Open Your Mouth: Issue #24

Thu, October 16th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
J. Torres, Columnist

Quite a number of OYM readers have asked for more pieces on and for writers. This week's interview is in the same group discussion format I used last week (and plan to utilize here even more). And it's all about writers…

Robert Kirkman is a comic book writer who also letters on the side.

Brandon Jerwa is a comic book writer and stay-at-home dad who's also a successful musician.

Ande Parks is primarily known as an inker, but he's now ventured into the realm of comic book writing and he also happens to be a stay-at-home dad.

Gail Simone is a hairdresser by day and comic book writer by night.

It took some doing but I eventually managed to assemble all these multi-talented folks in a chat room one night for an hour or two to talk about the one common thread between them (and me): writing comics.

Whether you're an aspiring writier looking for some industry insight, or are simply a fan of Kirkman, Jerwa, Parks, or Simone - you should get something out of this conversation. Sure, we comic scribes joked around quite a bit, but we also got serious enough for a minute or so to discuss writing methods, self-promotion, dream projects, and even a little bit of that "how to break in" stuff. So, here's hoping we don't embarrass our fans too much and that you aspiring writers out there learn and thing or two from this virtual round table.

Enjoy…

"Some days I don't even wear pants."
TORRES: Okay, let's start with some quick intros then. Who are you, what do you write, where are you beaming in from...

PARKS: Ande Parks, from Kansas, and I've only really written one thing I wanna talk about, the soon-to-be-published "Union Station."

SIMONE: Gail Simone, broadcasting live and tiger-free from the beaver state, Oregon. I write "Simpsons" comics for Bongo, "Birds of Prey," "Rose and Thorn" and "JLA" for DC, I wrote "Agent X," "Deadpool" and "Gus Beezer" for Marvel, and "Killer Princesses" for Oni.

JERWA: I'm Brandon Jerwa, writing from Seattle, WA. My first published work, a weekly run on "G.I. Joe: Frontline" #11-14 just wrapped up last month. I'm scripting "G.I. Joe" #23-25 and then I take over the book with #26.

KIRKMAN: Robert Kirkman, I'm in the fine state of Kentucky, and I write "Invincible," "The Walking Dead," "Capes," "Brit" and "Cloudfall" for Image, and "Space Ace" and "Tales of the Realm" for MV Creations/Crossgen.

TORRES: So, what did you work on today? Get any writing done?

PARKS: I'm back to my day job for a while - inking "Green Arrow" - while I start researching the next writing project.

SIMONE: I wrote on "Simpsons," "Birds of Prey" and "Rose and Thorn." It's fun to have multiple books. Less boring.

JERWA: I worked on my pitch for Marvel, an Ultimate anthology series that would populate the "lower-tier" of the Ultimate Universe.

KIRKMAN: I did some lettering on various things... and did a little writing on "Brit: Cold Death," which I should already be done with.

TORRES: How much scripting can you generally get done in a day? And what's a "day" for you? Eight hours? Six? One?

PARKS: With two kids and inking, I have to squeeze in writing as I can... usually late at night. I'm lucky to get a scene done a day, and that's after a lot of time just staring at the damn computer.

SIMONE: It depends. Each job varies, with "Simpsons" generally taking the most time per page. I do a little writing in the morning, go to my day job, come home and write till dinner, then relax for a bit, then often write until 2:00 or 3:00 am.

"I'm trying to tell grown-up stories in a book designed around toys."
KIRKMAN: It varies for me. I've written entire books in a day, but a day for me could be 20 hours depending on what I've got going on. For me the actual typing part of the script isn't the main part though usually having stuff worked out pretty well before I get to that stage.

JERWA: I can usually knock out about 6 pages of script if I sit down with no distractions for three hours. A day for me is sporadic as I stay home with a four-year old son. I tend to work at night a lot.

PARKS: Yay! Another stay-at-home dad.

TORRES: Does everyone here work full script?

SIMONE: Absolutely. I don't feel at all comfortable any other way.

PARKS: I provide full script.

KIRKMAN: I write full script.

JERWA: I provide very full script.

TORRES: Do you work from a plot or use some kind of outline? Where do you begin? With dialogue? A scene? Some action?

SIMONE: When doing work for hire, generally, the editors request an outline first, although my editors are terrific and trusting if I deviate wildly.

PARKS: I start with what I think is a tight outline, which I discover, as I actually write, is not near tight enough.

JERWA: My current working situation has me making a page-by-page breakdown for Josh Blaylock [of Devil's Due Studios] and Hasbro. Once that's approved, I start on the full script.

