The comic book industry isn’t an easy one to break into, nor is it an easy one to stay and make a successful career in. As part of #MakeComics week, Comicosity reached out to creators working in the industry today for wisdom about breaking in and surviving the world of comics. We posed a question to them that we have seen asked a thousand times online, and these “pro tips” are priceless for would-be pros and pros alike. The question we posed:
“If you could give an aspiring creator one piece of advice, what would it be?”
Artist of Wonder Woman, Human Target, Green Arrow/Black Canary
Comics can be incredibly thrilling and satisfying. but it ain’t all fun and games. If you’re not disciplined with your time, if you don’t have a strong work ethic, if drawing isn’t something you want to do all day long, if all you want to draw is your favorite heroes, if there isn’t a burning need within you to make comics — there are other fields you can work in. Make sure you want to tell stories.
Writer of Stumptown, Lazarus, Gotham Central, Batwoman, Queen & Country
Beyond the obvious, that you need to put your ass in the chair and do the work? Feed the machine — read, and not only comics. Study not only comics, but storytelling — in prose, long form and short; on stage, on the screen, on television. Master your tools, and your first tools are always words.
Writer/artist of Kate or Die, Bravest Warriors, Fraggle Rock
Three pieces of advice! Turn off anonymous comments, list your email everywhere, use social media but know when to get offline and get to work. I’m still trying to get better at that last one.
Leila del Duca
Artist of Shutter
Other than the obvious create good work advice… Be personable and confident. People want to work with creators they know will be enjoyable to work with. Friends want to work with friends. So other than just being a badass at your craft, make sure you’re a professional in personality as well, and make connections with like-minded people so you can work with them later down the road.
Artist for Cow Boy, Ordinary People w/ Brad Meltzer – letterer for Marvel (and more)
It takes work. A lot of it. Too many people want the glory or the money, but starting out requires sacrifice. Instead of playing that video game, write or draw. Work at it every day. It’s hard and if this is what you really want, you need to make sacrifices. And as you do work every day, you’ll start to realize how much you need to improve. After 25 years in the business I realize more how much more I need to improve—I realize it more now than when I started.
Writer/artist of Lady Killer, Helheim
You have to really love comics to stay in it. Or be a bit of a masochist. Also practice practice practice.
Start now. It’s ok to suck, just get those pages made and keep pushing forward– this means don’t go back re-doing your previous work to be “better”. Otherwise you’ll wind up with a perfect page one and… that’s it. It’s better to have a completed story that shows your artistic and writing evolution than to have a couple pages that never go any where. Treat your comics schedule like a job. Set aside specific time during the week when you MUST work on your pages and stick to it. Otherwise, there’s always something that “comes up” that’ll keep you from “getting around” to drawing your comic.
Writer of Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians 3000, Hypernaturals
Get feedback from as many people as possible, even for unpublished or amateur work… and use it positively. Grow a very tough hide. Don’t let yourself be hurt by negative reviews or comments – consider them a free gift and turn them into creative ammo. My wife, the writer Nik Vincent, has a motto, “The point of the writer is the reader” and I think she’s bang on. If you want to be a writer (and this, I think, applies as much to artists and colorists etc in comics) then you need a readership. Otherwise you’re writing for an empty room. So if someone says they don’t like something about your work, and can constructively explain why, listen and learn, because your job is to keep the reader happy and satisfied. So turn bad reviews into creative muscle. Caveats: the above applies to constructive commentary. Just ignore, flat ignore, hater remarks. Don’t give them headspace. Learn not to let them get you down. And though you listen to the constructive remarks, don’t just slavishly follow them every time. Sometimes you did something for a reason…
Writer of Skullkickers, Wayward, Figment
Make your own comic stories and post them online. Start with shorter stories so you can finish them and then look to see where you can improve. Finish another. Keep going.
Reading tutorials is fine, planning ideas is good, but actually starting and finishing comic stories is the only way to consistently improve.
Writer of BlackAcre, Halo
Writers – Once you find a reliable penciler chain him/her to the radiator and never let them go. Keep them well-fed and hydrated and give them a larger percentage of the property but DO NOT EVER let them out of your grasp.
