Posted: Sat Feb 01, 2014 3:07 am

Breaking Into The 21st Century Comics Industry

One of the most frequently asked questions I get these days outside of inquiries of what I’m up to amounts to this: How do I break into the comics industry?

The sad fact is that unless one is already plugged in and/or has Hollywood connections, chances are it’s virtually impossible these days for one to break into the business working for the major publishers without establishing oneself first. Even guys who have worked in the industry a long time have an incredibly hard time landing their next gig once they’re taken off a title.

When I was first trying to break in at Marvel and DC back in the 80’s, virtually every editor had a huge slush pile of writing and art submissions that they would tell me they intended to get to someday when they had the time. Translation: probably never.

The Marvel Try-Out Contest that was held back at the time yielded over 5000 submissions from people who wanted to work for Marvel. I ended up being one of the 30 finalists, while Mark Bagley was judged the ultimate winner in the penciler category. A friend who was one of the actual judges of the contest later confirmed this to me. He didn’t know I had entered as he didn’t even know me at the time, but his version of what happened matched the version I was told by another friend who was also working at Marvel at the time.

Since that time, and with the proliferation and increasing popularity of comic conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con, more people than ever want to get into the act.

What many don’t realize, however, is that by wanting to work at a Marvel or a DC, they are essentially saying all they want is a job with a paycheck and benefits.

Any goals of creativity or becoming the next Stan Lee or Jack Kirby will never be achieved because none of those goals are compatible with the needs of a Marvel or a DC, who want nothing more than established creators to take their existing intellectual property and simply rearrange the deck chairs with a new coat of paint for today’s audiences.

Since a DC or Marvel tend to look for established creators, that means one must create their own body of work before the Big Two – and most likely other publishers as well – even bother to consider that creator for a slot working on one of their books.
But by that time, once the creator creates that body of work, why would they bother with a Marvel or a DC?

Seriously, you’ve created characters in a setting in a series of stories that has gained a following. You’re more than likely posting pages one at a time online for free, selling merchandise based on what you’ve created, and probably barely breaking even. Maybe making a small profit if you’re lucky and worked hard enough at promoting what you’ve done.

Is your next step wishing for an invite from a Marvel or DC or Archie or whatever publisher out there is willing to throw a few coins your way? Or is it working to take your creation to the next level?

And by next level, I mean thinking beyond the American market or simply just doing comics. I’m talking print collections of your work released on a global scale. Or even bigger, such as a TV or film or digital project either animated or live action based on your work.

Here’s the reality of working in comics for the major publishers: it’s like sports, in which the writers and artists have a limited shelf life just as the athletes do with their employers. An athlete has on average 4 years or so to make their fortune, similarly most writers and artists can’t count on sticking with a book for the long term if there’s an editorial replacement or a dip in sales.

With current sales being what they are, the likelihood of royalties from comic sales as opposed to the trade collections isn’t what it was back in the heyday of the early 90’s. (IDW doesn’t even acknowledge it owes royalties to the creators whose work they use in their various reprint collections.)

There’s also the barrier of the current creators working at the companies to overcome.

Let’s say you want to write or draw SONIC for Archie. At best, you may get the chance to work on a story or a cover, as the editors like to shake things up every now and then. But to write or draw for the book on a regular basis? That means the current writers and artists lose work and the income that goes with it. (I’m using Archie as an example because in comparison to Marvel and DC from what I see, they are a relatively stable company, relying on the same creators in general throughout their line of products year in and year out.)

No matter which path one decides to tread, working for an established company or doing your own thing, it’s a hard road either way, requiring a back-up plan to put food on the table and pay the rent while working to establish oneself whichever road is taken.

Due to advances in technology which makes it easier to get one’s work out to a wider audience than ever before, we’re now seeing plenty of examples in various arenas where people are jettisoning the old paradigm in favor of an evolving new order.

Look at Nate Silver and Ezra Klein as but two examples of individuals who began to make their mark with the help of the Internet. Both began by blogging about topics they had had an interest in. As a result of their writing, they attracted the attention of such established media companies like the NY Times and Washington Post respectively.

Both became selling points by their respective companies as a reason to buy the companies’ product, namely the newspapers and websites they published. Both individuals eventually left their high profile established positions for better opportunities, including in the case of Ezra starting his own news company dealing with explaining official policy to the average person, something he excels at.

In other words, working for an established company such as a NY Times, Washington Post, Marvel, DC or Archie Comics is no longer a viable long-term career strategy for success.

