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:
What tips would you give a newcomer about the business side of the industry?
Kelly Sue DeConnick
Writer of Bitch Planet, Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel
I don’t know that I have one piece of advice that’s particularly unique or worth more than any other.
Mind your manners, mind your ethics. Go ahead and be the person you want to be. Right now. Mind your side of the street. This is the best business advice I can give and it’s not really all that business-y.
Get a lawyer.
When you’re gonna miss a deadline, don’t hide, don’t make excuses—give explanations where appropriate, but check in with your editor with an honest assessment of when you think you’ll have your work in.
Make your work ABOUT something. Plot without substance makes for a short career.
View yourself as a worker among workers, no matter how successful you become don’t fall prey to the idea that you’re special. UNIQUE, yes. IMPORTANT, sure. But just as unique and important as everybody else.
Artist of The Fix, Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Whiteout
A: Hire a lawyer to explain exactly what is in the contract. Contracts generally are not perfect when you first get them. Negotiation is normal.
B: If a publishing deal isn’t significantly better than working for free, self-publish on the web.
C: Read Katie Lane’s advice for freelancers at http://www.workmadeforhire.net/blog
D: Read Colleen Doran’s advice at http://www.adistantsoil.com/tag/publishing/
Colourist of Semiautomagic, Escape From New York
Absolutely! Some really important things may seem obvious, but they are still extremely important.
- Answer your emails in a timely manner. If you’re too busy, reply with “Hi I’ve seen you’re email and will get back to you have I have more time, around (this date)” then mark the email as unread. This may seem small, but really opportunities can disappear if you lose emails.
- Find three mentors. They will help guide you and are wonderful to turn to during interviews, negotiations or complicated interpersonal situations.
- The easiest way to meet deadlines is track your time. When you know how long something takes you can estimate how much you can do.
- A business is not hurt by saying no. Businesses don’t have feelings. You’re not going to make a business feel guilty when you ask for more money.
Writer/artist of Lady Killer, Helheim, Mockingbird
The only advice I can really give that is pretty full proof, is hard work. You can’t get any where without it.
Writer of HIT, Managing Editor at BOOM! Studios
For starters, ask yourself: Do you love comics? And then ask yourself: Is this something I truly want to do? If you can’t answer those two basic questions with resounding yes’s, without hesitation, save yourself and go do something else until you can. This business is not easy — no matter what you do. It’s demanding, consuming, and incredibly difficult to be successful in. But it’s also rewarding as hell. IF you can stomach it. Prepare yourself to hear “no” more than you hear the other thing. Be ready to sacrifice time, energy, money, brain space, relationships, and anything else that means a lot to you. Comics will trump all of those at some point so if that intimidates you, get out while you’re ahead.
Artist of Jem And The Holograms, Glory, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Be friendly and make lots of friends. You never know who could help you or hire you. I’m not such a great businesswoman, I feel like I’m usually pretty unprofessional, so I probably shouldn’t be giving out too much advice!
Writer/artist of Multiple Warheads, King City, Prophet, Island
I think it’s important to think about longevity of the work you do. When I was trying to get paying work I would often do pages of other people’s characters but the stuff I did of my own, as short stories with characters that I own I can still keep reprinting the rest of my life.
Also I think it’s important to remember that quality of work and being able to make money off of it are not the same thing.
Alex de Campi
Writer of No Mercy, Grindhouse: Doors Open After Midnight, Valentine
There’s a great tendency to take shitty deals just to be in the industry. That, and “freelancer’s disease” (aka oh god if I say no to this project they’ll never contact me again / nobody will ever work with me again). You don’t need to. Sure, the first two deals you’re offered in comics *will* be terrible (even with well-known publishing names) and most of us grit our teeth, sign ’em, then once our names are on a published book we smarten up and deal harder from there. Don’t take shit deals once you’re established. Read every damn word of your contract. Don’t be afraid to negotiate — they expect it, and think more of you for doing so. Don’t be afraid to say no. Artists: make damn sure that the equation of (work for hire page rate) / (hours it takes to finish a page) > McDonalds wage. In other words, you being paid $100 a page? You spend five hours on that page, no more. If you’re gonna slave sub minimum wage on comics, do it on something you OWN.
