NYCC 2018: Behind The Creative Alchemy At AfterShock Comics

by Brendan M. Allen

When I signed up to cover this New York Comic Con panel, I fully expected the usual rundown on AfterShock’s major titles, some plugs, a few jokes, and a bunch of tangentially related questions from the audience. There were so many people sitting at that front table, I didn’t think it was even possible for each of them to get a speaking turn. And then, like a well-oiled machine, this panel hit the talking points for all their respective titles, got some pokes in at each other, plugged some new and exciting upcoming projects, and each writer went into extreme detail about how they pitched the stories that eventually were made into books.

Let’s begin with the announcements:

On the heels of the success of their anthology Shock, AfterShock will be publishing Shock II in June 2019. Collaborators will include Garth Ennis, Cullen Bunn, Jim Starlin, Russ Braun, Tim Bradstreet, Aaron Douglas, RL Stein, Marguerite Bennett, Jill Thompson, Jamal Igle, Justin Jordan, Eleonora Carlini, Ariela Kristiantina, Frank Tieri, and Andrew Dabb.

AfterShock’s first OGN will be coming out in November. Witch Hammer will feature the talents of Cullen Bunn and Dalibor Talajic.

In March 2019, AfterShock will be releasing Out of the Blue Vol. 1 by Garth Ennis and Keith Burns.

July 2019 will see the release of Horde, a horror OGN by Marguerite Bennett and Leila Leiz.

Now, the really interesting stuff. I hear people asking comics pros questions like “How do I break into comics?” all the time. I’ve heard that question, or a slight variation, probably a hundred times already today. Most people look at comics like it’s a secret club, and once you know the handshake, you’re in. Complete the four tasks, and you get the golden key to the executive bathroom. That’s just not how it works.

Steve Orlando says all of his early pitches were terrible. There was one particularly awful pitch he submitted about the Nanking Massacre (Rape of Nanking) that he had completed 10 pages for and submitted. The art was rushed with loads of photoshop filler, and the concept itself was completely tone deaf. One of the victims of tortuous experiments (a real world tragic event) was accidentally imbued with super powers. That’s a STEVE FREAKING ORLANDO pitch.

Steve’s advice to newcomers? Don’t be too attached to your details. Your idea has to work within the vision of the publisher. Get to know your publisher and see if your idea meshes with their mission statement. If it doesn’t, and you can’t tweak it to work, seek out a different publisher, or come up with a new idea that works better.

Ted Anderson said his process involves very simple descriptions that he can expand into bigger ideas. Have a world that you can encapsulate in one sentence. Moth & Whisper, for example, can be summarized as “Teenage cyberpunk genderqueer superthief.” Got your attention? Cool. It got AfterShock’s, too. Ted also told me later, in the hallway, when I ambushed him on the way to the latrine, “Breaking IN to comics is a lot like breaking OUT of prison. Once one person does it one way and that route is exposed, it gets closed up so no one else can use it.”

Eliot Rahal told a story about how he and a friend went into NYCC 2011, dressed to the nines with a plan. Eliot walked up to Aub Driver (who was with Dark Horse at the time) with a copy of their ashcan and pretended to be lost. When Aub asked what he was looking for, Eliot came with one of the cheesiest pick up lines ever conceived. “I’m looking to be famous.” Then he shoved his ashcan in Aub’s hands and basked in the awkwardness. That book got published, y’all

Then you’ve got Adam and Aidan Glass. They wanted to turn one of their family bedtime stories, Lollipop Kids, into a series. They patched together some images, sequences, music and a voiceover, then played the thing for AfterShock brass who jumped on it. Adam says that whatever your skills are, you should help people “see” your vision.

Oh, and Frank Tieri, who’s writing Pestilence for AfterShock? They pitched HIM. Pestilence started as a video game concept that needed world building to flesh it out and make a coherent story. AfterShock execs, who were already familiar with Frank’s body of work, called him in and asked if he would be interested in this awesomely blasphemous piece of zombie revisionist history, and the rest is, well…

What’s the bottom line? There is no magic bullet. There is no right way to get into comics. Practice your craft. Work hard. Talk to people. Send in your submissions. Don’t take it personally when ideas don’t get picked up, but listen, be open, and try to learn from each effort to make the next one better. Maybe put on a tuxedo and chase down an editor at a Con. No, don’t do that. I don’t even know how that worked for Rahal.

Brendan M. Allen

Brendan Allen has probably had more jobs than you would reasonably believe. Dog trainer? He’s done it. Flooring contractor? You bet! EMT? Army NBC specialist? Road dog for a Celtic rock band? Yes, yes, and och aye! Now he reads comics and writes about them. It's a rough gig. You can follow Brendan on Twitter @SaintAmish where he mostly tweets about comic books and cystic fibrosis awareness.

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