Comic BooksSDCC '14

SDCC 2014: DC Comics – My Secret Origin, or How I Broke into Comics LIVE

Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor

Official Description: The comics industry can be tough to break into! Come by for an inside look at how some of DC Entertainment’s top talent — Nicola Scott (Earth 2), Scott Snyder (American Vampire, Batman, Batman Eternal, The Wake), and Charles Soule (Red Lanterns, Superman/Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing) — made their careers crafting the tales of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and more.

The panel started with the moderator introducing the panelists Nicola Scott, to a round of applause. The moderator stopped and pointed out that she came all the way from Australia and that it was her birthday, to a larger round of applause. Charles Soule and Scott Snyder were introduced as well to another round of applause.

The moderator asked if anyone in the room had an interest in doing something professionally with comics.

How long have you been in comics? What made you decide?

Scott: I’ve worked with DC Comics for 8 years, and it was a natural decision. I wanted to make a living out of a creative career. I was trying to work out what I would be happiest drawing all day every day. How can I enjoy my job as much as possible? I thought it would be fun to draw Wonder Woman! As I had that thought in my head, there’s a real job for this: drawing superheroes. I love superheroes! Oh my god I’m going to start drawing comic books!

Soule: My day job was an attorney and it wasn’t creative in the traditional sense. I really wanted to do something that would enable me to do both things: be creative and still working at the lawyer job. I started looking more into it. That research process and building up my skill set took a long time. I started working for DC when I started wrecking Swamp Thing after Scott’s run. DC approached me at New York Comic Con the year before. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been in the business after 5 years of trying. It’s been a long road, but it’s fun the whole times. Making comics is fun no matter what level you’re at. I’m still a practicing attorney and do my cases on the side.

Snyder: I wanted to do it as a kid. I wanted to be an artist–I had a portfolio. I would go to New York Comic Con with my dad with my portfolio. When I applied to college I still wanted to do comic book art and write my own stories. I realized that I still wasn’t good enough and fell in love with writing. I wrote a couple stories with superheroes in it–it was an anthology, where my friend asked us to make up new Superheroes. At the end, these two editors approached me–one from DC and one from Marvel–and asked me if I wanted to pitch. I just pitched my head off for everything they offered! I was working for them both and I would complain about one to the other, and I had no idea they were dating! I just took off from there. It was a real lucky, serendipitous way to get into comics.

Snyder talked about his time before comics in his attempts to publish one of his books and how difficult it was prior. He talked about the depression he had surrounding that work and then how Mark Doyle gave Snyder opportunities and pushed him to pitch bigger, which became American Vampire.

Soule: At SDCC two years ago, I had a table. I was tabling and trying to show my stuff.other people who  At that time, I had an Image series called 27 and had another book called Strange Attractors that was going to come out. A DC Executive, Jeff Boyson, approached me, as he was interested in my work, and asked why I wasn’t writing anything for DC. He and I emailed a couple times, and he later introduced me to an editor called Matt Idleson. He’s a champion. He knew that they needed someone to take over Swamp Thing and gave me the chance to pitch. It was super, super intimidating.

He talked about living up to the other people who had done Swamp Thing before.

Soule: I had no idea what the project was. We had a conversation and he said it’s Swamp Thing. That was really throwing me into the deep end. I started writing the pitch up and I wrote multiple, multiple drafts. I had 10 days to do it and had 10 pages the next day. Anyway, I did a lot quickly and threw it out like 3 or 4 times and then simplified it and turned it in. I got the call saying, “We’re going to start you off.” I thought the odds were that I was going to get an issue or two out of it. I thought, if I only get this chance, I’m going to do the things on my bucket list, and that’s why Superman shows up in the first few issues.

Nicola: For me, about nine months after I had made this decision, I came to SDCC in 2002 with this big idea that’s where the industry is! I knew that if I wanted to work in the American industry, I had to come here. So, I came here with a portfolio that was really ridiculous. It showed that I could draw, but it didn’t show that I had any knowledge of sequential art. I came away from my first experience feeling overwhelmed, but felt like the criticism was constructive. When I came for the show in 2003, I spent a month in New York beforehand and I got to meet Jimmy Palmiotti. He invited me to their place for an afternoon and we sat down for a couple hours and went through my entire portfolio. We had a really good talk about sequential art and about comic book art, specifically superhero kind of art. He gave me a whole list of people that I should introduce myself to and tell them I sent you. I ended getting a couple little jobs through that, ironically contributing to a How to Draw Comics book. I was given the chapter on hands and feet!