Writer of Black Science, Tokyo Ghost, Deadly Class, Uncanny X-Force
Don’t wait for anybody to come find you. Don’t wait for anybody to give you a green light. Just make the thing. Make it no matter how hard it is or how many things stand in your way. Learn how to write, draw, ink, print, color, letter, animate, storyboard–study it all. Sit down to the desk and make a comic book or cartoon or whatever. When that one is done make another one. Ignore awards. Ignore gossip. Ignore “heat.” Ignore the general bullshit online. Thats just the people who don’t have what it takes to sit down and do the work. They won’t help you work harder or learn your craft. Sit down and make comic books. Do your shit. That’s what you’re in this for. The rest of it’s a distraction. Do that for a dozen years and you’ll finally make something worth reading. Presto!
Writer of The Invisible Republic, Star Wars Legacy, Once Upon A Time: Out of the Past
Comics is a very small town, and people do talk. This isn’t necessarily bad. If you are honest and dependable, word will get around fast. But that also means that people notice if you don’t act in a professional manner. There can be a steep learning curve in this business, but good manners will take you a long ways.
Artist of Paper Girls, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow/Black Canary
The freedom of freelancing (waking up at noon, working in your pajamas) comes with the responsibility of running your own company. A lot of people underestimate how important it is to run a tight ship. The best thing I ever did was hire an accountant to do my taxes. By doing so, my finances became much more organized and I could also allow for pesky things like quarterly tax payments. No one wants to deal with that stuff, but getting caught in a spiral of tax debt will kill any career.
Writer of Thunderbolts, Skullkickers, Wayward, Figment
The more you learn about the other departments beyond creative, the easier it will be for you to work with them and anticipate their needs. Some of the most valuable people in any industry are the ones who can support and enhance the people around them. Talk to people behind the scenes and get a feel for editing, printing, marketing, and distribution. Appreciate that the people who have their name on the front cover are not the only ones who make comics happen. If you ever decide to self finance a creator-owned project you’ll be thankful you have some understanding of the entire production pipeline.
Colourist of Bitch Planet, DC Bombshells, Black Hood
Be prepared to learn how to manage your finances and time. I keep an ical for daily tasks; a physical calendar to keep track of comps, payments, and how many books I’m working on monthly (and all together); as well as an excel file for finances and a word file for keeping track of flatter payments (what they’ve been paid and specifically what pages they’ve flatted).
Writer of Aquaman, Titans, Guardians Of The Galaxy
Don’t commit to something if you’re not going to be able to deliver what you promise (especially in terms of deadlines). Learn that editorial feedback and notes are part of making the book better, not a personal attack on you (and sometimes an editor is going to ask for changes because of some greater issue beyond your particular title that you have no awareness of – and that may include changing something that the editor knows as well as you do is perfectly good ‘as it is’), but also have the confidence to ask for clarification over any changes that don’t make sense to you (it may be an editor has missed your intention, and what ACTUALLY needs to be changed is some earlier set-up, not the section in question).
Writer of Doctor Who, Captain Britain MI:13, Action Comics, This Damned Band
Get to know how artists, colourists and letterers work. Your scripts will be better for understanding their processes.
Writer/artist of Mind MGMT, Dept. H, Ninjak, Revolver
Do it all yourself. Learn how to do every aspect of your job and don’t rely on anyone for anything. At least at the beginning. Then there’s no excuses. You live or die on your own work. If you’re an artist, learn how to write. If you’re a writer – practice your drawing. At least learn how to do thumbnails and page layouts — which don’t require realistic drawing skills – but they do require an understanding of storytelling, which is the most important and most neglected part of comics.
Artist of The Futurists, Captain America
One of the biggest attraction of comics for me is the thrill of putting your hard work into an project that will compete on the shelf with so many other talented creators. It’s very different from the fine art world, which can so often be more of process of navigating social scenes and politicking verses the raw, unfiltered, marketplace of ideas that exists within comics. Satiating the consumer is the job, and the customer will quickly let you know whether or not you are accomplishing that objective. That said, creators often overlook the most important customer in the chain, the retailer. I encourage artist, writers, and editors to empathize with them and their businesses, which often exist on very small margins. Working to build their trust through a consistent style and timely production can pay off big time. They will increase their orders and push your products onto their customers if they know that they can do so reliably.
