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A Charles Soule Q&A

Written by Christian Hoffer on Tuesday, October 25 2011 and posted in Features

Charles Soule held a question and answer session last Friday at /r/comicbooks.  Take a look at some of his responses!


The fine people over at the /r/comicbooks subreddit are hosting a series of creator "AMAs" (shorthand for 'Ask Me Anything'). Last Friday, Charles Soule, writer of 27 and Strongman, stopped by to discuss his work, his process and the ins and outs of breaking into the comic book industry. Here's a few of the many answers that Soule provided to curious onlookers.
As a writer, what do you look for in an artist and how do you often find/approach them? (submitted by ilovemodok)

CS: In the beginning, I found artists on the internet, and it's still a pretty good way to do it. DeviantART has one gorgeous portfolio after another, and all you have to do is find someone you like and ask them if they're open to working on something. There's also a website called digitalwebbing.com that has a classified board where you can submit projects - that's where I found several people. You might consider seeing if there are any projects there that catch your interest.

I have also found artists on message boards - I mentioned the Bendis board at www.jinxworld.com, and I think places like that can be a great resource.

Over time, it has evolved more into a situation where I know people who I might want to work with from the scene or I get approached with portfolios, which makes it easier.

As far as what I look for, I generally like people who have a defined style, who have sequentials in their portfolio (that's the first thing I look for, actually - a series of great pinups doesn't mean someone can tell a story) and who don't stint on the backgrounds. Putting in the time to make each panel a fully developed "scene" is very important, at least to my eye. You don't have to always draw every blade of grass in the background, but sometimes you do, and when people skip on that it really sticks out to me. I also look for proper anatomy and proportion, but I can miss stuff there, as I'm no artist.

Pro-level coloring is also crucial - if you can't get/do that, then keep your portfolio in black and white.

How did you, and how does someone "break-in?" (submitted by Spiel88)

CS: This is a tough-ish question. There are a lot of ways to do it. I'll try to break it down a bit, and then I'll talk about how I got it done.

From what I have seen, you break in to comics through one of the following paths:

1) You are incredibly talented in such a scintillating and obvious way that anyone who sees even a sliver of your work must have it, from Marvel/DC editors on down.

2) You are already famous in some other discipline (see Stephen King, Kevin Smith or other folks who were invited to write or draw comics because they got their bona fides in another field.)

3) You grind it out.

My guess is that most of the people reading this thread will not be 1 or 2 - although if you are, please drop me a line, because love your work and we should totally do lunch.

So, it's 3. That's how I did it. The long years of the grind. What that means is that you have to take time to really become professional level at whatever you're doing (writing, art, etc.) You have to learn the industry as well as you can - there are tons of misconceptions about how comics works, and understanding the hierarchies, the players, the ins and outs is crucially important. It's a tiny business and networking is a big deal. You have to get to know the people involved, especially as you try to move up the chain.

You have to produce completed, awesome comics. No one will care about an undrawn script, or sweet pinups. What editors want to see are fully drawn, lettered comics - not necessarily a full issue or OGN, but enough to show that you know what the hell you're doing. Say 5-8 pages.

You have to start at the bottom. Think of it like baseball, with Little League, minor leagues and finally the majors. You have to play at all of those levels. In this analogy, LL would be your own stuff that you do yourself just to show around or put online. Minor leagues would be small press publishers, and the majors would be (in my opinion) the big 4: Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse.

Be patient, go to cons, learn learn learn and improve all the time. Eventually, when you show your work to someone who has the power to pick it up, you'll get a bite. Now, this is not to say this is the only path by any means, but I think it's how most people tend to do it.

Oh, you also have to be talented and lucky.
Whats some good music to write to? (submitted by kaiserkozey)

CS: Whatever gets you juiced up but isn't too distracting. Usually, I'll listen to records I've been listening to for a while, so I know them well enough to enjoy them and feel good that they're on in the background, but I can still drop into that awesome fugue state you need to enter in order for the writing to really flow. Stuff without lyrics can be good for that; I've been listening to the Drive soundtrack recently a fair amount while writing, because it's mostly cool, weird 80s-styled instrumental synth pieces. Goofy, but fun.
What are some common comic scripting mistakes? Things people forget to do, spend too much time on, that sort of thing? (submitted by themaskedndi)

CS: Let's see... well, people certainly try to cram too much dialogue into one panel. I mentioned this above, but a good rule of thumb is to have no more than 25 words of dialogue in a panel (total). That can be broken - obviously a splash page can hold more, but it's a good guideline.

Another is under or over-description, or simply not being clear about what you want. I have found that my scripts work best when I leave a lot of room for the artist to play. I write them in full script format, with each panel broken out with a description and the dialogue, but unless there's something specific that I want I don't specify how to lay out the page.

Also, once I have confidence in an artist, I'll often let them design and implement the action scenes themselves. I'll write in the specific beats I want, but those guys love drawing punches and stuff, so I'm generally happy to let them do it.

