Interview with comic writer Tini HowardMarch 16, 2017
Whether it’s writing for comics or writing about them, Tini Howard has had a passion for the written word for a long time. Recently, we had the chance to talk with Tini about her career as a writer, the comic book industry and the good, bad and the ugly that comes along with writing for a living.
Did you always read comics as a kid and if so, which ones we’re your favorites or most inspiring?
Tini: I’ve always been an avid comic book reader but what’s funny is I didn’t start reading superhero comic books. I started out reading newspaper comics, my dad has all these collections of newspaper comics like Doonesbury and when I read those I would read cartooning books, something my dad also had, cartoon books that were like graphic history and so I read a lot of those. What’s funny is if I could go back in time I would do more cartooning because that’s something I’ve always loved. From there, I’m a little girl from the nineties, so comic stores still felt like a boys club to me so I would go to the library and the bookstore and read things like Hellboy, Strangers in Paradise, Watchmen, books that had this cred to be at a bookstore and library. When I was in my twenties I met my future husband and he said, you read so many comics, how have you not read any superhero stuff, I don’t know, it never really interested me. Then when I finally did start reading superhero comics I was hooked and I’m a regular comic book reader, I go to the shop every Wednesday and pick up my books, that’s my weekly treat to myself.
So where did your interest in writing come from?
Tini: I don’t remember ever not liking writing. My mom still has some books I did, back in Elementary school we’d have these writing projects and I’d take them very seriously, long and involved, but writing has always been my happy place. As far back as I can remember my favorite thing to do was put on music and daydream about stories. I’ve always been a voracious reader, I credit my early years of comic reading for this, and when I’d read a book I’d think about it in terms of, how did they do that, maybe I could try writing like that so yeah, I don’t ever remember not wanting to be a writer.
The writing and comic book business is extremely competitive. Did you ever have a backup plan or was it simply writing and nothing else?
Tini: I actually told myself for such a long time that it was impossible to be a professional writer, for the longest time I believed that everyone liked writing. Of course, then I found out that a lot of people didn’t and I managed to get a job in marketing and that was ok, I got to be semi-creative, come up with words and ideas and stories, not as fun as what I get to do now but it certainly wasn’t computer programming or something else that my brain is uniquely unsuited for. In a way writing copy was like trying to come up with a big idea and fit it into a small space, then I got an assignment that pretty much killed my spirit and when that was over it was like no thanks, no more. So I started freelance writing, not comics right off the bat, I wrote professional resumes, things like that and there was a time after I quit my day job that things got really rough I went and made coffee for a bit as a barista. But I like comics, I like writing, I hope I get to stick around for a while.
In terms of your writing, what is a typical day like for you? Do you have a specific routine or does it change depending on the topic?
Tini: I really want to make myself look good here and say I have a really strict routine but I don’t want to lie to you. My ideal day honestly is I wake up, I make coffee, I go putter around in my garden for about half an hour and think about what I’m going to do that day. I have a planner, a physical book with a pen that I write in and I live and die by it, everything that needs to happen has to go in the planner. I like to work during the day, I try not to work at night, I like to work alone so if I know my husband is going to be out of the house for a while that’s a great period of time for me to work. I like music, I like to have music on when I work otherwise my brain gets too distracted, almost like an anchor to keep me thinking about what I really need to be thinking about.
In 2013 you won the Top Cow Talent Hunt. Can you tell me about your winning submission and after winning, what was your next step as a writer?
Tini: So my winning submission was published in 2014, it was called Magdalena: Seventh Sacrament and the contest kind of said, write something about one of our characters, don’t try and re-invent the wheel but I ended up creating a new character and it was the first Magdalena ever recorded which was kind of ballsy but I looked at the mythology and there was this big hole in it so I wrote something to fill that void. So I was putting something in their mythology that wasn’t there but it was something that felt like a big hole to me and something I wanted to address, so I did. When I found out I won I was working my coffee shop job, my phone was off, and after my shift, I got in my car, turned my phone on and saw this email and screamed. From there, there’s this moment you think oh, I’m published now, they’re going to call me to do Batman, which isn’t really how it goes but it did mean that I had a portfolio, I had a comic that was in the Diamond catalogue, it was on shelves, it was published by Inch Comics so I could then go to editors and say hey, I did this work, it’s published work so that was my next step, to start hustling.
So in terms of jobs, do you submit work to try and get a title you want or are you approached to work on a particular title, such as Rick and Morty?
Tini: Well Rick and Morty was funny, that was kind of a unique situation. I knew Ari Yarwood, the editor of Rick and Morty, and we were trying to find something to work on together and originally when we met I wasn’t familiar with Rick and Morty and I ended up watching the show and binged watched it, I loved it. I said to my husband you know, I wish I was smart enough to write that and my husband says you are, you know the editor, go pitch it. So I asked Ari, is there any Rick and Morty work and she said actually, I think I do have something, so she reached out to me and I pitched something, they loved it and I got to write Rick and Morty. That’s how it goes really, you make a pitch for something, sometimes it’s something you love like Rick and Morty and other times you get approached to do things, which is always nice.
Now you just don’t write for comics but you write about comics as well. How did that come about?
Tini: Right now I only write for comics, I’ve currently stepped away from the coverage part but for a while I wrote for Paste Magazine and I wrote for Teen Vogue which was a really unique experience. Teen Vogue is not the place you’d think to go for comic coverage which was why it was so great, trying to talk about comics to an audience that people ignore but hey, I was a teen girl who loved comics and when I was a teen girl there were so few comics that were ideal or deliberately geared to entice that audience, and now there are which is awesome. I got both jobs at Paste and Teen Vogue through word of mouth which was great but eventually it got to a point where ok, I can’t write for any publisher I’ve done work for so that leaves like two places so my ability to cover work in a way that was ethically fair dwindled to the point where I had to step away and start making my own work.
I want to thank Tini for taking the time to talk with us