Open Your Mouth: Issue #4

Thu, May 29th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
J. Torres, Columnist

(Self)Portrait of the Editor as a Young Woman
Some young women move to New York City with dreams of making it as fashion models, pop singers or performers on the Broadway stage. Other more enterprising types move to the city that never sleeps because it is also a city of industry and commerce. Then there are the party girls who just want to take a bite out of the Big Apple and have some fun. After Stephanie Moore graduated from college in 2001 she shortly thereafter moved to NYC with the sole intent of getting a job at Marvel Comics

"…I'D HEARD THAT YOU PRETTY MUCH HAVE TO SLEEP WITH SOMEONE TO GET A JOB AT DC."

MOORE: I wormed my way in via the licensing department in July 2002, then moved to editorial in November as the project manager of the Epic launch and as an assistant editor in Ralph Macchio's office. I owe that move to Bill (Jemas, Publisher of Marvel Comics), who recognized that I was much better suited to being an editor than to being a saleswoman.

TORRES: So, you actually targeted Marvel. Why? What attracted you to work there?

MOORE: Well, I knew I wanted to work in comics, and I'd heard that you pretty much have to sleep with someone to get a job at DC. Just kidding. Actually, the reason was that I was more interested in what Marvel was doing at that particular moment and wanted in on it.

TORRES: And what was Marvel up to at the time that you gravitated towards?

MOORE: The Ultimate line was what primarily got my attention. Also things like Morrison and Quitely on "New X-Men," the crazy sh*t Milligan and Allred were doing on "X-Force" - stuff like that. Marvel didn't seem to be afraid to completely turn around its major properties and take chances with them, which appealed to me. They seemed to really be getting out there and trying interesting stuff.

Stephanie's first comic involved another "Sandman" - sorry, Stan!
TORRES: Have you been reading comics since childhood? Do you remember your first comic?

MOORE: Since high school. My first comic was an issue of "The Sandman" by Neil Gaiman. That set a fairly high standard, and I was a big Vertigo nerd for a while before I decided in college that super hero comics could be interesting, too. My first Marvel comic was "Essential X-Men" volume two. After that I was pretty much sold.

TORRES: Are you a creative type as well? Do you write or draw?

MOORE: I've been doing both since before I discovered comics. I think that's part of why they appealed to me - you get the best of both worlds.

TORRES: Any aspirations to create comics yourself? We've seen people like Stuart Moore and Scott Allie do so recently...

MOORE: Yes, but right now I'm in more of an absorbing phase. I'm still learning about the craft and what makes a good comic.

"…UP UNTIL A FEW MONTHS AGO, I HAD NO IDEA HOW A COMIC BOOK WAS ACTUALLY MADE."

TORRES: What are your duties as Project Manager of Epic? Or perhaps I should ask for a "job description"...

MOORE: Vis-a-vis Epic, I've been coordinating the development of a system for running the Epic line - how submissions are handled, how the production of the books will be organized, etc. There isn't really a lot of precedent for it, so it's been tricky, especially since up until a few months ago, I had no idea how a comic book was actually made. We've been making it up as we go, and the first Epic books will be guinea pigs in the process. In particular, John Jackson Miller and Marc Patten of "Crimson Dynamo" have been extremely patient with us. I will also be handling a portion of the Epic submissions reviewing. The head of Epic submissions will be Teresa Focarile, and I'll be assisting her. In addition to all that, I'm editing a couple of upcoming projects and I'm assistant editor on a couple of existing books.

TORRES: What's a typical day at the office like for you? I hear an actual, physical, Epic office is being set-up.

MOORE: An office for handling Epic submissions has been organized, and includes myself, Teresa, Mike Raicht (formerly of the X-office) and new assistant editor Annie Thornton. We all have other projects in addition to Epic, including books in some of the more non-traditional genres, and other wacky stuff. A typical day at the office involves talking on the phone, writing e-mails, and trying to find more action figures for my desk.

