Monday, 20 May 2013

Creating Comics: Copyright Matters

If you are considering writing comics professionally you may be worried about your work being stolen by others. Equally, given the sources that have inspired you, you may be worried about stealing from others. Here's some items on the subject, which I hope you'll find useful. Some of the material is based on a news group posting by Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, which he very kindly gave me permission to reproduce on here.

Copyright protects any artistic or literary work that is recorded in any way. Whatever you write or draw is automatically copyright is yours - automatically, legally, inalienably etc. - as the writer/author/artist of the item in question. There is no such thing as paying for copyright in your own work.

Copyright is automatic whenever you write or record a piece of work (in the UK -- it is different in the US and elsewhere). Music is copyright, and there are other rights relating to musical works and performances. If you whistle a tune in the street and somebody copies it, there isn't anything you can do. But if you write it down in musical notation it is protected by copyright. If you tape-record your whistling the music is also protected by copyright and in addition there are rights attaching to your performance.

Protecting your rights is not straightforward. It is expensive to bring a case to court and difficult to prove your case to the satisfaction of a judge or jury. So it better to have a clear idea of what your rights are, and how best to avoid trouble. There are several good books available on the subject and any serious professional writer should read one of them.

Registration of Copyright

Registration of copyright is very different, and is important only when you need to prove it, for any reason. 
If you are worried your work may be stolen, then you can register your script with a body which specialises in such things. The United States Library of Congress is one place.

Incidentally, if you're a screenwriter, the Screenwriters (UK and USA) Guild offer a copyright protection service.

In the US, the easiest way to register copyright is just to use the US Copyright office.
It cost about $20, but the good thing is you can copyright a collection of works at the same time for the same fee.

The simplest method of protecting your copyright is to post a copy of the work you have created to yourself (or your representative) by registered or special class post. Make sure there is a good, obvious seal on the envelope, or even consider sealing wax! The date of the postmark is proof of the date of posting, providing you do not open the envelope. File it away somewhere safe, or with your representative.

Posting yourself a copy of your work or depositing a script/copies of character drawings/etc. with your bank or solicitor is not the same thing as registering the copyright (which is yours, anyway, the moment you create it) - but will at least prove the date of your endeavours...

Taking Material from Published Sources

You should be wary of taking material from published sources. The facts themselves aren't copyright, but the form in which they are expressed, and any creative order in which they are arranged, is copyright, and you can't reproduce it without permission. There's a useful article on what constitutes fair use here on BookZonePro.

Upsetting the Dead

It is impossible to libel a dead person. It is the living friends and relations you have to think about. See the article "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" on the UK Writers Guild website. The Guild often advises individual members on these issues.

Thanks to Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain for help with part of the information on this page.

Creating Web Comics: Some Useful Books

If you're thinking about creating your own web comic, I've found these three books useful reading.

How to Make Web Comics
by Scott Kurtz and Peter Straub

For years young, creative men and women have dreamed about making a living from their comic strips. But until recently their only avenue of success was through a syndicate or publisher. Now more and more cartoonists are doing it on their own and self-publishing their comic strips on the web. With the right amount of work, knowledge, and luck, so, too, can you. Scott Kurtz and Kristopher Straub offer their advice on how to create compelling characters, develop a solid comic strip, build a website, forge a community, and start earning money from your Webcomic without having to sell your soul.

Written by the Eisner award winning cartoonist behind "PVP", Scott Kurtz, "PvP" received 1.3 Million unique page views in Q1 2007 and averages 150k-200k hits per day.

Webcomics: Tools and Techniques for Digital Cartooning
by Steven Withrow and John Barber

"Webcomics" is an introduction to one of today's fastest growing and most exciting areas of publishing - online comics, created digitally and distributed on the Internet. Combining profiles of well-known webcomics creators with detailed workthroughs that reveal the nuts and bolts of every aspect of comic creation and presentation, this book is a "must-have" for anyone interested in where comics are headed in the 21st century.

Comics 2.0: An Insider's Guide to Writing, Drawing and Promoting Your Own Webcomics
by Steve Horton

Teaches readers how to develop a concept for a webcomic, draw it, and publish it on the Internet. The book also shows them how to promote their finished webcomic and earn money from it. Webcomics 2.0 explores the two methods of webcomic creation: traditional paper-and-pencil art that is scanned and manipulated on a computer, and digital art that is created entirely on the computer.

It covers three popular types of webcomics-adventure, humor and manga, and reveals the tools, software and resources that will help both authors and writers get started in webcomics creation.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Who Wants to be a Comics Letterer?

Richard Starkings, who persuaded Marvel UK to hire me in the first place way back when, offers some useful advice about breaking into comics in this interview, Like a Chained Elephant, plus comments on the advent of Computer Lettering and more. 

Richard is a comics publisher, font designer and comic book letterer, editor and writer. He was one of the early pioneers of computer based comic book lettering and as a result is one of the most widely-known creators in that industry.

