How To Get a Job Writing For Marvel Comics
My self-published comic series never really went anywhere. We got a ton of five-star reviews, but we never sold more than a few thousand copies of any issue. Why not? I chalk it up to marketing. As I said in a previous post, it’s really hard to get the average person interested in something they’re not already familiar with. Really great stories and visuals can do it, but it’s an uphill battle to say the least.
I had managed to make some contacts in the industry and decided I’d take a different approach to breaking in. I wanted to write for Marvel Comics and I knew there were a lot of writers out there sending in writing samples to Marvel’s editors. I also knew those writing samples weren’t getting read. No one breaks into comics that way. But I figured what they weren’t getting were actual comic books.
Now, you can’t send Marvel or DC’s editors comics with characters you’ve created, because their writers and artists are constantly coming up with new characters and they know that eventually just by coincidence one of their characters will be similar to something some guy sent in once – you know, a million monkeys with a million typewriters and all that – and the guy will think they stole his idea and sue. So you have to send them a story about characters that they own.
So I called up a guy I’d become buddies with through convention networking named Sean Murphy who is a ridiculously talented artists and had done gigs for DC and Dark Horse but never for Marvel. I said, “I’ll write a one-issue story using Marvel characters and you draw it. I’ll get them printed up and get a copy in the hands of every editor at Marvel. Maybe we can get in the door.” He said he was on board.
I figured the thing most people would do if they were going to write and draw a comic with Marvel characters to get the attention of Marvel’s editors is do a Spider-Man or Hulk or Daredevil story. But I came up with an idea on how I could use an existing Marvel character, and invent a new character at the same time, which I thought would get their attention.
In the Marvel universe there’s a group of bad guys called The Hand. They’re ninjas from Japan and are frequent foes of both Daredevil and Wolverine. They show zero regard for their own lives, they show no individual personalities, they never argue with one another nor do any of them show any desire other than to fulfill their mission. I thought that it would make a cool story if one of them started thinking independently.
To make sure this would work I had to do a lot of research. That’s the bitch about writing comics for Marvel or DC – there’s so much backstory and you have to make sure that nothing you write is going to contradict anything that has come before. I researched The Hand extensively, both on the internet and by buying every back-issue of every comic my research indicated included The Hand. There was no explanation of where The Hand got the men who became their soldiers, nor was their an explanation of their peculiar mindset. This left a lot open to interpretation and I thought that it would be cool to do everything from the perspective of the guy who starts thinking for himself and watch his mentality shift – he is little more than a robot but becomes self-aware.
I wrote it. Sean drew it.
I mailed a copy to all 30 of Marvel’s editors, executive editors, assistant editors, basically anyone who worked for Marvel Comics in any power-wielding capacity. Of those 30 people, I did not hear anything from 29 of them. One, a guy named Nick who headed up editing for the X-Men and the X-Men spin-off books (of which there are a lot) emailed and said that he really liked it. I emailed back and asked if he was going to be at Wizard World L.A. (an upcoming comic book convention that I hoped to attend for networking purposes). I did not hear a response. I booked a plane ticket to Los Angeles anyway.
At Wizard World L.A. I looked through the list of who was speaking on what panel and spotted Nick’s name. I was first in line for it, sat in the front row, and the moment the panel was over rushed up to him with a copy of the comic I’d sent him and said, “I’m the guy who wrote this.” He lit up and said, “I loved it. Keep in touch with me and I’ll find you some work eventually.”
My plan worked. For me and for Sean – he eventually got a gig drawing for Marvel. My adventures writing for Marvel will be explored in future blog posts.