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October 4, 2010


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Breaking Into Comics, Part One

Mon Oct 4, 2010, 5:43 PM

Like most comic book artists [ or working artists in any capacity ] I get a lot of "How can I break into comics?" questions.  Regardless of how talented you are the answers are all very much universal.

I'm going to write a series of Journals that address this question.  Step by Step.  From the day an artist makes that crucial career defining decision to getting and maintaining steady work flow.

PART ONE: Developing your Inner Critic

You've been drawing for a while and all of your friends and family think you could "do this for a living".  And, at long last, you've decided that drawing for a paycheck is going to make you happy and pay the bills.  Okay, now what?  How do you get your first paying job and set the world on fire?

The first thing you need to do is critically examine your own work.  This is the most important step.  Is your art ready to be published or do you need more work?  Well, contrary to your first impulse - which is to get the opinion of a working professional or that of your best friend/biggest fan - you need to look within.  You actually know the answer.  I hope you do.  I mean, you want to make a career of this, right?  So, ideally, you've practiced drawing for hours on end.  Maybe you've attended an art school.  Regardless of how you've acquired your drawing skills, I'm hoping you have a level of artistic taste.

Here's what you do:  Draw FIVE comic book pages.  If you can't get a hold of a script - use your imagination or rip one off an old story you remember. No one is going to hire you based on how well you draw a mock cover or pin-up.  You need to draw some sample pages.  Maybe you don't know what tools to use?  Uh-oh... Guess what?  You need to draw more.  Because you'll figure out which ones work best for you.  Asking your favorite professional which pencil or pen they use is not the answer.  Because it's not the pencil - it's who's pushing that pencil that makes it sing.  You need to develop your own style and that means you need to grow as an artist and experiment with tools until you have a look that you, personally, are satisfied with.

Are you done?  Good.  Now, pick up a typical comic book.  Not one drawn by Alex Ross, Mike Mignola or Sean Murphy.  And not one drawn by an artist that is widely thought of as a "terrible artist".  Nope.  Pick up a typical comic book.  Pick up a few of them.  Regular Marvel or DC titles that are selling decently.  That's your benchmark.  Your answer is right there.  Take a look at the comic book in front of you and ask yourself: "Can I draw as well as this guy?"  Can you draw everything he or she has drawn just as competently?  Not necessarily in the same style but with the same level of professionalism?  That's the key.  Can you draw cars well?  Can you draw backgrounds?  Can you draw a dog, a cat or an elephant?  How about a telephone?  Because the scripts you get will require you to draw just about everything.  Your level of drawing is not based on your ability to draw Batman perched on a gargoyle above Gotham City.  

So, now you've asked yourself the tough question.  If you answered "Yes" then you're ready to move on to Part Two.  If you answered "No" [ which requires a great deal of maturity on your behalf ] then you're going to have to ask: Why?  What skills are you lacking?  Is it storytelling?  Is it your anatomy?  Maybe you've only drawn figures but never a background.  Maybe you only draw figures facing forward.  

Basically you need to address your weaknesses.  But "how", you might ask.  Good news.  There's a book for you.  It's called How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way.  "Oh noooooo!" you might say, "That book looks like it was made over thirty years ago!  No one draws like that anymore!  I wanna draw like Jim Lee or Jeffery Scott Campbell!"

Everything you need to know is in-between those pages.  Everything.  If you can master that book [ and few people can ] you'll become a top artist.  Don't worry, you won't end up drawing like John Buscema when you're done.  You'll be influenced by him but influenced in a good way.  Your style is going to come through [ unless you consciously try to draw just like him, it's not going to happen ].  It's like people that say they don't want to lift weights because they don't want their arms to get too big...  If only it were that easy.  No, going through that book will give you the strong foundation you need to become a solid comic book artist.  Whether you like Manga or abstract storytelling/art like Ted McKeever.  It doesn't matter.  You don't need a fancy book on Perspective or on Figure Drawing.  

Also, it never hurts to attend Life Drawing classes.  Even if you cartoon your work, drawing from life will improve your craft in ways you never imagined.  All the best cartoonists have practiced Life Drawing.  Don't fool yourself into thinking otherwise.  Here's the trick: Don't worry about being terrible at first.  And don't go to Life Drawing classes and stay within your comfort zone.  Try earnestly to draw the human form using tone.  Using shadow.  Drawing the figure like a cartoon is not going to help you understand form better.  Drawing what you see, realistically, will.  Then, take what you learn and apply it to your cartooned style later.  You'll be blown away by the results.  On a side note: I've seen more than my fair share of "professional artists" that are too intimidated to attempt Life Drawing.  It's a real shame.  They make every excuse in the book too.  It's pathetic and they wonder why their abilities remain stagnant.  Don't be a coward and fall back on things you already know.  If you want to improve, dare to fail.  Each time you attempt it, the results will improve.  I have miles and miles to go as an artist and resisted Life Drawing for many years.  Finally, I took the leap!  Guess what - I sucked.  It was so embarrassing.  But, each time I improved, little by little and I'm still improving.  Nothing has helped my drawing more.  

NEXT:  Part Two - Knocking On That Door

  • Mood: Llama
  • Listening to: Alt Nation
  • Reading: REH books
  • Watching: Deadwood re-runs
  • Eating: Healthy
  • Drinking: H2O
Add a Comment:
BUMCHEEKS2 Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2012
Very true.

I think this is where I need to evaluate myself and my work before going on! I would say that I do need more practice and also to try out different styles until I'm comfortable!

Appreciate this information!

I have the harshest critic going, my wife! Ha ha, she always tells me even if it hurts!

She has been write so far!

Anyway thank you once again for your advice!
Katana2071 Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2011  Student Traditional Artist
i was rereading your breaking in to comics journal and i just noticed "Terrible artist" is there anyone(s) u are thinking of specificly
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2011
No one in particular! ;)
AaronTP Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2010
How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way is an amazing little book.
Lightning-Powered Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010  Professional General Artist
Nothing I didn't know anyway but it's a good read, thanks Urb!

Everyone recommends the Marvel books (and I do have one btw) but the DC books SHOULD NOT be overlooked either!
Skeleton-Boy Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2010  Professional General Artist
It's awesome of you to be posting these journals, you'll help and inspire a lot of people.

It's funny, I was given "how to draw comics the marvel way" when I was six, and I must have done its exercises and skimmed through it a hundred times. But of course, I haven't picked it up since I was twelve. Your high recommendation makes me want to look at it again, to see if I was really holding such unmitigated wisdom that whole time without knowing it. Definitely going to ask the folks to dig it out of my room and ship it me. :D
drbonescomics Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way has been my art Bible for two years. Lovin' it!
Tofubeast Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2010
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm going to read part two right away. This answers a lot of questions for me and reaffirms others. I'm still trying to bring my work up to pro level, so it's a big help to read what you've got to offer!
tombancroft Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2010  Professional Filmographer
Wow, I MUST be old because when I was growing up, I LOVED the Buscema art in "How to Draw the Marvel Way". It was the Kirby stuff I hated. (I've since realized his power.) So funny. Man, this was a great post- even for us "pros" that need to never stop hearing it. I've written similiar posts about "quite asking me if you are good enough", but you nailed it in a very blunt, but kind way. I'm gonna go read pt. 2 now!
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2010
I love Buscema too. He's a huge influence, but I think today's generation of upcoming artists look to very stylized artists and simply don't have any frame of reference for Big John. A real shame. He's such a solid artist.

Thanks for checking out the journals, Tom! I'm glad you dig them!
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