Artists – Never follow writers into dark basements.
Artist of Green Arrow, Futures End, Shadowman, Captain America
Come into comics with an open mind, an appreciation for a variety of stories, styles, and influences. Try regarded films, novels, and comics you might ordinarily not have an interest in. Good material always has something to teach us.
Writer of Green Lantern, The Flash, X-O Manowar, The Homeland Directive, The Surrogates
Be humble. You’re never going to have all the answers. Writing isn’t like solving for X–you’ll never stop learning. Be smart enough to know what you don’t know, so you can work at improving. And don’t blow your first deadline.
Writer of Avengers A.I., Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex, Our Love Is Real
Start now. Don’t wait for anyone’s permission to make your comics, just go out there and do it. Writing, drawing, collaborating, sharing your vision with the world — all of that is a billion trillion more times fulfilling than waiting by the phone or reloading your inbox. I guarantee you will have a happier life if you do the former, or both, instead of doing just the latter. This is a quality of life issue.
This is #MakeComics week 2015. Challenge yourself to make a comic by the next #MakeComics week in 2016. 20 pages, 8 pages, 1 page — doesn’t matter. Just make a comic. You’ve got a year. Do it.
Writer of The Sixth Gun, Sinestro, Magneto, Harrow County
If you’re working in comics for the love of the art… and you’re not worried about making any money… that’s absolutely a fine and noble position. If, however, you want to make a living working in comics, you have to treat it like a job. Do the work, meet the deadlines, treat others with respect, present yourself as someone others would want to work with. So many aspiring creators think of working in comics as some sort of dodge or easy ride. It’s a fun job–the best job ever–but it is still a job.
Writer of Daredevil, Archie, The Flash, Empire – publisher of Thrillbent
BE TIMELY AND RELIABLE. I know that being creative on a schedule is a drag, and some days are a gold mine and some are just a shaft, but on the whole, be reliable. Never overpromise and underdeliver; do the opposite. Remember that editors are hiring you not only based on your skill but also on whether or not they feel like they can trust you to make their jobs easier, not harder.
Artist of Injection, Moon Knight
Gain as much control over your own work as you possibly can. Be it inking, or colouring your own work, or doing covers to your stories. If your work is dependant on someone else you will never be able to make autonomous decisions about your work or career. If you don’t want to colour your own work, build a partnership with a great colourist. A colourist who improves your work is invaluable.
Writer of Midnighter, Undertow
Don’t stop making comics! It sounds ridiculous, but the best way to show someone you are ready for professional work and publication is to show that you can bring a book through to completion. So create ashcans, print on demand, make them at kinkos, but you have to make comics to find work in comics. And don’t stop! The road to my current situation was fifteen years long, over half my life, and that whole time was spent going to conventions, meeting other pros and editors, making comics and making comics and making comics. And for twelve years the things I made were not ready to be published, even if I thought they were. And when they were, it happened.
And that is the other important thing. Seek out critique, but do not desire anything but a 100% honest critique. I spent years having people say “nope, it’s unpublishable, and here’s why.” And that is in the end much more helpful than a soft-touch review. That’s the flipside of making comics. Be prepared to accept that they may not be great, be prepared to hear they aren’t good enough. Mine weren’t. But true, no frills criticism is the only way to really see what you need to work on. And THEN when you hear it IS good enough, it will mean something even more.
Writer of Harley Quinn, Starfire, The Big Con Job, All-Star Western
To have realistic expectations about the field and understand that you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. Take the job offered and do the best work you can at all times.
Artist of Genesis, Creepy, Shadows (In The Dark)
Think for yourself, in all things, be it about what you want to do, how you want your art to be, about what you need to do within a collaboration, or your business. Creator owned books are about much more than just drawing the art and it may be you will need to do much more than you think, for example, marketing the book, or chasing things you might need. Don’t be afraid to take advice (do take advice from people who are professional), but at the end of the day, don’t leave your thinking, or control of the process you are part of, to someone else. To quote someone who advised me, “if the person you are dealing with can’t give you a straight answer, then run for the hills”. This is important. Be professional, no matter what you see, hear, or how you are treated, but if someone is not OK, know it, have a means to handle it, and stay safe. Or, if an opportunity presents itself and it comes to you to take it, be ready, see it, do the work.
