Kevin McVicker’s Comics Corner: issue #10: ‘So You Want to Write a Comic Book…’

So, you want to write a comic book. You have an idea. Maybe it’s stupid. Most likely it is. That’s okay. A guy who dresses like a bat and fights crime is also a stupid idea. A guy who can breathe under water and talks to seahorses is another stupid idea. But these stupid ideas are making companies lots of money and are loved by millions. Maybe your stupid idea won’t go nearly that far, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.

So, just maybe, your stupid idea isn’t so stupid.

But you have to do something with it. You have to create a story. This is really hard, but not really that hard. The hard part is making yourself do it. You can sit around with an idea in your head for a long time, but eventually you’re going to kick yourself when you see it for sale at your local comic book store without your name on it at all. Your idea is probably an idea someone else has, and that means sitting on it until you feel ready to make it happen is stupid. Do It now.
As they say, tomorrow is too late.

And yeah, I’m motivating you by calling you stupid. Get used to it, dummy. If you can’t take a little name-calling here, you’re going to be absolutely crushed when the internet finds what you’re trying to create and rips you apart. As the great Prophet Swift says, “Haters gonna hate hate hate.” But, as 2015 National Champions Duke University says, “Haters hate. Champions hang banners.”My point: rise above the hate, but don’t think for a second that you are free from it. Keep a thick skin… and if you don’t have one, get one, Now.

Hopefully by now you’ve written your story. No one else is going to do it for you, so get it done. Maybe it’s long and maybe it’s short, but the important thing is that it is written. If you’re asking, “how do I write it” I can honestly answer, I don’t know. I just write and I’m very amateur at it. I write like I make love: I just throw it out and am shocked by how often someone else actually enjoys it. But there are a plethora of books and websites that can help you. Seriously, type it into Google and you’ll get thousands of search results from people much more experienced than me. Once the writing is finished know that all the easy parts are complete, which is important because the most enjoyable part until the very end is writing. So enjoy that part of the process because the rest is likely to be stressful, full of roadblocks, and will truly test how much you really want to make comics.

Once you have something written and you have your script it is time to find an artist. Again there are a ton of sites, but what I also recommend checking out your local comic book stores on the weekends. Certain stores, at least the bigger and best ones, usually have areas where people might be drawing on the weekends or week days. Talk to the workers and owners and find out if those types of people come in to their store. Try to build a relationship with those artists. The other thing is to look at websites like DeviantArt and Tumblr and try to find no name artists on there. A lot will say they are looking for projects. Ask your friends on whatever social media platform you prefer. Twitter and Facebook both have artistic communities where you can find artists eager to work on a comic.

So finding an artist is easier than you think. They’re all over the place, but now you have to find an artist who you gel with and is interested in your story. That can take a little bit more work and some realization on your part. Realistically you probably aren’t going to find an unknown gem of an artist. The next Jack Kirby is probably already working. Sorry. Them’s the breaks, dummy. It’s not like you’re Stan Lee anyways, so it’s not like the artist is going to get to work with the most brilliant mind either. But you can find an artist who has a ton of potential and is already a strong storyteller. That’s the trick. There are a lot of slick and wonderful artists, but they don’t know the first thing about laying out sequentials and telling a story. Learn to spot the difference. Also find one who actually reads comics and can explain to you why their favorite artist is their favorite artist. If they can’t simply explain why they dig another artist’s style, move along to the next guy. Trust me, there are other artists. And don’t fret about style too much. If you find an artist you can work with, they can almost always tweak their style to fit your story.

A good trick is to not give the artist the script for the project you really want to work on because an on-going series or even five full issues (that’s at least one-hundred drawn pages which is a lot) can be (and usually is) daunting to an artist. Also you don’t know if what you’ve written will even work for them. They may want an extremely structured script or a loose plot where they can play around and do what they want with the story. Because of this I think it’s best to write a short comic. Write no more than ten pages with minimal to no dialogue and work with that first when figuring out how best to work with an artist. You may find out after two pages of them drawing how they work and what they need to best create a comic. This is like working as a band to make music, it shouldn’t be your exclusive vision when you bring a song to the group, but what comes out should be everyone being open to each other’s ideas. If they need full guidance and a strict script, great, but a lot of artists love the freedom to tell your story their way which many times can make for the most exciting improvements on your project.

