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Mark Millar’s Golden Secrets for Comic-Book Creators

Guest post by Mark Millar

Guest post by Mark Millar

If you aren’t familiar with writer Mark Millar yet, you certainly know his work.

For the past three decades, Mark has slowly been taking over the comic industry, carving a niche of creator owned properties, that not only find success in comic book stores, but also in Hollywood.

He’s built long term relationships with director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman, and has already seen his own work adapted to screen several times (Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass 2, Wanted, Kingsman: The Secret Service)  as well as adaptations of several of his storylines from his days at Marvel (Captain America: Civil War and the upcoming Wolverine film are both based on Mark’s work).  Kingsman: The Golden Circle is filming now and adaptations of Jupiter’s Legacy, Empress, Supercrooks, Nemesis and Wanted 2 are in various stages of development.

Mark has both the reputation and ability to work with the best artists in the comic industry today.  But he’s also making news with his upcoming Millarworld Annual, giving new talent an opportunity to work at a high page rate as well as donating all benefits to the HERO Initiative to help retired professionals in need.

Mark recently posted on his Millarworld Forum about marketing comics, but it applies to so many other areas that I felt inclined to share.  Thank you, Mr. Millar for permission to republish this sage advice.  Be sure to check out the original post where Mark also answers questions that are equally indispensable and if you haven’t read any of his work, go here and check it out!

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 Millar’s Golden Secrets for Comic-Book Creators

I just sent this out to the winners of our recent Millarworld talent search, but other aspiring pros may find it useful.

As you know, Millarworld tends to work with artists at the highest levels within the industry from Frank Quitely to Stuart Immonen to Greg Capullo to Johnny Romita. We poach the cream from the Big 2 like thieves in the night, but at the same time this annual has been established as a talent search every September to give 13 new people a year a chance to get published. We’ll be doing the same this coming September for the 2017 annual. The 2016 annual gets ordered this very week and will be on sale in July for $2.99. All these new creators have been paid Marvel/ DC starter rates and all profits from the comic every year will go to the HERO Initiative to help retired professionals in need.

Okay, ladies and gents. Here’s everything I know know condensed into a single email:

• • • • •

Your story is done. The art is finished. The colours and letters have all been put together and now the book is heading for the printer. But this is only half the battle. The most brilliant piece of fiction can lie completely undiscovered unless people know that it exists and over the next month your job is to get as many people as possible hearing you have a comic-book out. Let me break down the rules of the next stage. We had hundreds of writers and artists entering this talent search, some of which to a very high standard, so the fact you made it into the final six writers and final seven artists says a lot about your talent. But now you have to SELL it so here are my golden rules.

The Final Order Cut-Off:

This is the most important thing you’ve probably never heard of and a huge mark on the calendar of any comic-book creator. Basically, around three weeks before a comic sees print the retailers have to order it. The orders are usually done on a Sunday night and delivered on a Monday and if you’re a new creator or simply launching a new book the optimum time to start promoting is one week before FOC. Why does this matter? Because the retailers are your first audience. The readers can only buy your book if retailers have pre-ordered it so if it’s not on the shelves all your hard work will have been for nothing. FOC is at least as important as launch-week in terms of promos so think of something unique and clever and get your work out there. Going mainstream with your PR isn’t so important this week and you’re best keeping that powder dry until launch week. Right now you want to focus on the comic-based sites because they’ll make a bigger splash and more directly focused at your retailer audience.

Help Retailers as Much As You Can:

All the risk is with the retailers in the direct market. Whatever they order they almost always have to keep and it’s quite an unfair system because these huge companies are rarely out of pocket and often comic stores living month to month are only a few bad weeks from going out of business. If you’re starting out it’s thus very easy for retailers to go conservative on your orders so help them help you by sending them your work directly, offering to do a signing or just simply asking how you can help. Having signed copies of your books can help or offering special incentives like signed lithos of your work for free for every store that hits a certain number of orders. I’ve got a lot of friends in retail and I see from the inside how difficult this is. It’s something I want us all to talk about later in the year because there’s a huge discussion here the industry needs to have to help share the risk. As is, it’s very one-sided and I think we need a more creative model. Talk to your local retailer and you will get a better understanding of the business than anything you read online.

Market Your Work:

There’s no shame in people buying your book. There’s no dignity in losing money. As a professional creator you want to do as much of this and less of other jobs as possible to keep a roof over your head. There’s literally a couple of hundred books out there every week competing for shelf-space with you and if you’re not working at the Big Two in particular it’s really easy to be ignored. So marketing is essential here and if you don’t have a marketing department at your disposal you need to get creative in these other ways and do it yourself. If you look at our Kick-Ass launch you’ll see the big viral we created to get people talking about the book…

If you look at Nemesis you’ll see the big fake Times Square ad we got out there…


If you look at Superior you might remember the photo-shopped pic of Obama with the first issue…


What’s beautiful about this is that you get not only the first story out there but usually within a twenty-four hour news cycle you will get the gag exposed and thus get two news-spikes in the same day, the cost minimal to nothing. As your career progresses you will hopefully have mainstream attention and movie rights to help sell your story in the mainstream for launch (which goes everywhere and is the best friend you’ll ever have in selling your books), but in the meantime just have a little fun with this stuff as every person talking about the outrageousness of your marketing is essentially advertising your book.

