Creating Christian Graphic Novels

Shortly after Comic Con, I was approached by someone who wanted advice on how to create a graphic novel for the Christian market.  What follows is a short distillation of my experience, plus what insights I’ve gleaned from others.  Your mileage may vary.

In 2000, when I was vice president of creative affairs for Stan Lee Media[1], Stan asked me to develop a comic book for the Christian market.[2] This lead to a series of events that ended up with the publication of our successful SERENITY series of Christian manga, as well as our latest release, HITS & MISSES.

Being pig-ignernt of Christian publishing at the time[3], I lurched ahead, learning various ins & outs, ups & downs, dos & don’ts along the way.

Over the last 11 years I’ve seen more times than I care to recall posts on Christian forums & blogs along the following lines:  “Wow!  I’ve got a great idea!  Let’s do a comic book version of the Bible!  I need a volunteer to write it, a volunteer to draw it, another volunteer to publish it, and then we’ll sell it and make a million bucks and we’ll give 10% to God and 75% to me ‘cuz after all it is my idea.”

I have never known anything of substance to come about thru that method.  While I've seen a lot of people ask for collaborators, I've seen very, very few actual collaborations (& then typically on small scale / short term projects).

(BTW, did you notice what important step was left out above?[4])

When we were doing our SERENITY graphic novels (typically 90 or 120 pages) we actively looked for talent rather than simply say "anybody wanna help?"  We contacted some pros whom we knew were Christians by going to their blogs / websites & leaving private messages to see if they were interested.  Other times we scoured DeviantArt[5] & other art sites to see if there were any artists we thot would be a good match.

If you want to put a project together & then go to a publishing partner, I would suggest finding a good artist whose style you like, see if he / she's willing to work on the project, discuss the split (typically 40%-60% in the artist's favor; more so if he / she needs assistants such as inkers, letterers, colorists, etc.), then PAY them to do a few pieces of art.  It doesn't have to be a lot but it should be something:  A hundred bucks for 2 or 3 pages as an honorarium so they won't feel completely screwed if everything goes south.

Then you need to have your story broken down into at least an outline form showing what will happen page by page (full script would be better), some model sheets of the main character/s, maybe two or three pages of story art where there's some action so any potential publishing partner can judge how well your story works on the page.

Then take it around to publishers (including web & downloadable comics) to see who is interested.  In today's market, unless you can point to an already existing audience that is ravenous for the material you're pitching, it might take some convincing to get major publishers to fund you. [6]

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[1] In a nutshell

[2]  Big tip of the Stetson to Art Greenhaw for planting that idea in Stan’s ear

[3]  Something I highly recommend being before embarking on any major project, b/c foreknowledge only leads to premature despair which in turn leads to avoidance & abandonment; you need to be locked into an unmitigated fiasco in order for sheer panic to propel you thru to completion.

[4]  How do you plan to distribute your work once it’s completed?  There are any number of ways, everything from free online web comics to hardbound books from a major publisher, but you need to have some idea of how you’re going to get the finished product to your readers.  I’ve heard of too many sincere efforts that end up languishing in garages & warehouses b/c no one thot in advance to arrange a distribution deal.

[5] DeviantArt, despite the name, is a place where creators of all skill levels, interests & backgrounds can show off their talent.  Poke around; some people are rank amateurs, some are uninspired hacks, a few are flamin' plagiarists but a lot of them have professional quality skills.

[6]  As a rule Christian publishers do comics badly and comics publishers do Christian material badly; on the rare occasions where either does the other well, it's almost by accident, not design.

I Blather On, pt.1

A Few Rough Rules Of Thumb For Writing Comics / Graphic Novels