Pitch Packets And Werewolves With The “Feeding Ground” Gang

And we’re back. It has been a while, but Panel Bound is back…back with a vengeance. Luckily in our vengeance-seeking, we were able to set up some time to talk with the astonishingly talented team behind the Archaia graphic novel Feeding Ground.

The creative trio of Jonathan “Swifty” Lang, Michael Lapinski (great comic advice blog here), and Christopher Mangun, as I’ve heard at several “how to pitch a comic” panels, put together one of the best comic pitches the gang at Archaia had ever seen. We figured if you’re coming to Panel Bound to read about how to pitch your book, why not learn from the best there is? So, we asked team Feeding Groundabout it and they were kind enough to oblige.

After checking out this pitch, you’ll agree that this is how it should be done. If you’re looking for a template, a gold standard in pitching then read on, this is the interview for you. Also, check out Feeding Ground, it’s about werewolves, which in my book is always a Michael Jordan circa 1986 backboard-breaking slam dunk.


It’s been said that the Feeding Ground pitch is one of the best the team at Archaia has ever seen. Did you guys go into pitching the comic with any previous pitching knowledge, with comics or otherwise?

Michael – I come from a background working as an artist on children’s television shows like “Blue’s Clues” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” when it was on Fox. There was a while when, besides my day job, I was constantly pitching new show ideas. Some made it through early stages of development, and one aired as a pilot, but “pitch book designer” became a craft unto itself. Chris was the man responsible for making our finished book look and feel as swanky as it did.

Chris – At the end of 2008, Feeding Ground evolved from concept into a full plotted story with characters and specific design. We knew we had something worth showing to publishers and the opportunity presented itself in NY Comic Con of February 2009. A month before the con we decided we would leverage Michael’s art, Swifty’s storytelling and my production skills to create the pitch book. For years I’ve worked in the advertising world which demands a its own level of presentation craft and for years it was my job in small studio to create compelling well packaged pitches for companies like Pfizer and Bayer. Marrying these skills of print production with some heavy stock-full color paper and a Look-book style (common in the film industry with scripts being viewed quickly by producers and media companies) seemed like something that would best showcase our story series quickly to an editor (which Mike did an amazing job of using to engage Archaia at NYCC).

Swifty – My background in visual storytelling is rooted in film (I studied film studies at the University of Amsterdam). I had been writing since I was a kid, but hadn’t really tackled comics before. As far as comic reading, I truly grew up reading Mad Magazine. Sergio Argones and Jack Davis were some of my favorites. My pitching experience, and this is the chief responsibility of a writer, is to get other talented people hooked on a concept. I had to do this working with directors in theater and simply trying to convince friends to read my work. Translating this into a visual package was unchartered territory. While I had a very strong sense of what I imagined the packet might look like, I lacked the experience and technical knowledge to manifest this. Chris and Mike are magicians.

The Feeding Ground pitch features an incredible amount of detail and planning not often seen in comic pitching. Why go about it this way? Did any past experiences foster this pitch’s detail?

Michael – I’d say past experience informed the intention to make the book a whole, complete, package but it was Robert Kirkman’s guidelines in a reprint of Walking Dead #1 that laid out what we should include.

Chris – After 2 weeks of work, our pitch book was finished with roughly 40 pages of content: a synopsis, a series beat breakdown, a map of our story setting, character designs, sample art, cover art and a sample our first script.

Swifty – Something we believe as a team very strongly in is the concept of “curb appeal” that one experiences in real estate. From the moment one pulls up to the house, the buyer should have a strong, visceral reaction. When someone picked up our book, it was important not only that Feeding Ground conveyed our narrative, but we knew our world so thoroughly we could drop a reader into it. The more firmly that the aesthetic demonstrates the act of conscious decision making, the more trust a publisher will have in a creator. You saw our cover and you knew right away the landscape you would be traversing.

In your opinion, what is the best thing a comic team can do to get their pitch looked at, let alone picked up?

Michael – As best as you can, know who you are talking to. Before the show, I researched what different publishers were printing and who I’d ideally talk to. You save yourself a lot of time and fuss just by having some sense if your material is right for someone and what their pitching requirements are, often posted on their website.