Quote Me: To Write is to Take Chances, says J. Michael Straczynski

"To write is to take chances. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don't, because the measure of success is in the eyes of the reader. And a subjective opinion is always right for that reader, always true for that person."

J. Michael Straczynski (7/10/04), writer, The Amazing Spider-Man, Babylon 5 etc. etc. etc.

Never Stop Writing

Jeph Loeb was interviewd by the supermanhomepage in 2004, and offered this advice to writers when asked if he had any advice for breaking into the comic business, or into writing in general? 

" Keep writing," he advises. "Every day. Write a page. Of something. Anything. Write what you love, what you know. Stay on it. If it's comics, get to know the editors. They are the ones who can hire you. Not other writers. Don't be a snob. Work for anyone. Get to know artists. Work for free and work up from there. And never, ever let anyone stop you from your dream."

How long it takes him to script a comic, he revealed, "depends on the issue, depends on the book. Sometimes they come very quickly -- a few days. sometimes it takes a few weeks of thinking, taking notes, coming up with moments and then finally sitting down and doing it. William Goldman who is one of my heroes and who wrote (among many, many things) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was asked how long does it take to write a screenplay. He said that he thought about Butch & The Kid for 13 years and wrote it in seven days. So. how long did it take him? A LOT of writing is done when you're not writing.

" That's hard to understand when you 're the writer's wife or girlfriend or boyfriend. It's hard to explain when you're on the couch for six hours, counting ceiling tiles that you're actually working. But, my mind never stops."

Loeb says he always tries to work with an artist on a book. " I always talk about the story with my artist at the beginning," he revelaed, "so he knows what he's getting into. I try and keep mind his concerns, strengths and the things he loves to draw.

"I write a full script -- very detailed description, all the dialogue, just like a screenplay. But -- and it's a BIG but --I tell the artist that it's there for him to interpret. I only ask that if they can, try to follow the pacing -- the rhythm -- of the dialogue, that'd be great.

"Even so, when the artwork comes in, I re-dialogue the work to better suit the images. Sometimes that's a complete rewrite, sometimes, that's just putting the balloons on the page. 

"I happen to work with brilliant guys who always astonish me with their work. It really is FUN!"

• Read the whole interview on a number of projects Jeph worked on here:

Quote Me: Word Counts in Comics by Alan Moore

One thing that was drummed into my head (by more than one writer or editor) is that when you're writing comics, let the pictures tell the story. 

You should never overwrite and be ruthless about dialogue -- cut it, cut it and cut it to tell the story through the images as well as the words, but most particularly, the pictures!

Alan Moore recalled the standards of DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger in an interview for the fanzine Zarjaz #3:

"What he said was: if you've got six panels on a page, then the maximum number of words you should have in each panel is 35. No more. That's the maximum. 35 words per panel. 

"Also, if a balloon has more than 20 or 25 words in it, it's going to look too big. 25 words is the absolute maximum for ballon size.

"Right, once you've taken on those two simple rules, laying out comics pages -- it gives you somewhere to start -- you sort of know 'OK, so six panels, 35 words to a panel, that means about 210 words per page maximum... [so] if you've got two panels you'd have 105 each. If you've got nine panels, it's about 23 - 24 words -- that'll be about the right balance of words and pictures. 

"So that is why I obsessively count all the words [in my scripts], to make sure that I'm not going to overwhelm the pictures. I've seen some terrible comic writing where the balloons are huge, cover the entire background..."

How to Get into Comics by Gerry Alanguilan

Philippines artist and writer Gerry Alanguilan has a useful guide on getting into comics today on his web site:

Known elsewhere as Doroteo Gerardo N. Alanguilan Jr., Gerry is a Filipino comic book writer, artist and publisher. He's an Architect by profession, and a member of the San Pablo Chapter of the United Architects of the Philippines, but prefers to be a storyteller through the creation of comic books.

He has written and/or drawn comics like Wasted, Timawa, Lastik-Man, Crest Hut Butt Shop, Johnny Balbona, Humanis Rex!, Where Bold Stars Go To Die and ELMER. The latter two he published from through his own Komikero Publishing. ELMER was eventually picked up by SLG Publishing for publication Internationally in 2010. Editions Ca Et La at the same time released a French Translation in Europe.

He has also been an inker of comics for DC, Marvel and Image, and has worked with Leinil Francis Yu and Whilce Portacio on titles like Wolverine, X-Men, X-Force, Superman, Ultimate Avengers Vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-Man and many more.

He also adapted and illustrated various short stories by classic authors for Graphic Classics including “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Judge’s House” by Bram Stoker, “The Plague of Ghosts” by Rafael Sabatini among others.