Writer of Doctor Who, Captain Britain MI:13, Action Comics, Saucer Country
Seek out harsh criticism of your work and change because of it.
Writer/artist of Sweet Tooth, All-New Hawkeye, Bloodshot Reborn, Underwater Welder, Trillium
Be prepared to make a lot of bad comics before you make good ones. Give yourself time to experiment and make mistakes. It’s the only way to learn and the only way to find your real voice. Nothing happens overnight. Everyone starts somewhere.
You need to be your own worst critic, be very aware of your mistakes and weaknesses, but don;t let them cripple you, learn from them.
If you are not completely passionate about the comics medium, if it’s not the thing you want to be doing every minute of every day, quit now. If you are looking to write comics as a springboard to get into film and television, quit now.
Draw and write comics ALL THE TIME. Never stop.
Writer of Journey Into Mystery, Russian Olive to Red King, Moving Pictures
Stop looking and start doing. It’s basically the same thing I say about writing. Thinking about writing is not writing, looking at drawings is not drawing. Nobody holds a freelancer’s hand. So understand that it’s a job and always do what you say you’re going to do. And if you can’t, say so as soon as possible.
Colourist of The Sixth Gun
Persistance pays. Chances are, you will not succeed on your first attempt at breaking in, accept this as part of the break-in process. Additionally, it’s much easier to break in somewhere other than the big two. When you’re starting out, the priority should be to get your work in print, regardless of pay.
Writer of Further Travels of Wyatt Earp, Avengers Assemble, Ultimate Spider-Man Web Warriors – letterer for Marvel
Allow yourself to fail. I know that sounds like terrible advice to give to someone who’s asking how to succeed, but hear me out. When you’re afraid to fail, you hold yourself back from taking chances, and you’ll never succeed unless you do. WIll you fall flat on your face sometimes? Of course you will. We all do. But we dust ourselves off and try something different. Failure isn’t fatal.
Writer of Teen Titans GO!, True Patriot, Power Lunch
Do your research. Whether you’re looking for freelance work, trying to find a publisher for your creator-owned book, or even if you want to self-publish – check out all the great resources online for aspiring creators. Talk to people doing what you want to do. Ask questions. Then make a plan. Follow guidelines. Go in there knowing as much as you can. “Knowing is half the battle.”
Writer of The Tithe, Aphrodite IX, Think Tank, The Test. President/COO Top Cow
This depends on what they actually want to do, but I’d say the central piece would be to avail yourself of every opportunity and get in any way you can. There are tons of creators, including myself, who entered the industry in a non-creative job and segued over.
Writer/Artist of Howard the Duck, Jughead, Sex Criminals
Just make comics! “Working in comics” is relatively easy when you self-publish. And if you want to work for Marvel or DC then you have to show them you can make complete, quality books.
Writer of Swords of Sorrow: Miss Fury/Lady Rawhide
Read, read more, then keep reading. Then when you start writing, make sure you aren’t rewriting what you’ve already read. All of my work is heavily informed by my love of history. What non fiction topics do you love? Work those into your fiction wherever possible, but be mindful of it fitting into the character you are creating. Part of what makes a great character is them being a complex unique part of the story, but you won’t know how to do that without doing a lot of reading first. And be flexible, sometimes you’re going to love something that just doesn’t fit with the character so you have to be ready to scrap it for that character and reuse it elsewhere. And I totally slid in two pieces of advices. Oops.
Writer of Aquaman, Batman ’66, Convergence: Shazam, Meteor Men, Justice League United
Start making many stories, whatever your craft is, and keep them all SHORT. Like eight to ten pages for now. It will be much more achievable and get your work out wider because people will make time for short works. Also you grow as a creator so fast you don’t want a long story that changes in your ability before its over.
If I could give two pieces: Become infatuated with the art of a telling a story, and all the ways you can present your ideas. It’s the problem solving of it that should be the most interesting to you.
