Tom Pinchuk, Writer, on Comic Books, Animation, & New Media
December 31, 2015
I moved a lot growing up, and lived everywhere from Singapore to Syracuse and Chicago before settling in LA. Since I've been here, I've been writing comics and animated shows. Some are for big brands. Some are my own creations.
First Job in the Entertainment Industry
I wrote a small press comic early in college. Ruin. The royalty check could buy one lunch, basically, but it was still money.
It was a cozy operation.
I met the artist on Star Wars message board, and the publisher through Digital Webbing.
I think it's important to “kill your idols,” so lately I've been looking at the writers who inspired the writers who inspired me, and I try to go far back down the chain.
Actually reading the Once and Future King will be way more inspiring than just looking at any of the King Arthur adaptations.
Why Comic Books?
At this point, it's just a compulsion. And, it's tough to put into words. Which is ironic when talking about writing, I know. I feel most fulfilled when seeing something I've imagined become concrete. Whether it's being animated by a staff, or illustrated by an artist, or cut together by an editor, or simply collected on a blank page.
The Influence of Technology
It's far easier to collaborate with people who are far, far, away from you. Cable internet was still around when I got started, but scanning, sending, and downloading comics pages still look a lot of processing time.
Overloading your inbox capacity was always a concern, too. Now, there are so many free online drives, and apps simulating the office environment, you almost never have to worry about the size of the files you're exchanging.
Most of the artists I've worked with, I've known for years and never met in person.
So, the set-up hasn't changed so much, but it's definitely been streamlined.
Experience in Television
I'm still pretty new to it. I got to know Man of Action Studios – the creators of of Ben 10 and Big Hero 6 – and would give them copies of my comics at conventions.
They liked the stuff, and brought me in to write some episodes for an international series they were producing, Gormiti. And I've worked with them on other animated shows since then.
Of course, animation always has a long production process, so it'll be a long time before I can share any of that.
A Typical Working Day
I try to get up at around six and go to the gym right away. After breakfast and a shower, I'll head to a library.
Working from home can be maddening, and I generally find coffee shops too distracting – people are talking, you're anxious about how long it's been since you bought the muffin that justifies you sitting there.
With libraries, though, you have people around, but everybody's quiet, so it's easier to focus on work.
After a few hours, I'll connect to wi-fi and take care of e-mails. Then, I'll disconnect and have another writing session. Usually two or three hours at time.
If my brain needs a break, I'll read a book I've brought along, or browse through the shelves. That's another benefit of working at libraries. And then I'll usually wrap up in the evening.
That's what I try to go for, but it can be off-set if I have lunch meeting. Or if I get lured down the old internet browser rabbit hole.
Creating Content for New Media
The short version: Ethan Lance was one of the founders of Whiskey Media, and he was so tickled by an on-camera interview I did to promote Hybrid Bastards, he invited me to write and host for their other web magazines.
It was a nice opportunity to make goofy videos and wax on everything I've loved in anime and film.
It opened doors to make content at other sites and it's been a fun gig to do on the side. I always remember some quote from Disney about how his peers were afraid of television, but he looked at it as just another tool to work with.
I try to to keep that same attitude for new media. It pays to be versatile.
As for what I enjoy most? The turnaround. You can produce a video and see how it plays with an audience almost instantaneously.
One lesson I come back to is that “working” and “networking” sit on opposite ends of a seesaw that's constantly swinging.
You can be doing the most amazing work in your basement, but if you don't get out and meet people in your field, you've got nobody to show it to – so it'll stay in your basement.
On the other hand, if you're hitting up every mixer and every convention, but it's cutting into time you should be spending on a project, then it's no different than just partying.
You'll know everybody, but have nothing relevant to show them.
The other side of the “write what you know” is that “what you know” should be as a wide as possible. Look far beyond what's in front of your face.
If you walk out of Hunger Games with some clever idea to flip the premise, you can bet a million other people came to the same conclusion, because hundreds of millions saw it, too.
It's better to watch an old film, or a foreign film, or whatever isn't a blockbuster, and figure out how it can apply to the genre.
That's how you keep your ideas fresh.
Experience in Comics
After doing Ruin, I created some super weird comics. Hybrid Bastards! with Kate Glasheen and Unimaginable with Kurt Belcher.
Both of those projects led to animation, but I've still been working on comics, too. I wrote the comics version of Max Steel at VIZ Media, and some shorts for the Reason for Dragons and an indy Viking anthology, Sagas of the North Men.
