Hi, my name is Cameron and I’m the writer and co-creator of Skeleton Bay Detective Agency, my first comic book. Because of the illustrious and voluminous bibliography I just listed, I feel like now is the right time in my career to write a series of essays to explain all of the wild success that I swear I definitely have. Thanks for stopping by.
In the past two installments, I talked about what it took for me to seriously try being a writer, then the idea-generation process that happened once I met artist and series co-creator Taylor Carlise. Now, I want to talk about what we wound up doing with that idea.
Way back at the end of 2014 and into 2015, Taylor and I were still feeling out some of the early aspects of the series, some core ideas, first storylines, that sort of thing. Beyond that, though, we didn’t quite know what we wanted to do with the idea. Being avid comic nerds for all of our lives, though, both he and I were mesmerized by the lofty idea of holding a paper version of our comic as Professional Comic Book Creators. So, obviously that meant that we should try and get our comic published by an established publisher. They would help us create, print, and advertise the book, as well as maybe also pay us? That sounds like a pretty sweet deal.
WAY easier said than done. While the whole “convince a publisher to risk thousands of dollars on us” premise was charming, it’s not as if either of us had ever pitched a comic book to Marvel. So first, we needed to do a little research.
While the comic industry is certainly dominated by the Big Two, Marvel and DC, there are dozens and dozens of small, independent publishers that put out comics too. Then, within this smaller piece of the pie, there is a pretty wide spectrum of output and acclaim, from groups that put out thousands of copies of a book a month, to basically Mom and Pop shops that print at Kinkos. Most of the research we did about where we ought to pitch was to say to one another, “uh, alright, um. Oni Press? They put out Scott Pilgrim. That’d be DOPE to get hooked up with them. Do they take submissions?” Because, of course, whether the company even wants to hear from us is another consideration.
As it turned out, Oni Press was taking submissions. They usually don’t, but they were going to open their submission doors for a month in the spring. All right! We finally had something to shoot for, a deadline. Of course, we found out about their May submissions in April, so we had to book it. We needed written material, finished pages, a letter to the editors; a great number of things we suuuuper didn’t have on hand.
Wouldn’t it be cool to say we buckled down, ground it out, and put together such a dazzling pitch that we now publish through Oni and are on our way to fame and fortune?
Yeeeeah, not so much.We didn’t hit that deadline, and Oni has not yet opened their doors again (the process undoubtedly reminded them why they didn’t usually let random strangers throw comic book ideas at them in the first place) (Follow-up, though; we were actually recently able to pitch to an Oni editor through other channels. They still said no, but it was super cool regardless).
So, we weren’t underdogs and didn’t dramatically win the dance competition at the end of the movie. BUT what it did get us to do was get off our lazy butts and make a serious go at pitching to publishers. So, we ACTUALLY learned what they wanted, what we ACTUALLY needed to make, and pulled together the appropriate material.
What we wound up with is the first five pages and the last five pages of what was to be issue 1. By this point we had realized that the script that is now Midnight at McLloyd Mansion made more sense as a pre-series, short story, since it only included two of the series’ main characters and is not really an introduction into the story at all. We were really lucky to catch Brittany Peer, a friend of Taylor’s from college, right before she became a professional colorist, so she was willing to color our pages for us for free, which was incredibly generous and added such a professional finish to our pages.
Accompanying that, we had our elevator pitch, little bios about ourselves, some pages of script, and a summary of our entire series. That’s right, we got this alllll planned out. Well, at least in broad strokes. Mostly. As it turns out, for pretty much any comic book series, you need to present the whole thing to any publisher you’re pitching to because, while the audience may like surprises, publishers actually hate them. They would much rather know that you actually know where you’re going rather than read along with the paying customers and trust that they didn’t make a mistake hiring you.
With all of those things pulled together, we sent our baby out into the world.
While we were starting to send these pitches out, Taylor and Brittany also sent it over to a couple of people for feedback. Guys, I’ll tell you right now, it’s always good to get feedback. After one or two submissions, I was working on a third. I had spent a lot of time pulling together and tweaking and changing and prepping to send our stuff out to a publisher that we thought we aligned with particularly well. I had the email all cued up Thursday night, and all I had to do was press “send” in the morning on Friday, so they wouldn’t get the email at 2 a.m. Sometime between then and when I woke up, though, Brittany got a response from her friend. Who tore us apart. In the nicest, most constructive way. He had pointed out every single weakness and shortcoming the series had and suddenly I was standing in Eden with no pants on.
See, we had originally planned on having the first 12 issues be short, one- or two-issue standalone stories; cases of the week. Then, in issue 13, we pull the rug out from underneath everyone and BAM! GHOST TIME!
Except, that’s dumb.
If we were publishing them a month at a time, it would take an entire YEAR of investment for a reader to get anywhere close to the meat of the story, and a comic a month is unrealistic (to contrast, at our page-a-week schedule we have currently, it takes five months to put one out). It was a huge ask for anyone, let alone a publisher who doesn’t have the time or resources to blow a year or more on a couple of goof balls who have never made a comic.So began one of the more stressful weekends of my life as I scrambled to completely rework our comic, preserving as much of the art and story we had already made while cutting out the fat and giving us a unique hook in an attempt to distinguish ourselves. One of the bigger arguments that Taylor and I have had in our creative relationship happened over this weekend as we tried to dial in just how radical a re-write we needed (I am still holding on to an awesome idea he wanted nothing to do with that I’ll make into some other comic some day).
By Monday, however, we had our reworked story. Similar number of issues, but we start the series much faster and just cut to the chase that much quicker. The series improved exponentially, and we felt so much better about it.
So we kept sending our stuff out. With every submission, we also included a “why we’re making this” page that ended with why we specifically fit into that particular publisher. Ugh. It’s a comic version of a cover letter and it’s a pain. But it was worth the practice and the learning experience and with each new “letter” I would refine everything, refine, refine, refine.
Unfortunately, there were no takers. Which is not wholly surprising; we’re completely new and comic publishers don’t have much money on a good day, so it’s really hard to convince them to go out on a limb. Coming from a theatre background, I am well acquainted with rejection, so the “no’s” were not too ego bruising. Just shrug ‘em off and keep moving.
My thick skin was all well and good, but if we aren’t going to get a publisher, then what were we going to do? That is something I’ll save for next week’s installment, where I’ll be talking about our very successful first Kickstarter, our first forays into the convention circuit, and what it takes to start your own web comic (spoiler alert: patience and free time).
If you like all of this behind-the-scenes information I’m sharing with you, Skeleton Bay also has a Patreon, where you can get all sorts of making-of content emailed to you each week along with that week’s page of comic. We also have a Facebook page , so check it out, like the page and all that. Lastly, we have a newsletter that you can sign up for and cut out the middle man of all the social media rigmarole and never miss an update.
Otherwise, I’ll see you next time for part four!