This is a very honest view based on 27 years experience as a writer, artist and publisher. The point here is to try to HELP you go into the business enlightened and with open-eyes, knowing what to expect. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PUT YOU OFF! However, you should know that getting into comics is NOT easy - as too many people frequently imagine - and neither is it a glamorous 'rock-star' existence. It is hard work, as are all trades, and it should be treated as such. I see too many people despondent and badly hurt by their experience, and this can be avoided if you know what you are getting into right from the outset.
Getting into comics is something a lot of people want to know how to do, but there's a lot of questions you want to ask yourself first. There is such a vast array of genre and sub-genre, technique, approach, and so on, that it's important to be clear where you want to go with your work at the outset and you have to be REALLY honest and tough with yourself at this early stage!
If you're into the capes and tights and you want to go mainstream you're going to have to want it incredibly badly, as the competition is the most extreme I've ever known it right now. There seems to be more titles than ever, and with the digital revolution more people are capable of producing sleek, mainstream quality art - but right across the industry there's an enormous amount of competition.
One thing I'm NOT seeing at cons is break-the-mould, edgy and accomplished new types of comic art. Invariably it's by-the-numbers, very average 'superhero' fare of a fairly basic level of ability - what I would typify as three or four years off pro-quality-standard, but showing some promise, if not terribly inspired. I often wonder when we're going to see the next Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave McKean, etc. - the next great stylist. Originality is not only becoming rarer, it seems less desired - either by the industry or the fans, who seem want above all else consistency and simplicity. I think we have to fight this! I think it's important that we reach, and stretch ourselves as artists, and that we educate our readers so that they grow with us. Unless comics are prepared to push themselves in a literate and artistic sense then they are not worthy of being considered 'true' art, and instead become a craft. Push yourselves people!
You might be interested to know that very few artists or writers are "discovered", becoming over-night sensations. Marvel has a full-time talent scout now. Most UK writers will have cut their teeth in 2000ad, and that's certainly the case for many artists too even though the art in 2000ad isn't necessarily done in a US mainstream technique. If you can't get in to the industry through a break in 2000ad, or you're US based, then you have to go direct to the US editors at DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and so on. You'll most likely find one of them at a con at which point you can sign-up for a portfolio review, endure any criticism or advice they might make about your work, and get the details you need to submit work. It's not easy, and it's fraught with disappointment even as a pro of 27+ years, I've considered myself lucky if one in ten pitches gets off the ground! It's a lottery.
Another thing nobody tells you about the mainstream is that, as an artist, you'll almost certainly be drawing stuff you're NOT prepared for, and don't really have any desire to do or passion for. You won't generally get the book you're most suited too (I've been trying to get a Conan gig my whole career - a book I'm so clearly suited to it's unreal! - and after all this time I've still not drawn one officially.) Your portfolio which should be mostly pencil art, half as big again as regular comic pages on high quality paper, and not inked with ball-point pens or felt tips will be stuffed with things you LIKE drawing. Nobody practices the stuff they don't like! For example - I'm pretty good at monsters, barbarians, trees, natural landscapes, organic alien technology, and yet early on in my career I found myself struggling to draw strips packed full of things I'm not so good at - such as cars, house interiors, buildings... all things I find uninspiring and tough to work out. And it's not fun for me doing that work, even when it's on a great book like The Hulk! So be warned!
Your other alternative is the indie route, which is the route for committed auteurs doing print comics for the love of it. This is much more flexible, though you still have to find a company that fits your vision and buys into your work and you absolutely will not make any money out of it 99.9% of the time as the rates will be tiny and there will rarely be any royalties.
If you can't find a publisher, you might as well just go ahead and publish it yourself:
HERE's where it gets interesting! Madefire have created a set of tools that will allow deviants to make Motion Books and publish them right here on dA. They don't have to be as complex as the ones that have been showcased so far, but that's up to you, the creator. The tool is in the cloud, so writers and artists can talk to each other real-time as the pages are built - even if they are on opposite sides of the world. There's already a creative revolution going on here, with all of us becoming patrons of the arts, patrons of each other. With the tool going live very soon this could literally change the face of publishing with whole new mediums evolving, and incredible new ways of telling stories being pioneered by deviants. It's INCREDIBLY exciting, and I'm personally putting all my new work up here because I believe it's in this digital first world that the new myths of the 21st Century will be written.
