MARCH 9, 2006
Where is Part V?
MARCH 16, 2006
Here it is! Sorry!
FEBRUARY 24-26, 2006
The New York Comic-Con. It's a fun, but crazy (and exhausting) weekend, with big crowds of comics fans and the occasional cantankerous, but well-intentioned fire marshal.
On Sunday, Yvel and I meet up at the Dark Horse booth for our first official ArchEnemies signing. The book won't be out for several weeks, so Dark Horse supplies us with a nifty cardstock repro of the first issue cover:
We spend most of the time meeting fans and explaining the premise of the book to them. Thankfully, I have the pitch down pat by now:
"Hey! Can I tell you about our new Dark Horse comic?"
Mostly everyone says, "Yes."
"Great! First off, my name is Drew Melbourne, I'm the writer and creator of ArchEnemies. And this is Yvel Guichet. He's the artist, and he did all the design work for the series. This is my first comic, but Yvel has worked on JLA and the Superman and Batman books."
Pause for nods of approval.
"ArchEnemies is the story of a superhero and a supervillain who don't realize that they're roommates in their secret identities. As superhero and supervillain they obviously hate each other, but as roommates, they hate each other EVEN MORE." These two sentences are the centerpiece of the pitch, and they win over almost everybody. The first sentence sets up the basic relationship, and usually gets a smile. People hear that first sentence, and they're already thinking about how the series might work. Then, in the second sentence, we present our point of view and end with a solid laugh line.
"But this isn't just a humor book. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we start with a fun concept, and then we add in action and drama and romance along with the humor. By the end of the first story arc, there's a real emotional pay off for the readers."
This is what I like to call the "It's everything you liked about those first two sentences AND MORE!" part of the pitch. It's important to convey to potential readers that this isn't just a one-joke series.
And then the closing:
"Basically, everything I love to write is in this comic. Yvel and I had a great time making the comic, and we hope that you guys have a great time reading it."
Then I show them the preview art and give them the website URL.
MARCH 1, 2006
I'm recovering from the con, reading through Aint It Cool News' regular comic column, when I happen across an advance review for ArchEnemies #1! (How do they do that?) The reviewer calls our comic "funny" and "entertaining," and they call Yvel and Joe's artwork "impressive."
Things couldn't be going smoother! And the first issue will be out in a few short weeks!! Surely nothing will go amazingly, catastrophically, horribly wrong!!!
MARCH 8, 2006
Something goes amazingly, catastrophically, horribly wrong.
MONTHS AND MONTHS AGO
There is something at Dark Horse called "The Approvals Board." It's the group that meets to make the final decisions about which books Dark Horse will publish, and which it won't. You can talk an individual editor into publishing your magnum opus, but that editor can't do anything until they get the approval of the board. I don't know who's on the board, except for Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson, but you have to assume that he's the one who's opinion really matters.
Even after Philip Simon, our eventual editor, gets behind the book, it still takes a few weeks for him to get ArchEnemies in front of the board and to get it approved. As you can imagine, those are anxious weeks.
But then, finally, the book IS approved. Sort of.
Dark Horse green lights the first four issues as a mini, and Philip explains that if it does well, they want to push it to monthly.
Good. Now, I just needed to write the thing. Remember, up until this point I only had a script I'd written in 2003 and a loose outline. And I'd just busted up that outline to fit a three issue arc into four issues.
But that's okay, because it's not like I have anything else to do but write...
Aside from the writing, I'm still teaching up in the Bronx. I take a new position at a small school for students who are "overage and undercredited." They want me to teach five different classes a day and help them set up their new multimedia center. I like the kids, but a lot of them are off-the-walls crazy.
After a couple months, I've got the multimedia center set up, but I'm completely burnt out, and I decide to take some time off. With the money I'm getting from the ArchEnemies scripts and some grant money that I have coming in, I'll have just enough money to last me until March 16, 2006.
I am out of money.
FALL 2005 (again)
March 16 is a long way off, so I take the plunge and quit my job. While this may be a stupid decision, it does make the next several months much easier for me. I start work on the fourth issue of ArchEnemies. This is the "extra" issue necessitated by the Dark Horse deal, but it's actually turned out to be my favorite.
I email a finished draft to Philip, and he immediately responds with the following one line email:
"HOLY FRIJOLES, THAT'S DARK!"
I'm not immediately sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
Philip explains that while he likes the story, he's concerned about the tone.
It's darker than the other issues, and the marketing team has apparently been talking ArchEnemies up to Wizard and other magazines as a comedy.
ArchEnemies #4 is, without question, the least funny of all four issues. I rewrite the script a few times, attempting to lighten it up without compromising the big emotional pay-off at the end. The second draft is a radical rewrite. By the fifth draft, I have a script that looks a lot like the original, but ends on a slightly more optimistic note.
I like the draft, and I'm getting tired of rewriting, so I put my creator-owned foot down and say "It's done."
I talk it over with Philip, and we agree that we need to sell ArchEnemies as MORE than just a comedy and MORE than just a drama and MORE than just a superhero rumble.
