The Tao of Breaking Into Comics, According to C.B. Cebulski
“We’ve put A LOT of thought into our talent discovery and hiring processes recently. We WANT to find more talent. It’s in our best interest.” These are the words of C.B. Cebulski, talent scout and liaison for Marvel Comics. If you aren’t familiar with C.B., he’s one of the key people today actively searching for artists to join the big leagues of the comic book industry.
Having come from the manga and anime worlds, C.B. arrived at the doors of Marvel to create the Marvel Mangaverse line. It was there that he started fostering new creators for the House of Ideas. In addition, C.B. is a creative talent himself, having written the recent Marvel sellout X-Infernus, and his creator-owned Wanderlust with Image Comics. Next up for him is War of Kings: Darkhawk.
Possessing one of the sharpest eyes for talent in the industry, C.B. is known for being generous with his time and advice. “There were lots of people who helped me get to where I am today in comics and I am only happy to return the favor,” he says.
To that end, he has been using his Twitter account to post pointers for comic book hopefuls, distilled into zen-like chunks of 140 characters or less. If you haven’t been following along, grasshopper, you should start immediately!
We’ve collected some of these indispensable koans of wisdom for your guidance. Call it The Tao of Breaking Into Comics, According to C.B. Cebulski.
THIS IS A JOB
When I say “breaking into comics,” I’m generally referring to working for the more major mainstream publishers.
Barely anyone has “broken in” at Marvel or DC directly. We always say it’s better to be published elsewhere first.
Truth be told, it’s easier than ever for anyone to “break into comics” via webcomics and self-publishing these days.
The Internet and/or print-on-demand services mean anyone with an idea, motivation and a little money can bring a comic to life.
The most important thing to remember about working in comics is that THIS IS A JOB!
Your portfolio is your resume. Talks with editors are your job interviews. Be professional.
Yes, working in comics is a lot of fun, but it’s still work and has to be approached as such.
ADVICE FOR ARTISTS
Advice for artists? Start a blog. It’s the best way to get your work looked at. Picasa, Deviant Art and flickr are impersonal and bulky.
Keep click-thrus to a minimum. With a blog it’s just one click and the editor can simply scroll down & see everything you have to offer.
And blogs are easily updated and personalized, which will let more of your individuality and voice come through along with your art.
Artists, you should always post sample pages to a blog and send an editor a link rather than fill up his mailbox with files.
Sending a 15-20MB e-mail that will choke an editor’s inbox and his/her company’s server is the best way to simply have your art deleted.
The best way for an artist to get critical feedback from an editor is to attend portfolio reviews at conventions.
I can usually tell by the first page or two of an artist’s portfolio if they have what it takes to be working professionally. Most editors can.
Tip #1: Put your newest work in the front of your portfolio.
Tip #2: Never put in incomplete pages.
Tip #3: Always include sequential pages. Not just pin-ups.
Tip #4: Don’t make excuses when an editor critiques you. Listen and learn.
Quote Jim Hill: “Also, never make apologies before they say anything. No need to undermine your own work.” The perfect Tip #5.
And I’d recommend bringing a pad & paper if you do meet an editor. Take notes. If they’re taking the time to talk, write down what they say.
The two main things we look for are style and storytelling. Speed is something we learn and judge later.
ADVICE FOR WRITERS
Advice for new writers? Be realistic, start small. No major comic publisher will hire you for a mini or run on a book as your first gig.
You’re better off pitching 8 or 11 pagers or one-shots. Anthologies, back-ups and fill-ins are where many new voices are being tested now.
It’s definitely harder for writers than artists to break into comics these days, in my opinion. The fact of the matter is that it’s much easier to look at an artist’s portfolio and gauge their skills than to read a writer’s samples.
It’s so much harder and time-consuming to review submissions and samples scripts from writers. Which is why we prefer to be given previously printed work from other publishers to review from new writers. So much easier to get a sense of their story/pacing skills.
New writers, I would advise against pitching any ideas verbally to any editor or publisher at a show. Con floors are not the place to pitch. Introduce yourself, strike up a conversation and pass on your previously published work, but follow up with pitches and proposals later.
The bulk of a new writer’s work needs to come after the con, with follow-up and pitching the people you’ve met.
THE ART OF THE PITCH
One thing to keep in mind, each pitch is ultimately a unique experience. It will change depending on company, character, editor, etc.
Use message boards/websites/blogs to find out about other people’s pitching/submissions experiences. There’s a lot of info out there.
I’d say sending a letter of introduction first is a good idea when pitching to ANY company. May help save you time and effort.
Never send anything in to anyone at any major comic company cold. It’s just bad business, won’t get read and will make you look stupid.
Always review a company’s submission guidelines before sending anything to anybody. Know who you are submitting to and what the rules are.
In regards to pitching indy publishers, every one is different. E-mail and ask about their policies before sending anything.
Know who you are pitching to. That’s very important. If you follow the industry, you should know what kind of book editors work on/like.
And as for pitches, I’d keep them to one page. Tagline, high concept, and a full overview with the beginning, middle & end. Less is more.
My advice for meeting editors is to go to the bar where everyone drinks at the con and buy them a beer.
Seriously, if you buy an editor a drink, you’re at least guaranteed a few minutes of his/her time to toast & chat. Use it to be social.
If you meet and editor at a con and get his/her e-mail address, I recommend waiting at least a week before following up. Let them get back to their lives/jobs first. They’ve been away for the weekend and usually have a lot to catch up on. And when you do follow up, send a polite e-mail with no attachments.
If you have published work, it’s better to send the editor the actual books than links to the stories online.
NEVER LIMIT YOURSELF
Best way not to get work in comics? Use the words “I deserve …” or “I’m just as good as …”
No, seriously, I heard “I deserve …” and “I’m just as good as …” maybe 5 or 6 times at NYCC from writers & artists looking for work.
“Good, fast or nice.” If you’re two of the three, you can get a job in comics, as the saying goes.
But sometimes this old adage is still the most apt: “The best way to get published by Marvel and DC is to get published elsewhere first.”
I always recommend people make comics, whether it’s for themselves or to try and break in professionally.
Never limit yourself. Comics is a medium without boundaries. Explore all options available to you in this glorious form of storytelling.