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Submitted on
November 7, 2010


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Breaking Into Comics: Part Four

Sun Nov 7, 2010, 12:51 PM

PART FOUR: Self Publishing and Working on Spec

One way to get noticed by bigger publishers is to self publish your own comic book.  Obviously, this requires quite a bit of work.  A story needs to be written, penciled, inked [ optional ], colored [ optional ] and lettered.  You also need some capital to pay for printing costs and some type of game plan when approaching distribution.  But the biggest factor is the time it takes to create enough of a story to publish.  If you're out of school, most likely you're working at some kind of job to pay your bills.  Managing your time properly to put a book out requires discipline and passion.  It's obviously not impossible.  People do it all the time with varied degrees of success.  The amount of experience gained from such an endeavor is probably the equivalent to a year's worth of schooling.  

But if you've decided to skip the Portfolio Review aspect route to gain employment at one of the larger comic book companies you have to be willing to accept the pros and cons of the experience.  Because this is most likely your first foray into sequential storytelling, the chances of critical acclaim are fairly slim.  It's probably a good idea to go into it knowing that the venture is one big learning experience.  It certainly is.  And, of course, there's always a chance that your self publishing will catch on and actually be a success.  It happens and it could happen for you.  However, in most cases, the experience will help you to create samples an editor can assess.  Like I mentioned, the more pages you draw - the more you should improve your craft.  Publishing a comic book will force you to draw things you probably would have never drawn before [ even if you write the story yourself ].

The downside of publishing a comic book, without prior work experience, is the extra time and energy required.  To be honest, you probably won't recoup your costs.  That said, you may want to consider working on spec[ulation].  Also, it should be noted that a professional artist that decides to self publish has a much greater chance of success both monetarily and career-wise.  What we're discussing here is only the Pros and Cons for the amateur or budding artist.

Working on Spec means working with the "speculation" that [ in this case ] the comic book you draw for free will make a profit and the publisher can eventually pay you.  You must understand that working for spec, 99 out of 100 times, means simply working for free.  After over twenty years in the art business I have only been paid for a Spec Project once.  I have done so many spec projects [ like most artists ] that I generally have a rule that I NEVER work on spec.  And if you're a professional artist, I highly recommend you never work on spec.  Just like a barber wouldn't cut your hair for free.  You shouldn't draw something for someone for free.  Your talent has value.  

Early in your career is, however, not a bad time to work on spec - provided you understand that, even with the promise of later payment, you will almost never be paid.  The reason to accept Spec Work is simple: Published Work Experience.  It's as simple as that.  Just like Self Publishing, the experience you will gain from illustrating an actual comic book is priceless.  By the end of the process you will not be the same artist.  You may learn you don't ever want to draw a comic book again. But most likely you'll learn what you need to improve.  You'll learn what you do well.  You'll discover how you work when confronted with an artistic obstacle you had not previously encountered.  

If you're considering either of these options, I would personally go the Spec Route [ with the understanding that Spec really means Free ].  In both cases you gain tremendous work experience and solid samples to show publishers.  The advantage of Spec Work is that you aren't coughing up any of your own money for publishing costs.  Drawing a comic book for free is hard enough, paying a printer to publish it is an expense I would do my best to avoid if I could.  

The other option is to work harder on your samples.  Deviant Art, your own blog or website can be used to promote your efforts and build recognition.  There are so many tools at your disposal today.  Most of them free.  Take full advantage of them and take control of your artistic success.  You might want to set up a Internet Destination Point [ Deviant Art, a blog or website... ] where you publish one new page of a story a week.  By the end of 22 weeks you would have an entire issue's worth of content and plenty of viable samples to show a publisher.  You would also be building a Web Presence.  What's nice is that you would basically be self publishing without the printing costs.  Something to think about.

In the end, the idea is that you won't be hire-able until your work improves.  And your work won't improve unless you draw more sequential pages.  The saying popularized in the film, Field of Dreams, "If you build it, they will come" has real power.  The trick is building something worth coming to.

NEXT WEEK:  Your first assignment.

  • Mood: Llama
  • Listening to: Alt Nation on Sirius
  • Reading: Vanity Fair
  • Watching: Forensic Files
  • Eating: what I want
Add a Comment:
SPARATIK Nov 19, 2010   Digital Artist
NICE. this is exactly, what our little studio will be about. learning.
JoshawaFrost Nov 15, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
How man! Thanks again for doing these!!! I feel your talking directly to me every time I read them =)
That's really nice to hear. Thanks Josh!
JoshawaFrost Nov 15, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
No sir thank you =)
this journal series is "priceless"
The Acrobat comic by :iconliteracysuks1: at Drunk Duck is a perfect example of this. His skill grows with every issue and with 20 + issues posted you can literally watch him get better.
tombancroft Nov 11, 2010  Professional Filmographer
Another great article Dan. Looking forward to the next. Its interesting to hear the "Pros" side of spec work. I'm like you, only for my momma, but I usually tell the up and comers not to do it also. Your points are valid though, so I do see the reasoning. It makes you get something done, which is good.
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