I dash off Part III of this series, then hop onto a plane to Wonder Con, where I sit on the Dark Horse Q+A panel...
...which is indeed awesome.
I could be more succinct up there, sure, but I do pretty good for a first timer.
ONE WEEKS AGO
I take the train down to Philly to visit my family. I have just turned 29. Time is running out.
ONE YEAR FROM ONE WEEKS AGO
Time has run out.
ZERO WEEKS AGO
I'm back in New York, finally. Time to relax! Unless? What's that? Oh, yeah: Now they're bringing the comic book conventions to me.
Yvel and I will be signing... something... on Sunday. Stop by the Dark Horse booth for times.
But enough about the future! Let's talk about...
JANUARY 17, 2005
The first installment of my brand spanking new "writing about comics" column runs on the Scryptic Studios site. It is called "Think Like Tomorrow," but no one seems to know why.
Strangely, no one thinks to ask.
FOUR MONTHS LATER
The Dark Horse deal is coming together, and I'm super excited, and I know that I'm gonna just bust a gut if I can't shout it to everyone in the entire world, all at once.
And I've got this column, which seems like the ideal place to start talking about it.
In my head, I imagine doing an extended series of columns that chronicles ArchEnemies' development from inception to publication. In my head, the readership starts to drop off around the fourth installment.
"Good," I think. "That'll just leave me with the readers who REALLY love the column."
It is now abundantly clear that Dark Horse won't be announcing ArchEnemies for several months. Somehow, miraculously, my guts do not bust.
Unfortunately, I'm begining to have trouble writing my column. Partly, it's the stress of my EXTREMELY demanding "day" job, working as a public school teacher in the South Bronx. But mostly? I just really want to write about ArchEnemies, but it's way, way, way too early to do that.
And that's when it hit me. OF COURSE, I can write about ArchEnemies! I just need to write about it in code:
MAY 19, 2005
The following column runs on Scryptic:
- "Writing for WHICH Trade?"
I try to have no backbone. I really do. I try to give my editors whatever they want. I try to compromise my creative vision. I try to be an awful, soulless hack...
Somehow it just keeps on coming out wrong.
"Oh no!" you say. "I'm an artist! I will never change a single letter in my 512 page ALL-STAR AMBUSH BUG VS. BIZARRO proposal. Some day Joey Cavalieri is sure to give in and publish this baby as is."
That might be true. But some of us aren't sitting on top of the next world's next ULYSSES, waiting for the plebians (and/or well-respected editors) to come around. Some of us live in the real world, with tangible goals, like, "make enough money writing comics to eat."
Some of us just want to sell out.
I know, I know. This from the guy who talks and talks about becoming the world's greatest comic book writer. I, of all people, should be telling people to follow their muse. Right?
Step One: Break in. Step Two: Break out. In that order. You don't need self-respect until people know who yourself is.
That's the theory, at least.
So when you're writing a pitch, PLEASE make sure that you know what the company you're pitching to wants. If they only publish certain kinds of stories, write those kinds of stories. If they have a recommended format, follow it. If they can only speak and read Dutch, then schrijf uw hoogte in het Nederlands! Life would be simple if you could just follow that advice and be done with it.
(At the very least, writing this column would be simpler.)
Unfortunately, The Powers That Be don't always know what they want, and sometimes the things they want change. And sometimes, The Powers That Be change. And that's when things get extra crazy.
It was my own fault, I suppose. I wrote a pitch for one company, and I reused it for another. That's a no-no, usually. But it was all very quick, with a lot of "Can you send me this?" and "How about this?" type shenanigans going on.
First company: Image. Second company: Dark Horse. And the pitch in question is, of course, ArchEnemies. Now, continue...
- Bottom line is that the second company really liked the pitch, and wanted to publish the book. But...
The series I was pitching was originally conceived as a series of three issue arcs. A three issue arc is too short for a trade paperback, but two three issue arcs equals six issues--FACE THE FURY OF MY MIGHTY MATHS!--which in some circles is just right.
"Some circles," in this case, does not equal "the company that wanted to publish the book," no matter how mighty my math may be. No, this company only wanted to publish four issue trades. And that left me with a very serious problem.
Obviously, I wasn't going to be able to fit two three issue arcs into four issues. Would I expand the three issue arc into four issues? Would I end on a standalone? Or would we just reprint issue 3 with a different cover and hope noone was the wiser?
Turns out, that last one was a non-starter with my editor...
