Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cracking comics - it ain't easy [slight return]

Busy day ahead, so here's some re-run action from the early days of Vicious Imagery, when few people were reading the blog. This post from December 2005 is about breaking into comics, particularly British science fiction weekly 2000 AD...

A friend of a friend sent me an email, asking how to break into comics. Here's what I said: Cracking writing for comics - that's a tough one. Let's talk about market realities first. In Britain, there's very little work going. Perhaps five writers make a living solely from scripting for British comics. The main publishers are DC Thompson (terrible pay - I've no contacts there, so can't really help you), Redan (not gret pay, only nursery titles so not even really comics - again, I've never worked for them), Panini (very little work going but apparently there is some - I honestly don't know who should you target there) and the 2000 AD titles.

Since 2000 AD's my field of expertise (or, at least, experience), I'll talk about that. Matt Smith is the weekly's editor and your first port of call. He's a relatively shy, introverted type of guy, so don't bother cold-calling him. You're better off sending an email to,uk asking if he's looking for anything at the moment. Indicate you're williing to have a crack at Future Shocks or other one-offs (Terror Tales, or 2000 AD's alternate history tales).

Don't bother sending him your idea for a great 12-part series. Even if Matt is looking for new blood, you'll need to prove you can come up with great five-page stories with a beginning, middle and end, compelling characters, fresh ideas and a dazzlingly new approach. Every week. Week in, week out.

And you'll need to be patient. 2000 AD's pretty much a one-man-band, Matt's a busy bloke and he hasn't got time to tutor wannabe scribes. Tough love, but it's the truth. He's got more than a dozen experienced scribes on tap, all fighting for five slots a week. You're up against award-winning, major talents like Wagner, Grant, Mills, Rennie, Morrison, etc. You've got to be good enough to displace them from the comic.

Even if you do, the money's not great. Newcomers are lucky to get 50 quid a page. Say you write a five-page strip, that's 250 quid. Say you write that strip and it's in every issue, every week, you're still only grossing 13 grand a year. Trust me, nobody got rich writing for 2000 AD alone.

But it's a good portfolio for trying to crack other markets (e.g. the US). Get a couple of series published in 2000 AD (ideally with a great artist attached) and DC might be willing to acknowledge you exist. Of course, it takes years of knocking on doors to crack the US market. You need to hustle, hustle, hustle. You need to network, go to the cons, the pub gatherings in London. You'll need your own website and blog. You'll need to hang in there, get past all the rejections, keep going when you haven't had any money for weeks or even months.

And you'll need talent, great gobs of it.

Sadly, there is no magic key, no special door that leads to your own Vertigo series, a cult of personality, graphic novels with your name on the spine and all that stuff. If you thought cracking screenwriting was tricky, comics is much worse - simply because there's so little work going at any given moment.

As an example, look at 2000 AD scribe Si Spurrier. he started off when he was 15, sending in two or three Future Shock ideas a week. For three years. Constantly rejected, constantly kicked in the teeth. He stuck in there and now is one of the comic's rising stars - nearly ten years later.

Don't believe you can crack comics quickly or make any money out of it. The work is poorly paid, irregular and in no way glamorous. That's why I also write novels, audio dramas, non-fcition books and articles, and anything else I can get my grubby little mits on. That's why I'm doing an MA in Screenwriting, to push myself to be a better writer.

Most of my comics work? It's for Fantomen, a Scandinavia comic featuring costumed hero The Phantom. I write 5-6 issues a year for that and it's a nice little earner. But I doubt I'll ever make my living principally from comics, simply because I'm not willing to do the spadework required to make that my career. I'd rather write novels and TV and films and radio drama and anything else that takes my fancy. I love comics, but not to the exclusion of all else. You want to crack comics, you have to love it to the exclusion of all else. Once you've cracked it and become the next Grant Morrison or Garth Ennis or Mark Millar or Andy Diggle, then you can flirt with other media.

Hope that's of some help - good luck!


Pillock said...

I imagine anyone who wanted it enough would get into it DIY style. Hook up with an artist, make some copies of crazy underground subversive stuff and get it out there direct. Publish it online for free, make a name for yourself and then think about making money off it.

Chip Smith said...

A friend of mine is a freelance illustrator with a very healthy interest in comics ( Although he is massively talented, it took him nearly 10 years to jack in the day job - even now I'm pretty sure the bulk of his living doesn't come from drawing comics.

Unless you're Dave McKean or Alan Moore, I don't think many people - writers or artists - make a serious living from comics in the UK. There's a healthy underground scene out there, but no-one really expects to make big bucks out of what they do...

Ian Mayor said...

That's as frank a description of the realities of the British comics industry as I've read.