Writer of Goners
One Piece? Whew…that’s really limiting, but if I had to go with the ONE most important thing: Building relationships.
You. Need. To. Network.
This means: 1) Being easy to talk to. 2) Being humble. 3) Being patient. 4) Being gracious. 5) And finally, being willing to pay your dues when something comes your way.
Is it tiring? Yup. Is it necessary? Yup. Doesn’t everyone do it? Not even close.
Writer of Phonogram, The Wicked + The Divine, Young Avengers, Darth Vader
Heh. Being me I want to unpack that sentence and give the very specific advice, but that’d be anal. What does “creator” mean, exactly? The “start working in comics” may imply they’re already a creator in another medium and looking to transfer. In which case my advice would be if they’ve been working for the screen, get prepared for a pay cut.
I suspect you mean someone who is doing their own stuff and want to bring it to comics and worry about breaking in. My general advice is to not worry about breaking in. Worry about being good enough. That’s much harder than breaking in, and if you’re not good enough, why would you want to break in anyway? You’ll just be publishing mediocre to crap stuff.
Work on your craft. Do stuff and get it out there, any way you can. I’ve never pitched unsolicited in my entire career. People have approached me and asked for a pitch or an idea based on my previous work. Even Phonogram being taken to Image was based on them being aware of what Jamie and I had done previously to that.
Worry about being good. Really.
Writer/artist of Neat Stuff, Hate, Reset
“Work hard and stay true to yourself.” Simple — but not EASY — advice to follow.
Writer of Guardians of the Galaxy, Hypernaturals – Inker
If you are a writer then read and write. If you are an artist then read and draw. Nothing will make you better than doing the thing you want to do; be it writing or drawing. The more you do, the better you will get. The more you read and study your craft, the better you will become at it. If you love what you’re doing this shouldn’t be a chore, it should be a pleasure.
Writer of The Flash, Green Lantern Corps, The Leg
Just make comics. My entire career started with a 10-page ashcan that Dusty Higgins and I put together for Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer. We made it, then showed it around, and people took to it. Things just went from there. So if you can make 10 pages, you have a shot.
Writer of C.O.W.L., Nightwing, Batman Eternal
Figure out how to be both driven and patient at the same time… as antithetical as those two sound together. It’s going to take time for you to develop your craft, and even longer to get consistent gigs that pay enough for you to be able to start building a career. And, those consistent gigs are only going to come only after you’ve developed your craft. You need to be careful not to fall into the trap mindset of “if they just hired me, I could show them what I can do.” You’ve got to push yourself to improve and get better before anyone else is going to really give you a shot.
Writer of The Invisible Republic, Star Wars Legacy, Once Upon A Time: Out of the Past
Read a lot of everything. Read genres you like, genres you don’t like, things that are critically well received, things that are panned. Pay attention to how stories are conveyed, how emotion is communicated, the ways that action works best. Get on intimate terms with the medium and a lot of what seems difficult at first will become part of you through this type of (quite enjoyable) osmosis.
Writer of Resident Alien, Durham Red, Terra Obscura
If the Big Two ignore you, ignore them. In fact, ignore superheroes entirely and go do something original of your own. Comics is a medium, not a genre, so you could opt for sci-fi or horror or … pretty much anything, really. Pick something you really love, not just something you think might be commercial.
Writer of Copperhead, Secret Identities, Near Death, Generation X
My advice would be to not do it for the money. Do it because you love comics, and have stories you can’t imagine not telling. The simple truth is there isn’t much money in comics. And when you’re just starting out, there’s even less. Too often I hear new creators trying to calculate exactly how much money they’ll make on their very first project. Which is nearly impossible to do in this industry, unless you’re fortunate enough to start out at a place offering a page rate. And those are very rare. The comic book industry is like any other creative arts industry. Like being a singer or a musician or an actor. Chances are you’re going to start out working for free, or for very little money. That’s not to say you should let people take advantage of you, and not value your own work. But most small publishers, which is where you’re likely starting out, don’t offer page rates and instead offer a percentage of profits or comp copies or whatever. At that stage of your career, you’re not doing it to support your family, you’re doing it to hone your craft and build up your body of work — so you have published work to show around which you can use to GET that paying work.
