Sunday, 8 December 2013

The "Breaking Into the Comic Book Industry" Myth



I recently wrote an article called “10 Do’s and Don’ts for submitting to comic book publishers”.  I frequently do talent searches where I’ll post ads to Craigslist and Kijiji in cities all over the world looking for artists and writers.

I’ll usually get hundreds of responses and I’ve found that every time I do one of these searches there will be about 1 person out of every 75 that I end up hiring. Out of those only a couple will end up sticking around. There are so many people I have to filter out. And a lot of people were making the same mistakes. 

So I wrote this article about the main things people should or should not do. At first I wasn’t sure if anybody else in the comic book industry would agree with me.  These were just the things that I would consider to be the do’s and don’ts.  Maybe I was the only one having these problems. But the response I got to the article was amazing! It seemed like a lot of other publishers, and even artists felt the same way. 


After writing the article, I was contacted by a comic book artist named Kav, whom I had never met before. We had an interesting conversation. I’ve included our email conversation below. I’m not sure if other comic book artists share Kav’s feelings. What do you think?

KAV:      Hey Brandon, great article.  My experience has been 100% exactly the same as yours.  There seems to be a huge percentage of people who say they want to draw comics, but after putting together a portfolio, never pick up a pencil again.  This blows me away.  I draw a page a day even if I’m not currently on an assignment.  I’ll come up with pages to draw.  I've heard stories of people hired by Marvel then disappearing off the face of the earth.  You must train yourself to draw a page a day or you will simply not be able to do it.

Another thing I've witnessed is artists going off-script.  Like an old person was scripted and the artist drew a teenager instead.  He said it looked “cooler”.  The truth was he can’t draw old people.  Then he said “well, let's do it Marvel Method” -code words for “I'll draw whatever I want or am capable of and the hell with your script, now pay me”.

                Nowadays when I need an artist I ask how many pages a week they draw.  Most will lie, but I also give a deadline of their choosing.  If they can't meet a deadline they picked, they go in the poser bin.  And that bin is pretty darn full.

BRANDON:         Thanks, Kav, I feel your pain. It is frustrating. But at the same time I've met some good people. But you really have to sift through a lot of people to find the good ones. 

It always frustrates me now when I hear people ask how to "break into the comic industry".  It's like someone asking "how do you break into the NFL?” You have to play football a lot and you have to be good.  Someone isn't just going to come along and give you a chance. You can’t wait until you get drafted into the NFL before you start playing football. Writing or drawing comics is the same way. You have to do the leg-work yourself.

                    I hear nowadays Marvel doesn't even take open submissions. I've read that their modo is "don't come to us, we'll find you." or something like that. Basically, if you're good enough to work for them they will already know about you. They're not going to hire a newbie.

It's kind of harder for us little guys though!       
        
KAV:      When people ask me how to break into the comics industry I tell them “you don't.”  I point out that there are millions of people who want to, and like one job opening a year. I also point out that people currently working in the field still have to fight for work. I say shoot for something easier like becoming a famous movie star.

BRANDON:         Yes, exactly. But I hate being negative to people who have a dream. The whole "break into comics" thing is kind of a myth anyways. I've broken into comics technically, by making my own comics! Now all the aspiring people are coming to me. Funny how that works.

 KAV:     I myself like to slap people awake with reality. I've experienced so many time-wasting posers. They don’t have a dream, they have a daydream. Very different.  If they REALLY had a dream they would have been drawing comics every day for the last 30 years, without being hired by any publisher. Like I have.

BRANDON:         Exactly. It's basic self-motivation. It's funny how some people can't figure that out.
KAV:      I blame Hollywood for this crap. In movies and TV someone wants a new career and a week later they got it.

BRANDON:         Well, you can't totally blame movies and TV, but I see your point. They never show all the hard work that goes into it behind the scenes.

KAV:      How much hard work can be accomplished in one week?  Like I used to watch Melrose Place and some chick said she loves fashion so why not start her own fashion business? She started sketching and ONE WEEK LATER had a thriving fashion business with 100 employees!  WTF???????  I see a lot of this.  “Follow your dream and it'll come true”.  NO, IT WON’T.  SORRY.  OK my dream is to win the lotto-so.....follow that?????   Arggh!  There is one caveat- if you become so good that no one can ignore you, you WILL succeed.  Like Tim Lane- there is no way he couldn’t succeed, he's just too damn good of an artist.

