How to Get Started in Comics

I get asked this so often that I thought it best to put it in one easy, accessible place. There is no incredible, magical story to be told, but if you read on you might just learn something.

How Did You Get In?

I began applying to Archie Comics in late 2001. I produced an application that held:
– improvised scripts
– a letter of intent with contact information

This was a laughably bad attempt and was rightfully ignored. The scripts were rough and embarrassing in retrospect: material thrown together with little to no thought behind their creation, and no self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE).

Skipping 2002 (which was a bad year altogether), I made my second attempt in 2003. The previous year had seen some work on the application package, but 2003 saw a truly focused attempt. I studied the comic itself, and its competitors, to see what worked in telling a story. I applied the lessons of the English degree I was pursuing to how I approached my story telling. The scripts were revised or thrown out in favor of stronger material. A new application package was sent with the following:
– improvised scripts
– a letter of intent with contact information
– my SASE
– letters of recommendation from friends and professors

The last in the list, while nice, held very little merit. My friends were fellow college students, and my professors – while credible – couldn’t speak towards my work experience in the field since I had none. While they may had held some sway, they were extra weight to the package and more reading to do. You do not want your prospective editor to have to read more than he or she needs to.

I continued to revise, peer-review, and tinker with my material. With my final application package prepared, I sent it to the home office, which then was in Mamaroneck, New York. My timing just happened to align with a change in editors and a shuffling of the creative team. Editor Mike Pellerito saw some promise in my material (modesty will not permit me to repeat his glowing appraisal) and gave me my chance.

In October of 2004, I was contacted by Mr. Pellerito and offered early work helping to organize and clarify the internal documentation on the series. By 2005 I was submitting scripts. When I debuted in March of 2006, I was acting head writer of the series. The rest is history.

How Do I Get In?

“Great,” you say with a polite smile, “but what about me?”

I’ve had a number of eager fans ask for help breaking in. I’ve also had a cheeky few tell me “I want your job” to my face. While I’m happy to give anyone a leg up on the process, keep in mind that tact is essential. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” as the saying goes.

FOR THE WRITER

You have the hardest job when it comes to making a lasting impression. Your scripts are not easy to glance at and approve, and an editor’s time is a precious commodity. You must prove you ability and sell yourself quickly. Give too much and you’ll take up too much time. Give too little and you won’t leave an impression. You will want to submit the following:
– your resume
– sample material
– letter of intent with contact information
– SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope)

Your resume should list all previous professionally published work. Failing that, any columns or articles in your school paper or neighborhood circular will do. You will want to show you can work with an editor and as part of a team. My case was something of a fluke, and you cannot count on luck. Well, you can, but be ready to work on this for years.

Your sample material should be manuscripts. These will show the editor how you construct your stories, how you approach panel layout, communicate with the art team, and more. Some companies (i.e. Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics) have a specific format you must follow; others do not. You can find a sample of my style on the main page. I highly recommend reading books on the subject – both comic books, and other media.

Your letter of intent introduces yourself to the editor and explains what you want to do on the comic. A brief overview of your experience is recommended. Lacking that, stress your eagerness to work with the team and grow as a professional.

The SASE is self-explanatory.

FOR THE ARTIST

Please note, I make no claims at being a professional comic book artist. I learned the hard way that I’m not cut out for that kind of work. You must be fast, you must be consistent, and you must be an insomniac. I kid, but you will on occasion be asked to go above and beyond the call of duty. Artists who are versatile, deliver solid work without delay and rescue the occasional book get work. Simple as that. Your application should at least have:
– your resume
– sample material
– letter of intent with contact information
– SASE

Your sample material should illustrate your abilities as an artist. The more varied you can be in environments, body types, organic and inorganic things, and realism to cartoony – the better!

Pencilers – you are bringing the story to life. Find a book of manuscripts or compose one of your own and draw it. Remember that you are telling the story along with the writer. If the images you produce do not tell the story alone, the writer’s words will mean nothing. If someone can understand the story without dialogue, you’ve done your job.

Inkers – you are accentuating the penciler’s work. You are adding shadow, depth and texture – defining the reality of the story. There is an artistry to the inking process that I am – woefully – poorly versed in.

Colorists – you are the last, pivotal part of bringing the visuals to completion. Comics are usually colored digitally in the CYMK format.

Letterers – you are the unsung heroes of comic books. Your choices in how the words are present can drastically affect each moment of the story and how we read the words presented to us. Lettering by hand and lettering by computer are both used within the industry, so I recommend learning both.

WHERE TO SEND YOUR MATERIAL

This is where I toss you into the deep end and say “swim.” Look at the credits of the book, find the name of the editor, and find the address of the company. Do your research: do they have a webpage? Facebook? What contact information do they put out there, and how do they prefer to be contacted? Come to them with your act together, and you’ll already be ahead of the pack.

You want this bad enough? Prove it and hunt down that mailing address. Good luck!