Halloween Musings and a Big Fancy Announcement

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As a kid, nothing scared me more than the horror aisle at my local Blockbuster Video.

I would walk through it, head straight up, refusing to look from side to side. In the corners of my eyes I would catch strange demons staring at me, monsters that had been haunting my dreams since the last time I’d been forced through that particular gauntlet. But as hard as I tried not to look, they already had me. They’d crawled into the stronghold of my brain and they refused to come out. For years they festered and changed, manipulated by imagination into such unspeakable horrors that I’d yell at my friends for even just suggesting we pop in a scary movie.

It’s still funny to me that years later, when I finally embraced the horror genre, that almost none of those terrifying VHS covers lived up to what I’d imagined. I’d already written a horror movie in my head for each and every piece of box-art, and for the most part, my brain proved to be a much darker and twisted place than the horror aisle. I started looking back at those moments walking through the Blockbuster, trying to steer my way around the section, a little more fondly. Because the truth was, I could have avoided seeing any of those covers. The truth was I wanted the pulse-pounding experience of seeing vague, unspeakable horrors out of the corner of my eye. I wanted the nightmares. I never left the store without walking the horror aisle.

Now I walk it a little more deliberately.

Horror simply fascinates me, as both a consumer and a creator. It’s an entire genre designed to explore and exploit the darkest corners of our mind and dig out some deep, primal fear. Some of it is more successful than the rest, but that simply makes the challenge of making horror all the more enticing. Fear is such a deeply personal, subjective thing, the only way to really approach true horror is to dig into yourself and find the things that you fear the most. Then the challenge is to exploit that fear in a way you’ve never really seen before.

I’d only recently broken into the comics scene when I saw the potential of the Thrillbent format in action for the first time. The dynamism of the layering techniques, and the ability to change elements from swipe to swipe… It got my mind racing. I knew I wanted to write original horror comics. That had been the dream long before I wrote my first back-up story in Batman. In Thrillbent I saw the perfect opportunity to tell horror stories in a strange, new way. I didn’t know Mark Waid all that well at that point, we’d met at a convention earlier in the year, but I needed to tell him the potential I saw to do something frightening. My original pitch document for The Eighth Seal had the following section embedded in the first page:

A QUICK NOTE BEFORE WE BEGIN

Thrillbent seems tailor-made for horror in a way that traditional comics never have been. In a medium where the reader usually has the ultimate power to skim over a page, and see a frightening beat before he or she gets to it, this new potential for real jump-out-and-scare-you moments in a comic book format is tremendous. The tension of the reading experience is raised significantly… If you’re reading a horror comic on Thrillbent, you never know what that next swipe might bring. By establishing scares early in the story, each week a reader will be on the edge of their seat, not sure if they’re ready to hit that right arrow.

More than just the potential for cheap scares, though, is the chance to show reality breaking down like never before. The layering style you’ve established, where the art stays the same for multiple “pages” with a tweak that redefines it by shifting the focus, or showcasing motion, allows for a whole new method of storytelling previously reserved for film and animation… Imagine a woman looking at her reflection in the mirror, and when you swipe the page her face has changed into something inhuman… Something monstrous. And in the next swipe it changes back. That’s a moment that can be handled more effectively in a Thrillbent comic than it ever could on paper.

With THE EIGHTH SEAL I want to explore these new possibilities. I want to push the new set of tools you’re showcasing in these stories to their absolute limit.

And most of all… I want to scare people. 

I still do.

Today, we launch the fifth chapter of THE EIGHTH SEAL. Once you read it you’ll see that this chapter ratchets the series forward precariously. We have been destroying First Lady Amelia Greene’s life piece by piece, and this is the shattering point. Or at least the first of a few key shattering points in the months to come. This chapter has some of my favorite art in this series to date. All of you who have been reading our series month-to-month know that Jeremy Rock is absolutely incredible, but this chapter… Wait until you see what he’s whipped up for you. I remember when I showed Mark the breakdowns on my phone at San Diego this year. It’s my favorite moment in the series. At least until the next chapter.

