Write or Wrong: Defining Success
Write or Wrong: Define Yourself
I can’t believe August came and went without so much as a peep from me via this column.
To be fair, August always seems to be a busy month for me. Historically speaking it’s the month that I like to get away from the computer and do things in the “real world”… but a couple road trips and bike rides are only a small portion of what’s kept me away from here for the last month and a half.
The biggest factor, to be sure, was the conclusion to end of my online comic series Nightmare World. Last month we finished the 52nd and final eight-page story in the series – and then, and after a bit of cyber-celebrating – we then took the series offline so we can re-present the whole thing from scratch in daily (rather than weekly) increments at both SoulGeek as well as the new online comicbook website/collective I’ve started titled www.MindOverMatterComics.com .
Check ’em out… it’s good stuff.
Even nearly a month later it’s still a bit hard to believe that we finished the whole series. In a day and age where many self-published comics crap-out after two or three issues, we produced over 500 pages of comic book goodness for the massive end-times epic involving Cthulhu, Lucifer and all sorts of other seemingly random horror-ish bits that all coagulated to tell one massive storyline about life before, during and after the Rapture.
Heh… it’s kind of funny, looking back, at how writing a story about the end of the world turned out to be the most successful professional endeavor of my (writing) life to date.
Geez… there’s a loaded term, huh? After all, “success” can be defined in a number of ways depending on who you’re talking to and what their respective values are.
For example, to many people “success” is measured in terms of money. Well, let me tell you right now in the interest of full disclosure that I’ve never made a ton of money off Nightmare World to date – and that’s despite having bits and pieces of the series published on multiple occasions through various publishers. The world of “small press” comics (try as I might, I can’t quite call myself an “indie creator”) is not one where it’s easy to turn huge profits, and the little money I’ve made – on the rare occasions it has happened – have always been funneled back into the maintenance of the series itself.
After all, bandwidth ain’t cheap, you know?
Others will equate success with writing the adventures of a “famous” corporately owned character. Heck, I know a few “unknown” writers who’ve gotten the chance to do this and that marks a personal success in their lives… which is cool, if that’s your goal.
Mind you, I personally feel that pinning your hopes and dreams – let alone your own sense of worth – on such a notion is a little foolish… but I’ll get more into that in a little bit.
Many people also equate success with “fame,” which I find kind of ironic considering the fact that it’s so easy to make yourself “famous” on the Internet.
I mean, heck, some of the scrubbiest losers I know have found ways to make themselves appear “famous” via social networking sites such as MySpace. Considering this, being “famous” is very, very relative… but, hey, to each their own. If being “famous” (either on the Internet or in real-life) makes you feel successful, kudos to you. Being “famous” just ain’t that important to me.
No… to me, the success of Nightmare World can be measured in the fact that we (meaning me and the small army of artists who’ve joined me in making it happen) finished the series and that it exists.
Sure, it’s an added bonus that we accumulated a lot of die-hard fans along the way stretch of the series – and are now amassing numerous new ones through our new distribution at both SoulGeek and www.MindOverMatterComics.com , but now that all is said and done we can all look back and smile because, darn it all, the series Exists in its completed form… and we did it on our own terms, to boot.
Yes, publishing offers and deals came and went…
Yes, we sometimes were up until three in the morning on a work day finishing pages to meet our weekly online deadlines…
Yes, at one point the website was even held hostage and thrown offline for a year due to our online host going out of business…
But despite it all we finished it... and even if I die at the keyboard before this very column is finished, it’s something that no one will ever be able to take away from me or all of my friends who were involved in working on the series with me.
I think I’ve mentioned this here before, but my original intention for Nightmare World was just to create a couple of short eight-page “cerebral horror stories” (a la The Twilight Zone) written by me and drawn by some of other “young and hungry” artists so we could release the stories on the web as both an online comic and also as sort of a “living portfolio” that would showcase our respective talents.
Well, much to my surprise once we got the website up and running more and more artists began approaching me (that’s right – artists were approaching me – the writer) asking me if they could also do a short story for the comic/website.
I know some of you out there are writers who can’t seem to find a suitable artist anywhere – and considering this, allow me to give you a few tips.
You know… so you too can also hopefully enjoy some success of your own.
First off, a huge part of my “success” in finding/working with artists stemmed from the fact that each Nightmare World story was an eight-page stand-alone commitment on their part – with no more strings attached.
My friend and letterer Jim Reddington and I often laugh about the fact that so many hopeful writers approach artists saying “Hey, I love your work… do you want to draw this 200 page graphic novel I’ve written?”
Seriously, folks… saying this to an artist whose work you like is like seeing a hot girl (or guy) at the bar, walking-up to him/her and asking for his/her hand in marriage before you even know his/her favorite color.
You gotta ease into these types of relationships… and an eight-page story was the perfect way for a lot of the artists I’ve worked with to do just that.
Did I really hope to work with some of them again and again? Of course… and in many cases I did… but that was also due to the fact that I was willing to let the working relationship grow and evolve.
The result was some people doing one story for Nightmare World and then moving on to other things while some people, such as my main man Josh Ross and I have gone on to create hundreds of pages of comic book goodness together – including our own series Tales of Mr. Rhee.
(The real irony is that he almost ignored the “blind” e-mail I sent him, only deciding to give it a shot as a bit of a whim. Well, we’re now like B.F.F. 4EVER! TOTALLY! LOL!)