BRANDON:         I feel your pain. Dreams can come true. But only if you make it happen. You can't sit around waiting for it to happen.

I’m not sure if Kav’s opinions represent the opinions of all artists out there but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of people in agreement with him.  

I’ve only been making comic books for a couple of years now.  It’s been an uphill battle every step of the way.  And it continues to be.  But, wow, have I ever learned a lot. There are lots of people making comics that are way further along than I am. I can’t do much to help them. But there are people who are just starting out that can benefit from my experience.

It was not quite two years ago that Adam Storoschuk and I decided to start making comics. We’d been talking about it for years. Misfits and Stargirl were created seven or eight years before they actually went into production. I originally wanted to do them as an animated series. But when that didn’t work out I decided to just grab the bull by the horns and make them both as a comic book.
It was really hard since I had no idea how to even make comics. Reading them was one thing, but making them was quite another.  I was also completely broke at the time.  And so was Adam.  But we jumped in head-first and decided to learn as we went.  

One of my Facebook friends, Chris Johnson, was into making comics. I asked him if he knew any artists I could hire to draw Misfits. He put me in touch with Luca Cicchitti, an artist from Italy.
I contacted Luca and he told me how much he charged per page. I almost had a heart attack. I could barely afford to take care of myself. How was I going to pay an artist? But there was almost a voice in my head telling me that this was the right thing to do.  Adam and I both agreed that it was now or never.

So we hired Luca and began paying him out of our own paychecks from our jobs. I also hired Brittni Bromley to begin the artwork on Stargirl.

Those were some scary times, let me tell you. It seems like it was ages ago, but it was really only a couple of years.

There were many problems to deal with along the way. We began adding artists to pencil, ink, color, and letter our two main books. We also hired people to do character designs, and we even hired some writers to write other projects for us. Keep in mind, everybody was paid. Adam and I paid them all out of our paychecks. And we weren’t rich guys either.  We sank every penny we had into our comics. That’s how much dedication we had (and have) to our comics. 

So for people out there who don’t want to pay their artists, because they say the artist will get “exposure” or a cut of the profits or whatever their excuse is – it’s absolute bullshit. You have to make sacrifices to make this dream of yours a reality. There’s no other way.

Every part of the process was a struggle for me since I had to learn everything from scratch. We had artists from all over the world and sometimes there were language barrier issues that made it hard for me to explain what I needed done. There were also arguments with artists and writers over creative issues.

Even once we had our first comic book completed there were still problems and lots of stuff to learn. Just getting everything formatted to send to the printers, or to get it on Amazon, or Drive-thru comics or whatever was a lot of work. It took a lot of time to figure it all out.

Even when that was done there was the problem of promoting and selling the comics. This takes as much, if not more, work than actually making the comic! But Adam and I learned fast. There’s so much “advice” out there on the internet about how to sell and market comic books. It seems like everybody is trying to figure it out and chase the next big lead.

I just try to ignore all that, for the most part, and do things the way I feel is best. We’ve learned so much since we started and we’re still learning more.

But there was a huge learning curve to overcome. I can see why so many people quit early on. They say that it’s their dream to make comics but they soon realize how much work it is so they quit. Don’t even get started unless you have a real passion for it because there will be roadblocks every step of the way that will make you want to quit.

I talk to people on Facebook and even out on the street all the time about how they can start making comics. A lot of people say they’re thinking about it, but they just don’t know how to start. I always give people the same advice: “Just start doing it!”

There’s no other way around it. You can’t wait until you have the money, or until your life sorts itself out, or until the planets align. Those things will never happen.  Just do what I did and jump in and start doing it. Deal with problems as they come up. In a couple of years you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come.

We’re all in this together so I think it’s worth helping out other people that are doing cool projects. But that doesn’t mean I’ll pay for your project or do the work for you. 

And believe me, if a couple of regular guys like Adam and I can do it, you can do it!

Feel free to contact me. I like meeting new people with big dreams and big ideas.

Brandon Rhiness
The Higher Universe
rhiness@thehigheruniverse.com

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