This is a deeply personal story to me, as strange as that might seem. There’s nothing more frightening to me than losing control of your mind, and seeing that lack of control manifest as a creature far beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. And there’s no better format I could be telling this story in than in the Thrillbent format. I couldn’t be happier to see the response it’s gotten. It’s made me want, more than anything, to launch further series in the Thrillbent format to explore more of my deepest and darkest fears.

So, that’s the other thing I got on my soapbox to tell you crazy kids about today.

HouseInTheWallPromo

 

THE HOUSE IN THE WALL is an unconventional ghost story that we will be launching early in the next year here on Thrillbent.com. The series will be co-written by myself and Noah J. Yuenkel (a newcomer to the comics field, whose work I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot more about in the months and years to come), with art by the incredible Eryk Donovan. I can’t say much about the series just yet, but we’re designing it to push the Thrillbent format to the limit in a very cool and different way than we do with The Eighth Seal. I see the two stories as companion pieces of a sort, and can’t wait to see them running side-by-side on this website.

More than any kind of fiction, the stories I’ve always been drawn to tell are horror stories. I want to create horrific images that make you scroll by at top speed, trying not to catch another glimpse of the demonic creature staring right back at you on the page. And then you come back and scroll by again. And again. You try not to think about the creature, but you see it at night when you close your eyes and try to sleep. You go back to the website, thinking if you scroll by again, just a little bit slower, you might be able to let it go. You don’t want to go back there, but you have to. You need to get the monsters out of your mind.

But if you’re already afraid, they’ve found their new home.

Happy Halloween.

-James Tynion IV

Oct 31, 2013 In: Comics

The Eighth Seal returns

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Our monthly (and very popular) serial THE EIGHTH SEAL returns to Thrillbent next Thursday, but we’re trying a new experiment and reversing the distribution procedure. As always, the new chapter will be free to read–but if you’d like to jump on board today and read/download it ahead of time (and show your support for some terrific, groundbreaking work), you can do so in the storefront for a few coins. Worth every penny, says I.

 

Oct 24, 2013 In: Comics

3-Point Plotting

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(Writing 101 post, fair warning)

When we make serialized content, from comic issue to television episode, we deliver it in discrete chunks. Each of these chunks should feel somehow complete while still dragging the audience forward to the next installment. I know that over the long run you have a lot of cool stuff, well-thought out character dynamics, epic deep background, but how do we start when we’re just staring at that blank page? How do we build the basic … chunk?

First, some vocabulary. People tend to use two words interchangeably when talking about narrative structure: “plot” and “story”. E.M Forster wrote in Aspects of the Novel: “”‘The king died and the queen died’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’, is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it.” (Have you read Aspects of the Novel yet? You should. Now.)

Fair warning, I tend to alter those terms in my discussions, for purely personal reasons. “Plot” to me is the engine, the machine of causality driving the narrative. “Story”, to me, has an emotional feel. I think of Neil Gaiman stories, fairy stories, “tell me a story”, etc. “Story” is the whole package, the characters’ emotional journey, all that … feelings goop. I can abide a poorly plotted tale that winds up being a good story, but struggle to think of a bad story saved by a strong plot. No one ever walked out of a movie saying “I felt nothing, but man, the causal chain was fucking tight. Two thumbs up.”

Right, so for purposes of this and any further writing: Plot equals casual chain engine, Story equals the emotional playground, themes, etc. etc, arty bullshit.

So, when faced with the mind-devouring void of a blank page, how do I start?  Personally, I go back to basics. Plotting almost every story I’ve written (or supervised the writing of) I need to see the DISRUPTION, REVERSAL, and CONCLUSION to even begin.

