How to Break Into Writing Comics
Breaking into comics as an artist is relatively easy. You make up some samples, you show them around, you take the advice you’re given, and you persist until you get work or find something more responsible to do. It’s hard work, but it’s a simple plan to follow.
But breaking in as a writer… that’s difficult. There are a lot more wannabes than ever will find work in the field, everyone thinks writing is easy, and most people have ideas for their favorite characters just waiting. Plus, you can’t easily show your work. So how do you start getting paid to write comics? There are four and a half ways I know of.
1. Make Your Own Comics.
Self-publish or get published by a smaller publisher. Yes, this means that you have to do all the hard work of finding an artist and making sure the comic actually gets completed. Why should you expect someone else to do it for you when you’re just starting out? Actual printed comics are the best samples you can have. Comics that people talk favorably about are even better. Put out a book, win an award, and get attention. (Even if it doesn’t sell very well.)
2. Be Best Buddies with Bob Schreck.
Or someone else. (I just picked his name because it’s fun to say and alliterative.) But going to college with someone or being drinking buddies is a good way to get that foot in the door — in comics, as in so much else, it’s still who you know. And knowing someone who can give out work is the surest way to getting work.
3. Write Something Else.
Jodi Picoult, for example, wrote successful novels before being asked to do Wonder Woman. Various book authors, moviemakers, and TV scripters have been invited into comics lately to bring some of their magic (and audience) with them. Even a small, independent film that gets buzz might assist in getting you an introduction.
4. The Jailbreak Option.
So called because it’s something creative and original that works once, and then they slam the door on it and the next person has to find a different way. Gail Simone wrote humor columns and a feminist website. Devin Grayson wrote Batman fanfic porn that caught an editor’s eye. (Let me reiterate: These methods no longer work. Do not send editors your pornfic.) I can’t tell you what else will work, or the idea wouldn’t be original.
4 1/2. Draw Your Own Comics.
Get work as an artist, build a reputation, make contacts, and then convert to mostly writing. Brian Michael Bendis followed this route, combined with #1, originally publishing series called Goldfish and Jinx through Caliber. But learning to draw is harder than learning to write, so if you’re looking for the easy way, this isn’t part of your list.
KC said, when reading over this list, that I forgot to mention “have talent”. Yes, that’s important, but determination is more so. I’ve known people that got their “big break” five or ten years after they first started trying. Sometimes, just outlasting everyone else works. But you won’t get that second or third job without some ability.
Once you’ve written a comic, it doesn’t stop there. The next question is how you keep getting jobs writing comics with so many others wanting the work. But that’s a subject for another time. I’ll give you a hint, though: it involves diversification, writing different characters and types of stories for different people. And the basics of meeting schedules and being pleasant to work with.
The naughty question to ask people who say they want to write comics is “do you want to write comics, or do you want to write Spider-Man?” Many, if honest, would answer the latter. And there’s really no easy way to accomplish that. It’s the equivalent of a girl dreaming that she’s going to get discovered walking down the street and become a supermodel — it’s a uniquely American dream of fame without effort, of success without work.
Letting people know that your lifelong dream is to write Superman and only Superman is the best way to not get what you want. You’ll instantly seem like a fanboy instead of a professional.