Moderated by Buddy Scalera, the Friday afternoon Editors On Editing panel at New York Comic Con consisted of a number of senior industry professionals: Scott Allie (Dark Horse, Editor-in-Chief), Chris Ryall (IDW, Editor-in-Chief), and Warren Simmons (Valiant, Executive Editor). The discussion started with each editor introducing himself to the audience along with providing some highlights of the comic books they have worked on along with comics currently being published.
Once introductions were finished, Scalera opened the discussion with a question on how amateur writers could break into the business of writing comics. Ryall spoke to the IDW's past policy of using "past published credits" as a means of vetting potential writers. "Start very small," Ryall continued. "Build a pyramid…and from there, if you get us asking questions, we're going to want you to flesh it out" in reference to whether hopeful writers should send shorter or longer pitch proposals. Allie stated that "you need to do a ton of work. You've got a lot of bad work at the beginning of your career that's not going to get us to hire you. Learn by doing it over and over again." He picked up Ryall's point by arguing that new writers need to "work on honing your craft with 8-page stories before writing those 300-page epics." Allie did point out "there is a spelled out policy on unsolicited submissions… but not everything will get a response" given the high volume of pitches Dark Horse receives.
But what are some of the marks of a successful pitch? Ryall addressed this when he reinforced the need for creators to "know their publisher" and that "boilerplate submissions are obvious (and likely to be rejected)." Simmons, however, approached the question from a different perspective about the approach writers should (and shouldn't) take when submitting their pitches: "Batman doesn't need to be fixed," so writers shouldn't plan on pitching on the major titles. Moreover, he mentioned the need to "just get the work done. Publish online, find an artist and make some comics." Ryall piggybacked on this point by assuring writers that the quality of the art – though not the lettering – is not necessarily going to disqualify a writer's ideas from being considered. Rounding out the discussion on successful pitches, Allie underscored the importance of "learning from see your script drawn by the artist" to ensure writers submit the best possible work to potential publishers.
Overall, each editor made it clear that the road to becoming a published comic writer is a long road filled with thousands of unused pages. "It's going to be rough around the edges," Simmons stated, "but no one's going to sit down and read a 22-page script," so writers need to demonstrate their ability to publish from the onset.
Scalera then asked the panel "how people might maximize their convention experience." Ryall emphasized the importance of networking over pitching: "It's good to look at conventions from the social aspect… and see what the different publishers do. Get to know people." He also mentioned the use of the internet and social media to get to know people. Allie reinforced this point from a practical note: "It's impossible to do it from this forum" due to the noise and crowds. "We want people who were going to have these conversations on the phone…you should be meeting each other [writers and artists] than us at a show." Simmons followed up with the legal complications of pitching at shows due "the need to have legal forms signed" before an editor can hear the pitch. "When I was at Marvel, some people would create sample package for each person at Marvel…be aggressive." Allie countered this point, however, by suggesting that "If I see everyone has all of the same packages, I don't need to see this. It's a risky tactic." In general, everyone did agree that there really isn't one method to making a break into comics, but comic conventions should be viewed more as opportunities to get to know people and make connections that will be followed up on in the days following convention. What was really interesting to notice is that while the discussion kicked off with a focus on writers, much of the advice really applied well to creators on both sides of the fence.
Scalera then followed up by asking the panel what sort of things each editors saw that creators did that either got in the way of their making a break into the industry or kept them from staying in the business. Allie emphatically told the audience "Don't bite the hand that feeds you. If you sh-- talk Valentino today, you're going to be sh-- talking me tomorrow to Ryall." Simmons warned the audience that they "need to have thick skin" due to the amount of rejection people can expect. "You have to be open for criticism; you have to be open to collaboration." He continued to advise creators "be aggressive and try and get into the door, but be patient." Ryall related a humorous but pointed story about sitting with Ashley Wood during a portfolio review. Wood, after reviewing the portfolio, told a young creator "this is sh--" and closed the folder. Feeling bad for the person, Ryall took the time to give more detailed, constructive criticism to which the person asked him "What do you know? You're not an artist!" Not only did this highlight the short-sightedness of the person desiring a "big break," it also spoke to the lack of understanding many fans have about the role, responsibilities, and expertise these editors have when it comes to both written and artistic elements of a comic.
