Breaking in Your Writer Boots, Part III: Tini Howard on How To Become a Comic Scribe

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Breaking in Your Writer Boots, Part III: Tini Howard on How To Become a Comic Scribe

A few months ago, the Paste Comics team received a tragic email: Tini Howard would no longer be able to write under the auspices of editorial objectivity. Of course she couldn’t—the weekly Required Reading contributor had not only announced her new series The Skeptics with artist Devaki Neogi, but was also scripting The Mighty Morphing Power Ranger: Pink, a backup in Shade, The Changing Girl and a new Rick and Morty miniseries. And those were the only projects she could formally announce. But though she couldn’t comment on the work of publishers she also worked for, Tini also had insight into an industry whose landscape is in the midst of huge changes. She’s been vocal on this very site about the necessity for views that transcend those of the straight white dudes who tend to dominate creative teams, and she’s currently shaping that change through comics that can be bought in stores right now.

So we asked Tini to both recount her trajectory and give her sage advice to future comics writers about what it both means and takes to be a professional sequential arts scribe today.

Previous Entries:
Breaking in Your Writer Boots, Part I
Breaking in Your Writer Boots, Part II

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“Long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” Okay, fair enough, that quote is about war, but it kind of applies to writing comics as well.

The terror part kicked in for me mostly in the first year, every time I hit “send” on a pitch, an email to an editor or the PDF of my first book, Magdalena: Seventh Sacrament. I called it work, and it was, because it was hard. I stayed up late writing, fit in pitches on days off from the coffee shop and treated it like it was my job.

The thing about calling something work is that you become numb to parts of it. Parts of the process become rote, lose their glamour—but also lose their fear. Do I still get a thrill now when I send off a pitch? Oh, of course, especially when it’s for a character or property I love. But at this point? The answer itself is something I’m not afraid of.

It started to feel like work in 2016. The kind of work where I agonized over each pitch or proposal, and I wanted it just as badly, but I realized it was, like any other job, work. I also realized that some of it would be accepted for publication and some of it wouldn’t. And that even if someone said they didn’t like something I’d sent, or that it didn’t meet their needs or even if I heard back nothing at all—that I would go on. I would continue writing. It was my job now.

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The Secret Loves of Geek Girls Cover Art by Noelle Stevenson

In 2016, I started taking the kind of work that earned unexpected visibility. Top Cow asked me to write another story, a one-shot set in the world of their former flagship series, IXth Generation. I began writing for some fine websites, like Teen Vogue (which afforded me the chance to talk to some incredible people and get the word about comics out to a whole new audience) and this little site called Paste you might have heard of. And yet, some of the best work I did last year—the stuff that really pushed my career forward—were small-press, Kickstarter anthologies.

I rave about these when I encourage creators who are early in their career. And I think it seems, to a lot of folks, like a cop-out. Sure, anthologies are welcoming with a fairly low barrier to entry, but there are so many of them! Which is true: it’s possible few people will read your work in an anthology. However: you’ll have work—comics that you’ve made, that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

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Tini Howard & Vaneda Vireak’s “Fear My Identity” Sample Art from Oath Anthology

One of the two anthologies I wrote for last year was a book about LGBT superheroes, Oath. I wrote a short story called Fear of My Identity with Vaneda Vireak on art. I found her in the absolute silliest way possible—she had a Tumblr account full of Batman fanart, and I loved her style. A bit of browsing led me to discover that she did sequential art, so I sent her an email. It’s small press in the truest sense—a bunch of wannabe creators, some of us first-timers, slapping a book together and putting it on Kickstarter. But the resulting story is some of my best work. Not only does it accurately represent the kind of comics I want to write, but it’s short, with great art and lettering. It is a perfect sample for editors. And it’s gotten me more work than just about anything else I’ve ever done.

The other anthology I contributed to was The Secret Loves of Geek Girls. I submitted a prose piece, a confessional about an ex-girlfriend and fanfiction of all things, and it was accepted. Legendary sci-fi author Margaret Atwood was featured in that book, and it was reported on by Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times and was picked up for republication by Dark Horse Comics. When I went to New York Comic Con as a busy, signing professional in 2016, I got to sit up at the Dark Horse table in front of giant, wall-sized pictures of Buffy Summers and Hellboy, and sign my name on books for strangers. So, never let it be said that those little Kickstarter experiments aren’t worth a damn.

When you wait in line to meet the person who wrote or drew 10 years of your favorite hero’s life, and ask them how to do what they do, and they look you in the eyes and say flatly, “make comics,” this is how you do it. It’s okay to have days where you don’t write or draw, and all you do is research—so long as you follow it up with days of wild work from your own voice, barely refined, because that’s what will get you the kind of work you want. And because, when all is said and done, all of these projects, these anthology stories and essays and pitches that “went nowhere,” brought me to 2016.

And 2016, while it was a rolling tire fire of senseless death, destruction and the casual crumbling of human decency…

….was the year I became a full-time professional comic book writer.

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