Part three of the Phil & Becky talk.
Becky: We’ve had quite a few projects that never panned out. Sometimes for the best. I won’t name specific companies or anything, but we’ve had a number of cartoon show pitches that never went anywhere. One of the first times we ever pitched a show, we worked on it for about eight months and then it died. We of course weren’t working on it full time, but it’s hard because you try not to get your hopes up, but you always do. There have been other times however where we have been paid to work on cartoon pitches, so that doesn’t matter as much if it doesn’t happen.
We also were hired for a book project, a kid’s book for an existing license. And we were dumb and didn’t get anyone to look at the contact, this was before we had an agent. And we ended up doing revision after revision and we weren’t being paid extra to do it. And once they were trying to get us to do revisions on paintings, which is pretty much impossible we had to quit. We were lucky and got paid a good amount for the time spent on it.
There have also been so many toy things that have fallen through. We have gotten limited resins made but never vinyl and never mass produced. It’s just so expensive to get done and unless a big company is paying to have it done it seems impossible to get a toy made. Unless you do resins yourself, which you should totally do for your toys with cards idea. And you could make them solid colors like Monster in My Pocket.
What sort of projects have fallen through for you? And I had brought up agents, has it helped a lot having one?
Phil: I’ve had a lot of stuff that didn’t pan out too. It was tough, the first couple times something like that happened, I was crushed! I knew, coming out of school, that rejection was something an artist has to expect sometimes, and I was ready for that. But when it seems that things are going well and THEN a project doesn’t end up working out, that was something I wasn’t really prepared for in the beginning. Now I know, it happens all the time. The very first little illustration gig I was offered out of school actually fell through. An art director at some alt weekly paper (I can’t remember which one) wanted to hire me to draw a cover for a Halloween issue and then I never heard back from her after responding with an enthusiastic “YES!” Finally, a month or two later, someone got back to me and said that the art director that had contacted me quit a few days after that first email exchange and I just got lost in the shuffle. I had something similar a few months later, someone at a huge publishing company contacted me about illustrating a series of books. I remember getting that email, asking if I wanted to illustrate some books for this huge publisher, and thinking “this is it! I’ve made it! My entire career is gonna be smooth sailing from here on out,” but they strung me along for like six months and then pretty much stopped responding to emails. Eventually I found out that the project had been shelved or they’d decided to use photos instead of illustrations or something like that. I’ve actually had three of four different times where a children’s book editor has contacted me, asking if I’d illustrate a book, and then it doesn’t end up happening. I’ve had a few times where I’ve been asked by big publishers to do sample pages for comic projects that they want me to illustrate, both graphic novels and monthly comic books, and then the projects end up going no where. I got to draw some Monty Python comics a couple years ago as part of a pitch for a potential ongoing Monthy Python comic series! The editor I was working with told me that John Cleese himself would be looking at the sample art, so that was pretty cool. Nothing ever really happened with that project, as far as I know. But I got paid a little bit to draw Monty Python stuff and John Cleese probably saw something I drew so at least I can die knowing that that happened. My experiences have always been that the editor who wants to hire me genuinely seems to want the project to happen but that someone else higher up on the ladder needs convincing, and that’s where these things often get killed. I worked on sample pages for a different project with a different publisher a few years ago and after months of emails and drawing sample images for free, it ended up not working out because they couldn’t convince the author that I was the right guy for the job. But the editors were so into the samples I worked on that they asked me to pitch my own book ideas and have generally been very good to me since then, taking me out to lunch and giving me free books when I see them at events and stuff like that. I’ve got something that a friend and I have been working on together that I’ll be sending their way later this year.
I feel like my experience with tv and animation has been very unusual, very atypical. I dipped my toes into that world expecting not to get very far and to be laughed out of town right away. But it’s been the opposite! I was invited to pitch a show a few years ago, pretty much out of the blue. I went in thinking nothing would ever come out of it. My idea, the first and only tv show idea I’d ever pitched, ended up getting optioned (a couple networks fought over it, actually) and I was paid to develop it for almost a year. We got as far as final storyboards for a pilot before the network pulled the plug on the project. It was disappointing, but actually not as crushing as those first couple little illustration things that didn’t work out early in my career. It was generally a really positive experience. I was just some dummy who had never worked in animation before and suddenly I was being asked to show my own ideas to a network and then getting paid to work on those ideas? It was all really surprising, not at all expected to happen. I’d been expecting someone to say “No, get out of here you bum! Who let this guy in the building!?” every step of the way, pretty much right from the start. So when the project was finally killed, it wasn’t that bad. I left feeling good about it. And now I know lots of people in the animation business. I’ve had a chance to continue doing little freelance things for different networks and I’ve had people try to hire me as a storyboarder on a few different shows. So even though the project didn’t get very far, lots of good stuff has come out of it. I might even pitch my own show again at some point. Maybe. I’m having a lot of fun with illustration and comics right now and I don’t want to rush back into pitching a show just for the sake of pitching a show.
Having an agent has been awesome! You and I both have the same agent, Jennifer Linnan. I love working with her. I know a handful of our mutual friends work with her too. She’s been a huge help, especially when I was doing all the tv development stuff. Without her I would have been in way over my head with legal mumbo jumbo and contracts and knowing if I was signing a bad deal or not. I don’t think I’d have gotten as far into that whole process as I did without her help. I use her for pretty much everything I do now, even if it’s just looking at a contract quickly or bugging clients who are taking a particularly long time to send a paycheck. I still deal with MAD Magazine on my own when I do work for them because I’d had a really nice relationship with them before I started using an agent, and there have been a few really dinky little illustration jobs that I’ve handled on my own, but mostly she negotiates and looks over contracts for every project I take on. I’ve been pumping out a lot of book proposals lately, hoping to arrange it so that I can mostly work on projects of my own over the next year or two… I’ve sent Jen three book proposals already this year and I have at least two more that I’m working on and hoping to get to her sometime in the next few months. Having someone that has knows people in the publishing industry that can take my book ideas and go out and try to find homes for them is really invaluable. One of the proposals I just sent out is actually something that I tried to pitch to a couple of publishers on my own a few years ago. I had no idea what a book proposal was supposed to look like or really how to go about selling a book idea. I had a couple of publishers that seemed interested for a while, but no bites. It’s such a relief now to have someone that is much better at that stuff helping me out.
I’m going to bounce the agent question back to you. Has having an agent been a positive experience for you?
Also, I want to ask about collaboration! With comics, I don’t have very much experience collaborating with other people. I’m usually both the writer and the illustrator. Most of the time you’re creating comics with Frank. It occurs to me that I have no idea what sort of process you guys actually go through… do you brainstorm ideas together? I know that Frank doesn’t really draw at all, but is it strictly Frank writing and you drawing, or is it more of a blend when it comes to crafting the story? Did you mostly write your own comics before meeting Frank? Do you imagine you’ll ever do any comics totally solo in the future?