Negative Space Comics is building a truly inclusive community for all creators
A new writing competition that is evolving and built to last with incredible core values
To let the air out of the balloon right off the bat: yes, I entered the first-ever Negative Space Comics writing competition, and yes, I was named a semi-finalist today. What I’d like to focus on today is why I decided to enter, and why I believe Negative Space’s efforts are unique and add true value to the independent comic book community.
When I first started out, as an aspiring creator of indie comics, I was so hungry for information, resources, contests, and anthology submission opportunities. I was lucky enough to win the very first contest I ever entered, the inaugural Comic Book Hero Contest, sponsored by the WB TV Network (although back then, it was called The CW). The people at the network leveraged their media platform and announced me as the winner with TV ads that ran during DC’s Smallville, with online videos on its website, and with a full-page ad in the San Francisco Examiner. It was thrilling to win, but ultimately didn’t do anything to create opportunities for me to land writing gigs, much less a contract with any comic book publishers. To be fair to The WB, they weren’t there to mentor, coach, and help me navigate the world of indie comics. After the contest was over, it was over — there was no on-going relationship with them and I was never under any illusion that I’d get anything more than the prize and publicity.
In the years that followed, I entered other comic book writing contests, paid the entry fees, didn’t win, and received no feedback on my entry. I found some anthologies to submit to and was accepted by a handful of them, and was also rejected by some. What I found with anthologies was that while they are actively in production, or crowdfunding on Kickstarter, there is a great sense of friendship among the contributors of the anthology. Then, over time, that sense of camaraderie would fade, as the creators would go their separate ways and lose touch, with a few exceptions here and there.
In the last two or three years, I’ve shied away from contests and have been much more selective about anthologies. Instead, I’ve elected to be invited by people I know, as opposed to going in cold, with no connection to the people running the contest or organizing the anthology. Part of the reason for this approach has been my laser focus on writing and producing an ambitious graphic novel project, Major Thomás - my passion project and my baby.
What I’ve also found is that some contests want you to write the publisher’s characters, follow existing narratives and cannon, adhere to their style guides, stick to established designs, and not invent new characters for their universe. This is hard — really hard. If you don’t already know and love the characters and established stories, it is a massive effort to read, research, and immerse yourself in that publisher’s world, let alone write a coherent and dynamic script about someone else’s intellectual property. There are many contests I won’t even consider for this very reason. Some contests won’t allow people that have any writing credits to enter, and with so many vanity press publishers out there, you could be deemed ineligible for what is basically self-publishing under someone else’s label.
Fast forward to Negative Space Comics, founded last year by Nahuel Fanjul-Arguijo and Alex Dvorak. What they have done, and are in the middle of building, has the potential to truly be The American Idol of indie comics. Here’s why.
The stated goal: give emerging comic book writers a clear path into the industry
They pledge to help winners make industry connections and find mentorship
They help the winner, and all future winners, make the comics of their dreams
Negative Space has lined up legit industry professionals as mentors and judges
The pros involved include writers, editors, talent agents, and even filmmakers
You can pay extra to receive feedback and notes on your concept and script
Creators can enter their own projects, their own established characters and IP
There aren’t many restrictions about previous writing or publishing credits
More than anything, Negative Space is striving to create community
They’ve recently launched Women’s and Student’s competitions
Despite the $500 grand prize to help with making a creator’s dreams come true, Negative Space had me at hello:
We want to fill the negative spaces — give comic book creators a chance to get their foot in the door, make industry connections, find mentorship, and make the comic of their dreams.
As Nahuel said on a recent Zoom for contest participants (paraphrasing): You want to be the first winner, with what we are building in future years, you’ll be like the Kelly Clarkson of Negative Space Comics and its community. What I’ve experienced to date far surpasses anything I’ve ever experienced in all my years in the indie scene. I received feedback on my submission — and it was valuable and on-point. As mentioned, the participants were allowed to engage in a Zoom to meet each other and ask questions of editor Teddy Leo from AfterShock Comics, and as far as I know, that’s a first for a comics contest.
I’ve been eager to find the right people to partner with, to trust with my passion projects, and to feel truly welcome around. So many contests say things to the effect of “don’t bother us or we’ll delete your submissions,” and here the people at Negative Space have made themselves accessible and open to engagement. This experience has been a breath of fresh air, and even if I don’t win, there is so much value in what I’ve gained up to this point. I can only imagine the riches to be had for the finalists and the eventual winner. My gut tells me the very first winner will have every opportunity to help the next generation of Negative Space contestants achieve their goals through a framework that has been so thoughtfully created from the ground up.
Whereas many competitions are a straight line that begins and ends, Negative Space feels like a circular continuum that will naturally grow and invite more people into its space — a truly welcoming and supportive space.
In closing, congrats to all of the semi-finalists, listed below. I encourage your to seek them all out on social media and engage them!