Pro Tips: How To “Break In” to Comics

Pro Tips: How to Break Into Comics

When is that Big Break Coming?

Nerd Night News recently led a panel at San Diego Comic-Con on how to break in to the Comics The panel was titled ‘The Creators Guide to Indie Comics’, and we picked the brains of Top Pros in the business.

The Panel included Industry Vets Matt Hawkins (Top Cow COO), Barbra Dillon (Fanbase Press Editor in Chief), and Charlie Stickney (Scout Comics Co-Publisher). Rounding out the Panel were writers Blake Northcott, David Booher, and David F. Walker. The theme of the Panel outlined paths for attaining the dream of “Breaking in” into the Comic Book Industry.

Conventions are a PERFECT place for aspiring Comic Creators to get their “How To” questions answered straight from the horse’s mouth! Attend any convention in any city and you will most certainly discover the “Breaking In” panels well attended. I’m also willing to bet that in each of those Panels the same question is being asked: “How do I break into Comics?!?”

'Creator's Guide to Indie Comics' at SDCC (L -R) Rick Tastic, Matt Hawkins, Charlie Stickney, Barbra Dillon, David F. Walker, David Booher, Blake Northcott, Terry Mayo.
‘Creator’s Guide to Indie Comics’ at SDCC (L -R) Rick Tastic, Matt Hawkins, Charlie Stickney, Barbra Dillon, David F. Walker, David Booher, Blake Northcott, Terry Mayo.

“Break Into Comics: Think Digital Comics, not Graphic Novel”

Not to be flippant but “Breaking into Comics is EASY. Just make a comic.

There are so many options for self-publishing, webcomics, Crowdfunding, and blogs to show off your Comic. You can even utilize VoyceMe, DeviantArt, or even Facebook to post your self-made comic for the masses to find.

Then just like that – You are a Comic Creator and have “Broken into Comics”.

That’s not the answer to the question that wasn’t REALLY asked though, is it? When most people talk about breaking in, they are REALLY asking – How do I get my comic book Published!”

Pro Tips: How To "Break In" to Comics
Stan Lee – Creating Comics

“How can I get a publisher to notice me?”

If you ask any Writer, Editor, Illustrator, or ANYONE who works in Published comics they will have undoubtedly been asked this question AT LEAST once. Most creators are actually asked this at every Convention and that’s alright! Conventions are a great environment to network, pass torches and talk about Comics. If the interactions are done respectfully most Creators will welcome any questions you have.

Many creators have a standard answer prepared at this point to the “Breaking In” question. Something along the lines of – Work Hard, strike at the right time, be determined, and don’t give up. These answers along with the stinger of “and have a TON of luck” have put a frown on countless aspiring creators’ faces.

Why – you ask?

Aspiring Creators already know the blanket answer. It’s in every “Stan’s Soapbox” and has been said at every convention panel already. What the aspiring creator REALLY wants to know is – What’s the “Secret”? They want the unwritten rules to “Breaking In” that will act as that “Ah Ha Moment” in their creative journey.

I understand the frustration. It CAN feel like there are impossible odds and unseen obstacles in the way of reaching the goal. I get it and the hard truth is there IS no substitute for hard work, determination, luck, and treating others with respect.

The same is true for any occupation though. You need skills for the job. You must stand out if you want to move up and prove your worth. The Comic Industry is no different.

Pro Tips: How To "Break In" to Comics
Bat and Supes read Comics too!

You’ve made a Comic before, right?

The world is full of ideas. GREAT IDEAS. In the comic book world, much like any creative environment – ideas are good but bringing those ideas to life is GREAT. If you want to make comic books and want to break in but have never made a comic book, then the first step is easy. MAKE YOUR COMIC.

Create your webcomic. Make your hand-drawn and scanned comic blog. Run a Kickstarter. Go through the motions of writing, creating, and bringing your ideas to life. Hone your craft and learn what goes into creating a full comic project.

After you establish some skills then start reaching out to Publishers. The key here is to be realistic about the working relationship. An end goal may be to write Batman for DC Comics but that doesn’t mean you should expect DC to offer you a contract after seeing your Webcomic.

Think of it like Baseball. Even Hall of Fame caliber players start in the minor leagues first. Hone your skills before you try out for the Major leagues!

When you treat creating comics like a skill that can be learned and improved then YOU WILL improve. This time spent building your craft will also provide you a chance to establish a consistent body of work to show what you’re capable of. Once you have a body of work, your worth is an easier sell to smaller publishers. The more you create, the better you’ll get and every skill you hone brings you that much closer to The Big Leagues.

Know your audience when making comics
Pro Tips: How To “Break In” to Comics

Know Your Audience

Who are you writing for? By that I mean, which publisher are you trying to work with? The Comic Industry is a small circle. The degrees of separation from Creator to Creator and from Publisher to Publisher is at a degree of ONE in most cases. It is THAT small.

Avoid shotgunning the same pitch to every Publisher at the same time. It shows a lack of direction and emphasizes that you haven’t done the groundwork to see if YOUR Comic even fits the Publishers model. Be methodical and choose like-minded publishers that will benefit from your book as much as your book will benefit from the publisher. Do the legwork. It will highlight your determination and professionalism if you do.

Pro Tips: How To "Break In" to Comics
Stan Lee Helped Create a Universe

How are you Networking… wait – You ARE networking?

Creating a comic book is a collaborative process. This collaboration expands at the Publisher level so having your social game on point WILL pay off. Editors and Publishers prefer to work with people they know. It IS that simple. It may not sound fair, and it may seem like a Catch 22 but the fact is if you want to work in comics – you have to show you can work in comics.

A big part of that is networking with future collaborators. Just keep it professional and NONcreepy.

The field of aspiring creators is packed and there is no shortage of talented folks all trying to “Break In”. This fact ties back to the social aspect because making comics IS a business and if the talent is the same – known creators will outshine unknown creators every time.

So, what do you do?

Go to conventions. Be active on social media. Support creators on Kickstarter. All these things are a bare minimum for starting the relationship-building phase of “Breaking In”. An important factor here is to BE NICE. BE PROFESSIONAL. BE REAL. A creator can and will be known for all the wrong reasons as well.

It doesn’t guarantee ANYTHING but even if it doesn’t lead to writing Spider-Man for Marvel, you’re still making some friends who love the same things you do.

Hard Work, Determination and LUCK!
Breaking into Comics

So… Do you STILL want to Break into Comics?

There is no such thing as an overnight success. Lucky breaks happen but are rare. At the end of the day to break into comics you need to Work Hard, strike at the right time, be determined, and don’t give up.

How do you prove that you can do those things? Have a solid body of work and make some real social contacts within the industry. It is a slow and methodical journey to a perceived “overnight success” and at the end of the day still doesn’t guarantee a Published Comic. So… do you still want in?

If so – then welcome to the ride, My Friend! I’ll see you at the next convention!

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  1. Great read, Terry! It’s easy once we get good at something to forget the awkwardness present in the beginning, and I feel that is at the center of the standard “Just work hard and cross your fingers” advice.

    How do you know if a publisher is “right” for you or not? What do you look for when evaluating comics from one publisher vs another?

    1. Great Question!
      I look for likeminded publishers who consistently put out quality books by creators I know and/respect. I check out social media as well to see if our personalities would mesh well. There are publishers that specialize in Biographical comics so I wouldn’t send them a horror fantasy and there are publishers who are known for their mature themed titles so I wouldn’t send them an all-ages pitch. I recommend checking out their website and becoming familiar with their other titles before submitting yours – just to see if it would be a good fit.

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