column_breakout.gifYou’ve probably seen the signs outside some of your favorite stores…”No Solicitations”…”No Soliciting”…”Solicitors will be shot!”…”If you’re a solicitor, please bang your leg on the wall–my dog likes his meat tender.” Kind of wish there was a sign like that for your phone or mailbox sometimes, don’t you? With all of those early morning or late night phone calls from people constantly trying to sell you something as well as the constant barrage of mailed solicitations, who wouldn’t want a little break from it? Heck, if you really needed that product or service, you’d go with a friend’s recommendation, go to one of the bigger names in that business or check out a few places that have work you’re familiar with.

Now is a good time to remember that when you submit to a publisher, you’re trying to sell them your story or services as a comic creator. You can probably imagine now why DC “does not read or accept unsolicited submissions of ideas, stories or artwork.” And why Marvel comics for the longest time had the “No Solicitations” sign in the window to keep all those writer submissions at bay. But just because they have the sign in the door, doesn’t mean the editors won’t look for the talent or check out a few creators that have work they’re familiar with. The sign in the door doesn’t stop them from asking people to send them samples to take a look at and see if it’s work they’d like to purchase. Pretty much the same way all those small businesses initiate contact with solicitors.

But how do you get them to ask? Well, you just have to wonder how all these other companies get people to call them up and buy their stuff all the time. Word-of-mouth goes a long way, being a big name can definitely make a difference, and developing a large following of happy, loyal customers certainly helps. But most businesses out there can’t get the big name, the hot buzz talk, or the loyal fans without proving that they can deliver the work first. Once they’ve proven themselves, it opens up doors.

Those can lead to opportunities that might open other doors, and then when you’re talking to that editor, they might recognize your name and ask you to send something to them. Sure, you could just start up a conversation with them anyways, and if they like you, they might ask you to send some stuff their way–but how well do you think your portfolio of pencils or scripts will stand up against the person that sends in copies of completed comics and solid references from various small press publishers they’ve worked with in the past? Would you want to go with the home builder that has really nice blueprints and models of houses but has never actually built one or the builder that can show you lots of actual houses with recommendations from happy customers that would gladly buy from them again?

column_breakout.gifOoh…a bright, shiny new shiny set of articles here (originally run at the Digital Webbing site). I guess I should start by introducing myself–aside from the occasional colorful expletive, I’m usually referred to as Jeffery Stevenson, and I’ve put together this series of articles to share my insanity……to, umm, share advice and motivational words on “breaking in” that I’ve managed to mish-mash together from books, websites, comic creators, editors, business professionals, teachers, little kids that are wise beyond their years, and even that guy on the street downtown with the cardboard sign that states he knows how to unlock the secret, universe-altering potential of liverwurst. Some of this material might be informative, some of it might even be funny (which can help you learn stuff better), but the only thing I can guarantee is that I’ve managed to write it down for people to read (so that I can get it all out of my brain and make room for weirder stuff). Now, since this is the first article, I have yet to receive much feedback on it, so I’ve taken the liberty of going ahead asking myself some questions people might be interested in:

Why the [rhymes with “chimichangas for a buck”] would you call a column about breaking in Breaking Out!? It’s like you’re trying to escape from [not again] jail or some [potty mouth] like that.

Good question. My philosophy on breaking in has always been learning my craft, finding my voice, practice the heck out of it, work hard, have fun and entertain people…and hopefully find some doors opening for me along the way. Would I like a shot at breaking in to the big publishers? Hell yeah! Well, how am I gonna set myself apart from everyone else that wants this same goal? By breaking out of the pitfalls, traps, and false thinking that aspiring creators can fall into when they try to get into the comic industry. Some people forget the comic “industry” is a business and that creators have to mix skill and experience with patience, discipline, and great sales and marketing skills…just like trying to get a job in any other business out there. And yeah, I know, making comics is supposed to be fun…and it is…any good job should be.

What makes you so qualified to cover this subject?

Truthfully, I’m still learning myself, and I always will be…but if I wait until I’ve learned everything about this subject before taking on this column, I’d never get any of it written. With any project, there just comes a time when you have to stop thinking about what you’re going to do…stop planning it to death and just get the damn thing done.

Do you really think throwing in some funny stuff will help people learn better?

How many people have you met that can go on for a long time describing every detail and every event in a movie that leads up to a single punch line they found funny? Tying an emotion to the information gives people something else to associate it with…another path to the data. Besides, learning stuff shouldn’t be boring.

Will I be able to break in to comics if I read your articles?

No. Breaking in requires much more than reading a few articles. I’ll present ideas, ponderings, and tips on the subject–things to get YOU thinking about what YOU can do to increase YOUR chances in the long run. There’s a lot of difference between knowing what to do and actually getting it done. Take what bits of info here you find helpful, apply it, practice, and work hard at it. With each step forward, you’ll increase your chances…and as long as you’re going in the right direction, you’ll eventually get to where you want to be.