KIRKMAN: I start thinking about what I'm going to do while I do dishes, drive, or any other mundane thing. Then I sit down with a piece of typing paper and list the pages down the side of the paper then I map out what happens on every page then I have that page sitting next to me as I type. Most important dialogue will be jotted down incomplete on the paper with the rest filled in as I type the actual script.

TORRES: You and I sound like we operate the same way. Do you also wear a pyramid hat when you're doing all this?

KIRKMAN: Yes... yes, I do wear a pyramid hat.

SIMONE: You should get a pyramid suit so you're coordinated.

PARKS: I wear a conehead, given to me by nature.

TORRES: What about research? Ande mentioned doing research for a new project. I love doing research. If someone could pay me to simply research stuff...

PARKS: That's true with me as well... I have to put in a lot of thinking time (driving is good), before I can write anything. I've always enjoyed non-fiction, so I like the research... I also think it makes everything richer.

JERWA: Yes, lots of thinking time. Praying to the aliens. I still think I would prefer that there be no outline phase, I prefer to just sit and write. And like Gail, I'm often allowed to steer wild from my original plan.

KIRKMAN: I've never done research... but I've never really done anything that really required it. Most of my stuff is crazy superhero coolness and I think it's more fun to make stuff up on the fly.

"I'm holding a grudge for some folks who never responded to my 'Union Station' pitch..."
SIMONE: I do a lot of research, and I have a wide net of people, many of whom are not connected with comics, that I go to with questions as varied as ancient history and criminal forensics.

TORRES: Ooh, just like Oracle. So, we're all relative newcomers to the comic book writing game... is anyone jaded and bitter yet?

PARKS: Not about writing.

KIRKMAN: I'm totally bitter. This business sucks...

JERWA: No way. How could I be? It's nowhere but up from here.

SIMONE: I'm pretty optimistic generally, anyway, but I have virtually no complaints. My editors are brilliant, the artists are devoted and gifted and the companies I work for now are very supportive.

PARKS: I like the "now" part of that, Gail.

TORRES: Gail keeps bringing up how great her editors are because she knows I'm reporting back to them.

SIMONE: I'm bitter for Robert. But not for myself.

KIRKMAN: Sarcasm come through okay on this? I'll never be bitter or jaded... I'm living the dream.

TORRES: I'll check back with all of you in a few more years then. In all seriousness, I know we all love what we do... so what's the best part of writing for comics?

KIRKMAN: Dude... some days I don't even wear pants. That's the best part of writing comics...

TORRES: Bubba! We really were twins separated at birth!

SIMONE: Now I see why Robert is so bitter. It's his pants. He has a problem with his pants.

KIRKMAN: The only problem I have with pants is wearing them... for instance... I'm totally naked right now.

SIMONE: Like we had to be told that.

TORRES: Rowr.

KIRKMAN: If I were to be serious I'd have to second everything Gail is saying... but really does anyone want to read it twice?

TORRES: She'd write it better anyway.

KIRKMAN: zing

"Yes, Marvel shot my dog."
TORRES: Ande, what do you like best about writing for comics?

PARKS: It's a rush to tell a story, and comics are a relatively easy way to do so. I can't get a book published or a movie made, but I can get my comic out there.

TORRES: Listen to the tracer make it sound so easy!

PARKS: Well, it beats trying to get an agent, don't it? I mean, I do have something I'm holding over Jamie Rich, but still...

SIMONE: I love seeing the art for the first time, I love working on the story, I love the day the books come out, love hearing from people who read it... it's a great goddamn job.

JERWA: Agreed. I love that I really get to be a kid.

TORRES: Yes, it's a great job... but everyone wants yours. I mean, look at Parks. He ain't happy inking a DC book, collecting his page rate, selling his artwork... he has to try and muscle in on our action!

KIRKMAN: Let them come... if they're better than me... I should be replaced.

SIMONE: I like that. If you're not giving every assignment your all, then it's cheating.

JERWA: Amen to that. I'm trying to tell grown-up stories in a book designed around toys/.

PARKS: I can see the writing on the wall... I don't think it's wise to plan on being an inker, say, twenty years from now. Writing's a cushy job anyway... no more inky fingers.

KIRKMAN: Don't be a sissy...

SIMONE: I have a question. Anyone here think we should kick Torres out? He's messing up the whole process. J.'s out, Robert you're in.

