I’ve been writing prose fiction for a lot longer than I’ve been writing comics. I graduated from Columbia University in 2000 with a degree in writing/literature, and I published my first short story in August 2002 in the now defunct Skyline Literary Magazine. I didn’t publish my first comics story until 2018 (in Constellate Literary Journal w/Marika Brousianou). Like many writers—especially prose writers—I am an introvert by nature, and the collaborative, community nature of comics creation was difficult for me when I first started writing comics.
There were certain people who helped me with that aspect of comics creation and who made me feel like a part of the community, which is why the We Suck At Comics kickstarter from Wayward Raven is an important project for me.
When I attended my first New York Comic Con, I went to a networking event at Twins Pub, and it was there that I met many members of my comics community.
Now, I’m the type of guy who sits at the end of the bar, maybe with one or two close friends, and sips his beer or scotch while watching the game. I’m a wallflower at parties, and there is not enough alcohol on the planet to get me to dance. So, as you might imagine, a networking event among strangers was not the ideal situation for me.
As the night went on, the crowd started to thin. I have an unusually high tolerance, so I remained. A few people started to talk to me. Among these were Alex Sapountzis and Mark Frankel, of Wayward Raven, and Sebastian Bonet, an artist for Inbeon, among other places.
I ended up talking—and drinking—with them until the bar closed, and by the end of the night, I not only made new friends (a rarity for me), but also felt like I was a part of a comics community.
In the coming years, my comics community would expand each year at the Creator Aftercon event at Twins. I met Johnny C who invited me to contribute to his Movie (p)Review Show, Marika Brousianou with whom I collaborated on both that first comics story and my latest book, and so many more.
I have three stories in the We Suck At Comics anthology, two of which are collaborations with Alex, and a third which was illustrated by Tyler Carpenter.
My stories appear alongside stories by Mark, Johnny C, and Sebastian, as well as Jeff Rider and Joel Jacob Barker, both of whom I met at subsequent Creator Aftercon events at Twins.
We Suck at Comics, like any comics anthology, is a community effort, for me it is more than that. It is my community’s effort.
Without the encouragement of the aforementioned creators, I probably would not be writing comics today. I am honored to appear alongside them, and would be honored if you would support the kickstarter.
This past weekend, I attended New York Comic Con. While I did not have a table this year, which was unfortunate because I have a new book to sell (you can help me make for it by buying it here), I was able to attend the various professional panels aimed at writers. This year’s slate of high-profile writers was particularly strong, especially in the fantasy department were Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, and Diana Gabaldon offered insights into their writing processes and careers. Below, I have collected the advice I found most helpful and interesting from both the top names and from the many other writers who paneled, and loosely organized that advice around a number of themes. I hope you find them as helpful and inspiring as I did.
If you’re writing process isn’t working, then change your process–Chuck Wendig
When faced with an overwhelming amount of editorial feedback or critique, change something small. Changing something small reminds you that you have power over the piece–Peter V. Brett.
You can write a novel in a year writing 400 words a day. That’s about 1-1/2 double spaced pages–E. Lockhart.
The only feedback you get until you publish is that wordcount number adding up–Diana Gabaldon.
Who do you listen to? A really good editor. Anyone else, I’ll listen to an see if they have anything valuable to say, but you get a lot of feedback from people who don’t know anything. You’ve got to stand up for yourself–Terry Brooks.
The best feedback is from people who already like your work but who want something slightly better– (in my notes, but I didn’t write down who said it).
Take something you love and put it in a different context. I loved Faulkner. I wanted to put the way he dealt with class, the rich and poor, in a new element. Tolkien’s structure seemed like the perfect structure for that rich/poor dynamic–Terry Brooks.
Write out of order to avoid writing block. Move to a different part of the book, either to an exciting part or to an easy part–E. Lockhart.
I usually go through about 10 drafts–Karen McManus.
On writing comics: I write differently if I know the artist, if it’s an artist I’ve worked with before. If I’m workin g with a new artist, I’ll describe more—Jimmy Palmiotti.
Plotting vs Pansting
I don’t write in straight lines. I don’t write with an outline either–Diana Gabaldon.
There is no such thing as plotting or pansting. Every writer does both. They are tools. If you don’t use both, you’re not using all the tools available to you as a writer–Brandon Sanderson.
