Creating a noir comic book – part 9

Recap:
Part 1 – Idea to concept
Part 2 – Concept to outline
Part 3 – Outline to page breakdown
Part 4 – Scripting and the first step of finding an artist
Part 5 – Finding a great artist
Part 6 – The great artist and defining visuals
Part 7 – From script to finished page
Part 8 – Identity and branding

And that brings us to today’s post, where I’ll talk a bit about the pitch package, your sales document for your comic book, and what to do about it.

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Now, some publishers aren’t open to submissions (seemingly), and some encourage it (seemingly).

Those that state they aren’t open to submissions haven’t stopped looking for content to publish, they just have enough channels and a big enough network to find this content themselves. They know who to get in touch with to get the content they want. That said, if you strike up a conversation with a person from such a publisher and a communicative relationship springs from that initial talk, I’ll bet my left margin that you’ll eventually be able to pitch, show them content or even be asked to pitch for them. You’ve entered their network, their channel. So NO publisher is closed shop. Remember that. There are always ways in, although they might be long and look like a maze.

Then there’s the “other”, seemingly easier side, and that’s the publishers that encourage submissions – usually electronically on their websites. Easy! They’ll usually have rules on how and what to submit – and everyone says you should follow them. I have. (And I haven’t.) But no matter how hard you follow the rules, fact is that putting your content in that submission pile won’t get you far. If we’re talking about the “higher-ups” publishers, at least. And those are the ones we’re aspiring to, no? You’ll have to do the part mentioned in the previous paragraph. Network, meet and greet and get to know. Once your name is on their radar, then they’re more likely to give your submission a proper look. But I’m not saying you shouldn’t submit to these seemingly open publishers – you absolutely should, from the get go. Especially if you’re an artist. Because they’ll see your art and that can lead to things. And extra especially if you’re a writer working with an artist. Send that stuff in so publishers can start to see your artist’s work. Hustle and pimp that lovely lady or handsome bloke. Get their art in front of the eyes of editors, whenever you can, without being a pain in the ass, of course.

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But, all in all, I’m not a fan of does and don’ts, rules and restrictions. I’m not saying break the rules and go crazy, but bend the rules, use some tricks, pick some locks and sneak in where you can. As long as you act professional, humble yet confident and plain ol’ nice – you can get away with a lot of rule-bending. But none of this matters unless you have good content on your hands.

Another issue that arises for me personally is my location. I’m far away from any comic cons where I might meet editors (because meet editors is what you really want to do!). Sure, we have a couple of very nice conventions here in Norway, but usually there’s just a few guests from the States and the UK, and they are always creators. If I want to speak to an editor, I’ll have to fly over to the UK, or better yet the US. So if you have high-profile conventions near you where editors from all walks of comic publisher lives regularly appear, know you are privileged. And take advantage of that.

So, let’s get back to Spiral. Me and Emerson put together a simple and easy submission package, or pitch package, if you prefer. A handful of finished pages (*see below), some character sketches, a quick outline of the content/story**, and our contact info. All in a small, handy PDF. This was back in January, and I had already set my sights on London Super Comic Con (which I’ve been to before) to see if I could get some face-time with editors. There were a few publishers there that were interesting and a fit for Spiral.

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So I flew down to London, which was also a trip to promote and talk to creators about Outré. Together with my co-editor Glenn Møane. I had the Spiral pitch PDF on my iPad and went up and talked to a few editors. (I’ll leave the names up for guessing.) The “industry” says you shouldn’t pitch stuff at the convention floor, because editors either want to sell their books or talk to fans there or just hang out, but here we’re back to the rule-bending business. I introduced myself, talked a bit about their books (which are books I really like and books from creators I like and some I know), told them about my situation and asked about their submission policies. And since I was plain ol’ nice – (hey, I am!) – of course they could take a look. Up comes the iPad and I tell them the sales pitch for our project while I show them the pages. Everyone I showed the pages to, creators, friends, fans and editors really dug them. And I can’t blame them. Emerson’s pages are fantastic. The editors I spoke to asked me to send them the PDF so they could have a proper look at the office. Mission completed.

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And this is where your imaginary high fives, your silent victorious war cries, you on the knees laughing of joy – in your head – soon vanish and turn into a long, long wait. Because that’s what it says on the package: hurry up and wait. The week after, (this is March still), stuff was sent and initial replies were received and the wait for the final “yes, let’s do this, boys” or the “nope, chaps. Next!” began.

And we waited, and waited. But what you need to do in these periods where you are walking the Withering-Soon-Away-From-Waiting-For-That-Email Plains (you’ll walk them a lot), is create, create, create. Me and Emerson quickly began producing more pages, setting our goal on completing the first issue. The indication from peers and editors was that we had something good on our hands. Pages kept coming in from Emerson and the notion of waiting seemed to vanish into the back of my mind. I had started working on other projects at the same time, so you kinda forget you’re waiting.