KIRKMAN: I am? Okay… Have any of you had bad dealings with any of the larger publishers? Anyone feel like burning some bridges so my column will get more hits?

SIMONE: Yes, Marvel shot my dog.

TORRES: Marvel fucked my dog.

SIMONE: Ladies and gentleman, I give you the author of numerous kids' books, J. Torres.

KIRKMAN: Leave it to the Canadian to drop the F bomb.

JERWA: I don't have any experience with any publishers besides MV Creations and Dark Horse, and they were both very cordial in their rejection. LOL

PARKS: I'm holding a grudge for some folks who never responded to my "Union Station" pitch... It's not good enough that I landed it where I wanted to... the ones who didn't want it must be punished! Is that childish?

KIRKMAN: No... I hate Jim Valentino for turning down "Battle Pope" all those years ago.

Jerwa would like to bring back "ROM."
JERWA: I want to know, honestly, how do I find work at DC? With them accepting no submissions and only one book under my belt, how do I do it?

TORRES: You're on your way, Brandon. Just get stuff done. Send that stuff to editors. Doors will open. Well, unless you suck. But even then, some editors will hire you. Ask Gail.

KIRKMAN: zing

TORRES: I'm so kidding! I have everything Gail's ever written. To me in email.

JERWA: Zing, again. Gail, I'm on your side.

SIMONE: Poor Torres, throwing out his weak jabs as best as his desiccated hands will allow.

KIRKMAN: HA!

JERWA: *sigh*

SIMONE: Brandon, I'm sorry, I really don't know, except the usual routes. I was invited to pitch.

JERWA: Fair enough.

KIRKMAN: Are there any questions involved in this thing? What the hell is this?

SIMONE: Ask a substantial question!

JERWA: It's starting to get rough in here.

SIMONE: I'll ask... how about dream projects?

JERWA: "Rom, Space Knight."

TORRES: I think she was being serious, Brandon.

JERWA: Who's not being serious?

TORRES: Me.

JERWA: You asked for my dream gig, and that's it... "Rom."

KIRKMAN: "Sleepwalker"... by far... I loved that book.

Kirkman would like to bring back "Sleepwalker."
SIMONE: In work for hire, either the Marvel family, or maybe a Spidey mini.

JERWA: I'd really like to work for Marvel. That would be a dream gig, anything they'd give me. I grew up with Marvel.

TORRES: I used to have a dream project, then I woke up. I just want to be able to keep doing my stuff. And if freelance opportunities come along, all the better.

SIMONE: Right, creator-owned is wonderful.

KIRKMAN: I'd like to be working on "Invincible" #50 in a few years...

SIMONE: Do you own "Invincible," Robert?

KIRKMAN: Co-Own with artist Cory Walker.

SIMONE: I keep hearing great stuff... I need to read that book.

TORRES: Do, Gail! I love "Invincible."

KIRKMAN: Email me an address... I'll hook you up.

TORRES: Okay, since Brandon brought it up, and a lot of OYM readers wanna know, what's your advice for honing your craft to the point that you get work in this industry?

JERWA: I can't talk about much regarding honing craft yet, but I know that I made it a long way by having a very professional presentation.

SIMONE: My stock answer is buy every reference book you can get cheap and build a library. I've found that incredibly useful, over and over, in making characters, plots, and for general reference. Great idea warehouse, reference books.

PARKS: I think it's similar for artists... you just have to be stubborn, almost insanely so. It's tougher for writers, I think. It's easy to get feedback for an art submission at a show. For writing, you have to hope they'll read it in the office.

KIRKMAN: My advice is to self publish... do that... and you can do anything.

SIMONE: This is an interesting subject, because I broke in by doing a column on the Net [You'll All Be Sorry"], and others seem to be going that route as well.

KIRKMAN: Yeah... what's up with that? I need to start a column.

JERWA: Hmm. A column.

SIMONE: There are so many ways to get something read now, between the Net and minis and Web comics.

PARKS: That's a good point. I think editors just surf the web all day, anyway.

TORRES: Did you aspire to write comics before "You'll All Be Sorry"?

SIMONE: No, I actively resisted. I had a couple friends who offered to help me break in, pre-YABS, and that just seemed a ridiculous notion.

TORRES: So, you didn't really want to write comics as a profession? At least not initially?

SIMONE: It's not that I didn't want to, I just didn't think it would be possible. I got a ton of offers during the time I did YABS, but I really didn't make any effort until Scott Shaw hooked me up with Bongo.

TORRES: What did everyone else here do to "break in?" We know about Gail and YABS. Ande, we know you slept with Hester...

