Nov 09 2009

Making the Sell: A Few Tips on Submitting a Comic Book Script

1.  READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. The instructions take precedence over everything else. If you fail to meet the guidelines provided by the comic book publisher on its submissions page, you are dead on arrival.  For example, you can see Dark Horse’s submissions guidelines here and Image’s here.  (By the way, Marvel and DC don’t accept unsolicited submissions– either they call you because they’re impressed by what you have already published, or you start working for them in some other capacity and move laterally)

2.  Show that you understand what sort of publisher you’re submitting to. In particular: do they publish other series that have a similar art style to yours?  Do they publish series with similar content?  For example, some comic book publishers specialize in military action or horror rather than superheroes.  Target audience?  Issue length?  For example, Image and particularly Dark Horse tend to publish series at 32 pages an issue.  If the publisher does not publish stories similar to yours, you are probably dead on arrival.

3.  Show, don’t tell. Editors don’t really care about your opinion of your series.  BAD:  “This is a gripping, exciting story about a relatable protagonist.”  BETTER:  “John is a poisoned teenager who has two days to solve his own murder.”  This is much more effective because it gives the editor the evidence to conclude that the story is interesting.  It also gives more specific details to distinguish this story from the other 50 submissions the editor has opened today.  Remember, your opinion doesn’t matter.  You wrote the story– of course you think it’s interesting.

4.  Don’t waste time on the mechanics of your story. You have between 1-3 pages (usually closer to 1) to summarize your story.  Don’t waste more than a sentence or two on the superpowers.  The personality and often the background of the main character(s) tend to be much more important.

5.  Differentiate yourself. It’s not good enough to say you’re writing a superhero story.  The editor may have read 250 superhero proposals this week.  How is your superhero story different? Why should he accept you even though he rejected them?  This is one reason why it’s a mistake to focus too much on superpowers rather than personality, character background and mood.  Characters can have exactly the same powers but still feel different– for example, see Hellboy, the Thing, and the Hulk.  Similarly, a character can have different powers but still feel like a ripoff.  (For example, Static Shock is sometimes derided as a Spiderman clone).

6.  Less is more, particularly for unpublished authors. Publishers are more receptive to one-shots and sometimes short series by unpublished authors rather than longer series or (God help you) ongoing/indefinite series.  A one-shot is only a single issue, so it’s safer for the publisher because 1) it entails less financial commitment on their part and 2) it’ll give you a chance to show that you can meet tough deadlines.  If the one-shot turns out nicely and sells well, the publisher will probably be receptive to publishing a longer series.

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Making the Sell: A Few Tips on Submitting a Comic Book Script”

  1. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 25 Nov 2009 at 2:19 am

    Speaking of scripts; is there an official format, or does it just have to be easy to understand? The way I do it is this:

    Page X

    A small picture of general panel layout so that the artist knows what the approximate size and positioning is. (I plan to get my artistic friend to help me, but she has little experience with creating panels. Most of her work is in poses and portraits, but she has done some fancomics before) The space outside the panels is in a solid colour, and the panels themselves are black-bordered boxes with a number inside, which corresponds to the list below.

    Panel 1:

    A description of the environment, which characters are in the frame, if any, plus the way they are stood, facial expressions and extra details like “Character C is putting her motorbike helmet on”.

    Dialogue:

    Character A: “Blahblahblah.”

    Character B: “Chitchat.”

    Sound effects:

    Character C’s helmet buckle: Click.

    Etc.

    Is this a good format to use, or am I totally off the mark?

  2. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 25 Nov 2009 at 2:24 am

    The page number is also underlined so it is distinguishable and easier to understand.

  3. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 25 Nov 2009 at 2:31 am

    Oh, also I don’t include details like “Character B’s clothes are rumpled to show that he is scruffy”, I include that on a separate page, along with general character descriptions that can be referred back to, rather than using the page decription, so it isn’t overly long.

    I only write in what is happening to the outfit in a particular panel, like “Character B’s hairclip is slipping out”, and then a brief description of said hairclip is found on the other page.

