LETTERS, WE’VE GOT LETTERS

A few quick notes before we begin. The Message Board needs you! Keep the boards going, please. We need those discussions. Also, don’t forget my new website: www.marvwolfman.com - I’m adding things and changing stuff around on a full time basis, it seems. And don’t forget to go onto my message board as well. Now, onto your letters…

From: Hal Hilden <hhilden@peaceoperations.org>

I have a question that I bet you have never heard before, 'what, in your opinion, is the best way for a writer to break into comics?' I have read the Marvel way (get published elsewhere), and the Peter David way (elsewhere, or take up stalking editors). Anyhow, I would like to know what my favorite writer thinks is the best way to break into the comic medium. Unfortunately, I'm not British (that seems to be the flavour of the week for writers), but I am Canadian. Anyhow, I am working with some small presses right now, and should very soon see some of my writing in print.

You’re right, Hal. I’ve never heard this one before. Not.

Let’s see, if we drop the whole British approach to breaking into comics (be better and more original than most anyone else and type with a cool accent), and assuming you aren’t already a hot talent in A: Movies. B: Television. C: Novels, I’d say unless you can suddenly become some editor’s roommate (don’t laugh – a so-called editor I once worked with actually took me off an issue of my own book to give his roommate a job so he could pay that month’s rent) the only real way is to be published elsewhere.

Although there are always flukes where someone just walks in off the street, the best way for anyone to know if you’re any good is to read what you’ve written. Writers aren’t like artists – you can see a few pages of art and know if the person can draw and tell a story. With writers you have to spend a lot of time reading over their work. Editors rarely have time to do their jobs these days as well as read unsolicited scripts on books that don’t have any openings for writers in the first place. So you really do need to get yourself published. You can even self-publish, as long as the material you do is really good.

Now, don’t make the mistake of giving an editor a copy of your book at a convention. I’ll lay you odds that it will never make it out of the hotel trashcan. They simply won’t take it home because their suitcase is probably filled with all the cool toys and such they themselves bought. Send the book to the editor’s office.

Breaking into the comic business as a writer is not easy. Breaking into ANY business as a writer is not easy. Just keep plugging away, and if you’ve got talent and perseverance, and, above all, luck, you just may make it.

***

Continuing the question raised above, the following letter brings up a subject many of us hear time and time again. For various reasons, with the exception of me, I am going to remove the names of this letter’s writer as well as the other people he mentioned (they may not want their situations discussed) and deal with it on a conceptual basis rather than on the specifics.

Marv -

I have no reason at all to kiss your butt, but I'd always thought your writing was great. In fact, when I go off on what's wrong with comics today, more often than not I end up mentioning that the books are poorly written. I usually mention your name during this part of the rant. As in--"where the hell are the REAL writers now--the ***'s, the Marv Wolfman's, the ***’s, the ***’s? You know, the guys who actually KNOW the difference between a STORY and an idea for a story. The guys who know the difference between story structure and the mole on my butt."

Having worked in the industry myself (I was an inker with Wildstorm for 3 years), I have to say that's the one thing that really pisses me off. Seems like more often than not, people are given work based upon whether everyone thinks they are a "nice guy" or not. It's a popularity contest. When did the quality of editors sink so low that they no longer KNEW what good stories or artwork looked like. Half the time the editors I show work to can’t name anything wrong with it, but I don’t get work anyway.

It's upsetting because if I were to publish comics, your name is one of the first that would come up. I'd hire almost all of the writers that were working at DC or Marvel prior to the late 80s, simply because if you get THOSE guys and cut them loose, they'll create your whole damned universe for you. I think I'd hire a bunch of pencilers I see out of work, too. while I'm at it. Why aren’t guys like ***, ***, ***, and so many others getting any meaningful work? I mean there isn’t a damn thing wrong with the way these guys draw---the storytelling, the anatomy, the perspective---they have all the tools (unlike many of the "hot artists" you see working today) yet they don’t land any assignments. Are the editors smoking pot in the office now? You'd have to be pretty damned high on something to turn away talent like that as far as I'm concerned. Everyone bitches, even the editors, about how books are always late these days and how artists cant seem to produce 12 issues a year. None of those artists I mentioned have any trouble doing that. You'd figure they'd be the answer to an editor's prayers in a tight spot. I cant figure it out. Can you? Maybe you know something I don’t---educate me please if this is the case.

