There Is No Short Cut.
October 27, 2015
I’ll admit that my first thought is that they saw my work, thought it was shit and assumed that I must know the secret or something.
Sometimes I won’t reply because in my experience most folks seeking “advice” don’t want to hear anything that isn’t “boy, you don’t need any advice! Where have you been! You’re incredible and already better than everyone! Let me give you some top secret email addresses!”
I didn’t know anything about what I was doing when I started publishing my comics. I just read comics, and drew comics. I drew a lot of comics. So many damn comics. To be honest though, over the past 11 years of struggles and triumphs I’ve gleaned a few things and here’s my advice:
#1 DRAW COMICS
You say that you want to be a comic artist. Look at yourself. How much do you draw? Do you have a sketchbooks that you fill up? Be honest with yourself; Do you even actually enjoy drawing? Is it something that you would do even if you had to give up your dream of being a professional comic artist who was rich?
In my own experience a lot of folks will just spend years drawing splash pages and wordless action scenes with strong men fighting each other, or dragons or something. Maybe they’ll have a bunch of character design pages with characters that are just their own versions of some Marvel or DC character. They’ll work for years filling up a portfolio that they can bring around to shows and pester working artists or editors with.
None of them could just be honest with themselves about what they are capable of. Maybe you are great at drawing. But how long does it take you to draw the minimum 24 pages? Is it extremely difficult to do for you? If drawing 24 pages of a story is too hard then you don’t have what it takes. For God’s sake think about it: if drawing is so hard and time consuming for you then why the fuck do you think you want to be a professional comic artist? What’s wrong with you? You wouldn’t know what to do with the job if they gave it to you, right?
#2 WRITE COMICS
Learn how to tell a story. It can be very difficult, but it really is the meat of a comic. It’s the protein. There are a lot of filler comics in the world. A lot of nothing. Be a writer and communicate something in your comics. After some time you’ll get really good at it and people will always remember it. Your work will be valued and people will feel satisfied after reading it. That’s the kind of cartoonist to be.
your work will probably suck for a long time. It takes awhile before you build an identity as an artist or you find your own voice. And finding your voice isn’t something that you can do by looking for it. You probably won’t even notice when you do! It’s crazy. It just takes a lot of comics that you will later be embarrassed of. There’s nothing wrong with that though. Why should you care? After all you’re serious about being a cartoonist, right? You’re in this for the long haul. You’ll draw your comics until you die! You are serious, right?
#3 SHOW UP
Get ready to travel, my friend. Get ready to table at every comics convention or zine fest you can. Be prepared to lose money. Get ready to do humiliating store signings where hopefully one person shows up and coughs on you. If you want to be a part of this world, simply show up for it. Insert yourself into it. Take your comics which you’ve published yourself and sell them. Meet everyone else who is doing what you want to do. Don’t sit at home and draw comics and expect anyone to give a shit. You have to go sit behind a table, shake hands and then get a cold and the flu like the rest of us.
There is no short cut.
#4 GET YOUR WORK OUT THERE
Self-publish your comics and send them to review blogs. Go to conventions and give your comics to other artists whom you admire. Give them to editors.
Submit comics to anthologies, post them on Facebook, and Tumblr and all of those other social media sites that start up every other year these days. Just do it. Spread your comics out as far as you can!
#5 FIND AN IDOL
Obviously I idolized Robert Crumb since the very beginning. I began printing my own comics when I was working at a bagel shop. I was a loner. A college drop out with nothing going on. But fatefully I happened upon the film Crumb after I had already rented everything else at my local Blockbuster video. And after I saw that film I never returned it. At work I began daydreaming about being an underground comic artist. I read everything I could find by and about Crumb. Learning about him and how he became a successful artist was incredibly inspiring to me. It charged me up. it was deeply affecting to me and gave me an entirely new art education. From Crumb I discovered Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Will Elder, and Fantagraphics books. From Fantagraphics books I discovered the alternative comics world! It was the beginning of something powerful in my life. I loved the idea of selling my comics on the street to people like Crumb did, and having my work printed in all of the underground papers ( or zines in my day). His influence drove me as an artist. In the beginning I would print my own mini comics on a photocopier, fold them, staple them and walk down 13th avenue in Denver (a long street full of stores) and drop them off in the windowsills next to where all of the bands left their flyers. My only aim in those days was simply to get my work in front of people no matter how. I still remember the first email I got from someone about my comics. A young guy wrote to me and told me that he found one of my comics soaking wet and stuck to his porch one morning after a rain storm. That really made me happy.
I think having an idol like I did can keep you going. You think to yourself “I wanna be like that. How did they do that?” and hopefully it lights a fire under you that keeps burning.
#6 THE HARD TRUTH
This has been said a million times already by every artist including myself. But I’ll say it again.
This isn’t a career. John Porcellino once told me that every “professional” comic artist has a secret of some kind. Something like their grandparents died and left them money, or their spouse has a great job and supports them.
Comics are a very, very, very small art form for a small, tiny audience of people.
You say you wanna make a living off of your comics? Forget it.
Still wanna draw comics anyway? You do?
Congratulations! You’re a real cartoonist! Welcome!
*BONUS* Actual conversation with young artist looking for advice
Noah, I just wanted to introduce myself, I’m T. I’ve been submitting to image and Darkhorse. (Fantagraphics would be a good fit too but as far as I know they do not accept submissions) I just wanted to say I’m a big fan of yours and wondered if you had any tips for submitting for a first time submitter and pitching at cons (cliche question I know) thanks for taking the time to read this! Also just for clarity’s sake, I have 55 pages scripted, a full page synopsis, 42 pages of finished b/w art . (I’m also the artist) waiting on a new scanner but I have pics of unlettered pages. Thx again!
Me: Have you published your work before in mini Comics and anthologies? also do you table at conventions a lot?
Never^ and I haven’t done any conventions yet, I might plan some appearances for this summer at smaller east coast shows. I’ve been drawing forever, mostly self taught as far as drawing goes.
Me: Looks good. Why do you want a publisher?
And yes definitely letter it yourself!
Well I kind of want to get picked up for one of the dark horse anthologies so I can get page rates and quit my day job and launch my series off of that
Me: Quit your job? How much is their page rate?
I’m totally cool with self publishing, and I might try to kickstart it but that seems really annoying. I really have no idea, maybe Ethan would know. I’d guess 175/200 but that may be incorrect or too hopeful, I haven’t researched page rates in forever. I kind of gave up on the idea. I also kind
I want to get a job in mainstream comics but self publishing I suppose does the same thing if I build a strong network somehow through doing cons.
Page rate would be more Imagine for writer who are also artists
Me: In my experience publishers don’t want unknown artists/writers. Everyone in Comics (even my brother) started out self publishing their Comics for years. It’s a big job, man. You have to go to a lot of cons and send your Comics out to a lot of blogs. I’m not being discouraging. If you want to be a comic artist you will just do these things. you have to become obsessed with it.
I can tell you that anytime I’ve done anything with a page rate it was only about 50 bucks a page
So don’t expect Comics to get you out of working! That’s a road to heart break.
I know you don’t want to hear that.
Yes you’re right, I have a pretty good relationship w/ the guys at (Podcast name here) and I’m hoping to get on their show some day. I know building an online presence is the biggest deal, and I respect all of the hours you put into your craft and promoting it. I’m also considering doing some short films with the idea and I’m going to a lawyer soon for copyright and other stuff(my dad’s footing the bill heh).
Me: Thank you
I appreciate your honesty and perspective.
Me: You’ll be fine. Your art is cool. It shouldn’t be hard to get attention on your own