Swifty – Be assertive. The odds that someone will stumble on your work amidst all the amazing content being made is unlikely. Be a champion of your ideas and confident . I can’t tell you how many people I see sitting in artist’s alley waiting to be discovered. It may happen that way, but there is something about reaching across the table that is powerful. Practice your elevator pitch on friends. If you can tell someone in a sentence what makes your story unique it increases the likelihood that you can do that for an editor.


Originally, it has been said that Feeding Ground was planned for a movie. How has transferring it into the comic medium been different with both mediums being so visual?

Swifty – After a couple of sessions with Chris and I attempting to tackle this as a screenplay, it became clear that film was not the ideal medium to tell this story. It was simply too vast and the absolute freedom that comics allows was magnetic. Mike and I had a very specific set of visual concerns and an understanding of how this story could be best represented. I think what comics allowed us to do was be very specific about our graphic references (in this case EC Comics meets Mexican Day of the Dead iconography). Whenever a story is created, I really think it’s important to consider not only the what, but the why. Why should something exist as a book, as a physical object, versus a novel, or a screenplay. For us, we wanted Feeding Ground to appear as an old object that conveyed a mythology, almost as if someone stumbled upon it within a barren landscape.

Michael – I’ve been a comic fan since pre-school and I had done comic strips in college but got excited to do my own comic when I saw a number of friends self-publishing their books. I’m also a horror fan and the story for Feeding Ground immediately appealed to me as staking out new territory. Swift and I are both into EC Comics and the woodcut prints of Jose Posada and wanted to illustrate a print object that was a marriage of the two. Presentation is everything and, like Swift said, we created a visual style that was as sun-baked and broken as the story.

As successful creators, how much do you believe a team should have completed in their pitch packet before actually handing it to editors? (art, script, plot, etc)

Michael – When you look at the list of what we included, it’s really about including as much as you need to take what’s in your head and present it on paper without actually showing up with a fully completed book. Especially with including the cover designs, the goal is to place something in a publisher’s hands that conjures what will be on the stands. By printing and binding the book as a traditional comic, I think it made it even easier to visualize. All said, you leave enough evidence that you could get the job done.

Chris – Getting story right from the start is important. Tell people about your story, they will let you know what’s working or not. Since there’s not a ton of time invested at this stage with production, which can eat up a year plus, it’s easy to move ideas around, cut and slice or invent characters. Having that conversation with a small audience and sharing with peers early on is key to knowing if your “elevator pitch,” a two sentence synopsis, the story and overall materials are working for or against you or simply require just a little more editing. We actually practiced and targeted our elevator pitch prior to Michael going to NYCC to ensure we all were on the same creative page, but also to see how our concept held up in other peoples’ minds on the fly.

Swifty– Even though your script will be revised (both internally and by an editor) I think it’s incredibly important to demonstrate that a writer knows how to complete a story. A complete script showcasing an ability to tell a story both panel-to-panel and with a narrative arc is essential. Mastery of all of the elements of storytelling (dialogue, panel description, establishing character moments) are necessary ingredients to gaining the confidence of an editor. An understanding of the larger beats and how they fit into the complete story is equally important. You are taking the reader on a ride and you must know where the exit is.

Reading the Feeding Ground pitch story, it would be easy to say you were very lucky. However, in reality, it seems that it was a combination of extremely hard work and a little luck. Do you believe that a team needs luck? Or can they thrive on virtue of their hard work alone?

Michael – What’s the quote, something like “Fate is when timing meets preparation.” The fortunate timing in our history came when I was taking a break from talking with publishers on the Comic Con floor and inadvertently found myself talking with Stephen Christy, the editor-in-chief at Archaia, while I was just browsing their table. I thought I was just having a passionate conversation about comics with a salesperson. Even with my handy list of publishers, Archaia wasn’t on my radar at the time and soon I found myself handing over the pitch book and I was all set to talk about it as it made it’s way up their chain of command. To this day, they’re still great about making time to meet with aspiring creators at conventions in their swanky library of a booth.

Swifty – I agree to a certain extent that one makes their own luck. If you don’t do the work, nothing will happen. A strange thing occurs when one keeps pushing ahead, and I don’t mean to sound too mystical, but the effort attracts opportunity if the intention is pure. We truly did this for the love and that came through with all of our interactions. We stayed humble, and we stayed open to possibility. The right people emerged. My luck began when Mike and Chris wanted to partner with me. From there, as a united front, all things became possible. If there were a recipe to guarantee the opportunity to get work out there, I certainly do not know it. I do know that you are only as good as your team and being someone people want to work with greatly increases your chance for success.


