For years now, some of the best comics to hit shelves have been the work of independent publishers. It makes sense when you think about it. Most aspiring comic creators would, inevitably, like to work for a major comic publisher like DC, Marvel and Dark Horse. However, asking for a job at Marvel with no published comics under your belt will most likely get you a “thanks but no thanks” email in return. So, for a while now creators have been going to independent publishers to gain exposure and get some published titles on their resume. This was how it was for a while until people really started seeing the potential of independent publishers. Without the boundaries that Marvel and DC enforce, comic writers and artists were able to make some truly compelling works of art.
Since 2002, independent publishing house Archaia has been putting out some of the best independent titles in comics. Past Panel Bound guests Shane-Michael Vidaurri, David Petersen and Giannis Milonogiannis have all had their stunning comics published under the Archaia masthead.
I caught up with Archaia editor Rebecca Taylor at this year’s SDCC after a panel on pitching comics hosted by the publishing house. For all of you creators looking to publish with Archaia, Rebecca is the sharp-eyed editor who will be looking at your submissions.
Every publisher has a specific type of book they are looking for and Rebecca is there to decide first and foremost what will work for Archaia. Luckily, Rebecca was kind enough to chat with me about her job, the submission process and what gets comics through the door at Archaia.
What is the first thing you look at when reviewing submissions?
The first thing I look at with any submission is the art. We work in a visual medium, so both art and story have to be strong. From a selfish, timesaving perspective, art is the quicker of the two things to judge. I can tell within a few minutes if the art meets the standards of quality and fits the style of our company’s library and vision, whereas story and writing take longer to dissect.
If a project does have art that blows me away, or even just intrigues me, however, the next thing I look at is the story pitch. A good pitch or treatment will give me a sense of what the book is about, what the target audience might be, what potential trans media opportunities the book could support, and whether the writer has a good sense of structure and storytelling. If all that is there, I’ll move on to actually reading the script, or go back and really sit down with the sample pages and get a sense for the writer’s style on the page.
When you receive a submission, what usually grabs your attention the most? Is there anything that causes you to instantly deny a submission?
Working at Archaia, a company that leans towards books that have a unique creative voice, my interest is instantly piqued by projects that have a very distinct art style. When I open a project file and my first reaction is, “Well, that’s different!”—Those are usually the ones that get my attention. That freshness is something that I look for in story as well. Projects that come at me with a story I’ve never seen before, those are the ones I gravitate towards, especially if they also have a well thought out structure.
In this day and age, also, stories that have trans media potential are a big plus for any company from a business standpoint. Being the innate book and comic nerd that I am, that’s never the thing that pulls me, personally, towards one project over another, but as an editor who has to consider the business side of a creative industry, it’s definitely something I look for.
The only thing that causes me to instantly deny a submission is if it’s about superheroes. Archaia does not do superhero stories, no matter how amazing they might be. It’s one of our bedrock rules and we stick to it!
Archaia requires creators to submit a cover letter, why do they do this? What do you like to see in a cover letter?
Cover letters are a chance for us to get a sense of a creator. What are their goals for their project? Why, specifically, do they think their project is the right fit for Archaia? Who are the people involved in their creative team? Also, while I would never come to a conclusion about someone’s character from a cover letter alone, it’s a good way to get a general first impression of who the creator is, both professionally and personally, and whether he or she is someone I’d be excited to work with for the year, at least, that it takes to produce a book. So when putting together your pitch, even if you’re submitting to multiple publishers, definitely take the time to customize your cover letter to each company. It really counts when I feel that a creator has taken the time to think about why they specifically think Archaia is the right place for their project.
What do you believe is the key to a successful pitch?
Quality, professionalism, and chemistry. The project first needs to be good, from the logline to the lettering. Professionalism is something everyone can attain if they do their research. Find out how each company wants submissions presented. Make sure your pitch packet is well designed, just as you would a resume. Make sure your files are formatted in a way that makes life easy for the person downloading it on the other end. The little things do make a difference.
Chemistry is the wild card that no one can really control. The project has to be the right fit for the right publisher at the right time. Sometimes that involves a combination of production schedules, other books in their library, the company’s general vision, and trends in the industry. Sometimes it just involves getting a strong reaction from someone on staff who is really going to fight for your project. As much as chemistry is hard to control for a creator, if you have the quality and professionalism and you keep pitching projects, chances are you will eventually find that project that does fit somewhere.
When it comes to pitching, which is more important, the pitches’ sequential art or script and synopsis?
Unfortunately for writers, the art is the more important element, because that’s the easiest thing to judge right off the bat. Also, writing tends to be more malleable than art—editors can have writers rework material to an extent that they often can’t with artists. While an artist may grow over the course of a book, I feel that, in general, what I see in a pitch is what I’m going to get, more so than with the writing.
What is one of the best pitches that you have received in recent memory?
Giannis Milonogiannis’ pitch for Old City Blues was excellent. His art style was unique, vibrant, and extremely well executed, and his sample pages even gave a complete scene that ended on a nerve-wracking cliffhanger. He had a dynamite one-page synopsis that really mapped out the plot of his story and gave me a sense of his main characters without delving into every twist and turn. The book originated as a webcomic, which gave it a built-in audience—a plus for any pitch. The pitch packet was well designed, both aesthetically and digitally. All around, it was a great proposal that turned into a fantastic book!
What type of comic does Archaia look for? Is there a specific genre or overall tone?
As I said before, we look for books that have a unique voice, that push the envelope in whatever genre or style they work in. We do every genre other than superheroes, as Marvel and DC have pretty much got that market locked. That means we do everything from all-ages fairy tale adventures like Spera, to gritty conspiracy thrillers like Black Charity. Last year, we published both the Slavic historical horror story Black Fire and the environmentally conscious fable I’m Not a Plastic Bag. We’re all over the map. Our goal is to publish graphic novels that someone who has never read a comic book before can pick up and enjoy, but that a die-hard comic book reader would also pick up because they’ve never seen any thing like it before.
Any last minute advice for creators looking to pitch to Archaia or any comic publisher?
Be pleasant and persistent. If creating comics is your dream, then just keep coming up with new ideas, keep honing your craft, and keep being the kind of person that the people who work at these publishers would love to see succeed and work with. Hard work, a good attitude, and professionalism will get publishers rooting for you as a creator, and in an industry as small as comics, that pays off. The people who work in comics want to see good, talented, hard working people succeed. Just find the right balance of humility, passion, and talent and you will hopefully become one of those people!