Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 25: The Business of Writing Comics

Dan and Howard are again joined by Jake Black, who writes comics (and some other things) for a living. Jake tells us how he got into the business, and we talk about how this might be applied to other folks. But you can’t do it exactly the way he did it because they’ve bricked that entrance up.

Writing Prompt: Our superhero gained his superpowers by writing technical articles for Wired…

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12 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 25: The Business of Writing Comics”

  1. I know several of you will disagree with me on this, but as incredible, insightful and helpful as these last 2 podcasts have been, I’m looking forward to hearing more about WRITING than I am about cartooning.

    Shouldn’t Writing Excuses be about…writing? I know that writing is an essential element of cartooning (and deserves a podcast in itself), but two podcasts back-to-back on cartooning has nearly killed my feverish love of this site! I’ll admit, I’m not a cartoonist and those of you who are, I’m sure found this podcast to be very important. So I will try to be more patient and hope for more writing-centered podcasts to come in the future.

  2. Okay, I am not in love with comics, so maybe I shouldn’t go into that biz. However, I do have a question on a semi-related topic.

    Say you write and publish a book that sells fairly well and, as with so many popular books these days, the possibility arises of making a graphic novel adaptation. How does that work? Do you, the author, have to campaign for a GN adaptation, or will someone in the comic biz come to you? When the work starts, will you, the author, write the GN yourself, or will someone be hired to lift the dialogue from the prose of your work and convert it into panel form? Will you have creative control over the graphic novel? Or do you just sit back and let the royalties roll in?

    I also have a lot of the same questions for motion picture adaptations, but we can probably save those for a later date.

  3. Well! I haven’t listened to it yet! I am forced to wait, download it, and listen to it while I pack up the family room. That’s okay, I can sit down there amidst the mess of moving and dream of writing instead.

  4. Has anyone else noticed that without Brandon to reign them in Howard and Dan just keep going and going (not complaining mind you)? This week’s episode was one of the longest yet! Instead of the cast ending 5 exits away from school this morning it ended just shy of 2 exits away.

    I also found it interesting that there is a comparison between comics and animation when it comes to getting into the business. I think the same can be said for just about any entertainment industry these days. I can speak from experience that knowing someone “on the inside” is one of the best things to have. At my university the department is constantly trying to build up contacts in the animation and gaming worlds.

    Another point that I think needs reiteration is the persistence thing – and that applies to any kind of writer (or pretty much any job these days). Even knowing someone at the videogame company I almost got into (before they went under) I still had to doggedly keep myself in their sights. I was e-mailing them once every week to two weeks like clockwork for over 9 months and I got three formal interviews. And I was actually e-mailing three different people in the company on the weekly/bi-weekly basis at one point. The result was, I “got” the position but then the project they would have hired me for fell through (which killed the company).

    And with that disappointment under my belt I promptly threw myself back into school so that I can stand a chance of being able to compete for such a position again. The guys have pointed it out in the ‘cast on many different occasions but it’s good to hear this again from a new source – persistence plays a huge part in success.

  5. @bdagger — Actually, we tend to run long anytime we’ve got a guest. Especially if that guest has something interesting to say. Jake’s never joined us before, and we learned a lot from him.

    @Mike — You’re saying “cartooning” as if it doesn’t involve writing. It’s almost as if you didn’t bother to listen to the podcast. If you want to be a writer, you really should learn about what writers do in different genres. Everything Jake does as a writer for comics — EVERYTHING — has application in genre fiction.

  6. Actually Howard, I did listen and I always do because I love your podcast. Please don’t jump to conclusions as I meant no disrespect or harm. If I did, I’m sorry…that was NOT my intention.

    I remember your podcast on critics and how some critics of yours just rant and cry about anything, just because they are negative. I hopefully am not one of those. I am a loyal fan who just had an opinion that was taken the wrong way. I’m sorry.

    If you read my original post, it said, “I KNOW THAT WRITING IS AN ESSENTIAL element of cartooning (and deserves a podcast in itself)”. So, no I did not ignore that fundamental aspect of cartooning. I understand why this podcast was made, I was just voicing my opinion is all. I can see that it ruffled some feathers. I’m sorry that it did.

  7. Hey, I wasn’t going to write this because it sounds kind of dumb, but I have this thing about rudeness over the internet so..

    Congratulations, Howard and Mike for being so polite in their slight disagreement on the podcast. that was real awesome of you guys.

  8. I appreciate that CM. Although I still feel bad. I should have kept my mouth shut. I wasn’t thinking. Looking back now, I can see how Howard of all people would be offended by my comment. Once again, I’m sorry Howard. That wasn’t my intention.

  9. I’ve actually taken a few classes at UCLA that focus on comics writing, and most of what was said here is in line with what I learned about the business in them. In one class Greg Rucka came in and talked about his career and experiences and Geoff Johns come in for the second class I took. The teacher of the class is also a full-time professional in the industry, so we were lucky enough to hear firsthand what the industry is like from a number of professionals.
    One thing that stood out to me in class is that if you’re only a writer, it’s very, very tough to get anywhere in comics today. If you’re also an artist (and I mean a reasonably skilled artist), you have a slightly better chance of getting somewhere, though it’s still very difficult.
    Unfortunately, in my opinion, focusing on comics as opposed to other types of entertainment writing probably isn’t worth the time and effort. There are other creative markets that pay better given the comics’ market’s existing barriers to entry. If you’re looking for a career in a field, you have to look at whether it’s even possible to sustain a career in it, full-time, in the first place. For most people, comics just isn’t going to be worth the frustration given how little it pays.
    That said, writing comics is a great creative outlet and helps writers who are typically focused on words to visualize scenes and action better. If you’re a writer who is lucky enough to have an artist collaborator, it’s even better because you can potentially see how your words translate into visuals on a page. It’s also great practice for planning storyboards if you want to work in either film or video games.
    Lastly, I do have to add that for me writing comics has been pretty fun, regardless of its career potential.

  10. Since I’m so far behind the rest of the world in discovering this podcast series, I’m sure that no one but the moderator will ever see my comment,… oh well. I laughed when Mr. Black mentioned Mark Waid with the tone of, “Oh, this nice random more experienced guy I know in the industry has been my mentor, no big deal” because it seemed like.an attempt to use understatement to avoid sounding like a braggart. Then I realized that the audience may actually have zero idea who he is…. Makes me sad, his work deserves all the recognition in the world.
    Also, the horror stories of comic writers scared me away ages ago…. I’ll stick to prose for now and play around with the comic book dreams during the next Script Frenzy.

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