Being an artist is one of the hardest professions in the world. It takes years of dedication, passion, and sacrifices. Tom King (Batman), Scott Snyder (Batman) Chad Hardin (Harley Quinn) and Emanuela Lupacchino (Wonder Woman) delve into their lives, their hardships, and their rewards as a creator. It was an enchanting experience, and some of the greatest advice I’ve ever heard about breaking into the industry.
Throughout this article, they talk about their toughest and greatest days. How important family support, friends, and perseverance are. Questions are by the highly entertaining and spectacular Co-Publisher of DC Comics, Dan DiDo.
DC Legends speak on how to break into the comic world and their personal experiences.
Q: (To Scott Snyder) What made you decide to do this (comics)?
I loved escaping into it. I wanted to be an artist before I wanted to be a writer and I could just lose myself in it in a way I couldn’t with anything else. So I used to draw my own characters and I’d go to conventions with my dad and asked the artists to draw my characters… that were always so lame and all rip offs of their characters, like the–uh blue panther?? I was like this nervous, anxious shy kid and it was a way of expressing everything that I could. I loved it.
Q: When did you decide to become a comic book profession?
It was all I wanted to do. I mean I was serious about being a comic artist all through high school and I had a portfolio. I went to classes after high school for it, all kinds of stuff. And then when I got to college I just didn’t have any opportunity to continue with it until more into the writing. I started writing prose but I always kept up with it [I would always] read comics and [looked] for ways back in.
And then I wrote a couple stories that had supernatural stuff in it and a couple comic editors found me, I had comics with me, and they asked “are you serious about this, would you like to pitch?” I was like “AHHH!”
Q: Mr. King, how did you break in(to comics)? When did you know you wanted to work with comic books?
Always. Always. That’s all I wanted to do growing up. I was the kinda kid–I wasn’t good at things. And I wasn’t good at making friends, I just had comics. […]
When I read comics as a kid, the best comics I read were the comics that didn’t stop when you turned the last page. The kind [that] inspired you to go out and become part of the comic. Like you hit the tree and you imagine it falling down. That energy, I just wanted to write that down and be a writer.
My parents were the opposite of Scott’s. They’re like “No!” I grew up in Hollywood, my mother was in the business, and she’s like “it’s impossible! And they’ll crush you. Be a doctor or a lawyer.”
Q: Tom, what did you do before you were a comic writer?
After coming out of college, I sold a story to Bob Harris. The the most powerful man in comics, and Marvel comics at the time and I was convinced I was gonna be a comic writer. I got $300 for it! It was the Black Knight. I pitched it, it was a great pitch, it was just wrong about the Black Knight but I didn’t acknowledge it. I am in! I am writing comics, but then Bob got fired…
Then I went to become a lawyer in the Justice department and 9/11 happened, and I joined the CIA for a bunch of years and then I had kids. [Then] I didn’t have any skills because I didn’t go to any of those schools. All I could do was refer terrorists to other terrorists [so then] I was just like “I’ll go write comics.”
Fortunately, Bob had moved companies by then so I had an in now. So I was re-hired, that’s how it started.
[Important to note that Dan Dido said not to take this advice, although this isn’t a bad path at all!]
Q: (To Scott) How long did it take you to break into comics?
It took a long time. I mean I had a whole career in prose, right? That’s where I had a lot of rejection for a long time. I mean I went to grad school for it even, and then I got out in 2001 or so and it took me 6 years [after that]. Sending stuff out every couple months, self-addressed envelop, rejection letter, rejection, rejection, tutoring rich kids, working at Barnes and Nobles, Starbucks, all that stuff. A lot of leans years, y’know?
It is what seperates us. Stephen King has that quote where “Talent is as common as table salt.” It’s the endurance that makes somebody a writer or not. And I really believe that, I love teaching writing as well. There are different levels of talent, people can be extremely talented, its the rejection and the marathon of it that drives them out.