I always start backward. I know the whydoneit and the whodoneit, and then plot backwards–Kara Thomas.
I tend to start with the big idea, but I’m not sure what it means–Karen McManus.
Plotting is like a Jenga tower. If you take one small thing out, the whole tower can collapse–E. Lockhart.
We are all people. People make dumb decisions. It’s ok for characters dumb decisions because that’s what real people do. That makes characters feel real–Wesley Chu.
Sanderson’s second rule: flaws are more interesting than characters themselves–Brandon Sanderson.
I did what most writers do. I gave the character a flaw or two–E. Lockhart.
As the character’s power increases, their power becomes more evident–Brandon Sanderson.
I try to include “good” characters who have to deal with mental illness. Most of American media is like if there’s someone with a mental illness in your book, they’re probably the bad guy. We need to change that–Dan Wells.
I consider the antagonist and the villain as two separate characters: The villain is evil. The antagonist prevents the characters from getting what they want, but they should be relatable. We should be able to understand to understand them. Our main character could end up going in that direction. One example is Ms. Marvel. There are villains in that show, but the parents are the main antagonists. Another is Lord of the Rings. Sauron is the villain. He’s pure evil. Gollum is the protagonist, but what decisions got him there? We can see ourselves making those same decisions–Brandon Sanderson.
Villains don’t have to be villains from the start. They just have different agencies—Karen McManus.
The thing that bugs me most is repeated plot arc. Too many writers write the same plot over and over again. It’s as if, because they were successful with the first one, they just hit the reset button on book 2 (or series 2, or season 2) and write the same thing again–Brandon Sanderson.
The mystery needs to matter to the character, not just to the reader who is trying to figure out the mystery. There have to be character consequences for the reveal–Karen McManus.
Don’t have your conflict shoot your reader’s empathy for your character in the foot–Brandon Sanderson.
All mysteries have a reveal. Not all mysteries have a twist–Kara Thomas.
Point of View
First person turns on how interesting the voice of the character is–Brandon Sanderson.
If you’re writing a scene, and you know it’s a good scene, and it’s an important scene, but it’s just not working out like it should, change the point of view. You’re probably writing it from the wrong perspective–Diana Gabaldon.
You should violate every rule–Terry Brooks.
The value of rules is that they make you look at your writing and analyze it in a technical way–Naomi Novak.
All writing rules are bullshit–Peter V. Brett.
But bullshit fertilizes–Chuck Wendig.
All writing rules amount to “don’t write badly.” They attempt to turn an art into a science–Naomi Novak.
Use writing rules like cooking, not baking. There are rules like ‘don’t dump in the whole package of salt’ and recipes are important when you start, but eventually you don’t have to follow the recipe exactly, unlike baking. You’re going to be tasting, adding more or less flavor according to preference. There is a preferential aspect, a matter of taste–Chuck Wendig.
50 years ago, the rules were different. 50 years from now, they’ll be different too. Trends come and go. What’s commercial comes and goes–Wesley Chu.
Pitching and Finding an Agent
Querying sucks–Wesley Chu.
I was at a party once and an agent asked me what my book was about. I [was hesitant to share my book because of all the big authors he represented]. He told me “You don’t refuse books; I refuse books. If you want your book published, you have to put your work out there–Peter V. Brett.
I was trying to write to the market. It wasn’t until I wrote the books I wanted to read as teenager that I was able to sell my work–Karen McManus.
Read outside your genre. Find the things that people do well in those other genres you love to read. They have skillsets and ideas we don’t have. Find out what they do and bring that into your own genre–Terry Brooks.
It’s not a matter of genre, it’s a matter of patterns–Diana Gabaldon.
You have to read mindfully and critically–Chuck Wendig.
Everything you read impacts you–Terry Brooks.
One of the things that makes us most worried as writers is that we’re going to copy someone else, and yet we’re an amalgam of all we’ve read and experienced. We need to look at what’s influenced us and tear it down to the emotions and then build it back up into something new–Brandon Sanderson.
When you work with people you like, all of your bad decisions seem good–Brian Azzerello.
Writers need to experiment. Writing the same thing for a long time would be a mistake–Terry Brooks.