Furthermore, another “incentive” for a lot of artists to join me in working on Nightmare World was that I would often “pitch” to artists by saying “What are you interested in drawing?” If an artist I was interested in working with (be him a frequent collaborator or someone I’d never worked with before) said, say, that he was really itchin’ to draw… I don’t know… a story featuring a dragon… it was then my job to give him or her the best eight-page dragon story he’d even seen and one that would be a lot of fun and rewarding for him to draw considering his or her own unique style.
Now, while this approach may not necessarily work for everyone, for me it was part of the fun of writing a series like Nightmare World. Sure… I had certain stories I wanted to tell – and a grand “uber-story” in mind – but some of the best stories of the series came from subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) suggestions from the artists themselves.
Heck, “The Same Deep Water As You”, the story we’re currently running over at www.SoulGeek.com, is a perfect example of this. The “external” inspiration for this story came from my frequent collaborator and friend Len O’Grady literally IMing me out of the blue and saying “Dirk! I really want to do a story about the Merrow. Will you write one for me so we can post it at Nightmare World?”.
Having agreed to do so before I even knew what the “Merrow” were, I then did a little research and soon found myself writing an eight-page script that – unbeknownst to him – both greatly reflected both on events in my own life at the time as well as a small slice of the “bigger” story I wanted to tell with the series.
This made me and Len both happy… to say nothing of the numerous readers who cite the story as one of their favorites of the series.
Now, as I mentioned earlier in this column, a lot of hopeful writers seem to pin their hopes and dreams on the idea of the idea of writing the adventures of a corporately owned character… and that’s fine, I guess… but even if you’re willing to look past the fact that you’re pinning all your hope of self-worth on the previous achievements of someone else, the added kick in the groin is that the chances of getting to achieve this dream are as likely as getting hit by lightning while holding a winning lottery ticket.
In a row.
While getting a shoulder massage from Angelina Jolie.
And eating the best burger you’ve ever had in your life.
That’s not to say it’s impossible – because it’s not. However, humor aside, the odds are certainly stacked incredibly high against most people making who are making it their goal to write corporately-owned comicbook characters…
Unless you’ve already had success in Hollywood, of course.
Here’s the part where some of you are going to get offended and/or uppity. Some of you are saying “Yeah, but I’m better than most of the writers in the industry right now! I’ve got more writing talent in my pinky than [insert name of hot comic creator here] has in his whole body!”
And, hey, maybe you do.
Be that as it may, though, being talented does not mean that you are going to be given the chance to write the adventures of corporately-owned comicbook characters.
Talent goes not entitle you to anything, folks.
Let me say that again with a little more emphasis… just so I know you caught it.
BEING TALENTED DOES NOT ENTITLE YOU TO ANYTHING!!!
That’s life, folks.
I routinely hear people gripe about how they’re so talented that they should be writing comic books… and when I’m feeling sassy my response is always the same: “What’s stopping you?”
The Interweb is full of artists looking for work, folks… and they can be found if you’re willing to spend less time playing Rock Band, surfing MySpace and/or clubbing with your friends only to instead devote your time, energy and money into finding such a person (or such people) and then creating comics on the web (by buying a domain name and promoting it through the online comic-promoting venues) and then in print (via the print-on-demand through someone like Ka-Blam).
This, in my humble opinion, is how you will find success.
I mean, even if you do somehow stumble into writing Spider-Man – what then?
Heck… better yet… so what?
So you’ve written a Spider-Man story. Congratulations. All that means is that you’ve contributed to the vast tapestry of the thousands of Spider-Man stories already out there… and that Marvel (in this case) can now use the intellectual property you signed away to them (via a standard “Work for Hire” agreement) in any way they wish…
Oh… and you won’t get paid much (if anything) extra for it, either, if one of “your” scenes or stories becomes the inspiration for the latest Spider-Man flick.
Mind you, I’m not “hating” on Marvel, work-for-hire agreements or even writing corporately-owned characters. I mean, hey, if Joe Quesada e-mailed me right now and said “Hey, Dirk, you wanna write a new Midnight Sons book?” I’d sure as shootin’ do it – and I’d give it my best effort, too…
But I’d also do so knowing that I’d never own the work myself.
What I’m trying to say here is that I think it’s important that – if this is your main goal – at least pursue it with open eyes in regards to the benefits (or lack thereof) as well as the odds that are – sadly – against you…
And this is where Robert Kirkman and I completely agree on the current state of affairs for writers in the comicbook industry… which I’ll touch on in more detail in my next column.
After all, if you really want to be a successful comic creator there are ways to go about doing so… but I feel that the best way is not to pin your hopes and dreams on the whims of others, but rather to do so by going into business for yourself…
I’ll be back to talk more about this topic very, very soon.
Next Time: How to go into business for yourself.
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of Nightmare World, a longtime contributing writer to Newsarama and an active member of MySpace, Comicspace… and even Facebook and Twitter. Yeesh. While his activity on these various websites is based strictly on his ever-shrinking windows of opportunity to “surf the web,” he usually does pretty well at responding to everyone who takes the time to comment in the talkback sections of these columns… so subscribe to this thread it and check back often if you’re into that sort of thing, have something worthwhile (or entertaining) to say or otherwise want to keep the conversation going.
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