TORRES: Are you familiar with the way the Image set up works? The Epic deal sounds the same in that creators are responsible for every aspect of production. Could you elaborate on this a little to let aspiring creators know what to expect?

So, what do creators get for all their trouble?
MOORE: It's pretty much the same except that you get paid for it. We offer quite a bit of guidance in production, though, since we figure not everyone is going to be intimately familiar with comics digital pre-press. You get all the Marvel specs and templates that our regular freelancers get, and you've got me to guide you through things if you need help. What basically happens is that, if we accept your script, we work with you to fine tune it and then we help you find an art team. The principle tool in that step is a web site that will showcase all the accepted Epic artists, and will also have contact info for people who specialize in production services. Then we send you off to make your comic. You come to us if you need help, and then ultimately you deliver a disc to us with all the files for the composited book.

TORRES: You mention the payment part. I recall a press release or interview with Jemas where he mentions $8000/issue as a figure for a kind of "production budget." That's about half the typical budget for a monthly Marvel book, right?

MOORE: You get $500 for an approved script. Then you get $7,500 for the completed book to be paid among all the members of the creative team, $500 of which is paid out when you deliver the first five completed pages of the book. We do it that way so we can establish that you've got everything working right before you go and make the whole book. Then the last $7000 is paid when you deliver the complete book on disc. So effectively, you have an $8000 budget. That's not counting sales royalties, though, which kick in once your book sells over 20,000 units.

TORRES: Sounds like you have a good support staff for production, but what about establishing page rates? Vouchers? That sort of thing. With Image, for example, there's basically one contact guy from the creative team and s/he signs all the paperwork, receives any advances, and is then responsible for paying everyone.

MOORE: We will be paying everyone individually, but the percentage of the total payment each team member receives will be negotiated between the team member and the writer or whoever is managing the project.

"WELL, IF YOU DON'T HAVE A STORY, YOU DON'T HAVE A COMIC, DO YOU?"

TORRES: Now, the submissions guidelines currently on the Marvel website are pretty specific about paperwork, content, copyright, etc. Do you want to stress anything in particular?

MOORE: The only thing that will keep your submission from being read is if you're missing the Comic Story Idea Submission Form. Oh, and you should probably include a script for a 22-page comic, too.

TORRES: Could you explain the "work-for-hire" part of submitting to Epic for anyone who may not understand what the term means?

MOORE: Essentially, when you sign a work-made-for-hire agreement, you are agreeing that any creative materials you deliver under the terms of the agreement belong to Marvel. This is standard for nearly everything that Marvel publishes, not just for Epic books. Some people have been concerned that this means we could buy a script and never publish it, or that if you submit something to Epic and it's rejected, you wouldn't be able to submit it or use it anywhere else. Neither of these is true. If we reject a script, you are free to use it elsewhere -- provided it doesn't use Marvel characters, of course. For instance, you would be perfectly welcome to retool your Avengers story to make it a JLA story if we didn't accept it. If we accept your story, though, we will publish it -- provided you are able to organize a creative team and deliver the book. The onus will be entirely on you. Creator-owned stories are NOT work-made-for hire, and are exempt from the work-made-for-hire provisions in the Packaging Agreement. Stories involving original characters set in the Marvel Universe, however, ARE work-made-for-hire and WILL be owned by Marvel.

TORRES: Then creator-owned stories - with non-Marvel characters and not set in the Marvel Universe - accepted for Epic will be under a different contract regarding ownership, copyright and who gets what piece of the pie?

Alison Blair as "Kira" in "Xanadu: The Broadway Musical."
MOORE: Yes. If we accept a creator-owned script, we will send the writer a Creator-Owned agreement, which basically takes the place of the Writer's Work-Made-For-Hire agreement that's on the website. All creative teams have to sign the standard Packaging Agreement, but that contract stipulates that the work-made-for-hire provisions don't apply to you if your story is creator-owned.

TORRES: So, this is quite a writer-driven line, isn't it? You've got it set up so that writers are the ones leading the charge...