Know how valuable you are to the process. Learn how quickly you can finish a page or a project and break that down so you know your hourly rate. Keep up with sales and expenses for the books that you work and know how the book’s gross is turned into net profits. That data will help you become a better negotiator. I’ve seen a lot of guys taken for a ride because they were ignorant of the raw data.
Lastly, I’m going to pass along some advice that the great Howard Chaykin gave me early on. Once you’ve made it to the big leagues, find a good accountant and have them walk you through the process of incorporating. A little foresight here can save you tens of thousands of dollars.
Writer/artist of Nightwing, Hack/Slash, Revival, Grayson, Batman Eternal
Well, I’d just say, first and foremost, remember that it’s a business. I think there’s a perspective from fans that working in comics is this gift from God, where one can express the beauty that lies in their heart via a Superman/Ambush Bug crossover. But the reality is that it’s a highly competitive and difficult business, wherein one will be forced to deal with harsh financial realities on a regular basis, and very regularly make creative compromises. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating…I’ve had to become a ‘businessperson’ first, and a ‘creator” second. You will too.
Artist of Titans, The Flash, Nightwing
You’re never as good as you think you are. Don’t stop leaning new things just because you were able to get your foot in the door! Also, ignore the comments, and prune your social media constantly for overly negative stuff. At the same time, be open to legitimate critisms. Google is great for reference, use it, especially for dinosaurs!!
Fred Van Lente
Writer of Archer & Armstrong, Conan, Incredible Hercules
I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug me and Greg Pak’s book from Random House about this subject, Make Comics Like the Pros. We do our best to give the newcomer all the tips we can think of with copious examples of in-process comics of our own creation, as well as indy comics like Pretty Deadly, Revival, The Sixth Gun, Chew, and more: http://www.amazon.com/Make-Comics-Like-Pros-Graphic/dp/0385344635
Writer of The Skeptics, Power Rangers: Pink, Barbie, Magdalena
There are a lot of places now where you can jump in and deliver a fully creator-owned, creator-controlled series. While this sounds amazing, I assure you, it is terrifying. I had people holding my hand through my first few credits, and there is still so much I don’t know about getting a book out into the world. When you’re first starting out, either get good at making your own books from top to bottom, or work with people who know how. You don’t want to be standing around clueless when you get the greenlight from someone who can’t physically help you make your book.
Artist of Genesis, Creepy, Shadows (In The Dark)
Contact a lawyer with comic book experience (e.g. Katie Lane) if you are going to do a comic with a collaborator. If you need advice, ask someone. Be aware of your worth. Help other people. Be professional and if others pressure you to be a bit more informal than you are comfortable with, be professional. Get portfolio reviews from as many people as possible, and even if you are not making comics for people like Marvel, see their editors- they are amazingly supportive and helpful and will help you grow. Don’t network with a mind to networking, just enjoy meeting people and comics and the rest will come…
Writer/artist of Superman, Booster Gold, Batman Beyond, New 52: Futures End
One of the things I’ve seen over the years is an ever increasing lack of professionalism.
If you’re given a job with a due date, get it in on time.
Make sure the job is consistent. Don’t make it one of those frequent, first five pages look great, next ten look more and more rushed, last five are devoid of detail, backgrounds and competent storytelling.
Be available. You’d be surprised how many people fall off the grid and disappear as the deadline gets closer. Except for the sketches they post at the Cons they’re doing, perhaps.
And do good work. One of the things I’m eternally frustrated by is great samples that don’t translate to the job itself. Tough to see those first ten pages come in and wonder if they’re being drawn by the same person.
Writer of Princeless, My Little Pony
Make contracts up front. Sign contracts up front. Be very clear both with people working for you and with people for whom you are working what is expected from both sides of the partnership. Everybody should go into every comic endeavor with a clear idea of what they stand to make and what can be expected of them. If you wait to make a contract until there’s a disagreement, you’re going to regret it.
Writer of Resident Alien, Durham Red, Terra Obscura
Don’t worry if it doesn’t make any sense to you, because everybody else feels the same way. Talk to other professionals and get their opinions about companies and editors and so on if you need to – most people are usually willing to answer questions and share experience. Trust your own intuition. If something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t. If someone seems like a shark to you, ask other people if they can see a fin too.
