Reading the Submission Guidelines
If the researcher cannot get access to any comics artists or staff members at all, there are still alternative sites of research, such as the official submission guidelines that publishers present on their webpages. Before the widespread use of the internet, it was much more difficult to obtain such information. Today, most of the publishers offer some contact information and some elementary considerations for future collaborators. Some big publishers, such as DC and Marvel, explicitly reject unsolicited proposals, be they unsolicited artwork or scripts. Others, like Fantagraphics, provide submission FAQ pages. For standardized publication formats, such as North American newspaper strips, there are strict rules regarding the height and width of a daily strip. By contrast, an alternative publisher like Fantagraphics does not impose a particular dimension or page count because the “format should serve the story” (fantagraphics.com 2015).
Submit a Project Yourself
In the worst-case scenario where publisher does not allow the researcher any access to the workspace or to its staff and submission guidelines are opaque, there is one other option: you can submit a project yourself. By sending in a submission (possibly in collaboration with an artist) to a publisher, one can measure the time it takes before the publisher answers, and one can analyze the response of the publisher. Does the publisher give any reasons for accepting (to a next phase) or for immediate rejection? Ideally the publisher must not be aware that this submission is part of a research project; otherwise, this knowledge may influence the way the publisher reacts. However, some ethics review boards may be wary of researchers actively deceiving research subjects in this way.
For my own gatekeeping research, I also tried to submit a project. I wrote a short story (of six pages), and a young, unknown artist named Thierry Schiel drew the pages in black and white. I did not conceal my name, so it might be possible that the gatekeepers remembered me because I had interviewed them just few weeks before. Within three days I received a letter from both publishers. There were notable differences. The letter from Lombard was much shorter and less detailed. The letter from Dupuis, meanwhile, indicated which panels were not well drawn. Moreover, while Lombard answered me as if it was the project of one person, though my letter clearly explained it was a collaboration, Dupuis made separate comments about the writing and the artwork. Dupuis rightly remarked that the script resembled the theme of another one of their series. Lombard said nothing about the script, except that the drawing was stiff and ill-proportioned. Though the letter from Dupuis was somewhat encouraging, in neither case was our proposal accepted. In this way, I experienced what many others had likely been experiencing; it was quite hard to get into the comics business as a creator. The speed of response arguably indicates that this project was probably only checked by the editor-in-chief or by their assistant. This submission was probably not presented to the complete gatekeeping team.