If people haven’t read Feeding Ground yet, why should they now?

SwiftyFeeding Ground rose from a conversation between myself and a good friend of mine, Thomas Peyton, who is a documentary filmmaker. He had been working for the past couple of years on a documentary about border crossing. What struck me as remarkable about his story was his desire to put a face to the numbing statistics we hear about people crossing the desert. Even a second-hand account proved far more harrowing than anything I could concoct.

We also tossed around ideas about the most underutilized mythology during the horror renaissance. He believed it was the werewolf. I couldn’t argue. The silly talismans and mythology hungered for a reexamination. The legend of the werewolf coupled with the horrors of a man crossing the Mexican border proved revelatory; there was a genuine “a-ha” moment that I think translates into a modern myth of transformation.

Feeding Ground is vital in that it examines one of the most important issues that define our country; the role of immigration and what it means to sacrifice for opportunity. This is the story of America. Yet, this is also a story that resonates on a universal level. It asks the question, what would you do to save your family. The stories I most admire are both uniquely linked to their current historical circumstances and ask questions that are timeless. Mike likes to say that some of my best ideas are “myths of the moment”. I agree, but the reason that we still watch shows like the “Twilight Zone” is that anxiety and fear of the unknown have no expiration date. I hope readers recognize this in the work.

Any last minute advice for aspiring comic creators?

Michael – If you don’t know it already, comics are an extremely time consuming artform. Your work will most likely be a labor of love so make sure you believe in it before sitting down at your drafting table. But, the sooner you get something on paper, the sooner it becomes a reality. Beyond that, the comic community is relatively small. You’ll learn a lot just by being nice and engaged with other creators of every level of experience.

Swifty – Your energy and enthusiasm for your project must be boundless. If you can’t communicate the urgency of your need to tell your story, you will not find the artists who will best bring it to life, you will not find the publisher who will shepherd it into the world. Be kind to everyone you encounter, creator and fan alike. Their support is essential to completing your work. You may meet someone who can offer a piece of advice that will propel your project forward or make an introduction. Accidental mentors are there. Don’t be a jerk.

You can check out the Feeding Ground pitch packet here courtesy of the team.

How to Pitch a Comic: an Interview with Archaia Editor Rebecca Taylor

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!

Comics to watch out for: February 2012

2012 is a huge year for comics and what better month to kick it all off than February. Next month has everything from dark thrillers published by Archaia to a brand new B.P.R.D series. Here a just a few comic and trades that we here at Panel Bound are excited for.

Low Moon By Jason, Fantagraphics

Graphic novelist and artist Jason returns to comics in the form of Low Moon. Featuring the title story Low Moon which was collected in The New York Times Sunday Magazine “Funny Pages” section. Low Moon is a collection of several stories by award winning visual artists Jason ranging from alien abduction to murder all told with heart breaking emotional sincerity. Jason has been praised by the most talented of his contemporaies including Sherman Alexie…

“When I read Jason for the first time, I was just as excited and devastated as the first time I read the poems of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Jason’s work is poetry.”      — Sherman Alexie


Ningen’s Nightmares By J.P Kalonji, Dark Horse

From the creator of 365 Samurai comes Ningen’s Nightmares. A trade paper back from Dark Horse comics about ghost samurai, feudal Japan,warlords, and witches. 365 Samurai was an incredible graphic novel taking place in ancient Japan, so expect nothing less than brilliance from J.P Kalonji. If you are looking for hyper violent and incredible art work make sure you pick up Ningen’s Nightmare


Black Charity By Bal Speer, Archaia

Black Charity introduces us to Charlie as he witnesses a murder after moving into his new flat. Soon Charlie is on the run from assassins and fixers as he finds himself knee deep in a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. With the hardboiled style of 100 bullets and Black Kiss this is a book worth checking out.


B.P.R.D Hell on Earth: The Long Death #1 By Mike Mignola, Dark Horse

Last but not least is our most anticipated title for February here at Panel Bound. B.P.R.D Hell on Earth: The Long Death, first of all there could not be a
better name ever recorded in the history of comics, everything about that title shouts B.P.R.D. The B.P.R.D task force sets out to discover a set of disappearances in the woods from New World in The Long Death. If you only have money for one comic this February make it this one.