Find people who you can tell the truth to, and who will tell the truth to you–Scott Snyder
You’ve got tp challenge yourself. You can’t rest on your laurels–Terry Brooks.
On imposter syndrome: I picture myself reading my book in front of a whole crowd at Yankee Stadium, and 60 thousand people are going “boo!”–Scott Snyder.
Sometimes, the magic works–Terry Brooks.
Influence people in a positive way. Give them an experience in space and time–Terry Brooks.
In the final analysis, your work is your brand– Joe Illidge.
How do I title my book? Poorly–Dan Wells.
On giving a 5 minute answer to a lightning round question: Have you seen the size of my books? That was fast for me–Brandon Sanderson.
I enjoy the process of writing. Once it’s done, I couldn’t care less. Except for getting paid. I enjoy that–Terry Brooks.
There was so much variety in the advice given at nycc this year. Each of the writers took their own path and some of them disagreed with each other. There is not one way to succeed, there are many. Find the advice that speaks to you and implement it. It is, ultimately, comforting to know that their are so many paths to success.
Believe it or not, I was not always into comics. Sure, I had a Spider-Man light switch in my room growing up, and sure, there was a period in junior high school when I read the Daredevil and Thor comics that were in my orthodontist’s waiting room pretty consistently, but from the time I graduated 8th grade until the time I graduated college, I hardly read comic books at all.
The same held true for my writing. At that point in my life, I was torn between writing “serious” literary prose and scifi/fantasy. I thought it would be my project to marry the speculative and the literary, perhaps incorporating fantasy elements into my writing the way Vonnegut incorporated science fiction into his. I was writing a lot of short stories during this period, and perhaps influenced my writing-workshops at Columbia, where I majored in writing/literature, I had not even begun to consider writing in the comics medium.
My attitude toward comics changed in the early 2000s, because of my love for Neil Gaiman’s writing. I had read and enjoyed Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy early in college, and having completed that series, as well as his two Dirk Gently books, I was eager to read more clever, British speculative humor. I had a friend who had an internship with Adam’s company (where she was working on the Starship Titanic text-based video game), and I asked her what I should read next. She suggested Good Omens, by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, a book which has had a profound impact on my creative life.
From that point forward, I started working my way through Gaiman and Pratchett’s novels, alternating between books like Neverwhere and American Gods and Pratchett’s Discworld, happy to find authors I enjoyed who were both prolific and coming out with new material.
At this time, I also began to lean into writing witty humor. I had dabbled with it since reading Vonnegut—and after watching Monty Python, which, seemingly, was on a loop in our dorm-room common area—but as I read more Pratchett and Gaiman it began to seep into my writing more and more.
Fast forward to 2003, when I met Neil Gaiman after a reading he did promoting Sandman: Endless Nights. As I blogged recently, during this meeting, he gave me some great writing advice. It was a pivotal moment for me as a young writer with just two published stories to my name.
During the reading, I noticed something else: The majority of the attendees were fans of Gaiman’s comics work. This is not surprising, as the event was in support of the Endless Nights release. I was struck both by the enthusiasm of the crowd for The Endless, and by the quality of the prose in the passage that Gaiman read at the event, which came from the Despair story.
I decided to give comics another try.
At that time, I was working at trade magazine house located on 31st street and Park Avenue in New York City. I was living in Inwood, a neighborhood about as far north in Manhattan as you can get. Every day, on my walk to the subway, I passed by Jim Hanley’s Universe, a large comic book store, which was located directly opposite the Empire State Building on 33rd Street.
One day soon after Gaiman’s reading, I went in and purchased the first volume of The Sandman in trade paperback. The rest, as they say, is history.
I consumed the Sandman series voraciously. I was in Jim Hanley’s about once a week, to buy the next volume in the (of the at the time 12 volumes of the series) over the next few months, and when I finished the series, I continued to visit the store to buy other Gaiman titles.
Eventually, I branched out to other comics creators. Through reading Gaiman, I was introduced to other writers. I started reading Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, and Frank Miller (whom I remembered had written some of those Daredevil books I had read at the orthodontist’s office).
There was something in their writing that I really liked. They were doing something different than what the so-called-literary writers were doing at the time, something innovative, without the pretensions of that was so rampant among the darlings of the moment of the literary world.
