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A quick walk-through of New York Comic Con in Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Convention centre last month, and it’s easy to see that the comic world is no longer a niche counterculture, but rather a mainstream industry. It’s one that openly unites larger-than-life big businesses, like Warner Brothers, Hasbro, Marvel and even Bloomingdale’s, with the littler guys — emerging and independent artists, designers, shop owners and entrepreneurs — who together willingly present their big ideas for this massive geek fest.”I love every one of those mainstream brands,” says Jean Michel, chief creative officer and writer of Megabrain Comics’ American Dark Age. Michel debuted the comic, which explores what happens to America when modern technology fails, at Comic Con.
“It’s about how we stick together and survive when all the things that we are addictively dependent on are gone,” says Michel. “Katherine Brody’s world falls apart, but more importantly, her place in the world falls apart. This story is about her path, and how she learns to find a new one.”
The notion of “selling out” isn’t a negative thing in the comic world. The powerhouses behind Captain America, Batman and Grand Theft Auto are corporate heroes.
“If it weren’t for Marvel and DC, I wouldn’t be in this position right now,” says Michel. “Their properties and characters taught me about being a storyteller, a visual artist. Elvis and The Beatles had to make way for David Bowie and The Ramones. With Marvel and DC reaching out to so many new forms of entertainment and turning millions of new eyes toward the comic book shelves [that] may not have looked before, that can only mean good things for a couple comic nerds who want people to buy their books.”
So how will American Dark Age stand out in an over-saturated market?
Well, when exhibiting at Comic Con, Michel suggests, “Always try to get a spot as close to the escalators and bathrooms [as] you can.”
Here’s what else the comic book writer recommends:
Create the most talented team possible, and compensate them
While storytelling is paramount to a comic book, the main attraction is the art. That means hunting down the best of the best. Websites like DeviantArt and ConceptArt are frequented by droves of artists itching to be discovered.
“There are literally millions of talented artists looking for someone to give them a break,” says Michel. “Make sure they have the chops for sequential storytelling. Just because an artist is unknown and unemployed doesn’t mean you should expect them to work for free though. Creating comic books is a major team effort and you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.”
Work with contracts
Illustrating a comic book “is a god-awful amount of work,” says Michel, and a lot of great ideas will be thrown around casually and seriously. Creating a basic contract to protect yourself, your ideas, and the artists involved is an absolute necessity.
“I’ve seen too many examples of writers who approach artists and try to convince them that they’ll get paid when the book is selling, but what happens if the book doesn’t sell?”
Have more than one good idea
Come armed with a few completed scripts before selling your great idea. Showing more than one good idea is proof you see the big picture. Plus, who wants to stress playing catch up if you indeed do get green-lighted?
“If you’re creating an on-going series and you just wrote issue one and expect to produce it monthly or even every two months, you want to make sure you’ve got some buffer time,” says Michel. “Illustrations from the artist may take longer than you thought and printers need time to print your book and ship it, which could take a month in itself.”
Keep your deadlines and promises to your readers
Comic fans have fanatically high expectations. Fail them or make them wait too long, and they’ll dedicate their lives to another world.
“You don’t want to disillusion or disappoint your fans,” says Michel. “There are plenty of other books they could be spending their money on that they can depend on.”
Be obsessively thorough with your research
Audiences love to criticise and take pleasure in the hunt for errors and inaccuracies. If fact-checking and scrutinizing over details are what your readers are doing, then you must, too.
“I’m writing a comic book about a musician who joins the Marines, two groups that are very critical of how they’re portrayed,” says Michel. “Luckily, I’ve got a lot of experience in the music industry, as well as many friends who are musicians. My editor is best friends with a couple of Marines, so a huge part of developing our scripts is talking to all these people and finding out how they do or say certain things.” Michel adds, “Readers aren’t stupid, so you shouldn’t try to fake it if you don’t have to.”
Test your work out on your friends and family—they’re your best fans and critics
You need editors—of ideas, images and words. Michel hired his friend, who happens to be both a comic book nerd and a teacher.
“You may think that idea you had about having your hero talking to the United Nations assembly about world peace for four pages is the most brilliant writing comic books have ever seen, but you’re wrong,” says Michel. “It’s long and boring and you need someone to tell you when things are crap.”
Sharing your work with family and friends also helps get them on board. If they believe in your work, it makes the financial struggle that much easier.
Fund-raise with crowdsourcing
Speaking of money, passion projects rarely come cheap. They’re frequently replete with overworked and under-compensated doers: not the best formula for sustaining the dream. However, the onset of successful crowdsourcing campaigns — like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo — have changed much of this.
“American Dark Age would be a half finished idea right now if it weren’t for the Kickstarter campaign we ran,” says Michel. “We raised up enough money on that site to pay for our printing costs and some of our convention costs.”
Comic books are a business
A guilty pleasure, comic book writing is a career for Michel. Doing what he loves doesn’t preclude the big-picture administrative, strategic, PR and marketing elements of the business.
“When I was younger I always assumed that since I was an artist I wouldn’t need to know anything about business, spreadsheets, losses and preventions,” says Michel. “The truth is, artists are a group of people who should know about all that above anyone else. You’re not just trying to sell your product, you’re also trying to sell yourself.”
Show, don’t tell
Ultimately, what Michel realised after years of reading, dreaming and drawing is that the world of superhero action figures explodes into a reality only with real-life bionic hard work and action.
“The best piece of advice I can give is to just stop talking and do it already,” says Michel. “I was one of those people, and until your actions start speaking for you, sooner or later, people will stop listening.”
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