Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Yes, It's A Real Job: The Big Question

Scratch a comics writer, and you’ll find a man (or woman, if it’s Gail Simone) sick and tired of being asked this question:

“How do I become a comics writer?”

Well, I’m not one (yet), so don’t ask me, as I lack the criterion to qualify as an authority. I certainly hope to learn the answer the easiest way, by doing it, and maybe as I chronicle my journey down that road, you’ll find some tips as well. Although I do understand that having pictures of Joe Quesada in a compromising position, (like, say, the backseat of a Volkswagen) helps.

But what I can do, right now, is answer another, maybe more important question:

“Why in the Samuel Langhorne Hell would anyone WANT to become a comics writer?”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, by way of Sherlock Holmes, taught us that any mystery can be solved by ruling out all the impossibilities until you arrive at the only remaining conclusion. Perhaps that will help us. So, what are NOT some reasons why people become comics writers?

They don’t do it for money. Comics millionaires are few and far between, and most of them were shysters who got that money by bilking other people out of it. Creators, by and large, don’t get paid amazing sums of money to bring us our favorite four-color follies. And writers’ page rates are, if not at the bottom of the pay scale, not on the top, either. Even in this day of exclusive contracts that guarantee long-term employment and benefits, the most popular writers make a decent, stable living, and are happy with that. Others, who can’t make multiple projects happen on a regular basis, often work their writing career around another job that pays the bills (including the bills associated with being a freelance writer). So, it’s not the money.

They don’t do it for fame. Or, at least, any of them who come in expecting it are quickly met with a bitch-slap of reality. Peter David likes to tell a story about explaining his job to a person only to have them think he was the guy who filled in the word balloons after the art was drawn. (Or maybe that was Stan Lee. Hell, it was probably both of them; I’d imagine every comics writer has had that happen.) Writing, carries little prestige because it’s seen by most as a “soft skill,” one “anyone” can do. I mean, hey, anyone with a high school education knows how to write, right? *groans from professional writers and English teachers worldwide* There’s the old Hollywood joke about the dumb blonde wannabe actress who slept with all the movie writers. Well, if she’d slept with a bunch of comics writers, she’d have been declared legally brain dead, and Jeb Bush would have signed an executive order to prevent her from being taken off of life support. Which would have been really weird, considering he has no legal power to do that in California. But I lose my point, which is that it’s not the fame.

They don’t do it for women. Do I have to explain this one?

They don’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts. Comics writers may spend a lot of time in universes where people do things just to help their fellow man, but in the world of non-fiction, a man has to eat. And so do his wife and kids. And then there’s housing, transportation, education, creature comforts and insurance on all of the above. Showing humanity a path to a bright new future is all well and good, but most people who make that their primary goal end up dead of either malnutrition or a gunshot wound to the head. So it’s not philanthropy.

Some, I will grant, do it for themselves. They see sharing their feelings and thoughts about the world in the form of stories as an experience in personal growth, a lower-cost (and lower-yield) alternative to therapy. Others are flexing their egos, thrusting the greatness of their opinions upon the world, whether it wants them or not. These people are assholes, to a degree, but you get those in every creative profession. It’s not exclusive to comics; think of Russell Crowe, Michael Moore, Chuck Klosterman, or Ted Nugent. So it’s not for themselves, at least not completely.

What’s left? I can think of one thing, don't know if it's the answer, but it's a pretty good contender in my eyes.


Talk to a comics writer for ten minutes, and you'll be hard-pressed to avoid an outpouring of love for something about the form. It may be something as simple as the stack of old Detective Comics their mom bought the week they had their tonsils out, or as complex as their carefully considered and developed semiotic theory of the work of Jack Kirby, or a mix of both. But there's always the love. To a man (and woman), comics writers love these little things. Love them like candy, like the morning sunrise, like a dutch uncle.

Really, it's the only reason why anyone picks a career (and comics is most definitely a career you pick, not a career that picks you). It's also the only reason someone does something incredibly crazy, and choosing a career in comics definitely fits that bill. But bugger it. I love comics. I want a big comic bin, one where I can dive through my comics like a porpoise, burrow through them like a gopher, and toss them up and let them hit me on the head. And I want it full of comics with my name on them.

Is that so wrong?

1 comment:

nikki said...

michael, email me. i need your new york address.