I spent more time than I care to admit the other week trying to come up with a title for a new comic book project. I thought I had the perfect title, but then the project changed in a great way, bringing a new element to the table that the title really should evoke. And it became surprisingly tough to come up with just the right replacement.
I was looking for two or three words that instantly create a picture and action in the potential reader’s mind. Two or three words that evoke a genre and create a sensation of forward motion and intrigue — while also being able to serve as a title for an ongoing series that stretches over multiple story arcs.
So I made some lists to try to understand what makes good titles work, particularly for comic books and serial genre fiction. Here are the categories I came up with and what they made me think about:
Titles Based on the Main Character’s Name
Lone Wolf & Cub
Pretty straightforward, right? I’d love to embrace this solution and just name the book after my main character. But it’s worth noting that “Superman” and “Batman” only launched as books after the characters had debuted in “Action Comics” and “Detective Comics,” respectively. Before the world knew about superheroes, it didn’t necessarily make sense to launch a book with the name of a superhero. If you’re creating an unexpected genre or doing fresh worldbuilding, the character’s name alone may have trouble creating that image and effect you want in reader’s minds. Of course, in comics, the title will be rendered in a specific style and accompanied by evocative art, so the words alone don’t have do all the work. But there might be ways to help them along…
Titles Based on the Main Character’s Name… Plus an Extra Description
Nausciaa of the Valley of Wind
Elric of Melnibone
Hikaru No Go
Alice in Wonderland
Y the Last Man
V for Vendetta
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (etc.)
Turok Dinosaur Hunter
This may very well work for my project. The character’s name in my project is evocative but not absolutely demonstrative of genre — but combined with a tag of some kind, it can evoke the genre and action of the whole story pretty well. I’m realizing this is a technique used frequently for fantastical stories and can be a great way to clue readers into what’s so fresh about the story in just a few words. I have a few strong possibilities that fit this pattern.
Titles Based on the Story’s Key Event
Attack on Titan
World War Hulk
Old Man’s War
Escape from New York
Love these kinds of titles — used one myself with “World War Hulk” back in the day. (Marvel editor Tom Brevoort gets the credit for that title, by the way, as I recall — it beat out “Hulkmageddon,” which is probably a good thing.) But I’m developing a book that I’d love to see go on for years, and I’m not certain that an event-based title will apply so perfectly four or five story arcs down the line.
Titles Based on the World
Again, I love these kinds of titles. They’re particularly attractive when you’re building a new world. I’ve been rolling some world-based names around, but just haven’t found one that clicks just yet.
Titles Featuring the Inciting Character, Antagonist, or Objective
Lord of the Rings
Wizard of Oz
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Princess of Mars
These titles are very interesting to me — they put the objective or antagonist front and center rather than the putative main character. But this doesn’t feel right for the way I’m building this particular story.
Tooth & Claw
I love these kinds of titles and I had a few evocative, single word titles in mind for this project — but of course they were already taken. This is a problem — folks have been telling and titling stories for a long, long time. And thousands more stories are published every year. So it’s honestly pretty tough to come up with a one or two word conceptual title that hasn’t already been used.
If all goes well, I’ll reveal what the title is and how we picked it when the project actually gets announced some time in 2015. Knock on wood for me!
For more thoughts about the writing and comic book process, check out “Make Comics Like the Pros,” a how-to book I wrote with Fred Van Lente.
In our book “Make Comics Like the Pros,” my co-writer Fred Van Lente provides some spectacular advice about how to work a comic book convention. This year at the New York Comic Con, I took Fred’s advice seriously and did my Artists Alley table up right for the first time. And I had my best con ever! So here’s what I did:
1. I’d printed up the “Code Monkey Save World” banner last year. But for the NYCC, I ponied up a few bucks to print a second banner featuring gorgeous Aaron Kuder/Wil Quintana art from our current “Action Comics” run. I figured folks who don’t know me probably know Superman, and might pause a few more seconds at the table if they saw his face. And they did!
2. I got vertical! In “Make Comics Like the Pros,” Fred writes about the need to stand out in a crowded con by raising your stuff up into the field of vision of passersby. So I went to Staples and bought a few clear magazine holders, which worked beautifully for displaying single issue comics and bigger books. The three-level magazine holders in particular provided a great way to catch folks’ eyes with the titles of a variety of books.
3. I sat down for an hour or two and printed actual labels for everything. At past cons, I had handwritten labels with prices of things. That’ll work, but I think the clearly printed labels helped make everything feel more professional and encouraged sales. The clear label over the “Code Monkey Save World” books reading “Based on the songs of JONATHAN COULTON” saved me from having to explain the book as often as I’ve done in the past. Multiple Coulton fans read that label and bought the book without my having to say much at all.
4. It’s a little hard to tell from the photo, but that little black box is a portable speaker through which I played Jonathan Coulton music whenever I was sitting at the table. Bouncy music subtly encourages people to linger and buy. And multiple Coulton fans heard the music, then discovered the table and bought the book.
