Greetings everyone and welcome to what is the first in what I hope will be a regular series of articles. My thanks to Graphics Policy and Brett for giving me this opportunity!
For those that don’t know me and are wondering why you’re reading my ramblings, my name is Glenn Matchett and I’m a comic book writer/editor from Northern Ireland. Having grown up as a comic fan my whole life, its been my dream to write comics for a long time. I love this industry and this medium. I love talking about it, writing about it and even having friendly debates regarding it. Comics are wonderful, special things and I just want to be involved in that wonderful experience on some level.
In an effort to achieve this I’ve been working with publisher GrayHaven Comics the last few years. I’ve written and edited quite a few of their anthologies that are intended to give up and coming creators a chance to show what they’ve got. I’ve also managed to get some of my own solo work published which has led to a lot of positive reviews and people seeming to get the impression I know what I’m doing.
Working to achieve anything in this industry, it requires a thick skin, a lot of patience and even more luck. I’ve done pretty good for myself but I’ve also had a lot of disappointment and genuine heartbreak. When talking to Brett about what I could contribute to the site, I thought it might be interesting to pull back the curtain somewhat. What are my experiences trying to make it in this crazy industry? What have I learned? What can I pass on to people looking to do the same? It may be useful, it may not be but if nothing else it may give some folks out there a step by step guide on what NOT to do.
Along with my own experiences I want to write some articles about how I feel about certain key matters in the industry as a whole. Of course my thoughts and views are all my own but if nothing else, perhaps they’ll inspire some healthy discussion and/or debate. Please note that my personal experiences are pulled from my own memory. The situations I tell are dependent on my own perspective and should be treated as such. I am not here to name names or shame people. If there are people I have had poor experiences with I will not be naming them here. I will only speak of the experiences because as far as I hear some of those people have had little to no issues elsewhere so it is entirely possible the problem could be on my end, not theirs. I can only tell you things from my experience and what may surprise you is that it doesn’t show me in a favorable light all the time.
I will however be raining compliments on some truly awesome people and name dropping wherever possible
Welcome to my comics world…where sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
Creating Sparks Part 1: Conception
The second of the solo works I have released that I mentioned before was Sparks by myself and Kell Smith (on sale here *coughs*). It was the second work I had produced but actually it came before anything else. Before all the short stories, the other concepts and other projects there was Sparks. The fact that it wasn’t released first is a complex tale I hope to begin to share with you all now.
It’s a story that lasts over 16 years so buckle yourself up and prepare for quite a journey of how I made this comic come to life. My journey as a writer began was I was very young. I would write stupid short James Bond and Sherlock Holmes stories that lasted 5-6 pages. I did it because I loved the Bond films in my youth and I grew up reading classic style murder mysteries like Holmes, Poirot and Miss Marple among others. I was also the kid in class that would really take my creative English assignments as far as I could. In my youth I was basically the author equivalent of the kid who coloured outside the lines in art class (although I did that too).
I loved to read, I always have both prose and comics. Growing up it was a healthy diet of mystery, Stephen King, some R.L Stine books, Harry Potter and the teen ‘Point Horror’ series among others. Comics wise I grew up reading the UK strips the Beano, Dandy and Buster but it was around 9 or 10 when I discovered American mainstream comics. I’d been a fan for years of Batman: The Animated Series and Spider-Man: The Animated Series so having these characters in regular monthly installments was quite a treat for my young mind.
With the expansion of the internet I began to track down as many Spider-Man books as I could because I adored the character (I still do). I worked my way through the controversial Clone Saga and backwards. I absorbed all the Spider-Man knowledge I could but it wasn’t until I was 13 or 14 when I read the Spider-Man comic that would make me want to make comics my career.
I can’t explain what it was about J.M DeMatteis and Mike Zeck’s work on the Spider-Man story ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ that affected me so profoundly. It remains my favorite comic work ever and I felt incredibly inspired by it. I’ve read comics that have made me feel the same way as ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ but after I finished the final page of that story I decided ‘This is what I want to do.’
Of course like most people starting in comics from scratch I had no idea how to do it. It was like a kid who says they want to be a cop because their dad is in some ways I suppose. I started by creating some of my own Spider-Man stories and jotting them down. It could probably write an entire article about some of the ideas I came up with that have come to fruition in some form or another but even back then, during my period of useful ignorance I realized that I wasn’t exactly going to jump into the ‘big leagues’ right away. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day and I had read enough online to come understand one of my earliest but most important lessons in comics which was ‘Don’t do what we do, show us what you can do.’ What that basically means is that no one really got very far by being an imitation, they all got their by producing their own work. This then possibly leading on to work for companies that liked their stuff so much, they were willing to pay that person to work on their characters.
I thought about doing something that was all my own. I was 16 and sitting in front of a Windows 95 computer in English class (showing my age) when I first came up with the concept of Melanie Sparks. The first thing I thought was that I wasn’t likely to get very far doing a super hero book. Even before I discovered the wonderful world of non superhero comics I knew that there was no way a hero book I created could stand out. I had to do something else and I went to another genre I felt very comfortable with, the crime genre. I had grown up with it and was a fan of crime shows so I started going ‘if I were to do one, what would I do differently?’
Most of you reading this likely know but crime shows can come in a variety of forms and can have a wide range of tone and quality. You get some shows that I would describe as ‘popcorn crime’ that is fun and you don’t have to think about much like CSI and then you have the more realistic crime shows like The Wire or True Detective. Back before the days of some of these shows I tried to come up with something different.
In a few hours I had decided to have a female protagonist. It wasn’t something I saw a lot of in comics at the time and I was trying to be different. I also decided that the female protagonist would be a Private Investigator working in America (likely California at the time). The concept of what the character would be called came next as I wanted a name that sounded cool and catchy, something that would stick in people’s minds. I also created a slightly inept but lovable secretary in Kathy and the main story of the first issue quite quickly.
Those that have read Sparks know the story, TV soap star Ruth Gates is brutally murdered like the character she portrays on the show she stars in. The initial scene of her sitting alone, miserable while she watches herself talking happily on the television came to me all right there in front of that old PC in English class. The entire thing came together quite swiftly including other characters and something else that I wanted to do that was rarely seen in crime fiction. I wanted to show the reader who committed the crime and show how Mel figured it out rather than keeping it a secret from both. The classic crime show ‘Columbo’ used this device to great effect and even now the TV show ‘Motive’ does the same.
It still wasn’t enough for 16 year old me though. I needed something else because while all these things weren’t the norm there was nothing new…nothing really special that made my story stand out. Then something occurred to me, an idea popped into my head that seemed completely insane. I’ll admit and this might sound strange but the idea initially frightened me. Could I pull it off? Would it work? If I could make it work then it would be unlike anything I could recall experiencing at the time. What I’m speaking of course is the shock twist at the end of Sparks 1 which I won’t spoil here. The last few pages came to me in a flurry and the final image a lot of readers have told me left their jaw on the floor came to me.
It all seemed to come to easily. Surely now that I had what I thought was a killed concept that the rest would fall in line…as if by magic?
I soon learned another important lesson in comics, nothing worth having ever comes easy…EVER.
Next: An idea and writing isn’t the same thing? Well I never!
Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett