On January 11, 2020, writer Fred Van Lente will lead a Comics Experience Master Seminar on Pitching Comics! Van Lente is a New York Times bestselling author. With one of the most expansive and unique resumes in comics, his body of work spans top superhero titles (Amazing Spider-Man), AND genre-redefining nonfiction (Action Philosophers,The Comic Book History of Comics).
Now, Van Lente shares his expertise with our community on pitching — one of the most mysterious challenges for even the most experienced comics creators to master.
In this one-day seminar, you’ll gain the tools you need to craft concise, compelling project pitches that will resonate with editors and audiences alike. Registration is limited, and you can learn more and sign up here!
Van Lente talked with us about the art of pitching, what to expect from his seminar, and more.
Comics Experience: What was your own favorite comic pitching experience?
FVL: You have to be able to roll with the punches – just because a pitch is accepted doesn’t mean the final product will look much like it.
For my first Marvel gig, I was asked to pitch on re-imagining the Scorpion character as a teenage female S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (as one does) and I came up with this idea that the pretty well known villains Silver Samurai and Viper, longtime allies, got drunk and hooked up one night in Madripoor and the result was this Scorpion character, their daughter.
After an initial rejection my pitch was accepted, but they said I couldn’t use Silver Samurai or Viper because Mark Millar is using them in Wolverine. To which my brain said, “But….that’s literally like my whole pitch” but my mouth said, “You got it, Mr. Editor sir.”
So the new Scorpion ended up having a completely brand-new villain mother, AIM Scientist Supreme Monica Rappaccini, who, much to my surprise, has become one of the longer running Marvel characters I created, and a little bird told me is soon to make her major reoccurring-character TV debut. This road takes you to strange, but interesting places.
What’s one thing you wish more people understood about pitching a comic project?
Distilling the essence of a project into the catchiest sound bite is a skill unto itself. It requires confidence in your material that you don’t have to blizzard people with verbiage to get them to be into it. I wish people would understand they “pitch” thing to their friends and family all the time, whenever you say, “I really liked this movie/book/video game” and they respond, “What’s it about?” Whatever you say after that is the pitch, and you instinctually choose the words that convey how and why you liked this thing. You just need to be able to do that for your own projects as well as other people’s.
What will students be able to do differently after taking your Comics Experience seminar?
My plan is to hand people scalpels that will let them precisely pare down their pitch into its most efficient, effective essence. Simplicity is key because rarely are you the only person pitching your project. The editor who takes your pitch is going to take that pitch to their superiors to get them buy-in. Editorial needs buy-in from Marketing. Marketing needs buy-in from the Media. And the Media has to sell their article on your idea to the public. And as I said above, your fans need to be able to get the non-converted excited about your idea. It’s the Circle of Life!
What you’re not writing comics, what do you, Fred Van Lente, enjoy doing for fun?
I am a big bike rider, traveler, and baseball fan. I play a lot of role playing games and video games — probably too many. And I love cooking. That’s probably my favorite of all.
Creators Workshop Member Pete Rogers’ and co-writer Stephen Aryan’s Fluxis currently live on Kickstarter! One part time travel, two parts conspiracy thriller…we talked with Pete about what makes the comic and the creation journey unique for Flux!
Comics Experience: How did Stephen’s idea for Flux come about? How did your collaboration help him bridge the gap in making the story a reality?
Pete Rogers: Years before working on Flux, I used to see Stephen at comic book conventions in the UK, as we both had tables and were self-publishing comics. Over the years, we became friends. A couple of years ago, he approached me with an idea he had been wrestling with. He had the seed of the idea and some parts of the story, but something was missing. Stephen is a fantasy novelist, and for the most part, it’s a very solitary job. By their very nature comics are much more collaborative and by brainstorming ideas, the two of us were able to have a eureka moment. Working with a co-writer was initially intimidating but it quickly became our story and our book. My tendency is to look at what isn’t working first and find areas that need improvement or that have created logic issues, so finding out what to change or develop came quite naturally. Also Stephen tends to think of the characters and story first, whereas I tend to think more visually because my day job is in Visual Effects. In this way, each of us has a unique perspective and combining the two approaches created something we’re both really pleased with.
My fondest memory of writing issue 1 was from a few years ago when the pair of us went to the Thought Bubble comics festival. I was pacing around the room and Stephen was frantically typing as we broke down the script. It was a very exciting and energetic writing session where he was struggling to keep up with the ideas!
CE: How is this story different from typical time travel stories?
