One of the most frustrating things to learn when you’re trying to break into the comics business is that you can be doing everything right – you can be skilled in your craft, pro-level, ready to go, with genuine audience pleasing work – and you still don’t get the job.
Even more, you can go back, show the same work again, get an even better response to it – and you still don’t get the job.
Let me offer myself as an example.
1989. Summer. Batman had been in theaters for six weeks and I was at the San Diego Comic-Con. My first, their 20th. I was 20, so it seemed fair. The show was still in what they now call the San Diego Concourse, with the Masquerade in the Civic Theatre, and it was the biggest convention I’d ever seen, bigger than all the New York shows I’d been to – why, there were eleven thousand people there!
(We pause for a moment of laughter – nowadays, that’s the line for Hall H. Onward.)
And there was a panel there called (more or less) “The Mighty Marvel Pitch Session.” You would get up on stage and pitch your plot to Executive Editor Mark Gruenwald and Historian / Archivist Peter Sanderson, who would listen and critique you to the audience, and give you a thumbs up or thumbs down. I went. And I had nothing, really, except for a She-Hulk story that I’d written up and mailed to editor Bobbie Chase in the wake of John Byrne’s leaving the book, who rejected it.
Heck, I didn’t even have a copy of the plot, just the memory of it. But it was what I had. And so I went up, to face the judgment of the duo doing Siskel & Ebert.
I don’t have the space here to recap the plot, but trust me: I killed.
The audience was laughing hysterically at all the right places, and Mark and Peter were right along with them. By the time I got to the point where She-Hulk was arguing with the new voice in the narration box, wanting to talk to Byrne, and the narrator explaining Byrne wasn’t there because he wanted to have She-Hulk shave her legs with her heat vision –
“ – I don’t have heat vision!”
“Yeah, we know. Messy, ain’t it?”
Mark turned into the gale force of crowd laughter, exclaiming, “Does everyone know this story???”
I finished the story to rapturous applause, and got the only double thumbs up of the panel.
Afterwards, Mark came up to me. “That was a great story! Why don’t you submit it?”
“I did. It was rejected.”
“Really? Who did you send it to?”
“Hmm. That’s weird. Why don’t you send it to me, and I’ll bring it over to Bobbie and see what’s going on with it?”
An invite to submit a story to Marvel? To the Executive Editor who already likes your story? “Yes, sir, I’ll send you a copy as soon as I get back to New York!”
And so I sent it off, and waited.
I waited through August, and just as I was packing up to head back to my Junior year of college, I got a reply – which I just found this weekend in my files and reproduce for you here.
Good story, amusing story – just not usable anymore.
By that time, school had started up again, and I got busy and didn’t end up pitching again – you know, just got caught up, had to finish school, had to pay the bills, had to move, yadda yadda yadda. My next time writing Marvel characters would be almost seven years later in a prose anthology, The Ultimate X-Men.
So, is there a moral here?
Yes, and it’s this: Don’t give up.
Every writing manual tells you not to get discouraged, just keep at it, and eventually it’ll break for you.
And it will, but it does take effort. It takes time to find a voice, a groove, a point of view. The only thing that moves that process along is output.
And even when you’re ready – the shot may not be there. Even crazier: the shot you take may miss.
And that’s okay.
Don’t take it personally.
There will be other chances, other places, other things that inspire you to create.
But also, this: Talent and skill does not necessarily correlate to career opportunity.
That’s a tougher one to handle; realizing that no matter how good or bad you are, your career will hinge to a completely unknowable level on blind luck and happenstance.
But that’s okay too.
Because then when you realize it, all you have to do is put yourself out there, and all you have to be… is ready.