Today at New York Comic Con, DC Comics gathered some of its most prolific figureheads and creators to discuss how they build books that have become pillars of the DC Universe and what projects they have cooking together now. Co-Publisher Dan DiDio is joined by Tom King (Batman, Mister Miracle), Scott Snyder (Batman (2011), Justice League, Dark Knights: Metal) , Amanda Conner (Harley Quinn), Jimmy Palmiotti (Harley Quinn), Jock (Batman: the Black Mirror), and Sean Gordon Murphy (Batman: White Knight).
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Dan DiDio took the stage to introduce the panelists. He described the creators as people who inspire others to become artists and writers themselves. He told the audience that the goal of the panel would be to have the creators describe how they got into comics and explain how audience members could break in themselves.
DiDio turned the mic first over to Jock, who started working in comics in 2000. He said his career started with illustrating Magic: the Gathering fans before he started getting comics work with 2000 A.D. in 2000. He then went on to work with Andy Diggle on the Vertigo series The Losers.
Moving to Scott Snyder, Snyder mentioned that his first DC story, American Vampire, was rejected the first time by DC. Although DC doesn’t normally look at pitches twice according to Snyder, editor Mark Doyle said that they’d look at this one again if he “put more heart into it and made it less of an elevator pitch.” Tom King interjected to say that Snyder had a co-writer on the book, referring to novelist Stephen King. Snyder mentioned that he actually sold American Vampire before Stephen came on board and mentioned that American Vampire would be coming back next year.
Amanda Conner said that, when she was young, she wanted to be a lion tamer, but she could also draw and loved to read things like MAD Magazine. DiDio brought up Conner’s early experience working on Barbie and she mentioned her very first work on Yellow Jacket. She also gave a shout out to Funny Books, a comic book store she ran for some time (fun fact: it’s my hometown comics shop and is still standing!).
Jimmy Palmiotti described his path into comics as essentially “bugging” all the editors he could find until he got work. He started off as an inker, but eventually transitioned into writing and started to learn the craft by working at it. Palmiotti went a bit into detail about how, once he was established as an inker, when he transitioned into writing he had to figure out how to “retrain” the editors he knew to see him in a different light.
DiDio turned the conversation to Brian Michael Bendis, who recently made the shift from Marvel to DC after 20 years. Bendis described himself as a “craft junkie” who was fascinated by how differently that Marvel and DC made comics despite being direct competitors in the same field. “Everyone thinks there’s some giant secret, but it’s just awesome people making awesome comics.”
Sean Gordon Murphy described some of his earliest DC work, the Vertigo title Punk Rock Jesus, as “not the commercial move.” He described his most recent work, Batman: White Knight, similarly, saying that he wanted to explore politics by presenting “both sides” without making the subject “boring.” He then (jokingly) described his art school program as a “scam”, saying that he noticed some of his students asking to assist him and “erase my pages.” He initially just wanted to do everything himself, but then he realized he could charge them to assist him while making himself look “congenial” for “helping their careers.”
Tom King started off interning for both Marvel and DC when he was young. DiDio exclaimed that those experiences show how dedicated King was to breaking into comics. King then pointed towards the back of the panel room where he met Karen Berger at NYCC 2013. He had pitched other DC editors on his work but they didn’t bite. Berger pulled his work out of the “slush pile” and asked him to meet her at NYCC.
When Snyder first started working on comics, especially at DC, he was intensely worried about messing it up. He gave some good advice to aspiring writers, telling them to focus less on the elevator pitch and more on making sure the heart of the story is there.
DiDio then asked Murphy if he felt “compromised” by working on Batman because it was work for hire. Murphy talked about how much he thought about art and commerce and said that he felt good about finding a way to make the intersection between them work– telling interesting stories while also selling some books.
DiDio asked Palmiotti how much he felt pressured by how much and how quickly the industry changes. As someone who has worked in the industry for so long, Palmiotti said that he likes change. He said that there’s “always a learning curve” and that he’s picking up new skills all the time. He said that maybe on his death bed he’ll feel like he’s got it.
Describing her experiences as a woman in comics early in her days in the industry, Conner said that she didn’t see her rejections as based on her gender. She just thought the industry was “tough” and that no one would break in until they finally did– it worked for her.
Bendis thanked Conner for all her work as a trailblazer for women in comics. He then went on to elucidate the difference between commercial and creative success– and that creative success was the important one. He emphasized the importance of finding “truth” and putting it on the page– “share yourself so people can get some entertainment and/or healing.”
DiDio then asked King how he keeps out the “noise of the world”– tweets and people telling him what to do– in order to stay focused on the art. Over the summer at SDCC, King said that he felt intensely nervous about his success and the pressure that comes along with it. He thanked Palmiotti, calling him the “voice of god” for pulling him aside and telling King that as long as he loved the comics he was making, then he was winning.
Snyder, like King, went into his own similar personal feelings surrounding his success. He thanked people like Palmiotti for also helping him get through those tough times. “I really feel like we have a great family right now at DC and in comics in general.”
DiDio asked Jock how his work is perceived in the UK versus the US. Jock said that there is a difference “in sensibility” but in 2018, comics and “the world in general” has merged more, with the stylistic influences not varying quite as much from region to region.
Discussing the pressure he puts on himself to maintain a certain amount of “noteriety and success,” as DiDio put it, King said that he puts too much pressure on himself to maintain a level of quality in his books. He pointed to how he will sometimes read 3 pages of an Alan Moore story that he feels conveys more information than an entire issue of a comic. According to him, pressure to live up to a standard like Moore definitely affects him.
Reflecting on how his convention experience has changed, Snyder said that he loves meeting fans and going to cons now as much as he did when he first went with one issue of American Vampire out. He was at a signing once with his collaborator Rafael Albuquerque where Joe Kubert walked up to them to complement their work. When that happened, Rafael “started crying,” which greatly moved Snyder. “It’s a pleasure to get to come to cons” despite the difficulties, Snyder said. Bendis chimed into to concur, saying that “someone here is going to have their life changed” because of shows like New York Comic Con.
Thanks for joining us for this panel liveblog. Stay tuned to the Beat for further coverage of New York Comic Con.