Personally—and this is just my preference—I preferred Moore to Franzen, whose prose I always found overwrought, and Gaiman, whose allusions seemed more natural, to Lethem. I not only enjoyed these comics writers, I studied them, and incorporated what I learned into my own writing.
I learned so much about structure from Alan Moore, especially about the circular narrative, a technique which I’ve used in so many of my stories.
I learned so much about dialogue from Frank Miller, both about brevity and about how to write distinct character voices.
I learned so much about characterization from Garth Ennis, both in his Vertigo work, and his more mainstream work.
Eventually, there was Will Eisner, who combined character and setting masterfully in his Contract With God trilogy.
And of course there was Gaiman, from whom I had already learned so much.
This was a literary community with which I wanted to engage, a literary community, which unlike so many of the literary communities which I loved—was contemporary and active.
When I, eventually, decided to try my hand at writing comics, I began by studying Gaiman’s script excerpt, which I found at the back of one of the Sandman trade paperbacks.
This newfound interest in writing comics led me to attend New York Comic Con for the first time, where I discovered Buddy Scalera’s Comic Book School, whose panels furthered my education as a writer and as a fledgling comics creator.
Beyond the influence these trips to Jim Hanley’s Universe had on my writing, they rekindled my love of comics. Gaiman and Moore had both written Batman, and reading their Batman stories reintroduced me to a character I had not been involved with since I watched The Animated Series in the 90s. I revisited the Daredevil and Thor titles I remembered from those visits to the orthodontist slightly earlier. I began to go back even further to characters I enjoyed when I was a kid, like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four.
Moreover, I enjoyed the sense of community I found at Jim Hanley’s universe. The staff, unlike the reputation that many comics stores had at the time, was helpful and enthusiastic. They were kind to me as I was learning, patiently answering my questions and offering recommendations. I remember one employee in particular, I think his name was Larry, who had a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the store’s back issues. Based on minimal clues I provided about comics I had read 10-15 years prior—and without my knowing the publication date, writer, or artist—he went through the back issues, and found, more often than not, the book for which I had been looking.
Beyond the comics, however, I found that comics fans were also fans of other nerdy things I loved, like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and in another circle back to the beginning of this post, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. There was a used prose books section in the store, stocked with out-of-print science fiction titles, and my first introduction to the great Chris Claremont was through a prose novel (autographed) which he had co-written with George Lucas.
Hanging around the store, I made friends and had (let’s call them) discussions about a wide range of film and literature. These were my people, and I found them at Jim Hanley’s Universe.
Eventually, I moved on. I left the job at the magazine, and my next job was not in the same neighborhood. Jim Hanley’s has moved twice since then, further east, making it less convenient for me to get to. Still, the store held—and continues to hold—a special place in my heart. It still is, n my mind, my local comics shop, though it is no longer, truly, local. Whenever I need a title which I can’t find at the small store in my neighborhood, I order it from Jim Hanley’s, and whenever I happen to be in that part of the city, I make sure to stop in.
Like a good Alan Moore story, life tends to run in circles. And so, after many years of attending the Comic Book School panels at cons, I now co-edit their annual anthology. I’ve had comics published by Comic Book School, in literary magazines, and in anthologies. I’ve continued to publish my prose stories as well, and have won prestigious awards for my writing. I’ve also become a poet, something that young writer who met Neil Gaiman all those years ago would never have imagined in his future. I have had a good deal of success with my writing, and even though I aspire for more, I am grateful for everything that I’ve accomplished thus far on my journey.
My journey is far from over, however. A few months ago, I watched an episode of Comic Book School’s YouTube channel which featured Tom Peyer and Jamal Igle of Ahoy! Comics. After listening to them discuss their company’s vision—and describe their company’s open submission policy—I thought it would be a good market for my writing. The blend of literary and humor which permeated their conversation spoke directly to that part of me who fell in love with Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams back in the day (there go those circles again). I submitted a story to them, and it was accepted.
I was thrilled by the email I received from my editor, Sarah Litt, and eagerly awaited the day when my work would appear in a book which would be available at comics shops nationwide.
Thus, it was one of the great thrills of my creative life to walk into Jim Hanley’s Universe last week, and purchase Black’s Myth 5, the comic book in which my story Genesis, Jiggered first appeared, and to see my work on the shelves in the place where my passion for comics was rekindled so many years ago.
