The Assistant Editor. Are you familiar with this editorial position? Don’t let the “assistant” part fool you. These are the people you want to know. Why? Because they are Senior Editors in-training. While the big guns like Karen Berger (DC/Vertigo), Axel Alonso (Marvel), Charlie Chu (Oni Press), Stephen Christy (Archaia), and Chris Ryall (IDW) that have their all-star creators locked and loaded; it’s their Assistant Editor(s) that have the interest and flexibility to start recruiting their own lineup.
Introducing Bobby Curnow–then Assistant Editor at IDW.
Thanks for contacting us. The reality of the current marketplace mean that it is extraordinarily hard to get a project approved that doesn’t have a big ‘name’ attached to it, or stems from a license with a preexisting fan base. So unfortunately I don’t think we’ll be able to give your project a home at IDW.
Out of context, this would have been one of dozens of rejection letters I’d see for the next two years, but this was an unsolicited submission to their letters department. This was huge. Did he have to respond to my submission? Absolutely not. Then why did he?
I did go through your proposal though, and want to congratulate you on a job well done–this was a very nice and engaging pitch. David clearly has a lot of talent- I especially dig his use of shadows as Jonah walks through the neighborhood. I also commend you on telling a story that address some of the heavy issues that the country faces, but that can also double as an exciting action-adventure.
It gets better.
I would encourage you to keep plugging away at the project. You both exhibit a good deal of talent, and sometimes all an editor needs to see is a completed issue that lets him know what the story-tellers are capable of doing in 22 pages. Please feel free to keep in touch and update me on the status of this project and others you may have in the future.
Thanks and best of luck,
Around this time, I had set up a production blog chronicling my progress with Death Tax. Unfortunately, my semi-consistent posts came to an abrupt halt when artist David James Cole had to bow out of the project due to scheduling conflicts. Still confident in what I created, I decided to attend Brooklyn’s King Con–a small press expo that followed New York Comic Con a week later. There, I had the fortune of meeting the creative team behind Archaia’s Feeding Ground, and the artist, Michael Lapinski was kind enough to review my pitch.
He was impressed with the art and overall delivery of the concept. We discussed how his team landed at Archaia, which consisted of a cold pitch at the publisher’s booth at NYCC a year earlier. When I say they presented a complete package, it feels like an understatement. Aside from the expected sample art pages, series synopsis, and issue breakdowns; they included every cover with alternative ones. I was overwhelmed with embarrassment at how third rate my presentation looked.
Note to self: A professional looking presentation is dressing your pitch for the job it wants. Right now: Yours looks like a hobo.
Walking the small convention floor, I introduced myself to Charles Soule–writer of the highly anticipated Image Shadowline series 27. Still in need of an artist, I asked Soule about his artist, Renzo Podesta’s availability.
“We’re actually close to wrapping up the book. I’m not sure what other commitments he has, but definitely reach out to him,” he said.
Putting Soule’s suggestion to good use, I sent an introductory email to Renzo. I gave a brief description of my project, provided a link to the production blog, and included my acquaintance with Soule; an attempt to boost my non-existent image within the industry.
What I wasn’t aware of then (but am highly aware of now) is that referrals are the best networking channels. The creator-owned industry is built on close-knit friendships that–like a family–require a great deal of trust. Establishing a solid network of known creators that will vouch for you increases you’re credibility tenfold. I felt like the outsider and real life mobster, Henry Hill, made famous in Scorsese’s classic film Goodfellas: “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”Continued below
To my pleasant surprise, Renzo replied that same day to say he liked the concept. He informed me of his fees and work methods [50% to start a batch of pages and 50% for the completed hi-res files] and after accepting the arrangement, we got to work.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This was strictly a work-for-hire agreement with an established page rate and no shared IP. I felt it necessary to pay him because I was an unknown with no credits to my name. As you build your body of work, you won’t need to rely so heavily on this type of collaboration–especially if you have a limited budget to work with.
Six weeks later, I had the first five pages re-drawn, inked, and lettered. Knowing that the entire first issue was currently in production was exciting.
I continued to provide Bobby with status updates on Death Tax.
