply taking this long to get things done.
When I first started out trying to make comics, I was really just having fun, writing scripts that appealed to me and seeing how far I could take them. I think it was overall a good idea to start writing in comics format instead of “literary” fiction or screenplays, in which I’d worked previously.
First, I love comics and I still think of them with the same wonder and joy as when I was a kid. I feel almost guilty that I haven’t been able to focus on anything “all ages” yet, although I do have some material in the works. But everything I write is for fun now, out of joy and fascination. The creative part is all play, and that’s rewarding. I’m not trying to sound smart enough for the MFAs who run literary journals, or trying to write to attract the attention of some Hollywood cokehead who has read the first few pages of Story but isn’t reading my script.
It’s true from my experience that it’s easier to get a comic script contracted than it is to get a novel contracted or a movie screenplay optioned. Published? I dunno yet. It’s getting closer every day. But assuming equal quality of screenplay, novel and comics script, and assuming that you’re just some schlub who’s submitting unsolicited work through the slush pile, it does seem easier to get a publisher to at least look at your material in the comics industry. I’d tried to get a screenplay signed around 2010/2011, and honestly it’s a good script. But if one doesn’t have the contacts, it really seems like nobody’s reading scripts. If one wants to make a movie on her own, she has to come up with a larger team and raise more money to make even a chap movie than to make a comic, too. I had a novel under contract around 2004, but that fell through. But it was much harder to get that contract than it has been to get the comics contracted. I’ll say that. One can always self-publish a novel, but I wanted a publisher to do the work. That option is always available if I get restless.
I suppose in these blog posts, the main person I’m writing to is myself, about four years ago, before I was even done with the first script for Flowery Flag Devils. To that person, today I offer some advice about what to do with your script and about how to convince someone to work with you. That guy already knew a little about submitting materials to publishers, but I promise to write about that soon. Maybe even about how to write better scripts, because that guy could tell a story, but comics scripts have some peculiarities I’ve learned.
Herewith, on assembling your team:
- Be patient. Buckle in and get ready for a long trip. The script for Flowery Flag Devils was complete in 2011, contracted in 2012. It’s still actually plodding along, getting details lined up just so I can get my art team working. I’ve lost at least half a dozen artists in the past few years, mainly due to the scope of the project. A big part of what a writer/creator has to learn is how to motivate an art team. But even with high morale, nothing happens quickly and if you forget to deal with things, if you lose steam, if your interest wanes, you’re gonna have trouble.
- Learn to see things from the artists’ point of view as much as possible. My experience is that a lot of freelance artists have been burned badly by writer collaborators in the past. In talking to an artist and trying to work out a deal, try to understand that they are (understandably) wary of writers because of these experiences and the tales their pals tell. Artists have to put up with script changes at the last minute, making them redo pages; back-end pay contracts on books that never get published, and … honestly, a lot of bad scripts. While an artist’s page rate might seem like a lot of money to you, the amount of time they put in and the amount they get paid often ends up being less than minimum wage. Be understanding of their position.
- Money talks. By far, the easiest way to convince an artist to work with you is to pay them their page rate. But, assume you have a 5-issue series, each issue at industry standard 22 pages. Your artists wants a modest $100/page for pencils and inks, $50/page for colors, and $20/page for letters. That’s $170/page x 22 pages x 5 issues … wait, what? $18700? That’s how much a car costs. And that’s just to get the pages done, not to mention printing, promotion, or other costs.
What if you want sample pages off your script from five different artists? You ask each to do three pages, each asks for her page rate to do the samples … that’s a third of your art budget for the first book just to get samples. And you’re only going to hire one person. I don’t pretend to offer advice, but I do remind you to ask yourself: How in the hell will you handle it? Be prepared; be flexible.
Don’t expect anybody to work for free, but be ready to negotiate and figure things out. Can you pay a little every month? Can you do a kickstarter (I’m about to launch one, and I’ll have plenty to say about it, I’m sure)? Can you convince your artists to get paid on the back end? Can you pay for samples to get a pitch together in the hopes that a publisher will pay the page rate? Now, it is possible to find good artists who will take back-end pay, but it’s much harder and they will be suspicious of you when you ask, so if you’re asking, what differentiates you from all the liars and hacks out there giving us all a bad name?
- Be a pro. Even if you have a day job and are “only” doing this in your spare time for love, it’s a job. Do your best work always, study comics scripts and industry standards. Work with your artists to make sure they have the references they need, that all your scripting is clear, that you’re not asking too much of them. Present complete, solid, well-thought out work to everyone you want on your team before you ask them to share your dream. Don’t be the person who burns artists and makes them distrustful.
- All agreements go in writing. Contracts, yes. Work-for-hire agreements, nondisclosure agreements, yes. Put everything in writing. Good agreements make good partnerships.
- Don’t be surprised to find that your reputation precedes you. Comics is a smallish community, and people talk.
- Beat all deadlines by one full day or communicate if you’re not. But don’t expect the same from anybody else. Communicate when you start getting impatient, don’t let it fester, don’t go to bed angry.
Oh, there’s so much more to say, but I fear that anyone reading has already quit. More another time.