Philip Simon is the editor on ArchEnemies, and he does in fact discourage reprinting and repackaging one issue of a comic as the next.
- Let's think: If you bought a four issue trade paperback, which would you be happier with? A three-issue story and a standalone, or one complete four-issue story? Quality issues aside, I think you'll agree that it makes more sense to tell one complete story per collection.
- raise the stakes
- maintain the tone and themes of the original issues
- resolve issues left dangling in the original conclusion
- the story must be specific to the characters and setting
- each major character must have a key role in the story
- the major characters' storylines must tie together at the climax
(Alternatively, you might tell four individual stories, but it was a little late in the game to start off in that direction.)
But how do you turn a three issue arc into a four issue arc? You'd either have to stretch out the three issues you have, or you'd have to add more story to the end. Neither of these options is ideal.
If your original story is any good (and I'd like to think mine was), then "stretching" is extremely difficult. Stories are paced a certain way for a reason. I designed each issue of my first arc to tell a specific part of the story and end on a specific moment.
Besides, if you were adding content just to get a three-issue arc to last four-issues, then you'd really be padding for the trade. So, no stretching. But how do you add an ending for an arc that's already finished?
If you're a hack (like you should be) then you just do it, collect a paycheck, and take a nap. Sadly, despite my better angels, I can't quite bring myself to do that. If you're extending an arc, you need to accomplish the following things:
On top of that, I had a series of other semi-arbitrary restrictions that I had placed on every individual issue I have written for the series:
Now, of course, we know that the characters are Ethan Baxter (AKA Starfighter) and Vincent Darko (AKA The Underlord) and that the setting is "in and around Ethan and Vincent's cramped Manhattan apartment."
A particular issue may be more Ethan's issue or Vincent's issue, but this is a book about the RELATIONSHIP between the two characters, so it's essential that both characters have an essential role in the story.
Either there's one main story about Ethan and Vincent OR there are two parallel stories that come together at the end.
You'll have to wait until this Summer to see how the third issue of ArchEnemies ends, but a climax is definitely reached.
- So how could I build on the themes I'd been developing, raise the stakes, and reach a more satisfying conclusion to my story? Well...
That's a lot of restraints for a single issue, and sometimes if you worry that much about a piece of writing you'll wind up paralyzing yourself.
(Imagine if someone told Da Vinci to add three inches to either side of the Mona Lisa! That would be really hard for Da Vinci, because he's dead.)
Sometimes tons of restraints are bad. But sometimes they're good. (And not just if you're an S-and-M fetishist.) Sometimes the right combination of restraints can get your mind thinking in just the right way.
Sometimes, if you "think inside the box," and your box is shaped just right, you can open it up and find just what you're looking for.
So I took the emotional fallout of the third issue and used it to drive the fourth issue. I looked at how the events of the first three issue touched one of the main characters,
- and I looked for away to unexpectedly echo those feelings in the other main character.
- I took the big climax of issue three and topped it with a smaller, more intimate climax in issue four.
And, of course, I went back to the first three issues and started rewriting them in order to lay the groundwork for what was coming up.
The final words spoken in issue one are critical to the events in issue four.
Did it work? Did I ruin everything? Would I have been better off if I just cribbed an old episode of MARCUS WELBY, M.D. and then went out back for a smoke?
You'll be able to tell me, round abouts April of next year.
Actually, issue four won't be out till July! Ah, the optimism of (comparative) youth.
Patience is probably a virtue. In the mean time, you can find me here, grumbling and pacing.
The fourth issue of ArchEnemies is, by far, the strongest. All the time I spent bending my head around ideas of theme and resonance really paid off in the end.
(To say nothing of the month I spent writing and rewriting and rewriting the sucker.)
THAT MONTH I SPENT WRITING AND REWRITING AND REWRITING THE SUCKER
Figuring out the four issue structure to ArchEnemies was a key to getting it approved, but there were still other hurdles to...
TWO WEEKS FROM NOW
I've got one more con under my belt, and I'm back with Part V of this series. What is the dreaded "Dark Horse Approvals Board"? Why exactly DOES it take a whole year for a comic to go from greenlight to comic stores? PLUS: Did anyone show up to my first signing?
Two weeks from now, you will know all.
Drew Melbourne is a freelance writer living in NYC. The first two issues of ArchEnemies, his debut series, have now been solicited by Dark Horse. (The first issue ships April 5th.) For more on Drew, read DrewMelbourne.com. For more on ArchEnemies (including pre-order information, previews, and convention details) check out the official website at ArchEnemiesOnline.com.