Animation World Magazine, Issue 2.4, July 1997
Getting Published: A Few Suggested Paths
So how does one go about getting a comic book published? This is the exact question we asked the following folks. Whether you choose to go the distance with a large established company like Dark Horse or delve into the world of self-publishing, a few things remain certain. Getting a comic book off the ground requires not only amazing talent, skill, and knowledge of the marketplace but also determination and an ego of steel.
Also, for tips on how to submit materials to a publishing company, see our compilation of Submission Guidelines compiled by Dark Horse Comics
Steve Peters' work has appeared in Dave Sim's Cerebus (#146), Rick Veitch's Rare Bit Fiends (#13 and #20) as well as Patricia Breen's Kiss and Tell (#3). Since 1994, he has taught a class at the North Penn Arts Alliance. He and his partner David Nowell published their own mini-comics from 1992-1996. Steve has a book coming out from Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics called Everwinds which will begin its run in August 1997. Steve has also won a Xeric Award for his book Awakening Comics which he began self-publishing in June of 1997. Awakening Comics can be ordered by contacting Steve directly at Ganesh9@aol.com.
Awakening Comics, published independently by Steve Peters.
"Well, I think the most important thing you'll need is determination and an unwillingness to ever give up. You may suffer some bruises to your ego along the way, but if you've known all your life that this is what you want to do, and you believe in yourself, and you're willing to keep trying until you make it, then I think your chances are good.
The first step is to look at the companies that publish comic books and find those that are most suited to whatever project you're working on or whatever style you have. Write to those companies and ask for their submission guidelines. Some companies are very specific about the kind of submissions they'll look at.
Your submission should consist of several pages of your work (the number a publisher will want to look at will vary), preferably all from the same sequence or story. One of the most important skills you need as a comic book creator is the ability to tell a story, and a publisher will be able to tell right away if you're any good at it.
When your submission is ready, write a cover letter with a brief description of the work you are proposing. Tell the publisher what kind of format you are thinking of (mini-series, monthly series, whatever), and give any other information pertinent to the project you have in mind. Do not forget to include a S.A.S.E.
Don't badger or pester the publisher to find out how your submission is doing. If you're really anxious, include a self-addressed postcard with a box they can check off so they can let you know that they have received your submission and are considering it. It usually takes at least a couple of months, if not longer, to get a response.
Now, this is where the determination part comes in, because unless you're a talented genius or very, very lucky, your first batch of submissions will probably be met with a batch of rejection letters. Instead of getting discouraged, listen to what they have to say (most publishers will offer remarks or comments if they have time to do so) and try to improve. Get a new batch of submissions together in a few months and try again. Most creators go through this several times before they make it.
If you've sent out tons of submissions and you still don't seem to be getting anywhere, and no one seems to recognize the value of your work, there is one other option: self-publishing.
Now, this is a whole other can of worms that I really don't want to open right now. It would take several pages to get into what's involved, but I'll briefly cover some of the basics about how to get started.
The first thing to do would be to try publishing a mini-comic, also called an ashcan. Print your comic up at your local copy shop and ask comic book stores if they'll sell it for you. This can help to teach you the discipline of putting a comic together and getting it out on a regular basis. It also enables you to "test the waters" and see if self-publishing is for you.
There are some books available on how to self-publish. They're usually advertised in the trade journals or magazines. I got my information from a guide to self-publishing that appeared in Cerebus (# 171). The information, though only three years old, was already hopelessly outdated, but it was enough to help me get a grant from the Xeric Foundation. Established by Peter Laird (co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), this foundation gives grants to hopeful self-publishers. Those interested can get a brochure by writing to:
Suite 214, 351 Pleasant Street,
Northampton, MA, 01060. U.S.A.
Tom Mason, MainBrain Productions
Tom Mason is a partner in MainBrain Productions, the Malibu, CA-based entertainment development company whose clients include Universal Studios, Klasky Csupo, Gunther-Wahl, Morgan Creek, and DreamWorks SKG. He once took an unforgettable holiday in "Development Hell" with a comic book he created called Dinosaurs For Hire.
Li'l Dinosaurs for Hire, a comic book created by
Tom Mason and published by Malibu Comics.
"The easiest way to try to get your comic book published is to assemble your material and start mailing it out to editors and publishers and wait patiently by the mailbox. The photocopied 'thank you, but...' rejection letters will pile up in a matter of weeks. You'll get dejected and you'll eat too much junk food and watch too much violent non-educational television. Your parents and friends will worry about you. Your hair will fall out. You'll get a cute little twitch in your right eye. It's not impossible to find a comic book publisher; it's just difficult. The truth is, there are more people who want someone to publish their comic book than there are publishers looking for material. So, take a number, then stand in line for a turn that may never be called.
Equally difficult, but far more satisfying, is to publish it yourself. Find the money, organize the talent (unless you're capable of doing everything), cut your own distribution deal, locate a printer, learn the basic two-column accounting system ("money out/money in") and before you know it, you've started your own business, devoted exclusively to publishing your comic book your way. This takes you out of the realm of 'creator' and makes you an 'entrepreneur.' It requires a skill set that is quite a bit different from just writing and drawing. It will also make you wish you paid more attention to that hunchbacked Mrs. Phipps in high school algebra. For some people, that's too much work and too much risk. After all, you could lose money and there's only yourself to blame when things go wrong. For them, there's always the siren call of the mailbox. A lot of people who publish their own comic books do lose money. But there are also those self-publishers who make more money and have more fun than they would if they were published by someone else's company."
David Scroggy, Dark Horse Comics
In his twenty-two years in the comics business, David Scroggy has been a retailer, distributor, editor, agent, convention organizer, and trade association officer. He has been Vice-President of Publishing at Dark Horse since 1993.
"My biggest suggestion for people wanting to publish their own books or see their work published by another company is to visit comic book conventions. Conventions take place yearly in most parts of the country with the largest ones being held in Atlanta, Chicago and of course, San Diego. ComicCon in San Diego (July 17-20) is the place to meet and greet every publisher in the field. At these trade shows, there is also a wide range of educational programs and seminars that are usually available at no additional charge. These conventions are a great way to hear from the pros first hand and get a feel for the business. Then you can really hone your submissions to publishers so that hopefully you will get a positive result.
Dark Horse Comics is always looking for high quality, original new comics. We seek out all genres and types. Our only criteria, regardless of genre, is that they must be good! We have complete submission guidelines for both artists and writers. You may receive a copy of these guidelines by sending a SASE to Dark Horse Comics, 10956 SE Main Street, Milwaukee, OR 97222. It is also a standard practice in the field to have to sign release forms with every submission."
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