What Silver and Klein did that assisted their trajectory upwards is that both filled a niche where previously there had been a void. For a writer or artist or filmmaker, finding a void to fill can be especially daunting because of what’s already out in the marketplace. It’s not impossible, however, and entirely dependent upon the creator being able to offer up a fresh take on a particular subject or genre with their characters.

Part of the problem creators face when starting out is the economics of undertaking such a venture. At a bare minimum, a computer, a hi-speed internet connection and a website are still going to require some expenditure just to get the work out to the public. Filing for copyright online costs $35 (which every creator should do).

Going beyond the basics with efforts into merchandising still require time and effort and possible expenditure if one bypasses an outlet such as cafepress.com, to say nothing of the cost of trademarking your creation, but it is the efforts to take one’s creations to the next level that really require a significant investment of time, effort, determination, ingenuity and possible expense.

When I recently threw out the question “Do people prefer print or digital comics?”, I received a number of responses that somewhat answered the question, but more often than not people responded by relating their experience of most people wanting their comics for free while supporting the merchandising of the comic and its characters.

For my money, I felt this was short-sighted for a number of reasons, one that doesn’t really address the economics required to grow one’s creation.

While many look to Kickstarter as a solution to get a project funded, it’s not a guaranteed avenue, as many projects never make the established goals. The risk to going this route for funding is the fallout from perception the project isn’t viable in the marketplace if one doesn’t make its goal. Zach Braff and the Veronica Mars crew may have hit home runs, but there were incredible risks to them going this route. As it is, most filmmakers going this route lack the cache or fan base to guarantee similar success.

I’ve been asked why I don’t get other creators, particularly other creators who have worked on the SONIC series published by Archie Comics, involved with my own project THE LARA-SU CHRONICLES, and economics definitely comes into play where this topic is concerned.

I’ve been approached by certain creators (definitely more than one) who have expressed an interest in contributing to the project, a couple even offering to do something for free. That said, however thoughtful or well-intentioned the offer, I can’t accept unless there’s some way to financially compensate everyone contributing on an equal level.

Putting together a collection of short stories of 5 to 6 pages in length each featuring a different character – Lara-Su, Geoffrey St. John, Julie-Su, Lien-Da, Spectre and a couple of new characters – illustrated by different artists – all with previous SONIC experience except for one newcomer selected in a similar manner as I did with artist Dawn Best – that would be written and inked by me would be a tremendous promotional tool for my project, one that would draw a good deal of attention, but I can’t pay some artists and not all. And if I don’t have some method for the artists to derive some form of revenue stream from the project, I can already hear the cries that I’m exploiting others for my own gain.

And for the project to work as I envision it, that requires an app, which is currently being developed. The individual programming that app also deserves some form of compensation for the work he performs as well.

So free only works up to a point. If one wants to grow and support themselves through their works, economics has to come into the picture at some point. So too do realistic expectations.

In summation, there are no easy roads. There is only a lot of perseverance, hard work and no guarantees of success. One must have their priorities in order and a complete understanding of the risks involved before embarking on the journey. One must also have a genuine passion for what they’re doing, as there are no rewards for any half-hearted efforts. Excuses are for the weak. Having read all of the above, if one is still determined to make one’s mark as a comic creator, keep in mind there is no “one size fits all” answer. It’s up to the individual to figure out the path that works best for them.

My journey has been one of evolution. I was lucky in that my very first professional comic book assignment was working for a major publisher (DC) on a property that was near and dear to me (STAR TREK). With every subsequent assignment came a learning experience. It wasn’t long before I discovered real opportunities were few and far between, and that if I really wanted to make working in comics a long term goal, I had to create my own assignments instead of waiting for some editor to have something he or she needed to make a publishing deadline.

That evolution continues to this very day in the form of designing THE LARA-SU CHRONICLES as a multi-media project instead of just a stand-alone comic book series. I’m still in the blueprint stage of the effort as I work to finish the script. Where it goes from there depends on a number of factors, none of which are guaranteed.

I’ll keep you posted as I make my way through the new world order. To those that attempt their own journey down the same path, I wish you all the best.

Posted: Mon Nov 25, 2013 11:03 pm

The ROYAL SECRET SERVICE Is Looking For A Few Good Recruits

I just received the prototype of the very first product produced under the banner of my Floating Island Productions. I'll let the picture speak for itself before getting into the details:

Image

It's a fully embroidered patch, 3" in diameter, featuring the emblem worn by Geoffrey St. John and members of the Royal Secret Service on their berets, jackets and vests, similar in style and manner to the patches worn by the US Military, as will be seen in THE LARA-SU CHRONICLES.

