Sam Spina on developing an animated short for Nickelodeon and how you can do the same

For a cartoonist, having a show on Nickelodeon seems as far-fetched as becoming an astronaut, says Sam Spina. But for the former Denverite who's currently based in Atlanta, that dream just became a reality through the Nickelodeon Shorts Program. The Xeric award-winning Spina (whose diary comic Spinadoodles was recognized in the Best of Denver 2012 as Best Comic Strip) pitched a concept about three friends who dig a hole in their backyard to Nickelodeon, and it was accepted to be developed into an animated short. We caught up with Spina to talk about the nine-month process of working with Nickelodeon, his upcoming projects and how you, too, can submit to be a part of Nick's shorts program. .

See also: Cartoonist Sam Spina on winning a Xeric grant and his daily comic strip, Spinadoodles

Westword: How did you get involved with Nickelodeon?

Sam Spina: I met one of the ladies who works at Nickelodeon at APE, a comics show in San Francisco, two years ago. At the big indie shows, there's always a Nickelodeon person there scouting people. I didn't know that they do that all the time. They just go around and buy people's comics. I had one of those Square apps where you can take the card on your phone and she just handed me a Nickelodeon card and I was like, oh, whoa! That was just how we started talking about it. They kept in touch after just because she saw I was impressed that she worked at Nickelodeon, and soon after she mentioned the shorts program that they do. It's just an open pitching time; anybody could pitch them anything. It's really crazy how they're so open to it. I talked to her for a really long time and I pitched to her other things, and even the one that I pitched that they accepted, it was a lot of back and forth before they accepted it. They're super-helpful and willing to talk to anybody about that kind of stuff.

What was your pitch?

It's called "Hole." It's loosely based on my childhood. I grew up in Arizona, so it's about three best friends who dig a hole in the main character's back yard, sort of like an underground clubhouse. 

What was the process of working on the animation like?

Oh, man, it's so crazy. It's a two-minute short and it's so crazy how much work went into it. I seriously worked on it for nine months or something. It's constant work. When I pitched to them, I pitched all the characters and a concept of the show and the script for the short, and the first thing that they did once they accepted it was set me up with writers and they totally rewrote the whole script. That was a back-and-forth process, too. They came up with a bunch of ideas and then picked one and then they wrote up the whole thing and then I went back and changed a bunch of stuff and then they went back and changed a bunch of stuff. That was two months of writing it. And then the next step is storyboarding, so that was a whole 'nother back and forth where the storyboard artists kind of rewrite it as they storyboard it out for timing purposes. There was the dialogue portion, where the dialogue was changed. And each step is like, months, and so many people are involved. I can't even imagine what it's like working on an eleven-minute show, because two minutes just seems like it took forever.

Did you go to the Nick headquarters to work on it or was it all remotely done?

Yeah, they flew me out twice. For the first time I went out it was for the voice recording, which was so awesome. I have four characters in my short and three of them are kids, so I got kid voice actors. They were little eight-year-old kids and it was so crazy how professional they are in the recording studio. I had never been in a recording studio and that was such a crazy experience. And the second time they flew me out for the final mix for the whole thing, the final edit. It's kind of tacky to talk about how much money they have for all of that stuff. You don't really get paid all that much for selling them your idea. They own that idea now for three years and I can't do anything to it. So at first you think you hit the jackpot or something, but it's totally not the case. But the experience alone, I would pay them to just see the process. I learned so much from all of it. I'm a better writer now. I never really considered writing when I was making comics. I was actually working on a mini-comic when I found out about this last April, and I finally finished it a month ago and I'm almost embarrassed of it because I feel like I'm such a better writer now. That's probably how everybody feels whenever they finish anything. That comic is being put out by this small publisher, Bird Cage Bottom Books in New York, and it's called Tarn. That should be out in April.

Keep reading for more on Sam Spina.

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