However, if you STILL really want to go down the self-publishing print or indie route, then again you need to be very honest with yourself, and you need to know how unbelievably hard it is to get your stuff seen and sold right now. It has never been so easy to create comics and produce printable files, it has never been so cheap, and subsequently neither have there been so many people doing it.
With the advent of platforms like MySpace and reality TV, Andy Warhol's assertion that everybody will be famous for 15 minutes seems to be coming true. We're seeing everybody selling themselves everywhere often with absolutely nothing to sell BUT themselves. That's what you're up against everybody else selling something. So you have to have a good idea WHO is likely to buy it, and why, and where you're going to sell it to them. You've also got to know why you're doing it because if you honestly think it'll be a good business venture you're almost certainly in for a shock. The only way to succeed as an independent is to do it for nothing else than the love of the medium, and belief in your product.
But then again - you MIGHT get lucky!
Also, be sure you really know what it is that you have. You'll need a pretty accomplished and experienced eye casting over most work to genuinely know if it's pro-quality. There's an awful lot of self-delusion in the indie publishing world!
At cons you'll need funds for tables, hotel rooms, etc, and you'll most likely not cover your costs with sales. If you get a distribution deal, you'll be in the long shadow cast by the big companies, buried in a dark corner of a vast monthly catalogue.
If you have no marketing budget, then your only option is message boards, MySpace, indie-driven comic sites, and by getting hold of a list of internet comics news sites they're available, you just have to find them.
If you have created your own book, and your dream is to see it printed, but you have literally no funds, and nobody is willing to publish it, there are other great options, such as the afore mentioned Lulu www.lulu.com. Here you can upload your entire book having placed it into one of the templates they provide, and you can then order a printed, bound copy direct from them for the price you set for it. Print on demand is an incredible innovation, and like Amazon, they will list your book for anybody to buy, they'll even generate an isbn number and barcode, and provide editorial services if you wish. This is completely free, and they will take a small percentage of any book sold. The downside is you have no stock you can sell and show at cons, (unless you order a bunch as samples, but they will cost you the full price,) and you have to find a way to market them sight-unseen online which is bloody hard if nobody has heard of you, and not easy even when they have!
If you accept all of this, I can promise you there's nothing more rewarding than seeing it through. It's amazingly satisfying and cathartic.
The biggest issue of all concerning new publishers, indie publishers, and publishers of niche material in general, is promotion, distribution, and printing.
Securing a distributor in the first place can prove extremely difficult. Many book buyers simply won't take you seriously. Some require you to have published 10 books before they will even take a look at your material.
But lets say you get a deal with a distributor; immediately you'll be losing 62% of your revenue and that's excluding advertising and printing costs. To get seen in the catalogue will cost you an arm and a leg if it's going to compete, and there will be no concessions in the price. Big companies receive huge discounts for advertising space because they buy so much of it. You, on the other hand, will have to pay the going rate.
You will also have to pay top dollar for your printing, as unlike the big companies who get good deals for huge print runs you'll most likely be involved in one generally tiny print run.
Promotion is an endless cycle of head-scratching and frustration, and it often doesn't seem to be reflected in sales. You can win awards, receive great reviews and endorsements, even get yourself in national or even international papers and magazines, and you still won't be able to get decent orders, the trust and faith of the retailer, and the full backing of the distributor. It's the most talked about subject of any indie comic publisher, and it can break hearts and bank accounts. Be warned!
If you really want to hear it as it is, you have to network within the industry and be prepared to listen! It's a tiny business, so you really DON'T want to make enemies!!! THAT MEANS - BE CIVIL!!! Do not, on any account, force yourself into conversations, or make demands on pros. DO NOT BE RUDE OR SUGGEST YOU KNOW BETTER. A bad rep, once it gets hold, is near impossible to shake, and in such a navel-gazing industry it can be remembered for a very long time indeed. Look long and hard before asking a question, but if you do, you'll find there are a lot of people willing to give you answers and fill you in on how things work. Again, civility is the key-word!
If you think you know it all you'll be laughed out of the industry
If you can build up a good rapport online, you'll find that pros are more open to you at cons, once they've established who you are - don't hide behind online pseudonyms, they don't help you. People want to know they're talking to real people, not "Frag Gor the Battle Rat"! There's a lot of vitriol being spawned because people hiding behind their avatars feel they can say what they please - and creators feelings and emotions are seldom spared!
Having said all this, something inside me drives me to continue. I love what we do, and I love art and the written word, comics and illustration realated material in all it's forms. Few art-forms are so labour intensive - if any - but few can transport us so readily to the places we imagine. Comics have the potential to be pretty much anything, as a fusion of words and pictures, and the more people who see and understand this the better. It's important we learn to be broad-minded in the things we're interested in, both as creators and readers, so that this evolution in the art-form can take place.
