But first, the reality check. There has always been this fantasy that open submissions at Marvel and DC was the key to getting paying work from the companies. Send in a great pitch for The X-Men or Avengers, wait for phone call from salivating editor. But in recent memory, I can’t think of any writer that found a way into working for the company through open submission, and I’d be surprised to hear of an artist that did as well. Most, if not all, did it by having his or her work published elsewhere, so anyone who’s using this as an excuse to stop trying to create was never destined to work on Spider-Man to begin with.
I do, however, look at it as a formal sea change, at least for writers. It’s never been a secret that landing a paying gig at either Marvel or DC has never been the easiest feat for writers. Artists tend to have it a little cushier, at least in terms of skipping a few steps. Put together a powerful portfolio proving that you can not only draw well but can also tell a coherent story is all it really takes. Not discounting talent, because God knows it takes that as well, but I’ve been told by more than a few artists that if you can draw the mundane, i.e. lamp posts, telephones, people sitting down to talk, and make that interesting you’ve won half the battle. Put together a great portfolio and show it to the right editor at the right convention, there’s always the chance you’ll be working on something.
But for writers it’s always been different. You can’t just drop a script in front of an editor at a convention and hope for him or her to take a serious look at it. There’s just not enough time in the day. Throw in the possibility of possible lawsuits at the hands of a would-be writer who swears their story was stolen in with what has to be thousands of terrible scripts, and I imagine going through submissions can be pure torture for an editor that still has to get a line of comics to print each month.
No, writers historically have flowed into Marvel and DC from the indies. Brian Michael Bendis did it by making superb creator owned crime comics as did Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, Judd Winnick made it through Barry Ween and Pedro and Me, and a whole slew of British writers made names for themselves on the UK’s anthology series, 2000 A.D. That, however, is not the sea change.
“With the successful discovery and publishing of writers in the fields of comics as well as TV, film and literature, Marvel will continue to search out new voices in all published fields, as we have for the past number of years.”- From the Marvel press release on no more open submissions
Ever since Kevin Smith wrote a pretty good Daredevil story a decade ago, Marvel has made lining up TV and film talent a cottage industry. Joss Whedon, Damon Lindelof, Alan Heinberg, Marc Guggenheim, Daniel Knauf, Aron Coleite and Kevin Grevioux are very prolific TV and film writers and just a few Hollywood types that moonlight writing for Marvel.
Hollywood is the new recruitment ground for Marvel, and how can you blame them (not so much literature yet as most authors have only so far leant their names and properties but not their actual talent. See Stephen King and Laurel K. Hamilton. Orson Scott Card is the one exception I can think of)? These are not only proven talents, but names with pedigree. They write or have written for shows like Lost, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Sex and the City and Heroes just to name a few, properties that have huge followings. If Marvel can put the words “From the Writer of Heroes” in an ad, that alone, in theory at least, will cause more than a few people to pick up a title they may not normally buy.
I’ve also read that Marvel can get these names on the relatively cheap side as well. While there is some money to be had writing in comics, it’s not generally enough to pay for a house in the Hollywood Hills. TV and film is where that money is. But the Hollywood writers don’t seem to mind taking a large pay cut if it means writing for characters and comics they grew up reading. How many non-entertainment industry fans have you ever heard say they would kill to get to write The Uncanny X-Men or put their stamp on The Fantastic Four? These guys are no different.
No, Marvel ending its open submission policy isn’t a death knell in anyone’s aspirations to being a writer at a big company. Your chances of being published via that route never really existed in the first place. But Hollywood calling? That may well be a severe hindrance. Because while anyone can put together and self-publish a comic, not everyone can be a writer on a big name TV show, and it seems clear that’s what Marvel wants: ties to Hollywood.
That said, I do think like other trends in comics, this one too will likely implode. After all, writing and producing comics is a business meant to make someone money, and typically not a lot for the talent. I foresee the luster wearing off, at least a bit, for this new batch of TV writers, and them wanting a bigger paycheck for their troubles; a paycheck that reflects the same amount of time and effort they put into producing network television shows (which, by all accounts is about the same as goes into making a comic for Marvel). And when that happens, expect Marvel to get stingy and go back to looking for hungry writers prowling the independent scene. So don’t give up hope yet, just the delusion that you’ll be discovered based solely on that kick-ass Thor idea you’ve been sitting on for a decade.