Okay, this first excerpt from the old BLAH BLAH BLOG concerns how to pitch a Marvel series. This all remains true to this day.
One of the things people seem to wonder about
the most, and one of the questions I’m most asked by writers trying to break
into the industry, is “What is Marvel looking for in a project?”
Well, I recently had reason to write up some notes on this very point for
someone, and so I thought I’d share them all with you here.
The key to what Marvel does better than anybody else in the industry, and what keeps us on top, is creating stories that have a resonance with our readership. So regardless of the project, finding those touchstones is job number one. Bill Jemas used to ask, “What’s the metaphor?” whenever talking about projects, and while he tended to become dogmatic about his approach, there’s a definite validity to it. CIVIL WAR was a massive hit and appealed to the mainstream because the underlying metaphors connected as well with a civilian audience as with the faithful readership. While it’s a realm of fantasy, the Marvel Universe works best when it mirrors the real-world concerns of its audience.
At Marvel, the story comes first. The stories are what keep people coming back, while the art might be what gets them through the door. Story is the top concern—if there’s a compelling enough story, we’re more likely to try a project without a whole lot of obvious commercial appeal, counting on the strength of the story itself to connect to a readership. And conversely, we’re likely to pass on an obvious commercial idea if there doesn’t seem to be a story that works in support of it. The story is the thing we’re most interested in as a whole.
There are three kinds of projects: line extensions, revamps or resurrections of old Marvel characters, and completely new characters and idea. The one thing that all of these types of projects have in common: any new project should ideally occupy some distinctive ground within the Marvel line (and ideally, some unique ground throughout the field). Even on a line extension, if you’re pitching another Avengers project, there needs to be a good reason to do it, beyond the simple fact that Avengers is popular right now. What does it add to the publishing line? What does it do that couldn’t be done in the parent book? How is it unique? The same thing applies for revamps. If you want to do a Luke Cage series, what is it going to offer that the reader can’t get in NEW AVENGERS, or in any other title Marvel publishes? How is the story and the milieu unique to that character? (If you can swap out the character, changing a Spider-Man story into a Wolverine story with just a simple global replace, then you don’t have a very effective Spider-Man or Wolverine story, and it’s not likely to be bought.) And if you’re pitching something completely new, does it have a unique point of view or idea at the heart of it that makes it distinctive from everything else Marvel is putting out?
The standard equation for judging a project is Characters + Creators + Concept. So you should think across all three as you put a project together. Clearly, tried and true proven creators are going to make it easier to get a project off the ground, and it’s always going to be easier to sell popular characters than unpopular ones. But it’s really the synthesis of all three elements that makes the engine turn over—and don’t underestimate Concept! In some ways, Concept is the strongest of the three, in that, with the right idea, you can sell a project with lesser known creators and lesser known characters and make it work.
In the end, too, it’s important to pitch books you yourself believe in, that you yourself want to read, not simply what you think Marvel is looking for. You’re going to need to have a love of the material you’re pitching and an emotional investment in the story you’re telling in order to really make what you’re doing sing. So, even if it’s an idea that’s off the beaten track, if there’s a story you really believe in, that’s the thing you should really be proposing.