And that’s all for this week! Next week we’ll get rolling with this column.

Well, Digital Webbing Presents #6 made it onto the comic store shelves this week…at least it made it out to some of them. Looks like the shipping got messed up on them, so a lot of places won’t get the book until next Thursday. But if you did manage to get a copy of it this week, there’s a 6 page story written by me and illustrated by Scott Story called Arazel & Xarenia. I’m also involved with a few other stories that have been accepted for the anthology (including a second Arazel & Xarenia story in June with artwork by Deon Nuckols), so keep an eye out for them. Also keep an eye on Digital Webbing Press as they prepare to release a bunch of creator-owned titles under their imprint next year. Yay small press!

Well, time for an update. I managed to get up to Mid-Ohio Con last weekend, and that turned out to be a lot of fun. I met lots of great people (indy/small press creators, professional creators, and fans), helped out at the Digital Webbing table and even got my “Breaking Out!” newsletter into the hands of a few aspiring creators (a newsletter on submitting to companies and getting your name out there…it also has a list of 32 small press/indy publishers that accept submissions from creators). The Laughing Ogre pre-con party was great…food, drinks, live music, and lots of great company and it led perfectly into a weekend that was exciting and (aside from some hangovers) charged with enthusiasm and energy. Even though it’s not quite as big as the other cons, it was well worth the experience.

As for the site, I had planned on finishing up the coding for my new comic script pages while I was up there, but I wound up not having internet access…but I did get it finished today (so check it out). As I get more features coded into it, you’ll see more stuff added (like the characters, synopsis, and all the extra sections), but for now, it’s functional and you can read some of my sample scripts (more of which will be added soon).

Well, last weekend I attended the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference, and it was a blast. One of the more interesting things I overheard there was a group of people sitting at a table one night in the Driskill Hotel brainstorming on which comic book character would make a great movie (and discussing comic book movies in the works or already out there). It was fun to listen to…especially since they were pretty damn knowledgeable in comics (it was apparent that most of them read comics regularly). I chatted with a bunch of people at the festival and when they asked what I do, everyone seemed to perk up when I mentioned that I do some comic book writing (that was kind of neat…some even showed some interest in seeing DWP #6 when it comes out). There were tons of people from L.A. out here for this, and I was amazed at how friendly and encouraging everyone was.

 And there was lots of fun stuff at the screenwriter’s conference portion of it…went to a science fiction movie writing panel and met Robert Gordon (writer for Galaxy Quest), Bill Broyles (writer for Apollo 13, Castaway, Planet of the Apes), and Lem Dobbs (writer for Dark City). Also attended a roundtable discussion with Adam Beechen (freelance writer for X-Men: Evolution, Jackie Chan Adventures, Static Shock, and the upcoming Teen Titans cartoon). Also got to attend a craft session on dialogue presented by Scott Rosenberg (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, Beautiful Girls, Con Air, Gone in 60 Seconds, High Fidelity) and moderated by Chad Oman (president of production for Jerry Bruckheimer Films)–this was both informative and entertaining (lots of good laughs during that session). I also got to attend a panel on comedic writing with Robert Gordon, Jessica Beddinger (Bring it On, Sex & the City), and Ed Solomon (Men in Black, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Garry Shandling show and Laverne and Shirley), an informal meet and greet with Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight) and John Lee Hancock (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Rookie[director]), and a great panel on finding an agent. Overall, I learned a lot and met some great people…and hopefully, I’ll have some screenwriting samples to put up on the site in the future.

Well, a preview of Digital Webbing Presents #6 is available. It will be listed in the Previews guide that comes out on September 25th and will show up on the shelves in December (alongside another good book featuring Gutwallow, that cute little gingerbread man fantasy adventurer). I have a six page story called Arazel & Xarenia with artwork by the talented Scott Story. My Arazel & Xarenia stories (yes, plural…there will be more) are based on a common theme–one part fantasy adventure mixed with three parts Murphy’s Law. Artist Deon Nuckols recently finished the pencils on a second story with the two Elven girls, and he’s also working on another of my short stories called Bob the Battleship.

Well, over at iUniverse, the Grimoire de Solace is showing up as being available for ordering. My short story, Staelwierthe Souls, lies amongst those pages as well as stories from 14 other writers…including Chris Kirby’s story, Extinction.

Chris and Steven O’Connell (that great letterer I’ve mentioned before) had stories featured in the comic book anthology, Digital Webbing Presents #3, this month (and you can check out Steven’s lettering in Chaos! Comics, Lady Death, Re-Imagined that also hit the shelves this month).

Keep an eye out for those two…hopefully, you’ll be seeing some more stuff from them in the future.