Everybody is bad at something...some of us at a lot of things. Ignoring all the things I'm bad at that have nothing to do with editing (baseball, writing home, changing the cat litter often, etc.) let me talk about what I'm worst at when it comes to my chores as an editor. No two ways about it, I'm terrible at answering Unsolicited Submissions. What are Unsolicited Submissions? They are story and art samples that I'm sent that I did not ask for. Marvel has a submissions editor (currently Adam Blaustein) whose job it is to answer the literally hundreds of submissions and inquiries about submissions that come through the mail (or by hand) every week. Most of my fellow editors, I believe, turn the submissions addressed to them over to the submissions editor. (There is one conspicuous exception, a Marvel editor who asked not to be signled out by name, who actually answers all of his Unsolicited Sumiissions within 24 hours of receiving them!) For my part, I think if a person sends in an AVENGERS plot for the AVENGERS editor to look at, the submitter deserves to get a response from the AVENGERS editor (me), or at least someone on the AVENGERS edotiral staff (like the assistant ed).
My problem is that I'm very busy. I've got the standard workload of a Marvel editor (110 pages a month, or 5 monthly 22 page books) and then some (MARVEL UNIVERSE being 66 pages of material in itself, and an editorially intensive book at that: I not only design each page myslef but there are also at least twice as many words as an ordinary comic book per page to be read and proofread. I also do three Mark's Remarks a month (which will increased to four this summer), and am Marvel's resident archivist who is frequently being called upon for the alleged wealth of information wedged in my memory. (I won't even mention my freelance workload on top of this, writing CAPTAIN AMERICA and D.P.7) so I'm busy. So what?
The point is that answering Unsolicited Submissions unfortunately gets pretty low priority on my editorial agenda. As it turns out, I seldom get a chance to go through my submissions more than (ahem, er, well...) once a year. (Since the onslaught of MARVEL UNIVERSE over 16 months ago, it may be even longer!) So realizing my negligence, what did I do? I plunked the five-inch thick stack of submissions on my (then-) assistant editor Howard Mackie's desk to sort through. What did Howard do? He conveniently got himself promoted to avoid having to deal with it. So along with his desk, Gregory Wright inherited Howard's submission pile (which has now doubled in size). I've been keeping Greg so busy getting our books on time, he hasn't had time to do more than growl at the submissions pile when the work on his desk subsides low enough for him to even notice it.
So here's what I plan to do. I am going to set aside a day or two immediately after we get the next MARVEL UNIVERSE out to have a Submission-a-Thon to hit the stacks. Here's what you can do. If you're one of the unlucky many who have work in that stack, be patient. If you're thinking of sending work for that stack, make sure your work is great before you send it, and read my Submission Tips in this month's IRON MAN (#220) first. (I'd tell you here, but I'm out of space!)
How many times has this happened to you? You buy a comic, you read it, you finish it, and you say, "Hey, I can write (or draw) a story better than that!" So you whip up a story or a few drawings, send 'em to the editor of the book you read and wait. And wait. And wait. Eons later, you get a reply that says something like, "Sorry, we can't use you at the present time. Thanks for your interest." So you wad up the letter, vow to never buy a comic with the name of the person who sent you the letter in it, and say, "Those lame-o's couldn't tell a good story (or art sample) if it bi 'em on the buns."
Now there's a lot of reasons why the above scenario is a common one. But the main reason why 960 out of every 1000 Unsolicited Submissions Marvel gets every week is sent a polite no thak-you is that they really aren't up to Marvel's standards. But, assuming you are in the 5% of submitters whose work is near-professional in caliber, here are some submission tips.
CHARACTER CREATORS. Don't send us your characters. Is is very rare that Marvel buys character ideas and designs outright. After all, we have a whole slew of talented professionals who do this as part of their jobs. Nobody I know of broke into the business selling characters for other people to write and draw.
WRITERS. Send one page plot synopses only! That synopsis should demonstrate that you have a good story to tell-- that is, one with an exciting beginning, an interesting middle, and a satisfying ending. Within one page an editor can evaluate if s/he likes the premise enough for a writer to flesh it out. Don't submit a full script (story broken down panel by panel with specific dialogue included). Editors don't have time to wade through excess verbiage just to figure out what the story is about, and if we don't like the basic premise, everyone wasted his time. By no means submit a synopsis for a multi-part epic, a graphic novel, an annual, or anything other than a standard story. Nobody breaks in doing unusual formats. Nodbody. Don't submit stories to an editor about characters s/he doesn't edit. Don't submit a story that is so tricky or clever or artsy that we can't tell if you know the basics of storytelling. Don't submit a story that radically violates or alters the hero's status quo (for instance, Iron Man decides to sell his armor to the Soviets or Thor is discovered to be an Egyptian).