Artist of Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Whiteout
Start with small, completable projects rather than big ambitious ones. Try a few 8 page stories first. Maybe some 20 pagers after that. If you’re diligent, you’re going to improve a LOT over your first few years of making comics. Get those rookie mistakes out of the way on some self-contained stories rather than shackling yourself and your next two hundred pages to your early, amateur output.
Writer/artist of The God Machine, Fraggle Rock
Don’t come into this thinking you’re going to become rich and famous right from the start. It takes several years to build up your career in comics, and a lot of the time it doesn’t pay very well. The reason you should be going into it is because you love the craft and telling stories. Everything else will come in time through hard work and perseverance.
Writer of Colder, I Am The Cat, Plants vs. Zombies
Just keep going. It’s not going to work for a while. You won’t have the connections. You won’t have honed talent. Both of these things are necessary and both of these things take time. You have to keep learning how to make comics, and you have to keep learning how to work IN comics. So keep your head down, and those late nights rolling!
Writer of Nailbiter, Birthright
This is always a tough question, as there is LOT of things I would want to tell someone like: Think smaller at the start and don’t be desperate.
BUT the biggest one is…
Be sure to stay true to yourself and your own tastes. A good saying to live by is “You should want to buy your own book.” If you’re making a comic just because you think it will sell, or because it’s filling a missing hole, but it isn’t a comic you’d buy or enjoy… you’re doing it wrong.
Every comic you make should be one that YOU would love as a fan.
Writer of Squadron Sinister, Halcyon – producer of Arrow
Start working in comics. The bad news about breaking into the industry, particularly for a writer, is that it’s difficult. (Artists can at least show their work to editors at conventions.) Unlike Hollywood, there really aren’t any agents or managers for the comic book industry that can help you break into it. The GOOD news, however, is that the barrier to entry is low. It’s much less expensive to produce a comic book than it is so produce a feature film or episode of television. If you want to start working in comics, start working in comics. If you’re an artist, find a writer — the internet is a great resource — or take a stab at writing yourself. If your’re a writer, go on to deviantart.com or cruise artists’ alley at a convention, and network to find an artist to work with. The internet has completely removed the biggest previous barrier to entry which was publishing and distribution. Now you can put your work online instantly. Comixology.com has even created an open submissions program. Long story short, the best way to get started is to just start producing comics. Then the publishers will take notice of your work.
Adam P. Knave
Writer of Amelia Cole, Artful Daggers, Never Ending
Learn the basics of every job in comics. It’s been such a help to me over the years. Know what an editor does, and how. Learn about inking and penciling in detail, too. I can’t draw but I can discuss technique and history with collaborators and it helps to speak the same language. Study coloring so you know what choices you might have, and again so you can speak the language and understand the craft. Lettering is something too many people seem to ignore, and they shouldn’t. The better you can talk to letterers, to know what to ask for and what is possible the better you are. What space is needed and how the art of lettering works. Same with writing. I say this as a writer, but you study your own craft too, of course. Knowing how every inch of a comic is made will let you craft your stories for the medium, collaborate better, communicate better and find new things to do within the medium you might not see otherwise.
Artist of The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw, I Am The Cat
The most important thing for young creators to know is that good comics take investment. This is true of projects that one has ownership over and work for hire. If you aren’t absolutely invested in the quality, promotion and integrity of the work you are engaged in, it will be an albatross on some level. Creator-owned takes extra investment but if you can succeed in that area, you can experience a great deal of unambiguous satisfaction in your achievement and potential respect from peers. Invest in yourself by picking and crafting opportunities that appeal to the best parts of your heart and mind. It’s not always easy to make that happen but it’s the best place to start from as an overall goal.
Writer of The Red Ten, Epic, Tears of the Dragon – publisher of ComixTribe
Here’s a simple formula for the ingredients to create success in making comics (or pretty much any worthy endeavor)…and it even has a handy acronym: PAINTS.