The goal with this product and others yet to come is to allow readers an opportunity to become part of the world the characters and settings exist in.

While many may have been expecting a comic book or a sneak preview of the actual graphic novel or a T-shirt or poster featuring a favorite character, those are yet to come. For now, as I said, I'm just starting small and building to something bigger.

I know I initially said I wasn't saying anything until Black Friday, but the information I was supplied with erred happily on the cautious side. Thus, when I received the prototype today, I decided to launch now.

The patches are $8.00 each plus $2.00 shipping and handling. Anyone intending to purchase more than one of the item please contact me first so I can confirm a shipping price. Payment can be made to me either via Paypal at KenPenders@kenpenders.com or by sending a check or money order made out to me mailed to 12147 Woodley Ave., Granada Hills, CA 91344-2846.

The first batch of patches will be ready for shipping on December 7, 2013, and will be mailed on a first come-first serve basis.

Check back for future announcements of other upcoming releases. Thank you.

Posted: Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:21 am

Congrats To Gary Friedrich

I wish to congratulate Gary Friedrich, the creator of the Marvel Comic character "Ghost Rider", on achieving his settlement with Disney/Marvel. I can only imagine how tough a road it was he traveled, but he prevailed in the end.

While some are already treating this settlement as inevitable or Gary capitulating to Marvel, neither scenario could be further from the truth.

Disney/Marvel caved, and they will now have to settle on Gary's terms, not theirs. There may be some announcement when the case is finally closed that acknowledges a mutual agreement with each party paying for their own legal costs, but trust me, in reality it won't be Gary's pockets the funds to pay his lawyers are coming from.

First, some disclaimers are in order. Despite whatever tenuous connection I may have to Gary, I have no personal knowledge of his case, especially anything said between him and his counsel. The following is strictly my analysis based on my own personal experiences in my legal fight with Archie Comics. Been there, done that, so I have some perspective. One other note: my analysis of Gary's situation is not an acknowledgement of any kind with any arrangement I may or may not have with Archie Comics as a result of our agreement.

When Judge Danny Chin overturned Judge Katherine Forrest's initial ruling in favor of Disney/Marvel on appeal, Disney/Marvel had only two choices: go to trial or settle. And when Judge Forrest set a court date for trial two weeks after Judge Chin's ruling for a December trial, I was willing to bet the farm this was one fight Disney/Marvel was not eager for their crack team of lawyers to take on in court.

As it turned out, I was right. Gary had absolutely nothing to lose by going to trial. If he lost, there was nothing for Disney/Marvel to collect from him, and his health precluded anyone from ever hoping to claim a piece of him in the long-term. His lawyers probably had his case ready to be filed in bankruptcy court in the event the jury ruled against him.

If Gary had been the one to push the button for a settlement, he would be totally at Disney/Marvel's mercy. Therefore, there was absolutely no motivation on Gary's part to agree to settle. So why did he settle? The reason: Disney/Marvel came to him with an offer he couldn't turn down, and that offer had to be substantial enough to make what he went through the last several years worthwhile enough to agree not to go to court.

Disney/Marvel's lawyers reached out to Gary's lawyers and more than likely offered a six, maybe seven figure down payment, legal costs, royalties from the sale of any future product, his creator credit forever established and acknowledged on any future product where appropriate, plus a supply of any Ghost Rider product for him to merchandise and promote as long as he is able and/or willing to.

Already I can hear the naysayers claiming the agreement was not as one-sided as that. Actually, yeah, it more than likely was.

The last thing in this world Disney/Marvel wanted more than anything to avoid was having 12 citizens decide their company was essentially built on a house of cards, and having those 12 citizens rule in Gary's favor in such a manner that every creator who worked for Marvel back in the day would decide it was time they too would collect their share of the loot from the Disney/Marvel bank vault.

The trial would have instructed every lawyer in America how to represent their client - the Marvel creator - in court against the company their client formerly contributed work to. Worse yet, both Stan Lee and his famed Marvel Method of storytelling could have been totally discredited, laying the groundwork for the late Jack Kirby's heirs living in CA to base their reclamation of their father's share of the copyrights for the works he co-created with Stan. That aspect alone probably reigned in the Disney/Marvel legal bulldogs from going all out however much they wanted to against Gary.

A loss for Marvel as a result of trial would be far more catastrophic than any settlement Gary could ever receive from Disney/Marvel.

Beyond avoiding trial, Disney/Marvel would also want to make certain Gary himself, and anyone else connected with him, would not be able to discuss any of the agreed-upon terms in public. While people such as myself would be speculating, Disney/Marvel's goal would be to prevent any creators from getting any ideas on how to proceed with their own claims. They're basically doing everything they can to run out the clock on the creators as they grow old and die.

