Well, that couldn’t have gone better. Seriously.
As announced in a previous blogpost, Thrillbent opened up the pitching process at San Diego Comic-Con this year. The rules were simple: we’d take the best pitch for a single short story and develop it for release on Thrillbent later this year–we’d pay for production, you’d own the story–but your pitch had to clock in at no more than 15 seconds.
We began our panel with a quick recap of who we were and what we did while tyros started lining up at the microphone. To show we could play by our own rules, our panelists–James Tynion IV, Christy Blanch, Chris Mancini, Todd Harris, Becky Tinker and myself–each pitched what we were doing for Thrillbent in that same 15-second space, to wit:
“EMPIRE is a science-fiction GAME OF THRONES where a supervillain has taken over the Earth. He’s trying to maintain his reign only to find out that once you’ve consolidated all the world’s power on one throne, there is no more dangerous place to sit.”
“INSUFFERABLE is about father-and-son crimefighters where the son grew up to be a jerk, went solo, and broke up the team. Now an ex-villain is trying to pull them back together for one last case.”
“The year is 1812, and VALENTINE is one of the few soldiers left of Napoleon’s once-mighty army felled by the Russian winter. Given a mysterious package by a dying general with orders to see it safely back to France, Valentine finds himself pursued through the snow by blood-eyed monsters who intent on stopping him.”
“ARCANUM follows the adventures of the secret government agency using creatures of myth and legend as its agents to fight invading arcane forces that bullets and rocket launchers are useless against. It’s 24 by way of Once Upon A Time.”
And so on.
We blew through our entire slide presentation in six minutes, including the various announcements we’ll share with you later this week. Success. Then we turned to the waiting contestants. Going in, I figured we’d have 15, maybe 20, and that the panelists and I would have time to ask some follow-up questions and discuss the merits of the pitches amongst ourselves.
I was informed just before we began that we’d had to cut the line at 100.
That didn’t leave much room for back-and-forth; it was pretty rat-a-tat-tat. Fifteen seconds isn’t a whole lot of time. But here were the things that amazed me:
First, there weren’t any terrible pitches. Not one. As someone who’s been an editor for over thirty years, I’m here to tell you that this is statistically impossible. Yes, there were some worn and tired ideas. Yes, there were some unintentionally derivative pitches. But I kept waiting for someone to step up and give me “A werewolf wakes up on the TITANIC” or “Turns out they’re all vampires,” or (BOOM! founder Ross Richie’s classic go-to example for hollow ideas) “A monkey punches a robot.” This didn’t happen. Everyone who got up to pitch–everyone, without fail–was prepared and rehearsed. Most people had written their pitches down to read. No one made me doubt the existence of God. Joe Casey asked me yesterday if I’d experienced anything recently that gave me faith that the future of comics is secure, and I told him about those pitches.
Second, there was an encouraging amount of diversity at play. Despite the fact that it was open-call, were most of the volunteers of the white-male demographic? Yes. But by no means was that majority a wide majority. I was thrilled at the number of women in line, at the number of men who didn’t look like cracked-mirror versions of me…and they all had stories to tell. Fantasy tales. Crime tales. Romans a clef. Stories of joy, of darkness, of hope. So many, many good pitches.
As we went, I answered most every pitch with an off-the-top-of-the-head comment/snap judgment (seemed to me like these people ought to hear why their pitches did or didn’t work for me–fair is fair and, besides, this was intended as a teaching process as much as a pitch session). A lot of them were good ideas that were too big for the short-story one-off space we were offering; I encouraged these writers to develop them as longer pieces or mini-series for someone. Many of them were good ideas that would be better served in another medium; there was a great one about worldwide body-swapping that, given the relatively internal nature of the conflicts it created, wasn’t terribly visual–but as I said as I rejected it, if it were a novel, I’d read the hell out of it. Some of them were just too close to things we were already publishing or were planning on rolling out. And a couple of them just didn’t strike me. (As I likewise warned everyone going in, just because I don’t like your story doesn’t mean it’s a bad story. One of the realities of publishing is that you have no idea going in how tired I might already be that day of hearing zombie pitches or vampire pitches or what have you. Nothing you can do about that; just pitch.)
As we went, we got through more than half the contestants (!) and pulled aside ten or so as potential winners. When we’d just flat out run out of time, I chose the story (congratulations, Paul O’Connor!) that all the panelists felt had the greatest potential to use the unique tools of digital storytelling well, but that was a tough call, because all the semi-finalists had dynamite pitches (especially Josh Southall, Suzy Stein and Fernando Perez, and Richard Stouvenel). I told them all to give us their contact info so that if Paul gets hit by a bus tomorrow, they can step up.
Then I went out in the hall and listened to the rest of the pitches. Everyone understood that we’d already picked a winner, but since we’d had no idea how many contestant would show up and thus hadn’t limited the number of slots, those remaining shouldn’t be penalized. Again: some amazing pitches. No dumb ones. Some I’d publish tomorrow if we had the time and resources. Only one guy whose heart visibly shattered into pieces when I told him, wincing, that his idea was too close to a Greg Rucka comic already in print. Two pitches that would have made the semi-finals easily. One that might well have won. By every measure, the panel was a rousing success, so keep visiting the Thrillbent site and reading the blog (scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up for the mailing list!) to see when and where we’ll do this again, because I can’t wait. (I know what you’re asking, and yes: we will eventually open up this site to unsolicited submissions outside of conventions, hopefully later this year, but right now we simply don’t have the peoplepower. But do keep watching the site and sign up for the mailing list so you’ll know when we throw open the gates.)
Thank you so much to everyone who came out for this. Thanks for being good sports, thanks for the good will. And watch for Paul O’Connor’s detective noir tale 4 SECONDS coming soon!