By trade I’m an Art Director in advertising. I’m responsible for coming up with new creative ideas and concepts to present to clients to choose from. This means only one of those ideas lives, while the others go away into oblivion. When I was an illustrator, there was a saying, “You have a million bad drawings in you, hurry up and get them out.” I regularly go through critiques with my creative teammates, agency partners, and clients. Over the years, I have grown thick skin when it comes to feedback, it’s part of the process, and most of it helps make the idea stronger. Critiques and feedback, they’re expected.
That’s creative in the world of commerce. It is hired work with a goal to make someone take action. I love it and it’s a creative challenge that will never get old. But it’s rare for me to find time to make art for myself. Art to share, without any tangible goal other than the hope it will move someone. I’ve always wanted to write my own story but haven’t found a concept strong enough to keep my attention. And by story I mean a comic book. And when I say comic book I don’t mean superhero in tights, I’m talking about stories like Walking Dead or Preacher or Secret Service (Kingsman).
Over the last year, I had one concept that wouldn’t let me go. I knew I had something I could really spend time with. I gave myself a Stuart Smalley pep talk and started writing.
Over the last few months I put my idea down on paper. I then pushed it through my close friend/comic book editor, Justin Giampaoli, and completed my first issue. After writing the first draft, it took me a month to share it with him. A whole month, why was I so afraid to share it? This was my first story; do I have a million bad story ideas I need to get out? I was dumb to wait because Justin liked it, enough to give me notes to tighten it up. He encouraged me to pursue it!
A few weeks before San Diego Comic-Con I gave myself two goals: finish the first issue and complete my pitch document. It’s Comic-Con and at Comic-Con you bring comfortable shoes, deodorant, snacks, water, a phone charger, and your pitch doc. It’s on the list.
Comic-Con was closing in as I tried to find time to work on the above goal and I did it. I got it done. Justin gave me the thumbs up on the progress. As we talked, he mentioned a new up-and-coming publisher making a name for themselves in the industry, Vault Comics. They were having a two-hour open pitch during Comic-Con for new story ideas. And I thought, “This might be my opportunity!” My next gut reaction wasn’t as excited. I thought of the producers of Vault as the judges on America’s Got Talent, being bombarded with bad idea after bad idea, from people with wild and not-thoroughly-thought-out concepts. I didn’t want them looking at me through that lens. I shared my concerns with Justin, he said when I’m ready he can send it in via e-mail. That way it’s coming from someone they know, it had been vetted. Phew! I felt better.
Flash forward, it’s the first day of Comic-Con. A buddy and I just attended a few panels on storytelling and how to break into comics. The overwhelming takeaways; make something (don’t just talk about it) and get it out there (don’t just sit on it). It was a different vibe this year; the panels were less about what inspired a creator or how hard it is to get noticed. It was a strong, “It’s a great time for creators, take advantage, and feed the masses who are looking for new and fresh stories.”
It was around 3:30 in the afternoon when we ran into the Vault Comics booth. We decided to check out their books. As we approached the table we noticed the pitches were happening right there at the open booth! I looked over to see three guys behind a table being pitched to. On the left was the taller and slender of the three, Oliver Ridge (Producer, Blue Moon). In the middle was Adrian Wassel (Editor, Vault Comics) and to the right of him was Damian Wassel (Publisher, Vault Comics). All three of them were dressed professionally casual, very approachable, very sharp looking guys. The two Wassel brothers had full but very kept beards, I noticed that kind of thing because I’m almost 40 and I can’t do that with my face. I hesitated and thought of pitching my story, but decided I was going to stick to my original path and have Justin send it to them when I was ready.
About 30 minutes later the idea of pitching was eating at me. I felt my script taunting me from my backpack, “Why did you struggle to make me for this event if you’re not going to take your shot?” The Art Director in me was calling myself names for not doing what I do, pitch. Then I remembered something I always give out as advice, “What’s the worst that can happen if you try? You’ll be exactly where you’re at now and nothing will change.” I agreed with me. If it didn’t work out, nothing in my life changes for the worst. If I went for it, I got experience, exposure, the chance to not only pitch my story but show how passionate I am. Those benefits outweighed sending it in an e-mail. At least there, at the open pitches, they’re waiting for it and were looking for a great idea.
I headed back to the Vault booth and jumped in line. My buddy was great at keeping my confidence up, I know he saw the sweat beading around my forehead. After 15 minutes it was my turn. I took a few steps forward and pulled out copies my packet, pitch document with the first script. I started by telling them I didn’t know why I was nervous but I was, I’m in advertising and this kind of encounter is regular. Oliver and Adrian offered friendly smiles and assured me there was no reason to be nervous. Damian quickly clapped his hands once in an ok-you-got-this kind of way, pointed at me, smiled and said, “Pitch us like it’s advertising.” And with that friendly confidence boost, I did.
I won’t go into the details but their approachable candor put me at ease and my pitch went better than I expected. I felt like we were just talking and I was leading them into a world I created. Their body language was forward leaning with engaged nods and followed by specific questions to further understand my story concept. Then it was done. I pitched my idea. I didn’t die.
I may have fumbled a few things here and there but I didn’t crash, at least not in my eyes. The panel was every bit as cool and professional as they looked. It was only Thursday with three and half more days of Comic-Con to go but my convention was already made.
Another takeaway from the Comic-Con panels I attended; once you get the first idea done and out, you’ll be less afraid. And they were right. I was wrong. I am not exactly where I was before the pitch. I now have more confidence in myself to write and to share my stories.
Well, just yesterday I received an e-mail from Adrian saying that my story didn’t get picked for publication at Vault Comics. It made sense, they were specifically looking for heavy Science Fiction or Fantasy based ideas. My story was a stretch to fit into Sci-Fi, it's mostly geo-political with mild hints at futuristic tech. Back to the world creative and the world of rejection. Adrian assured me that it wasn’t a reflection of my concept or my pitch but more that my story is not the right fit for their position in the market. He did encourage me to pitch any future story concepts that fit in those two genres. It was a kind personal note that took effort from someone with a very busy schedule, and for that I am grateful.
What’s next for me and my story? Justin and I are moving forward to get this book made, he’s really excited about it. I also have a second story I’m feeling pumped about; it may be harder to share because it’s so personal. But it’s so important to me I have to write it.
I try to find comfort in the new normal of vulnerability as I push out more of my writing, like this article. This is more of a cathartic exercise to hopefully inspire anyone hesitant to start something new in their lives. If you’re thinking it’s too late for you to try something different check out this list of 20 People Who Became Highly Successful After Age 40. The first one was purely coincidence but Samuel Jackson at 43 gives me hope.