Whatever Gary receives in the end will probably amount to no more than the catering bill for THE AVENGERS film on Disney/Marvel's balance sheets. Disney/Marvel won't miss a single red cent paid out. To Disney/Marvel, this is all about risk and damage control at this point.

As for Gary, he probably will also be included on the Disney/Marvel health care plan, which will be a great relief to him and his family once that occurs. He'll also finally be able to live out his life in a manner that every creator - in this case, whoever contributed to the building of Marvel Comics that enabled its current success as Disney/Marvel - should be entitled to.

While the details are still in the process of being worked out, the end result is now inevitable. Disney/Marvel is not going to pull out and end up going to trial, however much their PR machine may put out that Gary never legally stood a chance. The truth is that Gary did have a case, he fought and persevered, and now he gets to take a victory lap as the creator of the Ghost Rider.

Congrats, Gary. You deserve the win.

Posted: Tue Aug 27, 2013 2:16 am

The KICKSTARTER Initiative

As some of you may have heard, there is a segment of Sonic fandom that has approached me with the goal of licensing the characters I created that were featured in stories published by Archie Comics which I own the Copyrights on, with the intent of allowing Archie to continue using my characters in their ongoing SONIC THE HEDGEHOG series.

Before I go any further, some disclaimers are necessary.

First, I had nothing to do with the idea and legwork involved with this plan. Questions were asked, and I responded to the best of my ability within the parameters I could respond.

Second, nor did current SONIC writer Ian Flynn - or any of his message board administrators - have anything to do with the concoction of the plan or anything to do with shepherding it along into fruition. The fact the discussion apparently began on his board is incidental to the entire proceeding. I imagine Ian's got enough to deal with without anyone laying the blame at his feet for this.

Third, I have an agreement in place with Archie Comics, as has been reported elsewhere, so there are elements of the plan of which I've seen questions asked which I can neither confirm or deny without breaching any confidentiality in place between the parties.

That said, given the fact I own my copyrights and am developing THE LARA-SU CHRONICLES for various media platforms, which involves the licensing of my characters for various purposes, it is a fair question when someone asks "are you selling your characters?" or "how much would it cost to license your characters?"

So let's start with the first question: Are you selling your characters?

The short answer is no.

The longer answer is after all I've been through to establish my claims to my characters and works, there is no way they are for sale. While the cynical would retort every man has his price, the reality is that I can't imagine any party likely to offer anywhere near my asking price. And that's fine with me. I'd rather finish telling the story of these characters, as I believe in the opportunities these characters and stories represent to me.

So if I'm not selling my characters, one could surmise I'm open to licensing my characters, and they would indeed be correct. However, the version of the characters I'm most interested in licensing is how they appear in THE LARA-SU CHRONICLES.

As for how they appear anywhere else, that's another matter.

I've already gone on record stating that The Powers That Be at Archie Comics can use my characters anytime, but whether they would be willing to do so is another matter, which is their right.

With this KICKSTARTER initiative coming on the heels of the release of SONIC #252, it seems some fans have different ideas.

Since I already have enough people clamoring for my head on a pike as being greedy, selfish, unreasonable and so on, and since the question was asked in all seriousness and sincerity, I decided to respond in kind, with the caveat that my response and terms I set down are neither confirmation or denial of any points of agreement I may or may not have with Archie Comics.

As Ethan Davis, the person who initially approached me with the questions in the first place, provided me the link to see for myself the discussion that was going on over on Ian's message board, I did check out several of the posts, which is a rarity as I barely have time to read and respond what's posted on my own message board. Still, it allowed me to see what concerns needed addressing that I may not have contemplated when initially responding to Ethan.

Originally, I had stated to Ethan how Archie Comics would have access to my complete library of characters for use in all-new stories with the following conditions:

A) There are only three untouchable characters: Julie-Su, Locke and Lara-Su. The only thing anyone at Archie Comics would have to run by me regarding any of my characters is if they wanted to kill off a certain character. Beyond that, anything in the present day timeline is fair game. Have fun.

B) With regards to the use of the characters Julie-Su and Locke in the present day timeline, nothing must contradict what was established in my MOBIUS: 25 YEARS LATER stories. Those stories, especially Locke's death, are canon as far as THE LARA-SU CHRONICLES and I'm concerned.

C) Lara-Su is the only character in which any story featuring her which Archie Comics wishes to put into production MUST be reviewed and approved by me.