He's also very interested in promoting and preserving the artwork created by the many great Filipino comics illustrators of the country's past. You can find galleries of artworks by the likes of Nestor Redondo, Alex NiƱo, Francisco V. Coching, Rudy Florese, Alfredo Alcala and many others at his Philippine Comics Art Museum Online.

• For more info about Gerry, visit his Main Site. You can view a portfolio of his work here.

Quote Me: On Going Freelance by Luc Belanger

"The first couple of years you don't make enough to pay the bills. The next couple of years you barely make enough to cover the bills. And then a couple of years after that you make enough to pay the bills. :-)

"I think a lot of people go work for a company and then jump into freelance. From what I've heard it makes the transition easier. Although if you have a lot of support (financial...) and are ready to tackle the market head-on then you might want to go for it.

"The first thing you need (after a portfolio obviously) is a list of people to send submissions to. I would suggest you get a copy of "Artists and Graphic Designers Market" by Writer's Digest Books. [Note this covers the US market].

"You should also get a hold of "The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines". This is a great reference source for pricing and what to expect in each industry.

Luc Belanger (Advice posted to the egroup, small_press_comics: used here with his kind permission)
Luc's Home Page:

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Creating Comics - Pitching at Conventions

What is the best way to pitch scripts at conventions? This short guide is based on discussions on the Comics 2000 Yahoo group. Special thanks to those who threw in ideas for this and gave permission for their comments to be included here. For more advice on portfolio presentation, click here. Further thoughts always welcome!

Speaking from experience as a commissioning editor at Marvel UK in the early 1990s, in my humble opinion editors really need time to read scripts properly if they want to make an informed judgement about them, and also have time to respond without a background of clinking beer glasses.

So it's great for them to meet prospective writers, but I wouldn't honestly expect them to read scripts at such an event. But if you're lucky, they may well come back to you later in the weekend about your work if they do find time to read it.

If you're approaching an editor about working for their company, I'd suggest you simply express an interest in pitching scripts and see what they say. Ask if you can send in some samples to their office. (As you know, many of the larger companies won't even look at unsolicited story ideas and pitches now). That way, you can begin your letter "Dear...., we met recently at [
insert convention name here] and you kindly suggested I send you some samples of my comics writing." Include in that letter any relevant experience - have you been writing a comic strip for a fanzine for example?

Be polite, keep the covering letter short and let your script tell your story. Make sure it is well presented, spell checked and reads well. If you can't find time to invest in these simple preparations, then you are unlikely to sell yourself. Do
not submit by e-mail and only send photocopies of your work, never originals.

Go and see as many editors on panels as you can, and if they are prepared to make time to talk to you afterward, offer to buy them their preferred legal poison in the bar and quiz them further if their title appeals to you. What are they looking for in terms of upcoming scripts? How should you submit a pitch? Sometimes you can glean more than might be available on the company's web site or from anything they send by way of a stamped addressed envelope.

I'd also STRONGLY advise that as for artists, if you are approaching a particular company, you should submit a sample script featuring the characters that company features, rather than your own. As they want to see artists can really draw their characters, so they'll also want to see that writers can really write for their characters. Keep the script short, perhaps: write an eight page vignette rather than a 22 page complete story. (More on cold pitching here)

Also, rather than thrust a script at an editor, give serious consideration to submitting a strip, working with an artist. That way, two aspiring creators may get work. If you can, ensure it is well lettered. Definitely ensure it looks as professional as possible given your budget. (Again, this is an investment in your future. If it looks cheap, you reduce your chances of success).

If you edit a fanzine, give the editor a free copy and make sure you have included the editorial address in it! If an editor has the time to read your story, they'll know pretty quickly if you have the potential to write effectively for comics. Warren Ellis began his career by writing fanzines and it hasn't done him any harm. So did I (hmm, maybe the logic becomes flawed here).

Matt Brooker's Pitching Advice

"Go with the intention of making contacts to follow up later. Even as an artist, where it's easy to show your work on the spot, it's almost unknown to pitch to an editor and walk away with a commission.

"My best advice for meeting editors is; if you get the chance to talk to them in a relaxed situation, (i.e. at the bar later on) talk about anything EXCEPT comics - they'll be so relieved not to be pitched at that they'll happily chat about almost anything.

"Establish the relationship first - that way they'll be more likely to remember you (and hopefully respond) when you send stuff on later.

"Above all, play the long game."

Matt Brooker (D'Israeli)
Kev Sutherland

"For years I was a nervous and anxious wannabe, desperate to show my work to editors and get a job, but woefully insecure and intimidated by the more confident show-offs.

"As long as you have your work in a neat presentable form, then the best advice is to present it - and yourself - in a friendly way, listen to any comments or advice anyone has to offer, and if possible relax and enjoy the weekend.

"I find the best way writers sell themselves is by talking to people."

"As for pitching scripts to DC editors, possibly the best method to use is the tried and tested one which worked for Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Alan Grant et al 15 years ago...

