By Adam Karenina Sherif
Moderated by Buddy Scalera (Comic Book School), and featuring Matt Hawkins (Postal, President & Publisher Top Cow), Jeff Gomez (Starlight Runner, Magic: The Gathering), Kevin VanHook (The Crow, Bloodshot, Innovation), NYCC’s “Comics & Hollywood” panel featured some very direct and candid advice from creators who have worked in both comics and movies. Stand-up comedian Asha Davis took notes, and gave a helpful summary to conclude the session.
Scalera kicked off proceedings, mentioning that “the landscape is constantly changing” for creators who are looking to create stories across different media. He also suggested that, as far as breaking in, “any way in is a good way in” before inviting the panel to share some general reflections on the experience of having something optioned for film or television.
Hawkins immediately stressed the importance of professional representation. “An agent, a manager, a lawyer,” he said, “and if you’re publishing comics, it’s actually very easy to get an agent. You at least need a lawyer. Agreements are exploitative, and based on quotes. Don’t try to do it yourself, and don’t be in a hurry. There are just things that are specific to the film / TV industry, and they don’t want to pay you.”
Gomez followed with the advice that creators should do their homework: “In my experience, lawyers who charge percentages are a little rare, so research the lawyer’s track record.”
VanHook emphasised patience, noting that “if the project is worthwhile, the project is worth waiting for.”
Gomez extended this, with the idea that optioning should be looked at as a cumulative endeavor: “Option offers have gotten lower over the years, so your fantasy should be a long-term fantasy and not just hinge on the idea of one deal.”
Hawkins also shared an anecdote on the theme of acting professional and resisting the temptation to freak out in the presence of people you might admire. “Don’t ask for autographs,” he said, “because if you gush too hard, some people will see you as beneath them. The first time Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee met Spielberg, Jim took in the Jaws Criterion Edition to get signed. Rob walked away with a deal, and Jim did not.”
On the subject of getting work out there, and seen by the right people, the panel mentioned being active but also organic in your public relations. Hawkins shared that “we send comps of trades to studios, usually in advance. Sometimes that means you can get optioned before you even publish.” This is something followers of the comics market will no doubt have seen over the last few years.
And while VanHook put it that “you can make comics as a tool to get to film,” Hawkins actually underscored, “don’t make comics only as storyboard. Respect the medium.”
Meanwhile, Gomez spoke of social media: “Some people think you need gigantic social media numbers, but if you have a small-but-ardent fanbase who talk about your work, that can help.”
Hawkins echoed this with the direct advice, “Don’t buy followers. You’re better off having 2,000 people who actually engage with you and your work. And people in Hollywood can tell, they’ll look.”
A discussion of how comics creators can optimise as they create and pitch their works led to a range of tips both micro and macro from the panel. At conventions, Hawkins endorsed giving something away for free, and using plants to attract attention to your booth, as well as a reminder to practice: “Rehearse and tailor your pitches. I videotape myself practicing them, and I also pitch to my family and friends”.
At the creative level, Gomez said, “Focus on your world-building, not just the narrative limits of the story you’re telling. Think about the symbolism, think about iconography. For example, video game publishers want to know that something has a big world. Streaming services want to know if there can be sequel seasons. Tiers of content that can be produced.”
Hawkins readily agreed, “You only show 10 percent of your world, but you, as the creator, need to know the other 90 percent.”
Gomez also mentioned the shifting landscape as far as what kinds of stories are more desirable now: “Everything changed in 2016. Companies are now looking for multiple perspectives, so the old white saviour good vs. evil narrative isn’t going to catch in the same way now. These companies, their audience is global, it’s everybody.”
Finally, VanHook rounded things out with the affirmation, “I always recommend making something creator-owned. It’s challenging, it’s harder. But if you do good work, it still mostly holds true that you’ll find an audience for it.”
In closing, Scalera asked attendees for feedback, and to share if they’d enjoyed the panel. Future installments would no doubt benefit from a more diverse array of perspectives, but this no-frills panel nevertheless fulfilled its mandate as far as honest and useful tips for ‘what creators need to know now’ about comics and Hollywood.