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Scott Myers posted my thoughts on low-budget screenwriting on his Black List hosted blog, Go Into The Story a few weeks ago. You can find it HERE.

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Ryan Ellis Boyd recently asked me to share a writing technique with him over on his fantastic blog, The Empty Page.

Here’s what I came up with:

FIND A COLLABORATOR.

It doesn’t have to be another writer, but it can be. On my wall, I’ve got 6 current collaborators listed. Two are artists that I’m working with on comic book projects. One is a producer that I’m working with to option a book to adapt. One is a co-writer on a screenplay. One is a co-author on a self-help book project. And one is a local director who gives me notes on a feature he wants to direct.

I list these projects above my desk so that I’m always working on one of them, and I keep in constant contact with these collaborators. They give me notes, they meet with me regularly and keep me on task. I can assign a deadline and have to stick to it because someone is always waiting on it.

And how do you find these collaborators?

All of the above were friends before they were collaborators. Though, some I sought out because I liked what they were doing. I think this is an important thing to keep in mind – look for a friend first, a collaborator second. It also helps to know that someone is going to be a pleasure to work with before you’re stuck working with them.

All are massively talented at what they do and most are at or about the same level of success as myself. They all bring something to the table that I can’t (and hopefully vice versa).

And most importantly, I tailored my work to their sensibilities and involved them very early in the process to give them a sense of ownership. They’re not employees, they’re partners. You want them as excited about the project as you are.

What about you guys? Any collaboration success stories? Or for you loners out there, what helps you stay on task?

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.

You can keep up with Shane and Chris and their bear-riding cowboy at reedgunther.com or buy the first two volumes of the comic here and here.  

Well, this is awkward.  Two interviews back to back from guys with extraordinarily similar names.  This is the 3rd part in a series where I interview my friends who are professionals in creative industries – what that might look like, and how it might be different than what you assume.

Kevin Mellon is the talented and unique artist behind the comics American Muscle (written by Steve Niles as part of Creator Owned Heroes), Heart (written by Blair Butler), and LoveStruck (written by Dennis Hopeless) all published by Image Comics.  He’s also a storyboard artist for the animated show Archer airing on FX.  Kevin is a new transplant to Atlanta from Kansas City – which he’ll continue to regret until we get an Alamo Drafthouse.  And after you take a look at his books (and the following interview), you’ll realize why I respect him so much.

At what point did you consider yourself a success?  How long did it take you to get there?

These first 2 questions imply a definition of success and an awareness of it as a concept that I am unsure I have.

When you set out to do a thing, you tend to have a list of “goals” / things you want to accomplish in doing said thing, and that might be a definition of success.

The problem with that is, your goals and list of things to accomplish changes as you get farther along the path, and as is often the case, you surpass your earlier goals and “definition of success” without realizing it, because you’ve long since added new/different goals and things to the list. Often times, your whole priority in life and work can change, taking all those goals out of the equation. Making success an unattainable thing that you will never see when you’ve “made it” because you’re often looking and working so far above it to notice.

Success, for me personally, is defined less by goals and some outside-world definition of it, and more-so by “did I do good work today? Did I learn something today? Is this project something I can bring myself into and have it be better for it? Will doing this project make me better at my craft and as a person? Will this be fun?”

Those are some of the things I set out to do in life and with everything I take on. Doesn’t always work out, and doesn’t always end up that way, but by asking those questions I find that I’m less disappointed by a false set of expectations (internal and external) I thought I wanted to accomplish, and more satisfied in knowing that I’ve done the best I can in the time I had with the tools/knowledge at my disposal. If I’m not satisfied, then I do better tomorrow.

I always want to do better tomorrow.

That’s about as successful as I can be.

Who do you look at in the comics industry as someone you respect, that is “doing it right?”

I think everyone has their own path, so you have to look at and inspect people who’s paths you admire. More and more, I find that with twitter and facebook, you can find out so much about another person and their way of doing things as to go from respecting it in an abstract way, to loathing it in a “fuck, I wish I didn’t know this about you” way.

The people I admire currently are excited about what they do and bring the best they can to it and “success/failure” aside, their enthusiasm for throwing everything they can into it never wanes.

What’s the biggest surprise for how you expected life to be at your level vs. how it actually is?

Not sure what level I’m at. I don’t have anything else to reference in order to make any sort of comparison.

Life is good. Shit, life is great. Everything in my life changed this year, and that’s been a sum of the last few years leading up to it and will be a precursor to the years after it.

Can’t really ask for much more, wouldn’t know what more to ask for.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to break in to the comics industry? 

There’s nothing to break into anymore.

Do your thing, put it out there in the best way you can, do it all over again the next morning.

Ask yourself if you want an audience or attention. If it’s the former, you’re well on your way. If it’s the latter, nothing anyone can say will help you.

You can find more about Kevin and keep up with his various social media personalities at about.me/kevinmellon.

I’ve interviewed a number of friends, who are professionals in different creative industries (comics, music, film), asking them the same five questions that explore “life in the middle.”  That is, they’ve found some success, but haven’t yet reached their ultimate goals.  The idea was first brought up in this post exposing the myth of a lottery-style “breaking in” to these creative industries.  Here’s the first of those interviews:

Van Jensen is the writer of the Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer series of graphic novels published by Slave Labor Graphics.  The first volume was named to American Library Association’s Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens.  In addition to living in the great city of Atlanta, GA, Van is also an amazingly smart and hard-working dude.  Be sure to look for him and his life-sized wooden Pinocchio (not a euphemism) at a convention near you.

At what point did you consider yourself a success?