ARTISTS. Submit photocopies of your work only. No originals! Make sure your samples are comic book page samples, not still-life watercolors, intaglio etchings, or charcoal figure studies. Being good at that stuff doesn't tell us if you know how to do a good comic book page. Edit your work. Only send us your best stuff. If you have to apologize in any way for your work ("This is old stuff-- I'm better than this now"), don't send it. Pencilers: Don't send heavily shaded pencil renderings. Comics are basically line drawings with solid black areas and some feathering or cross-hatching to create "grey". Your pencil line must be able to be inked. Don't submit full-page pin-ups. Comics involve storytelling through sequential pictures. To judge your ability to break down a story into clear sequential panels, we need to see at least 3 consecutive pages of a story. You can either make up the story or redraw a sequence in a Marvel comic that you think could be improved upon. Make sure you use Marvel characters in your samples. We know what Spider-Man is supposed to look like, so we can judge if you're drawing him well. We don't know what your creation, Floobah-Man, looks like, so how are we supposed to tell if you drew him right? Inkers: Find a good penciler to ink over. If you don't know any, buy the MARVEL TRY-OUT BOOK on sale at comic stores and better book stores anywhere. (If you can't find it anywhere, write me and I'll tell you where to send for it.) If you don't know what pen or brush to use, you're not ready to submit your work. (Inkers use a wide variety of inking instruments and black India ink. Forget about rapiographs and felt-tip markers.) Samples showing your inks over a variety of pencilers is preferable to just one.
That's it, my basic tips and guidelines about Unsolicited Submissions. If your work doesn't meet the above criteria, DON'T EVEN THINK OF SENDING IT TO US...because you already know what we're going to say about it, right?
This column may be useful to that segment of my reading audience who may have toyed with the notion of becoming a professional comic book writer or artist. My topic this month...
HOW NOT TO BREAK INTO THE COMICS INDUSTRY
1) Have a whole bunch of different career goals. If the first time you show your art or writing samples, you are not hired on the spot to take over the writing of X-MEN, give up and pursue one of your other goals (brain surgerons are always in demand). That'll teach the so-called professional comics community that you are not to be trifled with!
2) Don't get good at any one thing first...be a little good at a lot of things. Mediocre at plotting? dialogue? pencil-inking? Well, bring in some samples that show you're mediocre at all those things. After all, if you're one-fourth good at four things, that's the same as being wholly good at one thing, right?
3) Don't be willing to sacrifice or put yourself out in any way. If the person you show your work to suggests you move to the New York area so you can learn inking by assisting established inkers, roll your eyes and think, "Dream on, Charlie". If the person you show your work to suggests you invest in some books on writing, ask him or her, "What-- you think I'm made of money?" After all, you read comics for fun, so why can't it be just as much to get a job writing or drawing them?
4) Submit a million things at the same time. The editor who is evaluating your work will be so impressed by the sheer volume that he or she will just skim over the foot high stack of work and assume if there's that much of it, it must be great. What else does an editor have to do beside wade through your collected works since third grade-- send completed comics to the printers?
5) Submit material that isn't quite comics to be evaluated. Surely, those poems and record reviews will show that you understand comic book story structure. Surely, those still-life watercolors and pastel and charcoal portraits of your family members will show that you understand how to tell stories through pictures. What are these editors-- complete idiots?
6) When an editor criticizes some aspect of your work, argue with him or her, or at least make a detailed explanation of the circumstances that prompted you to do that work in such a way. If the editor won't be impressed by the work itself, at least he or she will be impressed by your heartfelt rationalizations of it.
7 (and most important) Develop arrogance, smugness, and obnoxiousness. An editor criticizes your work? Call him or her a jerk who can't see that your work is better than 99% of the crap he publishes. Question the editor's judgment. Ask him for his credentials. Make fun of the artists or writers he or she currently uses. Act like you've heard it all before, and you thought it was stupid criticism when you heard it then. It is important to leave an editor an impression of you so he or she can distinguish you from the throng of people whose work keeps surfacing on his or her desk like dead fish. It stands to reason that an obnoxious personality will be easier to remember than a bland, pleasant one.