With regards to any contradictions between what's already established in the series and my requirements here, that's for the creators on the book to figure out how to make it work. I'm trying to stay as much out of their business as they are of mine. I've made my peace with the present day timeline a long time ago, being perfectly happy to settle for playing in the sandbox I'm building for THE LARA-SU CHRONICLES.

But after much discussion with those whose guidance has helped immensely over the past several years since this whole undertaking began, I have come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter what I agree to if Archie Comics doesn't share the same objectives.

While I appreciate and am supportive of the fans' efforts to see my characters back in the pages of the SONIC series, it is up to them to convince Archie Comics it is in their best interests and that of the long-term success of the SONIC series that my characters play a part in that universe once again.

I could suggest buying more copies of the books reprinting my works, but that sounds way too self-serving. I could suggest many other things, but that would sound like I'm an active participant in this endeavor when in truth I am not.

If anyone actually wishes to engage in licensing my characters for whatever product they wish to produce, I will gladly put them in touch with my attorneys at the present time.

As for the money raised should the initiative actually get off the ground, I believe I have a better chance of convincing people Monopoly money is legit tender than actually seeing one red cent that any of the fans pledge, as it'll take more than me to make this work. So while any dollar amount I quoted Ethan more than likely would have been considered reasonable by the great majority of fans, I suspect releasing those numbers would again imply an involvement on my part in the initiative far beyond the reality.

There's also the matter of Ian probably having a year's worth of stories already planned out. After the year he's been through, give the man a break in expecting to make massive adjustments yet again on the fly because of this.

I wish Ethan the best of luck on his endeavors, and that's all I have to say on this matter.

Posted: Thu Aug 22, 2013 2:53 pm

THE LARA-SU CHRONICLES Update and Other Matters

Due to untimely circumstances, my webmaster Bob Repas is currently not in the best of health and therefore unable to currently address tech problems such as I'm currently experiencing with my e-mail. During this time, the best way to contact me via alternate means is through private communication via this website's message board or sending e-mail to my back-up KenPenders@yahoo.com address. I appreciate your patiience and understanding during this time.

In the meantime, progress is being made on THE LARA-SU CHRONICLES in a number of ways.

For starters, Producer-Director Larry Houston and I have been meeting regularly, upon which I run by him the latest story developments. In writing the script for the first book, I'm also constructing a more comprehensive outline for the entire 7-book story, which means everything that occurs during the story in any of the books has consequences. So I've been using Larry as a sounding board since whatever I produce is not just the basis for a graphic novel, but a film script as well.

In working out the details, a lot of questions are going to be resolved in a definitive manner, including clarifying previous discrepancies such as which order the various Guardians assumed the title of Praetorian along with other details that slipped through the cracks when submitting stories on a monthly deadline.

The Lara-Su website is currently a victim of my technical issues, but I'm working to at least have some Data Files if not other material up by sometime during the month of September. The goal is to start small and keep adding material on a steady basis. As for the story itself, while it is being illustrated, it is being done so in a manner to allow for changes, such as the slight addition I just made to the opening segment, which allows for a more emotional payoff later on in another part of the story. (Another factor that comes into play when making any story changes is not just adjustments to the art, but also to various language translations. When the story itself goes live, it will be available in no less than three - and hopefully more - different languages as it's intended for a more global audience.

There were also a couple of promotional Lara-Su efforts I was going to announce, but have decided to hold off until the website is officially launched. As much as I'd like to talk about them, I'd rather make certain everything is hitting on all cylinders before I do.

In the meantime, thanks for all the words of support. It's very much appreciated.

Posted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 12:08 am

In Answer To Inquiries For Original Art and Back Issues...

I've been getting asked more frequently these days what back issues or pieces of original art do you have for sale, so I can save some time and respond to everyone at the same time, you can follow the items my better half Bernadette lists on Ebay at the following link:

http://www.ebay.com/sch/323colliebear/m.html?item=271254412323&ssPageName=STRK%3AMESELX%3AIT&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2562

There you'll find a number of SONIC back issues, original cover art and other pieces as well as proof sheets and other collectibles. She also lists non-Sonic items such as my STAR TREK issues and original art as well as other items I had nothing to do with.

Feel free to browse and inquire you have any questions. She will be listing whatever issues of the KNUCKLES i have available in my backstock very soon along with other surprises.

On a separate but related note, once I get past the launch of THE LARA-SU CHRONICLES website, I will find time to take on art commission requests that people have been asking about. Once my e-mail is back up and running, I will be responding to questions regarding specific requests. Thank you.


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