THE DISRUPTION is readily apparent in episodic structure. It’s the inciting incident, the problem, the change which the characters in the show MUST deal with. In an episode of CASTLE it’s the body dropping, in an episode of LEVERAGE it’s the introduction of the case. It’s also, crucial, however, in serialized stories. In every episode of BREAKING BAD you can spot the disruption to the status quo — no matter how screwed up the status quo may be — in the first act. “I have a dude in the basement I have to murder, and I at this point still an in-over-my-head Chemistry teacher …” The Disruption is the accelerant, the problem which looms larger than all the rest for at least this little chunk of the long form story.

An old acquaintance, a former enforcer for the Irish mob in Montreal, had a great expression which anybody who’s worked with me has heard: “Is that a five-minutes-from-now problem or a twenty-minutes-from-now problem?” The full explanation, best done in a voice slurred just a bit with Bushmills, went like this …

“Some problems can wait twenty minutes. Sometimes you gotta solve a problem in the next five minutes or unpleasantness shall occur. And sometimes there’s a guy in the room with a fuckin’ knife. Deal with the guy with the fuckin’ knife, and move on from there.”

The Disruption, ideally, is the guy in the room with the fuckin’ knife. Now, it’s not necessarily that. As you move the intensity of the Disruption back in the timeline, the tone of the piece changes. “Guy in the room with a knife” gives you danger, pulp plotting. A “five minutes from now” problem gives you urgency, but control. Part of the fun is in watching the ad hoc planning your characters throw together to deal with the “five minutes from now” problem. Competence porn lives in the world of the “five minutes from now” problem.  A “twenty minutes from now” problem gives you dread.

See all those feelings? Tools in your Plot tune your Story. A good Story plays with these timelines all the time, changing things up. New problems emerge as knife/five minutes/twenty minutes problems, or the existent problems change in intensity as the Story progresses. The latter’s preferred, by the way, as you move forward in the narrative. Better to have a “twenty minutes from now” problem jump up at you than just dump a new problem in at the last minute.

Regardless, the Disruption is the main problem your character will be focused on solving for the amount of time you’re expecting the audience to pay attention. In episodic TV, the stays quo is implied (the continuing show premise or serialization), allowing you to drop the Disruption as close to the opening of the show as possible. In a TV pilot, however, you need to spend precious page weight describing the unfamiliar status quo. This is one of the reasons the pilot is rarely the best episode of a TV series.

THE REVERSAL is best described by my friend DJ McCarthey: “It’s the moment, when the movie … becomes an entirely different movie.” Too many scripts I’m submitted have a bunch of mini-reversals, the dreaded “and then” syndrome. Stuff happens, and then other stuff happens … Even in a well-plotted story when all the plot developments occur primarily because of the actions of the characters or logical but unexpected complications of the setting (the much loved SOUTH PARK creators advice “replace all moments in the outline  of ‘and then’ with ‘therefore’ or ‘but’) the story feels flat.

It’s a subtle distinction, but a good central reversal — and the middle of the story is the right place for it — always seems to elevate even a straight-ahead episodic-style story.

One of my favorite examples is ALIENS.  Their Reversal is when the missions transforms from a rescue mission to a desperate escape. In one issue of BLUE BEETLE I wrote, it’s the moment when Jaime’s problem goes from stopping the bad guy to saving lives, and realizing he’s not going to be able to save all of them.  In the LEVERAGE series finale, it’s when you realize that the story’s not about what Nate Ford did to steal medicine for a sick kid, but what he’s doing right now to steal something we don’t know aboutwhen Sterling shows up. I’ll fully admit we didn’t pull this off every time in LEVERAGE, but we did our best.

To me — and hell, remember all this is very personal, your mileage may vary — the best reversal is the point of strongest conflict in any interpersonal conflicts in your Story. Because, remember, if you’re doing this right, the emotional Story is riding right along on top the engine of that Plot. That Disruption didn’t just introduce the change in the world’s status quo, it was the spark of whatever emotional Story you want to tell with this particular chunk. If the Disruption set up the differing opinions and viewpoints of the characters, the Reversal is what throws those conflicts into high relief. It’s the testing ground, what sets up the emotional payoff to …

… THE CONCLUSION. The end. The new status quo. Not the return of the status quo, but the new one. Whatever new equilibrium has been reached. “Equilibrium” because it’s a situation, in serialized storytelling, which should be able to be easily disrupted. The status quo is always a delicately balanced thing, little stepping stones of resolution as you leap across the river of your season-long Stories.