    I bet I’m doing it totally wrong. Haha, but that’s to be expected. ;)

  4. B. Macon 25 Nov 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Some publishers have an official format. For example, Dark Horse’s submissions page includes a link to a sample script. If the publisher has an official format, I would recommend sticking to it because it shows your ability to follow directions. If they don’t lay out the format they want, I think it’s okay as long as it’s easy to understand. (Alternately, you can just use DH’s formatting for a company that doesn’t have its own guide).

    “Page X” is okay. However, some companies (like DH) like to see the author’s name, the name of the series, and issue number in the header. That way it’s easier to tell at a glance what the page is for and, should something get lost, it’s easier to put it all together.

    I think that laying out the picture is a helpful addition if you are sure that YOU know the best way to lay it out. However, in most cases, I would recommend deferring to the judgment of an artist that is experienced with comic book art. After all, (s)he is a professional in visual design and the writer usually is not. I think it would make sense to take a more hands-on approach to laying out the page if the artist does not have experience laying out the page. However, if she is not experienced at this, I would recommend a LOT of caution when you’re evaluating the quality of her art. Is she REALLY at a professional level? Would you feel comfortable having her art be the face of a business proposal for a deal worth tens of thousands of dollars? I know it’s emotionally difficult to look at a friend’s work just like a businessman would, but it’s a lot easier to do so sooner (before she has put in a lot of work) than after (when it may have become clear that the art is not good enough to get published). Then again, perhaps your friend is so freakishly talented that she IS professional-grade. Having not seen her art, I have no idea.

    “Plus the way they are stood, facial expressions…” If you’re that specific, I’d recommend being open to alterations by the artist. Generally, the artists I’ve spoken with like to have autonomy to determine how to express a particular emotion. If I’m very comfortable with the artist, I’d usually just say something like “Gary looks happy” or “Agent Orange looks comically angry” rather than specify how the artist how to show his anger. Then again, sometimes what you have in mind is so unusual (like having Agent Orange eat Gary’s resume) that you’d need to specify it.



    With your dialogue, you don’t need to include quotes. It can just look like:

    AGENT ORANGE: Greetings, prospective accountant!

    Cutting the quotation marks is a bit helpful later on because the lines will usually be copied and pasted from the script into the page. Since the quotation marks won’t actually appear on the page, it’d be a bit easier not to have them.

    (On a side note. I capitalized the character’s name, but I don’t think it matters much).

    For sound effects, DH asks for SFX:, I think. If it’s not clear what is causing the sound, then I’d recommend including a parenthetical phrase.

    SFX: Click. Click. (Someone behind the character is trying to fire a gun at him, but the gun’s out of ammo).

    Generally, I think your formatting is very readable.

    Some parting thoughts… Some prospective writers get very intimidated when the company doesn’t say how it wants the scripts to be formatted. If you are one of them, don’t worry about it! If they had a specific format in mind, they would have specified it on their submissions page. Your format is very readable and I am looking forward to see the substance.

  5. B. Macon 25 Nov 2009 at 1:40 pm

    “Oh, also I don’t include details like ‘Character B’s clothes are rumpled to show that he is scruffy’, I include that on a separate page, along with general character descriptions that can be referred back to, rather than using the page decription, so it isn’t overly long.

    I only write in what is happening to the outfit in a particular panel, like ‘Character B’s hairclip is slipping out’, and then a brief description of said hairclip is found on the other page.”

    I’d recommend against including a separate page of character descriptions with your script. It’s another sheet of paper that may be hard for the editor to find when he needs it. In addition, because the character’s appearance may change considerably over the course of the issue (because he hasn’t had time to get ready one day or because he’s wearing different clothes or because he’s become a hobo), the sheet probably won’t be too useful in any given situation. It would probably be easier on the editor to work the necessary description into the script itself. (However, I really, really hate it when my page descriptions run over a page each, because I’d like page 23 of my script to correspond with page 23 of the comic book. So sometimes I play around a bit with spacing or size 11.5 font to make sure that it fits on one page).