PARKS: If only "slept with" had been enough!

KIRKMAN: Self-publish, kids... that's where the fun is.

Simone is bringing back "Rose & Thorn."

SIMONE: Self-publishing isn't the universal answer for everyone, though.

KIRKMAN: Well of course not... but if you can do it... I think it's worth it. It's easier than most people think.

SIMONE: You're not interested in work-for-hire?

KIRKMAN: Of course I am. I don't self publish any more... it's a pain in the ass. It was a means to an end.

SIMONE: So, you're saying, self-publish as an audition?

KIRKMAN: Yeah... I guess... for the most part.

TORRES: Yeah, "self-publish" as an audition, for some portfolio material, resume padding, whatever you want to call it. It doesn't even have to cost you much. Minicomics is where I got my start. Web comics have a great reach…

JERWA: Web comics intrigue me. Is it being understated in its infancy? Are we all going to be reading web comics in ten years?

TORRES: I see more and more people going to the web to "publish" their work so, yeah, more people will be reading comics online. But I don't think we'll ever go 100% digital until we kill all the trees.

PARKS: I still don't think most folks want to look at a monitor to read a comic. But, new technology may replace the monitor.

TORRES: I can't wait until we can download comics up our nostrils and directly onto our optic nerves.

KIRKMAN: Did Torres just say he wants to snort comics?!

SIMONE: J.'s always putting stuff up his nostrils.

KIRKMAN: Anyway, self-publishing is good because if you can put together a nice looking professional comic on your own... I think an editor would take you more seriously than if you just had a printout of a script. I know I enjoy reading comics more than scripts.

TORRES: I don't know any editors who read scripts other than the ones they've assigned their freelancers to write.

SIMONE: I've seen some great self-published and mini-comics recently. It's one of the best parts of the industry, that you can get your vision out like that.

Parks is bringing back crime comics.
JERWA: Indeed.

KIRKMAN: I'd love more work-for-hire stuff... you know anyone at DC looking for something?

SIMONE: That's the problem, at Marvel and DC, there are only so many gigs available, and some people, like me, are obnoxious enough to do more than one book. It's hard breaking in, for sure.

JERWA: Well, thanks for taking food out of our mouths, Gail.

TORRES: What about Parks? He has a very successful career as an inker but he has to go and be a writer? He's gonna steal that "G.I Joe" gig from you, Brandon.

JERWA: Only if he pries it out of my cold dead hands!

PARKS: I'm all over that job... what job is that, again?

KIRKMAN: Nah... Brandon's locked into Joe for life.

JERWA: Note to self: kill Dan Jolley.

KIRKMAN: If it ain't Blaylock or Hama it'll be him.

JERWA: Do you know something I don't?

TORRES: What's everyone reading these days? What's impressing you?

PARKS: Ugh... I'm one of those horrible assholes who doesn't read too many comics. I hate me.

KIRKMAN: I read everything. I buy way too many comics.

SIMONE: "Johnny Public" is a great mini, "Superhero Happy Hour," "The Losers," "Alias," "Empire," lotsa stuff.

TORRES: I just read Derek Kirk's "Same Difference and Other Stories" and really enjoyed it. Made me really want to go back to the slice-of-life stuff I used to do, and have been planning to do for a while now.

PARKS: I like a lot of Oni stuff, and I like Azzarello at DC.

KIRKMAN: I just finished "Blankets" it was pretty good.

PARKS: "Blankets" is amazing!

TORRES: I have it right here, but I need to book a vacation just to read it.

KIRKMAN: Nah... it's really a light read.

SIMONE: I have a question for the panel. Do you do any hyping of your books yourself, and how effective has that been?

Jerwa is bringing back Serpentor.
TORRES: I'm a hyping whore, Gail. Even the DC and Marvel stuff, I'm out there on the Net, talking to retailers, sending out samples... I'm not sure how successful I've been overall, but I know I've moved at least a few more copies than if I didn't do anything at all, you know?

JERWA: I went out and scared up as many interviews and features as I could when my "Frontline" arc was hitting. I have also set up a live journal to chronicle my adventures... and we have been getting over a hundred hits a day. It's been great, and we're considering switching to a message board.

KIRKMAN: I don't think I self-promote enough.

PARKS: I find that part hard, too.

TORRES: No, you don't, Robert.

KIRKMAN: I never turn down and interview... and I hype when I think it's appropriate...