Even if your series is highly episodic and the Plot brings closure, the new status quo establishes the emotional balance of your continuing Story. If even a little bit, attitudes are changed, secrets revealed, the basic emotional dynamic of the characters is explored, and someone has shifted if even just a little bit. (Note: we’re talking serialized narratives here. Different purpose for the Conclusion in close-ended work.)

Narratives with no Story progress are almost impossible to sell these days, and I think that’s because the audience has moved past being simply amused by Plot, or perhaps become too meta-aware of Plot structure for it to hold their attention in a meaningful way. There are cheats, of course — “nobody ever puts down a whodunnit” is a hack we’ve been exploiting for decades now — but generally, audiences expect more than just a satisfying causal chain. They felt something. Maybe they need to see that reflected back at them by the characters.

End of day, when faced with a blank page, I start with those three ideas. Disruption / Reversal / Conclusion. FWIW, the fact that the Disruption and Conclusion are bound to each other by the nature of the Story you’re telling, I find the Reversal the most interesting piece of work in writing. The Reversal’s often more revelatory about the inner style of the writer than any other piece of their work.

The concept of Disruption/Reversal/Conclusion is fractal, of course, but we’ll discuss that in another post.

Oct 21, 2013 In: Comics

ARCANUM: Hey, That Art Looks New!

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Hello all, and welcome back to a slightly different looking ARCANUM.

After the pilot story — “here’s your team, such as it is”, it’s time to dig into the meat of the ARCANUM 5-season arc. You’ll notice the art style is a bit different. This is not because we’ve changed artists. No, Todd just has multiple awesome styles in his back pocket. Clever bastard.

Old look:

Blog ARCANUM 1

New look:

Blog ARCANUM 2

(God, I love the hands in that image. Hands are a bear for artists and actors. Seriously, you can tell how good an actor is by what they do with their hands when at rest.)

The change comes about to a great degree because, over the course of the hiatus, we reconsidered the tone of the story overall. I kept talking about that 1st great season of X-FILES, where they are just suffused in that Vancouver grey. Like the X-FILES pilot our first real story happens in the Northwest.  This isn’t a matter of slavish imitation, but certainly the similarities resonated as I was plotting out this storyline. And like X-FILES we are an alien invasion story. The aliens just happen to be ancient fairy stories. (And hey, doesn’t that sketch kinda look like a grey …)

“I think we’re more a horror comic,” I said to Mark during one conversation. “Like a Vertigo book, in the old days when Vertigo meant Vertigo.” One of the main themes of ARCANUM is that magic is disruptive and scary and awful. Magic is a corruption, a rot. The big brassy high-colored 1st chapters made sense in order to give us the action look in that 1st Incursion, but as the story goes on ARCANUM very much becomes a tale of unsettling noises in the night, madness borne of broken physics. Soon we’re going to be in the realm of high-beam flashlights and basements filled with things that make you re-swallow your lunch. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS told through the DELTA GREEN lens.

So Todd is now giving us greys and washes, with slightly more impressionist backgrounds and faces very much built around the eyes and mouth. It’s more overtly an character-acting style, which fits. In particular, the Thrillbent process exploits facial expressions in an almost animatic way, which works well with this style.

It feeds back in to how I’m writing, too. Knowing we’ll be dealing with a more subdued palette, in my head I feel the action will come across as more grounded, more noir, and so I write different action sequences.  This may be more bleed over from my film background, but it’s even a matter of choosing close-shots during fights rather than wide-shots.

