My name is Jeremy Holt and I’ve spent the last three years writing comic books you haven’t read. I am not a full time creator yet, but today I have a back-up story in the Image Comics’ series Grim Leaper #3, which is the first of a few published works to see release this year. This column is an ongoing account of my journey into comics. By sharing my experiences, I hope to inform others about navigating their own careers. You can learn from my triumphs and failures or not — I’ll leave that entirely up to you. What follows is the story of how I first got published in the strange and fantastic business of comic books.
“There are no aspiring artists. You either create or you don’t.”
I remember thinking he was taller than I expected. We had spent the past couple months recording a writer’s podcast together, so when I found myself shaking his hand for the first time at FanExpo last year, there was no trace of awkwardness.
“It’s called Grim Leaper,” he said.
He was not much older than me. Yet there I was, reviewing a handful of stellar pages from his fourth comic book, which had just been green lit that afternoon by the Editor-In-Chief of Image Comics, Eric Stephenson. It was clearly his charm and confidence that made his pitch meetings so successful — he had just pitched a new series with only a handful of incomplete art pages (inked and colored but with no lettering). I made a mental note that exuding enthusiasm was the hook that reeled in an editor’s support.
I had pitched my own book to Stephenson earlier that day — my primary goal that weekend — and was surprised by his positive reception of it. With that behind me, I spent the rest of the time accomplishing my second goal of hanging out and networking with the Image Comics creators that were in attendance. Many of them were casual acquaintances made via Twitter, but by the end of the weekend I had established some genuine friendships. I left that convention with a new and much more informed perspective on the creator-owned comics industry, an invaluable lesson on the importance of attending cons. However, after a couple months of follow up emails, Stephenson eventually emailed me back to say he was passing on my pitch.
Serendipitously, another email that day was sitting in my inbox. The subject line was Grim Leaper Shorts:
“It has to be a love story. It can be fucked up, funny, sad, happy, whatever. You get 5 pages to tell a cool story and showcase your talent. Grim Leaper comes out in May so the first issue spot would need to be done by middle of March. The sooner I can get my hands on these, the better. Chime in with your interest and/or to reserve a spot. —Kurtis”
A month later, I had linked up with an artist, and a short time later, I sent him the finalized script for what would be my first published work. It was hard to believe that I was not only getting published by Image Comics — one of the leading independent comic publishers — but also building a friendship with an established creator who genuinely believed in my talent. Unfortunately, my relationship with my artist was experiencing a steady decline. What should have been a fun and productive collaboration slowly decayed into a series of stressful disappointments stretched out over five long months. The deadlines for my short in the back of issues one and two came and went, and the deadline for issue three was days away when he asked for an extension.
I was reminded of a line from Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho: “I feel on the verge of frenzy. My mask of sanity is about to slip.” What was most frustrating was that I had given my artist two opportunities to bow out of the project but was reassured each time that the pages were nearing completion. Discovering that I had been blatantly lied to was mind-boggling, especially considering that the project was supposed to be benefitting both of our fledgling careers. What’s more, unbeknownst to anyone involved in the project, I was approaching my rather ambitious goal of getting my writing published within three years of starting out. With less then three months remaining, I had just failed to meet my first professional deadline. With a heavy heart, I wrote Kurtis an apology informing him of my rather embarrassing situation and thanking him for the opportunity.Continued below
“Issue two is delayed as it hasn’t been sent to the printers yet. You have maybe two weeks to get it done,” he wrote back.
Like Marty McFly writing that letter to Doc Brown the night he goes back to the future, I suddenly realized that I had time to correct things in the past. As I leapt back onto Twitter to send out a distress tweet looking for a replacement, I replayed the chain of events that led to my current crisis. It should have been a red flag when my artist refused to show his layouts and work in progress because it supposedly wasn’t conducive to his process. I should have known better to let him handle pencils, inks, colors, AND lettering before seeing sufficient examples that he could pull off all four. My trust abused and reputation on the line, I could have given up and called it a day, but instead I wrote back: “I’ll make it happen.”
I then sent out the following tweet:
“Artists: Free to draw a 5pg short to appear in the back of an Image Comic? You’d have 1wk to do so. Let me know. Serious inquiries ONLY.”
Within an hour it was retweeted to thousands of people, and in the end I received over a dozen inquiries. This outpouring of support made me realize that in the last four years, I had managed to network with hundreds of creators and exuded the same confidence that Kurtis possessed during our first meeting. For the first time ever, I felt like my name had a little clout.
Within seven days, I had found an artist [Chris Peterson] and a colorist [Thomas Boatwright], accepted layouts, inks, colors, and the completed PDF proof was provided by my letterer [Ed Brisson]. Next, the finalized pages were uploaded to Image’s server, and a couple weeks later, Kurtis emailed me to tell me that it was reviewed and approved by editorial.
There is something truly satisfying about overcoming obstacles that seem to exist only to prove your limitations. Publishing is one such obstacle, but it is the people that pursue it for the right reasons who eventually succeed. The comic book industry — or any creative medium for that matter — is a strange business to break into because it is devoid of standardization and protocol. Everyone’s origin story is unique, and your only ticket in is the burning desire to create with relentless optimism and determination.
I would discover this after years of trial and error supplied with copious amounts of humility. It all started back in the summer of 2009, when I was broke, starving, and left with nothing but my thoughts.
To be continued…