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Breaking Into Comics: Part Four

Sun Nov 7, 2010, 12:51 PM
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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:
 
:iconsparatik:
SPARATIK Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2010   Digital Artist
NICE. this is exactly, what our little studio will be about. learning.
Reply
:iconjoshawafrost:
JoshawaFrost Featured By Owner 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 =)
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2010
That's really nice to hear. Thanks Josh!
Reply
:iconjoshawafrost:
JoshawaFrost Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
No sir thank you =)
Reply
:iconfindingox:
FindingOx Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2010
this journal series is "priceless"
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2010
Thanks sir!
Reply
:iconwolfprime:
wolfprime Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2010
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.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2010
Ha. Very cool!
Reply
:iconwolfprime:
wolfprime Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2010
Forgot the link: [link]
Reply
:icontombancroft:
tombancroft Featured By Owner 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.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2010
Thanks Tom! I'm sure that Mentorship Series of yours is taking off! What a brilliant idea and probably very helpful for young artists out there. Way to go!
Reply
:icontombancroft:
tombancroft Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2010  Professional Filmographer
Thanks Dan.
Reply
:iconliteboxxx:
liteboxxx Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
as what Andrew-Ross-MacLean said:
"These are gold Dan, thanks so much. You are doing us Wanna-Be-Comic-Artists a priceless service. Thanks again and again."

Very true! Thank you very much for doing this! :worship:
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
Very welcome
Reply
:iconredcavalier:
Redcavalier Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010  Student Digital Artist
Wondering when you were gonna write the next one. I love reading these! They always get me inspired and ready to go! Thanks for taking time to dish out some comic wisdom!
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
;)
Reply
:iconrnabrandent:
RNABrandEnt Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010  Professional General Artist
I am currently working on projects for a few writers, and one is on "spec". There is a contract, but only the promise of equity stake into what their project is. Of course, I am taking my sweet time doing that one!

However, the other two writers are paying me on a per page rate.

Lately, it's become more promising as one title I am in the early stages of development on to focus on as priority. Not only because it is paying me, but it will be published through a mainstream book.

For that one I've been more than accommodating towards the writer and editor, even if it's taking a while to bring to life what's going on in the writers head. (She's very EXACT on what her characters look like, and how their personalities are.)

Anyways, as you've written above, I took the long road of working small publishers, doing my own books and even taking a long hiatus to focus on becoming a better artist in every area of this career choice. It is now paying off, because having an online presence is what got me all the gigs.

Hope to get my own books published some day, but in the meantime, it's about building the career first and getting the foot in the door.

Thanks for your series you've done here, it's mostly what I've known, but you've given it a more detailed profile of an artist trying to break into the biz.

Cheers!
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
Way to go! Looking forward to seeing the pages!
Reply
:iconrnabrandent:
RNABrandEnt Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010  Professional General Artist
Cool. I probably won't be able to post the pages online, but the conceptual stuff and design work probably after the story is published.

One thing about how most comic artist try to break in by doing portfolio reviews, I never really found that viable, however it's more a learning experience in finding out what an editor is looking for and wants out of their talent.

I stopped doing portfolio reviews at age 18. I only found value in it through highschool by learning from it. (Imagine the look on editors faces from Marvel and Image as a 14 year old kid is trying to break into comics!)

Actually, how did you break in, if you don't mind being asked that for probably the 1 millionth time?
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
Maybe I'll cover that in the last installment of these journals.
Reply
:iconanairellan:
Anairellan Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
I really want to be known as a content creator, whichever desk I end up at (writing or drawing), so for me, I think self-publishing is the way to go. You're absolutely right about everything you write here. I don't think building a web presence can be underestimated. All the work I've gotten (paying work) I've gotten throwing stuff up online in various places and talking about it.

Also, just wanna throw out that there are some awesome Print On Demand services in the world, with quality products that are way lighter on the pocket book. It's always smarter, I think, to print 20 issues of a comic and put it in the hands of people who you want to see it, and then put it online for free, than to go to a more traditionall off-set printer and buy a minimum of 5000 copies. You will never get rid of all of those. Check out www.ka-blam.com, if you haven't already. They have associated online services that are pretty great, like Indy Planet and Comics Monkey.
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:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
Great ideas! Thanks for contributing them!
Reply
:iconanairellan:
Anairellan Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
Thank you for these journals!

I get really tired of other artistic professions obscuring "trade secrets" from each other, hoping it will give them an edge. I've found comic artists, illustrators, and animators to be so generous with their knowledge and their time. It's awesome. I know I find these journals both encouragin and informative, and I'm sure they meean a lot to a lot of people.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
I hope so. I was very fortunate to run into the artists and editors that I have early on.
Reply
:icondrinkteaordie:
DrinkTeaOrDie Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010  Professional Filmographer
Thanks for making these. :aww:
Reply
:iconmydyingrose:
MyDyingRose Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010  Professional Artist
After receiving some rather depressing news about preorders on a book that I worked on (for spec) this actually makes me feel a bit better about the situation.

