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Darby Pops Off: “The Next Level” by Steven L. Sears

Written by Kristine Chester | 2 Comments | Published on March 4, 2016
The content that follows was originally published on the Darby Pop Publishing website at http://www.darbypop.com/darby-pops-offs/darby-pops-off-the-next-level-by-steven-l-sears/

These days you can’t look anywhere without seeing a comic book turned television series or movie. It’s no secret there’s not a lot of money in comic books. Some writers script and draw and produce a comic book with the sole purpose of getting their foot in the door at a television or movie studio. According to our guest of the week, Steven L. Sears, this is the wrong approach. As a man who has worked in both mediums: comics and television, his advice is firsthand and he has an alternative approach to consider when you have your sights set on the Next Level.

If you have a thought on the topic of the week, please join in the discussion on Facebook (facebook.com/DarbyPopPublishing), Twitter (@DarbyPopComics), or in the comments section below.

Until next time,



Wow, look at all these movies and TV series based on comic books and graphic novels. I’ve heard many aspiring artists and writers say they want to create the next Walking Dead or the new Avengers comic book franchise for film and television. Many consider that to be the top of the food chain as far as the evolution of their comic book.

Okay. I guess. I come to this from the other side of the coin. I started out in Television as a writer and, later, as a producer. As a result, I was brought in to work on established comic book franchises for the screen ( Swamp Thing, Superboy, Sheena for example) and I have worked on TV shows which then moved to comic books (Xena for example). Running the gauntlet of input between the publisher, the studio, the network and my own interpretation wasn’t easy, but it somehow got done. You want to stay true to the original, but still update and accommodate the viewing audience which is, mostly, not the same group as the fans of the comic book. And, yes, I have awesome stories of late-night screaming fests with Studio Executives over basic “Hero” rules, or endless logic debates with publishers over what can be done on the page but not on the stage — not to mention the old “He can’t fly THAT fast” kind of input (I won’t bother you with the “Can Superboy see through an antique lead crystal window?” conversation I once had). But, in all those cases, I saw the original comics as source material to work with. And, back then, those comics were intended as their own ends. The writers and artists working on them saw the comic as the ultimate goal of their efforts. The comic book was the thing. They weren’t doing it for possible ancillary deals with studios, or to create a TV franchise.

So now I have, through a boring series of events (which my relating would result in you rushing to click on the “Celebrities Who Look Like Turtles” link), entered into the realm of the Graphic Novel Writer. My first graphic novel, STALAG-X (with Kevin J. Anderson), was a learning experience, and the other three in the works have been illuminating at the least. I have made many friends who are aspiring comic book artists and writers. I patrol the Artist Alleys of the comic cons, and I chat with people who proudly display their works. And, if they know who I am, the conversation always comes around to how they can take their comics to the “Next Level”: film and television.

So as someone who has worked both sides, let me answer that question. Because I’m sure you, dear reader, are also curious as to how you can take your comic creation to the “Next Level,” to give it longevity and a fan base that can’t be ignored by the studios and networks. Ready? It’s really simple.

Stop thinking about the “Next Level.”

Yes, that’s it. Stop it. Stop it now. Stop looking at your creative efforts as being a mere stepping stone to something supposedly greater. If you are working on a graphic novel as a writer, make your writing the most incredible writing the graphic novel universe has ever seen. Artists? Makes those covers irresistible… make those panels leap from the page. You may dream that, eventually, your work will move into that more lucrative realm, but you can’t do your best work if you’re concentrating on what it isn’t. Believe me, if you make your comic the best comic you can, it will have a much better chance of getting the notice it deserves.

Now, just to be fair, I say the same thing to aspiring TV writers who think the “easy” way to become a professional TV writer is to create a graphic novel and sell it to the studios. They miss the point as well.

And the funny thing is that the new rank and file of comic book creators have been brought up in a world where cross-platform usage of intellectual property is common. They’ve been indoctrinated in a certain mindset where possible ancillary platforms are always floating around. Whether they be film, TV, novels, games, or webisodes, the new paradigm for comic books is wide-ranging and inclusive. But you, as the creator of a comic, can’t be looking at all that. Focus. Concentrate. Put all your efforts into the comic. The rest will take care of itself.

The truth is that the things that make a successful film are the same as what makes a successful comic book franchise. Solid, deep and interesting characters. Riveting stories with incredible twists and turns.   A visual style that doesn’t just illustrate the story, but adds to it, helping to create it.

And, yes, Superboy can see through a lead crystal window. It’s crystal, nimrod. Even I can see through it.


About the Author

Steven L. Sears has worked as a Writer, Story Editor, Producer and Creator in television, film, digital media and animation. His lengthy career has encompassed over fifteen separate television series, including RIPTIDE, THE A-TEAM, HARDCASTLE & MCCORMICK, STINGRAY, WALKER-TEXAS RANGER, HIGHWAYMAN, HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE, GRAND SLAM, JESSE HAWKES, SUPERBOY, S.H.E. SPIES and many other favorites. After producing SWAMP THING for USA network and RAVEN for CBS, he moved to a series that has made its mark in pop culture history as Co-Executive Producer of the wildly popular XENA – WARRIOR PRINCESS. Steven followed that up by co-creating the latest incarnation of the legendary comic book heroine SHEENA for Sony/TriStar Television, which ran for two seasons. Still involved in film and television, Steven has moved into the literary realm with several publications in the works, including VILLEANNE, written with popular author Peter J. Wacks, and STALAG-X, a graphic novel co-written with New York Times Bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson.

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Steven L. Sears says:

Melody, thank you for the compliment. As to your question, it really depends on the owner of the IP and the arrangement with the studio (especially if the film/tv studio owns the IP holder). Some allow you more freedom, some want you to stay strictly to the canon. There is discussion, argument, and eventual agreement on the direction. For me, personally, there is always a careful balance between what the fans have grown accustomed to and what’s needed to keep the series on the air. They aren’t always one and the same. And, of course, if you are updating a character that is 60 years old (as we did with SHEENA), you have to make changes because of technological, social and cultural changes. Thanks for the question!

Melody says:

Great article, Steven! Thank you for your insight. You also brought up an interesting aspect of adaptations: that the majority of the viewership will be unfamiliar with the comic book or graphic novel, so you have the challenge of introducing the premise and rules, while also updating it, and attempting to stay true to the original. Do you find the publisher or owner of the IP weighs in heavily during development, or once it’s been sold to a studio do you (and the studio and network) have creative freedom?

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