…As Understood By An Amateur.
I’ve been writing comics for four years now. I first hired an artist to draw something I wrote about two and whatever years ago. I partnered with that same artist on a web comic shortly after that, and am still working with him today. I’ve since connected with various indie publishers, done some editing work, got my first (and second!) work-for-hire gig for a comic that was successfully Kickstarted, joined some online communities dedicated to making comics, and taken two online courses on making comics. I’m still light years from being a pro, but I’m a long after-dinner walk from being a total newb.
Before and during and after that walk, I’ve leaped at every make comics pro tip that popped up on Twitter or Facebook and devoured it like an eclair or Boston creme donut or any other pastry filled with whatever they’re filled with (Boston creme? But eclairs are French.) These tips are the most comprehensive (and often the only) insight as to how one breaks into comics. These pro tips actually debunked my understanding of what breaking into comics even meant.
Most of the pro tips I’ve seen seem to boil down to these simple two.
Pro tip #1: Don’t Be A Dick
I’ve tried to adapt this one to other parts of my life as well and it has been hugely helpful.
Because of the innately collaborative nature of making comics, this is extremely important. Basically, it works like this: A team is needed to make comics. If you’re a dick, no one wants you on their team. So then you’re forced to be a one-person team, provided you even possess the skills to do so. And when you’re competing against a team of four or five, you lose. Or you just get really tired and you fall behind or give up. Or you’re Fiona Staples and you are an entire art team unto yourself and your beautiful pictures require no words because they are that beautiful. But you’re probably not Fiona Staples.
Outside of your fellow creators, there are potential and (hopefully) actual readers to consider. Yes, some may look past your personality if your book is fantastic, but they also may not. If the comics-loving community gets wind of you being an a-hole to other creators, retailers, fans or customers, they may very well decide that they don’t want fund your ability to be an a-hole by supporting your a-hole book.
This also means, like in any job, that you have to be professional. Be reliable, honest, dedicated and always under promise and over deliver. Don’t let your ego run wild. A healthy amount of ego is required to be a creative professional. But an unhealthy amount makes people want to punch you in the neck. I once wandered into a conversation where a person actually said “I’m leaving and taking my legion of fans with me”. I’d never met the person and only heard that snippet of conversation, but, in that moment, I most definitely wanted to punch him in the neck. Also, never use the word legion in conversation.
Be nice, genuine and fun to work with and people will want to work with you, interact with you, and maybe buy stuff that you make. And maybe they won’t. And that’s ok. Just don’t be a dick about it.
Pro Tip #2: Make Comics
For me, this simple bit of advice seemed both painfully obvious and oddly elusive at the same time.
If I knew how to make comics, I wouldn’t be googling “How do I make comics”. I can’t just be an accountant. I need to know how to account for things. I need training. I need a calculator. And then I need people to hire me to account for their things.
Most of this was reactionary whining that died down after a few minutes. Yes, in order to make comics, I needed to know what that actually entailed. After some more googling, I realized that there was a stupid amount of resources available to learn how to do that. And I needed to necessary tools to make comics. In my case, that was just a computer and some word processing software.
The last bit of whining was where I got hung up. Don’t I need an audience or a publisher or someone who cares about my wonderful, creative vision? No, why are you so self-absorbed and entitled? No one cares. No one owes you anything. You don’t deserve an audience or a publisher or anyone who cares until you do the work and create something worth looking at. But people want to look at stuff. You don’t have to be Fiona Staples to get people to look at your stuff. You just have to create it. No amount of dreaming or planning or networking (pro tip #3) will help you break into comics if you don’t actually make comics. Brian Bendis said in his book Pictures for Words, and I’m paraphrasing (I think), “The only way to make comics is to make comics”.
If you want to read some pro tips from some actual pros, I suggest this article from Comicosity.