It took me a long time. For me, once I got into comics with you guys [the public], I had already gone through that rejection and so it looks like I had a easy ride in this regard. But I had that whole training ground right before. It took a long time.
Q: Chad Hardin, you’re an overnight success with Harley Quinn, how long have you been in the business?
About 14 years now.
But I didn’t break in until I was 30. I was one of those kids, ever since I was 16, I’d send the letter to the editor with the samples and got a very polite rejection letter. And I finally said “I can’t work for DC, I’ll try a small publisher” I did a few small books, and once I got a few small books under my belt I submitted to the talent search in San Diego
…and I’ll never forget seeing my name actually come up, “your portfolio has been selected!” I had four friends with me, and we were all jumping up and down in the middle of the DC booth like we won a lottery.
They (DC Comics) bring you into this room, and it’s dead quiet, like “what are they gonna do to us?” And it was funny, they just gave me their business cards they’re like “yeah, send us stuff.”
And then for another two years, I sent Richard Bruning and Joey Cavalieri samples just monthly, and then one day, out of the blue Joey calls me and says “Yeah, my artist just got hurt, I got a 22-page assignment and a 6-page assignment, which one do you want?” I said I want them both. And I worked for Joey 7 years straight.
To Emanuela Lupacchino: How long did it take you to break in?
I got several rejections as well. Some of them from a very small and ugly publisher. Some comic books I didn’t even want to draw but I tried and I got refused; sometimes with bad words. “You’re not capable,” “you’re not ready,” “your art sucks.” And then later Marvel contacted me asking me to draw X-Factor with Peter David.
It was like “What happened?” Two weeks ago a crappy publisher refused me. So don’t give up when you get refused because sometimes you really need to improve your art, [but] sometimes it’s just because you’re not in the right place at the right moment. But keep sending samples monthly, it’s very important because you have to break into [and] find the right moment to get work.
So my question to you is was there ever any other point when you wanted to break into comics, but you almost gave up? Or is there anything you ever thought that you’re just going to walk away from it all?
King: Yes, yeah. Scott Snyder saved my career, sitting right next to me. I had an 8-page Vertigo issue which I think they just gave me as a pity thing, sort of thing. And it went well. Vertigo is a series, they said “we loved this, is it approved.” And I was like YES! I’m a comic book writer, I’m gonna make $600 this time! I told my wife and said “we’re paying for college!” And I wrote the first script, it was brilliant, the best thing ever and then I get a call from my editors and they’re like:
“I’m sorry, we went up to Dan, and he hated it.”
I was like “Who is this Dan-fellow? He sounds horrible!” They said “Dont worry, don’t worry, we’ll pitch another thing which was The Sheriff of Babylon. And then (again): this is the best thing ever, this is great. It’s wonderful! It’s a war story, it’s authentic. I was like “yes! This is definitely gonna make it!”
Then I get another telephone call: “Yeah, Dan still doesn’t know who the f*** you are??”
I was like “I don’t know who this Dan is, but he hates me and my family! And then, my luck, Batman switched editors and Scott had a relationship with Mark who was this guy who was pitching to Dan, and I don’t know how it happened but Mark became editor of Batman “I have enough power to bring you in” I’ll make Dan trust me, and I slipped under the Dan radar.
[Moderator and the audience were pretty speechless, about a minute of silence, bless King]
Q: (To Emanuela Lupacchino) What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
You really don’t want to know… it was Toilet comics.. Short and long stories based on your…you know…your timing. I said yes because it’s fun? It was a horror story, it was crap!
Q: (To Chad Hardin) Worst job?
I had to crawl through septic tanks.
Q: (To Chad Hardin) Worst comic job?
Probably the ones I didn’t get paid for. [But those were the ones I sent out.]
Q: Snyder, what’s it like? You have lots of people pitching your art and ideas, how do you manage that?
The hard thing is like when people ask you how to pitch to DC, superhero comics: because right now things are so “do-it-yourself” you have opportunities that we necessarily didn’t have quite as open to us I think.
