Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Advice to a young comics writer

Something you may wish to keep in mind as you embark on a career of a comic book writer, particularly if given the relatively rare chance to work on one of the premiere characters from one of the premiere publishers in the North American comic book industry, is that in our era of 24/7 social media immersion, you should probably be careful regarding what you say, who you say it to and how you say it.

I don't mean this in some sort of "Watch what you say!," speech- or thought-policing kind of way. I'm not in law enforcement, government or any position of authority...or even gate-keeping. But I am a guy who reads comic books, I'm a guy who buys comic books and I'm a guy who writes about comic books a lot, which often includes a degree of suggesting to others which comic books they should read and which they shouldn't read.

Despite being on Twitter and Facebook and having a blog, I'm not terribly engaged with social media, and didn't have any idea who you were, or that you even existed, until I read the first issue of your new comic book series a month or so ago. So I imagine you must have been saying some very incendiary and/or offensive and/or dumb things on social media of late, because every time I check Facebook, another person on my friends list is complaining about the apparently noxious things you've been saying lately, and even people I know in real life are talking to me about it in real life.

That's not real great PR for your just-launched comic book series, and  if you plan on making a career out of writing comic books, it's probably best to be known as The Guy Who Wrote That Really Good Comic Book Series and not The Guy Who Said a Bunch of Dumb Stuff on The Internet and Pissed Everyone Off. Because that perception does matter; I mean, I still don't really know who you are, and haven't read your comments myself, but I did read that first issue of your comic book series and liked it a lot. I was looking forward to reading the rest of it. I'd prefer to think of you as a comic writer and not some Internet troll, but when trollish comments outweigh your comic book output, that can become a challenge. (And, again, I'm just an extremely-engaged reader and semi-professional critic; while you don't want to piss off too many readers, as it will effect the sales of your books, you certainly don't want to piss off comics retailers, fellow comics writers, comics artist and publishers, as you'll find yourself out of work pretty quickly.)

Now if you're just doing your own self-published thing, hell, rant away. But if you're working on a corporate-owned, iconic character, with a variety of excellent artists, for a major publisher, mouthing-off idiotically has consequences for people other than you personally. If sales on your book take a hit, it affects the artists you are collaborating with, as well as the other people involved in every aspect of creation of the book. And if you become The Most Hated Man In Comics, well, you're not exactly rewarding the publisher's faith in you, as they took a risk granting such a high-profile book to a complete novice. Besides, the book you're working on started out very good, and so far at least seems to be the sort of book that would make for an excellent, evergreen collection that the publisher could keep in print and selling for pretty much forever, which means royalties for you and you collaborators for pretty much forever.

Now, it's certainly not impossible to make huge swathes of the comics industry hate you while still having a successful career in the field--there are tons of unlikable, even loathsome people in this industry making a living doing what they love!--but they tend to have a whole body of reliably high-quality work they can fall back on to prove that their current and future work is worthy of attention no matter what you might think of them personally, or, at the very least,to have  a huge fan-base to support them and their current and future work when the rest of the world turns their backs on them.

You might want to keep more loathsome opinions to yourself when you're just getting started or, if you feel the need to tweet about these opinions, at least do so between major comics projects, rather than directly on the heels of your very first issue. Retailers should just now be starting to place orders for the second half of your new series, after all.

That, or you can always try to find work in another entertainment industry where one can be a terrible human being and still make a decent living with little in the way of achievement to their name, regardless of how many people despise them. Maybe try  filmmaking...?


SallyP said...

Caleb, this is very good advice. And you have also piqued my interest in your mystery writer.

Patrick C said...

My curiosity is piqued as well.

snell said...

Longest. Subtweet. Ever.

Caleb said...

Welllll, if you're really curious, I guess you could just Google, I don't know, "Mary Sue + Star Wars + Superman."


Ha. My verbosity (i.e. being so damned long-winded) is precisely why I'm the worst tweeter in the world.

Bram said...

If you mean who I think you mean, that's a guy with way more cachet than any comic writer. And a reputation for this kind of activity to uphold.

Not that your advice isn't solid.

But, hey, I spend, like, half my time on Twitter just trying to figure out why everyone's so worked up this time.

A. Sherman Barros said...

This is the most sanctimonious and self-righteous limp-dicked apology for self-censorship (the worst kind) I’ve read in a long time. And I don’t even know who the bastard is you’re addressing , nor the terrible things he might be daring to say.

Caleb said...

Thanks for your valuable input, A. Sherman Barros!

Just to clarify, what does your parenthetical "the worst kind" refer to, self-censorship or "self-righteous limp-dicked" apologies...? Because surely self-censorship is the BEST kind of censorship, isn't it? Would YOU rather be in charge of what you don't say, or would you prefer someone else stop you from saying certain things? If you don't care for "limp-dicked" apologies, well, I'm afraid you're out of luck; I don't think I've ever apologized for anything with a turgid penis before, but man, I really don't think the state of my genitals during the writing of anything is any of your business.

A. Sherman Barros said...

You're welcome, Caleb.

Now, maybe if you were a little more adroit with your etymology instead of your anatomy, you would know I was using the term apology not as meaning "an excuse", but as a "defense of" (as per the full definition of APOLOGY in Merrian-Webster: "A FORMAL JUSTIFICATION: DEFENSE").

Obviously, the limp-dicked apology meant your shy defense of self-censorship, without the balls to go into full-fledged defense of total and enforced censorship.

As to your obviuously rhetoric question (at least I hope it is rhetoric and not merely thoughtless), maybe you should consider that when one refers to self-censorship that in no way entails one being in control of what one does say or not say: it just means one's character and personality is so demeaned and subjugated, that you opt not to express what you think or believe for fear of retaliation, or, still worse, that one is already so brainwashed by political/social/state propaganda that one doesn't dare even to think outside of the normative discourse.

So, if that answers you're question, yes, it is a lot better to have someone stopping me from saying certain things. That means I still have a minimum of freedom.

BTW, since I posted my comment I’ve googled "Star Wars + superman + mary sue" as per your suggestion and I must confess your rant seemed even more ridiculous then than it did in the beginning. At first I thought the mystery guy had said/written something shocking, like saying that the Wall separating Mexico from Texas was long-overdue; or even that women belong in the kitchen, not the presidency. But man… At least when Orson Scott Card got the PC-barrage a couple years ago it was for opposing gay marriage. Donald Trump has a daily input of un-PC sound bytes that can understandably justify an outcry... but just by saying that a mary sue character is a mary sue character... that goes way beyond over reaction. That can be no more than mere personal opinion at the worst, professional criticism at best.

I don't even dare to imagine your rant should Landis say something really biting.



Unknown said...

I think the problem with your advice is that idiotic things don't sound idiotic to the idiot saying them. They sound perfectly reasonable. So telling someone not to say something idiotic won't work, because no one would says things they think are idiotic. They say things that sound perfectly reasonable to them.

To be useful you'd need to include some advice on how to check what you say to make sure it isn't idiotic.

A. Sherman Barros said...

"I think the problem with your advice is that idiotic things don't sound idiotic to the idiot saying them. They sound perfectly reasonable."