I think I’ve enjoyed a decent amount of success at the different things I’ve done. I was the editor of my college paper, I was the lead crime reporter at a major metro daily paper, I’m the editor of a magazine that just went through a widely praised redesign, I’ll have my fourth graphic novel out this month, and they’ve done well for indie comics. But I won’t think of myself as a success until I’m one of the top writers in comics/prose, which depends more on how others view me and my work than on my opinion of myself.

I tend to be really self-critical, so I have to remind myself from time to time that I’m not a complete failure.

How long did it take you to get there?

I always wanted to be a published author by 25, but it took till I was 27 for my first book to come out. I’m 30 now, and I’m guessing it’ll take another four to five years at least before I start to really gain any traction as a writer in comics. You never know. A lot of it is luck. You just grind away and try to keep getting better, day after day. Sometimes I hope that I never consider myself a success, that on my death bed I’m still fighting to improve.

Who do you look at in the comics industry as someone you respect, that is “doing it right?”

I’m fortunate to have a lot of good friends in comics who are good people. Matt Kindt is a brilliant artist and writer, and he’s ridiculously nice and funny. Andy Runton is a comics genius, and he turns out perfect story after perfect story. Rob Venditti has long been someone I’ve regarded as the smartest writer in comics, and he’s in the past year really been gaining widespread recognition for his excellent work.

All of those guys are nice, honest and above all hard-working. That’s a trait I respect above any other.

What’s the biggest surprise for how you expected life to be at your level vs. how it actually is?

Money is probably the obvious answer. I thought that the amount of success I’ve had would translate to something nearing a living wage. It has not, to put it mildly. I still work full time and have no plans to leave my job. For one, I really like my job. But there’s also not a lot of money in comics until you start to have big mainstream success.

On a slightly more positive note, I’m frankly just surprised by how well the books have done so far. I didn’t expect them to gain much of an audience, and it’s really been a pleasant surprise to actually have a fan base and to get to meet so many of them. That’s by far the best part of working in comics.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to break in to the comics industry?

Work hard. Go to conventions. Meet people. Ask questions. Be nice. Don’t ask favors. Buy lots of books. Know the industry. Work some more. Study your craft. Ask for critiques. Take the criticism to heart. Don’t be a jerk about it. Be patient. Have faith. Most importantly, just make comics.

Be sure to keep up with Van and his future successes on twitter and tumblr

Chris Schweizer is the ridiculously talented cartoonist behind the Crogan Adventure Series from Oni Press and a professor of Sequential Art at Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta.  He also has great tips on how to drink for cheap while at conventions.

I attended Chris’s panel on “Pitching a Graphic Novel” at this year’s HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC.  And it was really refreshing to hear from someone like Chris, a professional who has been through the process, share a lot of his wisdom.  He walked us through the process of pitching original graphic novels to publishers.  What follows is based on my notes from the talk, not direct quotes from Chris.

STEP 1: DO YOUR RESEARCH

The first thing you have to figure out is which publisher is right for your project.  There are a lot of publishers out there.  Each one has a specialty.  The key is to read a lot of comics. If you don’t have the cash, your local library is a great place to start.  Which publisher has similar books to yours thematically, aesthetically, and/or tonally?

STEP 2: GET YOUR FEET WET

A great place to start is with short stories or mini-comics.  8-20 page comics, self-contained.  If you’re not an artist, get creative – use stick figures or partner with an artist – but just concentrate on telling the best story possible.

These quick reads are easy, non-threatening ways to introduce people to your work.

STEP 3: MEET PEOPLE

Go to conventions.  Meet editors at publisher booths.  Approach when they are slow.  Introduce yourself.  BUY THEIR BOOKS.  Hand them your mini-comics.  Be nice and professional.  Think of it like a first date, don’t try to sell them on marriage, just make a friend.

Schweizer list of “Best Conventions for Networking”: MOCCA, SPX, Heroes, Emerald City, and Baltimore.

STEP 4: SELF PUBLISH

A great way to get noticed is to just do it yourself.  If you have a story to tell, don’t wait for anyone’s permission.  Put it up on the web.  Build your own audience.  Make the publishers come to you.

STEP 5: THE PITCH

First check with each publisher to see if they accept unsolicited submissions.  Some companies do (and you can find this info on their websites) but a lot don’t.  That is, if they didn’t ask for it, you can’t send it.  That’s why the networking portion of this is so important.  You can get to know these editors so that when you have a pitch ready, it’s a matter of asking a friend if they’d like to read it.

Once you do have permission from the editor, send them an email with a LINK to your pitch.  Attachments often get bogged down in SPAM or overload mailbox size limits.

WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR PITCH:

1. Cover Letter (1 page) –

    • Your relationship with the editor – Have you met before?  Where at?  What books of theirs do you connect with?
    • Thank them for requesting. 
    • “Back of the DVD” description – A brief synopsis of your story dwindled down to a few sentences.  Think of it as leaving a movie and someone asking you what it was about.
    • Why the book exists –  Why is it important to you?  Why is it personal?  What’s your emotional connection to the material?
    • Your plans for the book – Page count, color or bw, time frame, series or stand alone, other companies that might have requested your pitch, reviews if you have them.

2. Finished sample pages (3-5 pages) – Sequential pages, in order, but can be from any spot in the book.

3. Outline (5-15 pages).  A tight story outline walking through all the beats of your story including the ending.  Don’t just describe the world, but focus on the character arc.  Hit the emotional beats.

4. Character descriptions (if needed) – If your story has a lot of characters that you think are difficult to keep separated, a character description sheet might be helpful.

Thanks to Chris for the info!

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