I’ve said before that I find comics writing brutally difficult, because you have to not just be the screenwriter but also the director and editor on every page. The artist, though, has to be the A-operator, all the actors, and the Director of Photography.  As everyone in Hollywood knows, Directors get all the juice, but the Director of Photography — the DP — is the real power on a set. In television in particular, Directors come and go on literally a weekly basis, but the DP is there for every episode. If your favorite show has a signature look, it ain’t the “directed by” guys giving you that candy. For an insight into the process, here’s an interview with the DP of BREAKING BAD.

(Bonus anecdote: On my first one-hour drama, I asked the DP what, exactly a Director of Photography does. He said “We’re the guy who stands behind the Director and whispers: “… you don’t want to do that.“)

All this echoes something Phil Hester (@philhester) recently tweeted: “The surest way to be seen as a great comic book writer is to get your claws into a genuinely great comic book artist.”

We certainly hope you enjoy the return of ARCANUM. Please do check it out, and our other fine comics like Mark Waid’s INSUFFERABLE, the dark, gritty crime drama of THE DAMNATION OF CHARLIE WORMWOOD, and the very creepy horror comic THE EIGHTH SEAL

Thrillbent is just beginning. Thanks for reading and spreading the word.

 

 

John Rogers has been in the entertainment industry for 20 years.  He created and ran the TV show LEVERAGE and wrote the comic BLUE BEETLE for DC Comics. For Thrillbent, John writes ARCANUM.  Follow him on twitter @jonrog1.

Oct 14, 2013 In: Comics

New York Comic Con!

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A bunch of us Thrillbent creators are coming to New York Comic Con and we want to meet as many of our readers as we can. Some of us will be floating, untethered, throughout the con. But James Tynion IV and I thought it would be cool to set up a specific time and place for anyone who needs that extra dash of certainty in their lives, so James graciously agreed to let us plan a meet-up at his table (G4) on Saturday from 2pm – 3pm.

Right now, we’ve got James (who does The Eighth Seal for Thrillbent; not to mention Talon, Red Hood & The Outlaws and Batman for DC), Cecilia Latella (creator of the graphic novel The Boar, who now draws The Endling for Thrillbent and is coming to NYCC all the way from ITALY!) and myself, Cecilia’s partner on The Endling (and writer of a couple Legends of the Dark Knight stories for DC). Geoffo and Mast are working on joining us and we’re hoping to rope in Ron Randall, too. So everyone go bug those guys to make it to the meetup.

If you’re reading Thrillbent, please swing by–we don’t get many chances to meet you guys and I promise, whatever questions you have for us, we probably have three more for you.

James, of course, will be trapped there for many additional hours, so if you get there early enough you might even snag one of the few prints he’s selling from his amazing series. But not if I get there first. I can’t promise anything for James, but I might be open to dishing out some Endling spoilers. And if anyone cosplays as Amber or The Endling, you’ll get a round of drinks on me just for starters.

See you Saturday at the con!

Oct 08, 2013 In: Comics

An Open Letter To Young Freelancers

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An open letter to young freelancers:

In the long run, the quality of your work is all that matters.

As a professional comics writer, I sold my first script twenty-nine years and what feels like three separate lifetimes ago. Despite not being especially good early on, I’ve been steadily employed since the beginning, which stretches the laws of probability far beyond the breaking point.  In terms of career longevity, I have enjoyed good fortune exceedingly disproportionate to my level of actual talent. If I could tell you how to replicate that luck, I would, happily, but I can’t. All I can give you, an up-and-coming comics freelancer trying to make a living in 2013, is my honest, absolute admiration at your fortitude and perseverance, because It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way.

Ever since history’s first cave painter got notes from his tribal leader, freelancers have been complaining about “editorial interference.” Thus will it ever be. Look, Siegel and Shuster got notes from their editor.  We all get notes. No one’s work is perfect, and no one is immune from criticism, especially when the critic is also the one paying a writer or artist for his or her services. And I have been a publisher and an editor almost as long as I’ve been a writer, so I am sympathetic to both the check-writer and the check-casher. There’s always some give-and-take tension between creative and editorial.

