On Writing: “Home Sweet Huck”

In September of 2016, I entered Mark Millar’s talent search competition for a chance to write a “Huck” story within the 2017 Millarworld Annual. I had written an original script and submitted that into the contest. The prize was a writer’s page rate (as per Marvel/DC), being paired up with an up and coming artist for the story, and being published by Millarworld/Image Comics.

I submitted an entry for “Huck” and while I really enjoy that series, it was strategic in part. I thought that Millar’s fans would largely be drawn to bigger, more action-packed comics like “Kick-Ass”, “Nemesis”, and “Superior” etc. I had hoped that I was picking a property that wouldn’t have a ton of people lining up to write it.

I was SO wrong. “Huck” was the most popular of the properties by far and as I waited for the announcement to be made on who would win the coveted spot in the Annual, I started to realize this. Virtually every person I talked to about the project told me the same thing: “Oh yeah! I entered a “Huck” story!”

My anxiety was vast.

On December 16, 2016, I was out with a couple of friends and was frantically checking the Millarworld forums for any update on the winners. Finally, Millar posted up the names and I scrolled down. I didn’t see my name and was disappointed but okay with that. After careful consideration, I went back and looked to see who had won the “Huck” story and realized that I had been looking at the wrong thing. My name was there!

I was in a cafe with the aforementioned friends at the time and I stood up and started doing a little happy dance on the spot. A lot of heads turned and looked at me, but I can honestly say that this might be the one time where I didn’t give a crap about what other people may have been thinking. I felt amazing and validated and I was so excited.

Almost a full year after I entered the Mark Millar Talent Search contest, the Millarworld Annual arrived in stores. An event that also happened to coincide with my birthday. I received a lot of positive feedback for my story from Mark, comic fans, avid Millarworld readers (and others who applied to the contest), and critics– which all made my heart soar with happiness.

My story was eerily apt for the time. Hurricane Irma was wreaking its destruction, and my story (titled “Home Sweet Huck”) was about a family who lost everything in such a storm and how Huck helped them pick up the pieces and put their lives back together.

I’ve rambled a lot so far and I apologize but I wanted to give people an in-depth look at what it is that I did in order to get into the Annual.

I’ll get into what I submitted in order to earn my place as well as go into some detail about the process of returning my script into the final piece seen within the Millarworld Annual.

FIRST THINGS FIRST
First of all, I followed the instructions provided to me on the contest page. I made sure to include everything that they required, such as my signed submission contract which, aside from the script entry itself, was incredibly important. I cannot stress enough: MAKE SURE YOU READ AND COMPLY when it comes to what you need for submissions. Some folks running contests like Millarworld cannot legally even look at your entry unless you have the right forms signed so this is very important.

THE PITCH
Next, I sent in my pitch and script. I can’t honestly remember if a pitch portion was required but I decided it would look better to include something that encapsulated what I was trying to do with my story.

I included the following:

  • a short one-sentence synopsis that summed up my story
  • a longer two paragraph description of what my story would be about in further detail
  • short character descriptions (1-2 sentences)

And finally, I included my script. I have not included the original script, but you can get the gist from my pitch vs the final script (included later on) that my story changed significantly from start to finish.

The core of my story remained but over time with the help of Mark and his/my editor, Rachael Fulton, the mechanism in which I told the story changed. Characters such as Casey, Nana, and Papa were eliminated and replaced with simply Mr and Mrs Walker as well as various other townsfolk.

Take a look at my pitch here.

THE PROCESS
After I received word that I had won the “Huck” spot, work began on fixing up my script and getting it to its Final Form.

Mark sent along a message with what he liked about my script, and made note of what stood out about it for him, which was wonderful and validating.

From there, Rachael Fulton took over primary correspondence with me and worked with me.

Initially I had written in characters like Nana, Papa, and Casey. Casey was the granddaughter of Nana and Papa – she was curious about how they came to have the big beautiful family home that the story is set in. Her Nana and Papa then tell her about how a terrible storm ruined the original house that was in place and Huck helped them rebuild and give them a home just after Casey’s mother had been born.

Both Mark and Rachael thought this wasn’t a great well to tell the story and took away from the core of the story. Since the stuff with Nana, Papa, and Casey bookended the Huck stuff, I cut that away and instead rewrote the script so that more of the Huck story was focused on.

In retrospect, it was something obvious that I should’ve done intuitively but sometimes you just don’t have the self-awareness at the time to realize.

Another thing that Rachael worked with me on was my panel count. The Millar way of things is 5-6 panels per page, maximum. I had a few pages that had more than this, and had really crammed things in. I thought it had worked, but I can see how trying to have fewer panels on the page, especially for a relatively inexperienced interior artist, would work much better.

Cutting off the Nana, Papa, and Casey portion of things allowed me to give breathing room to everything else. I was able to move around some panels and spread out the dialogue.

There were minor dialogue tweaks and suggestions that we worked at, but Rachael was patient and wonderful at offering up solutions to any problem areas that we came across.

I make it sound like there was a lot to fix but honestly, all of these things were done over the course of 2-3 drafts with minor edits spread over the course of those.

The final script can be seen here.

It should be noted that I didn’t work directly with my artist. I found out once my final script was turned in that I was paired up with the amazing Jake Elphick but I didn’t get to see any of his art until the book was literally in my hands on the day my comp copies arrived.

As an editor myself who works a lot with up and coming talent (via Toronto Comics Anthology), I understand not wanting to integrate inexperienced comics writers with inexperienced comics artists. You don’t want the editor’s feedback clashing or any unhappiness along the way. While I wish I could’ve been kept in the loop with that along the way, it makes complete sense to me.

THE FINAL THING
Finally, the comps arrived on my doorstep and I opened up the FedEx box to hold the final product in my hands for the first time. I was completely floored with how amazing it had all turned out.

“Home Sweet Huck” acted as the finale for the Annual and I could not be more grateful to every single person involved with the process.

Mark Millar, Rachael Fulton, Jake Elphick– everyone who I got the chance to work with was an absolute star and I’m beyond happy with how it turned out.

I have no doubt in my mind that Mark and Rachael elevated my script well past what it originally was and made it into a perfect portfolio piece.

You can see my story below:

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