We're in a time where the whole medium could really explode, but only if we let it - and that's something we're all a part of and responsible for.
NOTE: Historically, most of what I've outlined above I found out when I formed Mam Tor Publishing in 2005, and across my career in general. The first book Mam Tor produced was really a glorified convention sketchbook. These had become the thing to do for San Diego Comicon, and every artist had a pulpy black and white A5 booklet with a colour photocopy cover, that progressed to an A4 book with a card stock cover the following year. By the time I did mine, which ended up being "Sharpenings: the Art of Liam Sharp", we found it could be on glossy paper, with a colour section and cardstock cover. It had become - almost by accident - a real book. At around the time we were printing this, which was also a fallow work period for me (another reason for producing a showcase title) I met a group of highly talented artists at the Bristol Comic Expo Dave Kendall, Kev Crossley, Emma Simcock-Tooth and Emily Hare, to name a few. We had met on my old message board, but it was the first time we had come together face to face. John Bamber (old friend, and long-time art collector) and myself simultaneously and entirely separately came up with the notion of an anthology showcasing their work. When we discovered this it became obvious we should unite our efforts, and put it out under the MamTor banner, as we had my artbook. I thought it might help to get some pros involved, and started asking around to see if anybody had any personal work they'd like to see in print. Some had, but as it turns out, most creators are desperate for a chance to do something for the hell of it, and without the usual editorial constraints. Our Mam Tor anthology "Event Horizon" slowly gave birth to itself!
Very impressed by your commitment - 187 pages? Wow! That's a big step, and shows you can be dedicated.
Work hard, keep your eyes open. it's a shit-fight, honestly. Very tough to sustain a life as an artist for anybody, and that's the harsh truth. That said, if you keep fighting, keep learning, be open, be bold, be polite, and deliver on time, it can be the most rewarding of lives too. There's no quick fix, no easy answer, no clever techniques. There's no right or wrong, and sometimes the best people go unseen. You simply have to keep doing it, and strive for that lucky break - and luck WILL play a part, along with the sweat and tears. Good luck! And think about publishing on dA too. Look at people like Yuumei who has become very successful right out of this very space...
The one thing I don't doubt about myself is my ability to work hard ^-^ so hopefully, it will work out ok
Another thing that has drastically changed is printing and I was amazed to find what was now coming out of the small press scene at Bristol Expo this year. Digital print means you can produce your own book in small or large print runs very economically. No films or plates or expensive colour proofs. I was quite blown away by this change and at the quality of production. Everyone seemed to say the same thing though - distribution. This is a major hiccup still, seems to have a stranglehold on success, doesnt matter if you make a beautiful book if no one can buy it in the shops and it has no promotion. So the small press travel from con to con promoting and selling their books to a specialist crowd. I sound negative I know but I really am impressed with the small press scene, what they make and how they sell it, some really impressive talent and motivation. Im very grateful for the encouragement Ive had from them this year too. Perhaps Im just unrealistic, years of reading fantasy? I shall plod on with it anyway, Im drawing again now after avoiding it for a long time and I enjoy it (torture at times too) but it has its own reward. David LLoyd said to me a while back " why bother with print?" and maybe this is something I should consider. Im still restarting my engine and banging it back into shape, the small press seems to be a great place to do that and since I started networking with them a few months ago Ive had around 4000 views on my flickr scribbles so theres movement. Would be nice to earn some cash too along the way, time will tell. Thanks again and best of luck with Madefire, its great stuff. Look forward to the deviant app - rich
Even when an individual has managed to break into the industry, they may find themselves working on a relatively obscure book, hoping to eventually graduate to a more high-profile title. Of course, even in instances where that dream is realized, it's no assurance of longevity or security. An artist may find themselves removed from a particular book due to circumstances completely outside of their control. They may find themselves working on special projects that never see the light of day or paired with a writer who's sensibilities don't mesh with their own. I have a friend who started with the major publishers who is now doing work for Archie Comics-- and glad to get the work. So even in the best cases, breaking into comics is no assurance of longterm success or prestige. But I find that the term "Breaking into Comics" has become a bit of a misnomer. Ther really are no barriers in creating, publishing and monetizing your comics idea. The only barriers are in working for a few publishers with shrinking, cynical audiences...
