How NOT to write comics (2010)
A humourous yet heartfelt look at my one foray (thus far) into the world of four-colour fun. It was published in Comic Heroes 2, early in 2010.
Vagabond scifi weasel Guy Haley reveals how not to do it…
I’m primarily a journalist. Six crazy years on SFX, working my way up from deskless tea boy to deputy editor set me going; three years editing Games Workshop’s gaming magazine White Dwarf earned me the enmity of a sizeable minority of wargamers and made me grow up; three years editing Death Ray, the doomed pretender to SFX’s crown, saw me unemployed. I’m still at it, at home on the landing. Don’t worry, I have enough to eat.
I got into journalism to help me get into fiction, because I love SF books, but also because writing them sounded like a real doss, if I’m entirely honest. I had a plan. I’d approach the behemoths of the publishing world from upwind, from the safety of the media. I’d interview all the authors and publishers I could and learn their secrets, then I would pounce like word-tiger, grrrr! Let me tell you, that was lazy, and lazy does not work.
But once, once I managed to get a comic published, a white-capped peak of literary success in a flat sea of journalistic effort: N-Jin, from the stables of Com.x, for a while the great white hope of British comics. I went to interview founders Eddie Deighton, Russell Uttley and Neil Googe back in summer 2000. Although comics weren’t my main target, this meeting surely exemplified my plan, so I got my beclawed pouncing shoes on, and on a baking hot day at a pavement bar I, um, pounced.
As you will doubtless never have read N-Jin, here’s the short version: Richard ‘Rick’ Baldwin is a world-weary space traveller made nigh-on immortal by nanotechnology. Humanity’s glory days are long past, and Rick wanders a regressive galaxy with a motley bunch that include a cybernetic gorilla and an alien that communicated by farting.
It wasn’t high art.
Originally entitled Curse of the Nanomen, (Com.x wisely changed that) it was full of terrible writing sins. Firstly, it had a real case of the ‘poor me’s’. Rick was an angry, misanthropic, frequently drunken Yorkshireman, and so am I. The plot was… lacking, and for something that was supposed to be funny, well, it could have been funnier.
What it did have was some wit and a jot of potential. Com.x were keen, which was lucky because my first pitch was an unreadably huge document detailing an entire universe. (I was to make this mistake time and again in ensuing years).
Next, the script. I’m the kind of fan that prefers the finished product rather than knowing what the man behind the curtain is up to, so I had no idea how to write a script whatsoever. Rather than research it properly, I did a minimal amount of reading, and dove in. An overly crammed panel layout was the result. Com.x had very excitedly told me Ian Gibson was interested in the project. Once he got the script, he wasn’t, describing it as “impossible”. I got the impression he was a bit cross.
Still Com.x stuck by my idea, but progress was slow. Plans changed and changed again. Months turned to a year, then to two. Com.x’s self-avowed task of revolutionising Brit comics was proving hard, their enthusiasm ran into a hard wall of reality. Their releases slowed further as they concentrated on their flourishing design business. As a final insult they were burgled, their computers stolen. That didn’t help much either.
I remained self-assured of eventual four-colour success, pitching to 2000AD and the Warhammer Comic, until I wasn’t so eager any more. My pitches were endlessly returned, and N-Jin was endlessly delayed. My ardour flagged, and eventual promising leads – including an indie comic – went unpursued.
Finally, in May 2003, N-Jin came out to reviews that asserted I was ‘obviously copying’ Red Dwarf and Hitchhikers. Others were kinder, but it stung. As a reviewer myself, I gained a bit of an insight there… Still! Wow. I was suitably chuffed.
Issue Zero of N-Jin was to be it. Com.x shortly after entered a prolonged hiatus. A phone call from Eddie in 2004 told me someone was interested in turning N-Jin into a cartoon. Nothing happened. Then, in 2009, he got in touch again and told me Com.x was cautiously on the move; this time it’s time slow and steady wins the race. I wish them all the best, they’ll win in the end.
Reading N-Jin raises a few smiles, and Daniel Boultwood’s artwork is brilliant. I’d love to carry it on, my meta-arc suitably revised, but if I never do, I’m proud it’s out there. At the very least I did it, and I learned not be a lazy little blighter in the process.
Wisdom from the FUTURE!
What Rick Baldwin taught me…
i) Get contacts. Sadly, it matters who you know. If this were not the case, my half-baked attempts would never have got anywhere, nor would I have received the help I needed to refine my ideas. Fortunately anyone can network, at conventions.
ii) It’s not easy. Fiction is soul-destroying to get into, incredibly difficult to actually do, and poorly paid. Never forget this.
iii) Don’t be lazy. If you’re going to do a pitch, you have to apply yourself as if you are already being paid for it. Dashing something off won’t work.
iii) Have passion. American comics were never my primary interest. I enjoy them, but if you want a comics nut, speak to my brother. I should have approached the genre with less opportunism and more forethought.
iv) Be determined. After much effort I had some interest from 2000AD, but by the time I got to that stage of their lengthy commissioning process I had lost interest. Stupid.
v) Editors are people too. I pitched stories to GW’s Black Library. One was from a Goblin’s point of view. It was slightly comedic. “We don’t do comedy, Greenskin POV stories”, they said. Bare months later saw the publication of humorous Ork aeronaut tale “Catch the Squidgeon”. Different editor, y’see.
vi) Detail. By all means, write an enormous story bible, but only whip it out when your publishers ask searching questions. At that stage, it reassures that your story has a solid foundation. Early on, too much detail is swamping.
vii) Research. Learning how to write a comic script would have helped, while finding out Gibson’s preferred format could have kept him on board.
vii) Luck. I’ve had good and bad, and you have to see both for what they are. Do not take the former for granted, nor lament the latter.