Nov 22 2009

What goes into a comic book submission?

Short answer: usually some combination of…

  1. Script of the first issue.
  2. Synopsis of the larger work (either the first issue, arc or series as a whole).
  3. Sample pages inked, colored and lettered.

For a more detailed look at these three items, I’ll focus on Dark Horse specifically because I think DH is pretty standard.  But always check the publisher’s submissions page.  For example, Dark Horse’s submissions page is here and Image’s is here.

If a publisher provides a formatting guide, use it.  If not, Dark Horse formatting should work.   As long as the editor can easily translate the script to pages in his head, formatting shouldn’t be an issue.

Please make sure that the company publishes the story you’re going for.  Do they do stories with the same tone and target audience?  What about issue length?  With Dark Horse, I would strongly recommend submitting a comic book script at 32 pages. Almost every DH series publishes at 32 pages. If you try submitting to other publishers, you can vary the script based on their preferred page-ranges.

Once you’ve finished the script, I’d recommend making sure that it does each of the following:

  1. Introduce an interesting and likable protagonist.
  2. Give the protagonist urgent and high-stakes goals. (Danger is not necessary but it helps).
  3. Ideally, introduce the overarching goal for the hero. For example, the Punisher really wants to kill/maim a lot of criminals, particularly the gangs that killed his family. Spiderman cares as much about crime as he does about regular stuff like his girlfriend and job. The Fantastic Four do as much exploring and research as crimefighting. Etc.
  4. Feature your very best writing– in particular, MAKE SURE THAT THE SPELLING AND CAPITALIZATION ARE CORRECT.  I’d recommend having 2-3 really trusted friends or teachers go through it line-by-line.
  5. Show rather than tell. Generally, it’s better to give the reader information through actions rather than dialogue and worst to give the information through narratorial exposition. So, if a character is angry, it’d be much better to show him glaring or punching the wall than to say “I’m angry!” and absolutely awful to have the narrator say “John is angry!” Comic books are primarily a visual medium and it’s really important to show as much as you can visually.

Besides the issue script itself, you may also need to do a synopsis.  For DH, this is 2-5 pages if you’re proposing an arc of issues and just one if you’re trying to sell a single issue.  At Shadowline Comics, it’s just a paragraph.

Many publishers, but not DH, require that the author have a set number of pages fully inked, colored and lettered. For example, Image wants to see 5 pages as they will appear in print, as well as the cover. To do so, you would need to obtain the services of 1-3 professional-grade artists. If you know any professional artists (artists that have done at least thousands of dollars worth of business), I’d recommend asking them first.  If not, then you probably need to hire a freelancer.  As soon as the script and synopsis are done, I’d recommend going on a site like DeviantArt and posting a help-wanted note for an inker/colorer (or an inker and colorer separately).  If you’re interested, you can see the job listing I did for a colorist here.

If you get the colorer and inkist separately, I would expect that any colorer or inkist good enough to get professionally published will charge at least $60-75 a page. I’d recommend budgeting $600-$750 for a five page sample. If this is not financially viable for you, your best bet is probably to apply to a company like DH that does not require finished pages as part of the submissions process. Alternately, you can probably reduce the cost somewhat by having a single artist serve as both inkist and colorer. In that case, I think you could get the price down to something around $100 a page. I highly recommend against doing your own illustrations unless you are a professional artist. If you do the art badly, you will distract editors from the quality of the writing.

If you liked this article, I’d recommend reading “How to Communicate with Editors and Agents,” given that you need to impress an editor to get your comic book published.

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5 responses so far

5 Responses to “What goes into a comic book submission?”

  1. B. Macon 23 Nov 2009 at 11:15 pm

    If you’re working with a freelance artist (somebody that has to be paid by the page, for example), I’d working on the sample pages only AFTER the entire script and synopsis are ready-to-submit. If you pay an artist to make sample pages before the script is ready, you will screw yourself if details change or you want to rewrite the pages later. Additionally, your artistic preferences might change considerably. For example, when I first started writing SN, I really wanted a cartoony art style. Over time, that evolved into “realistic-but-cheerful.”

  2. J. Teeron 17 Apr 2010 at 1:51 pm

    B.Mac, the DH submissions page for writers says “PROPOSAL AND SCRIPTING GUIDELINES FOR WRITERS.”

    Do you know if that means that writers with no scripting experience can just submit a proposal in synopsis form, or is a script required?

  3. B. Macon 17 Apr 2010 at 3:45 pm

    According to Dark Horse’s submission page, under #3 for writers, it says “You must include a full script for any short story or single-issue submission, or the first eight pages of the first issue of any series, unless you are a published professional, in which case, you should include samples of previously published work… If the work is already completed, story, art, and lettering, copies of this may be sent instead.”

    So, if you’re working on a series, DH would want at least one issue scripted. (And the series synopsis).

    I think most publishers would have similar expectations. It would be very difficult for a comic book publisher to agree to work with an unpublished author without seeing the script first*. It’s hard enough to meet deadlines with authors that have already proven themselves.

    *The same goes for novels. It is all but impossible for a first-time novelist to sell a manuscript in progress. Even if the author is 80% or 90% finished, the fact that it is not completed is a huge red flag that the author is having major trouble finishing it. (In contrast, non-fiction (besides memoirs) is typically sold as a proposal rather than a completed manuscript).

  4. Hector Cabanon 26 Jul 2011 at 6:22 pm

    I have two questions.

    1. If you’re doing a graphic novel, not a comic book, do you still submit the entire script? If not, how much do you submit?

    2. Do publishers have their own illustrators? If so, should you include illustrations in your proposal ?

  5. B. Macon 26 Jul 2011 at 8:27 pm

    #2: Comic book & GN publishers usually don’t provide artists to do pencils, inks or colors. (Lettering shouldn’t be a problem, though). Usually, you should have a team assembled before submitting. (If you’re not sure how to find an artist, here’s a good place to start). “Should you include illustrations in your proposal?” Check the submission guidelines at the publishers you’re submitting to. If they require illustrated sample pages, obviously you should include them. Even if they don’t specifically require sample pages, I think that a few illustrated sample pages could still be really helpful–well-executed sample pages show that the project is ready to go.

    As for #1, I’ll look into that and get back to you.

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