What Comic Editors Look for in a Submission: Writing

1) Before submitting your work, check for spelling and grammar. Also, revise and polish your submission. Is it a story you’d want to read featuring your chosen hero? Have you written a story using characters you’re familiar with? Could you edit it to improve the storytelling? Re-writing is an important part of any creative process, be it comics, TV, film, radio or novel.

2) Format: There is no particular format for writing plots or scripts but companies my require submissions to be in particular formats. Comics strips scripts do not, for example, need to be double spaced. (For more on this topic, have a look at Chris Bunting’s web blog article on the subject, written in July 2005). If you are using a computer to write scripts, many creators prefer the program Final Draft to other word processing programs.  

Warhammer and TOXIC Writer Stu Taylor advised back in 2005 (via Chris Bunting’s site): “It’s not particularly cheap, but if you buy it direct from the American website (www.finaldraft.com), you can get it for half the price you’d pay at somewhere like PC World. Once I started using it, I could never go back to just using Microsoft Word.”

3) If you are targeting a particular company, submit work featuring the company’s published characters you’re familiar with. it’s pretty pointless submitting new character ideas in the first instance, unless you’ve teamed up with an artist to knock ’em dead (another good idea, and one you can realize by publishing a fanzine). Also, check with the company before you send them anything. Neither Marvel nor Dark Horse now accept unsolicited submissions. Find out what a company’s submission procedure is before you make your pitch.

4) If pitching to a British title such as 2000AD, send in storylines/four page ‘Future Shock’ ideas, not multi part epics. (2000AD’s full submission guidelines are here) These plot lines should be brief never be more than a single side of A4. If you can tell the story or explain a character in a sentence, it really helps. US editors will also want to see self-contained short stories. don’t use well-known characters, either ? you may stand a better chance of getting accepted as a new writer if you submit a story featuring a lesser-known character in need of development or revamping.


For anyone struggling to get stuff published in 2000AD, Andrew Ness wrote to mention that there’s a dedicated mail list where you can get critiques and (sometimes) helpful hints. To join, just e-mail subscribe-scriptdroids@yahoogroups.com. Browsing through the online archive is recommended before posting, just to avoid repetition. Other than that, all welcome.

5) DC Thomson Commando Library
Published as 64 page black and white books, Commando war stories centring on armed forces action (stories can come from every era of human history but, generally, modern conflicts) and consist of 135 frames per story. Pitches require a synopsis of about 1000 words in the first instance but successful writer Gordon Wells (writing in the May 2005 issue of Writing Magazine) advises writing a 2500 word synopsis in order to have sufficient material to complet the 135-frame story.


Script format differs from weekly and US titles in that almost every frame includes a lengthy 25-30 word caption to move along the story. Word balloons are limited to two per frame, with at most 25 words per frame.
 

Research is vital when pitching ideas: there are a huge number of web sites dedicated to retelling real military action. While editing the launch issues of RAF Magazine for Titan I compiled some links to RAF sites which may give you a jumping off point to other resources — click here for my RAF links page. There are also numerous World War One links on the unofficial Charley’s War web site, dedicated to the comic created by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun for Battle Picture Weekly

My resource page of historical sites is by no means exhaustive, but may also be of interest: click here for my History links. The military books or history section of your local library or a trip to your local museum may also provide story ideas.

DC Thomson buys all rights to any accepted script. 

Read a December 2007 interview with Commando editor Calum Laird offering a guide to submitting to DC Thomson titles

6) Writer Warren Ellis recommends sending script samples to companies.
It’s worth a try if you’re an unknown. An editor needs to know you can write good dialogue as well as come up with sparkling ideas.

I’d also STRONGLY advise that as for artists, if you are approaching a particular company, you should submit a sample script featuring the characters that company features, rather than your own. As they want to see artists can really draw their characters, so they’ll also want to see that writers can really write for their characters. Keep the script short, perhaps: write an eight page vignette rather than a 22 page complete story.

7) Always include your name, address and telephone number on each sample and each page that you send in. Include a stamped addressed envelope.

8) Be prepared to wait for a reply but in the case of writing, because there are generally fewer submissions, I would say a phone call won’t hurt your chances. If you do phone leave it until about four weeks after sending your submission. Plus, be polite and be quick. Editors are always busy, even on the toilet. (They’re also partially insane and never in the same mood from day to day. In this, they have a lot in common with traffic wardens, but that another story).

9) If you are sending in story ideas with new characters you’ve created and feel paranoid (not necessarily a bad thing), you might want to post a copy of the material to yourself. Then leave the envelope unopened in a box file somewhere. The date stamp on the envelope serves as the indicator of when you sent the company your work, so if your character appears in another form you at least have some evidence of your creations being ripped off.

Many American companies adopt the same principles as TV companies, requesting that you send a legal release form with any submission so they can avoid any potential legal wrangle if ‘simultaneous creation’ occurs. It does happen…

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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