I found myself at another one of Bergen Street Comic’s fantastic release parties. I had been attending their events since day one, and I never left one without exchanging business cards with someone worth contacting later. Tonight wouldn’t be any different.
“Jeremy, have you met Bob Fingerman?” asked Amy–wife of Tom Adams and co-owner of the shop.
“I have not. He’s here?”
“Let me introduce you.” Leading me through the crowd towards the back of the shop, she continued, “I assume you know that he’s a bit of a curmudgeon?”
“I’ve heard things,” I acknowledged.
For all of you who don’t know Bob Fingerman, I regret to inform you that you’re late to the party. Fingerman ranks amongst some of the best cartoonists that emerged during the late 80’s and early 90’s. His introspective and often dark satirical work examining characters within slice-of-life type stories pioneered a unique genre of comics that have been published by everyone from Heavy Metal to National Lampoon to Penthouse.
And there he was, drying his freshly washed hands.
“Amy, you’ve got to stop introducing me to people. Shaking all those hands, I can actually feel myself catching something.”
“I’m sorry! Well, no handshakes are required here, but I’d like to introduce you to a dear friend to the shop. This is Jeremy Holt and he’s a very talented writer who has some promising projects in the works.”
I smiled with a small wave.
“Nice to meet you, Jeremy,” he waved back. “Bob.”
Before I could thank Amy for the introductions, she excused herself to continue her role as exceptional host of the party–something she had built a nice reputation as being.
“What type of things are you writing?”
“Oh, well, I’m putting together a pitch for New York Comic Con. It’s a socio-economic action/adventure exploring the Wall Street Crash of ’08. The story takes place a year after the U.S. has filed for bankruptcy after not being bailed out by the IMF and the other global banks.”
He looked genuinely intrigued, “Really? Nice concept.”
“Thank you. The story also explores radical Evangelists and cannibalism on an epidemic scale,” I concluded.
“Funny that you’re writing about cannibalism. Not sure if you read my last comic From the Ashes, but it also has cannibalism in it.” I hadn’t had a chance to read it, but I could only assume it was awesome. “It’s a speculative memoir of the Apocalypse, and there’s a scene where me and my wife get served fresh Anthony Bourdain by a group of mutant New Yorkers.” I assumed correctly.
“That’s awesome,” I laughed.
We continued to have a really great conversation on the current climate of comic books and he shared some stories of his early years in comics. I felt like an incoming freshmen who was talking to a tenured professor. Sensing a natural moment to wrap up the chat, I reached into my pocket for my business card.
“I don’t know if you use a Mac, but here’s my card.”
“You work at Apple? And as a Genius no less,” he inferred while inspecting my card.
“I do. Seriously, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any problems.”
“Actually, my dad gave me his old Mac Pro that’s dead. Okay, if I drop it off?”
“Absolutely,” I obliged.
He then looked at me and extended his hand.
“I know I was just complaining to Amy about germs, but you’re worth a handshake,” he continued, “It’s a pleasure meeting you, Jeremy. I have a signing at the Tor Books booth. Stop by then, I’d like to see your pitch.”
The remaining months leading up to New York Comic Con were extremely productive. I arranged to stop by David James Cole’s apartment nestled in the heart of SoHo, as he had some inked pages to show me for Death Tax. It’s worth mentioning that when I first met him, he had already worked on Birds of Prey for almost two years at DC Comics. He also happened to be looking for more steady income, so in exchange of five pages and a cover, I got him a job at Apple. Bartering still works, at least in New York City.Continued below
The entrance to his apartment was sort of hidden within a local retail shop that had closed for the day. Walking up a wide set of loft-style stairs to the fourth floor, I remember thinking this was the type of New York apartment that should be in a Woody Allen film. David greeted me and showed me around his extremely spacious and chicly decorated pad.
Walking over to his drafting table, I could feel my heart melting within my chest, as my eyes grew wide the moment I saw it.
“Here’s page one,” he said.
The story of Death Tax was born out of a single image that despite all of my revisions, has always been the first panel on the first page. To see my words transcribed by David’s undeniably talented line and ink work, I could feel my tear ducts welling up.
Needless to say, I was speechless. I think I even hugged him.
“I’m almost done with page two, so we’re still on track to have five pages done in time for the con,” he said.
We sat at his antique wooden table in the dining area, while he smoked a cigarette by a wall of open windows overlooking Chinatown. It was an atypical muggy afternoon in the city, and the faint smell of smoke swirled through the humidity like molasses. We shared our experiences in comics over a couple of gin and tonics, and I sat in awe as he described the offices of DC Comics. He smiled when I told him about my experience with Joan Hilty.
Eventually calling it a night, I wandered through the streets of Soho feeling overwhelmed with how satisfying collaborating on a comic could be. A month later, he delivered all five pages and even had them lettered by a friend. Feeling as prepared as I could be, but not quite sure on how to proceed, I printed the pages on thicker stock computer paper and headed to my first comic convention.