Passion + Action + Integrity + Network + Talent = Success
If have Passion for what you are doing, and regularly take Action on it, and have Integrity in your dealings with others as you build a Network of associations in the industry, while always continuing to develop your Talent… the only variable in your inevitable Success is time.
If you’re not where you want to be right now in your career… then one of those ingredients is missing.
And if you have them all it’s it’s only a matter of time. Until then, keep at it and enjoy the ride!
Writer of Drifter, Men of War, Viking, The Cross Bronx
Make sure you have something to say. You might not, and it’s completely ok not to. Comics, more than almost any field, has a huge percentage of readers who just think they’re supposed to one day move from that to making comics. It’s ok just to read them. Reading them’s the best part.
Don’t make comics because you think you’re supposed to. Make them when you know you have no choice.
Writer of M3, Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade/Kato
Only one piece of advice? I’d say that making comics takes infinitely more time than reading them. That said, be sure that this is what you want to do as a career. If you like comics and want to do comics as a hobby on the side, go for it. But if you want to make comics your career, you have to want it more than air. You have to think about comics and work on comics every second of the day to make it. If you want comics to be your life, you have to make them your life.
Alex de Campi
Writer of Grindhouse: Doors Open After Midnight, Valentine
Don’t wait for approval. Make the comic by any means necessary — having something in print gets you more gigs, and gets your future pitches accepted. Don’t overreach: an amazing 8-page story is far better than a mediocre 22 page one, or worse, a 120-page one that you never finish. And don’t give up the day job. And: PAY YOUR ARTIST. But not until the work is finished.
Writer of Kick-Ass, Civil War, Chrononauts, MPH
Accept that you’ll work for free at first. It’s the only way to be seen and it’s rare in any profession to be paid to learn. This means you need to find a collaborator and make a comic for people to read and see how good you are. Back in ye olde days this meant self-publishing in the hope that an indie house might pick you up, but today it’s much less expensive and you don’t have the distribution nightmare that comes with that. I’d recommend doing a great 22 page comic and putting it up online for free. Something self-contained so publishers and editors can see that you’re disciplined if you’re thinking of using this as a means to get other work.
Artist of Bandette
Look for influences in sources you’re not yet familiar with. If you grew up reading American superhero comics, make an effort to read European comics. If You grew up reading manga, checkout American comic strips from the early to mid 20th century. If you like something, ask yourself why it works. If you don’t like it, ask yourself why it failed, and what you would have done to fix it. Don’t settle for what you already know, because the more varied your influences, the richer your work will be.
Writer of The Spider, Black Panther: Man Without Fear, Sherlock Holmes
Network! Go to as many cons as you can, and get to know decision-makers in the business. It’s important to establish a body of respectable work, of course, but even with that you need to have something to make you stand out to people who work in an industry driven by perpetual deadlines and a ceaseless series of crises.
Writer/artist of Tally Marks, A Boy & A Girl, Over The Surface
Focus on finishing SHORT stories (20 pages or even less) that have beginnings, middles, and ends. We’ve all got epic stories to tell, but short stories are easier for a prospective editor to read and assess. They also make great minicomics that you can print yourself and bring to conventions to hand out or sell! You’ll change and level up rapidly at the beginning of your career, so do yourself a favor and allow yourself to start fresh frequently by sticking to short projects!
Writer/artist of Superman, Booster Gold, New 52: Futures End
I have always felt that it’s critical to look beyond comics and prepare yourself for the wider world. You can still target comics, but you’re creating options and also becoming more well rounded, all at the same time. If you want to be a comic writer, you have to want to write– period. Might be books, might be journalism, might be screenwriting.
If it’s a question of being a comic artist, look beyond that as well. Design, illustration, animation… all those things can be used in comics. Makes you much more flexible and well rounded.
Writer/artist of Rust
“Don’t expect to make a living” Ugh. It’s depressing but it’s true. The possibility of making a living writing or drawing comics is so slim, and when you do finally start to make money, it definitely isn’t a living. I know so many people in comics and they all have day jobs. The ones that work full time, work incredibly hard, long long, hours, and get paid very very little. We’re all making comics because we’re passionate about it, not because we’re planning on getting rich. So make a side thing. Make it something you pursue along side your career, but do not expect to be able to support a family, buy a house, have a retirement plan. However, I would also say, never work for free.