Get a Movie Made to Sell Your Book:

I know this is obvious and possibly not appropriate at the moment, but it could be in a matter of weeks or months if you’re moving into creator-owned because Hollywood’s appetite for comic-book properties is more voracious than ever and studios will greedily scan the net looking for the next big thing. As you might expect, this is only good news. We live in the best time ever to be a comic-book pro because after two or three generations of big companies fleecing the people who created these materials (at best giving them little thank you credits at the end of the movies they put together from scratch) we now get to keep the rewards of our labours. The Image and Turtles guys back in the day ploughed this field for our generation and we’re all now reaping the benefits, which is amazing as in our lifetimes creators who came up with some of the most recognisable characters in the world died with nothing and didn’t even get invites to the premieres of movies that wouldn’t have existed without them. So we’ve come this far, which is terrific, but always remember that there’s still predators out there. I’d recommend selling your movie rights BEFORE you announce the project if possible because the second you put an idea in the public domain you will have three established screen-writers working it into pitch to sell around the studios the following Monday morning. This almost happened to Dave Gibbons and I with The Secret Service (released as Kingsman: The Secret Service) with one pitch given to a studio head friend (who luckily had read the book) about a suave British spy taking on a yobbish young apprentice and training him be a gentlemen, facing off against a villain intent on destroying 90% of the human race but kidnapping all his favourite celebrities to spare them from the massacre. Several similar rip-offs were also being developed when we heard about this and we only managed to kill them when Matthew (Vaughn) jumped off Days of Future Past and rushed Kingsman into production two years early. You might not be so lucky and my sincere advice is to get your project set up as a picture if you can before anyone hears the idea and you absolutely can’t copyright as concept. The movie is not only an amazing revenue source for creators, but the most incredible way of selling your books at home and abroad. Millarworld’s wide-ranging deals in Israel, Japan, Eastern Europe and other new markets all came from the success of the Kick-Ass books. You only need to see what the TV show has done for Robert’s Walking Dead collections.

Focus on Comics, Not Movies:

Getting into comics to get into movies is like getting into stand-up to become a sit-com star. Don’t get into something to get out of it. It’s insincere and it doesn’t work. Also, anyone who goes in too overtly trying to sell something for another medium just ends up making a bad comic and failing at the first hurdle. We see all these Transformers meets Avatar pitches all the time and these guys usually fade away very fast. Take a look at the material that’s actually been translated into cinema or TV in the last decade or so. Sin City, 300, Kick-Ass, Wanted, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Walking Dead, Road to Perdition, Scott Pilgrim and Ghost World are all comic-book movies, but they’re all very unique to their creators and labours of love. None of these scream movie when you read the book, but you can tell the projects are personal and mean a lot to the people involved. That enthusiasm is what’s infectious and your enthusiasm for your work carries over into people getting enthusiastic about translating it into other media. So don’t think about movies. Just write good comics and if the comic is good someone will be desperate to do something with it, selling your book over and over (which should be your primary goal as a comic-book creator). Every time something good happens with a project you love you don’t need to do a job you hate, whether inside comics or outside.

Don’t Trash Other Creators:

The arts is a hard place to make a living. There’s a lot of noise out there, endless platforms competing with you and an endless supply of people wanting in. If someone has a job writing or drawing comic-books they’ve done what they’ve probably dreamed of doing since they were a little kid and long may it continue. You don’t elevate yourself by bashing other creators. You hurt their reputation and the earning capacity of someone who loves what they do and, to be honest, you really only diminish yourself. The Internet loves a spat, but it accomplishes nothing except spreading negativity. We all have conflicts at work from time to time, but the truly great creators deal with these matters personally and face-to-face. There’s more dignity in behaving like an adult and you generally find a creator who bashes another is just in a bad place professionally and/ or personally. Take pleasure in the success of your fellow pros and if someone has a big hit send them a wee congratulatory note. Every success is another man or woman over the wall and it might be you next. You want people to be happy for you, right? I’ve never trashed another creator in my entire career, neither publicly or in private, and the one time I bashed an exec (when I walked away from The Authority sixteen years ago) I sent an apology later because it was the wrong thing to do. Michael Caine says that actors who trash other actors are scumbags because they’re trying to stop a colleague making a living. Comic-book creators generally live by the same code and it’s something to live by as you enter the profession. Establish your name just by doing great work of your own.

Most of all Have Fun:

I’ve been doing this job since I was a teenager. I made my own comics at five, starting sending ideas to DC at thirteen and got published at nineteen. There’s never been anything I’ve wanted to do more than this and you know what? The job itself is even more fun than I ever expected. The way other people dream about being a footballer or an astronaut I dreamed of writing and drawing comics and there isn’t a day when I don’t get excited to switch on the computer and get into the next project. I hope this taste of being published is addictive for you. No matter what age you are or what you’ve accomplished elsewhere there’s few things more thrilling than seeing your name in print. I also hope it opens doors for you with other projects. All the main Millarworld characters being used here hopefully gets your excellent work some attention and I really hope it leads onto other things. We were wowed by the response from around the world with the annual last September and delighted to have a crew that moves beyond the typical white male creator in their 30s or 40s and hailing from the East Coast of the USA. Our credit box ranges from France to New Zealand and a lot of different world-views, but we hope to really expand that even further with the launch of the next talent search this coming September where we find the creators for the 2017 annual.

In the meantime, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me on the Millarworld Forums if you have any questions. I want this place to be a resource for you as your career develops and I hope you take the time to come back and talk to the next wave of creators and give them a little feedback and advice too on what you’ve learned. Your first published work is now only five weeks away so roll up your sleeves and get out there and start selling your book. Come up with ideas I haven’t even considered, but at the same time it’s a race to CBR,, Following the Nerd and all the other great sites out there to tell the world who you are and what they can expect from you next.

The clock is ticking and FOC is just seven days away.

Good luck all!

Love and best,

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