By Pat Shand

For the first half of my career, 95% of my work was on comics that I didn’t own. I worked on licensed titles like Angel, Adventure Time, Casper, Charmed, and Marvel novels, but the biggest portion of my workload came from my time as a staff writer at Zenescope Entertainment. I signed a two-year exclusive deal that was extended beyond that, where I helped the company launch franchises like Robyn Hood and Van Helsing, while having long runs on other titles, including the main Grimm Fairy Tales line.

I put so much of myself into my work that I began to struggle with editorial notes. It was specifically on Robyn Hood, my first major work for Zenescope and longest-running at 39 total issues, that I felt personally invested in the story I was telling. It felt like a passion project. What I had to come to grips with, though, was that I was writing Robyn Hood as if it were a creator-owned title, but the character and world would go on without me when I left. Other people owned it. So why did I feel so tied to the story?

The truth is, I love character and theme. I invest myself deeply in what I’m writing as a form of self-expression that has been essential to my life since I was a little kid. During my time writing these titles, I didn’t have a single creator-owned, ongoing work to put that energy into… so it went into Robyn Hood. I think that run came out very strong and I look back at it with fondness, but if I had what I have now—Destiny, NY and other creator-owned projects that are my main work—I would have been able to save myself, and my editors, a lot of grief.

This is not to say it isn’t important to make your freelance work-for-hire projects matter. Make every word count. Just keep in mind that when you also have your own personal projects, you’ll be able to be a better freelancer to your editors and a healthier creator.

This Is a Business

Another Zenescope anecdote: my first-ever actual job for Zenescope was a small gig on their 1000 Ways to Die graphic novel. I was talking to then Editor-in-Chief, Ralph Tedesco, about working on Charmed, and he offered me four short scripts on 1000 Ways to Die in the meantime at a flat rate. I accepted the gig, and then, later that day, Ralph hit me back and said he had a fifth one for me. When I thanked him for that, I asked him what the new flat rate would be with the fifth script added… and then, when I didn’t hear back for a day, I panicked.

“He’s going to think I’m ungrateful!” I thought. It was 2011, and I was young, just 24 and completely inexperienced, with just a couple of other gigs under my belt. Thinking that I’d ruined my chances by asking about pay, I wrote Ralph back and apologized. Ralph got back to me immediately and told me that, of course, I’d be paid extra, and not to worry—he was just busy with emails and hadn’t gotten the chance to reply yet. Twelve years later, I look back and laugh at that exchange because, of course, it’s okay to ask to be paid for your work, and, of course, an Editor-in-Chief can’t respond to every question immediately.

My words of wisdom here? Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Most people in the industry are not looking to screw you over and recognize that this is a business. The fact that it can be creatively fulfilling doesn’t take away from the fact that you’re doing this for money.

Be Good

One final bit here. I’m not a “networking” guy. I don’t love going to events, I’m hot and cold on the Bar Con stuff, and I hate the idea of making an editor feel like I’m just shaking their hand to get work—so I largely don’t do it. Almost all of the work I’ve gotten is either a result of people reading and enjoying my work or making friends along the way. You should worry less about networking and CERTAINLY less about all the bullshit trending topics on Twitter and Facebook. You should worry less about wading into Facebook drama or what someone you love, or even hate, from the industry is doing or saying. Instead of any of that, build positive relationships in your work, convention appearances, and time spent on social media. Pull back from drama. Find your circle. Find people who are interesting to you, who you want to talk to, and talk to them. Be good to them. Don’t use people for industry connections, don’t dehumanize others by seeing them as a means to an end—and don’t let them do it to you. Don’t congratulate people publicly for gigs and then privately ask for a connection to their editors.

At the same time, don’t be greedy with your own connections. There will be times when publishers who like your work will ask you who you think they should hire—so be generous when the time comes. Most of all, be good. Be good to yourself and others. Sometimes, the first part of that can be the hardest because, again, when working in comics, you’re working a dream gig. But it’s still work, and it must be treated as such, or you might just lose the love of it along the way.

Be good to yourself.

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