The traditional system of Publisher, Distributor, Retailer is an antiquated idea.
The modern method is to simply produce your idea, put it on the web with consistency and build your audience. The relationship the creator has with their reader is direct and unfiltered; an individual can make a humble living with a dedicated audience of a few thousand. So the opportunity to reach new comics consumers has never been greater. I've seen web comics raise thousands of dollars on Kickstarter for print runs of books that are readily available for free online. These are books that would probably never be published by traditional comics publishers due to their lack of refinement or editorial uncertainty about where the audience lies. Books with styles that look like a mash-up of eastern and western cartoon techniques done completely in digital form or colored pencils and the material resembles nothing Marvel, DC, Dark Horse etc. would entertain publishing. The stories are... curiosities by mainstream standards and markedly unpolished in their execution; and they are succeeding.
Many of these new digital age comics creators are people who could hardly meet the standards for professional quality work most traditional comic book editors would hold them to at a typical portfolio review. Quite simply, the editor or artist evaluating the work is using the standard determined by the quality of what other artists at the company are producing. While it's a reasonable measure, as the work must compete with what is currently being produced and offered to a very particular market; the ever-shrinking group of middle-aged men who still visit comics shops. However, the audience for the work of this new age of digital creators consists primarily of people who would rarely, if ever, entertain the idea of visiting a comics shop.
Another reason to forego the traditional route is that the large mainstream companies will eventually come calling when they see that someone has managed to cultivate a significant audience for their work. This is due to a reality that is very rarely discussed in the industry, which is the ability to prove one has an audience for their work is more important than talent in the eyes of a publisher primarily because talent is no assurance of sales where an invested audience is. It is both a cynical and pragmatic reality of the industry.
Never a truer sentence wrote.
Really well put. Agree 100%. You're evaluation at the end is absolutely spot on. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I hope many of the people that visit this journal read this post too. Very pertinent.
I gotta ask, what's your opinion on webcomics and crowdfunding?
Also, what do you think of sites like IndyPlanet.com?
Sounds pretty tough :/ but then I would be disappointed if it wasn't. Thanks for making this! Lots of useful advice, put simply and bluntly, just the way I like it :3
As I was reading this I became aware that, whilst I would encourage myself with various things like potential publishers, methods, comparing to already published works, etc, it's easy to forget that there are others, both less and more capable than I, who are striving for the same thing. And ultimately, even the best-laid plans can be broken under today's standards.
It's relatively hard enough just to get people to favourite, comment and watch on Deviantart. Occasionally, one can get lucky breaks, but even so it's not a simple thing. If it's like this on an art-sharing website, then the outside world is inevitably going to be a lot harder. I've done a fair amount of research into this field, and whilst I certainly don't consider myself knowledgeable in the slightest, I fancy that I might have a almost firm grasp of the basics, and even that small amount of know-how is enough to daunt a lot of people who wonder why I don't already make comics, and also fool me into thinking I have a decent shot. I fantasise a lot about the end result without thinking of how long it will take to get there or how hard it will be, and that I won't necessarily like doing everything I do.
To top it off, i'm not up to date on technology. I'm still making sketches with pencils and cheap byros on standard printing paper. I have a tablet, but haven't used it yet. I'm not particularly well-versed on software like photoshop either. I'm still a long way from being able to publish something i'm proud of, and actually publishing it is a whole 'nother story entirely, as you mentioned in this post.
What i'd really like if I were given the chance would be a teacher of sorts. I might not be great, but i'm above-average enough in skill to intrigue the curious classmate. So far my biggest achievement in drawing was to single-handedly hand-sketch 120 people in my Sixth-Form year as a Leaver's present, all of them in better quality than i'd ever done before. But i'm still a self-taught "guy-who-draws" with a passion for writing as well, and I've had absolutely nothing in the way of critique or advice. And even then, that might be asking too much.
Regardless, i'm extremely glad that you wrote this and I certainly hope to meet you one day, either as a fan or colleague C:
On a side note, have you heard of Bakuman? It's a manga from the authors of Death Note about a writer and artist who try to make it in the Manga industry. I'm not sure, but you might like it. Also, I agree with your point on pseudonyms. My name is Charles, or Charlie, depending on your own preference. I got the name Chaz in my old Math class and it kinda stuck, and the Fullmetal part comes from an anime called Fullmetal Alchemist: the first one of it's kind that I saw and also what sparked my passion for comics and anime in the first place :3
Now go and learn that software!!!!!!
All my best wishes.
Appreciated! Thank you!