-- Get something in 2000AD first then show them that!"
More Links

How NOT to Pitch at Conventions
Sound advice from one of the US Boom! Studios team.

"I love working at conventions," says Michael Alan Nelson. " Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of hard work that's both physically and mentally draining, but it's also genuinely fun. I sincerely enjoy getting the chance to talk with people about books (yes, mine especially) and socialize with colleagues.

"What isn't quite as much fun is having to deal with a creator who has no concept of professionalism or courtesy. Fortunately, 98% of the creators that come up to the booth don't fall into this category. Most know how to present themselves. It's just that 2% leave me scratching my head in disbelief... Read the full article on Kung Fu Monkey

Thank You!

Thanks to Kev Sutherland and Matt Brooker (D'Israeli) for their tips on this matter. If there are any writers and editors out there who would like to add to the comments, please feel free to comment below!

Portfolio Advice: A View from the Editor's Chair

Both writers and artists agonize over their work and many fine tune it a lot before delivering it to an editor. That's a welcome sign of a professional approach, but it is possible to go too far.

An editor should appreciate a script that is well laid out and also follows any company stipulated layout if the publisher has one. They also appreciate good spelling.

My next point is a bit harder to explain, but I hope it makes sense. Ever since my days at Marvel, we often encountered a situation where an artist had delivered a draft or layout that instinctively worked well in terms of comics storytelling - and then ruined it in the final pencils by 'overpolishing' the art.

In some cases, especially on comics work, this means a page becomes a piece of art rather than a piece of storytelling - the energy and dynamism of the artist that inspired you to employ the artist was lost.

Sometimes, your first, gut instincts when it comes to drawing or writing are often the best. Too much re-working can stifle raw creativity.

Quote Me: Potfolio Advice from Pete Ashton - Don't be Nervous

"One thing I've noticed over the last couple of years is that the creators doing portfolio reviews at the 2000AD table [at the Bristol Comics festival] at least are very encouraging to new people probably because a lot of them were on the other side of the table until quite recently. In other words, the younger generation of pros know exactly what you're going through hawking your portfolio around so they are often sympathetic and willing to give advice."

Pete Ashton from, ostensibly a resource for the UK small press but there's much more on the site besides!

Quote Me: Pencils Provide when it comes to portfolios - Marcia Allass

"I'm not an editor, but based on friends' experiences - I would try to have some pencils in your portfolio, just so you can show the quality of the art before and after inking - I know artists who have picked up inking work, for instance, by demonstrating what they can do with ink over rough pencils.

"Also make sure that you have some sequential work in there as well as pin ups or splashes. It's important to show that you can visually tell a story.

"If you write and draw, then a finished short might be nice too.

"I've mostly seen people showing the actual artwork at shows in the past but
I'm not an editor so I don't know if they have a preference on that score."

Marcia Allass, Sequential Tart, a leading web zine about the comics industry

Quote Me On Portfolio Presentation: Matt Brooker

Small in Beautiful

"Back when I was breaking into comics, I always used to present my work in an A4 ringbinder, and never had any problems as a result - in fact, at a crowded portfolio session, A4 binders are a lot easier to deal with," advises creator Matt Brooker, best known for his work on 2000AD as D'Israeli.

"[Include] whole pages of comics. Three pages is a good amount for a sample piece. A good way to do a sample is to take a scene from a real comic, write down what happens in each panel, plus dialogue, then re-draw the pages from scratch without referring to the original comic. Some publishers do also provide sample scripts for this purpose.

"Showing pencils can be helpful if you're showing samples to the Americans - if that's the case, try to get photocopies of pencils before you ink them. It's best to show pencils and inks on facing pages in your portfolio for direct comparison. The only exception to this is 2000AD, who tend to prefer people to ink their own work.

"I'd also say that it's better to keep it short; only submit your strongest work, and leave out anything non-comics related - no life drawings, illustrations, stuff like that. Perhaps one pin-up and one page of character sketches to show you know how to do such things.

"It also helps to target your work a little; for example, have a giant robot sample for 2000AD and a superhero piece for Marvel/DC (or even a piece based on a character from each publisher if you can).

"And above all, don't let the fact that you haven't, or can't do any of the above from going and talking to editors. Go for it, and have a great time!"

• Matt's guide to colouring comics on the computer can be found by clicking here

What's in that Portfolio? Do's and Don'ts

More than anything else - DON'T stuff your portfolio with artwork.

Be ruthless about your portfolio. Evaluate the work you plan to show an editor, then cut it down. Think about the number of people who will want to show off their art and may be queuing behind you.

This sound harsh, but any editor worth their salt is going to make a judgement about your art after seeing the first page, not the last of 20, so make sure everything in your portfolio is the very BEST you're capable of. If you aren't happy with the art, don't include it.

DON'T include splash pages, cover illustrations or if you do, keep it to the very minimum.

