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The Global Film Village: The WGA Just Add Pictures by Marla Lewin


During the WGA strike last year there was an expansion of discussion among members and a desire to enhance the earning potential of the membership through greater ongoing communication. This is one of the first of the series of panel discussions which will explore various genres with writers and industry executives at the top of their game. The Saturday July 11, 2009 panel was about the huge comic book to film genre. The topic was turning screenplays into comic books to enhance their salability. This seemed timely with Comicon coming up in a few days, here is some of the conversation from the panel of experts.

The WGA Just Add Pictures panel

Scott Agostoni  Agent WME

Jon Levin Agent CAA

Dave Olbrich Talent Manager

Andrew Cosby Screenwriter-Producer- Comic Book Creator

Marv Wolfman Comic Book Creator, Writer, Editor of both Marvel and DC Comics

Javier Grillo-Marxauch Writer-Producer LOST, MEDIUM, LAW & ORDER SVU

Wendy Pini Illustrator of ELFQUEST

Jeff Foster Director of Development, Vin Di Bona Productions

Spiro Skentzos Moderator, WGA Writer


Andrew Cosby, "A great story is a GREAT STORY! Having a story to tell that resonates with the fans is where it starts".


Scott Agostoni, "The successful comic book creator today needs to understand how to utilize the blogosphere to publicize their creation".


Dave Olbrich, "When I was at Malibu Comics we thought MIB was possibly a good comic book. We couldn't possibly predict the ultimate success it would have."

Javier Grillo-Marxauch, "Certain books are land mines. They have a great first Act and a great 3rd act but they just totally lack a 2nd act. So there is no way that they can work as a continuing story".


Wendy Pini, "When we started  Warp Graphics back in the 1970's, we were so naive. We didn't know independent comic books couldn't be done. We took our cues from the few self publishers that existed at that time. We copied and built on what they had done and built our own company. I had been a fan of Disney and the Warner Bros. cartoons so ELFQUEST was conceived from the beginning to be an animated project right from the start. It has just taken 30+ years to get there now with Warner Bros. signing on to produce it".


Andrew Cosby, "Both Comics and movies are stories told in pictures. They both work when the stories they tell are perceived as genuine. The difference is Comics basically tell the stories between scenes".


Jon Levin. "An example of that is Dark Horse Comics. They told the Star Wars stories that weren't in the original movies. They filled in the gaps. Eventually George Lucas went back and made the second trilogy  that went back and did the same thing with his films".


Marv Wolfman, "The secret to comics is that they have characters and stories that are continuous.They extend beyond the initial story line.  Movies and even television shows in the past were one off episodes. They weren't conceived as continuously developing characters. A viewer could watch an episode once and understand the story. Comics were the first popular medium to be an actual continuing story. If the character is interesting they will continue forever. Superman is like 70 years old now".

Marv Wolfman, "With all of the characters I have worked on over the years AX was my first opportunity to own my creation. Everything else was work for hire. Every other character is owned by the companies I was working for at the time. I own AX ". 


Javier Grillo-Marxauch, "In the case of my book Middleman the finished book is only 10% different from my original concept".  "A complete Pitch includes a Pilot, a 12 page story arc to show where things are going and a bible of detailed characters. The key to everything is having an effective workflow. WIn the creation of a MIDDLEMAN, we go from a teleplay to a finished comic book. We made our deal with VIPER because they had the most enthusiasm for the project. They aren't the biggest company but they got what we were planning to do with the book".


Scott Agostoni, "How do the economics work in the Comics industry? "

Javier Grillo-Marxauch, "My work in television with LOST etc. allowed me to self finance the creation of MIDDLEMAN".


Jon Levin, "If you don't self-finance than the rights deal becomes Publisher centric. A Good Deal is a 50/50 split on the IP if they finance. They will also take recoupment of their costs first plus an Executive Producer credit on any eventual sale to a film company. This is how Dark Horse works. If you make a deal with Marvel or DC with their marketing prowess then your giving up a major portion of your rights in exchange for what they can do for you. Even so they are aware it is a different game than it was years ago but they still have the upper hand".


Jeff Foster, "Direct Sales meant that books are sold without return privileges like with other publications so Publishers can estimate what they will actually sell. Comics today is about catering to fans." 



Is there a niche comic market for children's comic books?

 Yes there is. This was  also true in the past with Transformers and G.I. Joe. Those original books were pretty mature with violence and people actually getting killed.


Andrew Cosby, "We originally licensed the PIxar brand movies for original stories."


Wendy Pini, "Coraline and Bone are 2 examples of comics aimed at the family market that have been translated to film".


Jeff Foster, "MIB was not even remotely successful as a comic book."


What about the web?  


Wendy Pini, "Masque of the Red Death worked as a web based comic and is now going to publication".


Javier Grillo-Marxauch, "It has become a real alternative to conventional publishing. If you are going to write comics you need multiple ideas. You need to create a lot of work".


Wrapping up

Marv Wolfman, "There should be a reason that you want to do it as a comic book. If it is only a tool to sell a movie than don't do it. Fans will smell it and it will fail."


Challenges of taking your project to a movie studio?


Wendy Pini, "Our director took ELFQUEST to Corey at Warner Bros. and handed the first issue to her and said don't read it now. Take it home tonight and read it with her kids. She made a deal the next day."  


I also asked Wendy, how the comic book world is for women, since she was the only one on the panel. She said it is about 75% men to 25% women, and that women need to be tough, not get emotional about the criticism of their work, they can get bashed the same as the men. You just keep doing the work.



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About MarlaLewinGFV

Lewin Marla
(Global Film Village)

Marla is a producer, playwright, screenwriter, publicist and now a journalist. She attends 12 to 20 film festivals per year. She has spoken on filmmaking at many festivals including Cannes and SXSW.


Los Angeles

United States

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