Last week, I spotted this tweet from Oni Press:
Oni Press, publisher of such titles as Scott Pilgrim, The Sixth Gun, and Stumptown, has decided to hold open submissions May and June 2015 for aspiring writers, artists, colorists, and letterers of comics.
This is unprecedented. Comic publishers do not normally accept cold pitches — Oni may regret doing so. You know those montage shots of the thousands of people waiting in line to audition for American Idol? Well, a bunch of grunts have to see every one of those applicants and weed them down to a handful who actually get to audition before the celebrities.
In the end, Oni is hoping to find a raw diamond, a story that is just sitting out there needing to be discovered. It probably won’t be me, but I have a couple of stories sitting in the queue that I think are cool. (There’s a better chance I’ll get my own comic book title than I make it onto American Idol, I can tell you that.)
Just like with any job application, it’s very important to follow the rules. Oni has a submissions page with some basic instructions, but, if you’re like me, you’ve never seen, much less written, an officially formatted comic script or put together a comic artist’s portfolio.
Since Oni's tweet, I’ve been doing research on guidelines for submitting a comic script. Most of the following tips can be used for any type of submission, but writing is the area I worked on.
Here’s a quick Do and Don’t List to get you started. Following this are several links to examples and more detailed information.
- Read the Publisher’s Titles. This may seem obvious but apparently it’s not. I’ve only read one title by Oni, Helheim, but I’m going to pick up a bunch more this weekend. Being familiar with a publisher’s content is mandatory research.
Do your stories fit in the publisher’s house? What characters do they already have? What is the demographic of their audience?
Each publishing house has a personality and you should pay attention to that.
- Read the Instructions. Oni has published some brief instructions for submissions. Being the information glutton that I am, I wanted to compare these to other publishing houses. The idea is to learn how to be recognized as a professional and give the publisher what they’re asking for. If you can’t be responsible for the little things, how can you be trusted with the big ones?
- You Are Not the Exception. If you are unpublished your hidden genius will only be discovered if you follow the publisher’s rules. (Do you see a theme here?) You have to earn your spot, there’s not one waiting for you.1
- Be Active. If you’re serious about the industry you should already be very busy.
Are you currently writing or drawing? Are you publishing your work online? Do you publish regularly? Are you the member of a writer’s group? Do you attend comic book conventions and network in the industry?
Even if your story or art is genius, publishers are not in the business of mentoring newcomers. I used to tell my students, "I can’t wake up in the morning and grab a hammer and saw and decide to be a brain surgeon."
- Spoil the Ending.2 This is one of the more valuable pieces of information I discovered. The publisher is not your audience. They need to know all the surprises and twists. In your pitch include the surprise ending and secrets to show how smart your story is. They will not take your word for it.
- Read the Fine Print. For cold submissions like Oni Press is having, be sure to read the fine print. Do you lose ownership of your work when you submit it? Most publishers say submissions of art work are not returned so don’t submit originals. There is always the fear that your work might be ripped off. That is the ugly side of the creative industry. I’ve had it happen to me. But if you deal with known, reputable publishers, you at least have the odds on your side.
For script and portfolio examples, check out these links:
A couple of weeks ago I posted an article about creating a Wikipedia page for the Image Comics title, The Fuse.3 Antony Johnston, the writer, was awesome to reply when I asked him a couple of questions during the process but I didn’t realize how awesome he was until I started looking into comic submissions.
After sloughing through dozens of submissions, 8th Wonder Press posted “How to Pitch Your Comics” with their top list of things you should know.
Comic Book Script Archive also shows a sample script page and gives more detailed instructions on keywords and formatting so your script looks professional.
Jim Zub’s entire web site is dedicated to tutorials for getting into the comics industry. As a prolific writer, artist, and teacher, this type of information is golden.
Best of luck to all of you aspiring comic creators.
I’ll Give You a Topic
What are some of the best original stories in comics these days?
If you’ve tried to get into the comics industry, what lessons did you learn from the process?
Are you going to submit to Oni Press?
1 Jim Zub, “Why Don’t Publishers Give Brand New Writers a Chance?”
2 8th Wonder Press, “How to Pitch Your Comics”
3 The Fuse, Image Comics, Inc., writer Antony Johnston, artist Justin Greenwood, colorist Shari Chankhamma, letterer Ed Brisson