DISCLAIMER: Additional harshness added for comedic value. I'm not really that much of a jerk. This column is meant to entertain as much if not more than it's supposed to inform, so keep that in mind and don't be a sissy.
It's a question I get more than once a day. Seriously. I get asked this almost more than I get asked about my work. Which leads me to believe that more people are interested in having my job than are interested in actually reading my books-- but that's a rant for another time.
Anyway, I get this question a lot, so I thought I would do some sort of guidelines or helpful facts or things you should know or whatever about breaking into comics. My gift to you... because I'm such a nice guy. Here goes.
YOU PROBABLY SUCK
The first thing you should know is that you probably suck. I know it's hard to hear, but it's true. I also know that if you suck, and you're reading this, you're going to think to yourself "I don't suck, he's not talking about me." Well, I am talking about you. You do suck... and there's only two things you can do: quit or get better, but that doesn't change the fact that you suck.
Here's the thing, I've been doing this for almost six years and I've been to over a dozen of those big comic conventions... and at every one of them I get mini-comics and promo comics and self published comics. Guys just give them to me. They want my opinion on things... they want me to read their work. I usually don't. Mostly because I don't have time, but also because they suck. They're just terrible. These guys have poured their heart and soul into a comic (or maybe they haven't), they've spent tons of time on something (or maybe they haven't) and the final product is crap. It's very heartbreaking, but it doesn't make the comic any less shitty.
I know it's hard to hear, but it's true 90% of you suck... and that's just not cool. I know it's hard to hear, but you need to hear that if you're going to improve. But let's get one thing straight, I'm not trying to inspire you. If you're kinda good, or really determined or really stubborn, you may make it. You may get into this biz and become one of the greats... but the fact is some of you are so far gone it's a lost cause. Those guys should just give up. I know that sounds harsh, but you could become the next president if you didn't waste so much time looking for an artist to draw your crappy script or tracing drawings of Batman on your office stationary (and really, most of this is directed towards writers, but it all applies to artists, too). So I'm doing you a favor. You could be a governor, or a lawyer, or a fireman, or a porn star... if you just stopped focusing on this lost cause. So I'm really doing you a favor.
There's nothing wrong with just reading comics. If you suck, just do that. If you think you don't suck (and keep in mind, odds are... you're wrong keep reading.
You ever sent Marvel a sample script in hopes that they'll hire you? I bet you ten dollars they didn't even read it. I used to publish comics myself... I ran a little company called Funk-O-Tron, you probably haven't heard of it. From time to time, I would get writing submissions. Forty page scripts from guys who want to write comics for Funk-O-Tron. Nice guys I'm sure... and they could have been the next Alan Moore or Chuck Austen but you know what... I didn't read them. I had hot dogs to eat and articles on Newsarama to read. I mean, I want to know who's taking over "Iron Man" as much as the next guy, y'know? Reading a script takes time and no editor owes you that time or even has that time to give. It's not going the get read, it's just not.
My advice to you is that if you want to make comics... make comics. Actually putting together a comic book, finding an artist, getting it printed and even getting it distributed is the way to go. I did it, and I'm really not that smart or resourceful at all. If you want to go this route, I recommend reading this: www.mvcreations.com/articles/publish.html it's the poor man's guide to publishing comics by my pal Val Staples. It's interesting and will tell you a bit of what you need to know.
The thing is, showing an editor a script is not going to work. But they may read a finished comic if you send it to them. A finished comic shows that you can actually make a comic and that you're dedicated enough to do so. That's the way to go... but the key is, it can't suck. If your self-published comic can't sit in-between two books from Marvel, DC, Image or Dark Horse and not stand out (in a bad way)... that's not good. If the comic you put together has bad art, it's not going to get read... so make sure you and everyone involved is in that upper 10% of people that don't suck, which isn't easy to do... but who said this was going to be easy.
Also... keep an eye on your time frame.
I have people come up to me at cons all the time. They look really excited and they want to tell me about their comic idea. They say something like this "I've been working on this thing for like eleven years and it's going to be awesome when I get it out." They think that working on something for a long time makes it better and that by telling me they worked on something for eleven years it's going to impress me. It's not. It won't. It doesn't. All that tells me is that you're a lazy bastard who's never going to get your idea off the ground. If you've been sitting on an idea for eleven years... it ain't going to happen. Whatever you're doing isn't working. So you either need to change what you're doing... or give up.
The next person that says that to me at a con is going to get kicked in the nuts.
HELP YOURSELF, I DON'T HAVE TIME
I think after this article my new policy is going to be to send someone to this article when they ask me how I broke into comics or how they can break into comics as a writer. Honestly, I don't know you, I don't have time to hold your hand, and really, I don't want to. I wish you luck. This is a great job to have and I highly recommend it, but I'm not your father or your mentor. I didn't write people to ask them for help. I didn't expect anyone to get me work.
That's not to say I wouldn't bring things up in passing if I was talking to a professional... and if you've got a specific question like "how do I get in touch with a printer" or "who do I talk to at diamond to get my book solicited" I won't oblige... but the broad "help me" question is never going to work.
Do you really think there's anything I could type in an email that would help? Look at comics, read comics, read the thousands of articles on-line about making comics and do it. That's all you have to do. Emailing me is not going to help you. Everyone's breaking-in story is different and my way is probably not going to work for you (mostly because you suck, remember?) so do your own thing... it could pay off (as long as you don't suck).
DON'T BE STUPID
If you've ever said "I could never draw comics, but I know I could write them," you're not going to make it. That said, I could never draw a comic, but I know I could write them. It's different for me because I have written comics. But if you think that drawing comics is too hard and you think you could write comics because you like comics, but actually have no actual writing talent... you are an idiot. If you are an idiot, this is not going to work.
If you think this is easy, if you're a dock worker that wants to take the easy way out and thinks making comics would be better than lifting crates and fighting bums all day... you're right, but it's not going to work for you. If you're looking for an easy way to make money, it's just not going to work. You know the 90/10 rule right? It works for all businesses.
10% of the comic shops in this country sell 90% of the comics. The other 90% of the stores sell 10% of the comics and make 10% of the money. That also means that 10% of the working professionals in this industry make 90% of the money that's being made in this business and 90% of the other creators fight over the other 10% of the money. This is a cutthroat business that's not easy to get into and is even harder to stay in. So, honestly, as hard as it must be to hear, if you suck, and you quit... you're really doing yourself a favor... because if you made it... if you got your book published you may still be making a fraction of minimum wage doing it. That's just how this works.
So you can't be stupid. You've got to know what you're doing. Don't take this to mean that you can't make a living in comics... you can, a lot of people do, including myself... but it's not easy... it's just like any entertainment business. 90% of actors in Hollywood are struggling and making money on the side washing cars or something... that's just how it is.
So in closing I'd like to say good luck, you're going to need it. Also, I hope you didn't take what I was saying as being too harsh. If you're really offended... don't worry, I wasn't talking about you. The comic you gave me in Seattle was fantastic and I've been meaning to get in touch with you. I wouldn't want to do anything to keep you from going in that store every week to BUY MY BOOKS.