At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, DC and Marvel each took a break from their “next big thing” announcements to hold panels discussing how to get started in the comics industry: Marvel’s “Breaking Into Comics The Marvel Way” on Thursday morning, and DC’s “My Secret Origin” panel on Friday. And while both panels covered similar territory, they ended up differing wildly in style and approach.
Marvel’s panel was small, and finely focused. Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso and Senior Vice President Of Creative & Creator Development C. B. Cebulski were joined by artist Mark Brooks and writer Sam Humphries for a process-oriented conversation that gave lots of useful advice for anybody interested in making comics, and offered specific tips and guidelines taken from the panelists’ own experiences. Alonso and Cebulski discussed how they find new creators, and gave a fascinating view of the submissions process from an editorial perspective; Brooks and Humphries spoke on how they both ended up employed by Marvel, and the paths they took to get there. One particular point that I’d never considered was how different the process is for writers and artists: artists can post pieces online, start a tumblr or deviantart account to showcase their drawings, and submit to portfolio reviews, but for a writer to be hired in comics, he can’t just submit text. He needs to show he can write for comics.
Humphries expanded on this point, describing how he didn’t wait for a big break: when he had a story to tell, he hired an artist and created a comic on his own. His self-published “Our Love Is Real” one-shot became an underground success, got lots of attention (and was picked up by Image Comics for a second printing), and proved to people that he could write for the comics medium – which then led to him getting hired by Boom!, Archaia, and Marvel. And as he stressed, making your own comic doesn’t just show off writing ability, it shows commitment, that you care enough about making comics to be taking the risk on your on your own.
Brooks and Humphries then discussed schooling and the process of coming up through the ranks of Marvel, before transitioning into the Q&A segment of the program. Alonso took questions about the proper process for submitting work to Marvel (“create full comics, don’t send synopses or scripts”), the requirements for getting an editorial position (“an editor is the sum total of everything they’ve done, everything they’ve seen”), and the the one quality required of all Marvel employees (“fundamentally, what it comes down to is, all of us…We all f***ing LOVE comic books”). It was an informative and fascinating session for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of the industry.
The DC panel on Friday morning took a different approach, and had an entirely different feel, less of a conversation and more of a presentation. It was held in a much larger room, had twice as many participants onstage, and panelists’ faces were projected on the massive screen off to the side of the stage as they talked of of getting breaks and finding jobs in the industry.
Bob Wayne (DC’s SVP of Sales) offered a brief introduction, and then Bernard Chang, Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Jimmy Palmiotti, Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, and Amanda Conner took turns telling their stories.
Simone spoke of her background in creative writing and theater, and how she loved comics but never really considered working in the industry. She began working in a hair salon when she left school, and found both financial stability and some degree of creative satisfaction in that field – while in the meantime, posting on message boards and writing parodic columns for comic book websites. Eventually, Scott Shaw from Bongo Comics invited her to submit stories for “Simpsons” comics (to which she replied “I’m not a writer, I’m a hairdresser!”), and once she had some work published there, jumped to working on Marvel’s “Deadpool,” and then to working on other high-profile titles.
Greg Capullo delivered a wildly entertaining monologue about his life and career, from drawing in class in high school (“I should’ve been doing algebra…I have no use for algebra!”), to applying for comic jobs while working as a bellhop, to how he finally got his big break at Marvel (“when all those guys went off to form Image, all the top slots opened up!”). He was boisterous, candid, and charmingly outspoken about his experiences (and he occasionally had to pause and censor his language in deference to the audience, carefully replacing every third word with “heck” in one particularly profane anecdote).
Jim Lee offered a joking response when asked how he broke into the industry (“I just called Dan Didio at DC, and he offered me a job!”), and told of going to buy comics as a kid, but the bookstore that he went to with his parents was an adult bookstore, and the comics were hidden in the back (“this is a TRUE STORY!”). He also spoke about creating endless submissions, getting lots of rejection letters, and then, in 1986, going to a convention in New York City, meeting Archie Goodwin, and getting an invitation to come to the Marvel offices: “Carl Potts gave me a try-out story, I did that on time, he gave me ’Alpha Flight’ #51, and I’ve been working in comics ever since!”
Jimmy Palmiotti told tales of going to the School Of Art & Design in NYC, working in an ad agency, getting pulled into Marvel to help Mark Texiera do backgrounds. He also mentioned that he never got a chance to write until he and Joe Quesada went off to start their own company (“nobody’s ever going to give us work writing, so we better do it ourselves!”).
And Amanda Conner talked about attending the Kubert School for illustration, visiting comic companies with her portfolio, getting a few scattered assignments, and eventually, through perseverance (and working a side job in the advertising industry to stay afloat), becoming one of the top artists in the business.
Both panels had much to recommend them, and each had their advantages. Marvel’s was far more casual, included lots of direct back-and-forth with the audience, and offered more specific tips on getting a foothold in the industry. DC’s panel, on the other hand, was filled with fantastically compelling stories from many of the industry’s top creators. Marvel’s was far more practical and helpful, but DC put on a fantastic show. And DC having two women onstage set their panel apart from not just Marvel’s panel, but most of the programs I saw at Comic-Con this year – it conveyed that the industry doesn’t have to be a boys club, that creating comics is something anyone can aspire to, and that women’s stories are valuable and important.