In this vein, Scalera continued the discussion of problems in publishing when creators fail to hit deadlines. Allie shared that this is how multiple artists can be pulled into one comic, and expressed his "envy over IDW's approach to dealing with keeping books on time." Ryall responded "it [comic publishing] does happen on time," but it can be "frustrating when the artists' change over from issue to issue." Missed deadlines were viewed as a major problem, but failure to communicate – either through radio silence or outright lying about the delays – was viewed as being an absolute deal-breaker for acquiring future work. Communicating in advance, however, was something all editors appreciated and felt could be worked with as it gave them time to deal with the problem in advance. Ryall wrapped up this part of the discussion by making a point worth noting: "We are fans. We remember the disappointment of a book being shipped late." And people express their support – or displeasure – with their dollars.
Both Allie and Simmons then joked about how "Nobody gets a vacation!" pointing to the crowd. Although humorous, the point each was making was the "intense labor" of comics and the need for freelancers to communicate, hit deadlines, and continually demonstrate a strong work ethic. "The third time your grandmother dies, I know you're lying" growled Allie, and Ryall complained about being "directed to someone's blog."
One key characteristic of this panel, unlike others, was Scalera's interest in moderating it in such a way that the audience played an active role in the direction of the discussion. A question then came from the audience about what happens when a creator-owned ash can is given to an editor during the convention. Ryall spoke to the logistical problem of doing so as most of these ash cans are then packed away and shipped back to the main offices where it can take up to a month for those boxes to get unpacked and looked over. "It definitely can lead to work," Simmons stated, but as Ryall suggested, "it's important to have an online and presence and get your stuff seen" as the conventions can be too busy to keep track of one person's self-published comic amidst the chaos.
Another question came out about how to become an editor to which the panelists' responses ranged from "Don't. Go join the Army" to "Run away." After the laughter calmed, Ryall reinforced the need to simply create a comic and show one's ability to produce a comic. From there, creators can work their way in through opportunities such as internships. Allie then shared his experience of editing a literary magazine in college followed by "money-hemorrhaging projects" that he could "hand off to Mike Richardson" that helped get him his first job at Dark Horse. Simmons offered his take: "It helps to have an editorial background, a college degree, and published clips."
When asked about when should a writer or artist begin showing his or her work, the panel generally agreed on two points: First, find someone objective to provide feedback. Second, get it done. While Simmons advised the audience "Don't keep it hidden," Ryall cautioned people "to seek out people who aren't your family and friends." A follow up question dealt with finding full-time work in editing, and Allie suggested the need to "get the resumes out" and be sure they include examples of how "you've gotten things published." Further, there was an interest in how potential creators pursuing internship opportunities in comics. Again, the same points were reinforced about demonstrating both enthusiasm and work ethic. Allie did state, however, that "we need editors in the office" and there is much work in the line freelance editing. Regarding the concept of a 'stay-at-home editor', all three panelists made it clear that "it doesn't work that way."
Scalera wrapped up the panel by asking each panelist what they have coming up next. Amongst the many projects Allie listed, the one most fans will be familiar with is his work on the Mignola-verse: "We're destroying stuff. New York is ruined. It's just brutal what we're doing to the Big Apple. It's cool." Ryall mentioned IDW's various projects in addition to cueing the audience into the Artists' Edition panel taking place on Saturday with a "mystery guest I can't wait to announce." Finally, Simmons highlighted Unity, in which the Valiant universe is brought to the brink of nuclear war bringing together all of the "big hitters" starting in November.
Overall, it was a congenial and informative panel that underscored the renaissance the industry is experiencing. "What a time for comics!" exclaimed Ryall. But to keep this resurgence in comics moving forward, implored Scalera, is the need for fans to show their true support for the industry through eschewing bit-torrenting and pirating of these comics. And on that note, the panel came to a close followed by a wave of excited writers, artists, and future editors rushing to the stage with the hopes of a few minutes with these career-makers.