One Way to Do It

Since my last post, debating ‘how much is too much’ when it comes to talking about a project that has no guarantee of reaching fruition, I’ve been working on said project, and have decided that I really want to share what I’m doing and how I’m doing it – with as few specifics as possible.

I started this blog in 2008 as I was preparing to graduate from college with a degree in creative writing. I had an unpaid internship as the assistant to a producer; I was submitting my YA novel to agents, short stories to literary journals, and gathering plenty of material on what not to do. (I have an enormous MS Word document of other people’s query letters that are each horrendous in their own way.) A lot has changed since then (and, sadly, a lot has not), but what I always hoped to do with this blog was share my successes and failures in the writer’s market, and possibly help others learn from my mistakes.

So this is what I’m doing: I’m writing a comic book.

I only discovered comics in the last five years – unlike many creators, I didn’t read comics as a kid and grow up with dreams of being the one to write them. Sometimes, I feel weirdly guilty about that, like I don’t have the proper credentials. But one of the reasons I’m writing this comic is that I want other people, especially women, to see what I’ve come to see. Not just the superheroes and monsters, but some really epic storytelling that’s taking place in these picture pages. I’ve also been a little disappointed with the lack of steampunk comics. There are a couple, but for a genre that is predicated on the aesthetic, I really expected to see more. I’d quickly fallen in love with the historical-romance-fantasy of steampunk, and last fall, I came up with a story to tell.

I didn’t exactly set out to write a comic, but by the time the idea reached critical mass, I decided that it was a better fit in panels than prose. And I’ll tell you something else that had a lot of appeal: I was writing a comic about women for women – and I really, really wanted it to be by women. The ‘women in comics’ debate rages on, but the statistics are depressing as hell. Of the women in the business, some are writers, a few are editors, many are colorists – almost none are artists. I knew it was bad, but before I started doing my research, I didn’t know exactly how bad.

Which made me all the more determined to find a female artist to collaborate with. (Scour the internet – if you find an all female comic book team, I’d love to know about it. I couldn’t find a single one.)

While I worked on the script for the first issue, because, let’s face it, I don’t really do ‘short’, a friend pointed me toward a tumblr account inspired by Gail Simone, the only female writer on board with DC’s New 52, and someone I am rapidly growing to adore. In a post on her personal tumblr, Simone said:

It’s always struck me as a bit sad, that in a community like Tumblr, you have thousands of artists and thousands of writers, many of whom are very witty and very talented. And many have aspirations to be comic creators. But few make that leap.

What I would like to see is this…why can’t some of those artists and some of those writers get together and build their own little rocketships?

Seriously.  You have the internet. The tools are there, most of them are free or very low cost. There are artists with talent going across my dashboard every hour. Writers who have all the skills and wit required post all day long.  There’s resources like deviantart. There are fanfic circles.

Why isn’t the peanut butter getting in the chocolate?

Someone took her words to heart, and created ‘Make Your Own, Then,’ a tumblr account set up like personal ads intended to match writers with artists. It’s a great idea, but there’s just one problem – it is about ten times easier to find someone who wants to write a comic than it is to find someone who is willing to draw it.

Them’s the facts. Truth is – as was stated in last night’s Oscar telecast – a lot of people think writing is easy. And a lot of people think they can do it just by sitting down in front of a computer. While there are plenty of people who think that they’re artists by throwing paint on a canvas, I believe people who draw comics – or any sort of ‘realistic’ figure drawing – are a little more aware about their own limitations. People who really can’t draw aren’t going to offer their services, whereas people who really can’t write are only too happy to tell you their stories. There’s also the – somewhat erroneous – belief that an artist’s work is more valuable – I’m not saying that’s true, but there’s a strange sort of sense that writers write on spec all the time, but an artist should be paid as a commission.

The point of all this is that writing the comic was actually the easy (easier) part – I knew finding someone to illustrate was going to be significantly harder. Not only was I hoping to find a woman to work with, I needed someone who could do steampunk. And this is really what I wanted to share with all you aspirers out there – how I found an artist for my comic.

In some ways, honestly, it was luck. The mockingjay ornament in my uGeek store was featured in an Etsy gallery for The Hunger Games and one of the other featured pieces was a print that I really liked, so I traced it back to the artist’s DeviantArt account. I’ve been on and off Deviant Art since my days in the Harry Potter fandom, but I’ll tell you now – this is the place to go. I browsed through this particular artist’s gallery, found her web site, and checked out her portfolio. She had training in comics, and worked as a colorist. I liked that her style was a little different, that she used a lot of watercolors – even her digital art had the look of watercolor – and that her fan art happened to be for books, movies, and shows that I loved. I just didn’t know if she would be interested in collaboration. So here’s what this long-winded story boils down to:

Once I finished the script for the first issue, and had several more outlined, I composed an email.

Hi [Artist's Name],

My name is Megan Christopher – @hollywoodjane on Twitter and Etsy – and I love your work on Deviant Art. I have a new comic project in the works, and I’m looking for an artist to illustrate. I don’t know if you’re interested in collaboration at the moment, but was hoping that if not, perhaps you could recommend someone who would like to work on a serialized comic I’m pitching as, “[Insert Description Here].” The first issue is written, with the next four outlined.

Aside from admiration for your art and style, I’m very interested in working with another woman, as I’d love to see more women artists in comics. Thanks for your time.

Sincerely,

While I waited to hear back, I browsed Deviant Art’s steampunk galleries, looking to see what else was out there, and if there were any other artists I wanted to approach. I found one or two other potentials, but none that seemed to fit as perfectly as this artist. When she got back to me, it was to say that she was pretty swamped with work, but that she had been looking for a project to collaborate on with another artist friend of hers – another woman. I took at look at that artist’s DA gallery, and replied that if she was interested, I would be thrilled to have her on board. I got the first character designs last week, and the rest is yet to come.

Now, what will happen with this project when it’s actually been drawn – I don’t know yet. I’m still trying not to get too far ahead of myself. Publication of any kind is a long ways off, but definitely the goal.

You might not get as lucky as I did, and it might all fall apart, but what I’m doing should be taken as evidence that you can ‘Make Your Own, Then.’ Ultimately:

If you’re looking to collaborate with an artist, find someone whose style you admire, who shows an ability to draw the kind of scenes you’ve written, and just take a chance. The worst that happens is that the artist says no. The best that happens is the artist says yes, and you get to see your characters come to life.

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2 Responses to One Way to Do It

  1. Hugh of MYOT says:

    Hey you’re absolutely right about the imbalance of writer submissions to artist submissions on MYOT. I’ve been trying to figure out A) a way to filter them that doesn’t discourage participation but keeps out the ones folks obviously didn’t think through or that aren’t that compelling or original; and B) something that would encourage more artist participation. If you have any ideas I’d love to hear them.

    Also good luck on your project! Can’t wait to see what happens.

  2. JD DeMotte says:

    Great article and solid advice and observations. If you haven’t, you might want to check out the “Making Comics” podcast from iFanboy. http://ifanboy.com/podcasts/audio/specialedition/ Where they take a look at the ins and outs of writing, finding artists, working with editors, having a net presense etc etc in order to produce a comic. Some of it seems kind of obvious, but there’s some good ideas and advice in there.

    And I think it’s very admirable for you to try to find a fully female creative team. While I think there are more women out there making comics than ever before, but it’s still very much a sausage fest for the most part. There needs to be more diversity in creators in general, if nothing else to help attract a broader readership that aren’t white adult males.

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