Valentine De Landro
Artist of Bitch Planet, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Adventures of Superman
Learn what you can about publishing. Learn about everyone’s role in the process of making comics. You don’t have to master every skill, but fundamental knowledge will be beneficial.
If necessary, find good representation. If not, find a mentor who can help walk you through the more complicated bits of the industry.
Writer of A-Force, Jem And The Holograms, Heart In A Box
Be professional. Social media is this wonderful place where the comics community comes together in incredible ways but that slide into unprofessionalism that can hurt you is razor thin I think and pretty easy to accidentally cross. Also, try to meet your deadlines above all else! 😉
Writer/artist of Wuvable Oaf
Get a separate bank account for your business. Remove your personal finances from the equation. It’ll make tracking the amount of money you make (or lose) at any given show or on individual projects much easier. And that will lead to smarter decision-making on your part.
Writer of Copperhead, Secret Identities, Near Death, Generation X
Get everything in writing. No matter how friendly and laid-back your employer/publisher/artist may seem… get it in writing. You have to plan for what COULD happen, not just what you think might happen. Putting stuff in writing helps all parties to see things clearly and be realistic and on the same page about what’s expected of everyone.
Writer of Atomic Robo, 8-Bit Theater
Definitely incorporate in some way. What kind of business it should be depends on your own circumstances and state laws. It might seem like a lot of annoying paperwork for little gain, but it’ll make your life easier come tax season.
Artist of Lazarus, Gotham Central, Daredevil
Our business is fairly casual, but it’s always good to be as professional as possible. Communication is key. Always keep your editor informed of your status, always let them know how the work is progressing, and always tell them immediately if you start to fall behind. And be realistic when you tell them what to expect. Don’t promise work that you can’t deliver. It’s better to say “no” and always meet your deadlines, than to say “yes” and get a reputation for not turning work in on time. The best rule of thumb is that it’s your job to not just do the best creative work you can do, but also to make the job of your editor as easy as possible.
I think, in the current climate, it’s also very important that newcomers understand the difference between creator-owned and non-creator-owned work. The Big Two, especially, seem to have gotten more and more protective of their financial interests in the characters they own, and creators need to be acutely aware of how that will affect them and their income.
Writer of Phonogram, The Wicked + The Divine, Young Avengers, Darth Vader
Get advice from people who’ve been there, and trust enough to not give bullshit answers. If you’ve come up via the small press or fan culture, you’ll probably have a pros you have a relationship with enough to ask. Some people/companies are very bad for you. Sometimes it’s worth working with them, but it always helps to know the deal going in.
Or to put it in less cheery language: always know how exactly how you’re being exploited.
Writer of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Halcyon – producer of Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow
Well, given that I’m pretty lousy at the business side of the industry — I don’t take any gigs for the money, I don’t attend many conventions, and my self-promotion is limited to Twitter (which I’m probably not using to its full effect) — I’m not sure I’m fit to offer any tips. That said, the one piece of advice I’ll offer — and I do so reluctantly as it’s more of an axiom than a piece of advice — is BE PROFESSIONAL. Meet your deadlines. Be open and receptive to notes. When you disagree with a note, do so in a mature, constructive manner. Be accessible — return phone calls and emails in a timely manner. (I’m still working on that one myself.) Basically, don’t be a schmuck.
Writer of Transformers, Toil & Trouble
Clear communication is key. When is your deadline? What did that note mean? Did something come up and you can’t turn something in when you said you would? All of these situations require that you contact your editor right away. The worst thing anyone can do in comics is hide from email or stop talking to their team. I know it’s tempting, but its every editor’s worst nightmare. So if something’s an issue, or a question mark, SPEAK UP! No one can help you if they don’t know what’s going on.
Writer of Green Lanterns, Star-Lord, Weirdworld
A lot of “new wave talent” are propped up by the industry as success stories, while at the same time the industry is barely paying them enough to scrape by. Creators are discouraged from talking about what they make or how it impacts their lives, even in private. So for aspiring creators, careers in comics can sometimes come off like a hall of mirrors.
Artist of Roche Limit, Thumbprint, X-Files: Year Zero
There is a business side of comics, just like any non art business, so be professional and pleasant. As you get to know your collaborators and editors (who are collaborators to me), you can get more casual,.
Every comic or art book or pen you buy from now on is a business expense. It’s keeping up with your industry. It’s reference. It’s work equipment. So keep your receipts.