Writer of Roche Limit, Hoax Hunters, The Burning Fields
I’d say do your own thing, tell your story, making your comic. Don’t wait around for someone to tell you what you can and can’t do, and how you can do it. Make your own rules.
Writer of Princeless, My Little Pony
It would be to make comics. There is no business card half as impressive to an editor than a finished comic book. Find something you’re really passionate about and start making comics. If you have to put them up digitally or print them yourself, you are still miles ahead of a person who wants to write comics but hasn’t created a comic.
Writer/artist of Wuvable Oaf
Say goodbye to your friends. Warn your significant other they’re about to become a comics widow. In all seriousness, be prepared to eat, sleep and breathe your comic…then do it all again times ten. Be passionate, make smart decisions, experiment…and damn it, have fun! Because as we all know, the financial rewards probably won’t be there right away.
Writer of Green Lantern, Witchblade, Artifacts, Magdalena
Boy, one piece of advice doesn’t even begin to cover everything you need to know. But if I have to winnow it all down to one thing, it would be that doing work-for-hire comics is a job, doing creator-owned comics can be a career. Working on someone else characters can be a good way to make a living, but ultimately you’re replaceable. The character remain, but someone else comes along to do your job. When you create something of your own, it’s yours, always. You do whatever you want with it, as long as you want, and you reap whatever rewards appear.
Writer of Southern Dog, Art Monster, After Houdini
That’s a bit of a loaded question. To start working in comics doesn’t require one thing, so it’s tricky to provide one piece of advice. Honestly, the best place to start is to first determine at what capacity you hope to “work” within comics. Does this mean making a living? Getting published or self-publishing? Work for the Big 2 or focus on creator-owned projects? There’s many avenues to go down, so the sooner you figure out which direction you’d like to pursue, the easier it’ll be to work towards that goal.
Let’s say you want to focus on getting published within creator-owned comics. The best thing you can do as a creator is to create—A LOT. The more you churn out, the better you’ll become at your craft. The better you become at your craft, the more attention you’ll attract from fellow creators. The more creators you get to know in the industry, the easier it’ll be to produce quality work with quality collaborators that will hopefully grab the attention of editors eventually. It’s called a process for a reason.
Believe in your stories, have confidence in your characters, but don’t depend on any of them. When it comes to publishing, you’ll get 100 “no’s” before you get a “yes”, so it’s vital that you continue producing new work no matter what. Ask any established creator. None of them would label themselves an overnight success or say it was easy to get where they’re currently at. The comics industry will never love you and rejection is inevitable. Embracing this harsh truth will allow you to develop a thick skin that you’ll need to keep going when all others have turned back.
Represent yourself in a professional manner: From your portfolio to your private emails, representing yourself well helps foster trust. This includes meeting deadlines, turning in the best quality work with your resources, using your manners, not disparaging yourself in public, and not disappearing or having meltdowns when things don’t go your way.
CREATE! Then talk to other creators. Everyone has a different story of how they broke into the industry (because there’s no one way of getting in), but if you show you are passionate, kind, hard-working, willing to take notes, and are reliable then you will eventually break in.
Writer/artist of Titan
Start simple, but always make your new projects more challenging. Do a one page comic, then 2, then 4, then 10. Draw in black and white, then maybe add a spot color before you tackle full color. You won’t be overwhelmed to start with, and will learn as you go.
Writer/artist of The Wrenchies, It Will All Hurt
Try to find joy in making the comic, not get bogged down by over thinking or life b.s. try to make stuff you would want to read.
Writer of Sabretooth Swordsman
Make the comics first! Don’t wait for permission or approval or anything else. Make comics for yourself that you’re excited about and are fully finished works, they don’t have to be long. Worrying about media and marketing and publishing can become an overwhelming distraction from the art itself, the main reason we’re here.
Hmm, thinking in terms of work habits, the first thing that comes to mind is: I (and I think a lot of people) can tend to spend a lot of time whittling away at a page idea(layout, inking approach, etc), avoiding doing any “final drawing” until you’ve got an exact idea of what I want to do. I’ve found that getting started as soon as I can on a final page, even one that fails and requires starting over, always always takes less time and produces better results. There’s no better way to it right than to do it wrong first.
