Saturday afternoon at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, Marvel Comics held its Breaking in to Comics panel, which would seem to complement the recently-published two-issue series giving advice on how fans can turn pro. CBR was on hand for the panel, which was moderated by Manager of Sales Communications Arune Singh and Talent Coordinator C.B. Cebulski and featured editor Tom Brevoort and writers Jonathan Hickman, Fred Van Lente, Jeph Loeb, Marjorie Liu, and artists Mike Choi and Chris Sotomayor.
The panel began with the panelists describing how they found work at Marvel, with Cebulski recounting Mark Waid's analogy that “Breaking into comics is like breaking out of jail: once you find a way, that way is closed forever.” Speaking first, Singh said his route was circuitous (and included an extended stint at Comic Book Resources), ending lightheartedly with, “I wanted to be in the military. I was going to fight terrorists, now I fight bad PR.” A fan shouted, “It's not too late!”
Choi, like Singh, went to business school, but unlike Singh did enter the field for a time before making the jump to comics. Liu's path stemmed directly from her other job, writing sci-fi novels.
Loeb, who has been in the business longest, noted that his work on movies like “Teen Wolf” and “Commando” led him to work on a film version of “The Flash.” “As happens in the movie business, you've never seen that movie,” he said. “But Jeanette Kahn, who was the then-publisher of DC Comics, said, ‘If you're not going to write a movie for us, would you like to write a comic?” After failing to negotiate his way onto a Superman or Batman title, Loeb landed on “Challengers of the Unknown,” which he knew nothing about at the time. “I think they were thinking, I don't think he can hurt them too badly.” Loeb's collaborator on that book—and many since—Tim Sale was also breaking in at the time, after he had been “drawing greeting cards and selling them at street fairs in Seattle.” Sale was discovered for comics through samples he was distributing at conventions.
Van Lente described creating “Silencers” with “High Moon's” Steve Ellis, which was published by Moonstone. His big break came, though, after showing the book to then-Tokyopop editor Mark Paniccia, who, after moving to Marvel, asked Van Lente to pitch a new female Scorpion for “Amazing Fantasy.”
Hickman graduated with an architecture degree. “But I hated that,” he said. Hickman then worked in design and in an ad agency before putting together an Image comics submission. “I FedExed it on Wednesday, had a gig on Friday, quit my job on Monday.”
Brevoort tried for an internship with Marvel and DC during his college years.“Marvel got back to me; DC never did. So in the summer of 1989, I was a Marvel intern. I worked with three editorial offices, and wasn't terrible at it.” When an assistant editor position opened three months later, he applied. “I've been hanging around ever since.”
Cebulski described his background in manga, living in Japan and then working for Central Park Media upon his return to the States. He was looking for a way to bridge the gap between superhero comics and manga, which placed him well when Marvel adapted a Spider-Man manga which Cebulski translated and edited.
“As you can see from the stories, people start in one role and magically end up in another,” Cebulski concluded. “It's not about what you studied or what you know or who you know, it's a passion for comics.” He noted that the digital age has made it easier to publish and break in, but the difficulty “is parleying that into the next job—you're only as good as your last comic.”
Cebulski then opened the floor to questions. The first dealt with how a writer can get his work seen. Loeb said, “You have an opportunity here at the con to meet an artist, make a friend, and tell a story—it doesn't have to be a long story.” He added that it's not necessary to focus on A-list characters. “If you can tell a good Batgirl story, you can probably tell a good story.” His advice was simply to make it look as professional as possible.
Van Lente said he and his artist friends broke in together, “so they were willing to work with me, for free, for a number of years to make comics.”
“If your goal in life is to write Spider-Man, or a Marvel comic, you're probably aiming too narrow,” Brevoort said. “If you're trying to be a comic book writer, what you're really trying to do is be a writer.” He added that prospective writers should continue to practice their craft and take any opportunity that presented itself. Existing published work, too, is key for Marvel, as it displays that a writer has been previously hired to do the job of writing.
Liu recommended that writers “exploit your individuality. Don't try to be like anybody else,” she said.
Cebulski noted that the legalities of intellectual property also make it difficult for writers to break in. “Marvel and DC have to protect themselves,” Cebulski said.
The next fan began by asking whether he should address Brevoort as Tom or Mr. Brevoort. Brevoort said, “Tom is fine,” with Loeb adding, “We have to call him Mr. Brevoort.” The fan's question was about internships, with Cebulski saying that Marvel still takes interns and those interested should contact Sara Del Greco at email@example.com. Brevoort mentioned notable Marvel interns like Joe Madureira but said that the internships are unpaid and thus interns must be students receiving credit.
Packaging and the trade department are growing fields, Hickman said in response to a question about positions at Marvel that might not be obvious to the public at large. Cebulski added Creative Services to the list.
Don't pitch editors directly, Cebulski said, because of the legalities. “Send us your work, we will read it, and we get in contact if we like it and will ask you to pitch,” he said. “It has to be something non-Marvel related that shows you know how to write.”
Liu and Loeb agreed that writers should not worry about their ideas being stolen. “Ideas are not your children,” Loeb said, adding, “If you have only one idea, you can't work in this business. I don't know if you've noticed, but comics come out every month.” Loeb said that it's important to choose the best idea and to determine the best one should ask three friends. “If one person hates your idea, he's an asshole; if two people hate it, that's something to think about; if three people tell you that, it's probably crap.”
Brevoort said, “There's too much equity in the concept of an idea,” but the important bit is execution. “Your execution is going to be much more individualistic. If you told the guy next to you your idea—that would be really dumb—but he would go off and do something completely different.”
Quoting Skottie Young, Cebulski said, “As an artist, there's no such thing as over-exposure,” and artists should post their work in every venue possible. But when submitting, a blog is best, “because it's one place, and as an editor I know it's organized chronologically—the top piece is going to be the newest.” Cebulski offered his email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and said to never send links or attachments, just introduce yourself and remind him or the editor where you met them, asking if it would be ok to send a link at that point.
Van Lente added that, if you have that presence, editors can find you. “I was trying to break in to Tokyopop—Marvel broke me.”
Cebulski also recommended Penciljack, Deviant Art, and the Millar and Bendis boards as venues to showcase and receive comments on one's work. “You will get a really good critique,” he said of the latter two.
“I don't know why more people don't take advantage of Image Comics,” Hickman added. “If you put together a good comic, they'll publish it.”
Asked about his artistic process, Choi said, “I see the script as the bare minimum of what I have to draw,” adding that he doesn't want to obscure the writer's intention but that there should be building from it. “It's the skeleton and I bring the awesome.”
“One thing, to sum up, which I think is crucial understand: it can be done,” Brevoort said. “It is not easy, and nobody is entitled to do it. But if you have the drive, and you have the talent, it can be done.”
“But it is the hardest thing in the world,” Choi said.