PR: Many time travel stories (Looper, Back to the Future, Time Cop, Source Code, Terminator, 12 Monkeys) deal with trying to fix a problem in the present by sending someone into the past. Flux operates in a world where we explore the impact of time travel on a much wider scale. In Flux, the US Government invented time travel in 1973, but the technology was leaked. Time Terrorists started using time travel to go back in time and change the past to make things better for themselves in the present. To combat these terrorists a new branch of government was created, called Purity Control, to maintain the timeline. Since then every person in the world, from the moment they are born to the moment they die, has to wear a Timeband, wearable technology that protects them from Time Terrorists. Kids in school are taught about the importance of always wearing their Timeband. Creating Timebands wasn’t an easy thing in the 1970’s and the long-term effect is that the technology, as a whole, is quite stunted. So even though the story is set in modern day, there’s a distinctively 1980’s feel to everything, with no social media and no internet. Phones are huge, chunky things and computers have big monitors. The story isn’t about using time travel to fix something. It’s all about what happens next in a world where time travel is part of the fabric of society and isn’t going away, so Flux has more in common with a conspiracy thriller than your average time travel story.
CE: What was it like co-writing with Stephen Aryan?
PR: With Flux, and other projects with Steve it’s a much more traditional co-writing proposition as we break the overall plot, issues and scenes together before we start writing proper. We’re very different people but we share a love of comics and have many similar interests and genre touchstones from TV and film. Once we started discussing Flux both of us left our egos at the door and just talked honestly about our ideas for the project. If something didn’t work for one of us, the other could say why and not get offended. In addition to working on Flux, we’ve both worked on solo projects in parallel but we’ve also collaborated on other ideas. Typically how we choose what to work on next starts in the same way. We each bring 3 or 4 really good ideas, we pitch them to each other and then pick one favorite idea to develop next. Our current slate of projects is a mix of things that originated from an initial idea by me or Steve.
CE: What are you most excited about from artist Maysam Barza?
PR: Maysam’s art style is incredibly modern and yet it also has an almost classic feel. It creates this distinctly surreal atmosphere, where even though you’re looking at a story set in the 21st century, you can see that something is slightly off. We’ve been most excited to see how he translates pages and really brings them to life. We don’t dictate specific camera angles but we sometimes throw out several ideas about the flavor of a page. Several times he has come back with ideas we would never have thought about and it’s so exciting to see the characters and the story coming to life. Once he’d drawn Issue 1, it gave us a better understanding of the world and characters; that propelled us into scripting the other three issues. He’s currently busy working on Issue 3 and we are always excited to see new pages arrive in our inboxes.
PR: We workshopped the first issue of Flux on the Comics Experience forums and received a wide range of helpful feedback from pros and members and the outcome was incredibly valuable. The best thing other members did was ask us questions and attempt to poke holes in the story. This forced Stephen and I to look deeper into the mythology and the world we had built and make sure we had the answers. When you’re creating a story set in a world that is different from our own, it’s difficult to know how much information to share upfront. Too much and it can slow the story down and readers get bored. Too little and they won’t be able to follow the story. We were able to look at all of the comments we received and see if, on average, the balance of information was right. The feedback not only helped us shape the story, it also gave us the confidence to believe in the project and ourselves which was one step towards making the book a reality.
There are less than three weeks left to support Fluxon Kickstarter! To donate to the campaign, click here.
Comics Experience is excited to welcome Bon Alimagno to the newly created position of Creators Workshop Director!
In this new role, Bon will be the driving force keeping our Creators Workshop a comprehensive, up-to-date, and valuable source of online support for comics creators.
Bon comes to the position with an extensive background in both the comics and tech industries, where his roles have included leading Marvel’s talent division and serving as senior user experience producer for Amazon’s retail experience design team.
Comics Experience community member Nicole Boose spoke with Bon about his background, his vision for the Creators Workshop, and what our Creators Workshop members can look forward to under his leadership.
Bon, first, welcome to Comics Experience, and to your new role with the Creators Workshop! How did you (and Andy [Schmidt, Comics Experience founder]) arrive at your new position as Creators Workshop Director?
Well, Nicole, you actually had a lot to do with it and I am very grateful to you (and [CE instructor] Chris Sotomayor) for keeping my name alive with Andy Schmidt and Co. Think you and I first started talking about me joining Comics Experience as a pro contributor some years back while I was still working in tech. The conversation took on more urgency this past summer as I was prepping to leave the tech industry and looking to give back to the comics community. Andy and I both have a lot going on, but eventually we were able to connect and talk over possibilities over the phone and at New York Comic-Con — really it was a matter of perfect timing and mutual needs. Comics Experience was looking for someone to come on and be a driver of the Creators Workshop and I was looking to interface once more with the creative community on a meaningful level.