TORRES: I should have heard about your stuff a lot sooner! Especially considering how much you've done, how often you seem to be online and how much I troll the comic news sites, you know what I mean?

KIRKMAN: I feel like an ass popping on boards and saying, "Yo, quit talking about Bendis and read my books."

PARKS: I'm right with you, Robert.

SIMONE: I don't think it's rude to mention your work on another board, if you post there at all on other topics.

JERWA: Agreed.

TORRES: Go to one of Gail's many boards, choose a topic, any topic, and join in on the conversation. Just make sure you've got links to your site and samples of your work in your sig. Make every post a billboard.

KIRKMAN: See, I don't have time to post on a lot of message boards... like I say... I work more 16-hour days than I don't. I like to rely on Image's fine marketing director Eric Stephenson... he sends out press releases and stuff.

SIMONE: It's great to rely on the company, but they have a ton of books to promote.

TORRES: Exactly, Gail. And, you know, they always have their priorities.

PARKS: I drop by some boards, but I think they should all discover my brilliance on their own. If they don't, to hell with 'em!

TORRES: "If you build it, they will come." But you gotta tell 'em when and where to come, right?

PARKS: I do, or the publisher does?

SIMONE: It just seems to me that the Internet is a wonderful free tool for spreading the word. You don't have to be obnoxious about it.

PARKS: I don't mind helping, but if I wanted to do it all, I'd self-publish.

KIRKMAN: I have some pretty cool fans that like to try and get people to buy my books... I think that helps.

PARKS: At some point, promoting online seems like you're reaching the same three hundred people again and again. Is that way off?

KIRKMAN: Yeah, Ande... I get that too.

SIMONE: YABS was my audition, when I was just trying to make a few people laugh. But it got read by thousands of people, and a huge lot of editors, so I got my break purely from the Net. It's up to you, but if you don't use the tools around, it's hard to complain when people aren't aware of your book.

Kirkman is bringing back the dead.
KIRKMAN: Eh... I never complain... just gripe...

TORRES: I don't bitch, I moan.

KIRKMAN: Okay, Gail... for you... I'll make an effort to do some more self-promotion... I need to be a man and stop using "I'm busy" as an excuse... yeah... I know... I screwed up... I didn't self- promote enough and now my career's in the toilet... I'm changing my ways... I promise. Cut me some slack.

TORRES: Slacks? I thought you didn't like wearing pants?

PARKS: Robert, you seem like a good kid. I'm gonna send you some pants.

TORRES: What's everyone's next big thing?

JERWA: Well, I'm just trying to get more work and make "G.I. Joe" bigger and better each month.

PARKS: I wish I knew. I'm trying to figure out the next writing project [after "Union Station"], so I can write it next summer, while my wife is off work.

KIRKMAN: "Invincible" monthly, "The Walking Dead" monthly, "Cloudfall" in November, "Brit: Cold Death" in December, "Capes"... I just got another book approved at Image called "Reaper"… it's going to kick ass... un-named Marvel book in February... I got a lot on the horizon.

SIMONE: "Rose and Thorn" in December, "JLA" to follow afterwards, and a couple big secret things I can't mention yet. "Killer Princesses" TPB in January, "Gus Beezer" in December, and "Birds of Prey" ongoing monthly.

TORRES: Gail's the reason why Brandon and Robert can't get work at DC or Marvel.

SIMONE: Why not go pick on Bendis? He has like nine books.

JERWA: Gail's the reason my child cries himself to sleep each night. Evil, evil, brilliant, evil woman.

SIMONE: I only heard the "brilliant" part.

JERWA: Fair enough.

TORRES: Well, that was fun but it's time to go. Thanks for coming out, folks. You people are simply delicious.

PARKS: No, you! Mwah!

PARKS: I enjoyed it, folks. Nice of you to let me play like I'm a real writer.

JERWA: We enjoyed playing like you're a real writer, too!

SIMONE: Bye, J.! This sucked!

KIRKMAN: Yeah... this blew...

TORRES: So much love in this room I almost hate to leave it...

Related Links:


Ande Parks Website
Brandon Jerwa Live Journal
Studio Funk-O-Tron
You'll All Be Sorry

Photo Credits:


Ande Parks by John Heebink


Brandon Jerwa by Adam Michaud


Gail Simone by Lea Hernandez


Robert Kirkman by Chris Piers

Next week: I'm off to Anime Reactor in Chicago, but there will be something for you to read here.

Meanwhile, on the Open Your Mouth forum "Art Assignment: Argobots" goes into week two, round two.

Thank you for your attention.

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