Aspiring comic book writers’ options for ‘breaking in’ to the business are somewhat limited. While the ‘Big Two’ major publishers frequently do art portfolio reviews at the major comic conventions, they offer very few opportunities for up-and-coming authors. Self-publishing is often a new writer’s best option, which itself presents its own difficulties – funding the project, finding an artist with whom to work, and more.
That’s part of what makes Grayhaven Comics‘ recent talent competition so unique. The contest, styled after the reality competition TV show The Apprentice, was entirely writer-oriented. Over a span of several weeks, writers worked alone and in groups to develop concepts, write scripts, and create their own pitches. The contest wrapped a little over a month ago, and we spoke with Grayhaven publisher Andrew Goletz about how the contest went, what sit this year’s winner apart from the rest of the field, and Goletz’s own experience with Apprentice-style competitions.
Joe Grunenwald: For the reader who might not be familiar with Grayhaven Comics, how long have you been around and what types of comics does Grayhaven publish?
Andrew Goletz: We’ve been around for about 4 years now, since January of 2010. The Gathering is our longest running title and it’s an anthology where every issue covers a different theme. We’ve just released the 22nd edition of that book, War. We also have a line of young reader comics called Hey Kids and have published a few self contained mini series like Mother and Sons, Living with Death, Run Like Hell and 1159. We tell a variety of different stories from horror to romance to sci fi and slice of life.
JG: How did the Grayhaven Comics Apprentice competition come about?
AG: Years ago I participated in an online comic version of the game with friends on a message board. It reinvigorated me creatively and even though it was sooooo time consuming I had a blast doing it. Once the competition was over I was still in creative mode and that translated into me wanting to finally move forward on starting GrayHaven Comics. It started with that game.
I was thinking of doing something fun for the website and a new way to bring in some creative talent to our books. I thought coming full circle and doing our own version of Apprentice would be the way to do that.
JG: Do you remember what your very first Apprentice pitch was?
AG: It was a team challenge. We were supposed to come up with a big crossover ‘event’ for one of the Big Two. This was our idea:
“There are plenty of things to be scared of in the Marvel Universe. Super villains seem to outnumber the heroes two to one. Shape shifting aliens try to invade our planet and if that doesn’t work there’s always the chance that Galactus may want to have the Earth for a midnight snack.
But there is much more to be frightened about. The things that go bump in the night. The things that you may only mentioned in hushed tones in the company of trusted friends or think about when you get that tingling sensation on the back of your neck. Perceptive readers will note that there’s been a big resurgence of magic/demons in Marvel as of late — from the return of Magik, The Hood’s mystical power source, to Mephisto tinkering with the Parker marriage. All of this occurred while Dr. Strange is changing over title to Dr. Voodoo, leaving an opportunity for Mephisto to act. Timezero Theory states that events occur in cycles and as the timeline reaches the end, these events occur with more frequency culminating in the year 2012. 2012 is Mephisto’s end game and he’s been patient to ensure it happens as he planned. DARKHOLD sets up 2011’s 10 issue maxi-event 2012 which will mark a new beginning for Marvel, a return of hope after all the darkness of recent years.
