Animation World Magazine, Issue 2.4, July 1997
Compiled by Animation World Magazine and Dark Horse Comics.
Before sending unsolicited work and ideas to a publisher, there are standards and specifications that one should know about to avoid the dreaded "unopened returned mail" response. Following are sample guidelines for submitting art, proposals and scripts to Dark Horse Comics, one of the industry's leading publishers. All guidelines herein are courtesy of Dark Horse Comics. Other companies will have different guidelines and regulations. Be sure to contact individual publishers for information.
First and foremost, any seasoned artist trying to make a way in the industry will tell you that no submission will be accepted anywhere without an accompanying disclaimer or submission agreement. We have included a sample of Dark Horse's submission agreement for reference.
Art Submission Guidelines
The following information regards art samples only. If you wish to submit original stories or series proposals, please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the Dark Horse Proposal Guidelines and Submission Agreement.
Never send original art in an unsolicited submission. Send reduced (to 8.5 x 11 paper) photocopies that are clean and sharp and easy to "read." Be sure that each page has your name, address, and phone number clearly printed on the back.
Always include a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (S.A.S.E.). If you send a letter-sized S.A.S.E., you will only receive a response. If you want your samples returned which we would prefer be sure to enclose a 9"x12" envelope with adequate return postage. Samples sent without an appropriate S.A.S.E. cannot be returned. It is not necessary for you to use a fancy binder or folder and is, in fact, usually a waste of postage and time. If you live outside of the United States, you must use U.S. postage or International Reply Coupons. Do not use a poster tube for packaging, as it makes artwork difficult to handle.
Please do not make telephone calls to follow up on a submission. Please do not fax submissions of any kind. Faxed submissions will be immediately discarded.
Please do not send a copy of your submission to every editor. Most individual editors do not have time to review unsolicited submissions. The position of Submissions Editor is a mutually beneficial service, aiding you in your attempt to break into the comic-book industry and aiding Dark Horse in its search for new talent. Circumventing this process will only serve to frustrate your efforts.
Consider carefully what you are sending. An editor wants to see that you can draw sequential art, not pinups. At the most, this skill is apparent in four or five pages. Any more is a waste of postage and time. Be sure to demonstrate a facility at quiet scenes as well as action, utilizing a wide variety of faces, figures (male, female, normal, and exaggerated), and well-realized settings. Ask yourself the following questions: Does the angle you've chosen take full advantage of the dramatic potential in a scene? Do the backgrounds establish where the characters are in relationship to their surroundings and to each other? Is there a well-defined foreground, middleground, and background? Is there a clear, readable story even without word balloons or captions? Did you leave adequate room for word balloons and captions? Are the characters consistently rendered and easily recognizable in each panel? Do the layouts carry the reader's eye from panel to panel without any confusion?
Pencillers: Again, send reduced copies. If you're sending finished work (fully pencilled and inked), include copies of the original pencilled pages before they were inked. If you want to show full-color work, send color photocopies (again, pencilled pages before they were colored would be helpful). You may also include tear sheets of previously printed work. Dark Horse will supply you with a short sample script if you send a 9"x12" S.A.S.E. posted for three first-class ounces.
Inkers: Include copies of the original pencils before they were inked. If we can't see the original pencils, we have no way of evaluating what you brought to the artwork. Dark Horse will supply you with photocopies of pencilled pages that you can ink on overlays if you send a 9"x12" S.A.S.E. posted for three first-class ounces.
Cover artists: A variety of 5-10 paintings should be sufficient in showcasing your ability. You want to be sure to show a wide range of scenes and characters. The more versatility you display, the better we'll be able to evaluate you. Reduced, color photocopies are preferred, though slides are acceptable. Here, too, original pencilled versions are also desired.
Colorists: You may photocopy up to eight pages of Dark Horse's current B&W work onto white paper for coloring samples only. Dark Horse will supply you with sample pages to color if you send a 9"x12" S.A.S.E. posted for two first-class ounces. Send color photocopies of your work, never originals.
