The Seventh Annual Vegas Valley Book Festival held court in Las Vegas over the last few days, kicking off with a keynote reading and speech by Neil Gaiman on Nov. 6 and ending with an appearance by Michael Chabon last night, Nov. 8. It’s telling – and perhaps no coincidence – that both these authors have made names for themselves in comic books as well. The invisible line that always seemed to separate comics from literature might well be fully eroded at this point.
Still, that doesn’t mean that the actual creation and consumption of comic books isn’t a surprisingly small niche market here in Sin City. Hence, we have yesterday’s Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival, a micro-mini-con held at the Clark County Library as just one component of the larger book festival. Despite its small stature, however, the comic book festival was well-attended and offered a good selection of programming, even if the various panels featured overlapping speakers and middling attendance numbers.
The day kicked off with “30 Minute Download – Breaking Into Comics, the Dos & Don’ts.” The panel featured veteran comic writers and editors Steven Grant and Dwayne McDuffie (scheduled panelist Steve Niles canceled his appearances) discussing how they individually got into the comics industry and how those wishing to “break in” have a hard road ahead.
Grant – who has worked on titles such as Punisher, Whisper and Robocop – got his start at Marvel Comics in the late ‘70s almost accidentally. He was staying with pal Roger Stern – then a Marvel editor – in New York City when Stern asked Grant to write a plot for Marvel Two-in-One, a Thing team-up series. As a joke, Stern wrote a two-page plot teaming up the Thing with Moon Knight, one of whose multiple identities was … Steven Grant. A few months later, Grant received a check for the work, at which point Grant said he realized “that’s a lot more money than I make now,” and he decided to move to New York to pursue a career in comics.
McDuffie – one of the co-founders of Milestone Media – got his start about a decade later, when he interviewed at Marvel after hearing from a friend that the company was hiring for editorial. A copy editor outside the comics industry, McDuffie was hired as a special projects editor at Marvel, working on “what no one else wanted to do.” He brought with him the concept of Damage Control – a comic series about a construction crew that cleans up after Marvel super-battles – actually selling the series before his first day of work. That’s an approach Grant agrees works for new writers.
“If you’re coming in, they don’t want your 300-part story featuring the end-all battle between Galactus and Silver Surfer,” Grant said. “They want nice, one-issue stories that can show one aspect of the Marvel Universe that won’t affect any other part.”
However, the major comic publishers don’t have much use for fill-in stories at this point, and get most of their new talent from the established indie comic market. So how do these experienced creators suggest breaking into the industry now?
“You have to do a good indie comic to present to editors,” Grant said. While good sales of the book don’t hurt, he said good reviews go a lot further. Shopping a finished product with good buzz to editors goes a long way. Of course, that product has to be pro-quality, all the way around.
“Most people think their work is better than it actually is,” Grant said.
“Wait,” replied McDuffie. “What are you saying?”
The two men laughed.