Mark’s Remarks – Marvel Age #111 (April 1992)

New Talent Department

Let me start with a letter I received.

Dear Folks,

For the past few months, Mister Gruenwald has been devoting his column to how to break into comics. This is very kind of him and I’m certain he’s only trying to be helpful but his advice has been dubious at best and cruel at worst. To date, he has explained sending submissions is pointless, no one actually pays attention to the silly things, and there’s not a chance in Hell of getting your work published unless you know someone; that the most sensible way of getting serious attention paid to one’s work is not to do good work and struggle to improve but to suck up to the editors; and that people who object to such things are just jealous of his success but he remembers how it is to be a struggling outsider so he forgives them.

While these articles have been mesmerizing, they’ve done little to instruct fledgling writers and artists. Quite the contrary, he’s been alienating them right and left, sending them stampeding to the nearest exit while he shouts after them, “WELL, YA DON’T WANT IT THAT BAD, DO YA?” It is his belief that if a person is “destined” to break into comics, he will do so no matter how much abuse is heaped on him. It is my belief a person has every right not to continue submitting to editors who are rude or contemptuous towards him and that a fledgling has quite enough difficulties learning how to do his job properly without having to engage in hand-to-hand combat with arrogant editors on top of it. Marvel is not the only comics company in the world and comics are not the only medium. Mister Gruenwald is risking a great deal for his “tough love” policies.

If Marvel does not wish to publish work from outsiders, a simple notice to this effect would be sufficient. Maintaining the fiction and responding angrily to the people who believe it is nonsensical. If Marvel is actually open to submissions from outsiders, policies like the ones Mister Gruenwald has mentioned are not something to be bragged about. On the contrary, they’re shameful. And if MARVEL AGE wishes to run a column on how to break into comics, perhaps it should be written by someone a bit less…cynical…than Mister Gruenwald.

Good day.

Michael Pickens
Newark, OH

And good day to you, Mister Pickens. [Sigh] Your letter is typical in sentiment (though more eloquently worded than many) of the type of letters my recent columns on breaking into the comics business provokes. I see myself as a kindly, wizened old-timer walking down a mountain path, offering sage but sobering words of advice to the various people I meet about what the rest of the road up the mountainside will be like. Some of you apparently see me as a pompous ogre sneaking up on those wayfarers, shouting arrogant unpleasantries, trying to scare them, and tossing rocks at them if my words aren’t deterrent enough. Like I said…[sigh].

All right, let me explain what I believe to be the fundamental facts of the comics industry and its requirements of those who would work in it. I will make every attempt this time to express them in a way that cannot be construed as “dubious,” “cruel,” “alienating,” “rude,” “arrogant,” “shameful,” or “cynical.” Instead, I’ll try to make them clear, concise, frank, and truthful. Here goes…

