Well that was real mature...

Well that was real mature...

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Road to Breaking into Comics: The Women (and Men) of Darby Pop

Back in November of 2014, I wrote a blog discussing the virtues of comic book writers grabbing any opportunity to get their work in front of editors/publishers. One of the few ways are the all too rare writing contest. I discussed my experiences with those contests and you can read about them here. Since writing that, the two scripts I had just finished: One for Top Cow ("Friends Help You Move, Real Friends Help You Move Bodies" - which may have been one of my favorite things I have ever written) and another one for Darby Pop ("Random Stanzas in the Poetry of Lies and Self Deception"). Both were rejected.

So, I did what writers do. I moved on.

Despite the rejections, there were also some successes that kept me going.  Alex Thomas of Pipedreamcomics gave the webcomic I was writing ("Adventures in Pulp") a great review and even did a brief interview with me (you can read the interview here and the review here). Two great guys (Keith Callbeck and Chris Beck) over at We Talk Comics even invited me and the artist to do an episode of their podcast (you can hear it here). It was a lot of fun. People were reading my stories and actually liking them.

I didn't give up on the contests though. I entered Mark Millar's MillarWorld Annual contest with a story based on his series "Starlight" which ended in another rejection. It was both pulpy and had a lot of heart and I was really proud of it. This time the story was so special to me I posted my entry here. I entered the next Top Cow contest based on "IX Generation" and "Aphrodite IX" with "The Devil is in the Details." Unlike previous years, they gave feedback and an opportunity to revise the submission. It was rewritten and resubmitted as "A Serpent in the Garden." I've not heard back on that, so either a decision has not been made or it was rejected. Either way, you can't look back.  Just keep on going forward. If I win, that's great. If not, I have another issue of experience under my belt. In the middle of getting the first draft of my Top Cow submission ready, I was stunned to find my "Adventures in Pulp" work was again the focus of some great press. Pipedreamcomics put us several of their best of 2015 lists and we were up for Digital Comic of the Year. Pipedream readers would pick the best out of the staff's top ten pick, which included DC's "Batman 66" and Marvel's "X-Men Infinite '92."

And we won.

If you had told me a year earlier characters I created like Dick Ruby, El Supremo and The Good Witch of the Dead Lands would beat out Batman and Wolverine, I would have laughed. You can see the winning announcement here. But just when you think everything is going great, the universe throws you a curve ball. The artist (and website owner) of "Adventures in Pulp" decided to quit. We were almost thirty pages into our second story, "Jigsaw World," which was going to be an eighty-eight page epic instead of a collection of short stories. I retreated into screenwriting without looking back. Three pilots I wrote are currently attached to GloverZone Pictures, but even that has fallen into a holding pattern. I was talking with Conquest Art Design's Ivan Castillo about collaborating on a sci-fi comic called "The Outer Worlds," but it was taking forever to get a contract together (we have since gotten that ironed out, and have finally gotten started).

Most importantly, I entered another contest.
 Darby Pop had a second contest. This time a collection of short stories focusing on the Women of Darby Pop.  Confession time. I was in the midst of several deadlines and found out about the contest fairly late and, well, I cheated. 

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don't get too excited. The stories were mine. I wrote them. 

I just took, kind of, a short cut.
My previous submission for Darby Pop ("Random Stanzas in the Poetry of Lies and Self Deception" featuring Stingray) was structured oddly. I was trying to do something different in hopes of getting noticed. Instead of a single narrative I crafted a series of vignettes focusing on the character. The mini-stories would hopefully run the gamut and coalesce together as a nice character driven piece with loads of pathos and hopefully some humor. They had rejected it, but I needed something quick. I decided on a shot-gun method. I pulled the stories apart, re-wrote the individual tales, and submitted SIX separate stories and hoped that the parts were greater than their sum.

Apparently, one was.

On June 12, I was contacted by Jeff Marsick. My sixth story squeaked through. "Looking for Redemption with Blind Eyes."

But I'm getting ahead of myself. There was some hand wringing on my part. I love Stingray. She is a beautifully broken character. She first appeared in Indestructible. When we first see her, she is getting out of prison. She was a superhero who went bad. As the series progresses, we see her spiral downward and she eventually becomes the main villain of the story. During the climax, she commits a horrible act and... and... well...

I felt bad for her. 