A good script should be entertaining to read on its own, and should tell the story clearly. I try to stick with about one page of script for each paneled page, although that can vary too. Each page should have a beginning, middle and end, and I like to end them with a cliffhanger - a reason to turn the page.

Don't break scene in the middle of a page unless you have a really good reason. Wait for the page turn.

That's all I can think of off the top of my head, but I hope it's helpful.

What are some of your future comic book projects or are you just currently working on 27? thanks for taking the time! (submitted by ryanyhc)

CS: Right now, I have two new things that will definitely be coming out beyond 27. One is a large graphic novel about New York City - sort of Pi meets Harry Potter. That's set up with Archaia, and should be out in the late spring. The art is amazing - really gritty and cool, and I can't wait to see how it looks in the amazing hardcover prestige collection they'll do for it. It's called Strange Attractors.

The other one was just pitched at New York Comic Con, and it's too early to talk about it, but I am very very excited about it. Conceptually, I think it's just as strong as 27, but it's totally different. It's more of a political/sci-fi thing, and I have a really good feeling about it. Believe me, the minute I can start talking about it, whammo - it'll be everywhere.

I also have some work-for-hire happening, which is nice, as it helps pay for the creator-owned stuff. There's a series about Detroit (I grew up there for a while), and one about Atlantis, and other little bits and bobs here and there. Two other big creator-owned things are inching their way to fruition - one's a post-apocalyptic naval adventure story, like Master and Commander meets Mad Max, and the other is about a serial killer in a prison.

Those last few are a bit further out, but hopefully you'll be hearing more about all of them in the next year. I'm busy, which is awesome. 

Could you please explain the process of putting a pitch packet together? (submitted by DrDoomDDS)

CS: Every publisher has its own rules, and you should always check to see if there's something weird about what they want. By and large, though, a pitch should contain:

1) 5 pages of finished, lettered sequential art, as gorgeous as you can make it.

2) A 1-2 page synopsis for the story, including themes, format, projected length and a beginning-middle-end description of what the story is about. Shorter is better than longer. Make it tight.

3) A cover, ideally with a cool, eye-grabbing logo.

Some people put more than that, with things like character designs, but it's not necessary. All of my stuff has been within those guidelines, although I'll add a few extra pages to the sequentials if 5 pages won't get me to a cool break point in the story. Making it too long will make you look amateurish, especially on the synopsis.

Do NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT for your first pitch present a 50-issue maxiseries. It's the biggest beginner mistake. Your first pitch should be a mini, always. 3-5 issues. Even the biggest creators in comics have a hard time getting something huge out. Keep it reasonable.


Can you talk a bit about your process? From the seed of a story in your head to actually holding a comic book in your hand. Big overarching question, I know, but it's always interesting to me to hear responses to this. I'd like to hear about 27 in particular, but feel free to talk about another one of your books. (submitted by kublakhan1816)

CS: Let me start by saying that I write a lot of different things, not just comics. I have two novels under my belt, short stories, four or five screenplays, etc. That's not to say that I'm so ridiculously productive, but it does mean that I have experience writing for different formats. I've been writing seriously for about eleven years.

When I have the seed of an idea, (which happens ALL the time, to the point where I always carry a little Moleskine notebook with me wherever I go so that I can jot stuff down), I chew on it in my head for a bit and then the first filtering occurs. That's the simplest one: keep it or ditch it. If it has potential, I'll let it sit in my head for a while, and see if other ideas start to spin off from it.

The really good ideas immediately tend to have a life of their own, throwing off plot ideas and characters and so on. If they're really good, I'll almost be compelled to find a few minutes to write everything down, in a loose series of bullet points - just the raw ideas.

From there, I usually decide whether the idea would work best as a comic, movie, whatever. The rarest category is "novel," since they take so incredibly long to write and they're so uncertain. I haven't written a novel in several years, although I think I'm inching back in that direction. Anyway, each idea has its own feel, and I have an instinct at this point as to how best to execute it. It's even to the point where I can sort of tell whether it would work better as single issue comics or a full OGN (graphic novel, or trade).

Once all of that is out of the way - and it's all pretty early in the process - I'll usually type up the notes and stick them in one of my project folders. I don't always start writing right away, because I always have active projects going on, and there isn't always time to jump into something new. Eventually, though, things click and I get rolling. These days, I like to write my first drafts in longhand, especially for creator-owned stuff, because it gives me a chance to write anywhere without being saddled to the laptop, and I can do a first edit pass when I'm typing the longhand version in later on.

Once I have a good draft, it's about execution, in whatever way that might be. For comics, it's about finding an artist, getting a pitch together and getting it picked up. For a novel or screenplay, it's about getting it to an agent to hopefully sell. For a short, it's usually just about getting it done for the satisfaction of it, or as a tryout for an artist you might want to work with.
If you'd like to read more (and there's a lot more) or ask a question of your own, follow this link to the original AMA and ask Charles Soule anything!

Written or Contributed by: Christian Hoffer

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About the Author - Christian Hoffer


Christian Hoffer is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Hoffer is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.

 


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