Writer of Further Travels of Wyatt Earp, Avengers Assemble, Ultimate Spider-Man Web Warriors – letterer for Marvel
Rejection is a part of the business. Rejection from publishers, from editors, from FANS, etc. There will always be people who will say “no” to you. It is never fun, but if you take it well, they will remember that and maybe give you another shot later on. It’s something that EVERY writer and artist has to deal with. It’s important to remember that “no” is never a “never,” it’s just a “not right now.” Thank them for their time and try again later.
Writer of Vampirella, Sunglasses After Dark
If you can afford a CPA to handle your taxes, do so. Don’t use a tax preparation service, whatever you do.
Writer of Green Lantern, The Flash, X-O Manowar, The Homeland Directive, The Surrogates
Writing is an art form, but it’s also a business. Be professional. Hit your deadlines. Budget your time and money, so you know you’re being as productive as you can be. Also, I didn’t become a full-time writer until I had a full year’s worth of living expenses in savings. That has allowed me to take on only the jobs I want, rather than being forced to take on a project just to pay the bills.
Writer/artist of Baggywrinkles, Grand Adventure
Get an accountant. Learn from them. Learn everything you can about deducting expenses. Talk to other professionals (especially ones who are making a semi-decent living) about how they manage their finances. Practice saying large sums of money in front of the mirror. Accept that you—as a freelancer, as a creator, as a professional—are running a business. Treat it as such. If you’re self-publishing, know how much it costs you to make a single unit your product, then triple that to get the sale price. That way when you’re wholesaling books at 50% off, you’ve still got a profit margin. Start tracking your income. Look for patterns. Know your monthly nut—how much do you need to survive? Is it worth it to take a million small commissions, or hold out for lucrative illustration jobs? What works best with your habits and patterns? Be asking yourself these questions all the time. Read books. Talk to people. Keep moving.
Artist of Jem And The Holograms covers, Princeless Anthology
A commonly overlooked aspect of many creative industries is the importance of socializing, and this holds especially true in comics. Most of us have spent years with our heads down, working diligently to improve our craft, but I would argue that it is equally important to get to know your peers. Put yourself out there and participate in discussions! That being said, be genuine! People can instantly tell if you’ve got an angle—just be yourself, be nice, and make actual friends. Also, get a good accountant.
Writer of The Tomorrows, Mayday, The Fiction
Recognize that it is, in fact, a business. One of the toughest things about starting is navigating the line between art + commerce. Know your value, and don’t let people push you around and exploit you. At the same time know that everyone has to start somewhere. Again, it’s a fine line to walk.
Writer of Sons of Anarchy, Cluster, Sheltered, Comeback
If you’re doing creator-owned books, always make sure to have contracts. Same if you’re doing work-for-hire. Basically, always have contracts.
You don’t always have to take the first offer from a publisher. If you’re not comfortable working for a particular page rate, try negotiating for more. If you don’t get more, then really think about if you want to put in the time for the rate offered. What else are you getting out of it?
Something I’ve seen people do that really confounds me is they’ll take a page rate that’s half what they were after and then only put in half the effort — rationalising that the publisher is getting what they pay for. At the end of the day, your name is on that work. If you turn in crap because you feel you’re not getting paid enough, you were better off to have turned down the gig. No one knows WHY you’re doing shitty work, they just see that you’ve done shitty work and they’ll remember that when it comes time to buy your next work (if they’re a reader) or consider you for a job (if they’re a publisher/editor).
Don’t be a jerk. The industry is small and if you’re a dink, everyone will know and it will impact your ability to find work.
Hit your deadlines. If you start missing deadlines, you’ll also get a rep and will have a tough time finding work. I know so many insanely talented writers and artists who’ll never work regularly in the industry because they cannot hit a deadline to save their lives.
Writer/artist of Pop Gun War, The Wrenchies, It Will All Hurt
Try to figure out a solid business model and weekly/monthly/yearly goals.
Writer of Harley Quinn, Starfire, The Big Con Job, All-Star Western
Always have a lawyer look over ANY contract you sign and make sure when creating something you own a piece of it. It just is a different world now and owning your own I.P. is the most important part of the business. As well, check the accounting now and again with the companies you work for. And last, be aggressive with the business end of the job. Don’t let things slide because ” you really love a character” if they don’t treat you like a professional, speak up and let them know what is bothering you. Our work is all about relationships, and respect.
