How many shitty scripts have you flushed down before bringing one to life?
The first thing you write will no doubt be rubbish.
It is this piece of ‘advice’ that gets me scoffed at and frowned upon whenever I deliver it to someone who asks about making and breaking into comics.
I’m assuming that’s because they know their first script is ace. Which is why it’s all they’ve written. And they’re shopping it around right now. Or they don’t want to write more, they have already written, they’ll accept their cheques and fan swarms at the celeb suite on top of the Vegas hotel they’ll now be living out of.
Of course, the above is me being facetious [probably another reason I get those side-eyes]. I know people aren’t that deluded, I know people don’t think they’re going to land a payday with their first thing. I know this. But I also know people hate it whenever I say the line above.
And yet it’s universally true.
Ask any comic writer you know what the first thing they wrote was and I guarantee it either was never made, or it was and it stinks like someone ate a bunch of fish heads. And now wants to make out with you. With their ass.
But let’s be real, you’ve heard this advice before. And if you’ve ever heard me bang on about breaking in, you’ve heard it from me. No doubt more than once. So this column isn’t about just polishing old nuggets, it’s about flexing the pick above my head and busting the nugget open so you can see what it’s made of.
Y’see, my first script sucked. My first few did. I’ve long heard and repeated the analogy that you don’t expect to strap on some running shoes and blast out the door straight into a marathon on the first day, do you? Hell, you know whatever running you do on that first day is going to result in sore glutes and feet the next day. It’s all a sound way of obliquely telling people to maybe slow their roll, do some training first before they even show their skills to anyone else.
And it’s true. But I also have a new analogy for you. One I hope you dig.
Because they call it breaking into comics and yet people expect to do it on the very first attempt when anyone and everyone knows you have to case the joint first. You fill a notebook with hidden secrets about your mark, you make the pre-game your job, and then maybe you finally go for that big score.
Though you don’t make robbing the Bellagio, the Mirage, and the MGM Grand all in one go your first heist. Perish the thought, you’ll die before the first hurdle is even spotted. No, you hone the craft on rube banks and security vans trundled around by sad useless bastards.
This is making and breaking into comics.
Because your first time is weak sauce. Trust me, it is. Mine was.
My first script was, oh god, I’m going to admit this.
My first script was a Daredevil OGN. It was about an aged Matt Murdock, in an old folk’s home for the powered, and it then became this cross country adventure with half the Marvel U appearing. It was dumb, and would never ever get made, but it was fun and it got me writing, and that’s what was important. It made me want to sit down repeatedly over weeks and months and make words happen. It taught me about scripting, and page layout, and narrative structure. It let me play with voice and location and I’ll never regret having written this frivolous thing.
But I knew it would never get made. Oh, I secretly hoped I’d get to pitch it to Marvel and it’d be Daredevil’s warped DKR, but really I knew this wasn’t for real. I just knew that writing what is fanfic was a little easier than creating your own characters and whole worlds. It was fertile learning ground. And this I still believe [and, hell, doesn’t Amazon have a fanfic deal in place now for ebooks? It’s one hell of a world we occupy now].
Once it was completed, then I wrote something else. This time I worked on two things. One was HAIL HYDRA! – 12 MONTHS IN THE REFORMATION OF HYDRA and it looked at small agents in the HYDRA game and very much played like a villainous version of THE IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN because that’s very much what it was inspired by. And it was crazy fun to write but I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere.
Which is why alongside it I finally created my own stuff. EGO was about a young bloke who had the power to hear the thoughts of those around him. And I liked his adventures tracking a serial killer, as well as revealing his sordid origin story, that I wrote 12 full issues of his book. I wrote so much, too much, because it was in writing full arcs that I came to understand how arcs work, how they flesh out, how much you can fit into them, and that helped me plan future arcs on other works. It also gave me plenty of stuff to work with to hone my editing game.
I also have to say that I know I wanted to make these books, I wasn’t smart or prescient enough to understand this was all practise, I was hopeful that somewhere in here was my big break, but looking back I know it wasn’t. But I can see how much I learnt from the experience. How helpful it all was and that I had to be happy to write it all and then bury it once it failed to take off.
Hell, once EGO didn’t go anywhere – despite a fully coloured/lettered pitch – I just marched into the next thing. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ATLANTIS is something where I know the title is a sales bonanza, and I have the kernel of an idea in there, but the OG pages I wrote were not great. Despite having trudged through 6 issues of it and loosely planning out what would have to be a 60 issue run just to contain it all. Yes, I was that idiot [but length of first work is another post entirely, and that post is coming].
It wasn’t until the very next story, a four issue mini titled FATE, that I feel I started to get better. Still not ready for prime time but better than I was 24 issues and an OGN before that, and not counting some of the shorts I also wrote.
Hell, FATE didn’t get picked up and after that was a slate of failed pitches, shorts, and I’d wager by the time I hit FATHERHOOD – which isn’t my greatest work but is the start of where I know I was getting ready and am still happy to rep that work – I was another good 24 issues in the can plus even more shorts. As well as four novels, a dozen or more prose shorts, and plenty of non-fic writing/analysis.
And I’m only starting to get good there.
Because that’s the journey. That first thing you write, it’s no good. But it’ll be fun and you’ll love it but it’s most likely not going to get published, or if you force it into the world [which Kickstarter has made easier to do] know it won’t suddenly get you noticed by the big guns in publishing. It might even get poor reviews. Which is also fine, learn from them, and get better with every page you write. And once you are ready, then unleash hell.
So I hope you can see that I’m happy to admit this rule applies to me. It’s not like I think I’m ace and I’m proselytizing from the mountaintop down to anyone else. I am purely stating what I know is true for myself, as well as others I have known or watched.
Your first work is not going to be good. have faith over time it will become good, then great, you just have to stick to it. Fill your notebook, case the perimeter, and then four colour heist until your name is in print. And hopefully for the right reasons.
Ryan K. Lindsay is a comics writer who has logged time at Dark Horse, Monkeybrain, Vertigo and other esteemed publishers. He currently writes Negative Space, a comic we here at Loser City love quite a bit. You can (and should) pick Negative Space up from your local comic shop ordirectly through Dark Horse.