7:00am PT by Graeme McMillan
How DC Is Betting on Tomorrow's Comic Book Talent
With high-profile comic book projects like Dark Nights: Metal and Doomsday Clock waiting in the wings, it might come as a surprise that DC Entertainment is looking even further into the future. Wednesday sees the announcement of its Class of 2017 Writers Workshop, featuring six writers taking part in the company's initiative to promote new talent inside its line-up, and to the industry beyond.
Heat Vision can exclusively reveal that the writers participating in this year's Writers Workshop program are Magdalene Visaggio (Kim & Kim, Quantum Teens Are Go), Sanya Anwar (1001), Joey Esposito (Pawn Shop, Captain Ultimate), Phillip Kennedy Johnson (Last Sons of America, Warlords of Appalachia), Robert Jeffrey (Route 3, Radio Free Amerika), and Ryan Cady (Big Moose).
The Writers Workshop is one of two parallel programs making up the larger DC Talent Development Workshop initiative (the other being, perhaps obviously, an Artists Workshop program). 2017 is the second year the initiative is in full-swing, with last year's launch following a 2015 pilot program.
"It was like going to Hogwarts," 2016 alum Ibrahim Moustafa told Heat Vision about his experience of the Artist Workshop program, which relocates all participants to DC's Burbank offices for three weeks of classes and seminars led by DKIII's Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson, as well as DC Entertainment co-publisher Jim Lee. "I've been drawing comics for quite some time now — several years — and I learned things that I never knew in the class. It was incredible."
Moustafa, whose work can currently be seen in the DC/Vertigo series Savage Things, said that the daily tutorials didn't just help sharpen up the skills he already had — "I would liken it to being fluent in a different language and then learning better vocabulary," he explained — but it offered important lessons in the theory and business of comics, as well.
"We had some really fruitful time talking to editors, talking about what they're looking for from artists, what kind of things are required — scheduling, things that go along with production — a very well-rounded experience," the artist says.
Being midway through a project (he was one issue into his Savage Things run when he started the course last November), the practical lessons proved invaluable, he says. "It was the type of thing that, right away, I could start working into my thought process … I think I can see a marked improvement in my work from that time forward. I'm much more thoughtful in how I draw a page now. I think the experience overall made me a better storyteller in general, and it's something that I do every day all day, so it's going to be there with me going forward."
Tony Patrick, an alumnus of the 2016 Writers Workshop — and co-writer on the new Batman and the Signal mini-series — described the Writers Workshop as "an instant game changer" for his career, and for comics in general, due to the new voices it supports.
"I really didn't think I was going to get in. It's not something I really conceived of, it just felt like something I had to do," he remembers. "Vita Ayala was in the [2015 pilot program], and I know her from [independent publisher] Black Mask Studios. She spoke highly of the program. From talking with her, I wasn't exactly sure what was possible, but I asked her if I should do it, and she said absolutely. I really had no expectations — it was inconceivable that I would actually get into it. Then I did. It's still yielding results for me in a lot of different ways."
Unlike the Artist Workshop, the Writers Workshop is a virtual class that runs across three months, according to All-Star Batman and Dark Nights: Metal writer Scott Snyder, who leads the group.
"It's 13 weeks, and we meet for two, two-and-a-half hours online in a Brady Bunch-style box of windows. I teach it in such a way that it's all superhero writing for DC. I try and make each week a lesson about a particular technique," he explains. "My job is not to teach you how to write by formula for DC. It's for you to come in and write the stuff you're passionate about in your own way. I don't care if that's funny political, light-hearted, dark, whatever. Your job is to come in and have something to say. My job is to help you fit it into the rubric of superhero calculus and to help you maximize that story: look at where you should beef things up, slow it down, be aware of pacing. You need to come here and have something to say."
Patrick agrees. "The aim is for us to contribute something new to the DC Universe and, also, become part of this extended family," he says. "The workshop gives you the space to look behind the curtains when it comes to the DC Universe, and the process, but there's an equal opportunity to write in your voice — and to fine-tune and find your voice."
As part of the program, each participant submits "two or three" scripts for group critique, which Patrick describes as a bonding exercise as much as a chance to improve individual writing chops. "Once you've turned your script in, a significant section of the class is dedicated to feedback," he says. "I was working with very talented, intelligent, kind human beings who would take apart your script — just rip it apart — and the very next moment, give you feedback that would help you improve, give you inspiration and keep you going."
Moustafa says the same was true of the Artists group, adding that he's still in touch with his fellow graduates months later. "It's nice to have somebody there to share work with, hold each other accountable if we're starting to slip on any of the stuff we learned — somebody there to reinforce the good stuff that we learned, and just talk about our journey into comics together and discuss our growth. Having another eye that you trust is very, very valuable, especially someone who's been through the same process, so they know what to look for."
For Snyder — who jokes that "I have no business teaching just because of the workload I have," despite having almost a decade of teaching experience outside comics — the chance to bring new voices to DC is what drew him to the program. "You always hope to leave things on the shelf, and I do hope to do that, but knowing that you've helped get some people in that make things that inspire you is really a point of pride … It's making our bench, and the DC universe, much more robust and diverse, just in terms of the diversity of voices and the kinds of stories they want to tell. It's inspiring."
The Talent Development Workshop program doesn't actually end when the workshops are finished. Bobbie Chase, DC's vp and executive editor of young reader and talent development, and leader of the initiative, leads a team — including Sara Miller and Andrea Shea — that works with alumni to place them on projects after the classes are finished, with work from the 2016 group having already appeared in issues of Superman, Nightwing, Suicide Squad Most Wanted and other DC titles. (Patrick's co-writer on the Batman and the Signal series is none other than Scott Snyder, who said that he enjoyed "putting my money where my mouth is" with that kind of collaboration.)
Additionally, Nov. 29 will see the release of New Talent Showcase 2017 No. 1, a special issue featuring short stories created by the collected alumni of both the Writers and Artists Workshops groups from 2016, behind a cover from Jim Lee. The solicitation text for the issue reads as follows:
NEW TALENT SHOWCASE 2017 #1
Written by ERICA HARRELL, DESIRÉE PROCTOR, DAVE ACCAMPO, AARON GILLESPIE, AL LETSON, TONY PATRICK and OWL GOINGBACK
Art by SAM LOTFI, MINKYU JUNG, LYNNE YOSHII, SIYA OUM, MATT MERHOFF, LALIT SHARMA and JAGDISH KUMAR
Cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
That latest graduates from the DC Talent Development Workshops show off their skills in stories starring some of DC’s greatest characters. In these tales, Poison Ivy fights an ancient demon, Doctor Fate is confronted by the cost of magic, Red Hood and Duke Thomas face off in a training day simulation and so much more!
More information on DC's Talent Development Workshop program — including updates on graduates — can be found here.