Comics and Opportunity

Marvel Thor

This conversation started on my Facebook page, but I’m continuing it here so you understand my perspective on the subject. I read comics and prefer graphic novels to the stand-alone issues. There is something very visual about a graphic novel and I love the art form. I’ve got my first comic coming out in the Unfashioned Creatures anthology this Summer from Red Stylo Media and I’ve got *at least* two graphic novels I need to script.

Now, I frequent a comic book store. I walk in and it’s depressing — because the majority of the comics in the store are written by men. You have to really dig to find one written by a woman and this discourages me because my gut reaction is this: it’ll be that much harder to get on the shelf. A handful of female writers for mainstream publishers doesn’t qualify as saying “Oh, yeah… There are women in comics.” Women are under-represented in the print art form. No, this isn’t true across the board, so what I’ve found valuable is to follow up on a publisher’s catalog — like Archaia or Dark Horse, for example — to see what I’m interested in and get to know the creators.

The question came up about whether or not there was opportunity in comics for women writers.

This is where the disconnect comes in, right? If you go to a comics book convention, you will see lots and lots of women there: fans, small presses, artists, etc. Webcomics offers ways for many women to get into comics because it allows them to participate in the form without going through a traditional publisher like Marvel or DC or any of the other mid-tier folks. But here’s the thing: webcomics may be booming, but it’s a separate form than a stand-alone comic or graphic novel, and as such — it’s a different business model.

I can “distribute” webcomics online if I had a) a reliable artist b) a way to pay said person c) costs associated with hosting and d) time to dedicate one-to-three times weekly to grow and audience and promote it there. Or, to put it in a fiction context, this is very much like self-or-small publishing to get readers to get the “book deal” and generate demand. This is more time-consuming and less financially viable for me to do than to focus on original storytelling. Twenty years ago? When I was first starting out as a writer? Sure, but not now, in part because I’d have to draw folks to read a free webcomic. But what are they buying to help me off-set costs? Monetizing a webcomic takes time. If I self-to-small publish stories, novellas, and novels, I can get polished work up for sale.

The way comics is set up, though, I have less chance of bridging from webcomics to traditional comic publishing and get in *stores* than I would with self-to-small publishing fiction. Part of this is how comics distribution has changed, but it’s also how small-to-medium size comic book presses are featured in stores. I’m ignoring the larger comic book publishers for the moment, because there is a serious lack of opportunity for new writers — both male and female. Comic book writers are a dime a dozen and, to be truthful, this form cannot exist fully without an artist, colorist, and letterer. Writing is the “easy” part.

Now, I “could” write a best-selling novel and get the opportunity to write a graphic novel based on that. Plenty of female writers in that sphere. Novels are on my writing plate, but two things: a) can’t predict success and b) I’m not writing novels just to break into comics. I’m writing novels because I want to write novels as part of my overall plan.

Ergo…

What am I left with? Contests and open calls for existing properties, self-publishing, or pitching. Most likely, I’d take the latter option, write the full script, then pitch to a publisher. Or, have an agent do that for me. The question is: who will I be pitching to? And what? Well, if it’s my original work, I would typically need to find/hire an artist to do the pitch, have the novel totally completed/polished, and find a publisher with comic book store distribution (e.g. through Diamond) that accepts pitches. I would do that knowing the artist may leave in favor of other projects, too, but pitches are usually done with a creative team in place.

Of course, I “could” pitch without writing the full script, but that would be unprofessional. It’s in everybody’s best interests if the script is done and polished with the knowledge that the publisher may request changes to fit their needs. However, I have no control over the art, so even if I have my script done and find an artist to join me on a creative team, AND get accepted — if the artist leaves halfway through the project or doesn’t finish? I have to start over or cancel the project, which affects my reputation.