You spent the first stretch of your career in the comics industry, then moved to the tech world, and now you’re entering a new phase of your comics career. How have your years in tech influenced your view of the comics business?
My time there really opened my eyes to the missed opportunities of the comics industry. We have an entertainment and licensing market, in the US at least, being driven by comics intellectual property. Meanwhile, not a day goes by that I don’t see a comics creator opening up a crowdfunding campaign for their medical bills, or a retailer writing about how they struggle to remain open amid dwindling profit margins. There’s a disconnect there with how creators are connecting to their audience. That’s leading to creators suffering from not reaping the full benefits of their talent, and the audience having to pay higher and higher prices for those creators’ works.
In the tech industry, when there’s a disconnect like that, the approach would be to build the tools that create the needed connections. At Amazon especially, they drilled into us how creating the best customer experience drew in more customers, which meant you could lower prices to bring in even more customers. This led to lower and lower prices and on and on. This virtuous flywheel is how you end up with companies worth a trillion dollars.
Comics can totally learn how to leverage those same product design approaches to building the best customer experiences possible for comics audiences. It’s comics where the ideas driving pop culture are coming from, so why can’t it also be where the solutions, whether tech based or brick-and-mortar based, originate as well?
Meanwhile, I need to say the tech industry would absolutely kill for the level of engagement the American comics direct market, and Japanese and European markets, have. You’ve got thousands of stores with people coming in and making a cash purchase every week. In my previous gig, we’d have meetings trying to figure out how to convince someone to be a monthly customer let alone a weekly one.
Since you began in the role of Creators Workshop Director, you’ve launched Topic of the Day discussion threads on our online forum, where you introduce a thought-provoking topic about creating comics in today’s industry, and invite others to participate. Where do your topic ideas come from, and what are some of your favorite themes to discuss?
A lot of it so far has been seeing what topics in social media that day appear to have the most heat. I figure there are unique discussions the community would want to have in the Creators Workshop that they wouldn’t or couldn’t have on their own social media feeds. What’s the kind of daily discussion we can have in the Creators Workshop we can’t have anywhere else?
I’m most drawn to topics looking at the news of the day from the unique POV of a comics creator — lots of times comics news headlines focus too much on how things are out of our control — some multinational conglomerate is doing a thing and trampling all these folks underfoot. I’d like to instead look at that news through the lens of how we can turn challenges into opportunities. We’ll likely not be able to arrive at satisfactory answers by the end of the day, but it plants that seed that maybe we can solve it with more time and investigation.
What are some of your goals for the CE Creators Workshop, and what can members expect from their experience in the months ahead?
Really, I want it the workshop to be our community’s first check-in every day to get what they need for their own work. Is it advice, support, resources — something else? I’m reaching out to members to get their opinions. I figure my role is to ask, “What problem can I solve for you today?” And go from there.
We look forward to having Bon on board, and for the insights he continues to share with our community! To learn how you can become part of our Creators Workshop, visit the page here.
Comics Experience instructor and content/operations manager Paul Allor is going goth in his next project. Goth will tell stories of what it means to be Visigoth and Goth throughout history, through one-shots held together by this common theme.
The first issue in the series tells of a doomed romance between the Visigoth warrior Dolphus and his lover Gerda. After their relationship ends, he attempts to lose himself in a noble death on the battlefield… but Gerda has other ideas. Painful ideas. Paul is joined in this venture by newcomer (and course alumnus!) Seth Abrams on art, course alumnus Josh Jensen on coloring, and Claire Napier as the consulting editor.
Paul answered a few questions about the upcoming one-shot in between his busy course schedule!
Comics Experience: What interests you the most about Visigoth history? What inspired these one-shots?
Paul Allor: Well, ancient Gothic history is fascinating, this epic tale of immigration, assimilation, and cultural annihilation. But with this series, we’re going to be telling a pan-Gothic tale, with one-shots focusing on different goths throughout history: the ancient goths in the first issue, 1980s mall goths in the second, a Gothic horror story in the third, and on and on. And in the process, you’ll see the lines between these different eras begin to fall, and the common themes emerge: among them melodrama, romantic fatalism, and a killer sense of style.
CE: What is your research process like for historical fiction?