What editors want to see is that you can draw comic strip, not pretty pictures. Have both pencils and inks of those pencils to show editors. Present pencils on the left, inks on the right. (Copy your pencils before you ink them if you're used to inking your own work). If you're looking for inking work and have inked some samples, show editors copies of the pencils you've inked.

Consecutive pages is a good idea, as suggested by others. I don't think size is important, an A4 ringbinder/portfolio is probably a damm sight easier to carry to a convention than an A2 folio.

Less is More

Less is more. You'll have ten minutes at most with an editor. Be ready to have your very best work on the opening pages of your portfolio and be ready to change those pages to suit different editors (see above about drawing samples for specific publishers)

Present a good script

Find some professional scripts and work from those if you can. I've encountered many a determined comics artist has been let down by with their portfolio by trying to draw a badly written script.

If an editor likes your samples, be ready with a set of photocopies of your work for him to take away.

Follow up a positive response with a letter of thanks as soon as you can when you get home, and send the same set of copies. There's always a chance the one you gave them got lost on route, or your address got separated from the samples (so make sure you put your name and address on them.

If you're after advice from editors, then please, please don't start arguing the toss if they don't like what they see.

A comics convention is a good opportunity to meet several editors, and if one editor doesn't like what you've done then another sure as heck may do. Thank them for their time and move on.

If a professional editor offers advice about your work, listen: even if you don't agree, if you argue, that will be remembered. Editors will be looking for specific things in a portfolio. If your portfolio doesn't offer what they're looking for, they'll say so. Accept it and try somewhere else, or take note of what's said and you'll be better prepared for the next time. (That, by the way, isn't to detract from the quality of anyone's art. The professionals will be looking for work they can publish that fits their corporate needs, not just good art).

By the same token, I don't consider it appropriate for editors to be rude about someone's work, but that doesn't stop them from being honest.

Fanzines sell your work!

I cannot emphasise enough how great it is for an artist or a writer to give an editor a fanzine they've had a part in. For one thing, all editors like freebies. For another, it shows that you, as a creator, have the commitment and belief in what you're doing to get right down to it and draw a strip people want to see. Plus, publishing a fanzine and selling it at a convention might just cover your bar tab (but there are no guarantees).

"I think they work pretty well as business cards to complement a portfolio," says Pete Ashton from on taking fanzines to conventions: plus if you make them A6 they fit in pockets better. It's a good way to stick in the editor's mind when they find your mini in their jacket pocket a few days later and read it on the train. About 12 pages A6 should do it.
"Make sure your address/email/site is clearly on it though."

Tailor your work for the target publisher

Have pages for DC with Batman, Superman etc, Marvel heroes for Marvel, 2000AD characters for Rebellion. The editors for DC and Marvel will want to see their own characters, not yours. Also, before you go to the event, see who's announced they will be there and plan your pitches accordingly. Check the event's web site if they have one.

That of course may not apply to smaller publishers at the event looking for new strips and concepts to publish.

Be honest

Be ready to answer, honestly, "How long did it take you to draw this?" That kind of question is a good sign, it means they might be thinking of trying you, unless it took you a week to do just one page (a comics professional will as a general rule draw a page of pencils in one, one and a half days if they want to get a 22 page book done every month, that is!)

Best of Luck!
You'll be competing with hundreds of determined creators. If you think those wannabe TV Pop Idol contestants have it bad, you've never presented a portfolio. But if the work you sweat over to present at the event gets you a job, it will be worth it.

Artist Bryan Talbot's advice for new comic creators

Robert McKee's Ten Commandments

Robert McKee's Story Structure Seminar is an intensive three-day course that concentrates on screen writing. Most of the course is very applicable to comics writing. The course is well worth the cost and comes recommended by many people I know who have been on it.

Most seminars are in the US but he sometimes teaches overseas. To find out if and when he'll be in your area, contact:

Two Arts Inc
12021 Wilshire Blvd.
Suite 823
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tel: (001) 213 312 1002.

McKee's Ten Commandments of Writing are as follows:

ONE: Thou shalt not take the crisis/climax out of the protagonists' hands. The anti-deus ex machina commandment. No surprises!

TWO: Thou shalt not make life easy for the protagonist. Nothing progresses in a story, except through conflict. And not just physical conflict.

THREE: Thou shalt not give exposition for strictly exposition's sake. Dramatize it. Convert exposition to ammunition. Use it to turn the ending of a scene, to further the conflict.

FOUR: Thou shalt not use false mystery or cheap surprise. Don't conceal anything important that the protagonist knows. Keep us in step with him/ her.We know what s/he knows.

FIVE: Thou shalt respect your audience. The anti-hack commandment. Not all readers know your character. Very important.

SIX: Thou shalt know your world as God knows this one.The pro- research commandment.