Well, obviously, this is a question that most of us who don’t seem to get as much work as we once did often ask ourselves. I won’t discuss about the quality of any of the work produced by the people you mentioned. Quality is subjective, and frankly I agree with most of the examples you mentioned. But, as far as I can tell, here are some of the problems.

1: AGE. Simply put, most editors don’t want to work with someone old enough to be their father. Even though they may deny it, or not even realize it, people are understandably most comfortable speaking with and working with their peers. This isn’t always ageism. Sometimes it stems from embarrassment. I had an editor who began our first discussion with, “I feel silly telling Marv Wolfman how to write anything.” That’s as if I know everything and can be perfectly objective about my own work.

I believe they feel awkward telling someone they once read or were fans of how to do what they want. It shouldn’t be a problem – they are the editor and the writer/artist’s job is to give the editor what they want – but I know for a fact that many are uncomfortable telling their elders what they want. If you’re an editor, just do it. You’re in charge. A truly professional writer or artist realizes that. If the writer or artist won’t change or they argue more than younger talent does, well, don’t use them. But there is a lot of great talent out there (ahem!) ready and anxious to work and to give you want you want – and a lot more that you don’t expect, too – if you’ll give them a chance. Remember, to strike oil you must be willing to dig a little.

2: THE OLDER PRO HAS PROBLEMS ADAPTING TO TODAY’S STYLES. This is the one I have the most trouble with. Many writers and artists can change styles but often editors don’t know how to say, “Your stuff feels a bit old fashioned. Take a look at so and so, see what’s working today. You’ve got the ability, you just need to sharpen your eye a bit.” It’s not hard to do that, but the assumption usually is the writer will simply do what they’ve always done. I met with someone who was producing a line of rather edgy comics last summer and we had a great time chatting until I asked if they had work. Their tone suddenly changed because in their mind I was the writer of Teen Titans and other fluffy super-hero comics. They either didn’t remember or know that I did lots of other types of books. To most editors you are what you are most famous for. If you’re an editor and you feel someone has talent but they write in that 80s or 90s style, just tell them you’re looking for something different. If they can make the change, you luck out because you get the style with a lot of substance. If they don’t, you’ve done the least you should and it’s their problem. But – BE VERBAL. YOU’RE THE EDITOR! TELL THEM WHAT YOU WANT. UNLIKE THEIR CHARACTERS, THEY DON’T HAVE TELEPATHY. And, if you were once a fan of that person, go the extra mile and let them know where they’re failing. If you can help someone you once liked change, you’ve earned your angel wings. If they can’t, it’s their boogie.

3: THE OLDER WRITER HAS NOTHING NEW TO SAY. I’ve been told that many times. I can’t give a long answer to tell you how wrong that is. All I’ll say is that’s true – for some older writers, and for a lot of younger writers, too. People may stop having things to say at 25 as well as 55. Sometimes you stop having things to say for a year or two while you regroup. It happens all the time. People have spurts of creativity. They may go dry for awhile and then come back better than ever. Don’t make a blanket statement.

And, finally, it may not be the editor’s fault at all:

4: THE WRITER/ARTIST SIMPLY HAS LOST IT. They’ve slowed down. They don’t care any more. They know they’re so good they don’t want to be told what to do. These are the guys who don’t realize the wheel turns and they are no longer the superstar they once were. To you I say, lose the arrogance. Don’t assume because you once were #1 you still are, because you aren’t. I read some writer’s work these days and am blown away because their craft level and stories are so damn good. As a writer or artist you need to keep learning, changing and adapting.

That’s it for this week. See you in seven.
-Marv

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