PA: I tend to start broad and then focus in. So, for this issue, I read about the ancient Goths in general, and then when certain facets of their history stood out to me, I went seeking information on it, in particular. Basically, I read and read and make notes and highlight and reread my notes and highlights and then I just do what’s best for the story.
CE: This is Seth Adams’ first book! How did you meet him, and how do you work together?
PA: I met Seth through the Comics Experience Creators Workshop! He had a thread up where he showcased his art, and I really dug it. I think I saw it right as I was beginning to develop this project in my mind, and it was like, “okay, yeah, that’s the guy.”
And then once we dug in, Seth just absolutely blew me away. I already dug his work, but then he started shifting into gears I absolutely didn’t know he had. It’s been a wonderful experience.
And then Josh just brought Seth’s work to another level with his gorgeous, evocative colors. This is a flat-out gorgeous book, and I can’t wait to unleash it on the world later this month.
Remember to pick up your copy of Goth: Young Lovers at War on November 27!
Brian Donnelly‘s Mythographer’s Workshop began life as a spark in the Creators Workshop. It’s since grown into an indie publishing house dedicated to charity and equality, inspired by Brian’s own life.
His current project, Once and Future: Finest Hour remixes Arthurian legend and sees the mythic king reincarnated as a girl during World War II. It has all the romance, drama, and epic acts of derring-do as the classic and familiar tales of yore, transplanted into a brand new setting. And like all good kings, Brian doesn’t ride alone. He is joined by Jean Pedroso on art, Ed Dukeshire on lettering and assembly, and Livia Prima on cover art.
For the next couple of weeks, you can sponsor this project on Indiegogo! Brian shares more about the project, as well as his history as a comics creator and publisher.
Comics Experience: Can you tell us more about the founding of the Mythographer’s Workshop?
Brian Donnelly: Sure. I first attended one of Comics Experience’s first script writing classes back in 2012. In 2013, when my wife was a few weeks pregnant with our first child, I learned I had a brain tumor, epilepsy, and autoimmune encephalitis, an extremely rare condition where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy brain cells. I underwent brain surgery when my wife was five months pregnant with our first daughter and seven months of immuno-infusion therapy. It was during my recovery that I decided to pursue a passion I had since the 1980s. I formed a comic book publishing company, Mythographer’s Workshop, to create professional creative works.
CE: What led you to want to make comics as a child?
BD: I bought comics like most kids in the early ‘80s from 7-11s and news agencies and then the direct market really came of age in the late 1980s. I hung around a local comic shop and actually got hired by the manager to help stock the shelves, bag the back issues, work the register, etc. I got store credit as part (most!) of my salary, so I used it to buy comics. Again, this was just as Todd McFarlane was coming of age at Marvel, comics as a result of the direct market was becoming an investing ground (bad and good things from that), the Michael Keaton/Tim Burton Batman movie was launching, and comic books as a whole were having this amazing renaissance. I just got swept up in it.
CE: How has the Mythographer’s Workshop changed since its founding?
BD: Haha – well it was a bit of learning from doing. Much like other small publishers, I have tried every avenue to turn a buck and the direct market through Diamond is very formidable. Further, relying on things like comiXology and streaming to make a buck won’t work. Turning a profit in this industry is EXTREMELY difficult. You read about big publishers going out and don’t forget even Marvel was in bankruptcy at one point. So don’t kick yourself. But I think the avenue for small folks is to look to crowdsourcing like Indigogo and Kickstarter (I have been successful on both) as really viable sources to get your work out there.
Also, nothing beats the hard work of building up your audience through cons. Work on building up a base of different books that are attractive to different audiences rather than one sweeping space opera (unless money is not an issue and you just want to get your space opera out of your head). Look for new talent you can pay an affordable rate, but spend a lot on your cover (even if you are the artist) for a professional artist.
Personally, for us, Mythographer’s Workshop has moved to a “comics that wanted to be in Diamond and on the shelves turning a huge profit” to a publishing company with a purpose. All of our work will have a substantial portion of proceeds donated to charity and have a commitment to diversity – drawing on talent from a large pool of humanity. Once and Future was written and produced by a white guy, drawn by a Latin American guy, lettered by an Asian-American guy, and the cover was done by an Indonesian woman.
CE: What can you tell us about Once and Future? What excites you the most about it?
