With the enormous success of comic-based properties in other media formats, comic book writers are finally getting their due among the mainstream markets of film and television. A number of writers who got their start in comics have been given opportunities elsewhere, while those who got their breaks in traditional media formats have been able to get their foot in the door of the comics industry. At this year’s San Diego Comic Con, six writers currently working for Marvel spoke about breaking into both sides of the game, as well as navigating between them once inside.
Participating in the panel were Daniel Knauf (of HBO’s Carnivale and Marvel’s ‘Iron Man’), Mark Guggenheim (writer on Eli Stone and ‘Amazing Spider-Man’), Joe Polaski (staff writer on Heroes who is currently working on Marvel’s ‘Inhumans’ book), Aron Coleite (also with Heroes and Marvel’s ‘Ultimate X-Men’), Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Of HBO’s Big Love and the Marvel adaptation of Steven King’s ‘The Stand’), and Kevin Grevioux (writer of Underworld and Marvel’s ‘New Warriors’).
Interestingly, as diverse as the backgrounds of these writer’s are, the advice they had was surprisingly similar. “Keep writing and writing and writing… [so that] you can be prepared for the opportunities that come” was the mantra of Aron Coleite. However, he also advised that not every opportunity will pan out. Many of the writers at the panel acknowledged that rejection letters flow like a river from the publishing houses, and no amount of previous success guarantees a free pass. Some of the writers even framed their many rejection letters, using them as inspiration to keep pushing toward their goals.
A common sentiment among the panel was, on top of the repeated rejections, the frustration over education not being a major player in getting hired. Much to the chagrin of college students everywhere, a writing degree isn’t everything. In fact, it might not be anything, as the panel included several members who did not get their degree in writing or English. Frankly, the writing business is much more complicated than many people realize.
All members of the panel were in agreement that this challenge is just part of the sordid road to find writing success in the world of comics. Grevioux, who started his career in the film industry, got into his Marvel gig by first getting his own properties published independently. Auirre-Sacasa began his career as a playwright. According to Daniel Knauf, regardless of the way in which the opportunity finds a new writer, two paths are inevitable. The first is to network like crazy and meet people, one of whom may eventually give you a shot. The second is to press and write until someone, somewhere notices.
It’s amazing to think that these six writers represent those many would describe as “having made it.” Yet even as professionals, they too continually go through ropes. All six members commented that while either writing for comics or other media is “lots of work” in and of itself, the toll of writing both is considerable. The sheer amount of time and energy needed to accomplish the work literally demands weeks of a writer’s life, during which they have time for little to nothing else, including family. Make no mistake, writing is no 9-to-5 gig.
However, those who love to write will gladly pay this price. For some, it is simply a requisite of life that they put ideas to paper, telling stories and creating through words. To those who feel they’re not living unless they’re writing, Knauf gave a firm bottom line. “If you are interested in writing, write.” That’s no guarantee for success, but it’s a start in the right direction.
You can read more of C.J.’s musings on film, toys and music over at stunksstage.com.