Writer/artist of Neat Stuff, Hate, Reset
Be flexible and openminded. Every industry’s “business model” is changing by the hour these days. Deal with it.
Ryan K. Lindsay
Writer of Negative Space, Chum, Deer Editor
Keep a spreadsheet of everything. It keeps you on track come tax time, and it keeps you on track with trends as you move forward – page rates you get, page rates you give, what it all costs to make a story/issue, and what you earn [ha, earn].
Make a slick record you can refer back to.
Then, get your hands on some contracts, if you can. They are great to read through and get a sense of them so you know what to look for when you sign your own, and what to write when you give some out with certain collaborations of your own.
Sean E. Williams
Co-founder of Comicker Digital, Writer of Fairest, Artful Daggers
First, don’t expect to get rich making comics. Seriously. If you’re doing comics for anything other than the passion of visual storytelling, you will be sorely disappointed. Second, don’t expect anyone to promote your work except for you (even if you’re at DC or Marvel).
Writer of Bandette, Colder, I Am The Cat, Plants vs. Zombies
Honestly… the most important advice in this area is that the business side DOES exist. You don’t just ignore it at your peril, you ignore it at the cost of your career. On any given day, only about half of my work time is available for actual writing. The rest of the time it’s the business side. And, there are days when I’ll work for ten hours or so, and never open a single writing file. That’s just how it goes. You learn to accept that, or you learn to step aside.
Adam P. Knave
Writer of Amelia Cole, Artful Daggers, Never Ending
Everyone is busy. Chances are you didn’t hear back on that recent email because it’s only been a short period of time. Patience is a virtue. That isn’t to say you should wait forever, of course. It’s tricky. But everyone is busy. And to that end always remember – PR Depts do care about your work but they have a ton of comics out any given week and the best person to push your book will ALWAYS be you. Get out in front and do PR even when you hate it. If you don’t push your book to the hilt – why should anyone else?
Writer of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Strange Nation, Orc Girl
Nobody owes you anything. No matter how good you may be, it’s not the editor’s job to help your career. Their job is to put out comics, on time, that will sell well and meet the approval of their publisher/licensor/readers/lord and savior/whoever else. Your job is to help them do their job. If you can’t do that — and convince them that you can do that — then it doesn’t matter how good you think you are. So you need to approach comics, from a business standpoint, as finding a way to add value for publishers and editors, and make their jobs easier, rather than finding a way to show them how great you are.
Wow, this is coming out kinda harsh, but this is what I wish someone had told my egotistical punk ass five years ago. And five months ago. And five minutes ago.
Writer/artist of Rust
Get an IP attorney and and an accountant. It may not be feasible to hire those people initially but as soon as you can afford it, it’s good to invest in those people. Don’t be afraid of saying no. Don’t be afraid to ask for more. Don’t let people take advantage of you and walk all over your eagerness to be involved in the industry. HOWEVER … Don’t be too precious with your work. You’re likely not the next Robert Kirkman or Scottie Young. It’s hard to make any money in this business, decide what your time is worth and what you’re willing accept, but don’t expect to do comics for a living. If you do you’re lucky and it likely won’t last long.
Writer of Doctor Who, Vikings, Adventure Time
Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. Agree a deadline and stick to it. If you want work then you need to be someone who can deliver what the editor wants, when they want it. That’s how you start building a good reputation.
Writer/artist of Titan
The comics industry is pretty brutal from an economic point of view: There are a ton of great creators already out there, and many (if not most) of them are struggling. I’d recommend that anyone who wants to make comics also explore other fields as well… Freelance illustration or writing, or even just a good old day job! There’s something to be said for just throwing yourself into your passion full-time, but be realistic as well.
Writer of The Red Ten, Epic, Tears of the Dragon – publisher of ComixTribe
Getting good at making comics and getting good at selling comics are two completely different skill sets… you need to invest time, money, and resources into learning how to do both. And if you don’t want to learn the business or learn to sell, you better find a symbiotic relationship with someone you trust to work on that side of things while you focus on the art.