Clocking out of work on that Friday afternoon, I walked over to the Jacob Javits Center with zero expectations. With a few copies of my pitch on hand, I navigated through a sea of people as I failed to orient myself with the event’s floor set up. I managed to stumble upon the Image booth, and proceeded to awkwardly browse as I grew increasingly anxious to introduce myself to the staff.
You can do this. Just introduce yourself to…is he an editor? Is she? What does Eric Stephenson even look like…? Real smart, Jeremy, and you call yourself a Genius.
Unable to bring myself to say hello to anyone, I decided to head over to the Tor Books booth to say hi to Bob. I wasn’t surprised to see a line of people eagerly awaiting to get copies of his latest novel Pariah signed. After wrapping up with his last fan, he welcomed me with another handshake and asked if I wanted to walk the floor with him.
As we walked around, he skimmed my pitch and said he’d definitely have a look at it. We came across the IDW booth and I asked him about his experience publishing From the Ashes through them. He was kind enough to shed some light on how a few of the bigger indie publishers operated as far as page rates and IP ownership were concerned. We exchanged numbers before we parted ways, and I thanked him again for his time.
I attended a few panels later that day–one of which was an “Image Presents” one–and had an opportunity to talk to Robert Kirkman for a bit afterwards about pitching to Image.
“Well, the art has to be good, but that’s a given,” he explained. “As for the synopsis, sell it to me in a paragraph or less.”
I managed to grab a brief moment with Nick Spencer and asked how he went about pitching his newly published series Morning Glories.
“All it took was one sentence. Less than that actually. Lost meets The Runaways,” he smiled.
Damn. I had a long road ahead of me. Fortunately, I continued my progress that night at a kick-off party for New York Comic Con weekend at Bergen Street Comics. Much to my surprise, I showed up to find that the guest of honor was Geoff Johns. With the aid of two, maybe three drinks, I approached Geoff to introduce myself. To describe the man in three words it would have to be: cool older brother. The guy was super nice, engaging, and when I sort of sheepishly asked if I could get his advice on my comic book; he happily obliged. Half expecting him to quickly skim the pages, I was pleasantly surprised to see him carefully review the pitch.Continued below
Without breaking his gaze from the pages, he asked, “Who lettered these pages?”
“A friend of my artist. Why?”
“Well, the lettering is really bad. Good lettering is designed to help guide the reader’s eye–something that I shouldn’t notice,” he continued, “The placement here isn’t bad, but the font choice and inconsistent balloon shapes is distracting. It’s personal preference, but I’d try to avoid having balloons break the panels.”
I realized at that moment how crucial this critique was. What did I know about lettering? Absolutely nothing. This opened my eyes to the broader construction required in assembling a solid pitch. Lettering reminded me of my years working as a sound designer. The work of a truly exceptional sound designer is something no one should ever notice–seamlessness is key.
“The art is strong enough on its own. If I were you, I’d suggest submitting just the inked pages with the script attached for an editor to read along.”
“Really? I’ve read that editors prefer completed and polished pages when reviewing creator-owned work.”
“That’s probably true, but it can’t hurt. It’s that or hire a skilled letterer.”
After handing me back my packet, we talked a bit more and he shared a funny anecdote about how he managed to get his first gig in film after cold calling Richard Donner’s office. Accidentally getting the famed director on the line, he managed to talk his way into an interview which led to an internship. We were suddenly interrupted by someone who couldn’t wait for an autograph, and proceeded to gush over Geoff’s work. Clearly sensing it was my queue to leave, I started towards the door when I heard, “Excuse me, but I was talking to my friend. Hold on one second.”
He stepped aside and said, “Jeremy, it was a pleasure to meet you. Your work shows potential. As for my advice: take it or leave it. You’ll know what you need to do when the time calls for it.”
Like I said. Cool. Older. Brother.
I went home that night and it dawned on me how beneficial the weekend had been all thanks to my comic book shop. All those days spent chatting with Tom, Amy, and Tucker, and attending their events as more of a colleague than a fan was priceless. For any of you that are fortunate enough to live in a place that has a brick and mortar establishment; make an effort to stop by and get to know the staff. Particularly in the bigger cities, a great local shop is the quintessential hub for networking. More than that, it’s just too much fun to be part of a creator-positive community.
By the end of the convention weekend, I felt exhausted in the most satisfying of ways. I was hooked and my drug of choice was PROGRESS. I started reading over the submission pages from all the publishers that I believed Death Tax could be a good fit at. The only one that was not accepting unsolicited submissions was IDW. With some digging, I came across their contact info page, and found an email address for any general questions to the publisher. My imagination started running.
Could this be my Richard Donner moment…? With nothing to lose, I sent off my pitch in an email entitled “Attn: Editors” to email@example.com. Five nights later a reply was waiting in my inbox.
TO BE CONTINUED…