And there are a lot of good comics editors out there, probably more than ever, and I applaud them. But there are, likewise, a growing number of (1) good editors who are not allowed to be good editors by their bosses, and (2) outright chimpanzees.

What I see a lot of freelancers going through today in the work-for-hire arena is just unreal, and the horror stories of personal and professional abuse I’m hearing from the trenches on a regular, almost-daily basis are mind-blowing to me–not only because I’m sympathetic, but because every single one of their experiences is utterly antithetical to the creative process.

If you’re a young freelancer, here are some things you ought to know:

First, if you feel like you’re practically being hazed, you’re not struggling through Business As Usual. If you’re fairly new at this, do not let anyone tell you that bullying is excusable in any way whatsoever or that it’s part of any “learning curve” or “breaking in.” This is a business; you have a right to be treated professionally. If you have produced a script or artwork in good faith that was accepted but, a week or two later, the editor calls you to ask for some minor revisions, give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s not trying to annoy you but is just sincerely trying to hone the work to everyone’s benefit. On the other hand, if approved work, through no fault of yours, suddenly became retroactively “unapproved” and needs a heavy rewrite or a total redraw, a lot of you are being required to do that work for free, over and over again, desperately racing to get to the end zone before someone moves the goal posts again. That’s bad form; when you’re not at fault, you’re supposed to get paid for substantial revisions. Your time is valuable.  If you’re not being compensated for redo after redo after redo on that has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with editorial whim, that’s unprofessional and unacceptable and you’re being taken advantage of.

Similarly, if you’ve done work based on reference supplied to you, upon agreements made with your editor, or upon approved outlines and then been asked to make major, time-consuming alterations because “things have changed,” you should be entitled to charge for rewrites and redraws. If you’re discouraged from standing up for yourself under threat of losing future work–and so many of you have been and are–that’s unacceptable behavior, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you are being bludgeoned with non-disclosure agreements–not just asked to sign one as a matter of course, but having them lorded over you threateningly like a caveman swinging a club–that’s unacceptable. That comes top-down from a place of fear and a pathological need for control, and I don’t have to tell you how poorly fear and control facilitate creativity. (Also, be aware that in this industry, NDAs are almost impossible to legally enforce and always have been, which is why we got along 75 years without them.)

There is no guild in comics, no union, no ombudsman for freelancers. You’re on your own when dealing with publishers, and given the current state of the industry, I can tell you without hesitation that if I were just starting out today and had to deal with half of the nightmare stories I hear from you guys about what it’s like to work at certain places–executives flat-out lying to your face, higher-ups demanding loyalty from you while offering none in return, editors calling you at the eleventh hour to demand 180-degree changes in stories that have already been approved and then acting as if the fault is with you–if that had been the Way Things Were 29 years ago, I’d just be getting out of prison about now.

There are some really good reasons to do work-for-hire. It’s a valuable way to build a reputation. It’s probably not wise to devote 100% of your time to it, but only you know what your priorities and appetites are, and no one else has a right to judge them. And, yes, every job has its drawbacks and moments where it’s better to be flexible than absolute. I truly, truly understand having to take work you don’t love, or work with folks you don’t love, in order to make the rent. And early on, there are things I put up with that I now regret, and there are opportunities I lost because I pushed back, and there are still things I do sometimes to be a get-along guy that aren’t always in my best interests. Everyone’s threshold is unique, and sometimes you let someone take undue advantage because the cupboards are bare or because you’re dealing with a friend who’ll get yelled at if you don’t toe the line. I get that. Circumstances are circumstances. But if you never listen to another word I say, and I talk a lot, please know this: the only one watching out for your future is you.