Also, understand that every creator needs to build his or her own fans. A fan base makes you recession proof. Editors come and go. Styles come and go. But if you, the creator, have a direct relationship with a fan base you’ve cultivated over the years, that’s your security blanket.
Writer of The Sixth Gun, Sinestro, Uncanny X-Men, Harrow County
You can make comics without ever making a dime. That might be what you’re happy doing–just producing art. And that’s absolutely a fine and noble endeavor. But you might also want to make a living creating comics. If you do, then you have to remember that it is a job, and you should treat it like one. That means you have to be professional. You have to work well with others. You have to do a lot of work (such as self-promotion) that isn’t just writing or drawing or coloring a book. It’s a fun job–you bet–but it is still a job.
Writer/artist of I Hate Fairyland, Rocket Raccoon, countless Marvel variant covers
Do your homework. Find out what the current page rate ranges are. Get contracts and have a lawyer look them over. Understand how the retail and distribution side of things work. The more you know about all aspects of this business, the better you’ll be able to make the right choices that will allow you to the create the kind of comics you want to make.
Writer of D4VE, Hot Damn, Kennel Block Blues, Curb Stomp
The business side of the industry is such a broad, encompassing, line-blurring thing, especially for an industry that involves so much passion and personal investment. The business relationships we form can’t be entirely void of ourselves, personally. The opportunities that are given to creators are often a really big investment on a publisher’s behalf, and that comes with a lot of trust. Humility and gratitude, on top of genuinely being kind and respectful, are important. You do, however, need to give yourself and your craft value and worth.
A lot of the time, making these connections, networks, and business relationships are a “long game” thing. It can take years to get opportunities.
Writer of The Spider, Black Panther: Man Without Fear, Sherlock Holmes
Stay visible and stay connected with people in the business. Go to several major cons every year, and get face time with creators and editors. It may seem like a big out-of-pocket expense, but it’s a necessary one if you’re looking to keep a high profile and get new work.
Writer of Roche Limit, Hoax Hunters, The Burning Fields
I think a big component is how you conduct yourself–there’s so many avenues–social media and cons, particularly–for you to promote yourself and your brand, who you are as a creator and a person. I see too many people who simply don’t know how to behave in a professional way. You’re kind of always auditioning in one way or other, so it’s important to be your best self at all times. It’s not easy to do that all the time, but it’s necessary.
Writer/artist of The God Machine, Fraggle Rock
Biggest thing is to know your rights. Be sure that you understand your contact before signing anything. If you don’t know legalize, find someone who does. It never hurts to ask for help or even get second opinions.
When going over your contract know that you can ask for things to be taken out or put in (within reason.) For example, asking for 10x higher amount of money than what they are offering might be pushing it.
Also, don’t be pressured into thinking this is your only chance that you’ll get into the industry — if the company you’re doing negotiations with is trying to take advantage of you and is not giving you much in return, you can pass.
Note that when you are just starting you might not get that ideal contract out of the gate, but it doesn’t mean you have to be a victim either.
Mark Alan Miller
Writer of Hellraiser, Next Testament, The Steam Man
I know it sounds cliche, but honestly, just keep plugging away. Write. Submit. Create. Get your work out there. Besides, the more you write, the better you’ll get.
Writer/artist of Guarding The Globe, Green Hornet, Wonder Woman
Be flexible. Let your talent take you places you wouldn’t necessarily consider at first. Maybe you have your heart set on drawing The Avengers, but if a western or romance book drop in your lap, trust your creativity to guide you. Solve it. Maybe you want to be an animator, but an opportunity opens up for you to become an editorial cartoonist, or toy designer, or inker… whatever. Stay open minded.
But also, stick to your guns. A lot of people can draw and write, but only you can draw and write like you. Don’t modify your voice just to make yourself more palatable to the mainstream. Uniqueness is an asset.
Also, marry someone with a steady job.
Writer of Cryptocracy, The Flash, The Leg
Well, mainly, just to make sure they understand that it IS a business, and that side needs to be studied damn near as much as the creative side. Creators need to make money, so that means having a solid knowledge of how income works, from page rates to royalties. But it’s also worth studying what books are making money, taking a 10,000-foot view of the industry. It helps when you’re pitching if you can show that you know a publisher’s place in the market, and how your project fits into that while also potentially expanding the audience. And doing that means understanding how retailers (your true customers) think. Which means actually talking to retailers. Basically, assume that you know nothing, and go out and meet people in all aspects of the industry and ask them a shit load of questions.