    You may find it useful to provide your artist with a reference guide to the characters (like eye color, hair color, height and a weight estimation) so that the artist keeps those minor details consistent throughout the series. However, the reference guide will be absolutely irrelevant to an editor evaluating the series for publication, so I’d recommend against including it in the submission. It’s just another piece of paper on a cluttered table.

    I think that “Character B’s hairclip is slipping out” is the right amount of description for most panels. However, when a character first enters a scene, I think it’d be useful to provide some visual cues so that the artist knows what look you’re going for. Alternately, just say what you’re going for– if a character is distracted by a beautiful woman, you probably don’t need to describe the beautiful woman in great detail. It’d probably suffice just to say she’s beautiful and let the artist fill in the details. I think it’s really helpful to include your artist throughout the process as much as possible.


    Unless the artist has been told otherwise, (s)he will usually portray a character as he appeared in his last scene. So, if something has changed (clothes, appearance, etc), it’s usually best to specify what has changed. However, the first time an important character appears, you’d probably need to go into greater detail. Again, I’d recommend focusing on important and/or unusual details and the effect you’re going for.



    I’d also recommend specifying visual cues that are highly unusual or counterintuitive. For example, I specify that the neighbor who says “if I had known he was a taxman, I would have capped him my damn self– audit this, sucker!” is an elderly white woman because an artist probably would have portrayed the neighbor as a young black guy. But it’s only funny because someone unexpected delivers the line.

    I hope that helps! 8-)

  6. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 26 Nov 2009 at 12:10 am

    I use the format that I find easiest. Since the idea I’m working on is a manga, I plan to submit to either Tokyopop or VIZ, but I can’t find any specifications for scripting on their sites.
    I lay out the page, but I’ll discuss the layouts with my friend when it comes to it, because she is better at that type of thing than I am. I really just put it there so I can visualise it, and give a rough idea of what I think would be good.

    “I would recommend a LOT of caution when you’re evaluating the quality of her art. Is she REALLY at a professional level?”

    It may be a bit biased, seeing as I am her friend, but I think she is freakishly talented. Everything she draws looks stunning; she can both imitate and create. She’s actually receiving an art award from our school for it, but she is constantly pressing herself to improve, and it’s working. A couple of years ago her style was rougher, and it took her a while to draw a picture, but now she can do an excellent one within minutes.

    “However, I really, really hate it when my page descriptions run over a page each, because I’d like page 23 of my script to correspond with page 23 of the comic book. So sometimes I play around a bit with spacing or size 11.5 font to make sure that it fits on one page”

    Haha, I noticed that. Mine so far are about a page each anyway, with only a bit of overlap. I don’t really care much about that.

    “I’d also recommend specifying visual cues that are highly unusual or counterintuitive. For example, I specify that the neighbor who says “if I had known he was a taxman, I would have capped him my damn self– audit this, sucker!” is an elderly white woman because an artist probably would have portrayed the neighbor as a young black guy”.

    Haha, I liked that part.

    “Cutting the quotation marks is a bit helpful later on because the lines will usually be copied and pasted from the script into the page. Since the quotation marks won’t actually appear on the page, it’d be a bit easier not to have them”.

    It looks weird to me without them, haha. I’ll just cut them out later, before submission. I tend to put them in by instinct.

    Thanks!

  7. Dennyon 26 Dec 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I have two Character Ideas that I am giving away to the first person who wants to use them. One character is called (ORB). He has the mutant power to grow crystalin orbs about the size of a penny. Each orb is programed to have a different power and takes 4 to7 days to grow off the bone. Eventually growing out from under the skin. His skin is chalk white, his hair is black. He carries a glock 9mm for those times when he does’t have a crystal to empower him. His wife is named (HONEY) she has the power to turn into a swarm of honey bees. She also has super strength in her human form eqivilent to a Bee’s Strength. She doesn’t transform into Bee’s when the weather is cold. She prefers to use her Muscle. She can also summon Honey Bees with her Bee pheramones. Her strongest power is poison sting.

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