Many comic book readers dream of working on their very own comics, but but breaking into the industry can be a monumental task. At Comic-Con International in San Diego, artist Nicola Scott ("Earth 2") and writers Scott Snyder ("Batman"), and Charles Soule (Superman/Wonder Woman) revealed their secret origins, making the jump from fan to pro, as well as offering helpful advice to aspiring creators.
The profile of each panelist has risen significantly in recent years, and the panel began by asking about the why -- why did they want to work in comics in the first place?
Scott decided to try and break in around 2001, though her comic book experience as a reader wasn't particularly extensive. "I didn't have a history with comics. At the time of my decision I had read six," Scott admitted. "I thought it would be fun to draw Wonder Woman day after day," noting that she was a fan of the Lynda Carter TV series.
Soule has been a practicing attorney full-time since 2004. working full time in a law practice in 2004. He thought the idea of writing comics on the side sounded like fun, and by 2012 he had transitioned to writing comics full-time and being a lawyer part-time.
It was his second work, "27" for Image Comics, that led to Soule's big break. DC's Jeff Boison was a fan of the miniseries and introduced himself early on to the creator. In 2012, when Snyder was preparing to leave "Swamp Thing," Boison introduced Soule to series editor Matt Idelson. The writer made his pitch and was awarded the book, having now written the title for more than 15 issues.
"I was swinging for the fences absolutely as hard as I could," Soule said of his pitch. The reason Superman showed up in his first few issues is because he thought he wouldn't last and it would be his only chance to write the character.
Snyder wanted to create comic books since he was a child, originally wanting to be an artist. By college he realized he wasn't cut out to draw professionally and switched his focus to fiction writing and prose. After a book deal fizzled, he wrote a comic story for a friend's anthology series, and that in turn led to him being contacted by both Marvel and DC.
There were two people Scott said were a big help for her as she attempted to break into comics: writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Gail Simone. In 2003, she met Palmiotti for the first time, and he walked her through her portfolio, giving her advice on how to improve her panels and sequential storytelling. He gave her some phone numbers to contact for work, which led to one of her first professional jobs. Ironically, it turned out to be drawing the hands and feet section of a "How to Draw Comic Books" guide.
She continued to draw and post her work online at popular forums like Comic Bloc and Brian Michael Bendis' Jinxworld. It was there Simone saw her work and became a fan, and by 2006 she was being introduced to editor Mike Carlin and began working on "Birds of Prey" with Simone. "Here's your opportunity, now don't screw it up," she said.
Surprisingly, Scott and Soule also met each other on the Jinxworld forums, and for a short while, they collaborated on an independent comic called "Cockroach." Nothing ever materialized from the project, with Soule blaming the ridiculous name he came up with.
Snyder advised budding comic writers to not just go to a publisher with a pitch or script, but to actually produce a full comic on their own that they can show as an example of their skills. "Write a comic that you want to pick up and read," he said.
Soule agreed, adding that writers should experiment with short pieces about a single subject, like a two-page fight scene or date. The shorter work will allow them develop a knack for understanding story beats. "Find an artist who wants to draw what you're writing," Soule said of the difference between just writing scripts and making comics.
Asked who is her biggest influence is, Scott said that while she didn't read many comics at first, she knew and admired George Perez' "Wonder Woman" and the clean line work of Adam Hughes. Now that she is committed to working professionally in the comic book industry and knows much more about it, she also really enjoys the work of Ryan Sook and Terry Dodson.
A fan wondered about the types of conversations that occur between writers as one leaves and another takes over, wondering if anything occurred between Snyder and Soule on "Swamp Thing." The writers did have a discussion, as Snyder had originally planned to end his run with Swamp Thing unable to return to human form, but Soule's pitch included plans for Alec Holland as a human. Snyder liked the ideas Soule shared and was happy to accommodate. "It's their book now," Snyder said of handing off a title to a new writer, adding that he still reads Soule's "Swamp Thing" every month.
Another fan asked about how much effort goes into writing scene backgrounds in their comic scripts. Snyder explained, "I only put in the details that are important to the story." The writer does not want to bog down or confuse the artist with too many details.
Criticism can be harsh, especially online, and when a fan asked how to handle it, all three creators agreed on the importance of having a thick skin. "I think I'm a smart enough person and would know a nasty comment as opposed to a constructive comment," Nicola said.
"I don't look at forums," Snyder said, but he does have certain websites and reviewers whose criticism he trusts. He credited one reviewer with making him realize early on in his "Batman" run that the series and his past work all started with a protagonist reflecting on his past.
The final piece of advice during the informative panel was to keep those whose advice you listen to and trust close to you. The panelists agreed, those are the only critics that truly matter.