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Jess Knows Best! Advice on love, life, and more for the modern geek and geekette!

Jess Knows Best

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Hey all! I’m back for another round of questions with, “Jess Knows Best.”

First things first, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Emerald City Comic Con, which occurred in my fair city this past weekend. As usual, I shared a table space with Brandon Jerwa. I was surprised to find that interspersed throughout his throngs of fans, there were actually a few people who recognized me for this column! I was even asked to autograph a flyer for someone!

The convention itself was incredibly busy, having grown nearly 50% bigger than last year’s event at Qwest Field! The con’s new home, the Washington State Convention Center, is located right in the heart of Seattle, and within walking distance of Pike Place Market and a Monorail ride to the Space Needle. I’m sure the move gave incentive to many-a-family to make a weekend trip for the event, rather than just an afternoon out. Another con bonus? Last to ride or not, I had the great pleasure of jumping on the Scott Pilgrim bandwagon! I picked up books 1 and 2 at the con, and just hit “submit” on an online order to pick up books 3 and 4. I’m officially hooked. In sum, thanks to all who stopped by and said hello!

Now, let’s get down to business, which happens to be the topic of the first question below:

Q. Dear Jess,

If you're planning to create your own comic book series, how do you advertise to get the word out to let everyone know it's out there?

Devon Camel

A. This may be one of the most difficult questions to answer in a forum such as this, as I’m sure I could write a book on the topic. Many others already have: How to Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book by Tony Caputo and Comic Books: How the Industry Works by Stan Lee and Shirrel Rhoades are just a couple. As far as personal advice, the best I can offer to you is an account of the steps Brandon Jerwa (GI Joe, Battlestar Galactica Zarek, BSG Season Zero, Highlander, Anything Goes for CWR…) took on his path from comics fan to comics author.

Brandon’s quest to become a writer began in a tiny apartment in Portland, Oregon. With the local economy shell-shocked by 9/11, there really were no jobs from a recent Washington transplant, and the market was dismal. With a small child in the house, any job he took would require enough income to cover daycare, first and foremost. One day Brandon approached me and said he’d like to try his hand and writing comics. He was collecting unemployment at the time, so I figured as long as he was getting his UI check, and actually submitting scripts to publishers (so he could prove he was looking for a job), what did it hurt?

Brandon wrote two scripts - one a G.I. Joe pitch for Devil's Due and an original superhero piece for Dark Horse. A few months later, Dark Horse sent Brandon his first rejection letter, but Devil's Due reached out with an offer. Brandon’s two-part script was extended to four parts and became Brandon’s G.I. Joe: Frontline arc "History Repeating." Just a few months after those issues hit stands, Brandon was tapped to be the new regular writer of G.I. Joe. While Brandon’s story is the exception to the rule, it proves that breaking in is not altogether impossible.

Of course, the first part of my answer doesn’t really specifically address your situation. Starting a comic book series of your own is an extremely risky proposition -- especially if you have your sights set on the mainstream market. My advice is to assemble the persons required to complete the finished product (don’t worry about cover artists, advertising specialists, or bookkeepers; you’re not that far along yet). Sit down with these people (or do some serious soul-searching if you’re planning to make this a one-man show), and accept the reality that you’re about undertake a thankless, grueling, and most-likely unprofitable venture. If everyone involved can accept those facts going in, then it’s time to get to work.

Create a thorough outline for your story leaving nothing to the imagination, and then produce five to ten pages of complete comic book material. Have a third party that is not involved with the project read it. This cannot be a professional comic creator of any kind; there’s an unspoken rule about reading someone’s unpublished property. Once you feel absolutely confident that your project can be presented to its full potential, assemble a professional presentation package and investigate the submission guidelines for your favorite publishers. Many will not accept “blind” submissions; others, like Image Comics, may allow for this, and can be a wonderful outlet for making your name in the comics business. Just make sure you follow their instructions to the letter. Finally, clear an empty desk drawer to hold the potential rejection letters.

Self-publishing is a very different animal and can often bare its fangs in a violent manner. For more on the trials and tribulations of that subject, I suggest you drop a line to Matt Maxwell (of CWR’s Full Bleed). Good luck!

1. Excerpted from Chris Ullrich’s March 26, 2008 interview with Brandon

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