“You’re a sellout when you stop making the art for yourself.”
– Eric Powell, creator of The Goon
Not long after I started finding success publishing my horror-based anthology series NIGHTMARE WORLD online I received more than a few e-mails from fellow aspiring creators asking how they could start their own online horror anthology… and, to be honest with you, such inquiries always offended me, although not for the reasons you might suspect.
Mind you, it wasn’t because such people wanted advice on how to start making comics.
Heck, I knew all-too-well what it was like to be hungry for any information/insight/guidance that could have helped me start creating my own comics when I was just getting started… and the lack of such information out there is what lead me to start writing this very column.
No… what offended me about such inquiries was how some people could go about creating an online comic series just… like… mine.
Don’t get me wrong: I know that success breeds imitators and imitation is the highest form of flattery… I get that… I really do…
But what I don’t get – and have never “gotten” – is the ridiculous, desperate and ultimately self-delusional belief held by so many writers that they can somehow copy the formula of whatever they see others having success with in the vain hope that they, too, will be successful.
There are several things wrong with this notion, not the least of which is this:
If you want to get noticed in this industry, you’ll have to create something unique.
Not “different,” mind you, but unique.
To this end, I’d like you all to write this down and tape it to the top of your computer screens:
As a writer, it is my job to tell stories to the world that only I am capable of writing/creating.
Listen, folks, almost any writer can write a good Spider-Man story, or a good Batman story, and most likely even a fairly decent Superman or Wonder Woman story.
Because, at their core, these are all iconic characters that can be distilled down to a very simple concept that’s rife for exploring:
Spider-Man: Super-powered Geek.
Batman: Revenge Detective.
Superman: The Ultimate Boy Scout.
Wonder Woman: Ummm… she’s a strong… woman.
Point being, if you want to get noticed with your own work (even if it’s only so you can one day write such iconic characters as listed above), you’ll need to show not that you can write such characters well (or even your own cheap knock-off versions of such characters), because, again, anyone can.
Rather, you’ll need to prove that you have aspirations beyond just working for corporate characters. After all, as I’ve discussed in this column before, no major publisher is going to look at your proposal that features one of their characters for legal reasons.
Instead, if you want to get the attention of editors and potential publishers (let alone readers)… you’ll need to create something unique – something that only you could create.
Examples include, but are not limited to, Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon, Mike Miglona’s Hellboy, Jeff Smith’s Bone and Eric Powell’s The Goon as well as Transmetropolitan as written by Warren Ellis, 100 Bullets as written by Brian Azzarello, Sandman as written by Neil Gaiman, Promethea as written by Alan Moore and even Fables as written by Bill Willingham.
All of the works listed above are examples of intensely personal works that are (or were) driven by the unique voice, vision, skill sets and views of the authors or creators.
These were not guys who, with these books, set-out to retread the same paths paved by those before them. Rather, they created unique characters and storylines which helped them to cement their own legacies much more than writing even 100 issues of Spider-Man or Batman would even do.
Look deep within yourself and find those stories that only you can tell.
Sure, sure… we all know that it’s generally accepted that there’s only between seven and thirty-six different plots in all of literature (you can see the list(s) here), but that’s not the point.
Rather, the point – and the challenge you need to set for yourself and then rise to – is telling a story that only someone with your own unique combination of experiences, influences, knowledge and opinion can tell.
In regards to the e-mails I used to get with people asking me how they, too, could go about creating an online horror series like NIGHTMARE WORLD, my (admittedly snarky) response to the question was usually something like this:
“Live a life like mine, read the things I’ve read, study the things I’ve studied, love the things I love, hate the things I hate and, finally, find humor and terror in the same things I do. Then, once you’ve done that, dedicate every waking hour to turning all of these things into the type of comic that you – now me – would like to read.”
(Again, for the record, when people e-mailed me asking for general advice I was always more than glad to give it to them – and I still am. This was just the response I fired-off to people who were pretty blatantly trying to “cash in” on what I was doing.)
In regards to NIGHTMARE WORLD, what also fueled my own creation of the series (aside from my own unique tastes and such) was – as clichéd as it may sound – a certain amount of pain that I was only able to work-out on the page.
Even though I didn’t really realize it at the time, writing the series was a cathartic release for me concerning a lot of things I had gone through in my life up to that point, including – but not limited to – the slow death of a close family member, the predictable-yet-ultimately-unavoidable suicide of a sibling and the loss of a child. All of these experiences – combined with thousands of others (good and bad) permeated every panel and every page of NIGHTMARE WORLD in some way, shape or form.
