How I “Broke In”

Posted by cullenbunn on September 02, 2012  /   Posted in Comics, Process, Writing

A couple of weeks ago, I started a series of tweets detailing a rough history of how I started working in comics. I thought I’d compile those tweets here for those of you who might be interested. I know some people don’t like the idea of “breaking in” when it comes to forging your path in the world of professional publishing. But after so many years of trying, it felt like breaking in to me. You mileage will vary.

Anyhow, here are the tweets. This is how they appeared when originally posted. As I was posting the timeline, a number of people asked me questions. I’ve incorporated my answers below.

  • I’ve had a bunch of questions lately about how I broke into comics, so I thought I’d tweet the history of it.
  • Keep in mind, this worked for ME. The path is different for everyone.
  • I had been trying to break into writing comics for YEARS, but had no clue how to do it. So, I switched my focus to prose.
  • With prose… at least I knew what was involved in the submission process, y’know?
  • And even in prose, I started working on building a network… editors and fellow writers I could turn to for advice.
  • I started publishing a small press magazine and taking submissions for writers and artists.
  • I had a day job (in marketing) and I tried to make as much time as possible for writing.
  • I attended conventions, joined message boards, and even started a small press to meet other creators.
  • (Later, Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn would become my online networking tools of choice.)
  • I still sent in pitches for Moon Knight and Morbius and Ghost Rider and Etrigan books, but it was pretty pointless.
  • Blind pitches never worked for me.
  • Some pitches I remember were Ghost Rider, Morbius, Scare Tactics, Blue Devil, and Moon Knight.
  • (For new writers, it is much more common for a big 2 editor to come to you with a character or idea they want you to work on.)
  • Finding a reliable, talented artist to work on a project with you can be as tough as finding someone to publish your work.
  • Long ago, I started working at a comic shop (The Fantasy Shop in St. Louis) with an aspiring artist Brian Hurtt.
  • Early on, Brian Hurtt and I started talking about working on a comic book together.
  • Brian was breaking in himself (and that’s his story to tell) and had started working with Oni Press.
  • A couple of years passed, and Brian and I pitched our first concept to Oni Press.
  • The book we pitched was PENNY DREADFUL, a Victorian era supernatural story. It was a project we had been discussing for years.
  • But Oni Press rejected it. Boo! Hiss! (Actually, it was the right call, although I still like the concept and characters.)
  • I tried a few more pitches (not 100% sure of the timing here) for books like FREAKHUNTER and DEAD ACRES that never happened.
  • When finally Brian and I pitched our next project, THE DAMNED, which Oni Press liked quite a bit.
  • Speaking of, if you haven’t checked out THE DAMNED, here’s your chance! 
  • While THE DAMNED was being put together, I happened to meet with some Marvel editors at World Horror Con.
  • During that pitch session, I was totally lost. But at least it helped make some connections.
  • I also submitted short comic scripts to small press magazines, notably Futurequake.
  • Futurequake published 3 of my stories.
  • The biggest benefit of the small magazines was that they found artists for my stories.
  • I tried to build relationships with those artists. One of them led to me getting a lot of paying work later on.
  • In terms of networking, you never know where you’ll “strike gold” and you run a great chance of making lasting friendships.
  • I followed up on every connection I made. I was polite, concise, and friendly.
  • From that meeting, I was put in touch with a few different editors, but no immediate work surfaced.
  • When THE DAMNED came out, I sent copies to every editor who agreed to read one.
  • It took a couple of more years for a Marvel editor to read the book and offer me a one-shot. Sometimes, the wheels move slow.
  • Important lesson! Getting your first book published is hard. Getting your next book published is just as difficult!
  • Having one book hit the stands only means you have to keep working to get the next one out there!
  • I pitched books and stories to Oni and Vertigo and WildStorm and Marvel and DC. I kept trying to stoke the fire.
  • I searched for artists all over—message boards, comic shops, small press anthologies.
  • And I got burned several times by people who weren’t as excited about working on a project as I was.
  • I’ve never done a page rate for an artist when pitching a project to a publisher.
  • I’m not saying I wouldn’t. It’s just not been my experience so far.
  • I develop all new rookie mistakes with every project.
  • For something creator-owned, I think it is VITAL to build a lot of collaboration.
  • I think having a solid proposal/pitch early on can help you find an artist and get them excited about a project.
  • My best luck sourcing artists came when I started asking my network of friends if they knew anyone who was looking for work.
  • After my first Marvel one-shot, I went through a dry spell.
  • I kept working on pitches, mostly for creator-owned projects, and I kept knocking on doors.
  • I successfully pitched THE TOOTH to Oni Press, but it took us years to find the right artist. 
  • Early on, I found several small freelance jobs that helped a lot.
  • Eventually, I pitched THE SIXTH GUN to Oni Press. They liked it, and Brian came on as a co-creator on the project.
  • There came a point where I wasn’t happy on the job…I wasn;t getting any younger… and I was making at least a little money.
  • Have you read THE SIXTH GUN yet? 
  • I was a part of a local horror writer’s group for years. They were my first readers for a while.
  • When THE SIXTH GUN came out, I once again contacted other editors to see if they would like to read it.
  • It wasn’t long before a DC editor reached out to me on Twitter to see if I’d like to pitch an arc of SUPERMAN/BATMAN.
  • A couple of creators at Marvel really went to bat for me at Marvel. They made sure editors read THE SIXTH GUN.
  • Marvel contacted me and gave me some short stories and one-shots.
  • I made sure I was accessible, easy to work with, and on time with all my assignments.
  • These tweets aren’t just about breaking into comics… but also about breaking into your hearts.
  • Soon, I was offered bigger projects, like FEAR ITSELF: THE DEEP and FEAR ITSELF: THE FEARLESS.
  • During the last couple of years before I went full-time as a writer, I worked my ass off!
  • I wrote before I went to the day job, during my lunch break, and late into the night.
  • When I started treating writing comics like a job… when I forced myself to make time… I started seeing a lot more success.
  • I still feel a little lost in terms of comics, but I try to learn and improve every day.
  • My biggest drawback? I’m very shy. I’m not a good face-to-face networker.
  • But I’d challenge anyone to say a publisher just “gives” me work. I earn the projects I work on.
  • I still feel like I’m hustling every day, trying to make the magic happen.
  • Did I get lucky at times? You bet! But it wasn’t all luck. It took time and hard work, too.
  • My advice? Treat writing like work. Be easy to work with. Compete assignments on time. Don’t be a dick.
  • So… That’s kind of how I did it. I’m sure I missed some steps there. I hope it was helpful, though.
  • And I know some people don’t like the idea of “breaking in” to comics. But that’s common wording. It can feel like that. Deal.
  • It can be a tough road. Don’t get bitter about other people making headway. I struggled with that. It ruined my momentum.
  • Go buy my damn books. 


  1. Bret Bernal September 6, 2012 11:55 am

    Cullen, this is great! A lot of guys would keep this info to themselves, not wanting to help the future competition.

    Thanks for sending the elevator back down to those of us just getting started.


  2. Pingback: Episode #28: Cullen Bunn, comic book writer for The Sixth Gun, The Damned, Magneto and Deadpool | Nerd for a Living

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