SDCC 2014: Breaking Into Comics Right Now

Sarah Balducci ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

This panel, hosted by Matt Gagnon, Editor in Chief of BOOM! Studios, was helpful and encouraging for aspiring writers trying to break into the industry. Panelists included Paul Jenkins, Chris Sebela, Frank Barbiere, Royden Lepp, Palle Schmidt, Chris Miskiewicz, Bryce Carlson, and Vanessa R. Del Ray.

Emphasizing that this was his favorite panel, Matt started by asking each panelist to explain how they broke into the industry, and no two panelists had even remotely similar answers. Paul Jenkins came to the US at age 20 and worked as a teacher in Pennsylvania. He compiled samples of his writing and through a twist of fate got work as an editor to Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. By 23 he was director of a publishing company.

Christopher Sebela had, in his own words, a “more depressing” anecdote. His first work was Screamland: Death of the Party, published by Image. When it first came out, he believed he’d “made it” but to his surprise, didn’t find any other work for two years. Then he got a shot writing High Crimes for MonkeyBrain, which came out in 2013.

Frank Barbiere formerly worked as an English teacher, and was constantly being inspired by the creativity of his students. He often pitched ideas for comics to publishers but constantly got rejected. He and his friends made a comic book called Five Ghosts and sold 60 copies at New York Comic Con 2012. Someone gave a copy to Eric Stephenson at Image who later contacted Frank, and that’s how his comic book career began. He currently writes Black Market for BOOM!

Royden Lepp was a film school student, and initially “chose girls over comics”. David: The Shepherd’s Song was his first comic book published by Cross Culture Entertainment. Soon after, Harper Collins contacted him and said they’d print anything he wrote. Royden’s advice was, “Don’t talk about it, don’t wait for permission, just DO it.”

Palle Schmidt worked as a freelancer in Denmark starting in 1998. He did some unbilled background work, and pitched the idea for his graphic novel The Devil’s Concubine, which was published Denmark in 2008. The landscape had changed at that point, and it was easier to get access to publishers. He now writes Thomas Alsop for BOOM!

Chris Miskiewicz is from Brooklyn, and described himself as very new to the comic book industry. His first works were published on ActivateComics.Com, a site for original graphic novels. He pitched his novel, Everwhere, which featured various types of animal apocalypses, to Dean Hemsfield. Because 150 pages were online for free, he got lots of views. This lead to meeting Palle Schmidt. Chris again emphasized that no two people get in the same way. “You have to show up to the party. Collaboration is important… Make a thing. Just keep writing.”

Bryce Carlson graduated from college in 2007, and was living in Orange County when work slowed down due to the economy. He decided to move up to LA and did odd jobs working as a courier, waiter, and an extra on Deal or No Deal. Despite setbacks, he kept “trying to make something happen and didn’t stop.” Eventually, he got an email from a friend looking to hire someone for a temp job. Bryce ended up mailing copies of Warhammer out to hundreds of stores. People took notice of his can-do attitude, and he was eventually offered him a gig working as assistant to Ross Ritchie, which he described as a “360 degree mentorship”. One day Bryce and Ross were talking about zombies- -he told Ross about story he wrote, who insisted he pitch it to Mark Waid immediately. Bryce ended up writing Hit and is the creative director of BOOM!

Vanessa R. Del Ray’s story was short and sweet. She went to school for art and posted her artwork online. She was discovered by BOOM! and asked to come in for a test.

After each panelist told their story, Matt Gagnon formally introduced himself. He described the years he spent self-publishing comics with friends and working at Meltdown Comics in LA when he was 23 years old. He made a name for himself in the store and through his creative work, and found a community of like-minded people who made him who he is today.

All the panelists agreed that while everybody’s story is different, finding a community is essential to breaking into the industry. Even more important is continuing to create and write for the sake of creating and writing, and hoping to get lucky somewhere along the way. Paul put it this way: “Make your own luck, and sometimes you get lucky. ”

“I’ve written many scripts but can’t find artists. None of them seem to stick. What do you recommend for finding artists?”

Palle: Pay them money.

Royden: Have artists to commit to 5-12 pages, say here’s a short story, go. I created an anthology of stories that are all totally different, that I wrote. All different art styles shows range.

Chris: Agreed, have a bunch of different artists.

Frank: Sometimes people flake, that won’t change even once you’re working in the industry.

“I did pay them! They didn’t do what I paid them for.”

Frank: Communication is important. People will walk off, disappear, that problem doesn’t go away. Big part of the job is staying in touch and being clear, and just hoping they understand.

Paulie: Artists should just deliver on time and stick to their promises.

“I can’t draw or write but I have ideas, how do I get into the industry?”

Paul: In the film industry, there are “ideas” people. There’s plenty of competition, and I want you to all succeed. But some part of what you’re asking is unfair. You learn how to write and learn how to draw by writing and drawing.

“I have aspergers, which makes it really hard.”

Paul: Having a cowriter could help. You have the ideas, but it’s what you do next is that is important.

“I love drawing characters- -if someone’s making a new franchise and made an interesting character, who owns that character?”

Paul: The person who created the franchise owns it. Copyright your stuff!!

“Any advice for self publishing?”

Frank: It’s gonna be expensive. Kickstarter is great. You have to do it because you love it. You can’t feel owed success. You can’t control other people. Find a good printer, or a print on demand place. Once you finance it, have it done for a Con and plan how many copies. When it comes to publishing, you need to know the details. There are many great resources to help, but the hard parts are always finance and distribution. Print runs must be done effectively. Organization and having a clear and realistic plan- -like I said, I only sold 60 copies at NYCC.

“Does age matter when you’re trying to break in?”

Royden: Not really. Write for yourself. Don’t try to project for other people, just do something you think is cool that you think is interesting.

Chris: Just write the dang story down.

The last question ended things on a positive note.

“Is it viable to do webcomics and break into regular comics?”

Chris: If the right people like it, it’ll get made. High Crimes is why I’m even here.

Matt: It’s also a good idea because editors can’t legally read unsolicited submissions, but they can read comics so make comics!

Palle: The internet provides a lot of artist empowerment. You can build your own audience before even pitching your idea.

Chris: Just DO IT.

Frank: And keep positive, love what you’re doing.

Matt: It has never been easier to find a platform and an audience. New readers appear every month. Now is a great time to be in this industry, because you can build your own stage online.

The panelists then thanked the audience for coming. As a final note, Paul said, “When you applaud, applaud each other. Because the hardest part is just working at it. Just being here is already a good step.”

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