The Road to R.E.M.F., Part One
In between other work, projects, and life, I spent the last few years assembling a proposal for R.E.M.F., finding an agent and then finally a publisher. My work is far from done, and in many ways just beginning; I have ahead of me about two more years of writing and drawing. That being said, I've had many friends and colleagues ask me about how I accomplished various parts of this process, so for those interested, I've decided to write about that here. I'll start with my initial ideas for the book and my work assembling a proposal.
I first thought of R.E.M.F. in 2010 or thereabouts. R.E.M.F. is a pejorative term from the Vietnam era for non-front line combatants; it stands for Rear Echelon Mother Fucker. At some point my Dad told me about it, and I immediately thought it would be a great name for a book. It was also an absurd term, given that what my father experienced during the war was far from cozy or removed, despite his working as a mechanic in the Air Force.
My father served in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive and then went back as a State Department officer, and those years became a continuous source of stories during my childhood. When I was young, my Dad tended to focus on humorous foibles from basic training or goofy mistakes that he made as an airman, but as I grew up, and as he grew more comfortable talking about his time in Vietnam and accepting the physical and emotional damage that it had dealt to him, those stories shifted towards the serious, harrowing, and somber.
In any case, this was a time in my career when I had yet to publish a single page of art, anywhere. I worked a 9 to 5, and spent most weeknights at a drawing table working on samples of scripts that I could find online from Marvel or DC. The thought of attempting to both write and illustrate a graphic memoir or novel and actually have it published seemed impossible, mostly because I knew at that point I didn't have the skills to do so properly.
Years later, in the spring of 2015, IDW released a trade paperback of a miniseries that I illustrated entitled The Army of Dr. Moreau. It was my first major published work (in terms of availability), and I was excited to jump into a new project with another publisher or writer. Unfortunately, after a few false starts, I found myself with few prospects. There's an adage in comics: the only thing harder than breaking in is staying in. I was trying to stay in - to cling to something - and there weren't any hand holds that I could grab onto.
So, I made my own. I had always remembered my promise to myself that one day I would sit down and try to tell my Dad's story, and now that I had 5 or so more years of practice under my belt, I felt that I might finally have the skills that I believed were necessary to do so. Finding a place to start, though, was difficult.
I first reached out to other professional writers and artists to see what their advice was. Some thought I'd be better off doing the entire thing as a webcomic, others thought I should try Kickstarter, and those who thought I should go a more traditional route differed on what and how much I should actually write and draw before I submitted it. Graphic Memoir is a burgeoning genre, and though there are several notable examples and successes (Maus, Persepolis, and Fun Home, among others), it was difficult to find concrete advice on how best to assemble a proposal and find an agent or publisher.
Eventually, I just cherry picked from those I spoke with, and decided that I would write about half of the book in script form, and illustrate the first seven pages of the first chapter (typically, even a page or two is going to tell someone if they like your art and think it's good enough for whatever standards they have).
Off and on, for the next year and a half or so, I hacked away at the script, spent hours on the phone with my Dad asking about various minutiae, and picked the brains of some very generous writers (thanks, Nick and Rob!) who read my early scripts and provided invaluable help and direction.
Finally, after lots of writing, rewriting, drawing, and editing, I felt like I had what I needed to find a literary agent who could try and sell the book to publishers. I'll pick up from there in my next post but the moral of the story here is, as clichéd as it may sound, that if you have a goal or ambition, a project that's been swirling around in your head for years and you aren't sure what to do with it, just get out there and try. Give it a go, and give it the respect it deserves by taking it seriously and giving it time and focus. Nothing guarantees success - I have a long way to go before I could claim that for R.E.M.F. - but like Wayne Gretzky said: You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.