This week (actually, today) sees the release of Marvel’s new Daredevil Annual #1 from writer Erica Schultz and artist Marcio Takara, which explores the first meeting of masked Hell’s Kitchen protector Daredevil and NYPD detective Misty Knight. Schultz has described the comic as a “Superhero French Connection… It’s gritty crime but with cool superheroes – Daredevil plus French Connection plus Serpico plus every one of the science experiments from comics gone wrong.”
Although set in the Daredevil universe, the focus of Annual #1 is on Misty Knight, as she navigates 70’s New York, a gritty, filthy and notoriously dangerous period for the city. The 32-page book is a well-timed release as Misty is currently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to her appearance in Netflix’s Marvel TV series like Luke Cage and The Defenders – where the character is played by Simone Missick.
While Critical Hit chatted to Erica Schultz about Daredevil, her current 5-issue run on Dynamite’s Xena: Warrior Princess and her own original serial killer tale Twelve Devils Dancing, we touched on a few other issues affecting the comics world right now.
The cart-before-the-horse frustration of comic pre-orders:
Erica: What’s tough about the direct market with comics is that you have to order a book two months in advance so it’s really hard to get word of mouth because sometimes the book isn’t even completed yet… So you regularly see books getting cancelled that are doing really well once they’re out, and people are reading it – word of mouth builds and more people want to buy it – but they’re gone because two-months-in-advance orders aren’t where they want to be.
That’s frustrating about the way comics are set up, and that’s why you get things like Superman, Spider-Man always selling because people know those characters and don’t necessarily want to take a chance on something new. If it’s something brand new that I’m not familiar with as a reader then I have to rely on people who took a chance on it to then actually say, “This was really good, you should pick it up.” Then I have to go to the comic shop to see if they have it in stock because they ordered it two months before.
It’s cart before the horse, and that’s why you see all over Twitter creators saying, “Hey, pre-order this.” And you have people going, “Sure, I’m going to pre-order a book I never heard of. I’ll just do it on faith.” That’s a lot to ask of the comic shops and fans. A lot of brick-and-mortar comic shops aren’t doing well so taking a chance on a book that may not sell is risky.
Success breeds success in mainstream comics:
Erica: As a career it’s definitely not a sprint; it’s a marathon. We as a society have got a really short attention span now. If you’re not putting something out every single month, you’re forgotten… And you want to be top of mind when it comes to editors. You want them to think you’re putting out a lot of work because that tells an editor a few things:
- As a writer you can handle multiple scripts a month. Artists can feasibly only do one book a month.
- Different companies are working with you, so you obviously have your stuff together.
- It shows your diversity and versatility.
What ultimately breeds success is to just keep going, especially in comics. You’re going to get so many rejection letters constantly.
The double-edged sword of social media popularity for comics creators:
Erica: Publishers do look at fan following. I know for a fact they give certain books to certain people because of how many followers they have. I’ve been bitten by that. That’s annoying… At the same time, it is important to have a big social media following.
You have to push stuff a lot on social media because publishers aren’t. A lot of times they don’t have the manpower to do so. So if you’re not the one pushing it, and saying “Pick up the book”, nobody is going to do that. Another thing is that you have to believe in your work. People have got to the point where they think some creators phone it in. So if you are not out there personally pushing your own work, and you don’t care enough about it to push it, then why should I as a fan care about it?
…That’s where the comic community really needs to help each other [on social media]. I’ll talk about my book, then someone like Vita Ayala will say “This is a great book, you need to pick it up,” I read her stuff, tell people to pick it up and really boost each other and push each other’s work because that’s how we’re all going to get work.
But at the same time, social media is a total minefield. You don’t know what you can say, even a personal joke to someone, because everyone can see it and take it their way. People are interpreting words on a screen, and if they don’t understand the intent behind those words, they can interpret something you said quite innocently in a completely different way.
Because of the volatility of the world and politics, I try to keep my Twitter as tame as possible. It’s pretty much devolved into cat photos. I just want to be, “Look, I have these comics coming out, and these are my friends who have comics coming out. These are some Kickstarters that are really cool. This is what I had for breakfast and here’s a photo of my cat sitting on a pair of shoes.” I keep it as benign as possible because I don’t want to paint a target on my back. I’m just trying to play the long game in this industry.
I’ve benefited from being C- or maybe D-level – where some people know me and some people don’t – with that kind of anonymity, but you never know that the one thing you’ve said could be seen by the wrong person. We’ve reached this point where you can’t make a mistake, you can’t slip up because if you do it could be the last thing you ever do.
My husband might look at something I’m about to post on Twitter and say, “Don’t tweet that because it’ll open a can of worms.” There’s plenty I’ve written in comics, a line of dialogue perhaps, that I’ve immediately taken out because of fear someone will see it, take it the wrong way and use it to destroy my career. If it’s seen by one editor who’s having a bad day, it could be shown to others. And that’s the stage we’ve reached – where one mistake can end your career. And what it comes down to is what do you do with that mistake? Do you apologise immediately and try to better yourself or do you die on that hill as an asshole? I feel like we’ve got to that point now that even if you try to be a better person, you’re not always going to be allowed to be.