Cool Jeremy, congrats on grabbing a published artist, that definitely won’t hurt! If possible, I’d say hold off till the issue is complete. Always helps to see your complete ‘vision’, including how you handle an issue climax and hook for the next issue.
Cheers, and good luck!
Over the course of five months, I continued to develop my rapport with him and took his advice by continuing production on issue one. On February 21, 2011, I proudly sent off what was my very first completed issue. I could not have felt more confident about it.
On March 3rd, 2011, I received his thoughts.
Upon reading his email, my heart returned to that familiar place in my gut. I read phrases like, “too much exposition/back story,” “confused by,” “my main complaint,” “seemed to come out of nowhere, plot-wise,” and “I need a little more to sink my teeth into.” His critique was like a shotgun blast to the chest that left splintered wounds in my story with no hope of revival. The amount of money I had already paid Renzo to complete the entire issue represented the stinging shards of embedded shrapnel. It wasn’t until I read Bobby’s closing remarks that it dawned on me that my initial reaction was in response to a wounded ego. When did I grow an ego?!
Okay, those are my thoughts. First off, apologies for being as blunt as I am here. It’s a great achievement putting together a complete issue like this, and you should be really proud of it. I know firsthand how much effort that takes to do this with no outside financial support. I also know how hard it is to put your stuff out there for criticism, and I really applaud you for both the energy and effort you put into this, as well as the cordial demeanor you’ve shown in trying to share it. When I don’t see any potential at all in someone I usually just say ‘Cool! Not bad!’ and be done with it. It’s obvious you have determination and commitment…those types of people I like to ‘reward’ with honest feedback, which is what the above is. It should go without saying that it’s just my opinion. Someone else may have a completely different take on it. Thanks for sharing Jeremy, and good luck with your next steps. Keep on keepin’ on.
What I failed to factor in after completing the first issue is that it did not mask shortcomings within the story–ones that I failed to see being too invested in the project. In actuality, it enhanced them. I could see the validity in every critique he made, and clearly understood the invaluable service editors provide in order to produce engaging (albeit coherent) stories.
So I replied, “As tough as it is to hear criticism, that’s not the hardest part of all of this. lt’s the time and money I’ve spent to get this far. But I want to thank you for your bluntness, you have provided me even more tools for my writing arsenal. I appreciate these notes more than I can express in an email. I do agree with most of your points, it’s just difficult to decide where to go from here.” This brought up another problem I didn’t anticipate, which was the prohibitive nature of paying a page rate. To make the revisions Bobby had suggested would require more money that I hadn’t budgeted for. “I could spend the time and re-write the book, but we both know that that would involve having to start back at square one with the art. That’s a major commitment to a book that may never get picked up, you know? I could commit to going the self publishing route, or I could move on to my next project. I’m gonna take some time to weigh my options, but would it be alright if I submit this new first issue to you if I decide to complete it? Thank you again for all of your time. I’m excited to re-read my current work and make the necessary corrections so that I can present an even better comic next time. Kindest Regards, Jeremy.”Continued below
I was treading water in the open sea with no raft in sight. Just as I could feel myself give in to the paralyzing self-doubt that would have drowned me, Bobby threw me a life line.
You’ve completely got the right attitude, and I applaud you for that- I know it’s tough…I self-published myself back 6 or 7 years, and got some difficult criticism as well. Not what you want to hear after all your hard work–it’s really demoralizing! For what it’s worth though…this is pretty much the process everyone, including the biggest names in the business, goes through. Trial and error, failure, work, failure, work work. You can’t look at the time and money you spent as a waste….as corny as it sounds it’s an investment in the future. Hopefully you’ll be able to look back in 5 years and say ‘I learned a lot from that book.’ The most important thing you can do is learn, improve, and take feed back well. It sounds like you’re doing all of that stuff, so you’re on the right track. Even though it probably doesn’t feel like it, you’ve got farther than the vast majority of people who endeavor to put together a book. Feel free to send your next thing my way.
I had just washed ashore. Discovering a new found purpose and outlook, I started revising my newest project involving family drama, racism, and a teen struggling with being an outsider in more ways than one. The project was entitled Southern Dog.
TO BE CONTINUED…