MOORE: Well, if you don't have a story, you don't have a comic, do you? Seriously, though, the story is where it starts as far as Marvel is concerned. We encourage writers to bring artists with them, but the writer is really where the process has to start.

TORRES: That said, what are you looking for in a story? And what about something with Dazzler, maybe in a comic book reworking of "Xanadu" as the Olivia Newton John character and the light show?

MOORE: Hey, that actually sounds like a great idea, but I have to pretend I didn't hear it unless you send me a signed Idea Submission Form. As for stories: we're looking for stories that have a clear central concept and strong character development, stories that have clear beginnings, middles and ends, and most importantly, stories that are "about" something, stories for which you have a ready answer if asked the question "why are you telling this story?" The best way to get a sense of what kind of story we want is to read "Marville" #7, which is also available at the Epic website.

"WE'RE INTERESTED IN NEW GENRES, NEW TAKES ON OLD CHARACTERS..."

TORRES: Do you have a quota for the Epic line? A certain number of books you're asked to launch in this first wave, for example? Or any kind of mandate pertaining to genres? the number of original concepts versus new takes on Marvel characters? or even in terms of marketability?

MOORE: The only mandate is that we not duplicate anything being done in the regular Marvel titles. That doesn't mean you can't do a Wolverine story, it just means your Wolverine story has to be really different from (Greg) Rucka's or (Daniel) Way's Wolverine stories. There's no quota: if we have sixty great stories in the first month, we'll publish all sixty of them. We're interested in new genres, new takes on old characters... anything that involves some kind of artistic risk, since the only thing that prevents us from taking those risks in the regular line is the budget. The budget for an Epic book is substantially lower, so it's the ideal opportunity to do something that would be considered "dangerous" in the regular line.

TORRES: What about quality control, Steph? It all sounds pretty hands off editorially. Not to sound too cynical, but so the newcomer can make the sale but can he deliver?

MOORE: If the quality is significantly lower than the creators' submissions indicated, we just send the material back. We also place a phone call to the effect of, "What the hell happened, man?" We are not going to publish bad work. If we get a script that we think has potential but needs work, we will ask for rewrites until the writer either gets it right or gives up in frustration.

TORRES: And what about deadlines and lead times? Are they going to be Marvel's standard amount of time to get an issue done? Does the same number of issues need to be in the can before you launch or even solicit? Now I'm being all codependent…

MOORE: We will not solicit a book until we have the completed files in our hands. We may decide to wait until we have a few issues in-house before we solicit. In any event, it will be up to the team to get their book out on a timely basis.

TORRES: Okay, is there any more you can tell us about the Epic titles that have already been announced or even stuff about to be announced?

MOORE: Nothing except that every single one of these books is going to be great, and unlike anything you can find in the regular Marvel line or the rest of comics, for that matter. If anyone is under the impression that Epic is going to be composed of titles that are below average Marvel standards, they'll be disabused of this notion when they read the first issues of "Trouble, "Crimson Dynamo" and "Nowhere Man."

TORRES: So, the floodgates have just opened. Here come the oodles and oodles of submissions from the hundreds and hundreds of hopefuls out there. How are you feeling at this point? Like Shelly Winters in "The Poseidon Adventure" or Moses at the Red Sea?

MOORE: Closer to Moses - I think. My only remaining caveat is to make sure you've read and understood Bill's remarks on story in "Marville" #7 before you send your script, because following his advice there is going to help you avoid 99% of the pitfalls that will keep your work from being accepted.

"Let my people go… make comics!"

Next week: The column: Portfolio Review 101. The faculty: Bob Schreck of DC Comics, Renae Geerlings of Top Cow Productions, Randy Stradley of Dark Horse and others. Attendance is mandatory. And, yes, there will be a test.

Meanwhile, drop by the Open Your Mouth message boards to post your Ten Commandments for submitting to the Epic line.

Thank you for your attention.

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