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The don'ts of getting a comic book published

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The rules for getting a job as a comic book author aren’t much different than the rules for getting any job: be professional, research the company, put as much effort into your craft as you can.

And, just like in any other profession, there are those who follow the rules, and many, many others who do not. The only difference between the comics industry and say, a law firm, is that there’s less risk that an applicant to a firm will show up to an interview dressed as a character he or she created.

Randal C. Jarrell and Jennifer de Guzman, both editors at independent comic book publishers, laid out some of the worst comic book pitch mistakes they’ve seen for an audience at Comic-Con International on Thursday. Jarrell and de Guzman both receive dozens, maybe hundreds, of comic book pitches a year, and said aspiring writers and artists could learn from the mistakes of others.

“There are far, far, far more ways to not get into comics, than there are to get into comics,” said Jarrell, who is the managing editor at Portland, Ore.-based Oni Press.

Both Jarrell and de Guzman, who is the editor-in-chief of SLG Publishing in San Jose, said getting to know what a publisher wants is vital. If the company only prints in black and white, don’t send color. De Guzman said her company’s Web site asks people to submit a list of possible titles for their work. She said she doesn’t really care about the titles, but if people don’t submit the list, she knows they didn’t read the criteria and she is more likely to dismiss their work.

Jarrell gave an example of an exchange he had with a hopeful author at Comic-Con in San Diego a few years ago.

“Someone came up to me and (he) asked, ‘What is Oni Press looking for?’” he recalled. “I told him at the time, ‘Anything but vampires or superheroes.’ Because there’s plenty of vampire books out there, and plenty of superhero books out there.

“I swear to God, the guy said, ‘Well, I have a vampire superhero book.'”

Jarrell didn’t publish the comic.

Knowing what a publisher wants doesn’t mean just sending in a re-tread of something the company has already published. Jarrell and de Guzman both said they’ve seen talented artists and writers change their styles to fit what they think a publisher wants, but the company would actually much rather have something original.

Professionalism is another key that’s often lacking, Jarrell and de Guzman said. While the comic book industry has the image of a place where people skateboard to work and no one owns a collared shirt, publishers still expect their artists to be people they can rely on to go to trade shows and sign autographs at bookstores. There’s an element of fun to the industry, but that doesn’t mean people should come to pitch meetings in costume.

“If you publish titles like 'Johnny the Homicidal Maniac,' it attracts a certain element,” de Guzman said with a laugh, referencing one of her company’s own comics. “And they think that because we publish comics where people act strangely or wacky, that’s what we want people to act like when we interact with them. So they’ll act all crazy … and that’s not helping.”

Just like most companies want applicants with clean, legible resumes, Jarrell and Guzman said any comic book submitted for consideration should be of the highest possible quality. That doesn’t mean wasting money on shiny paper, just erasing any notes and making sure it’s legible.

Both panelists said they’ve seen people waste money on expensive paper or large cutouts of their characters, but ultimately, it’s the story that will make the difference.

“Gimmicks in general don’t work,” Jarrell said.

Being passionate about your subject also makes a difference. Just like any job, the panelists said, you need to love what you do to be a successful comic book artist or writer. Both Jarrell and de Guzman said they’ve seen a lot of people make a pitch with the preface that the story would make a great movie. While that may be true, they’re not looking for great movies at a publishing house, they’re looking for great comic books.

“It’s a love of the medium and a love of the story that we’re interested in,” Jarrell said. “It's not a stepping stone to some sort of Hollywood option. It has to be comics as the goal.”

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