5. For the first time this year, I brought a short box of single issues of some of my work-for-hire comics, which I sold at cover price. I ended up selling all but one issue of “Action Comics” and every issue of “Storm,” “Doomed,” and “Batman/Superman” that I brought. The experience reminds me of advice a friend gave me about Kickstarters, which was to have a reward at every price point. At my table, I had the $20 “Code Monkey Save World” and the $23 “Make Comics Like the Pros” books for the big buyers. But I also had a bunch of $3 and $4 comics for casual browsers who might just like a little something to remember the con by.
6. Fred told me that after he did a panel about making comics at a small convention in Maine, he sold all of the “Make Comics Like the Pros” books he had within a few minutes. So I ordered what I figured would be too many “Make Comics Like the Pros” books to sell at the NYCC. And I sold them all. A big part of moving those books was doing the “Make Comics Like a Pro” panel and the Nerdist Comics Panel, where I shamelessly plugged the book. Some folks bought the book from me right there after the panels; many others found me at the table later to buy the book.
7. Sets of individual comics sold pretty well. I had a few sets of individual comics of a few miniseries I did, which I bagged together and sold at a slight discount. All of those sets sold. It makes sense — it’s nice to get a little discount and it’s nice to get a whole story in a single bag.
8. I was seated next to “Action Comics” artist Aaron Kuder and facing frequent collaborators Fred Van Lente, Ryan Dunlavey, and Charles Soule. That meant if someone was looking at a copy of “Action,” I could say, “And you can get Aaron to sign it for you, too!” I think that helped move a lot of books.
And now here’s a list of things I thought about after the fact and will try to do for the next con:
1. Make a little sign saying I take credit cards. Most Artists Alley vendors these days have little Square thingies that let them take credit cards. But not all visitors realize that. A little sign would probably have increased my sales just a bit.
2. Make a sign listing my collaborators who are at the con and where they’re sitting in Artists Alley. As noted above, sitting near Fred and Charles and Aaron certainly helped move single issues. But probably a dozen other artists I’ve worked with were attending the con. If I’d had a little sign at my table noting what books they’d worked on and where folks could find them, it might have encouraged a few more sales. And it would just be good karma to point fans to the tables of my friends and collaborators.
3. Bring a sheet to cover the table. On the first day of the con, I forgot to bring a sheet. So every time I left the table, I had to spend a few minutes moving books off the table. I brought a sheet on the second day and probably saved a half hour to forty minutes over the course of the con as a result.
4. I’d thought of creating a little insert to stick into books that I sold people that listed my name and website and Twitter handle. But I forgot. I think that’s a pretty good idea and will try to do that for the next con. Seems like a good way to help turn customers into Twitter followers, which can then help keep them informed about my future work.
And, finally, a quick list of things I learned.
1. Iconic covers and #1 issues sell. If folks aren’t following the storylines and looking for specific books, their eyes get drawn to iconic covers featuring characters they know and books with a big #1 on them. So “Action Comics” #28, the book in the rack next to the short box featuring the iconic Superman flying towards us with the explosion behind him, sold out very quickly. And every time I put “Storm” #1 on the table with its gorgeous Victor Ibañez cover, it would sell within a half hour.
2. There are tons of parents roaming the con with small children — including tons of small girls. But I didn’t have a ton of stuff to offer those families. I ended up drawing with those kids a ton, which was a blast. But I’m pretty eager to see what’ll happen when I finally have hard copies of the “Princess Who Saved Herself” book I’m doing with Jonathan Coulton and the “Code Monkey Save World” team.
3. I actually paid $30 for a Facebook ad saying I was at the con and providing my Artists Alley table number. I have no idea how many people actually came to the table because of that ad. I should have asked folks. But if only a few buyers of “Code Monkey” or “Make Comics Like the Pros” came because of that ad, it was worth it. As dubious as I am of Facebook in general, I’ll probably do it again.
MAKE COMICS LIKE THE PROS, the how-to book Fred Van Lente and I wrote with art by Colleen Coover, hit stores last week. And I’m just gonna say it, y’all — I’m super proud of the book and hope you buy it. We did our darnedest to write an incredibly practical, straight-forward, no-malarkey book about the actual experience of making comics that would be helpful for everyone from total beginners to fellow pros honing their craft. We learned a heck of a lot ourselves while writing the book, interviewing hugely smart people like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Klaus Janson, Gabriel Hardman, and Brian Clevinger. Here’s hoping it’ll be fun and helpful for you, too!
For more about the book, check out the podcast we did with the Comics Experience guys.
And here are a few review excerpts:
“‘Make Comics Like the Pros,’ of all the How To books I’ve reviewed in recent memory, is the best. If you can read only one, make it this one.” — Augie DeBlieck, Jr., Comic Book Resources
“If you are interested in writing comics or just would like to gain a better insight into the creative process that goes into making your favorite titles, then you should definitely check this book out. Highly recommended. A+” — Josh Begley, Fandom Post
“…truly invaluable for anyone interested in breaking into the comics industry.” — Henry Chamberlain, Comics Grinder
“‘Make Comics Like the Pros’ is the book that seems like the one most up and coming creators actually need. It’s an incredibly fair and impartial read with useful insight from pros done in a way that explains all the basics and leaves the rest up to you.” — Matthew Meylikhov, Multiversity Comics