So, here’s the deal. Starting the second week of a series of interviews where I ask the same five questions of friends that I respect in different industries such as film, comics, music, and more. The goal is to get a more realistic idea of what it looks like to “climb the ladder” of success and whether or not there is such a thing as “breaking in.”
Shane Houghton is the incredibly nice, clever, and funny writer behind the fantastic all-ages comic series, Reed Gunther, drawn by his equally nice and talented brother, Chris, and published by Image Comics. He’s also written comics for licensed properties such as The Simpsons, Peanuts, and Casper. If that wasn’t enough (for a 26 year old!), he’s also a talented filmmaker.
At what point did you consider yourself a success?
I don’t think I have considered myself a success yet! I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given, but I still have a lot of goals to accomplish. Personally, I feel like I’ve just now began to scratch the beginning of what I’ve always wanted to do. I really enjoy working with my brother, Chris (artist and co-creator of REED GUNTHER), and I hope we can continue making our bear-riding cowboy comic, REED GUNTHER, come up with more creator-owned comics, and even run an animated TV show together.
How long did it take you to get there?
I’ve been writing comics for about 4 years. But really, that was when the first issue of REED GUNTHER came out. When my brother and I first started self-publishing REED GUNTHER, we were releasing about two issues a year, which means I only wrote 64 pages a year for two years. While we were working on Reed, I wrote a few other short comics (2, 6, and 8 pagers) so my brother and I could flex some different creative muscles.
After about 2 years of self-publishing REED GUNTHER in black and white, we started getting some attention from publishers. Dark Horse asked us to pitch some stories for STAR WARS ADVENTURES, a digest sized self contained story. I wrote 10 pages of outline for three different stories (which I thought were pretty awesome) but Dark Horse ended up turning them down. The one-page version of those pitches and some artwork are posted on a blog we like to call: Rejected Comics by Shane and Chris Houghton. You can see all of our failed pitches there including lots of submissions to MAD MAGAZINE, KUNG FU PANDA, and Dark Horse’s CREEPY.
Around this same time, Image Comics became interested in re-releasing REED GUNTHER and having us continue the series. We finally came out nationally thanks to Image, in color, in June of 2011. Now it’s been one full year and we have 10 issues of REED GUNTHER and two trade paperbacks.
Because of Reed, I also have had the opportunity to write for a few other books including CASPER’S SCARE SCHOOL, PEANUTS, and THE SIMPSONS’ TREEHOUSE OF HORROR. But there have been plenty of failed pitches for lots of other properties.
Who do you look at in the comics industry as someone you respect, that is “doing it right?”
As a writer, Sam Humphries (writer of OUR LOVE IS REAL, HIGHER EARTH, and Marvel’s ULTIMATES) is doing it best. Sam has been hovering around the comic creating business for years. He created MySpace Comics when that was a thing. He knows everyone in comics and has been attending San Diego for like a billion years. Sam and I have been friends way before either of us was anything in the comics industry– before he wrote the FRAGGLE ROCK story that put him on the map and before REED GUNTHER was at Image.
I’ve seen Sam work at San Diego for the last three years and he is doing it right. Sam is there not to sell his book(s), but to sell himself. He doesn’t have a table, but floats from signing to signing at BOOM!, Archaia, Marvel… And meets and parties with editors constantly. He gets a hotel real close so he can take naps during the middle of the day. Something I couldn’t ever do because I have a table to cover. Sam also knows a lot of press folks and comes up with new and innovating ways to promote his new books. Press guys love that so they’re helping each other out. Sam knows his jam.
What’s the biggest surprise for how you expected life to be at your level vs. how it actually is?
That’s tough. I never really knew what life was going to be like after college. Up until you graduate from college, everything is set up and pre-planned. In school you always know you’ll move up to the next grade, then high school, then college. But after, everything is up to you. I got a boring day job for a while, but it took me a few years before I could freelance and transition into writing comics full time.
By the way, I only started writing comics full time this year, around April. So I haven’t been doing it long and I could totally crash and burn. Plus I’m getting married this year, which is pretty crazy. So those are both things that are surprises to me the year… sort of. Both writing full time and getting married are things I’ve been working at and developing for years! So it’s cool they’re both happening around the same time.
I’m 26, and if you ask me what my 5-year plan is, I’ll laugh in your face. Well, probably not because that seems mean, but what I’m saying is that I have no idea what I’m doing 5 months from now. Hopefully still working and married. Those are my goals into my very limited near future.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to break in to the comics industry?
DO IT! If you want to get in, start working. Don’t wait until someone gives you an opportunity because they won’t until you have shown them what you can do. My brother and I self-published for two years before we got a chance at Image. Check out our failed pitches site and you can see a ton of work we did that never went anywhere. And there’s a lot more stuff that isn’t on that site. But hopefully you’re doing what you do because you love doing it. And that is the reward right there. No one gets into comics for the money, because you can make a lot more of it doing a lot less work. Enjoy what you do and then don’t stop doing it.