A couple of days ago, I went to a local high school to talk to some students about breaking into comics. These kids were excited and positive and genuinely interested in learning how to be professional creators. I like doing that sort of thing because (as I’ve said before) when I was first trying to break in, I had no clue how to do so.
Yesterday, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the key points I made with aspiring creators on Twitter. The response was pretty positive, and I think a bunch of readers got a lot out of it. As an added bonus, Jim Zub introduced me to Storify, which is great, and he used it to create an overview of all the tweets that you can read here.
You’ll probably note one tweet, though, that might have you scratching your head:
Ah, that mis-type tastes a lot like my foot! To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you put on blinders when it comes to egregious behavior among creators. Bad behavior shouldn’t be ignored. If a creator does something awful… by all means say something. I’m not encouraging people to stick their head in the sand when faced with “comics folks gone bad.”
What I should have said was an aspiring creator shouldn’t badmouth another creator’s work, even if it’s terrible. And of particular importance is the difference between badmouthing and critiquing.
Let me give you some examples.
A couple of years ago, as I was walking into a panel room at NYCC, I noticed uber-talented artist Ryan Stegman talking to a HUGE guy in a Venom sweatshirt. Ryan saw me, smiled, and waved me over. “Cullen! Come here! This guy wants to tell you why he hates VENOM!” Thinking this guy was about to break me in half, I trundled over to take the tongue-lashing. Instead, the guy was polite and genuine and honest. He told me how he felt the supernatural elements I was adding cheapened the character and hurt the stories. He had thought these criticisms through, and he was a pro when it came to talking about his concerns. Whether I agreed with him or not, I enjoyed the conversation, and I thanked him for his feedback.
That was a critique.
Now compare to these comments (some are slightly paraphrased but still a pretty good representation of comments I’ve received).
“I wish someone would break your fingers so you couldn’t write.”
“You are the worst piece of shit that’s ever been shat!”
“God, you’re just terrible! I… I can’t even!”
“You don’t deserve Lobo!”
“You’re the worst writer since the last worst writer!”
Hear the distinction?
For some, the answer is no. They don’t see a difference between hate and genuine criticism. One of my favorite examples:
I received a tweet that read “How does it feel to have written the worst Deadpool story of all time?”
To which I replied, “You mean New York Times bestseller DEADPOOL KILLS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE?” (Okay, I might have been being a little snarky there, but it is what it is.)
The reply I got back, though, was, “What? You can’t take constructive criticism?”
Tell me, dear reader, where you see the constructive criticism in those quotes I just shared.
And, listen, I’m not even suggesting that haters shouldn’t hate. There’s no power in the ‘verse that could stop them anyhow. But haters aren’t critics. Their comments don’t help anyone (except maybe in helping them blow off steam and getting a chuckle when it’s particularly creative).
But here’s the difference!
If you are an aspiring creator, think carefully before you get your hate on. I get it. Trying to break in can be tough enough as it is. It can make you bitter. It can make you feel unappreciated. But if you want to be a comic book creator, suck it up. You have no business badmouthing (again, different from critiquing) other creators. It helps you not one bit, and it could hurt you.
Just this week, I got a message saying, essentially, “You are an idiot for what you did with Lobo. I can’t believe they would let you write this.” Not two hours later, I received a message from the same person, saying “Would you be interested in reading the comic I recently published?”
Two hours… two years… the answer is almost always gonna be no.
Let’s look at it through the lens of a hypothetical. Let’s say the guy in the example (we’ll call him Smitty) above was an artist. A couple of years from now, I get a call from an editor in regards to a book I’m working on. “Hey, Cullen! We have a possible artist for your book! He’s a relatively new guy, but have you heard of Smitty?”
I’m pretty sure you can guess how that plays out.
Now, if the big guy in the Venom shirt was an equally talented artist, and I received a similar call about him, my response might have been different, whether he liked my take on Venom or not.
And this isn’t about holding a grudge. It’s about me gauging who I might have a good working relationship with… who is a pro and who isn’t.
Writing comics professionally is fun and rewarding, but is a job. And as an aspiring creator, you should treat it as one. In my previous professional life, I worked for a company in the HR/employment industry. At that time, there was a statistic going around that 75% of potential employers look up a job candidates social media when considering them… and 75% of those employers eliminate candidates based on what they find! I dunno if I’m remembering it correctly, but it was a shocking figure, and I’d bet it’s grown now. So… if you were working in any other field, you might want to be careful what you say online. You certainly go on LinkedIn and start calling the president of the company you’re applying at an asshole. Well… you might… but not if you really want the job. Bottom line, if you badmouth a potential employer or even a co-worker (in any other field) your chances of being hired are considerably lessened. Why wouldn’t that be the same in comics?
In comics, networking is incredibly important! And the circles of people you network with are relatively small. And it’s competitive as Hell. If another creator tells me about someone who is being hateful, why would I ever want to bring that person into my social circle myself? If you’re an aspiring creator, why do something that has even a 5% chance of preventing you from reaching your goal?
Again, that’s badmouthing another writer’s work I’m talking about. Not critiquing.
I’m a busy guy. I don’t offer help to aspiring creators because I have to. I do it because I want to. I do it because I think there’s room in the industry for more talented folks. The advice I offer is just being drawn from my own personal experiences and insights. Everyone who breaks in has a different story to tell and probably has some different advice. Pick the kernels of truth that work for you and ignore the rest.
And let me stress again, I’m not asking anyone (established or otherwise) to ignore bad behavior and such. Say something. Promote positive counter-examples. Make a stand in whatever way makes you comfortable.
Be smart. Be professional. Do the work. Don’t be a dick.
That’s advice that I think works… in any industry.
And if you have no interest in creating comics, then sic ‘em! Badmouth away! Haters! Cut loose the hounds of Hell! Dance like there’s no tomorrow!
As my college geology professor Dr. Kovacs would say, “I love you all… and keep on trucking… my friends.”