THE CHARACTERS: Dr. Doom Mephisto Dr. Strange Dr. Voodoo Jack Russell (Werewolf by Night) Ghost Rider Magik Blade Morbius Dracula Fantastic Four Spider-Man Avengers
DARKHOLD 6-Part Mini-Series Ed Brubaker and Jae Lee Covers by Marko Djurdjevic 1st August 2009 INTRO: What follows is a brief outline of our mini-event DARKHOLD, which sets into motion the events that culminate in next year’s maxi-event 2012. DARKHOLD will consist of 6 one-shot tie-ins and will launch 3 on-going titles which will parallel 2012. By tying these 3 titles directly to the events of 2012, they’ll stand a better chance of surviving in today’s crowded market. Readers will of course get a self contained story with DARKHOLD, and an even greater reward if they continue with the new launch titles. The overall goal is to re-establish the horror genre at Marvel and utilize it to establish a new status quo at Marvel. Or to put it another way, it’s always darkest before the dawn. This will be the heroes’ darkest hour. THE PLOT: 2012. The prophesied end of days is upon us. Left unchecked for all these years, Mephisto has slowly been orchestrating events to ensure 2012 happens. If he succeeds, the Nexus of All Realities will be destroyed and the universe will fold upon itself. Only two people are aware of Mephisto’s plans, Dr. Doom and Dr. Strange. A physically battered Dr. Strange appears before Doctor Doom and warns him of Mephisto’s plan before he dies and dissipates into ether. He leaves behind his tattered cloak and the Book of Sins, DARKHOLD. Within it’s pages, Doom can conceivably find a way to destroy Mephisto. Also contained within the cloak is the Soul Gem and once Doom picks it up, he’s filled with Strange’s memories. This is his destiny, Mephisto has interfered one too many times in his life, and armed with the gems, he could put an end to Mephisto once and for all. Doom has a plan. He don’s Doctor Strange’s tattered cloak and seeks out Ghost Rider, Magik, Werewolf by Night, Franklin Richards, Morbius and the Spider-Zombie. His plan is two fold, a direct attack on Mephisto with the gems and a backup team as his mystical anchor (or so he tells them). Eventually, Doom’s ego gets the best of him, and he confronts Mephisto with the gems alone. A cross dimension, reality shattering battle occurs, ending with Mephisto the victor. The team is decemated, the Infinity Gauntlet is shredded and all of the gems, save one is shattered. Mephisto casually tosses the broken body of Doom aside and sits on his throne. We zoom in on Mephisto looking at the Soul Gem, with Doom trapped inside as Mephisto says, “And so it begins
And I’m happy about it in particular because I was the project manager of that one and we won.
JG: Who were the judges for the Grayhaven competition?
AG: The judges were myself along with GrayHaven editors Ray Goldfield, Marc Lombardi and Glenn Matchett. All of whom also played other online versions of the game before. Marc beat me :shakes fist: in the very first game we did 5 years back.
JG: The competition was presented in the style of the TV series The Apprentice, with all judging and feedback for the contestants being posted for all to read. What made you decide on that format?
AG: I wanted people who came to the site to see as much of the creative process as we could show. In reality the creators playing this game did so much more work than we could possibly describe. They were all linked on their own Google groups so the judges could see them interact and brainstorm and argue but their competitors couldn’t. I would have loved to show the readers some of that but it would have tipped people off to what was going on. I liked the idea of showing all the hard work the creators put into it as well as explaining why the judges felt the way they did on projects and then offer the creators in the ‘boardroom’ a chance to defend their choices and fight to play another week.
JG: What do you think the ‘Apprentice’ format added to the competition?
AG: It’s a little harder to do this on the computer than it is on television, haha. We’re basically trying to transcribe things said over google groups and emails and post that while at the same time discussions are currently going but I think that added to the strength of the competition. Readers who came to look at it weren’t just seeing us post ‘John Doe pitched this story and we liked it and Jane Doe pitched this story and we didn’t’. They were able to get in our heads as well as see most of the creative process on all sides. I think it made for a much more compelling contest overall.
JG: Do you think the format of the competition had any particular effect, positive or negative, on the contestants and their work?
AG: It’s a tough game. I know from playing that you get out as much as you put into it and especially early on in team projects if you’re working with people who are going all out you’re investing at least several hours a day into the game. The one thing that’s hard to do is convey how much work these contestants are doing. They’ve set up Google groups to chat/email, skype sessions and all manner of ways to communicate during the week. The judges are privy to it but for obvious reasons we can’t make them public or we expose to one team what the other is doing. But it’s pretty fascinating with watch.