Writer/artist of Baggywrinkles, Grand Adventure
Make work *you* are excited about, then make it stupidly easy for people to find that work. Connect with other creators—both up-and-coming and established. Get on every social media platform. Share snapshots from your process every day. You’re a human being making a thing that matters to you, and if you can share that content and that experience in a way that communicates your enthusiasm you’ll go a long way.
Artist of Jem And The Holograms, Glory, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Can I pick two? One is start making comics now, self-publishing, webcomics, whatever, just do it now. You don’t need to wait. The second thing is be friendly! I’ve pretty much built my career on making friends with people.
Writer of D4VE, Tiger Lawyer, Sons of Anarchy, Letterer
If I had to give just one piece of advice, it would be write for the craft and for the story, not for the pitch. Far too often we get hung up on hunting the pitch, and the networking/hustling that goes with it—but that early on in your career it’s unlikely you’re going to land that pitch (it’s hard enough when you’re “established” and have work already under your belt). You should want to be a better writer first and foremost. You should want to write for the story, not just for a green light. From my understanding and experience, editors want to see great work, and they want to see that you can get it done. So start with self-publishing, don’t get too worried about The Pitch, and focus on writing the best damn comic you can, then make the next one even better.
Writer/artist of Hack/Slash, Revival, Grayson, Batman Eternal
I’ve had the beginning of a rough week, so I’m gonna be a little more cynical than usual…but, I’d say : Be realistic and honest with yourself. Do you really understand how this job works? Are you going to be able to give up a lot of things? Are you going to be able to deal with the reality over the fantasy? Are you willing to be dirt poor for a number of years in pursuit of this career?
Writer/artist of Secret Life of D.B. Cooper, Hellbreak, Big Trouble In Little China
Find a significant other that will support you because you are clearly not responsible.
Writer/artist of Digestate, publisher of Birdcage Bottom Books
Don’t give up. It’s cliché, but also true. For most of us, it takes a lot of time to gain traction. You’ve got to keep drawing, keep going to conventions, keep putting out comics. Also, don’t go in expecting to make money. I always recommend for cartoonists starting out to make sure they have a low priced comic ($2 or $3) that they are willing to give away or trade. If someone has never heard of you, it’s unlikely that they’ll be willing to shell out a significant amount of money to try out your comic. Something that’s always made a huge difference to me is having a few high-dollar items for sale as well ($20 or so). T-shirts or prints, for instance. That way, if you sell a few of those you don’t have to sweat making back the money you paid for a con table through your $3 comics.
Writer of Vampirella
Be passionate about your work, but be careful about wearing your heart on your sleeve. It is a tough business, and you are going to need a thick skin to survive it.
Writer of HIT, Managing Editor at BOOM! Studios
Be persistent as all hell. Whether it’s making time to work on your craft every day, going to conventions, keeping up with the comics industry and educating yourself, communicating with editors or others in the industry, or posting work and samples online — be persistent. There are a lot of people out there trying to do the same thing you are but you can gain an edge by being the one that works harder than everyone else.
Writer/artist of Trekker
Keep working, keep drawing. I don’t think there’s a formula or set route to get into the business. You have to keep at it, keep looking to improve your art and get it in front of people who can use your talents. For most of us, there is a good amount of knocking on the doors before things really start to happen.
Artist of Drifter, Dancer
It would probably be, “Don’t do it!” All jokes aside, it is a hard job drawing comics everyday, the way to get into comics is by doing hard work and keep drawing (or writing, but I am sure thats a bit different). Just create, if no one pays you for it, keep doing it anyways. Until your fingers bleed. Then when/if you do get to do it professionally repeat forever.
Writer of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Strange Nation, Orc Girl
I’d say to focus a lot more on honing your craft and on making great comics, than on breaking in. Let your career choices be guided by what’s best for your comics, not what’s going to bring you the highest visibility. Also worth noting: it’s possible that this is terrible advice.