It’s no secret. It took me forever to break into writing comics professionally. And once I did manage to start writing comics for a living, the learning curve was pretty slippery for me. All along the way, I made more than my fair share of mistakes. I gave into frustration, anger, and fear. I mismanaged my schedule. I overestimated how much time I would have in a day. I overate and gained weight. I freaked out and panicked.
Now… I needed to go through all of those obstacles to get where I am now. I had to learn through experience. And every day brings a new batch of mistakes that will… hopefully make me a better creator in the future. But I often wonder… What could I have done differently? If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice about working in comics for a living, what would it be?
I figured most other creators have wondered the same thing, so I asked a few writers and artists to think about advice they wish they had been given when they were just starting out. Here is some of that advice. Some of it is thought-provoking. Some of it is funny. Some of it may not apply to you. And some of it will sting a bit.
Don’t presume to know what your demographic will be. You’re the least qualified person to guess who will like your stuff and who won’t. In practical terms? Never say anything that might alienate a segment of the readership, because that segment might be YOUR readership.
Cartoonist, THE CROGAN ADVENTURES
The most important part is to always be having fun with comics. If you can do that, skill inevitability comes with time.
1. In the beginning you’re going to do a lot of stuff for free an that’s okay. You’re cutting your teeth.
2. You might always have a day job.
3. As an artist, you’ll start getting good around your 500th page.
4. Don’t put all your eggs in the comic industry basket. Diversify.
5. Don’t subscribe to google alerts.
6. The comic industry is a horrible, shrinking industry. You may want to rethink this.
7. Publishers are not your friend. They are a client.
8. See #6
Artist, THE SIXTH GUN: SONS OF TH GUN; Writer/Artist, THE SECRET HISTORY OF D.B. COOPER
If I could go back in time, I’d tattoo onto young Jamie’s forearm the phrase, “BE YOUR OWN ENGINE.” Too often as artists and writers, we wait for validation or permission, from publishers or editors or whoever, instead of just carrying on with our work. This leads to a lot of time being wasted, time that could be spent filling a page with words or drawings. Generate your own momentum and maintain that, because no one else is going to clear the way for you. Be your own engine.
Concentrate on being the best writer/artist you can possibly be. Work at your craft. People respond to good, interesting work and to be one of those guys sets you apart from all the generic mess that’s out there.Trust your gut; when something isn’t working, your gut will let you know, even if your brain tries to fight it. Keep experimenting and analysing your work. The moment you become complacent is the moment your work starts to go downhill.
Be professional with your editors; get your work in on time. It makes their lives easier which means they’ll really value your work ethic.
Be nice to everyone and help someone else out if you can. None of us got anywhere without a little help, so spread it around if you can.
Artist, VENOM, CONAN
You will draw belt buckles and boots five hundred thousand times.
Artist, THE FEARLESS DEFENDERS; Writer/artist, CELTIC WARRIOR
It’s easy to look at creative work and say ‘I could do it better’. Proving that with quality, consistency, and professionalism is the hard part.
Writer, SKULLKICKERS, PATHFINDER
There was actually a bit of advice I was lucky enough to come across right as I was first starting to write professionally, and I wish that I had heard it sooner. This comes from Alan Moore’s afterword to his “Alan Moore’s Writing For Comics,” which was published as an article in the 80s and then reprinted by Avatar in 2003. I find it helps to remind myself of this sentiment often:
“It is much more exciting and thus creatively energizing if you are attempting something where you are uncertain of its outcome, where you don’t know if it will work or not. And this is only the beginning. Eventually, increasingly confident of your talents to make a workable story out of most anything, you will come to regard being merely unsure of a work’s outcome as far too facile an approach. Instead, you may graduate to only attempting works which you privately suspect to be impossible. This is no bad thing, and if rigorously applied would weed out a great many dull and repetitive creators from the world while at the same time increasing the world’s relatively meager cache of genuine unexpected marvels.”
Writer, EDISON REX
Level out from internet comments, count the responses and then subtract them from the number of readers. The remainder is generally a ton of opinions you’ll never know.
Writer, WINTER SOLDIER; artist, SLEDGEHAMMER ’44
You will spend more time doing the other stuff (marketing, editing, financial housekeeping, etc) than you will doing the actual writing. This is what makes it a job.
Writer, THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE
Do not trust other writers, or editors, with ideas you plan on using in the future. Keep it to yourself. People steal/take consciously and unconsciously all the time. Get used to it.
When you innovate and succeed, people will ape you. Your only solution is to keep innovating. Keep reinventing. Never become complacent in one style.
You will fail for years and years, and how many times you get back up and push the mother fucker forward will determine if you achieve your goal. It will also help you hone your craft.
No work is wasted if you do your best on it. Always do your best on every single issue. It’s someone’s first experience with your work.
Quitting your day job is an awesome feeling and fortune favors the brave… but (at least try to) save (some of) your money!
Writer, GREAT PACIFIC, THE X-FILES: SEASON 10
When I first started drawing comic art or just really trying to illustrate in general for money I had what I call “know it all” disease. No matter what people told me I thought I knew it all. I had been there done that and no one could tell me different. Then one day I realized I knew nothing at all and a new world of possibilities opened up for me. Take it from me, you only know about 10% of what you think you know and you could learn something new everyday. Be confident in your ability but be open to critiques, advice, and guidance from creatives (artist, writer, and editors) that just want to help you succeed or improve.
Don’t skip steps in the process. The part you’re good at will come out a lot better if you force yourself to work through all of the other parts. I prefer scripting over plotting so I always want to skip straight to the script. That’s always stupid (for me anyway). Here’s what I recommend instead:
Write a loose plot.
Write a tight plot.
Write a page by page breakdown.
Write a rough draft.
Polish the rough draft.
Polish it again.
Writer, AVENGERS ARENA, CABLE AND THE X-FORCE
Put everything in writing. EVERYTHING. Especially the money bits.
Writer, DEADLIEST OF THE SPECIES, THE PACK: WINTER KILL
1. Don’t read the comments. Reviews can be soul-crushing enough, but comments on most sites are simply worthless anyhow. You’ll waste a lot of time on something that’s not helpful in the least.
2. Do not engage the crazies. I love interacting with readers, but when craziness is encountered, it’s best to pull a “Coward of the County” and turn the other cheek.
3. Really think long and hard about how much work you can handle. You’re gonna be tempted to say “Yes!” to everything. Don’t! That can be dangerous to your sanity, brand, and schedule.
4. Your every action will begin to build your personal brand. You don’t have to overwork this. Just be yourself.
5. Once you get your first work published, you haven’t made it. You’re gonna have to work even harder to get your second project out there.
6. Be happy for the success of your friends (even when you’re not having success). Be inspired by the success of your enemies.
7. You have to bring the heat and build your own success. No one else can do it for you. In the end, it’s all on your shoulders.
Writer, THE SIXTH GUN, HELHEIM, FEARLESS DEFENDERS