How Can I Break Into Comics?

I get asked advice about breaking into the business no less than four times a week, and it always makes me laugh. I'm a freelancer -- why would I want to tell you how to take my job away from me? ;-) But seriously, there are so many people who would love to break in -- I had no idea how competitive an industry this was when I started my crusade, or I might have been scared off. It's very difficult to come up with helpful advice -- every single breaking-in story is different. The honest answer is that you have to find some way to rise above the crowd and get noticed, and it has to be a unique way, which is authentic to you as a storyteller and as a professional. Think of the business as a sort of top secret compound; the minute someone finds their way through a hole in the fence, editors run to patch up that hole. ;-)

The majority of my experience, obviously, has been with DC. If you're serious about submitting to them, remember that they're not going to want a full script (in fact, they're not legally allowed to even look at an unsolicited script) -- they'll just want a one to two page proposal on the story you'd like to tell. Learning how to sell a story is paramount -- both in terms of learning to think, realistically, about what they might need in the future, and in terms of thinking creatively about how to get people excited about your ideas. And also remember that they're looking for professionals -- it sounds obvious, but you will be head and shoulders above your competition if you so much as spellcheck your cover letter (and please note: this should apply to every single professional in the industry you make contact with - there are no excuses for presenting yourself in an unprofessional manner while "networking,"). The editors need to know that they can trust you with deadlines, and with representing their company in public, and with working with their artistic teams. You're not just selling your story, you're selling yourself. And, of course, perseverance counts.

The other element not enough people think about is the craft of story structure. "Batman fights Lex Luthor!" may be a really cool idea, but it's not a story. Conversely, a pitch that starts out: "This is an Elseworld that takes place on a planet of my own invention in a fictional Star System called Beta-Jak-Five, where all the humanoids are required by intergalactic law to..." is doomed to failure. Think about what kind of story you want to tell, think about which editors seem interested in those kind of stories (by virtue of what books they themselves are involved with), and then present them with elements they're familiar with, in a story that produces unexpected reactions from those elements. I honestly encourage you to read as many books on story structure as you can get your hands on; the comic world is big on story structure. And remember to include key structural elements in your pitch, such as: what your story is about, what your story covers subtextually, why your story is cool (and/or why it will resonate with readers), and what the conflict is (or what's at risk) in your story.

You might also want to check out the submission guidelines at the DC website (see our LINKS page). Learn the rules, and then break them all. It's your best chance. I don't know what else to say except that it IS possible to break in, you just have to do it YOUR way.

-Devin Grayson
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