So here’s the next part and it is so hard: money. A lot of artists have a chip on their shoulder and think they should be paid in advanced. In truth, no professional comic book artist that I know of works that way. They get paid for the pages they turn in. Also, it is important to explain that you as the writer aren’t getting anything for this endeavor either. Don’t ever ask them to work for free, because that’s stupid and it’s a good way to make sure your project sits partially drawn when a paying gig comes along for them. But there is nothing wrong with offering a 50/50 split of the money once the comic is complete and you are able to sell it. You’re both gambling your time, but as long as you both believe in what you’re working on that’s a fair deal. If this is both your first project it’ll end up being a bigger learning opportunity than anything, and that 50/50 split will probably be pennies anyways.

The writer at this point becomes a cheerleader. You have to encourage the artist to keep moving forward on the project. You have to be gentle with your criticisms and sometimes even lower your expectations to make sure you stay on schedule. And that’s important to have a schedule. Nothing ridiculously short, but you should have one. As a side-project for fun, there’s no reason it should take you more than six months to have a finished first issue of your comic. And that’s the time it should include for character designs, rewrites, inking, and lettering. Give yourselves a goal, don’t let it just be open-ended.

Most amateur artists will probably do their own inking, so you can keep the people involved to a minimum. But the lettering is a hassle and something you are going to need to take care of probably yourself unless the artist is eager to do that as well. I’d recommend the writer figure out how to letter and do it until the book is on a roll and you actually have the money to pay someone else to do it. The lettering is your final chance as an amateur writer to do a final edit of your book. You can test the flow of your dialogue and you can see that you need a descriptor field on a page that doesn’t feel as dynamic and obvious as you thought it would be. Again, there are tons of websites to help you learn how to do it properly as well as cheap and free software that’ll get the job done for you. It isn’t as easy as you think, but once you learn the rules and get the right software for an independent release it isn’t impossible for you to do yourself.

At this point in time you’re thinking you’re done. The comic is finished, right? No it isn’t. Now you have to sell it – and the annoying phrase “you have to spend money to make money” never has been more daunting or true. Maybe you are independently wealthy, but chances are you aren’t and you have little to no extra income to invest in your project. There are several things at this point you can do. The first is a crowd funding website. The only problem with these is that your project can very quickly become muddled in with all of the other projects on there and you may not make your goal. If you have a lot of friends and they’re all willing to chip in five or ten dollars, you may be able to make it happen though. Your second option is if your book looks good enough find a site like Comixology and sell it digitally. You can push the sells by whoring yourself on social media and setting a low minimal price for your book. Then you can take the money from that and print your book.

The best thing you can do is get your book printed, because then it is possible to take it to conventions in and around your area and sell it and get publicity. Having a local artist whom you work well with also helps here because you can have them sit at the booth and help sell comics by selling sketches. This really is a great tool to get people to your booth since no one but other amateur writers with stupid ideas will want to talk to you at a convention, but everyone loves an artist. The artist will also make a nice chunk of change just for drawing Spider-Man and Batman all day long and it’ll help supplement the zero dollars you two have made on your comic that you’re supposed to split. Oh, and it is okay to ask the artist to split the cost of the booth at a convention because they’re the only one out of the two of you that is actually going to be making money. That’s not a slight against artists, it’s just no one has ever offered to pay twenty dollars for an original short story by an author at a convention. Again, all of that will still take money so if you two have none then save up your digital sales or again try crowd-funding. Also start at smaller conventions with cheap booths and try to rollover your money from each one to fund a larger convention.

In terms of writing a comic which you self-publish, the writing will end up being the least of the things you do. I can also tell you that if that’s all you want to do and do not want anything to do with any other parts of the process, learn to write novels because no comic of yours will ever get made otherwise. You’ll find out very quickly how strong of a manager you are and how ignorant of business you are. Studying those two subjects prior to the start may not be an entirely bad idea either.

Always remember the end goal though. There are moments that are going to be awful and full of stress. It will appear impossible at times. But the moment you get to hold your comic – YOUR OWN COMIC – in your hands for the very first time, I can promise you all the crap you’ve dealt with up to that point and potentially afterwards is completely worth it. As a comic book nerd I absolutely promise that’ll be a high point in your life. It still is for me.

-Kevin McVicker
Columnist: Nerd Nation Magazine

Please Note: as with all columns here at Nerd Nation, the views and opinions expressed by Mr. McVicker are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Nerd Nation Magazine, our sponsors, or anyone else for that matter. So don’t be a d-bag and try to sue anyone over the stuff he writes. It’s called an opinion, don’t like it? The internet is a big place, just go read something else… preferably right here at Nerd Nation! =)

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