Then one day, that e-mail came diving into my inbox…

 

*Here are the pages we included in the pitch package. The first 7 pages of Spiral. All art by Emerson Dimaya and lettering by Chris Crank!.

Spiral_01_001 Spiral_01_002 Spiral_01_003 Spiral_01_004 Spiral_01_005 Spiral_01_006 Spiral_01_007

**which is called the pitch text, the hardest part of writing for most writers. It’s hard to distill your own work into a quick and sales-worthy paragraph – but it’s easy to do it to other people’s work. So practice on properties that you like, books, films, comics whatever.

Creating a noir comic book – part 7

Parts I, II, III, IV, V and VI.

Onwards down the SPIRAL of comic book creation.

We’ve gone from idea and concept to outline and script, to finding the right artist and working on the visuals of the story. Now it’s time to look at some actual pages of Spiral. From script to thumbs. Pencils to colour. Then the final touches with lettering.

Here is the script for page 6.

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My layout suggestion.

I supplied Emerson with a stick-figure layout of how I saw the page. I make these for myself to better see how the script works, but they can come in handy for your artist when he/she interprets your script. Just make sure you ask first and don’t throw this along as some guide book. That’s insulting. Also, it’s important to mention that they are just suggestions. A good artist’s mind is more visual and knows the in-and-outs of the pace and storytelling of a page, so let him/her do their part.

Another good example why Emerson is a great artist to work with was his suggestion to remove the baton. Olivia’s already shown signs of bad temper and violence earlier, and it doesn’t need to be emphasized here. Which is brilliant feedback that makes the story better. Writers should always be open to listen to feedback from their artist(s), not just their writer peers. It’ll usually make the story a lot better. Again, this solidifies the fact this is a collaboration, where SPIRAL becomes OUR comic book/story, not just mine. The emotional bond, just like I talked about earlier.

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Emerson, layouts

With a few very minor tweaks, Emerson nailed the layout on the first attempt. (My suggested layout above proved to be nearly right in terms of flow and pacing. Sometimes we writers get it right too!) The evidence of me making the right decision about choosing Emerson are piling up. Great flowing page, and even with the intentional jarring jump of scenes after the second panel, it reads really well. Notice how the inset panel of Olivia floats between two different times. How the glasses link it back to panel 2 and how her angry behaviour links it to panel 4.

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Inks. Showing how perfect Emerson’s rough and organic style is for the story and genre. Include lettering, and this could have been a final page. Both the story and the artwork works nicely in b/w. But since Emerson is extra brilliant, he does colouring too.

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Initial colours by Emerson.

These were the original colour choice, which we stuck with throughout all the pitch pages (7 pages) at first. After we saw the pages all together we decided to try a more moody approach. Although the sparse but diverse and clean colour choices here work, we felt we didn’t capture a real identity with the pages this way.

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With a unison, more muted choice of colours, we knew we’d captured the real mood of SPIRAL.

Let’s look at page 7.

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A very dialogue-heavy page, which I remind Emerson of in the layout suggestion.

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Layouts by Emerson.

Again, Emerson takes a similar approach, but notice the different body language with the heads, which really sells the layout. Also, that big panel is made perfect by joining the two locations together. In the script this is obvious, but on a page it doesn’t necessarily explain itself. By using Frida and the back room as the frame for the interrogation room in that big panel, Emerson brought it all together.

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Inks.

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Original colours.

Like mentioned previously, we adjusted the original colours for something with more identity.

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New colours. With shine.

The theme of yellow versus green was kept, but everything is muted and feels more in harmony. This was the first test, where Emerson added some shine effects.

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Final colour choice.

Same muted colours, but without the shine effect. This was the page we went with, and the style of colours that we decided to run through all pages.

Emerson’s brilliance was now done. From layouts to colours. It was time to bring in the unseen force of comics creation. The letterer. I myself can letter, but very basic stuff, so I didn’t want to do injustice to Emerson and his art by slapping my mediocre skills on top of this.

Through my network I had a few suggestion for people to get in touch with. Although it’s the least thought of aspect of creating your comic, it’s also the aspect that shows if the project is good or not. Bad lettering sticks out like a sore thumb and can ruin the best of pages and stories. Simple advice: get/hire someone who can do it properly.

I got in touch with Crank! (Chris) and paid him to do the lettering for the initial pages of SPIRAL. And I was so pleased with the result, I hope we can have Crank! with us as we create all four issues.

Here’s how he made the finished pages look:

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A lot of dialogue and balloons, but Crank! handled the page expertly.

Next time we’ll look at creating the cover and identity of Spiral, as we move into finishing up the pitch package. We’ll get to that too, so stay tuned.