All of our roots are so weird [gesturing to his colleague], especially as writers I think we didn’t know how to get in because I didn’t know how to pitch.
The idea is when you give me a pitch, I’ll look at it and say “oh it’s a great idea but I have no idea if you can write it!” It’s like somebody who watches sports like basketball or whatever being like “I have a great play! Here it is, let me do it.” And you’re like [as the coach] “that might be a great play but I don’t know if you know how to play basketball?”
For me, it’s hard because I love some of the ideas and pitches but my advice is always in this kind of environment you go down artist alley, if you’re a writer, and you find somebody who’s gonna make that comic with you. You put it out there, you make it digitally, you know you self-publish it. And you just keep working at it.
Q: (To King) What keeps me going?
What keeps you going is you have some memory of some book where it was transcendent to you. And you’re arrogant enough to say “I want to do that myself to other people.” It’s an odd thing, but it’s the arrogance of it. You have this moment. Like when I read Watchmen, you finish it and you’re [life has changed]. You want to, and I don’t know why you want to, repeat it and give that to other people.
It’s like you’re having a conversation with the author, and so you want to have a conversation with the other people.
Q: What drives you, Scott?
[Gestures to King] That was better said than I could’ve said. It’s that. It’s that feeling of connection. I mean I remember reading Dark Knight Returns when I was 10 when it came out. Batman was made immediately real for me and it was making me brave in the face of things that were real in my life. You know, the fear of nuclear annihilation, and the city falling apart, all that stuff. Somebody reaches inside me and says “I see exactly what you’re afraid of.” It’s as if they’re speaking just to you.
Q: (To Snyder) What drove you to write the story with Metal?
It’s entirely emotional. Metal is about the moment when you wake up and you feel like every road open to you, everything you thought you were doing was meant to lead you somewhere good, suddenly they say “No. Every road from here forward is black. Dark. And it’s your fault. And you’ve taken everyone on this journey with you, and it’s going only downhill.” And finding a way to push through this is like wonder and hope and all those things you know are there on the other side.
It’s written in many ways for my kids. It’s written about this moment in time but it’s alright written about those experiences I’ve had because, certainly I’ve had moments in my life where I felt very worthless and the villain of that story is that voice that says “Oh I know you thought you were this great hero, Batman, but everything you’ve done in your whole career, not just your career, your life! And the lives that lead to your life, and all this is planned to show how worthless you are, and you’re just a lever I’m pulling to end everything.”
And to me that’s the voice, that fraudulent worry you have as a creative person, or as a person in life sometimes. Where you feel like “I don’t deserve what I have” “I’m not the person I present to people, I’ve failed, I’m flawed” I’m not the person I want to be for myself and my kids. And there’s always that voice, it can be the Joker saying “you’re exactly that person you don’t want to be. All those things are true about you and I’m going to prove it to you. I’m gonna watch you go down and laugh at you while it happens.”
This isn’t just escapism, it’s about being brave and reaching beyond the parts that seem finite and closing you in, its dark but saying there’s wonder and awesomeness in you and beyond the limits of what you think is known.
For me, that’s Metal. It’s called Metal for fun, I want you to feel like you’re invited to the best rock party this summer. Issue #2 is meant to invoke this sense of daring and fun that I find in the people I love who read it, like you, Tom. You say “I can’t believe they did that!” That’s so daring and different, and we want it to feel fun that way […]
As dark as what I just pitched to you, it’s mean to feel like this crazy bonkers-tour of fun, it gets dark because you know. It’s a personal story. This is a story I’ve been building to write for many years. It’s an accumulation of everything I’ve done at DC.
Thank you to Dan DiDo for all these amazing questions, Tom King, Scott Snyder, Chad Hardin, and Emanuela Lupacchino for answering so passionately, and Fan Expo Canada for organizing such an amazing event! Canada loved you all. Here are the are legends of DC Comics hanging off the CN Tower.
— Diane Nelson (@dianenelson0) September 3, 2017