Mystery Guest Columnist Revealed!

Hey there folks. Graeme’s out this week. Something about going to Hawaii with the pension fund or something like that. Just kidding. He couldn’t find anything to complain about, so he’s asked me to step into his shoes. Who am I? Good question. Glad you asked. I’ll get back to that later. Maybe.
This week’s column is sort of a follow-on to what Graeme wrote in last week’s Grim Tidings, though I’ll be both more gentle and perhaps a bit more stern than your usual taskmaster.

How many of you here have submitted to Epic, or are planning to? Come on. Raise your hands. I know you’re out there. Yeah, you in the back! You with the ketchup-splattered smiley shirt! Hands up! That’s better. Okay, hands back down. You’re a lovely audience.
Right. That’s quite a few of you. Me, too, since we’re keeping score. I have a lovely submission sent off that will probably suffer the same fate as everyone else’s. That being, ignominious rejection. Let’s face it. There are going to be far more scripts than books published (and by far, I mean orders of magnitude, folks). That’s the way of things. My Ka-Zar in space epic will never see the light of day. Neither will yours, likely. Not because it isn’t good enough (though I’m sure that there’s going to be quite a few that the editors get a hold of and will reject before they get off the first page) but because it simply isn’t what they’re looking for. End of the road, right? There goes your one chance at stardom. Forget it, it’s over, go find a train to jump in front of and end it all, because you’re never going to see your name in one of those little creator boxes that they shove onto the last page now (kinda like movie credits, hint, hint.)
Well, believe that if you want. I choose not to.
Stories are stories are stories. It’s not important that I get Zabu fitted in a spacesuit (though for comedy value alone, it’d be priceless). What is important is the story that you wanted to tell. What’s important is that you stopped reading comics for awhile and instead started creating them. You ceased to stand by and let other folks do the work for you, and took up keyboard or pencil and went to work. There’s precious few other media where you can just set out and do it. Movies? Forget it, unless you have a spare few hundred thousand lying around (DV is cheap, sure, but distribution isn’t.) Novels? Potentially, but there’s the whole acceptance process. And printing. And binding. Poetry? Well, sure, I guess. But who reads poetry these days?
But comics? Self-publishing is more important now than ever. We all have dreams, I’m sure, of writing Superman or Captain America, but we can’t start out on the A-list. We probably won’t even start on the C-list, not with the properties from any of the big publishers. In fact, if you can’t prove that you can do it, you’re not likely to get professional work of any sort in comics. Publishers simply don’t want to take a risk that you can’t get the job done. You can’t get work without experience, but you can’t get experience without work, right?
Again, I say “wrong.” You can get experience. Just sit down and do it. It’s that easy. Do it all yourself, or find someone else who can do what you can’t do (it’s pushing my skill to draw stick figures) and get to work.
You say to me “But nobody wants to look at my work. How can I do this?” I will turn to you and say that nobody wants to see a script or random sequential pages (please, don’t use pinups as an art sample; folks want to see sequentials) as indications of your talent. People will want to see the story on the page. These are comics, dammit, not script pages or pinup pages. Potential buyers/publishers will want to see the whole thing as it’s going to look when the Previews page is printed up, not as “Well, imagine the dialogue being written by someone else” or “Imagine that this script is a dynamic page.” You will have to do work on spec (that means for nothing more than the experience) to get people interested. This demonstrates a couple of things. Firstly, that you can get the work done. Secondly, this proves that you can work even when the odds are against you, that your team has the wherewithal to stick it out and see the project finished.
Neither of these things are to be underestimated. The ability to finish a job is a hundred thousand times more important than the ability to start a job. Everyone has ideas. Comics are one of the few forums where you can take those ideas and run with them without having to sell your soul. Remember that comics are a medium and not a genre. A medium is any given art form, whether it be novels, poems, paintings, film, or comics. A genre is a specific subset within a medium, bound by particular themes/visuals/etc, such as noir crime, mystery, romance, fantasy or science fiction. Medium and genre are not the same thing, though folks insist on confusing the two.
Contrary to popular perception, comics aren’t limited to superhero fiction (which isn’t really a genre, even) or horror or science-fiction. That’s simply not true. Any story that can be told can be told in comics. Period. Superheroes work well in comics due to their dependence on a visual medium, so does horror and sci-fi (though horror benefits from not showing everything, which horror comics often forget, since comics are visual). Give us something that we haven’t seen before. Hell, even if you’re writing stuff that you think other folks have seen, you’re going to be adding something new into it, showing off some previously unexplored aspect of things.
They are your stories. Nobody, absolutely nobody, is going to tell them besides you.
So, my advice, if and when you hear back from Epic and they say “thanks, but no thanks,” is to take the story that you’ve got and rewrite it without the Marvel Universe (yes, it can be done), find someone, anyone to do the work that you can’t do. Get that comic made. Create. Finish, in the name of Jack ‘King’ Kirby, finish the story. Show to other people. Put together a preview package. Get a webpage up (far from a big deal these days.) Talk to publishers aside from the big two (or four or however many it is now). There’s a big difference from sending in an unsolicited script and showing them a package that’s only a trip to the printer’s away from completion and being shot out into the market.
Even if none of the indy publishers are interested in putting it out, that’s far from the end of the line. Do it yourself. You can do Kinko’s if you want, but don’t limit yourself. You can do webcomics, you can staple them to telephone poles or you can spend some money or make real comics. But even the worst (and I mean THE WORST minicomic creator(s) are higher up the ladder than the folks with lofty ambitions to sell Marvel on Ultimate anything.)
But whatever the hell you do, don’t throw it away. The comic book army needs more than just footsoldiers. The comic book needs leaders. Creators lead.
Lead, dammit.
-Matt Maxwell
Feel free to discuss this on the Grim Tidings forum. We don’t bite. Not hard enough to leave permanent scarring, anyways.

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