Wednesday, June 6, 2012

COMIC ARTISTS & OTHER GREAT OLD ONES: What a Long Strange Trip It's Been, Part 2

Regarding comic books: I grew up reading them. I sort of grew up steeped in them. I got started at age seven, when my eleven-years-older brother, Clint, came home from college with a big Xerox paper box full of wrinkled-up, abused Marvel comics and said, “Here, you can have these.” So by age 18, I had a pretty solid working knowledge of both the DC and the Marvel universes, and dearly loved The X-Men, Iron Man, and Batman.

Had I ever considered writing comic books? Nope. Not once.

But the arcade attendant - with whom, sadly, things did not work out after about three dates - took me and introduced me to a couple of comic book artists she knew from Macon: Tony Harris and Craig Hamilton.

Craig had already gotten fairly well established at that point, and was working on a jaw-droppingly gorgeous Peter Pan project. Tony was in the very beginning stages of his career, working on an independent comic called “B.L.A.D.E.” and, not long after that, some fully-painted issues of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” comic. I showed them some of my short stories, and Tony really sparked to one called “Nightrunner,” which I did not realize at the time was the name of Cutter’s wolf in “ElfQuest.”

Unintentional Elf references aside, Tony told me he’d like to see what he could do about getting “Nightrunner” published, and not long after that he called me up and said he had things set to get the story printed, complete with his accompanying illustrations, in an anthology publication called “Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children.”

That deal ended up not going through. I don’t remember why not.

But what had gotten started was my working relationship with Tony, which would go on for many years. Tony introduced me to Meloney Crawford Chadwick at Harris Comics, which led to my first sale: an issue of “Vampirella,” on which everything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong, starting with my really really awful script.

Awful script or not, I got paid the princely sum of four hundred dollars for that issue, which I promptly spent on my first-ever word processor, a clunky little machine with a tiny screen that displayed amber words on a black background. (It would be a couple more years before I got my hands on an actual home computer.)

Tony also introduced me to Joe Phillips, with whom I put together a pitch for Innovation Comics to adapt an H.P. Lovecraft story. The pitch got approved, and I was on the proverbial Cloud 9. The story was “The Dreams in the Witch House,” which I absorbed and just adapted the hell out of, turning out a 48-page script in two or three weeks. I was anxious to get Joe’s feedback on it, and faxed it over to him (yes, faxed, because e-mail was not a thing yet) -- only to have him call back and tell me that Innovation had gone out of business.

That was the first Great Big Huge Heartbreaking Letdown of my career. It’s the kind of thing that freelance writers have to get used to.

Joe went on, however, to introduce me to an editor at Dark Horse Comics who would prove to be enormously influential for me...

...but first I want to address the serendipitous way I got into comics.

Around 2003 or 2004 I was at a convention and ended up on a panel discussion next to Peter David. (For those not familiar with the name, Peter David is a well-known, very successful comic book writer and novelist.) One of the audience members posed the question for each of us to answer: “Breaking in seems to be somewhere between hard and impossible. How did you get into comics?”

So I said, “Well, I might be able to give you a little hope,” and I told the story about meeting the girl in the arcade and being introduced to her comic book artist friends. And Peter David interrupted me and just totally started making fun of me for it. He put on a Scottish accent and said, “The situation has not improved!” and just made joke after joke at my expense. (To be fair, given my generally clumsy delivery and the looks on some of the audience’s faces, I probably deserved it. There’s a reason I’m a professional writer instead of a professional speaker.)

The thing is, I had a point to follow up with, but I tend to get flustered when I’m surprised, and I was quite surprised that this industry vet was just laying into me, in public, ridiculing me for implying that anyone could fall into the same circumstances that I had. So I forgot the point I was going to make and just mumbled something and turned red from embarrassment.

But THIS is the point I was going to make: I got into the industry because I got some face-time with people already working in it. I established a connection, and got them to look at my material, and that got my foot in the door. Are YOU going to have the exact same thing happen to you? No, probably not. But you can get face-time with working professionals just about any weekend of the year, by going to comics conventions. There are artists and writers there, sitting at their tables all day long, making themselves available for you to just walk up and talk to them. If I had known about that before I met Tony and Craig, I would have been going to conventions already.


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