I offer to take a stab at the first issue solicitation copy, where I brand ArchEnemies "high-concept superhero action comedy drama times eleven."
I'm not sure if I'm helping or hurting the cause.
As I'm finishing up the fourth issue script, Joe's inks for issue one are coming in, and our colorist and letterer are beginning on, um... colors and letters.
Since I don't have a day job driving me crazy anymore, I have the time to review all of the files as they're uploaded to Dark Horse's FTP site. I begin to realize that I'm extremely picky, as I call for all sorts of little changes.
Apparently, I'm one of those people.
The book is announced. The website goes live. The MySpace page launches. Production rolls along. Yvel's pages for issue four are gorgeous.
I start up this series in this column.
Dark Horse prints out color proofs of the first issue and FedExes them to me for approval. The first thing I notice is that they're all at a reduced size, but Philip assures me that the actual comic WILL be actual comic size.
Having established a fairly good working relationship with my editor, I decide I have some leeway to complain:
I've continued to write solicitation copy for each issue, and Philip has been making minor edits, and I'm a control freak so OF COURSE these minor edits annoy me to no end.
So I tell him.
He's a little taken aback and probably a bit offended. I try to be clear, but polite, forgetting that "clear, but polite" often reads as passive aggressive.
Now he's annoyed, and I'm annoyed, and it takes us several days to calm down and agree that it's just not that big of a deal.
Philip sends me a link to a flash-based feature that Dark Horse wants to run on their site. It looks great overall, but I send him some quick notes on where I'd like to see it tweaked.
I get a call from Philip explaining that it's really time intensive to make changes with flash, and wondering if there's some compromise position we can reach. I try to prioritize the one or two key changes that I'd like to see made and hope that settles it.
But it's me being picky... again.
And here's the problem with being picky: You become increasingly less effective over time. And if you start out complaining about things that are relatively minor, you may not have much credibility left when the big stuff finally crops up.
MARCH 8, 2006
The big stuff finally crops up.
I get an email from Philip asking if there's a good time for him to call so that we can talk about the covers. An email to set up a phone call is almost never a good sign, because it means your editor is thinking, "This conversation is going to take a while."
(And, aside from the fact that the covers have all been done for months, I'm not particularly surprised that there could be a "cover problem." The covers for ArchEnemies are admittedly odd. Each ones serves as the first story page for that issue. For an example, scroll up and take a close look at the cover to #1. These covers are story-centric as opposed to being "iconic cover shots." And that means that changing any of them would play havoc with the story.) A
nyway. I'm on the phone with Philip an hour or two later, and he tells me that there are, in fact, concerns with some of the covers. Specifically, the second and fourth.
And this strikes me as odd, because those are my favorite covers of the series: they're the ones that show our two superpowered leads, in costume, toiling around the apartment.
Here's the cover to #2, sans trade dress:
Apparently the marketing folks are concerned that the covers are too quirky and not superhero-ish enough, and Mike Richardson has become involved, and suddenly it's a whole thing.
And I'm confused, because I thought the whole point of putting the book out through Dark Horse was that the book was quirky and NOT traditionally superhero-ish. And beside all that weren't they telling me that it was supposed to be funny?
Anyway, the bottom line is that Philip wants to know if we could redo the cover to issue four. And maybe if I had never been picky once, never put my foot down once, I might be in a better position to say, "No. Just publish the covers I asked for."
But Mike has been at this for twenty years. And the marketing guys do this for a living. And I've met a lot of these guys, and they're all very smart, and they know what they're doing.
Meanwhile, I have nothing but my gut instinct as a creator. And this is my first comic, so who knows? Maybe my gut instinct is lousy.
So, after spending an hour explaining my position to Philip, I give up.
I tell them to do a new cover. Maybe something really distinctive, like Star Fighter posing on a rooftop at night.
Meanwhile, Philip is really great about everything. He gets what I'm saying, and he's got a meeting with Mike the next day to talk things over.
I'm feeling tired and depressed and I can't sleep, so I go into Photoshop and mock-up a full version of the issue four cover with trade dress and credits and all that, and it looks pretty good to me.
I email it to Philip. "See!"
MARCH 9, 2006
Where is Part V?
Well, the current mini-crisis has caught me off-guard, and I'm a little behind with the writing. Instead of finishing the column I'm pacing nervously, waiting to hear back from Philip.
The call comes late in the day. Philip has met with Mike and...
They're going to stick with the original covers. Points to Dark Horse for supporting the creator. I think my mock-up may have helped to win Mike over. I understand that it's a little hard to imagine how these covers will look on the stands without the trade dress, etc.
Of course, it certainly didn't hurt my argument that Dark Horse would have to spend more money for a revised cover.
Yay. Crisis averted!
MARCH 15, 2006
The DarkHorse.com flash feature is done and it looks AWESOME!
MARCH 16, 2006
I am out of money.
APRIL 5, 2006
ArchEnemies #1 arrives in stores.
Please buy it. I need to eat.
Drew Melbourne is a freelance writer living in NYC. The first three 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.