Mind you, despite the somewhat macabre impetuses behind so many stories in the series, I can say with a straight face that I genuinely had fun writing my own new and unique (there’s that word again!) take on the classic horror anthology model.
(In NIGHTMARE WORLD I wrote fifty-two different stand-alone stories – each one exploring a different sub-genre of horror – that all eventually intertwine intone large story that is “Paradise Lost meets the Cthulhu Mythos.” Seriously. Click the link and check it out! I’ll be here when you get back. Honest.)
Looking back at the series as a whole (which is now finished and playing out at the Shadowline Webcomics Hub), it’s just funny how so many people – myself included – failed to see that along with being a cool series in its own right, NIGHTMARE WORLD also served as – at its core – my autobiography with some monsters and other supernatural aspects sprinkled in for good measure.
And that – THAT – is what makes NIGHTMARE WORLD a unique series that only I could write.
Furthermore, that is also what continues to make it a series that so many people across the world have gone on to enjoy and, oddly enough, sometimes even identify with.
Think of it like music: Isn’t it those musicians that really pour themselves heart and soul into their that ultimately go on to win the respect and devotion of listeners and their peers alike (more so than the pop-star of the week)?
Make no mistake: Not only do you have to tell a unique story that only you can tell… but you also have to pour yourself into it, too.
You’re probably a writer (or want to be a writer) because you have something you want to say… so find that.
FIND THAT THING THAT YOU WANT TO SAY THAT ONE ELSE IS SAYING – AND SAY IT LOUDLY AND STRONGLY ON THE PAGE.
A few paragraphs up I talked about how a lot of painful unresolved issues manifested themselves in my writing of NIGHTMARE WORLD, but despite the stereotype of the tortured writer, pain does not necessarily need to be your catalyst in writing.
• What drives you?
• What makes you happy?
• What makes you sad?
• What makes you angry?
• What makes you laugh?
• What do you love?
These are the questions you need to ask – and address – in your writing.
Decide what you want to say – and then write stories with characters that will answer the questions you have or explain the world as you see it to others.
Find your passion, your rage, and your anger… but also tap into your love, your empathy and your humor and bring them forward for the world to see.
If you’ve studied your craft and are doing your job well your readers will resonate with the passion (in all its forms) that you are bringing to the page.
Be it overt or subconscious… find out what you are passionate about and write about it, be it monsters fighting Nazis, a buck-toothed kid who grows up to be a zombie-punching knee-breaker, a conspiracy story wrapped in film noir trappings… whatever!
While there is never any guarantee of success, at least by embracing the passions that burn within you and pushing them onto the page in a way only you can you will be doing more to get yourself noticed than the scores of people out there writing (and futilely pitching) the equivalent of Batman fan-fiction.
After all, everybody has a Batman story they want to tell… and I can all but guarantee you that at least half of them involve the “ultimate showdown” between Batman and The Joker (or one of his other villains).
Rather than focusing on telling the stories of pre-existing and corporately-owned characters… discover and then write YOUR unique story.
After all, there’s only one of those out there… so embrace it – and who you are – and then run with it by pouring all that passion you have onto the page.
After all, if you don’t tell your own story – whatever it is – no one else will.
Next Week: Wagon Hitchin’
The Week After That: Branding
WRITER’S NOTE: Hey all! I just wanted to add that my second graphic novel from Image Comics/Shadowline, NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume Two: “Leave the Light On” is in this month’s edition of PREVIEWS and available for pre-order with the code AUG10 0455. Also, those swell guys at Discount Comic Book Service are offering it for pre-order at 45% off (that’s only $8.24 for 128 page full-color graphic novel!) with an exclusive signed bookplate to boot! Us “smaller” creators live or die based on pre-orders, so if you feel that “Write or Wrong” has helped you out over the years I’d appreciate it if you’d consider pre-ordering a copy via your local comic shop, DCBService or Amazon.com. If you’re not sure it’ll be “your thing” check it out online for free first at www.NightmareWorld.com. The whole series to date is there for free, natch. Then, if you like it, just pre-order a copy of the TPB. Easy, eh?
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD a web-to-print comic now being loudly and proudly published by Image Comics/Shadowline and FARSEEKER, a fantasy-esque series with artists Len O’Grady updated every Friday at ACT-I-VATE. He is also a longtime contributing writer for Newsarama and a staunch advocate for comic creators everywhere. He lives on the Internet can be reached for comment and/or discussion at Facebook and Twitter.
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