Friday, 4 August 2017

Dave Sim: Publishing Advice For Ramona

(Dynamite Entertainment, 2014)

6 May 06

Dear Ramona Fradon:

Hi, I was the guy who dropped by your table at Torontocon last week and after buying one of your Brenda Starr dailies (and thank you again) asked if you had ever considered doing a graphic novel, specifically an autobiographical graphic novel. As I told you at the con, I do think that people would be interested in such a thing. You asked me if I could suggest any publishers.

Having thought it over, I think your best bet would be DC Comics for obvious reasons. DC President Paul Levitz and I have had our run-ins over the years but I'm reasonably comfortable suggesting that you use my name if you choose to contact him. Of course DC would only make sense as a publisher for your work if you have good things to say about DC Comics and your experiences with them. If you'd have negative things to say, you might want to try one of the smaller independent publishers instead.

Times are tough in the publishing field and I really don't know how many of these publishers are paying on time, but these are certainly the biggest contenders after Marvel and DC and, in my view, the ones most likely to be interested in an autobiographical property by you (my suggested title would be Ramona Fradon: A Woman in Comics). I've marked these publishers from the Comics & Games Retailer magazine industry directory from 2005. As far as I know they're all still in business. If there's a personal contact where my name would mean anything, I've circled the name or added it next to the listing.

What I would suggest is that you try the same approach Harvey Pekar has used in his autobiographical comics - anecdotes of varying lengths, some of them funny, some of them thought-provoking and most of them of the "ain’t life like that?" variety. I think the advantage  there is that you can do two or three anecdotes over a dozen pages or so and send them to all of the publishers simultaneously along with a proposal for a mini-series of, say, four issues which could be collected into a graphic novel after the mini-series has concluded and they'll get a pretty good idea of what the package is going to be like from a few samples of different lengths. I'd suggest using actual names in the stories unless you think there's a legal problem with a story in which case you should probable change the names and indicate that you're doing so.

Harvey's newest book is The Quitter which is the longest narrative he's done and which recounts his early years through high school and quitting the army. As he admits, he's used up most of his material about being a freelance journalist and his adult life over the years in his American Splendor comic book (you might want to rent the movie documentary to get an idea of what Harvey is all about and what “works” in autobiographical comics) so that meant he had to go further back to get a subject appropriate to a full-length book. If you are interested in adopting this approach, you might consider mentally separating your own material into different categories and starting off with shorter self-contained subjects, saving your longer stories for when you have sold a publisher on doing the mini-series or when you need a sequel to the graphic novel. I'd also suggest sticking with the comic-book field in finding a publisher for your first book but hit the major New York publishing houses with a longer narrative. If you "click" in the comic-book field, your book will be in print in perpetuity but with smaller individual print runs. With a major New York house, you would get a larger advance and a bigger print run but it’s only likely to be kept in print for a year or so and then they want your next book. As an example, the Cerebus volume which collects the first 25 issues of Cerebus I first self-published in 1988 or so and is now on its tenth or twelfth printing.

Of course, you could also try self-publishing which is what I did. I enclose a copy of my Guide to Self-Publishing from 1997 which is badly in need of updating but which still contains a certain amount of valid information.

I don’t know if you can do the script on your own, but it sounded as if Samm Barnes (who also came over and spoke to you, I understand) was interested in helping. Her address is [redacted].

If you have any other questions, feel free to call me at the number at the bottom of page one.

And good luck.


Dave Sim

Ramona Fradon is a comic artist artist who started working for DC Comics in 1950 and is best known for her work illustrating Aquaman and Brenda Starr, and co-creating the superhero Metamorpho. 

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