How to Get a Job in the Comic Book Industry
‘Just Start Doing It!’
I frequently do talent searches, looking for artists and writers on Craigslist and Kijiji. I’ll usually get hundreds of responses from people in cities all over the world and I’ve found that there are so many people who I have to filter out with many making the same mistakes. In this article, I will be discussing how to get a job in the comic book industry.
Prior to writing my initial article for this website (10 Do’s and Don’ts When Submitting to Comic Book Publishers), I was unsure if anyone else in the comic book industry would agree with me. However, the response I got to my previous article was amazing and it seemed like a lot of other publishers and even artists feel the same way as I do.
After all, I’ve only been making comic books for a couple of years now and it’s been an uphill battle every step of the way and there are many others who are much further on in their career than I am. However, I have learned a lot and those who are just starting out in the industry can benefit from my experience:
Some comic book creators refuse to pay artists as they claim that they will get “free exposure”, a cut of the profits or some other excuse. It’s absolute bullshit and you have to make sacrifices to make your dream become a reality. There’s no other way.
Roughly two years ago, Adam Storoschuk and I decided to start making comics. We’d been talking about it for years. Misfits and Stargirl were created seven or eight years before they actually went into production. I originally wanted to do them as an animated series, but when that didn’t work out, I decided to just grab the bull by the horns and make them both as a comic book.
It was a difficult journey as I had no idea how to make a comic book. We were completely broke at the time, but we jumped in head-first and decided to learn as we went. One of my Facebook friends, Chris Johnson, was into making comics and I asked him if he knew any artists that we could hire to draw Misfits. He put me in touch with Luca Cicchitti, an artist from Italy and when he told me how much he charged per page, I almost had a heart attack. I could barely afford to take care of myself, but there was a voice in my head, a gut feeling telling me that this was the right thing to do. So we hired Luca and began paying him out of our own paychecks. Those were some scary times, let me tell you…
There were many problems to deal with along the way: We began adding artists to pencil, ink, color, and letter our two main books. We also hired people to do character designs, and we even hired some writers to work on other projects for us. Keep in mind, everybody was paid and we sank every penny we had into our comics.
Every part of the process was a struggle for me as I had to learn everything from scratch. We had artists from all over the world and sometimes there were language barriers. This made it hard for me to explain what I needed done, as well as heated arguments with artists and writers over creative issues.
Even once we had our first complete comic book, we still encountered problems: getting everything formatted to send to the printers, to get it on Amazon, Drive-thru comics was a lot of work. It took a lot of time to figure it all out. Even when that was done, there was the problem of promoting and selling the comic book. This takes as much, if not more work than actually making the comic book, but Adam and I learned fast. We just try to ignore all of the advice online and do things the way I think is best.
I can see why so many people quit so early on. They say that it’s their dream to make comics but they soon realize how much hard work and dedication is required. The best advice I can give, is to not bother getting started unless you have a real passion for creating your own comic book. There will be roadblocks every step of the way, each one pushing you closer to quitting. However, when I encounter someone as passionate as I am, I always give the same advice: “Just start doing it!”
There’s no other way around it. You can’t wait until you have the money, or until your life sorts itself out, or until the planets align. Those things will never happen. Just do what I did and jump in and start doing it. Take each complication one at a time and in a couple of years, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come.
After writing my first article for At Tha Movies, I was contacted by a comic book artist called Kav. We had an interesting conversation by e-mail, which I have included below:
KAV: Hey Brandon, great article. My experience has been 100% exactly the same as yours. There seems to be a huge percentage of people who say they want to draw comics, but after putting together a portfolio, never pick up a pencil again. This blows me away. I draw a page a day even if I’m not currently on an assignment. I’ll come up with pages to draw. I’ve heard stories of people hired by Marvel then disappearing off the face of the earth. You must train yourself to draw a page a day or you will simply not be able to do it.
Another thing I’ve witnessed is artists going off-script. Like an old person was scripted and the artist drew a teenager instead. He said it looked “cooler”. The truth was he can’t draw old people. Then he said “well, let’s do it Marvel Method” — code words for “I’ll draw whatever I want or am capable of and the hell with your script, now pay me”.
Nowadays when I need an artist I ask how many pages a week they draw. Most will lie, but I also give a deadline of their choosing. If they can’t meet a deadline they picked, they go in the poser bin. And that bin is pretty darn full.
BRANDON: Thanks, Kav, I feel your pain. It is frustrating. But at the same time I’ve met some good people. But you really have to sift through a lot of people to find the good ones.
It always frustrates me now when I hear people ask how to “break into the comic industry”. It’s like someone asking “how do you break into the NFL?” You have to play football a lot and you have to be good. Someone isn’t just going to come along and give you a chance. You can’t wait until you get drafted into the NFL before you start playing football. Writing or drawing comics is the same way. You have to do the leg-work yourself.
I hear nowadays Marvel doesn’t even take open submissions. I’ve read that their motto is “don’t come to us, we’ll find you.” or something like that. Basically, if you’re good enough to work for them they will already know about you. They’re not going to hire a newbie.
It’s kind of harder for us little guys though!
KAV: When people ask me how to break into the comics industry I tell them “you don’t.” I point out that there are millions of people who want to, and like one job opening a year. I also point out that people currently working in the field still have to fight for work. I say shoot for something easier like becoming a famous movie star.
BRANDON: Yes, exactly. But I hate being negative to people who have a dream. The whole “break into comics” thing is kind of a myth anyway. I’ve broken into comics technically, by making my own comics! Now all the aspiring people are coming to me. Funny how that works.
KAV: I myself like to slap people awake with reality. I’ve experienced so many time-wasting posers. They don’t have a dream, they have a daydream. Very different. If they REALLY had a dream they would have been drawing comics every day for the last 30 years, without being hired by any publisher. Like I have.
BRANDON: Exactly. It’s basic self-motivation. It’s funny how some people can’t figure that out.
KAV: I blame Hollywood for this crap. In movies and TV someone wants a new career and a week later they got it.
BRANDON: Well, you can’t totally blame movies and TV, but I see your point. They never show all the hard work that goes into it behind the scenes.
KAV: How much hard work can be accomplished in one week? Like I used to watch Melrose Place and some chick said she loves fashion so why not start her own fashion business? She started sketching and ONE WEEK LATER had a thriving fashion business with 100 employees! WTF??????? I see a lot of this. “Follow your dream and it’ll come true”. NO, IT WON’T. SORRY. OK my dream is to win the lotto — so…follow that????? Arggh! There is one caveat — if you become so good that no one can ignore you, you WILL succeed. Like Tim Lane — there is no way he couldn’t succeed, he’s just too damn good of an artist.
BRANDON: I feel your pain. Dreams can come true. But only if you make it happen. You can’t sit around waiting for it to happen.
I wouldn’t be surprised if many agreed with him, yet I’m not sure if Kav’s views represent the opinions of all artists out there.
Regardless, I like meeting new people with big dreams and big ideas. We’re all in this together and I believe in helping others. Please feel free to contact me on Facebook or by e-mail and just remember: if a couple of regular guys like Adam and I can do it, then you can do it!