All my life I’ve wanted to write a comic book. It’s a common feeling flipping through the pages of Spider-Man, The Wicked + The Divine, Lumberjanes, or any of the other great comics out there. However, the journey from comic book fan to comic book creator is longer and filled with more trials than victories. Today, Side-Kicked writer Russell Brettholtz shares his story of how he stepped from the legion of fans and joined the creators on the other side of the table.
Until next time,
When I attended New York Comic Con last year I caught a bunch of panels, got some books signed by my favorite creators, bought a few prints in Artist Alley, and snapped selfies with cosplayers. In short, I was a fan.
But this year – 2015 – was different. While I still did all of those things, I did them in a much shorter time frame than usual. Because this year I wasn’t just attending comic con as a fan, I was attending as the actualization of a dream I’ve had for the past twenty-five years: I was there as a creator.
My very first comic book was an Archie that my grandmother game me during a visit when I was eight years old. When I was twelve, a friend shoved Excalibur #2 under my nose, pulling me down the rabbit hole of the X-Men and their extended family (which in the ‘90s became quite extensive, indeed). It wasn’t long before I was imagining how I would write the comic books I was reading. What hardships could I throw my favorite heroes’ way, and how would I get them out?
It wasn’t long before the story ideas were crowding my brain, and I knew that if I didn’t put them on paper they would suffocate any other thoughts floating around in there. I suspect this is why most fan-fiction gets written. So, I spent most of high school and college jotting ideas down into an ever-present spiral notebook, and then fleshing them out into full stories later on my computer.
But I was still a fan first. By the time I graduated college, the Internet was in full swing. And it gave comic book fans something we didn’t even realize we were missing: access. In the early days of the Internet there were only a handful of websites dedicated to comic book fandom. Some of these sites were even able to attract the biggest names in comic books to set up threads where fans could ask direct questions. It should come as no surprise that many of the questions involved how to break into comics. It was in one of these threads that the incredible new writer of Deadpool composed an open letter to the aspiring writers on the site. She described point-by-point what a writer should be doing to prepare for a career as a comic book writer. One tip stood out to me in particular: “Stop writing fan-fiction.”
I did. I shifted my energies toward a submission instead. I found sample comic book scripts online, and drafted a ten page story about the students at Xavier’s school being put through a gauntlet of challenges. I posted the script on the web site and invited criticism and critique. I heeded every single response, but it was the detailed notes of a then-current Marvel artist that I gave the most preference to. Revisions made, I submitted the story directly to the editor of X-Men Unlimited (an anthology-like book for stories of the X-Men that took place between the issues of their regular series).
It didn’t get published.
But I knew my days of fan-fiction were over. Well aware of the slim chances of a first-time author breaking into a Marvel comic, I turned my attention toward a project of my own creation. It was the first step toward moving from the fan side of the table at comic con to the creator side.
So why am I telling you all this?
Because I used to be you, looking from the convention floor at all the booths full of people who cracked the formula of making comic books of their very own. And if I did it, then so can you.
I won’t lie, it’s not easy. It took years of study to understand story structure, character development and pacing, and then molding my words to fit within the confines of a comic book. And writing the script is only the beginning. You still have to find an art team and figure out how to pay them (and you need to pay them). And then you need to figure out how to print the books and where to sell them.
But it can be done. There will always be a barrier to entry when it comes to creating comic books. But there are far fewer barriers today than there were even a few years ago. There are online tutorials on how to write comic book scripts. There are crowdfunding websites to help raise money. There are social media channels to help you promote your finished book. There are annual talent competitions from publishers looking for undiscovered talent.
Today, the biggest barrier to entry is you.
I finished writing the first issue of Side-Kicked just before my first daughter was born. It collected virtual dust on a hard drive for six years. After my second daughter was born, I was determined to realize my dream of creating my own comic book. I started scripting the remaining three issues of the mini-series. I went online and found an artist who was interested in creating the book with me. I started selling off my comic book collection to raise money to pay him. It didn’t take long before I had enough money to pay my artist for four complete pages and a cover. I used those pages to launch a crowdfunding campaign to finish the book. The campaign was a huge success, raising over 250% of my initial goal.
It was during this campaign that I received an e-mail from Darby Pop Publishing. They were interested in Side-Kicked and wanted to talk further about publishing the comic with them. I would have access to professional editors to refine the script and art. My comic book would be professionally rendered for ComiXology. Side-Kicked would be distributed to comic book shops and book stores around the country through Diamond Comic Distributors. It would be available on Amazon.
How could I possibly say “no?”
Last year I attended New York Comic Con as a fan. This year I stood behind the Darby Pop booth with fellow creators and watched in joyful exuberance as we sold out of every copy of Side-Kicked we had brought. Even the one I had earmarked for myself.
Maybe next year you’ll be behind the table too (and if you happen to see Gail Simone, please thank her for the sound advice).
About the Author
Russell Brettholtz is just some guy. He has a full time job, a wife, two kids, a cat and a mortgage. But he also turned his dream of writing and creating his own comic books into a reality. Follow him on Twitter @SidekickedComix.