Appropriately enough, my first “professional” comics work is actually a prose story—and here is another of those Allan Moore circles coming around again at the conclusion of this post—a satirical fantasy in the mode of Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman.
Though the story is now available for free on the Ahoy! site, if you like it, I encourage you to order the issue to your favorite local comics shop. I hope you have had similar experiences there as I had in mine.
It’s been a while since I’ve complied a news and notes column, and I have a whole bunch of news to report. Here are some updates about my recent publications, my plans for NYCC, and some shows on which I’ve appeared recently.
My gothic poem, “The Widow’s Walk” is included in the Love Letters To Poe anthology: A Toast To Edgar Allan Poe, which is currently available on Amazon. The anthology includes the first 12 issues of the Love Letters to Poe magazine, in which the poem was originally published. Get your here.
The Remnants post-apocalyptic shared-world anthology in which my story “The Forgotten” was published, is being reissued by Fedowar Press. The new edition includes not only the stories included in the original anthology, but three new stories as well, one of which is my brand new, “The Kings of New York.” the new story is one of my favorite things I’ve written recently, and I’d be honored if you’d check it out. The anthology is scheduled for publication on October 17th, but you can preorder your copy at a discount here.
Comic Book School’s Creator Connections, Panel 2, a comics and flash fiction anthology is being released as a free digital download at New York Comic Con next week. For the second straight year, I was an editor of the anthology, which includes both comics and illuminated flash fiction. For those of you eagerly anticipating the next Mr. Stupendous story, it is included in the book, and it is illustrated by a dream-team of artists, including D. Alley, Evan Scale, Sebastian Bonet, Michael Grassia, and Arielle Lupkin, who illustrated the original Stupendous story. I also have a flash fiction piece in the anthology (illustrated by Joel Jacob Barker). You will be able to download the anthology for free from the Comic Book School website when NYCC begins on October 7th.
I have to haiku in the Tea-Ku anthology from Local Gems press. Get your here.
I will be attending New York Comic Con as part of the Comic Book School team this year. We will be located at table I-8 in Artists Alley. Stop by, say hi, and pick up a copy of the Creator Connections, Panel 1 anthology, which will be available in print for the first time at the show.
I have appeared on a number of Podcasts and Shows recently in support of the aforementioned Panel 2 anthology, including:
One thing that I’m hearing a lot recently, is that we, as artists and creators, should spend our time in “social isolation” working on our craft, and producing art. Writers, take this time to write: artists to draw or paint, etc. Another thing that I hear a lot is that people are feeling very alone and disconnected at the present moment. We are, by and large, social animals, and being apart from our creative communities can be trying, even if it’s for the greater good.
One way that I’m dealing with all of this is by joining the Comic Book School, 8 Page Challenge. For this challenge, comics creators of all types–writers, artists, inkers, letterers–are challenged to create (or to collaborate to create) an 8 page comics short story. Those who complete the challenge will not only have their work published in an anthology by Comic Book School, but also present their work at a panel at New York Comic Con in October, which is pretty damn cool.
Participants will receive feedback and guidance from professional comics creators such as Buddy Scalera (Comic Book School, Deadpool) and Mike Mats (Editor In Chief, AfterShock Comics). Additionally, since the contest is being hosted on the new create.comicbookschool.com forums, creators will also be joining a community of like-minded artists and writers. The forums will help replicate some of the networking and community aspects of the comic cons that have been canceled.
Best yet, the challenge and forums are completely free. There is no charge to sign up or participate.
“Every year, aspiring creators leave our educational panels with so much enthusiasm,” Scalera said. “We wanted to create something that not only allows them to sustain that enthusiasm, but also to build on it and sustain their momentum throughout the year. The 8-Page Challenge helps our community members do this and to achieve their goals to create and publish comics.”
“I’ve been participating in Comic Book School panels for many years and I am proud to be the first professional advisor for this innovative educational program for the next wave of creators,” added Marts. “At AfterShock, we’re always looking for new talent, and this gives me the opportunity to see how these creators work together.”
I, personally, and very excited about this challenge, which kicks off this week. I hope you join me by signing up for the challenge on the forums at create.comicbookschool.com.
Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.