Writer of Death Head
Have patience and be persistent. A paradox! You have this one project you’ve been dedicating your heart and soul to for years, but your editor may have a dozen projects, your publisher may have a hundred. When I was starting out, the waiting game felt excruciatingly slow until I started using it to my advantage by working on a totally new idea during those slow periods. That way, if the first idea doesn’t work out… great, here’s another! If it does, even better! It really is only a matter of time before you develop your work to a place that people will recognize it and by then, hopefully, you’ve stacked up a dozen more comics all waiting their turn.
Writer of Pawn Shop, Footprints, Captain Ultimate
Pay more attention to it than you think you should. It’s easy to say “I just want to create!” and ignore the business, but the truth is that you won’t be creating for long if you can’t manage your contracts and finances properly. Like most newbies, I made the mistake of signing contracts or doing projects that I regret because I was eager to get my name out there. Don’t. Be selective, be smart, and ask for what you want. If the terms aren’t something you’re comfortable with, move along. It’s easier than ever to put your career in your own hands, so there’s no reason to give up ownership of anything or get paid less than you’re worth.
Writer of The Tithe, Aphrodite IX, Think Tank, The Test – President/COO Top Cow
Use a lawyer to review all your contracts. Don’t be late and care about everything with your name on it. If you’re new and you farm shit in, you won’t be doing work for long.
Writer of Narcopolis: Continuum
I was painfully naive when I first was trying to get my foot in the door and upon reflecting back to that time, there’s a lot I did wrong and wish I’d known then what I know now. I could honestly write an essay about this as there’s so much to cover on such a broad topic and I’m still learning new aspects of the comic industry every day.
Some tips I would give a newcomer would be –
1) Stay current on what’s happening in the industry. One of the best ways to do this is by keeping up with comic book news sites, attending panels about the craft of making comics, and listening to comic centric podcasts. The more you know about what’s happening in comics, the better you can navigate it and find where you fit in.
2) Know the major players. Whether it be writers, artists, editors, publishers, talent scouts or otherwise, it’s always a good idea to have some basic knowledge about who those people are and what they do.
3) Learn how to sell yourself. Can’t emphasize that one enough.
4) Don’t expect to get rich from making comics. If that’s your end goal, you’re probably in the wrong industry and should re-evaluate the reasons you’ve chosen this path. It takes passion, dedication, patience, talent, as well as a little luck to carve out a career in comics and make a decent living off it. Publishers and editors can sniff out those who are not working towards the same goals when deciding who they want to work with so bear that in mind.
5) I already mentioned patience, but I’ll elaborate that even those creators that appear to be overnight successes put in a LOT of time to get to where they are – in most cases it took them years. Stick with it and stay focused. If an editor tells you you’re not quite there yet, but to keep sharpening your skills and show them more later, don’t be discouraged. Take their advice and put in the hours to get to where you need to be.
6) Know your worth. There are a lot of people in this industry who will try to take advantage of you to do free work for “exposure.” Don’t give in. Unless you’re getting paid by someone to do a job, you work for yourself and are better off spending that time trying to make opportunities for yourself happen than trying to make someone else’s dreams come true. That also goes for making the mistake of offering your services for free to a major publisher to score the gig. They’re not looking for free labor, they want to pay people for professional work. Hopefully that someone will be you, but don’t appear to undervalue your art by working for next-to-nothing.
Writer of The Fuse, The Coldest City, Umbral
Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Deals are compromises, not edicts.
Read contracts with the worst case scenario in mind. You may all be best buddies now, but imagine what that contract would allow the other parties to do if you were no longer friends. If their response is, “Don’t worry, we would never do that”, then surely they won’t object to putting it in writing?
At the same time, remember you’re dealing with human beings, and expect the people you’re dealing with to remember that too. You can be a good businessperson *and* a decent person overall. They’re not mutually exclusive.
Above all: never, ever be afraid to walk away from a bad deal.
Writer of Southern Dog, Art Monster, After Houdini
There are three traits to keep in mind. 1. Be Good. 2. Be Fast. 3. Be Nice. You must possess at least two of these if you want to break into the industry but if you can possess all three, you’ll be able to maintain a long and healthy career in comics.