JG: This was primarily a competition for writers, whereas a lot of other publishers tend to only do open talent searches for artists. Was that a conscious decision on your part, or a matter of the competition’s logistics, or something else?
AG: Logistics played a part in it. There is a lot of work to put into the competition and people are going to drop out over time. We had it happen here, we had it happen in other games and that was just writing. Artists are a bit more limited in their time and playing a game for 2 months for free could be counter productive to the goal which is giving a spotlight to someone. Though I’m certainly not opposed to having artists. Have a few artists play, especially in the early team challenges could open up a few more ideas for sure that I’d love to incorporate.
JG: Jared Moore was the winner of the competition. What was it about his work that you think set him apart from his fellow competitors?
AG: He had some bumps in the road early on but made no excuses, carried himself well in the ‘boardroom’ and fought to stay. And when he was in the game he went all out in either participating or delegating when he was the Project Lead. I think perhaps the early challenges helped him refocus for the long haul but you’d have to ask him. I just was really impressed with his second half stretch whether it was solo projects to team efforts he gave it his all and I thought his idea for the one shot was the strongest of the three and very nearly ready for publication as is.
JG: Was there anything about the full body of work that you saw from the contestants that stuck out to you? Any trends or things that struck you as potentially problematic?
AG: There were a few people early on who were doing a very good job, like Bill Levert, who we thought had a chance to go all the way and it was sad to see him go. The final 4 or 5 all did a great overall job. Courtland had some rough patches and was close to elimination a few times, as was Jared but battled through and took the reigns to make it to the finals. Sam, Nathan and Mary were early favorites based on how they managed their teams and stepped up to each challenge and they remained pretty consistant throughout.
The overall body of work plays a part in it, at least for me. If Jared had only won the last challenge by a slim margin he wouldn’t have gotten my vote because Sam had been at the top of his game for most of the challenge but like I said after a rough patch in the middle Jared recharged and became a very strong player and more than earned the win. It also came down to enjoying his pitch more than the others as well.
As far as problematic, it really just comes down to attitude and drive. Essentially we’re going to be working with the winner (and probably several of the contestants at some point) over time. If someone is taking criticism poorly, deflecting blame towards others instead of stepping up and owning it or if their ideas are just plain bad, well that’s not a relationship we want to have.
JG: It’s been a few weeks now since the competition ended. In hindsight, what was the most surprising thing that you saw or experienced during this competition?
AG: The level of commitment, at least from the majority of folks who stayed through to the final few weeks was very surprising. I remember how nuts a few of us were in our game years ago but I wasn’t expecting this many people to be so dedicated right off the bat. They took the competition very seriously and we were impressed by that as much as anything. The level of talent from the competition was pretty darn good, as well
JG: You’ve already said, even before the competition was over, that you’ll eventually do another. With that in mind, is there anything that you might do differently for any reason?
AG: The problems in these games year after year is that there is an overwhelming amount of people who want to play and then within 2 weeks 1/3 have dropped out because they don’t realize how much work is involved. Seriously, at least an hour or two a day…every day, in addition to being a part of email chains, google groups, having to meet deadlines. We ask a lot, haha. So what we’re likely going to do is have a few mini challenges, still in depth and some work to them as ‘qualifiers’. Those who are still in the game at that point will then have a chance to compete for the whole season. We’d also like to try and get a few professional creators involved in judging and open the challenges up a bit more.
JG: When can we expect to see Jared’s finished work?
AG: Jared’s already hard at work on the first draft of the full script for the book and we’re hoping to have it debut in the Fall of 2014.
JG: Is there anything else you’d like to add for our readers?
AG: I’d just like to encourage readers to check out the game through the archives on our site. We had a blast doing the first one and will definitely be doing it again next year so if you have the time, the talent and the drive to stick with it in the long haul let us know and you could be the next GrayHaven Comics Apprentice.
JG: Thanks for taking the time to talk about the contest, Andrew!
AG: Thanks for the opportunity to discuss this.