The three then reminisced about connecting with creators before they got big. As it turns out, Soule and Scott had met on a Bendis Board and did an 8-page sample together–they met again at the DC Summit last year and were surprised to see each other. Gail Simone approached Scott at a convention and wanted her to fill the empty spot on Birds of Prey.

With the rise of social media and the independents, what advice would you give?

Snyder: In terms of basic building blocks, if you’re a writer you don’t want to come here with a script or a pitch. You want to make a comic. The community is so connected–there are so many focums. I would encourage you not to come with an idea or a script or a pitch, but instead try to make something that looks like 8-pages or 10-pages of your comic, something you want to pick up and read. That’s the advice I give to my students: they have to write the comic they want to pick up and read. Make something you can hand to an editor or a creator–they did this, they made this. That’s the most basic advice I can give.

Soule: If you just want to make comics, you have to learn how to make comics. For writers or artists, start with one or two-page comics. Write a one-page or a two-page that’s a fight. You might think you can handle all of these story beats right off the bat, but writing a script that tries to execute that idea quickly, you see how to do that quickly and in comic book form. Go out and start making comics. There are a lot of ways to start making comics. I feel like these days, it’s very important to get some work out that’s published. It’s a way that editors can see you can actually do it. The work at the Big Two level is extremely demanding and tough, so editors don’t necessarily want to take a chance on someone who doesn’t know how to do it.

Scott: I know a lot of writers who are constantly look for an artist who won’t flake out. There are great intentions, but it’s quite demanding to finish a job. When you’re drawing the interiors of a book. Covers can be a lot of fun because they’re splashy, but for the interiors you have to draw the backgrounds, the context, and all the things that aren’t necessarily “fun”. That tends to thin the herd. They want to know you can finish the jobs you start.

The panel then opened to Q&A.

For Nicola, can you talk about artists that influenced your style?

Scott: I had seen some of George Perez’s Wonder Woman run and there was an elegance and cleanliness that appealed to me. The first comic I read was Dark Knight returns, and it was one of the first comics to make me sit up and say, “Well, I wasn’t expecting that.” Since I’ve decided to get into comics, I spent a lot of money on a lot of Adams Hughes, Alex Ross, and George Perez. That kind of similar wheelhouse with some variety.

For Charles and Scott, what kind of dialogue happens between transitioning creative teams?

Snyder: I love the torch pass in that. For me, I asked Matt who he had in mind, and I saw Charles’ stuff and thought it looked great. He told me what was coming up and I thought it was great.

Soule: It was one of those things… it was the first time I had ever talked to Snyder, and you couldn’t have been more gracious or supportive. It was great, but it was important to me to put my own stamp on it. Back then, and today, you couldn’t have been more supportive.

Snyder: It’s a joy to read that book. I read it and learn from it. I remember when I got the call to do Swamp Thing. I was cooking burgers and Geoff Johns called me! He said, “I heard you liked Swamp Thing and I heard you have an idea for it and there might be an opportunity.” I remember giving the spatula to my wife and saying, “Honey, can you finish the burgers, I have to go pitch Geoff Johns my Swamp Thing story!” Charles and I trade scripts all the time! One more thing for the advice–keep in mind that the community itself is great, keep your community of friends to read your work. It’s not competitive that way. Once you form those friendships, when you’re breaking in together, keep those people close. For me, we all trade! That’s the secret: we’re all friends. I showed Mark Waid my Superman scripts–I was terrified and he took me out to breakfast.

Soule: As far as businesses go, the camaraderie among the talent is amazing.

Are there any avenues for people with special needs being published?

Soule: I don’t have anything specific for that, but generally the trick for DC Editors is first name dot last name at DC Entertainment dot com. Generally speaking, they like to speak to the talent. My point is, even if they can’t be here, it’s a thing where email and internet… people tend to be evaluated on the work. Get it in the hands of the editors and see what happens!

Scott: I come over to an American show once a year because face time makes a difference. There are a number of creators in Australia who haven’t come over who have been able to find work. The internet has allowed creators to be anywhere. Having work that you get out there that’s accessible and then making yourself accessible does the trick.

How do you handle the criticism you get? 

Scott: I think a smart enough person is going to know when a nasty comment is a nasty comment and not a constructive comment. It’s also, you got to have thick skin. Some of those comics can be constructive, but some of them are nasty. By the time you’re working professionally, you have to have thick skin. You’ll have to go into battle for your ideas sometimes and be a team player and lose those battles sometimes.

Snyder: Find peoples’ criticisms you trust! I can’t swim through it. I have certain sites and certain critics. When I was starting out whose criticism I really liked and he took me to task for using the same narration in every story. I met him at a convention recently–he’s working at Image right now. You have to keep people who you do listen to near you.

 

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