I know that sounds odd, but the regret was on her face the moment after she committed the act and, in that moment, I realized she is redeemable and I am a sucker for redemption stories. We all are seeking some kind of redemption for something. It may be big or it may be small. We may get it and we may not, but it's there. Stingray's redemption tale is begging to be told. However, it has to be earned. I can only guess what the folks of Darby Pop thought of my submissions because for that eventual redemption tale to feel really earned the character has to be beaten down. These submissions were prequels, so I beat her down. 


Story. After. Story. 

The fine folks at Darby Pop probably thought I was some sort of woman hating misogynist. Just the opposite. I believe in Stingray but, until that perfect redemption story comes along, the harder and more frequently she can be beaten down the better.  Then when her redemption comes, she will stand taller than ever before. It will be earned. See, even now I get carried away. I really love the character.

Where was I?

Oh yea, Jeff Marsick, contacted me. Jeff was the winner of the previous Darby Pop contest for the Stingray oneshot and writer of "Dead Man's Party." He explained he was going to be my personal editor and made some revisions and notes to my script. He was very friendly and generous. 

Then I opened the file and my heart sank. 

My script was littered with red revisions. My first thought was "Oh, no, they didn't have enough submissions and mine sucks so bad they ripped it apart. My best digital comic award was a fraud. I'm a hack. It's a pity acceptance." Then I calmed down and read though the sea of red, and realized it was not as it appeared. The theme is there. All the elements I wanted and considered important were untouched. The foundation was intact. All the changes were cosmetic. A page that was eight panels was now six. A panel with two balloons now had one. Everything was still there, but streamlined. Redundancy eliminated. He was more like a surgeon with a scalpel. An idea I had taken three lines to get across were re-arranged and trimmed down but the idea remained untouched and now read in a single line.

It was concise. It was streamlined. It was BETTER.

In the span of a few minutes, I went from despair to unbridled enthusiasm. I didn't have an editor with "Adventures in Pulp," so Jeff was my first. I could not have gotten one better for my first time out of the gate. He was spectacular. He didn't just say, "Change it!" He explained why it worked better. He was right every single time and did it without altering the intent of any of the scenes or the point of my story. He was in a word: Amazing.

After several back and forth exchanges (which included a ground up re-write of page 4), we got it nailed down and he sent it "up the chain." I got another round of changes from Darby Pop President Jeff Kline. It was the second most unnerved I was during the process. This Jeff was the creator of Indestructible and Stingray. I was playing with HIS toys. What if he hated it? With great trepidation I opened the file to see only a few minor changes. Very minor. I didn't break his toy. For the record, I consider that a second win.

Next enter Kristine Chester. She was the Associate Editor and managed all the rest of the communication with me and the artist of the piece, Pedro Moreo. Like Jeff Marsick, Kristine was just spectacular. She was friendly and kind all the way through the art process. She frequently asked my opinion and kept me in the loop as to Pedro's work (which is absolutely fantastic.  Mark my words... he is a future star and I hope I get to work with him again). I got to see my story come together in a way that I didn't even get to see with "Adventures in Pulp" in the latter months. There was a genuine feeling of respect toward me and the story. Again, suggestions were always made with a single goal: Make it better. Never was there ego or a feeling of a power trip. Every comment and every suggestion was geared toward serving the story or character. It was a fantastic change of pace from what I was used to in the past.

Just to back up for a minute, my actual first experience with Ms. Chester was when I e-mailed my submissions. I was having tech issues and even then she was so kind and helpful. She even made a comment about how everyone in the office had read my blog about the contest -- the one I have a link to at the beginning. Remember when I said Mr. Kline reading my script was the second most unnerved I was during the process? Well, that unnerved me more than anything, even though it was said with nothing but sincere kindness. I'm still not sure why. Anyone want to psychoanalyze me, feel free.

Bottom line. Working for the great men and women of Darby Pop has been a fantastic experience from top to bottom. I hope it's not my last.

The book "Women of Darby Pop" is a double size issue for $3.99 and was released this past Wednesday. If you can't find a copy in your local comic shop, you can get it digitally at ComiXology here or order physical copies through Darby Pop' Square Store here.

Like with my previous work, I do plan on doing a writer's commentary on the story after it has been out awhile. In it, I hope to talk about my goals with the story and character and even discuss some of the specific editorial improvements. It should be fun. Until then, I have another contest to get ready for...

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