Saturday, September 30, 2006

Whatever It Takes

by Brian Mullen

I am an “Aspiring Author.” That is how I see myself nowadays. If someone were to meet me and say, “So what do you do for a living?,” I am more likely to discuss my pending writing career than what I do from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. “That’s just my day job,” I’d say. Aspiring Author is a much harder job anyway.

I am a writer of mixed genres. I have written (or am writing) works of mysteries, comedies, science-fiction, fantasy, action, and thrillers. The nice part about this is that it opens a multitude of possibilities about finding success. The problem is that each of these possibilities is a separate path that could lead me to success. Because I don’t want to neglect any of them, I’ve been pursuing each and every one with full vigor.

As I write this essay, I have a mystery novel and a humorous essay in different writing contests. I have recently submitted another one of my stories to a teenager magazine for consideration. I have sent two inquiries to separate literary agencies to assess their interest in offering representation. Through all this my wife has sat in the background offering advice, lending me her strength and cheering my praises to keep me motivated to find the next path, whatever that may be.

And here’s how I repaid her. On September 8th I took her to Baltimore, Maryland to a comic book convention. To be honest, she really, really wanted to go – not as much to be supportive (which was definitely a part of it), but her primary reason was: she heard there’d be people in costumes. She REALLY wanted to see it. And it paid off because she got to meet people dressed as Wonder Woman and Supergirl – two of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.

But back to my essay. Just like virtually every young boy, I was a huge comic book fan and I admit that, even now, the world still holds fascination for me. Despite (or perhaps because of) the medium and the colorful format and the bizarre choice of characters – comic books tell fascinating stories. Some seem silly, even to me, but more and more the stories begin to bring us slants on the world we know. Marvel Comics, for instance, is currently telling a story called “Civil War” where, during a disastrous altercation between superheroes and supervillains, a schoolyard, filled with young children, is decimated. In response, the government enacts a law requiring every super-powered hero to register with the government as, essentially, living weapons of mass destruction. Some agree and some do not. The two sides end up facing each other in the titular confrontation provoking thoughtful reflection and debate among both its characters and its target audience.

This move towards dramatic, epic-scale stories has nudged the comic industry to seek outside help. They’ve been approaching novelists. The best example of this I can share is Brad Meltzer, author of six novels including The Book of Fate, The Zero Game, and The Tenth Justice, who was approached by DC Comics to help write a story. His work was a miniseries mystery entitled Identity Crisis and involved a plot to get at superheroes by assassinating their loved ones. It was, in many ways, a whodunit just with super-powered suspects.

Comic books are no longer limited to spandex-clad figures fighting bad guys either. Major motion pictures like Sin City, A Road to Perdition and A History of Violence all originated as comic books or graphic novels before coming to a theater near you. So the medium is open to good ideas and good stories. I wondered if it could be the launching pad of my career. So I went to see. And my wife came to help.

I had printed out 17 excerpts from different novels and stories I’ve written in a wide variety of genres and we headed off to the Baltimore Convention Center. On Saturday from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. we went from booth to booth meeting with publishers and artists and writers about how to break into the industry. I met three publishing companies that were looking (one actively) for new writers and handed out several of my excerpts so they could get a feel for my ideas and writing styles. My foot was in a couple doors. I made the commitment that I would contact each of them in about a week to see if they saw potential in my work.

I also made the commitment that I would learn the mechanics of their medium. Comic book publishers ultimately need submissions in their own, modified version of screenplay format. They want written storyboards, not novels. So it’s time for a little independent study, I realized. I needed to master their format and either convert my existing stories or write brand new ones to excel in the new medium.

Upon my return I was thrilled to find several people who have posted their own scripts/submissions on the internet and I studied what they had done. Both DC Comics and Marvel Comics (as well as many writers famous within the industry) also have books designed to teach the process of writing for comics.

Within a week of my return I had converted one of my stories into the appropriate format, made notes for several more ideas and sent it to each of the publishing companies who were kind enough to show interest. And now I sit anxiously on my hands as I force myself to give them respectful amounts of time to read and analyze my submissions. Is there more I should be doing? Is there more I could be learning? Are there other avenues I should be exploring? I’ve got to find out so I can do it.

Whatever it takes.


Anonymous said...

Brian, I'm sure you've read Kavalier and Clay by now, if you're a comic book afficianado. What a great book. Best of luck with all your ventures!

Anonymous said...

Good for you, Brian!
This convention was a step in the right direction for you.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is ZAP, WHAM, ZOOWEE!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...


Been to New Dimension Comics, or the other comic book stores in the area? (I do a lot of business at New Dimension. Thankfully, they don't cringe when they see me. The power of Visa!)

There ARE comic authors here in the Pittsburgh area. Might want to take a few of them to lunch and get them talking... (and then send them to me; I'd like one to come to my kid's school and give a talk)

Good luck!