David Server moonlights as a comic book writer while handling some of the best talent in the comic book industry for Archetype Management. Guiding up and coming talent like Jarrett Lee Conaway or well-established comic book stars like Darick Robertson, he’s in the unique position of seeing the small and big picture.
Beginning his career as a reviewer for the Dreamworks-owned Web site Counting Down while still in high school, he quickly captured Dreamworks‘ attention and became their youngest intern ever. This experience provided him a stepping stone into USC’s prestigious film school, which allowed him to develop into a lead writer for Counting Down and access to big budget movie sets.
However, Server can talk comic books with the best of them. When we first met, he was a featured speaker on a comic book panel hosted by the Orange County Public Library. Already having his comic book Freakshow along with writing duties on Ape Comics‘ Penguins of Madagascar, he’s taken his love of comics along for the ride in his management career.
While it’s not uncommon to hear about comic book writers having an agent represent and shop their intellectual property, a comic book talent manager seems to be a rarity. Curious about how a manager works in the world of comics books, Server offers up plentiful insights and critical information for comic book creators trying to find a long-term career path into comic books.
In a nutshell, what can you tell me about your role as a manager?
If you are my client, my job is to help get your work into the hands of the right people to make the project happen. I have several different types of clients, but that’s always the end goal. Whether you’re a director, a screenwriter, or a comic book creator, I’m trying to find the people you should be in touch with who will champion your work and either get you your next job or option your materials. In addition to that, I’m basically your council on how to move your career forward on a day-to-day basis, and that covers a pretty wide range of issues. Sometimes, that’s giving story notes on scripts. Sometimes, it’s setting up meetings with film or television studios or production companies. Sometimes, it’s just stress relief! But I keep my client roster manageable so I can make sure everybody’s getting the attention they need.
How does the role of a manager differ from an agent?
In my experience, you’re probably going to start with a manager before an agent gets involved. Agencies traditionally have larger rosters and are deal driven – they can put you in touch with all the big names once they know how to sell you. Our job as managers is to get you to that point where the agencies understand what you do and see you’ve had some successes under your belt so they can get to work. But managers and agents definitely work together towards the same end goal for the client.
What does an aspiring talent need to do before they query you?
A sample of your work is the most important thing. If you’re a writer, I would need to see one of your scripts from whatever space you’d ultimately like to work in (film, television, web, etc). If you’re a director, a finished piece that shows what you’re capable of. For a comics creator, a finished comic or at least a pitch packet. Archetype has an open submission policy on our website, but it’s always great to get a referral from somebody when possible. That being said, if we see the potential in the creator or their material, that’s the most crucial thing. In comics, we’re always looking for strong properties that we think would make great candidates to adapt into film or television. I never say no to someone sending me a comic book to read! Then it’s just about whether we feel it’s got a viable play for the broader entertainment marketplace and if we feel we’re the right people with the right relationships to help make that happen.
What are the things you can do to help aspiring talent get their intellectual property to the next level?
Once we’re working with a creator or property we believe in, our job becomes figuring out how best to move it forward. In certain circumstances, we’ll contact companies we have a relationship with and run the idea past them to see if they’d be interested in the material as is. For example, when we set up our client Chris Long’s Hiding In Time with Warner Bros, the logline and the mini-series were enough to attract their interest and ultimately trigger an option. Other times, and I think this is increasingly the case lately, we love the starting point but need to do some internal development to decide how we see a potential adaptation working. In some cases that’s a simple case of figuring out what types of companies we’re sending it to with what end product we have in mind. But a lot of the time that means looking for a writer to come on board first so we can work out some of the questions about how to adapt it and what our take is before exposing it to a buyer.
Can you offer an example of work you’ve done to bring a client to the next level?
As mentioned, Hiding In Time was one example of our setting up a property at a studio with a production company’s involvement. We also had Mark Protosevich (Thor, I Am Legend) attached to my own comic co-creation Freakshow for a time. We’re out with several properties at the moment in the hopes of finding the right home for them.