Truer words have never been spoken about gaining experience and getting better as you go along. I like to think page 96 is a lot better looking than page 1.

Thank you for this journal.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
It's true of every job. Each issue you're probably going to improve leaps and bounds.
Reply
:iconandrew-ross-maclean:
Andrew-Ross-MacLean Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
I already left a comment but was still thinking on the subject and just wanted to mention that someone who writes and illustrates and may end up self-publishing (whether I like it or not) this one in particular is great. I know you do a lot of work with Marvel so I am grateful that you touched upon a subject that seems somewhat removed from what you do. You're the fucking man dude.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
Too kind! Thanks man.
Reply
:iconandrew-ross-maclean:
Andrew-Ross-MacLean Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
These are gold Dan, thanks so much. You are doing us Wanna-Be-Comic-Artists a priceless service. Thanks again and again.
Reply
:iconmoray-eel:
moray-eel Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
great post - they have all been extremely inspiring, but more importantly useful and insightful. Thanks for that.
Reply
:iconbattlereaper:
battlereaper Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010  Student Digital Artist
More great advice. Thanks for sharing.
Reply
:iconnoirzone:
NoirZone Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Completely agree on what you said here. I tried and experienced that it's true! Another thing: self publishing help you to see your work published in a sort of professional way (comic book print size, your page colored on paper etc..) and it's different than seeing your art just on original board or on a computer screen.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
Very true!
Reply
:iconmofoman68:
mofoman68 Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010
I just stumbled across your post, and I really appreciate the wisdom you're sharing. I'm not an artist, but I have worked in the comic industry as a writer and an editor, and I've said the exact same thing to artists over the years. Right now I'm looking for an artist to develop a project with, and what amazes me is the attitude of people who haven't even had anything published. I'm all for paying someone, but $150 to $200 per page from someone with no previously published work is insane. No one seems to want to work hard to get what they want anymore.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010
When you're starting out you can't expect the same rates as seasoned pros. I made anywhere from $12 to $25 a page when I began my career. But the truth is, the real payment came with the experience. I'm very gracious for every chance any small publisher took with me. Publishers are in the business to make money and there's always going to be an artist out there that recognizes the opportunity.
Reply
:iconbam217:
bam217 Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010  Student Traditional Artist
Thanks for the great advice. I've been trying to find a way to market myself and get my art out there. This is another way for me to do that. Thanks.
Reply
:iconaentheartist:
AenTheArtist Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Spot-on as always.

I want to add that if you take your work and craft seriously, you may see some remuneration in your first spec works. I got a check for a couple hundred bucks on my second spec, and no question, I was DAMN LUCKY.

Dan, quick question. I myself am breaking in, though I am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Does it help to be in a city where the publisher you're submitting to has offices/studios?
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010
It probably does in the sense that you can build a rapport with the editors and publishers. Might also help regarding payment. Putting a face to a name is important, IMO. So, you're lucky if the studio is nearby.
Reply
:iconaentheartist:
AenTheArtist Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
I see. It's just that a job opportunity in LA has opened up for me. My standard of living would be SLIGHTLY lower but I figure if it puts me any nearer to working full time in comics, it's worth it.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010
I moved to NYC early in my career and I think it helped quite a bit. Think of it as a temporary investment in your future. Or just visit frequently. You're a talented guy and your work speaks volumes.
Reply
:iconaentheartist:
AenTheArtist Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Thanks, Dan! You have renewed my enthusiasm. See you stateside soon :D
Reply
:iconartofant:
ARTofANT Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
This a great series of journals you're writing. Great info every aspiring comic creator should know but probably doesn't. Do I see a "how to" book in your future?
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010
Thanks man! See you Thursday, mister!
Reply
:iconartofant:
ARTofANT Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
No prob. See you then!
Reply
:iconmayster:
mayster Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010
Where can you pick up spec scripts?
Reply
:icongzapata:
gzapata Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
You can go to the projects section of conceptart.org or even this site
Reply
:iconsssk76:
sssk76 Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010  Professional General Artist
There's many writers on dA as well. Like me and a few people I watch. Most write novel type, but there are a few script writers besides me that I know.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010
A spec script would be given to you by a publisher that wants you to illustrate a comic book for him/her. Or you can probably find comic book scripts here on DA if you look hard enough.
Reply
:iconmayster:
mayster Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010
How long did it take you to get into comics?
Reply
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