  1. The comics industry is a business, albeit a business that traffics in creative works. Its business is creating comic books to sell to people, To create comic books, the industry employs people who have the ability to create them.
  2. No business owes any particular person a living. Businesses have no sense of obligation or debt. Businesses have no feelings whatsoever. The comics industry owes no one a living. Not me. Not you. Not a little kid in Peoria with a crayon and a dream. Not even the all-time greats of the business.
  3. If a person has the ability to create comics, there is no guarantee he or she will ever have the opportunity to make his or her living at it. It’s the same thing in every profession, as far as I know. People with the ability to act are not guaranteed they will be able to support themselves by acting. People with policing skills may not be able to get jobs as police. People able to flip burgers may not be able to find employment as burger chefs.
  4. Since some people do find it possible to make a living creating comics, acting, doing police work, or flipping burgers, there must be a way or a number of ways that these people have found to get into these professions. Some of these people may share those ways with the curious; others may not. It is unrealistic to expect everyone to offer free advice.
  5. The comics industry not only does not owe anyone a living, it owes no one an education. If a person wants to learn how to do comics, he or she cannot expect editors in the comics industry to give him or her advice any more than s/he can call up executives at a motion picture company and ask for tips on acting or directing.
  6. To acquire an education in how to create comics will require a number of qualities: creativity, perseverance, discipline, love of learning, and love of the medium. Those who do not have an abundance of all five of these qualities would be well advised to try another line of endeavor for they will probably be surpassed by those who do have all five of these.
  7. The number one priority of the comics business is creating comics. Individuals in the comics business may have any number of secondary priorities to attend to when all aspects pertaining to the number one priority are fulfilled on any given work day: keeping a tidy desk, reading trade publications, attending to required paperwork, relaxing a bit to defray work-related stress, etc. Some may even make it a secondary priority to attend to the numerous script and art submissions that come in unsolicited on every single work day. Others may never get around to this. And as long as they accomplish their number one goal, they will never be fired for their lack of interest in looking at unsolicited submissions.
  8. To aid him or her in the creation of comics, an editor will hire persons capable of actually producing professional material on a timely basis. People who can do that become known to him or her by their bodies of published work and professional reputations.
  9. A person attempting to enter the comics business has no body of work or reputation. He or she must get one to become known enough to a given editor that that editor would want to hire him or her to create comics for him or her. To get a published body of work, one must first do work, then get a publisher.
  10. The biggest publisher of work may have the strictest standards on what constitutes professional quality work. Perhaps it would behoove the aspiring comics creator to start somewhere with less strict standards.
  11. The biggest publisher of work may have the greatest number of creators working for it. Perhaps it would behoove the aspiring comics creator to start somewhere with fewer persons competing for a finite number of book assignments.
  12. The biggest publisher of work may have the busiest editorial staff, the ones with the least amount of time to devote to the developing of potential new talent. Perhaps it would behoove the aspiring comics creators to start somewhere where the editors have less publications to get out and more development time.
  13. One can get a body of work published by smaller publishers. One can get a good reputation working with those publishers. These things serve as leverage to get an interview with a bigger publisher.
  14. Despite the odds, some individuals may choose to try getting published by a major publisher right from the start. To do so, he or she must submit his or her work to those who can buy it, the editors. Some submit by mail, some wait for when editors happen to be making a public appearance to submit their samples in person. Editors at major publishers almost never accept appointments from unknown persons to look at samples at the office. Schedules will not permit.
  15. Editors are not better human beings than those who seek work from them. But they are the ones who determine who will work for them and who won’t. In correspondence and particularly in face-to-face communication, therefore, editors ought to be treated with a modicum of respect. Whether an editor in question truly deserves one’s respect or not is beside the point. The point is getting that editor to hire you. Few editors will hire someone who has an attitude, who is disrespectful, arrogant, or unpleasant. Editors work closely with the people they hire, and no one wants to work with an unpleasant person if he or she has a choice. Editors do have a choice.
  16. Rare incidents occur. Someone sitting in a drug store may be spotted by a Hollywood producer and hired as an actor. Someone may submit samples that are seen by an editor with a desperate need for new talent and the desire to work with someone untried. It’s rare, but it happens. Those who are serious about getting into the industry will not bank on rare occurrences; they will plan and orchestrate their entrances, and persevere when one approach does not work.
  17. Artists are more in demand than writers. The comics industry needs twice as many artists as writers because in the time it takes a typical artist to draw one comic book, a typical writer can write two.
  18. Persons trying to break in as writer-artists double the odds against them. If either skill is sub-par, it will bring down the editor’s assessment of the other skill. Aspiring comics creators would be best served by showcasing one discipline at a time. Breaking in as a writer-artist in comics is as rare as persons breaking in as writer-directors in Hollywood.
  19. Although the number of persons hired on the basis of submissions is small, it is not good business for any publisher, even a major one, to adopt a policy prohibiting readers from submitting work. Not only is it bad publicity, but it precludes the possibility or rare excellence in unsolicited submissions. Those publishers who receive vast quantities of unsolicited submissions may even have a special editor whose job it is to respond to all correctly submitted unsolicited material. Whether other editors use this submissions editor as a resource for finding talent to create is entirely their prerogative.
  20. The stringence of the entrance requirements into a particular profession is in proportion to how many job opportunities there are in the field. If it were easy to get into the comics industry, there would have to be jobs for all those who got in. If it were virtually impossible to get into comics industry, there would not be enough people to produce the comics the market demands. Judging by the current number of people employed in the comics field, there may be one job per every thousand persons vying for it.
  21. Most people with potential ability in some field either waste that potential and never develop it, develop it and don’t know what to do with it, or develop it and realize what to do but don’t persevere with it until the ability can support them professionally.
  22. The comics industry will not miss anyone who does not enter the field. The public will not miss anyone who does not enter the field. You can’t miss something that was never there.

That’s it. I’d be hard-pressed to make it any plainer or more matter-of-fact than that. I didn’t make up any of these facts; I simply described them. I’d be very interested in having someone respond to my list of assertions point by point. Not that I could do anything about the way things are, but I am curious to hear reactions to them. I would also like it if someone sent me his/her “wish list,” the way they wished the industry was rather than the way I described it. Best responses will appear in a future Mark’s Remarks column.

Now then, for the past half year or so I’ve been in the process of putting together a five-page story using talent discovered in the unsolicited submissions department here at Marvel. (This is just an exercise dreamed up by my editors and does not constitute a revision in Marvel’s submission procedures, alas.) We’ve arrived at a plot that works, sent it to a penciler, and now reproduced on these pages is the artwork drawn from that plot. The penciler in question is Gerald Teon Walker of Detroit, Michigan. You readers may wish to look up the plot Gerald drew from in MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE #109. I’m not going to, however. I believe the artwork should tell me everything I need to know to follow the gist of what’s going on. Now here is my page by page critique.

