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 (currently in stores), but was also scripting The Mighty Morphin Power Ranger: Pink, Magdalena, 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.
Breaking in Your Writer Boots, Part I
Breaking in Your Writer Boots, Part II
Breaking in Your Writer Boots, Part III
Last time, I finished on the exciting teaser that 2016 was the year I became a full-time professional comic book writer. Which is true: I did, and Black Phillip willing, I still am.
I wish this meant that I woke up every morning in my jammies and bounced to my office, where I ate cereal and wrote about Nightwing doing lunges. It doesn’t (yet), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome. It is still, and will likely always be, a road of exhaustion, hard work, nerves, disappointment, insecurity and cheap thrills. But I literally asked for this. And I’m not sorry.
I grew up on Aesop’s Fables. My favorite, the one around which my creative husband and I have built our lives, is the fable of “The Dog and The Wolf.” The dog knows where to go to be fed every day, but he must live his life on a chain. The wolf has to hunt, every day, but he’s free to go where he pleases. Nothing against dog people. I love dogs. I just don’t do well on chains, even if you promise me dinner.
That said, comics life is hard. Everyone says it, and we don’t say it to scare you off. We say it because if you want to go to work every day at the same place and have health insurance and a 401K, that is not unwise. But it didn’t thrill me. Here’s what does thrill me:
About a year ago, I was heading to Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, Washington. It was the farthest I’d ever been from home for a convention, and it was probably the first time I felt like a Real Pro at a convention. I was flying by myself, books in hand, meetings scheduled ahead of time. People wanted to see me for coffee, drinks, to plan out the upcoming year’s schedules. Me? I had sweaty palms over getting to be on a panel beside Raina Freaking Telgemeier, among other things.
I spent the weekend doing some of the typical networking, but in ways that were entirely foreign to me. The velvet ropes of publisher’s tables were pulled aside and I was invited back—to sign, to chat, to plan. Editors courted me in ways that were downright thrilling; I have nothing to compare it to, other than the excitement of a good date.
When you’ve been wanting an editor at a company to just pay attention to you for two, three years, having them take you out for drinks, for breakfast…it makes you giddy. I’d run up to my hotel room, drawing on my eyebrows and changing from a con-floor t-shirt into something with buttons to look nice. Brushing my teeth and refreshing my lipstick, nervously flexing my toes in the elevator. Butterflies in my stomach when I thought about making a good impression on an editor, things like I should probably not order hot wings, because they’re messy, despite the fact that I literally always want hot wings.
I had a great experience there. I came home feeling not only like these people might actually like me, but like I liked them. Hitching my wagon to these fellow creatives now seemed less like a quest for approval and more like a genuine partnership. With that pressure gone, I felt respected, trusted and, if you’ve ever had a really good partner, in any sense, you’ll know what comes next: you wanna try new things.
The place where I am now is one I couldn’t have imagined, 10, five or even two years ago. As I write this, I have boxes and boxes of comics with my name in them behind me; a stack of 1099 forms from half a dozen companies in front of me. I barely had time to think I need to find more work before I had several offers pour in—enough that I had to make choices, and say “no” to things.
This is weird, right? It sounds alternately like I’m warning you away and boasting about my success, but it doesn’t mean to be either. What I’m saying is this: if I did this, you can too. Maybe not about comics, but about anything. What seems impossible is totally, ridiculously possible. For anyone. And these writer boots I’ve been talking about?
Well, I put them on one foot at a time, just like everyone else.
Wait, that’s pants, isn’t it?
That’s what editors are for.