I could get everything done art-wise and written out of the gate for the pitch, but then I’m back to hiring artists to do work-for-hire on a project that is on “spec.” I could ask an artist to work for free, but if you’ve ever been involved with comics, you should know that they are a LOT of work. For many reasons, I cannot do that and won’t do that — especially if I want good art.

Contests and open calls are *very* rare and competition is fierce. Most companies with comic book distribution don’t accept pitches, either, though there are exceptions (Dark Horse being one of them) and this changes frequently. But, the ability to accept pitches based on the script *alone* is the exception rather than the rule. Being in the position that I am, Marvel and DC aren’t going to reach out to me unless I have a proven ability to write and publish comics in a more mainstream fashion. Even if they’ve done that in the past with new writers, again… This is the exception rather than the rule.

Is this doom and gloom? For male and female comic book writers? No, it’s not. Both exist and both are abundant. Just because you don’t see equal amounts of male and female comic book writers sitting on the shelf at your local comic book store don’t think there aren’t any women who love the form. There are loads and loads of fans, too, and the internet has helped change that. It’s given more people access to comics because they’re not required to go into a store. Something I hope publishers will continue to keep in mind: there isn’t one comic book customer, anymore. That’s why these kinds of talks exist, because there’s an audience out there begging to be heard, and if folks aren’t listening, they’ll speak out anyway. (See The Hawkeye Initiative as an example.)

The only thing any of this means, is that though the road to a graphic novel in comic book stores may be narrow, I know what direction *I* need to take and will seek a way forward.

I’m not giving up, I’m just doing what I do with fiction: pay attention and when I’m ready to submit and pitch I do. I have a vision and everybody who knows me understands how passionate I am about my work, but I have no intention of waiting around for 40 years for that right moment or going broke because I banked everything on one piece of my overall dream. I have to be smart about what I’m doing, because though writing is my calling, it’s also my career.

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I’ll Absorb Stories Wherever I Can

I’ve been gearing up for several new things the past couple of weeks. New website, new job, new stories, new convention, new case of con crud after said convention… My ability to read or play games often becomes greatly impacted by life in general — even though I don’t want it to be.

When this happens — and I feel like I’m turning into a cultist faster than you can say “Ia! Ia!” — I become the female version of Indiana Jones. (Mind you, this is not all that unpleasant.) I hunt stories wherever I can find them.

The Halloween Tree by Ray BradburyWhen I’m swamped? I turn to audiobooks and radio plays to put on in the background. Sometimes, I’ll listen to them a couple of times because I won’t pick up everything the first time around. But, unlike reading books, I can listen to audiobooks multiple times and not get bored. It’s very rare for me to read the same book twice.

I just listened to The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. This is a brilliant, two hour radioplay that dives into the history of Halloween. I love the social commentary and the technique Bradbury uses to explore the historical aspects without bogging down the story. Even though there’s a cast of kids plus an iconic adult, I didn’t feel that this was written for kids in that sense. I’ve also got a radioplay version of The Martian Chronicles.

5 Very Good Reasons To Punch a Dolphin In The MouthWhen I’m not listening to audiobooks (Hint: I could always use an iTunes gift card…) then I’ll turn to webcomics for a short, digestible story I can consume in five seconds or less. I recently turned to Twitter to ask for people’s recommendations; my repertoire consists of Dork Tower, Two Lumps, The Oatmeal, Order of the Stick, Irregular Webcomic, Questionable Content, PvP Player versus Player, Ctrl Alt Delete, and a few others. I just picked up 5 Very Good Reasons To Punch a Dolphin In The Mouth (And Other Useful Guides) at New York Comic Con. It’s signed! Yay! I’ve also been pouring through all the Dork Tower trades and getting new comics up for John at DriveThruComics.com.

Both of these mediums allow me to dive into stories even though I may not have the time to block out an hour or two for reading. Since I’m always writing or working on some project (even if it’s in my head), I like to surround myself in stories to keep myself grounded.

Have any audioplays, podcasts or webcomics to recommend? Share ’em!




Monica Valentinelli >

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