Page one: Panel 1: It is clear to me this is an embassy and there is police action going on. That’s good. There appears to be room for captions and dialogue balloons (what we call “copy”) at the top of the panel. Also good. The face of the newswoman is a little weak: she’s also turned away from the policeman she’s interviewing as if he has bad breath. Panel 2: Good dynamic figures in action. Spider-Man looks nice and spidery. I like that the figures do not overlap, each creates its own clearly defined silhouette. My only problem with the Trapster figure is that his legs are positioned such that he looks like he was struck while in midair rather than standing on the ground. You might watch tangents – figure outlines touching the panel borders. There’s a big one with the Trapster’s left arm, and smaller ones with the Trapster’s right hand and Spider-Man’s left elbow.

Page two: Panel 1: A decent enough Spider-Man landing figure but the speed lines do not indicate that he’s coming from the vicinity of the Trapster whom he just clobbered. Why? Considering that the Trapster was facing the hostages (now in the foreground) at the time he was smacked, how is it that he’s landed facing the other way? Panel 2: While the action is clear enough the space between T and S-M now appears to be only ten feet maximum whereas in the previous panel it appears to be at least twenty. Are we to assume that T slid backwards by the seat of his pants in order to cover the difference? Panel 3: Quite clear. T looks about 5 feet behind S-M. Panel 4: Boy, can that Spider-Man jump – twenty feet high it looks like. Unfortunately the Trapster now appears to be ten or twelve feet from the point S-M took off from. Did he suddenly retreat a bunch of steps between panels? Panel 5: A reasonably clear close-up. Panel 6: A somewhat awkward place for S-M’s leg considering the arc of his punch. It looks like he just missed hitting himself in the foot. The Trapster appears to be coming toward us even though the blow seems to have come at him diagonal to  the picture plane. Slippery floor? Panel 7: Good Spider-Man head reacting.

Page three: Panel 1: Good full figure shot of Flag-Smasher. Perhaps the shot could have been framed a bit higher so that the inset panel border didn’t break the floor line he’s standing on. It also might have been nice to re-establish the door that he came in on behind him. I had to check the previous page to see where this balcony came from. I assume it’s the same one as on page two. Panel 2: When Spider-Man leaps toward the hostages on page two, they seem to be fifty feet away from that balcony. Now they appear to be about five feet away from it. Did Spider-Man have them all shuffle closer in between panels? Panel 3: Good up-shot. This is not an easy angle to draw. Panel 4: Good fist. Head looks a little sunken and neckless. Panel 5: Three close-ups in a row is not probably a good idea. Panel 6: The gun hands of the Ultimatum agents are pretty generalized looking. F-S’s fist is not up to standards of the rest of the page. Panel 7: Another unfortunate tangent with F-S’s foot on the bottom panel border.

Page four: Panel 1: Another unfortunate tangent with F-S’s foot. He’s also walking a whole lot more stiffly than in the panel before. Panel 2: Good face. Panel 3: Good running figure. Panel 4: Dynamic figure. Panel 5: Nice web. Panel 6: Way too small a figure for a reaction shot. Panel 7: Pretty good punch, though F-S curiously looks like he’s leaning into it. And Spider-Man’s foot is (ahem) unfortunately placed over F-S’s uh, lap.

Page 5: Panel 1: it’s not too clear how F-S recovered from S-M’s haymaker from the previous page. Having S-M and F-S trade places from the last panel to this is an extremely bad decision. There aren’t many iron clad rules about visual storytelling but flipping figures 180 degrees would be one of them. Talk about confusing! Panel 2: Not clear what F-S did that dazed S-M so much that S-M let him run a good ten feet. I mean S-M’s punch looked like it hurt more than F-S’s. Panel 3: Not a standard spider-sense effect. Panel 4: Here’s an instance where I would have had both of S-M’s feet folded up underneath him. His right leg looks like it barely got out of the line of fire. Panel 5: In the previous panel, there looks like there’s barely ten feet between S-M and F-S’s hand. Now in panel 4, F-S has managed to put 30 or 40 feet between them in the time it took S-M to jump up and jump down. Wow, is he fast or what? Panel 6: Now where the heck did that flag come from? Here’s another ironclad visual storytelling principle: set up something before it become necessary for a payoff. If that’s a flag in panel 5, it is way WAY WAY too small to be seen as a setup. One problem: the figures in panels 4,5 and 6 are all about the same size. Variety please. Panel 7: S-M could be standing just a little bit more spidery here, but the attitude is right.

To sum up, Gerald, pretty good overall. Not quite professional caliber yet but getting there. Figure drawing needs work in some places. Character’s body language needs help occasionally, too. The storytelling, while reasonably clear, shows you have a lot of problems keeping interior spaces consistent. This is extremely important. You also need to watch your tangents, Gerald. All in all, quite a credible effort, though. People, critiquing storytelling isn’t hard. Just describe what you see from one panel to the next to see how it all flows. If it has a bunch of discontinuities, it needs work. As an editor, I would send some of the pages in this particular job to the artist for fix-ups.

Okay, in our next installment, we’ll have the plotter script this artwork and we’ll see what happens then. Don’t forget to write me, people.

–Mark Gruenwald