Letterers: You need to show that you are capable of a variety of lettering styles. Outside of normal lettering in balloons and captions, editors want to see sound effects and display lettering, italicized lettering, handwriting anything you may be expected to produce for a potential comic book. Clarity and consistency are a must. A lettering packet (sample script, balloon placements, and full-size photocopies of pencilled pages that can be lettered on overlays) will be supplied to you if you send a 9"x12" S.A.S.E. posted for three first-class ounces.
What to expect: Your work will either be kept on file for reference or returned to you. If you did not include a S.A.S.E., then you will likely receive no reply. If an editor is interested in your work, then she or he will probably contact you by phone, provided your phone number is included with your submission. Unfortunately, we don't have time to critique your work. If you're looking for constructive criticism, show your work to industry professionals at conventions or to friends who can be trusted to give you an honest opinion. An editor's job is to find creators who can produce publishable work. If you think you have the talent, desire, and professionalism to make it in comics, then give it your best shot. You have nothing to lose by trying.
Proposal And Scripting Guidelines For Writers
To submit a written proposal to Dark Horse, the following material must be included.
Signed Submission Agreement. Dark Horse has the highest regard for creators and for the ownership of original properties, and this agreement should in no way be misconstrued as license for Dark Horse to appropriate your creations. This agreement protects Dark Horse from any liabilities involving coincidental similarities to works-in-progress or other submissions. It is only required for original stories, scripts, series proposals, and characters. You do not need to sign it if you are only sending art samples or previously published script samples. Material arriving without a signed agreement will be returned (if accompanied by a Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope) or destroyed without review. The agreement is attached to the back of this form and may be duplicated as needed. A new agreement must be submitted with each new idea, proposal, script, etc. and must be signed by all involved creators and copyright holders. Please note that Dark Horse does not review unsolicited scripts, story ideas, or proposals pertaining to any property currently published by Dark Horse or any property not owned by the submitter. Such material will be returned or destroyed without review.
Cover LetterYour cover letter should list the names, addresses, phone numbers, and published credits of all contributors, the title of the project, and the date of submission. The cover letter, as well as all enclosed materials, should be neatly typed.
Complete SynopsisSuccinctly tell the entire storybeginning, middle, and end, avoiding unnecessary details. A short-story synopsis should be no longer than a page. A synopsis for a series (limited or ongoing) or graphic novel should be about two to five pages. Indicate issue breaks where applicable. A synopsis should say exactly what happens and how, noting plot and character specifics. Nothing should be left to the imagination. This should be the most straightforward presentation of the story as possible, as the synopsis is often the make-or-break point for a proposal.
Full ScriptYou must include a full script for any short story or single-issue submission, or the first eight pages of the first issue of any series, unless you are a published professional, in which case, you should include samples of previously published work. Script format guidelines are included. If the work is already completedstory, art, and letteringcopies of this may be sent instead. When preparing to send your story, consider the following questions: Are my characters believable and consistent throughout the script? Is the plot clear and easy to follow? Is all the necessary information including subtext, symbolism, essential background detail communicated clearly to the artist? Does the script allow the pictures to tell the story rather than relying on captions or other forms of exposition? Does the story work as a comic book, taking into account the conventions and the language of the medium?
Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope (S.A.S.E.)This is a standard requirement throughout the publishing industry. Make sure the envelope is large enough and that you have attached sufficient postage for the return of your work. If you only want a response, you may include a small envelope, posted for one ounce. Without a S.A.S.E., your work will be considered disposable and you are not likely to receive a response. If you live outside of the United States, you must use appropriate U.S. postage or International Reply Coupons, which can be obtained at a local post office. Do not send cash or currency through the mail!
NotesIf a submitted project has an artist collaborator, samples of the artist's continuity work (not just pinups or character illustrations) must be included. Do not send samples/proposals via facsimile. This work will not be reviewed. Do not make telephone follow-ups to unsolicited proposals. Reviewing proposals takes time, but if you have included a S.A.S.E., you will receive a response, usually within 8-10 weeks.