SEVEN: Thou shalt not complicate when complexity is better. Don't multiply the complications on one level. Use all three: Intra-Personal, Inter-Personal, Extra-Personal

EIGHT: Thou shalt seek the end of the line, the negation of the negation, taking characters to the farthest reaches and depth of conflict imaginable within the story's own realm of probability.

NINE: Thou shalt not write on the nose. Put a sub text under every text.

TEN: Thou shalt rewrite.

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
by Robert McKee Methuen Publishing Ltd ISBN 0413715604

"Story" deciphers the guiding structural principles that animate every classical and award-winning film, ranging from Citizen Kane through to modern acclaimed works like The English Patient.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Ceating Comics: Submitting Strips to Syndication Companies

Crumb by David Fletcher, one of many comics on GoComics

US newspapers run many syndicated three - four frame strips, from Doonesbury and Garfield to Beatle Bailey and The Wizard of Id. Despite the huge amount of material out there, the syndication companies who own these strips are still looking for new blood.

Submission guidelines vary, but check the sites of companies such as King Features for useful guides. There's a standard size of strip to draw at: 15.5 x 4.75 inches, but the syndication agencies all say artists can work any size they feel comfortable with, so long as it's in proportion to that size.

They like artists to submit 24 sample strips in the form of photocopies on A4 paper, together with model sheets of the characters, a precis of the strip, all the scripts in written form and the artist's resume. An SAE is also appreciated, if artists want their stuff back.

One service you might want to check out is GoComics, from Universal Uclick, home to many of the most popular comics and cartoons in the world. is the web's largest catalogue of syndicated newspaper strips and web comics, offering new, fresh and free content every day.

Classic and iconic cartoons include Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, Ziggy and Dilbert. Recent successes include FoxTrot, Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine, The Argyle Sweater, The Boondocks and Cul De Sac.

There are two membership options (Free and Pro) to view comics, both providing e-mail subscription and personalized online access to new and classic comics.

GoComics is also home to Comics Sherpa, the site where aspiring cartoonists can showcase their work and receive feedback from the comic community. Uclick monitor the popularity of strips on this service and, if the numbers are high enough, the strip might make the leap to its syndicated side - just as David Fletcher, an amazingly talented New Zealand cartoonist, did with Crumb (sample above).

What Comic Ediots look for in a submission: Submitting Artwork

Although my comic creating guide is in the main primarily aimed at writers rather than artists, be aware of these principles...

1) Have you submitted strip work to the title of your choice, as well as illustrations? In general, when you submit artwork to a company (British or American), they want to see at least three to four continuous pages - that is, a continuing story. They don't want to see splash pages or covers. 

Your whole package should be roughly eight to twelve pages long, so they can look at it quickly and get a good idea of what you do. The most important thing an editor is looking for is your ability to tell a story. The next thing they're going to look for is your ability to draw a car, a telephone, a tree, a house, a couch, and so on. Basically, they're looking to see if you can draw. People are the last thing they'll look at; an editor assumes that if you want a job in comics, you can already draw people. But if you can draw anything else, put it in your samples ? let them see it.

2) Have you read the comic you're trying to get work on? Do you know what makes the character you're writing/drawing tick?

3) Have you submitted work to a company featuring that company's characters? No-one at Rebellion, publishers of 2000AD, wants to see how well you can draw Spider-Man, for example, and no-one at Marvel wants to see Judge Dredd. Tailor your submissions according to which company you're selling yourself to.

4) Have you submitted photocopies? Never send original work. It is almost never returned. 

5) When you send something to a comics company, include a covering letter telling them who you are, where you're from and thank the addressee for looking at your samples. Hopefully, they'll have time to respond although the big companies receive hundreds of submissions a day. Nevertheless, it doesn't hurt to include a stamped addressed envelope or International Reply Coupons if sending material to the United States. Any response is good, although most US companies now return material as a matter of course to avoid potential claims against them for ripping off characters.

6) Always include your name, address and telephone number on each sample and each page that you send in. In a busy editorial office it's very easy for a covering letter to become separated from the art? it happened to me on a couple of occasions and this is frustrating, not just for the aspiring creator!

7) Presenting art at conventions: Artist Dave Gibbons' advice is: "Leave the sketchbooks and most of the pin-ups at home. Take a few (maybe six) finished pages showing continuity and a couple of un-inked pages. Don't bother lettering them unless you can do it to professional standard. Make sure its your latest, best work. And never, ever, apologise for it!"

What Comic Editors Look for in a Submission: Writing

1) Before submitting your work, check for spelling and grammar. Also, revise and polish your submission. Is it a story you'd want to read featuring your chosen hero? Have you written a story using characters you're familiar with? Could you edit it to improve the storytelling? Re-writing is an important part of any creative process, be it comics, TV, film, radio or novel.

2) Format: There is no particular format for writing plots or scripts but companies my require submissions to be in particular formats. Comics strips scripts do not, for example, need to be double spaced. (For more on this topic, have a look at Chris Bunting's web blog article on the subject, written in July 2005). If you are using a computer to write scripts, many creators prefer the program Final Draft to other word processing programs.  

