Allow me to, as I often do, speak on behalf of many many ( read :ALL) Comic book professionals. My work is pretty abrasive and so my readers have thick skins and don’t go crying to momma when I say something mean. This allows me to be the bad guy of behalf of everyone else who has a fans base that might be really offended by hearing the truth.
Here is something most of them who meet fans at conventions or interact with them through social media would like you to hear….
NEVER …never…never…never, under any circumstances…EVER suggest ideas. Never. Most pros will humor you but secretly be annoyed. You need to understand, This is our job. We train, study, practice, and struggle every day to be as good as we are. You coming up to us with an idea is like you coming up and telling an electrician what gauge wire to use, or your mechanic how much to torque down the cylinder head, or even a pro football player how far back to cock their arm before throwing the ball. We don’t need the advice and it is condescending even though you don’t mean it that way. It is essentially saying “hey, I could do your job. Here is an idea that is better than whatever your next idea is.” As I say, I know that is not how you mean it, which is why I am telling you this. NEVER do that.
The outcome is never going to be good. First off most of the times ( read: always) your idea isn’t as good as you think ( read: it stinks). What are we supposed to do with that? hmm? Unless It’s a situation where we have expressly asked for submissions, we are not girded and prepared to give “constructive criticism” to some dough eyed fan. It’s not our job to discourage/wreck your hopes and dreams, that’s the job of your family.
But let’s say , somehow, you have managed to come up with a usable idea. I hate to take the romance out of things for you but the “idea” is not the hard part. Look at it like this…picture a sunset. Picture that in your mind, it could be one you remember, or one you imagine…picture that in your mind. Got it in there?..Good…now..paint it. What’s that? You don’t have the slightest idea, skills, or time to do that? Well, that’s the same with an idea. Translating the idea from your brain into an actual medium is where the skill and work comes in. You START with the idea…then you have to be able to form, mature, refine that idea in such a way as for people who are not in your head to understand it as well as you do. What do the characters look like, what are they wearing, what is the physical background, how are they wording things, what is the pacing , what are the details that need to be obvious and which need to be subtle? all of these elements and more need to be sorted out and handled in such a way as to give the idea the most impact, clarity and connection to the audience. Unless you have done ALL that, you are not giving any one an Idea..you are giving them 10 hours of choirs.
Take this page for example.
The gag is something like this as it pops into my mind. “Hitler was rumored to have some mystic research branch of the SS or something…they tracked down magic objects and spells, and stuff to try to turn the tide of the war. What if they presented him with Judaism…he’d be pissed…this would be a stupid thing to do…hmmm, what if they did it to be dicks?! heh…that’s kinda funny”
So, that is the “idea” now, first I have to make sure this really was some sort of branch or at least an actual rumor, and not the premiss of some movie. So I research it, I get names, uniforms, get pictures of all sorts of mystic objects, I happen to see an old WWII propaganda poster that I decided to use for the face of one of the Nazis. Actually, in this case I needed help, so I tapped Elizabeth Leffler on the shoulder and said…”uhm…see what you can find on the interwebs about this while I do the other 500 things I’m supposed to be doing for other ideas”.
Now, I have to plot it all out on the page, decide what expressions are important, what objects to draw, what kind of room, how much focus on the miscellaneous objects that have already been culled, how much focus on posture, how do I convey the pregnant pause…ect.
This is where writing discipline comes into play. You really, especially with comedy and horror, have to remember “what is the point?” and make sure everything is helping make that point. The point here is that Hitler is getting jerked around and is the butt of a practical joke. So Hitlers expressions and mentality and excitement need to get center stage. Him being evil/excited makes it funnier when he finds out it was all a practical joke. If I make the objects or the details of this SS branch the focus it loses impact. The existence of the branch and the objects need just enough focus as is required for every one to understand the premise and convey that this search has been going on a bit and for Hitler this may FINALLY be IT.
The matter of the objects…what kind? If I make them all religious then readers minds will already be along the path of the punchline and it might not be as big a curve ball, and some might even see it coming. So I throw in an alien skull, some swords, I make sure to use the words “weapon” …I try to muddy the waters, as best I can, as to what is going to be presented.
Then the pacing…tier three is really the key to the whole gag. I could end at that third level and be pretty okay, but the fourth level drives it home that this wasn’t an accident and that Hitlers is being mocked. The last panel to me is the funniest, because it solidifies the reality of the world going on in this page. Hitlers response…he is torqued off the same as anyone else who has been made fun of by his co-workers. One of the most powerful and evil men is, in this story, in essence a middle management guy overhearing the employees calling him a silly name. Even he, is the butt of a joke to people who deal with him on a regular basis. Which if you recall, was the original point. Seems like a lot of work for a little gag, and it is. Just like even some jingle for a fast food company probably took a lot of thought and the notes and timing and composition contained a lot more thought to get it to be an earworm than you would believe. Pros make it look easy. But it’s not easy. And the “idea” itself is about .001% of the work.
And keep in mind, in my case, and I would assume the case of most pros, I work very hard to keep my work original, to make sure it has a unique voice, and is unlike anything else out there. In short, I make sure the stories I tell are my own. When competing with the entire world, and 6000 years of previous work done by the rest of the world, this means from time to time you throw out a very good idea that you came up with independently, because you saw a similar thing while you were still completing yours. I’ve probably had to ditch 100pages of stuff at over the years , because mid way through I saw the same thing somewhere else. That’s about 1000 hours of work, but it is the price you pay to stay unique. Just like any other business, not everything the research and development division cooks up gets used. So consider this…you might come up with an idea, that your favorite pros is already working on…and now you tell him the idea. This means he has to scrap it. You have just cost him a lot of work, and possibly delayed a book.
“but it’s cool man, just use it”
WE AREN’T GOING TO USE SOMEONE ELSE’S IDEA. We just AREN’T.
I know, how tempting it is. I do. I and all the other pros know how compelling it is to have an idea and want to see it brought to the masses, that is why we do what we do. BUT TOO BAD! You want your idea brought to the masses? Pay someone to do it, of find a submissions editor and present it formerly. Or present it to us formerly so we are prepared to let you down easy, or able to NOT look at it at all, protecting ourselves from the possibility it is similar to what we are working on. Do us this favor would you. Don’t just bushwack us with whatever a late dinner caused to pop into your head between consciousness and sleep. Or…just review all the work that goes into an “idea” and thank whatever god you believe in that this isn’t your job.
Best case scenario, you do have a better idea and it ruins the guys day because he didn’t think of it. Worse scenario the idea is awful and he is stuck with the choice of telling you it is awful or lying and hoping he never sees you again and has to explain why he never used it. and the WORST scenario is you came up with an idea his working on and depending on his integrity has to scrap it.
You should apply this advice to interacting with not only comic book pros, but musicians, comedians, writers in other mediums ect…the creative industry is an INDUSTRY…which means what we do is a JOB and requires skills, and training.
By the way…the next collection of Arsenic Lullaby containing this and many other stories can be ordered at your comic book shop NOW. This link has everything they need to know!
Tell your store it is in the Nov. Previews under Arsenic Lullaby. if they won’t help you then screw ’em. go here