Being a female creator in the comics industry:
Erica: There will always be drama in any industry. There will always be sexism in any industry because with the exception of maybe nursing and teaching, they’re male-dominated. I dealt with the sexism garbage when I was at ad agencies, because I would work with a lot of older guys and everyone would drink on the job. Also I was a tomboy – I played hockey, I have an older brother – so for me I shrug off a lot of the garbage, or I just come out and be “&%#’ off.”
But there have been things that have happened that have really shaken me. There was a creator at a convention who was getting extremely inappropriate, and by the end I was like “Don’t ever fricken talk to me. Stay away from me.” It happened two years ago and I wrote an article about it. It was pre the Me Too Movement. I posted screen caps of all the texts I had got, having removed the creator’s name and anything incriminating. Nobody said a word, nobody said anything about him and he’s still working for major publishers.
When Me Too happened, my friend who posted the article asked me if they could republish it “because it’s relevant now.” And I was like, “It was relevant then but nobody gave a damn.”
Sexist trolling and the overlap with an increasingly mainstream geek culture:
Erica: There’s a lot of BS that happens. People come up your table at cons and tell you, “Bitch, you didn’t write all this stuff.” Or they ask you if you drew all this even though my banner says Erica Schultz: Writer. It still happens. It’s a micro-aggression kind of thing. If my husband is at the table with me, they walk up directly to him and ask him, “Is this all your work?” His response is “No, I’m the booth babe. My wife did all this.” If my brother is there they do the same thing.
I don’t know if people are deliberately being assholes in that situation or if they’re just unknowledgable, because of the popularity of comics – where people have seen the movies, but they know nothing about comics. So they come to conventions and it’s a totally new world to them, and they may just be ignorant that women write comics. So I try give people the benefit of the doubt.
Then again, I don’t know it’s a case of being ignorant. I think we’ve become very self-centred. If you put out your arms, and something happens outside the distance from your chest to your fingertips, it’s easy to have the attitude that it’s not going to affect you because we’re so in our own little bubbles. So the people who come up and aggressively say things, I know they’re jerks trolling me, but people who come up and speak to my husband probably have no clue about women’s involvement in comics.
The reality of working cons as a writer:
Erica: Cons are really expensive. To table at New York Comic Con for 4 days is $500. I go to NYCC every year because it’s a great place to table and meet new people. And it’s 30 minutes from my house. But it’s very expensive so that’s one of the reasons I tend to be more aggressive there in terms of trying to sell books because I start the show $500 in the hole. There are other shows going on that may not be $500 but they’re expensive. I would love to go to them but I don’t have the money for the table, the flight and 4 days in a hotel. And you have to ship your books out so you have something to sell. Round-trip shipping will be another $300-400. We’re talking about $2000 a con so you have to always ask yourself “Will I make that back?” It could be a bust.
I would love to do all the shows but unless the show is willing to pay for my table and kick in something for transportation, then there’s no use. A lot of people who do shows are artists who can sell prints and do commissions. I don’t begrudge that but it’s also more difficult as a writer to go to a convention. I’ve seen artists literally show up with a sketch pad and that’s it. Whereas as a writer I’m not doing commissions; I’m selling you books and that’s a harder sell. I’ve seen people pay $50 for a commission and then when I try to sell them a $5 comic they scoff at it.
Tabling at cons is like being a fish in a fish bowl at a pet store, banging your head against the glass, saying “Take me home with you” as people walk by. You’re just this ball of anxiety, not eating or drinking enough because what if an editor comes past while you’re in the bathroom? There’s also the stress and exhaustion of having to ingratiate yourself to strangers. Con interactions ultimately become either about making sales or making people aware of your stuff so they’ll look for it in future.
Fandom agoraphobia and the niche-ing of conventions:
Erica: At NYCC 2012, I was trying some new things. I made 100 copies of M3 and was giving the first issue away for free. I put on makeup, a cutesy voice and I was standing there in a tight top saying, “Hey, free comic from a pretty girl,” and handing out my comics. So this guy comes up and says, “I don’t want your comic.” I replied, “Well, &#$# you then.” He was shaken from his bubble by that. People are so in their bubbles they either don’t want to get out or are afraid to get out.
I think a lot of people are agoraphobic in their fandoms – “I’m a Doctor Who fan and I don’t want to read or see anything that isn’t Doctor Who.” Or, “I’m just here as a cosplayer, or I’m just here to do that.” Your focus is so narrow. I think the niches have to do with attention span. People only have so much bandwidth.
A few years ago, after I put out the Churchill comic with Claire Connelly I was like, “Oh good, I finally have something I can sell to Doctor Who fans.” I was at at Baltimore Comic Con and there was a girl who walked past my table and I asked how she was enjoying the con. She looked put off that I had even spoken to her, and I said, “If you’re a big fan of Doctor Who, then you’ll love this story.” She was like, “I don’t read comics. I’m only here to meet Matt Smith.”
It’s very strange that people are like “I’m just going to like this one thing.” There’s just so much more. But I think that’s just the way people are, and they’re also afraid to take a chance on something new.
The point is if people come to cons, don’t be put out when creators try to sell you comics because it is a place of commerce. We used to go to the mall to hang out and comic conventions have become this very social thing now where people go to just hang out. That’s great but please understand you’re in a place of commerce and people will try to sell you their stuff.
Special thinks to Erica for speaking to us with such frankness.
Last Updated: August 29, 2018