Warhammer and TOXIC Writer Stu Taylor advised back in 2005 (via Chris Bunting's site): "It's not particularly cheap, but if you buy it direct from the American website (, you can get it for half the price you'd pay at somewhere like PC World. Once I started using it, I could never go back to just using Microsoft Word."

3) If you are targeting a particular company, submit work featuring the company's published characters you're familiar with. it's pretty pointless submitting new character ideas in the first instance, unless you've teamed up with an artist to knock 'em dead (another good idea, and one you can realize by publishing a fanzine). Also, check with the company before you send them anything. Neither Marvel nor Dark Horse now accept unsolicited submissions. Find out what a company's submission procedure is before you make your pitch.

4) If pitching to a British title such as 2000AD, send in storylines/four page 'Future Shock' ideas, not multi part epics. (2000AD's full submission guidelines are here) These plot lines should be brief never be more than a single side of A4. If you can tell the story or explain a character in a sentence, it really helps. US editors will also want to see self-contained short stories. don't use well-known characters, either ? you may stand a better chance of getting accepted as a new writer if you submit a story featuring a lesser-known character in need of development or revamping.

For anyone struggling to get stuff published in 2000AD, Andrew Ness wrote to mention that there's a dedicated mail list where you can get critiques and (sometimes) helpful hints. To join, just e-mail Browsing through the online archive is recommended before posting, just to avoid repetition. Other than that, all welcome.

5) DC Thomson Commando Library
Published as 64 page black and white books, Commando war stories centring on armed forces action (stories can come from every era of human history but, generally, modern conflicts) and consist of 135 frames per story. Pitches require a synopsis of about 1000 words in the first instance but successful writer Gordon Wells (writing in the May 2005 issue of Writing Magazine) advises writing a 2500 word synopsis in order to have sufficient material to complet the 135-frame story.

Script format differs from weekly and US titles in that almost every frame includes a lengthy 25-30 word caption to move along the story. Word balloons are limited to two per frame, with at most 25 words per frame.

Research is vital when pitching ideas: there are a huge number of web sites dedicated to retelling real military action. While editing the launch issues of RAF Magazine for Titan I compiled some links to RAF sites which may give you a jumping off point to other resources -- click here for my RAF links page. There are also numerous World War One links on the unofficial Charley's War web site, dedicated to the comic created by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun for Battle Picture Weekly

My resource page of historical sites is by no means exhaustive, but may also be of interest: click here for my History links. The military books or history section of your local library or a trip to your local museum may also provide story ideas.

DC Thomson buys all rights to any accepted script. 

Read a December 2007 interview with Commando editor Calum Laird offering a guide to submitting to DC Thomson titles

6) Writer Warren Ellis recommends sending script samples to companies.
It's worth a try if you're an unknown. An editor needs to know you can write good dialogue as well as come up with sparkling ideas.

I'd also STRONGLY advise that as for artists, if you are approaching a particular company, you should submit a sample script featuring the characters that company features, rather than your own. As they want to see artists can really draw their characters, so they'll also want to see that writers can really write for their characters. Keep the script short, perhaps: write an eight page vignette rather than a 22 page complete story.

7) Always include your name, address and telephone number on each sample and each page that you send in. Include a stamped addressed envelope.

8) Be prepared to wait for a reply but in the case of writing, because there are generally fewer submissions, I would say a phone call won't hurt your chances. If you do phone leave it until about four weeks after sending your submission. Plus, be polite and be quick. Editors are always busy, even on the toilet. (They're also partially insane and never in the same mood from day to day. In this, they have a lot in common with traffic wardens, but that another story).

9) If you are sending in story ideas with new characters you've created and feel paranoid (not necessarily a bad thing), you might want to post a copy of the material to yourself. Then leave the envelope unopened in a box file somewhere. The date stamp on the envelope serves as the indicator of when you sent the company your work, so if your character appears in another form you at least have some evidence of your creations being ripped off.

Many American companies adopt the same principles as TV companies, requesting that you send a legal release form with any submission so they can avoid any potential legal wrangle if 'simultaneous creation' occurs. It does happen...

Quote Me on Writing Comics: Mike Collins

"On writing, I always put pen to lined paper first and always. The computer always comes last.

"I find when I write straight into the machine it results in ridiculous levels of verbosity, but if it's all written long hand it hurts to waffle on and on.... I also find working longhand, I'm less precious about scrubbing out what I've just written...

"It always looks so finished on screen, so untouchable, which it shouldn't be.

"When I started out (and although everyone's forgotten, I was more a writer than an artist in them there distant early days) Steve Moore gave me the best bit of advice ever -- write out your script and then cross out pretty much every second word. Hone the text to the minimum.