Sometimes, however, our work goes beyond simply trying to get adaptations made. For example, we represent Darick Robertson, co-creator of Transmetropolitan and The Boys, who’s an amazing talent and a tremendous world-builder. We’re looking forward to this next year because while Darick is already an established brand in the comics space, our goal for him has been to help generate more original ideas that he has a greater share of the ownership in that can be expanded into other media. To that end, last year he co-created Happy! With Grant Morrison, and this year he’s got two new books we’re really excited about. Ballistic, which is coming out from Black Mask Studios and written by Adam Egypt Mortimer, is a psychedelic story set in a world overrun with living technology. The story follows an AC repairman and his living gun as they attempt to become notorious criminals. The other book, Oliver, which will be from Image Comics and written by Gary Whitta of Book Of Eli and After Earth, is a steampunk sci-fi re-imagining of Oliver Twist. Both of these titles really show off Darick’s skills as a world-creator and we’re looking forward to introducing new storylines that have such a rich viability to live on in other spaces.
What is one of the most successful examples you have seen of a creator developing intellectual property in comics and could you break the steps down or analyze this for readers?
Truthfully, I think we’ve still yet to see a perfect example of a new property that was immediately guided from its native medium to film and television. This is mostly due to the fact that Hollywood is still much more confident in titles that have been around since the 60s, the major Marvel and DC properties especially, since they’re such proven commodities and have giant companies behind them. And I do love those movies, particularly what Marvel Studios is pulling off with the shared universe.
That being said, I think we’re beginning to see some of the newer titles starting to get that treatment. Walking Dead is a good example of that, as a contemporary book that is running concurrently in both spaces, comics and television. I’m hoping as we start to see more new, fresh titles being adapted we’ll be able to see that process get honed and refined. The interest in comics doesn’t seem to be going away, which I’m obviously pleased about.
What resources do you consider essential to aspiring creators in the field of comics?
You can make a surprising amount of progress with just an internet connection. Obviously just having your script and your pitch packet together is only the first part of the process, but with the right artist in place, you’re in a much better position. When my writing partner Jackson Lanzing and I were first getting started creating Freakshow, we spent months pouring through online portfolio sites to try and find the right match for our project. deviantART, ConceptArt.org, Pencil Jack, etc. We found some really amazing people! Ultimately, the best resource we found was the blogs of established artists we loved. We looked at the links sections and half the names were other established artists, but the other half were up-and-coming talent they had met at conventions and wanted to support. That’s how we ultimately found Joe Suitor, who was the exact right fit.
Once your artist is in place, go to all the publishers’ websites where their submission policies and pitch packet requirements are posted. But it’s more or less the same for everybody – a cover, 5-6 pages of colored, lettered interior art, character designs, character bios, a story outline, and the first issue script. I’d also start looking at digital publishers. I’m a huge fan of MonkeyBrain – check them out on comiXology. Here at Archetype, we’d consider taking on an unpublished comic pitch, but we’re going to be much better equipped to get it set up if you’ve got some form of publication plan formally in place.
How has your position as a manager of talent helped you in your own quest to write and publish comics?
It’s certainly helpful to have a foot in both spaces. Being involved in both areas gives me a better sense of what to be looking for and what to be writing, both for myself and for my clients. So far my own creative work in comics has been either in Freakshow or the two licensed books I co-write with Jackson Lanzing at Ape, The Penguins Of Madagascar and Squids. The licensed books have been such a blast and writing for kids is really fun, but I am looking forward to getting back to some of my own ideas again, which can trend a little darker and more towards sci-fi. I’ve felt privileged to work with really passionate and creative people in both Hollywood and the comics industry.
Any final thoughts or tips for readers?
Be persistent! It’s easy to get discouraged but if you’re not tenacious it won’t ever happen, regardless what you’re trying to make. But if you love what you’re doing and care about the idea, don’t stop until you find like-minded people who can help develop it and get it out there.
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Great interview! Very honest and telling.
Dave holds a fascinating position within the industry. It made for an insightful interview.
Very cool. I learned quite a bit from this. I actually used to be an avid reader of Countingdown.com until they kept getting bombed with ads every page.
Enormous information in one blog post, I just love it. I must appreciate and mention that you completely know how to keep connected reader to blog post even if it is little long. Very good job.
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