Script Submission Guidelines
Please create your scripts as follows:
- Writer's Name (name, address, & phone should appear on the first page only)
City, State and Zip
- Book title and issue number (should appear on the first page)
"Story Title" (if there is one)
- Page One (five panels) (Begin each new story page on a new sheet of paper, label it, and indicate how many panels make up that page.)
Panel 1. Number your panels. Panel descriptions should be typed in standard upper and lower case.
1. CHARACTER #1:
DIALOGUE SHOULD APPEAR IN ALL CAPS, JUST AS IT WILL BE LETTERED. NUMBER ALL TEXT SECTIONS CONSECUTIVELY FOR EACH STORY PAGE, STARTING AGAIN WITH 1 ON EACH NEW STORY PAGE.
2. CHARACTER #2:
INDENT AND DOUBLE SPACE ALL LINES OF DIALOGUE SO THAT THE EDITOR AND THE LETTERER CAN IDENTIFY THEM AND THE CHARACTER TO WHOM THEY BELONG.
Panel 2. There is no set limit for how much or how little information should be included in each panel description; generally a sentence or two is enough. If there are specific character traits, objects, or placement of either that you need, make sure you tell the artist. If it doesn't appear in the script, it probably won't appear in the art.
SOUND EFFECTS ARE INDICATED JUST LIKE DIALOGUE.
CAPTIONS ARE DONE THE SAME WAY. ALL DIALOGUE, SOUND EFFECTS, AND CAPTIONS SHOULD BE LISTED IN THE ORDER THEY SHOULD BE READ IN THE FINAL ART.
5. CHAR. #1 (thought):
THOUGHT BALLOONS ARE INDICATED IN THIS FASHION. CAPTIONS AND DIALOGUE SHOULD BE LIMITED TO 25 WORDS PER BALLOON, AND ABOUT 35-45 WORDS PER PANEL.
(number each sheet of paper in your script)
Writer/Book Title #1 (on the top of each sheet)
Page One (continued) (always list story page at the top of each sheet)
Panel 3. Exact panel layout is usually left to the artist, but if you have something specific in mind, put it in your description. If absolutely necessary, you can draw a sketch of what you want.
6. CHARACTER #1 (OP):
CHARACTERS SPEAKING FROM OFF-PANEL ARE INDICATED THIS WAY.
Panel 4. For action sequences, you'll get best results if you limit yourself to four or five panels per page. Remember: the larger the panel, the more spectacular the action; hence, the more spectacular your action description, the larger the panel should be and the less room you'll have for other panels.
7. CHAR. #1 (whisper):
IF A CHARACTER IS WHISPERING, THE LETTERER NEEDS TO KNOW.
8. CHARACTER #2:
DIALOGUE THAT CARRIES OVER FROM ONE BALLOON OR ONE PANEL TO ANOTHER IS INDICATED BY DOUBLE DASHES AT THE END OF THE FIRST BALLOON--
9. CHARACTER #2:
--AND ANOTHER SET AT THE BEGINNING OF THE NEXT.
10. CHARACTER #3:
DOUBLE DASHES CAN ALSO BE USED TO INDICATE A SPEECH THAT IS CUT-OFF BY EVENTS IN THE STORY --
Panel 5. For non-action scenes, you can have more panels per page, but keep in mind how many characters and props are necessary in a scene when you are writing. The more panels on a page, the smaller each of them will have to be.
11. CAP (CHAR. #1):
"A CAPTION CAN BE USED TO CARRY OVER DIALOGUE FROM A PREVIOUS SCENE TO A NEW SETTING BY PLACING THE SPEECH IN QUOTATION MARKS."
12. CHARACTER #3:
UNDERLINE WORDS THAT YOU WANT TO EMPHASIZE. ELLIPSIS POINTS (THREE PERIODS) INDICATE A PAUSE... OR A SPEECH THAT TRAILS OFF...
This concludes the submission guidelines provided by Dark Horse Comics. Inspired? You can send your submissions to:
Dark Horse Comics, Inc.
10956 Southeast Main Street
Milwaukie, Oregon 97222 U.S.A.
For additional advice on getting your comic book published, read Getting Published: A Few Suggested Paths, a survey in this issue of Animation World Magazine.
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