"The artist should be able to make the pictures dazzle and tell the story. On the odd Doctor Who's I've written, I've given myself scope to do some insane dramatic no-BBC-budget-could-afford- this visuals.

"Too often as artists, we get scripts from writers who though fine and talented don't think in pictures. That's why writer/artists at their finest make the best comics... Gibbons, Miller, Eisner... all storytellers who make the medium all it can be."

Quote Me on Writing Comics: Dave Gibbons

Dave Gibbons
Artist on The Watchmen, writer and artist on The Originals
"I got involved because I loved comics ever since I could read; in fact, they may have been the reason that I wanted to read! I started by doing fanzine work, then lettering, then drawing and, lately, writing.

"I don't think comics are a thing you go into to make money. Some people do okay, a very few do very well and many don't break even. "...As for small press, I guess that depends on the difference between expenses and receipts. I was happy to draw my early fanzine stuff just for the thrill of seeing it in print..."

Writing Comics: First Points

Comics is a very versatile medium that's got possibilities that people have not even begun to touch...
Alan Moore, interviewed in the fanzine Zarjaz #3

I take the same approach to writing a comic as writing a script; I flesh it out panel by panel, page by page, rather than doing a plot and letting the artist break it down. Not because I don't think the artist can or should, but because I just don't know how to write it any other way. I need to see it in my head, shot for shot, or I can't follow or create the narrative.
J. Michael Straczynski on writing comics, March 2000

Writing comics is not easy.
It takes determination, perseverance and lots of practice, whether you're an aspiring writer or artist. 

 If you didn't already know it, there are one heck of a lot of people out there who think they have what it takes as a writer or an artist to make it in the industry. The fact that 95 per cent of these people haven't got a clue is neither here nor there. These 95 per cent are the ones who bombard editors both in the UK and the US with their work, without undertaking the basics that every comics editor wants to see.

If you want to shine in the unsolicited slush pile your work must be polished, take on board the current trends in the market and particularly those of the company you're aiming at. It has to be something the editor wants to see, be they working on
Thomas the Tank Engine or 2000AD. And on that subject, be prepared for the inevitable possibility that you're more likely to get work on a junior title than the dizzying heights of the titles your regularly read. 

Many an artist and writer I worked with on Marvel UK titles such as Death's Head II, Warheads and Overkill etc. learnt their trade writing or drawing The Real Ghostbusters and Thundercats. Grant Morrison started his career by writing Zoids, among other things. If you're self-employed and still learning, nothing should be beneath you.


1) Write or draw anything. Practice. Read and watch things that aren't action adventure or comics. Go to the theatre. Watch movies. There is often more characterization in one episode of a good episode of the British TV soap Coronation Street than 20 episodes of X-Blobs from Mingo

As for classic fiction, it's as good a place to start as any. Novelist Orson Scott Card once wrote: "I don't know how anyone can be a writer of fiction in any genre without being deeply immersed in the lives of real people as recorded by historians and biographers."

That said, if you find a comic and style you like, don't be afraid to ask yourself "Why?" - What made the characters interesting? What made the artwork stand out above all the other comics you might have bought in the last month? 

Like books, 90 per cent of comics are rubbish and like those books, just as unmemorable. But the best drawn, best written comics are always those that stand the test of time - and keep a writer or artist in work in a very competitive market place.

2) Self publish if you can afford it. Much easier these days now you can publish online! Good editors like to see published work, even published work in fanzines. I started my career in comics by publishing my own fanzine. It never made any money and we only ever produced 200 copies every issue, but several people who started with work in it have gone on to work in comics, including myself. Dave Jones now works on Viz and Nick Miller has drawn for many comics, as well as occasionally continuing to draw The Really Heavy Greatcoat just for the heck of it. (My co-editor, Matt Bingham, has worked for magazines like FHM but that's another story). 

Many top name comic authors have done nothing but publish their own work, to considerable success. Dave Sim's
Cerberus is the archetypal example, Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore's From Hell, Bryan Talbot's Luther Arkwright or Paul Grist's Jack Staff or Kane. There are others, such as the delightful Strangehaven, but they are sadly still few and far between. Comics are still dominated by the big publishers such as Marvel, DC and Dark Horse, each with their own very different attitudes towards storytelling, creator's rights, royalties and the like. These major companies are where most of the work is and probably your first targets when it comes to trying to get work.

3) When you get work, be prepared to revise your astonishingly brilliant storyline or art when the editor asks you to. The nature of mainstream comics is that a comic is created by more than one hand -- mainly the writer and artist, but also the editor, editor-in-chief etc. Be prepared to compromise but learn your own tolerances when it comes to resisting the 'suggestions' of those above you, especially if you feel the the suggested changes are wrong and alter the basic essence of the story you're pitching. If it was good enough to be accepted, it's good enough to sell elsewhere if things are going horribly wrong for you. And when an editor changes the names of all your characters without consulting you, I think you have every right to blow a gasket!