For many, Emerald City Comicons is about meeting celebrities, chatting with kindred spirits and donning costumes. For Mitch Cook, the con provided an arena and opportunity to share his Martians.
Cook, an employee of Fisher Pathways (a media arm of Fisher Communications), wrote and pitched Concrete Martians a comic book based Orson Wells infamous 1930s “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, and the hysteria it caused in the real city of Concrete, Washington. Toronto artist Keith Grachow created the art for the book, drawn in the same brooding black-and-white images children might have read during Wells’ era.
“It’s a fun, dark story that plays on mass media hysteria,” Cook said.
Concrete and the Martians
Cook got the idea for Concrete Martians shortly after Fisher Plaza celebrated its centennial in 2010. He was inspired to write his story by a display in the plaza’s lobby from the 1930s depicting Orson Well’s infamous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. In the broadcast, Well’s delivered a fictional news broadcast describing a Martian invasion of Earth. The broadcast stirred up frenzy among some listeners, who thought the broadcast was actually happening.
The residents of Concrete, a small town about two hours north east of Seattle, were uniquely impacted by the broadcast, when a real power outage cut the broadcast just as the fictional Martians were moving west (and right before a disclaimer revealed it was just a fictional show).
“It freaked everybody out even more,” Cook said. “That was the essence of my story. That immediately hooked me.”
Cook did his homework in preparation for writing the story. He managed to get a copy of Well’s play, and read articles from Concrete’s local newspaper, the Concrete Herald (which he includes on the back page of the comic). Cook’s goal was to make the story as authentic as possible.
During his research, Cook came across the story of one Concrete couple who fled the city for Bellingham. The couple planned to be absolved of their sins by a priest before they were killed by the Martians. The first two pages of Concrete Martians center on the couple as they flee their hometown.
“You have to put a lot of detail into the story in order for it to stick,” Cook said. “Comic book readers can smell fraud and they will look for it. Just like "the comic book" guy in The Simpsons.
Pitching at the Con
Cook is sensible, endearingly geeky and knowledgeable. He easily rattles off the names of comic book authors, artists, and characters like the names of first cousins. You won’t find him writing about blossoming teen love between mortals and vampires. He’s drawn to stories with an air of authenticity. He says good artists and writers know every detail of their stories- how Superman jumped over the building? Why? What did it look like?
“It’s very complex, and that’s why it’s an art form,” he said.
Comicons provide great opportunities for aspiring artists and writers to learn from the industry’s best, but pitching there can be difficult. In preparation for writing his story, For writers looking to make an impression, Cook suggests partnering with an artist.
“Publishers are looking for something tangible, something in hand,” he said. “Pay your money to get into the con, fight through all the costumes, and get your stuff into the hands of people.”
One mistake that often limits aspiring comic book authors is writing stories with the goal of satisfying just one specific publisher.
DC. Marvel. Dark Horse.
Cook tried to keep his story simple enough to cultivate mass appeal, and to catch the eyes of a variety of publishing houses. At last week’s Emerald City Comicon, Cook brought eight copies of “Concrete Martians,” but only gave away two copies - one to Avatar, the other to Fantagraphics.
“Fantagraphics were at the top of my list because they are local and my book is about local people and events,” Cook said.
Seattle-based Fantagraphics has been at the helm of local alternative and underground comic book publishing since the 1980s.
“They don’t want superheros, magic, wizards,” Cook said. “It’s just not what they produce and they never have.”
Before the day was over, Cook managed to get his book into the hands of a Fantagraphics publishing editor. Recently, the company has increased the number of books it publishes each year, making the competition for new artists pretty stiff. But, Cook doesn’t seem worried.
“I think it’s a good story. I think it’s right up their alley. I think it’s written well enough. I hope they do too,” he said.
To learn more about “Concrete Martians,” visit www.kikamikacomics.com.