Be professional. Be a problem-solver. Be willing to compromise in the face of a solid argument.  Be willing to lose sometimes because you’ll learn more that way than you will by always winning. Ultimately, if a client is paying you for your services, he or she has every right to set the specifications, just as you have a right to your integrity. But when people jealous of how you make a living try to rag you with that old truism that every company employee has to eat shit now and then, remind them that you are not an employee. You’re a contractor. You do not receive health benefits, sick days, pensions, vacation time, or any of the other considerations traditional employees receive. Your clients have zero ethical or moral ground to lie to you, to denigrate you, to cheat you, to demand more from you than they’re paying for, to unapologetically walk back on promises or treat you maliciously, or to exploit your need to put food on the table. The good ones won’t. Never trust the bad ones.

Have a sense of humor and maintain a cool head. Pick your battles, but don’t pick fights–even if you’re in the right–because it’s easy to get a reputation (even when you’re punching up, not down) as a loudmouth who can’t go on the internet and tell anyone what time it is without it being characterized as “another rant.” (So I’ve heard.) Take the notes sometimes, even if they seem to be change for change’s sake, be genial…but always protect the work. Know that, five years from now, as fans or prospective publishers are looking over your published pages, no one will care that the comic they’re reading sucks because the publisher moved the deadline up or because the editor demanded you work an android cow into the story. All anyone will care about is the pages they see in front of them, and they will hold you responsible for them, no one else. Mediocre work will follow you around forever.

Bad editors and publishers will ask you to type their stories, not help you tell yours, and sometimes that will seem like a small price to pay for a steady check and to bank karma as a “good soldier.” In the moment, it’s often very hard to know if you’re compromising in a way that might bite you down the road. All I can tell you is that the better your work is–both as submitted and as printed–the more opportunities will come your way, and sometimes that means–politely, professionally, without rancor–saying no or turning down the check. It can be nerve-racking,but while I cannot name names without embarrassing them, I can–purely off the top of my head–think of at least a dozen freelancers who hit every impossible deadline ever asked of them… who were pleasant to work with and always professional even if their editor was a jerk…and who always did exactly what their editors asked them to do, even if it was obvious to a blind man that the quality of the finished work was lessened, because they were trained to believe that their first priority was to serve their editor and do so in a timely manner, and whatever creative voice they brought to the table was secondary. They were good soldiers. They were great soldiers.

All of those people have been unemployed for years.

The quality of your work is all that matters. That’s what buys you longevity. You’re sweating the future because you had one disagreement with your editor? Neal Adams helped get Superman’s creators money and recognition by shaming Warner Bros. in The New York Times, dude. Neal’s not selling cars for a living today. You’re being given an absurd deadline and you think you’re better off turning in crap than being late? We used to literally stand over the fax machine at the DC offices while Neil Gaiman sent in his Sandman scripts in batches of exactly one page. Not admirable, but twenty years on, no one remembers how slow Neil could be, just how phenomenal the stories were.

A quick favor for a good editor here, incorporating a pointless note to keep the peace there…yes. Be flexible, not overtly defiant. Don’t be what a reasonable, uninvolved party would define as “difficult.” But be good above all else. Stand up for your work, and whenever push comes to shove (as it will), never let anything get in the way of you doing your very best, every time. In the long run, the quality of your work is all that matters. That is your only resumé.

Don’t let anyone scare you. Don’t let anyone bully you, ever. Some will if they think they can, but you teach people how to treat you. You can be confident and show integrity without being argumentative. And for God’s sake, don’t be so afraid to explore your options that you keep turning in work that makes you wince; no good decision was ever made primarily out of fear. You can always walk away from any monkey house if you have drive and talent. There are still plenty of places in comics to do work-for-hire without being poorly treated, and there are huge opportunities to self-publish and build a faithful paying audience through the web. It’s hard work, but it’ll be better work, and it’ll be the work you’re remembered by.

If any of this applies to you–if I’ve struck a nerve and you want to talk more about this–I’m not hard to find. I’ll listen when I can make the time, and I’ll give you what advice I can, but truthfully you don’t need me. You just need to know that being taken advantage of is, full-stop, unacceptable and that your work may be for hire, but your dignity is not.

 

Oct 02, 2013 In: Comics, Strife