A backer asked for an example of an outline that I used to pitch a comic book series to a publisher. So here you go! Read on one of the early outlines I submitted to BOOM! Studios for the series that eventually became MECH CADET YU.
But first, a little background.
I’d done a ten page story called “Los Robos” with artist Takeshi Miyazawa and letterer Simon Bowland about a kid and his giant robot for the SHATTERED Asian American comics anthology back in 2012. And at the time, I also wrote an outline for a 10 issue LOS ROBOS comic book series. Tak and I strongly considered launching a Kickstarter for LOS ROBOS, but instead we partnered with Jonathan Coulton to do the CODE MONKEY SAVE WORLD Kickstarter.
But I always hoped to get LOS ROBOS off the ground as a series, so when BOOM! editor Cameron Chittock approached me at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con and asked if I might have something that might make sense as a BOOM! book, I hooked him up with the 10 page story and that big outline. He loved it and wanted to do it. But he needed a shorter document to send up the chain internally at BOOM! So I hammered out the document below. And and after a little more discussion and back and forth, that’s pretty much what sealed the deal.
A few things worth noting about this document…
1. It’s pretty short! In Microsoft Word, it’s just two pages! If I’m writing a working outline for an approved series, I don’t necessarily think short is a massive virtue — I prefer getting all my beats down so I know what’s happening in detail issue by issue. But for an initial pitch document like this, two pages might be just right. You want to hook folks who don’t know anything about the project very quickly with your high concept, make them feel something emotionally, and give them a sense of the fun plot developments and twists. If you hit them with ten pages of extreme detail at this preliminary stage, they might never get through it.
2. The pitch actually includes three pitches. There’s the one-liner, helpfully labeled “The Hollywood One-Liner,” a paragraph labeled “The Set Up” which lays out the basic premise, and then a longer description of the story. That’s actually similar to the way I’d pitch a story in person. Set the stage with a one liner, then lay things out a bit more with a paragraph, then dive in for more fun detail and emotional story. It’s a step-by-step method that makes it easy for readers to digest — and makes it easy for them to describe the story to others, which is critical, because they need to be able to sell it to others in house and later to distributors and media.
3. The section labeled “The Personal Story” is essentially the bare-bones outline of the first issue of the series. But I labeled it “The Personal Story” here instead of just “Issue One” because I wanted to signal to the reader that here is where I’m going to tell you about our hero and why you should care. This isn’t the only way to do this, of course. Sometimes in other pitch documents I’ve had a “One-Liner” section with the simple description of the plot and then a “What It’s Really About” section where I briefly state the big emotional arc or theme. For PLANET HULK, that “What It’s Really About” section included the words “A monster becoming a hero.” Here, I think words like “Stanford’s the outsider, brand new to the school and its culture, trying to prove he has what it takes to make it” serve a similar purpose in selling the emotional arc. So there are many different ways you can lay out that emotional story. I’ve just learned it can be critical to find someplace to label it and spell it out, because when push comes to shove, that emotional story is often the deciding factor in making people care enough to green light the project.
A pitch for a comic book series written by Greg Pak with art by Takeshi Miyazawa
10.27.2015 – by Greg Pak – @2015 Pak Man Productions
THE HOLLYWOOD ONE-LINER
Harry Potter meets Pacific Rim.
THE SET UP
For reasons known only to themselves, giant robots from outer space descend upon a mountain in Los Robos, Arizona, once a year — and bond forever with the first human children they encounter. The military, suspicious of the robots but keenly aware of their usefulness, has formed the elite Sky Corps Academy to train young cadets to become giant robot pilots, using their Titan Robos to defend the world from any crisis — including a recent influx of mysterious, terrifying monsters from outer space dubbed the Sharg.
But this year, a Titan Robo picks the wrong kid…
THE PERSONAL STORY
A boy named STANFORD YU works with his mother as a janitor at the Sky Corps Academy. He’s just there to clean up and fix things. But he can’t help but be thrilled by the traditions and ceremonies of the school — and dazzled by the dream of bonding with a Titan Robo.
As our story begins, Stanford’s left to clean up while the school’s top three cadets go to meet this year’s incoming Titan Robos in the great bonding ceremony. But one damaged, underdog Titan Robo never makes it to the mountain — and instead crashes in the desert, where Stanford finds it and helps it fix itself. Stanford points the robo toward the mountain, but the robo just extends its giant hand. The robo’s picked Stanford!
A cadet named PARK, the privileged son of a general and one of the three chosen cadets, demands Stanford’s robo. But the robo’s already bonded with Stanford — and now the janitor’s kid becomes a member of the Sky Corps!
Meanwhile, Park’s father equips his son with a man-made Titan Robo — the military’s attempt to reverse-engineer the technology of the robos but ensure the product is completely under human control.
So Stanford and Park enter the Titan Robo training program, each struggling to bond with and control their strange robots and prepare for war with the Sharg. Stanford and Park are both outsiders with something to prove. Park’s the rich kid, overlooked by the “real” robos, trying to prove he still belongs. Stanford’s the outsider, brand new to the school and its culture, trying to prove he has what it takes to make it.
But Stanford and Park drive each other crazy. Can these two misfits make it through the academy and join the Sky Corps? Or will their rivalry destroy them both — along with their giant robot friends?
THE BIGGER PLOT
As training begins, the Sharg strike — and the cadets are thrust into war and intrigue!
Just before the cadets face their first big skills test with their robos, Park sabotages Stanford’s robo in order to get him kicked out of the Corps and down to the robo maintenance crew. But during the test, the Sharg strike the school! The cadets face their first battle — and begin to grasp how high the stakes are. Stanford and Park demonstrate their talents — Stanford’s a whiz at fixing things and adjusting on the fly; Park’s a killer tactician. They take a small step toward mutual respect as they work together to protect the school and survive.
But their trust in each other and the very institution of the Sky Corps is tested when the Sky Corps headmaster forbids any student from direct involvement in future battles — but their instructor, Captain Skip Tanaka, invites them to secret, unauthorized training sessions. Both Stanford and Park are determined to learn everything they can to prepare for war and prove themselves — but Park’s uneasy about training with Skip behind his father’s back and Stanford worries that Park will rat Skip out to his father. Meanwhile, each boy is learning more about his own robo — bonding more fully with it while also realizing there are things about the robos’ origins and motivations that they still don’t understand at all.
Where do the Titan Robos and the Sharg come from? Why do the Titan Robos bond with children in the first place — and what secret motivations might they really have? And as a man-made robo created by the military, how far can Park’s robo be trusted? As Stanford and Park dig into these mysteries about their closest friends, they uncover a plot masterminded by Park’s father to dismantle the Titan Robos and use their power sources to fuel a completely man-made weapon for a final battle with the Sharg!
With everything they know about their world turning on its head and different sides claiming their loyalty, each boy must come of age, weighing all they’ve learned about trust, reason, love and duty as the final crisis looms.