BD: Well, I was able to capture the Arthurian legend against the backdrop of WWII in 120 pages. But I think the thing I am most proud of is adding to the Arthurian cycle (in my own small way). There is a very specific reason Arthur returns as a young girl. Once and Future is not just a throwaway title, and Arthur returning as a girl is not just a gimmicky catch. There is very real meaning to both. If you pick up the book and read the forward and the whole thing, it becomes clear what I am contributing to the Arthurian cycle. The message I am sending is very important and I am proud of it. My hope is it will become part of the Arthurian cycle for future generations. Pick up a copy here.
CE: What did you learn from Comics Experience and the Creators Workshop that helped you grow Mythographer’s Workshop?
BD: Wow. I would not have been able to do any of my graphic novels without Comics Experience. I had no idea how to write a script! I can’t believe it’s been about 7 years since my first course. Learning to lay out scripts, what could and could not happen, rising and falling action, character development. Andy Schmidt was awesome. I also learned that I had talent. That there are a lot of folks who are kind of interested in comics writing, and take up a course, but fail to make the connection between the ease of reading a comic and how hard it is to write a comic (let alone producing one).
It takes a lot of work, and mistakes, and learning from mistakes. You have to take risks and make yourself open to criticism. And having opened yourself up and received criticism you are able to provide criticism – constructively and properly – to help other folks that are out their trying. One way you do that is you can weed out the trolls that have never done either and just forget about them. I went from never writing a comic to winning a national award with Stan Lee and William Shatner and I could not have done it without my course at Comics Experience.
There’s less than two weeks to support Once and Future on Indiegogo! To donate to the campaign, click here.
Gamal Hennessy is known around the Creators Workshop and Comics Experience as a Renaissance man of many talents. A lawyer, a comic book professional, and a marketer, he dishes out valuable advice on everything from contracts to post-production. Aspiring and established talent alike seek him out, and you can, too!
All subscribers to his newsletter, The Professional Comics Creator, receive a free 30-page excerpt from his book, The Fundamentals of Independent Comic Book Marketing! This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about… well… you read the title, right?
Gamal talked to us about his passion project.
Comics Experience: Why the decision to give Fundamentals of Independent Comic Book Marketing away for free for your subscribers?
Gamal Hennessy: Marketing is one of the biggest obstacles facing the comics industry today. Comic creators need to know who is interested in their story, where to find those people, and how to connect with them. This will give them a chance to reach the best audience for their book and avoid wasting time and money. Fundamentals gives creators a foundation for that process. It introduces ideas that they can use in their long term marketing online and in the real world.
CE: What elements of Fundamentals are you most proud of? Why should subscribers get excited to read it?
GH:Fundamentals offers a concrete framework subscribers can use for their specific book. Among other things, I explain:
how to define your ideal reader
how to measure your competition
how to expand the number of potential readers for your book
how to make a connection with your readers that can grow over time
The best part about Fundamentals is I’ve tries to distill a system that can potentially create the same type of long-term loyal fans for Comics Experience creators that the Big Two have built in their 80 year histories.
CE: What else can subscribers look forward to in your newsletters?
Fundamentals explains the basics of marketing, but that’s just one facet of publishing comics. I’m also planning a seminar later this month that covers the entire framework of independent comics publishing, including marketing. The seminar itself is based on my upcoming book The Business of Independent Comic Book Publishing, which takes a deep dive into comic book every aspect of the business.
But because new developments happen every month in the comics market, the Newsletter keeps readers current on all the major shifts. All these efforts together will help creators on all levels have more success publishing comics.
CE: How did you work with Comics Experience help inspire Fundamentals?
GH: I think both Fundamentals and The Business Independent Comic Book Publishing took some inspiration from the members of the community and the comprehensive nature of the courses.
Several Comics Experience members have been clients of my firm. I’ve always been impressed with their drive to overcome the challenges of creating comics by learning as much as they can. My work is an attempt to give them information to make their comic publishing better.
At the same time, Andy has made sure the Comics Experience courses give members a solid foundation on the creative aspects of comics. My work is designed to be a complement to those efforts. My ultimate goal is to give comic creators the business tools they need to make the most of their creative efforts.
Convinced? We would be if we weren’t already. Sign up for Gamal’s newsletter The Professional Comics Creator and receive your FREEEEE(!!!!) 30-page excerpt from Fundamentals of Independent Comic Book Marketing here!
“I’m very passionate about comics and all the nuts and bolts that make them work. To run classes and workshops like this, to really get in there and to both share and explore this medium is something I’m really looking forward to.”
Dan Slott Writer of Amazing Spider-Man on teaching a course for Comics Experience