I also did a fun short with Casey Crowe, who's a storyboard artist on Regular Show. It's going to be in a future volume of Dan Fogler's comedy/horror anthology, Moon Lake. Not sure when he's putting it out, though. He was thinking around Halloween, but then he got rather busy with the new Harry Potter movie.
I've also written some comics for Lion Forge. Those projects have worked out a bit like animation, though, with longer lead times, so I'm not sure when those will be out, either.
My experiences in comics have taught me to be patient.
Daily Steps to Reach Goals
Time management. Cost/benefit analysis is a useful ritual. Something could've benefited you before, but now it's wasting your time – or vice versa!
Always be thinking about what you're getting out of something, especially if it's turned into a hobby.
New Media & Prose
Last year, Philip Patrick at Amazon invited me to write a G.I.JOE story for Kindle Worlds.
I hadn't written prose in such a long time, so it was fun challenge. Leaning just on yourself. Charting progress with word count. They liked it, and I liked it, so I tried some more prose this year.
I wrote a short for 01 Publishing's horror anthology, Whispers from the Abyss, which was a completely different subject, but just as challenging, and just as rewarding.
As for New Media, I hosted and produced some videos this past summer at Anime Vice, and I've been making some anime-related content this fall with Geek & Sundry, which is part of the Nerdist Network.
The challenge never ends, does it? You're always trying to work on bigger projects and get in front of more eyes.
I'm available on Twitter and Tumblr. I don't like to report on every little thing I'm doing – and honestly, it can hurt productivity a lot more than it can help it. But whenever I can share something new for a project, I'll post it.
Top Memories in Entertainment
I got to sit in on the voice recording session for an episode I wrote once. “Surreal” doesn't even begin to describe what it's like – simultaneously hearing your story acted out and seeing it visualized through animatics in real time. I was smiling like a big doofus.
You get used to going to conventions after a while, but my first signing atComic Conwas the most amazing kind of sensory overload. I could feel my head spin. So much was going on at once!
The Max Steel signing for Free Comic Day was rad. I somehow convinced VIZ to commission this huge pinata of Max's foe, the Ultimate Elementor, and we let kids put on Max's helmet and swing at this beast with a Turbo Sword. It was the goofiest nonsense I've ever masterminded.
Getting the hard cover version of Hybrid Bastards felt like receiving the most lavish deluxe treatment ever. It was such a slick package.
And I had to enjoy the uniquely 21st century predicament of seeing one of my episodes bootlegged on YouTube – literally taped off somebody's TV in Spain with a shaky cam. That was a real “though a scanner darkly” moment.
What's Something About Your Career You Would Like People to Know?
Honestly, I'm a big believer in affirmative thinking, and it's disappointing to me that a lot of aspiring writers waste energy affirming negatives – especially on social media.
Nothing worth doing is easy.
If you think writing takes long hours, ask yourself what you want to save that time for instead? If it's going to some hobby, then maybe you don't really want to write, you just want to be a fan with hobby.
Bigger and more. It'll always be some variation of that, I'm sure.
Advice for New Entrants into Your Field
Don't be intimidated by the romance of the opus.
If you have some epic story you're waiting to write until “conditions are right,” just give yourself permission to do it, now.
No matter what stage you reach, conditions are never going to feel right. And it's always to have a finished script, whatever the shape, then a notebook full of ideas.
I've re-discovered CDs. I write to music, but streaming is too easy a getaway to browsing, and distraction. So, I bought a cheap CD player at Best Buy and hit up the re-sale section of Amoeba Records often.
I get the most writing with my headphones on, and the wi-fi off.
Every month, I write a list of goals with a Sharpie, tape it to my bedroom door and then scratch out completed goals with that same Sharpie.
There's something very visceral and satisfying to doing it like that.
And it's dramatic way to chart how productive the month has been – how much of the paper is blacked?
I went to Boston University and have a bachelors in Film, and a minor in History. I did produce a public access show in high school – right before that was all superseded by YouTube – but that wasn't formal training exactly.
My ninth grade creative writing teacher, Dr. Fibiger. Even though the sci-fi stories I was handing in were a little out of his purview, he told me “writing is in your blood,” which was the right encouragement at the right age.
He advised me that a quiet dinner table conversation could feel just as cataclysmic as a battle in outer space, and that's really informed my work ever since.
No matter how outre the plot is, I always try to balance it with something emotionally grounded.
I'm working on a new series with Man of Action – and that's all I'm allowed to say!