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Breaking Into Comics, Part One

Mon Oct 4, 2010, 5:43 PM
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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:
 
:iconbumcheeks2:
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!
Reply
:iconkatana2071:
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
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2011
No one in particular! ;)
Reply
:iconaarontp:
AaronTP Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2010
How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way is an amazing little book.
Reply
:iconlightning-powered:
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!
Reply
:iconskeleton-boy:
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
Reply
:icondrbonescomics:
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!
Reply
:icontofubeast:
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!
Reply
:icontombancroft:
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!
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
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!
Reply
:iconsheldongoh:
SheldonGoh Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010
Thanks for this! I'm looking forward to the whole series of journals. :)
Reply
:icontonydonley:
Tonydonley Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010
I really hope you didn't write this because you saw me try to draw a car. you could have just told me im terrible.
Reply
:iconestylon:
Estylon Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2010  Student Digital Artist
Can't wait for part 2 Dan!
It's a really great Journal with a lot of wise advises.
Keep it up man!
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2010
Monday is Part 2! Hope you dig it!
Reply
:iconcreationmatrix:
CreationMatrix Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2010
Fantastic journal. Thanks for talking about this.

I am really looking forward to the 'how to meet and talk to editors' portion. I have confidence in my ability to do the work –though I'm always striving to improve– but it's selling myself and making contacts where I hit the most snags.
Reply
:iconamyinferno:
amyinferno Featured By Owner Oct 8, 2010  Professional Artist
"Your level of drawing is not based on your ability to draw Batman perched on a gargoyle above Gotham City. "

I am e-mailing this to my "I wanna draw comics" friends. :)
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2010
LOL!
Reply
:iconnmrosario:
NMRosario Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Excellent journal! And great advice about taking life drawing classes. I took one semester of life drawing 16 years ago and it totally changed everything about the way I draw and I still use what I learned in that class in my work today. What surprised me the most, though, was how little most of my favorite comic book artists seemed to understand about human anatomy (this was 1994, when Image Comics was still the big thing in comics).

My question is, I understand the necessity of examining your own work with a critical eye, but is it possible to be too critical of your own work?
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2010
Of course. Personally I'm never satisfied with my work but there comes a point when you have to walk away and move on. For the most part, I like what I do but I can also see all the flaws and the places I need to improve. I think as long as I'm constantly trying to work on my weaknesses I'm going to be making those baby steps to becoming a better artist.
Reply
:iconouchimoo818:
Ouchimoo818 Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2010
Too bad you can't fav Journals. This is great!
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2010
Thanks man!
Reply
:iconmadpencil:
madpencil Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Hey Dan, this looks great on paper, however there's another side of the comic book business that young artists need to know. I'm 35 and I've been a professional artist for 13 years. At the 2002 comic con I met Steve Firchow, he saw the little project I was working on and he recruited me to work on his. I started designing characters etc. Drew a few sample pages for Marc Silvestri to see, He liked them a lot and we were off and runnin'. While in development of the script I expressed interest in doing some work for Top Cow in the mean time while we waited for the script. Marc himself walked me over to Rennea Geerlings and told her with these words. " Let's find some work for him, he's got a lot of talent". and walked off. She gave me one page to ink in a book call Mace Griffin and never game a drawing assignment EVER!. Later the non creative suit that runs the place when Marc is away decided to give the Firchow project to a "name" artist, kicking me off the project. Later the project was cancelled partly because the artist that replaced me couldn't deliver. So my point is, knowing the craft and having a good portfolio and attitude is about a third of the battle in the business. The politics and horse shit is overwhelming. The true formula is, learn the basics not only of drawing but (very important) Graphic design. Work on your own project, publish digitally and if your work
is good you won't ever need a big company to show your work to the world, not in the age of Itunes and digital publishing in general. in 15 years the printing industry will be obsolete and that's the only reason one seeks a publisher these days, to print their book. Draw and design your book, make an app, sale it on Itunes and be happy.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2010
This is Part One... There are additional Parts to this little series.

But let me ask you a question: Is Top Cow the only game in town?

There are a lot of comic book companies out there. You can't sum up getting work in the industry based on one failed venture. The vast majority of working professionals have been rejected by publishers early in their career. If your work is professional, there's a fit out there for you. It's up to you to find that fit. Hinging everything on one company or one editor is never a good idea. More on this later.
Reply
:iconmadpencil:
madpencil Featured By Owner Oct 8, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
I understand that Top Cow isn't the only game in town and yes I did do some work for other people and that was okay, however I still feel that the best thing for a creator to do is his own project, work hard on it, publish it digitally and show it to the world that way. Then one can choose a publisher to print it once they see the quality of what you can do. I gotta tell you why I have the opinion I have. As I said before I work professionally as an illustrator and graphic artist full time. Every once in a while I'll get a freelance gig offered to me and that is how the professional world works. Here's where I have a problem with the comics business in regards to recruiting new talent. You'll go to a comic book convention and the publishers will post a sign that reads, "Portfolio review at 2pm" or whatever time. It occurred to me after a few times that these companies generally have no intension to hire anyone. They post these signs to draw people to their booth and create hype. Crowds draw crowds and the results is sales. I have asked a few editors that have these signs posted if they're looking to hire artists for freelance work, All of them have answered NO so I don't even bother to show my work. When they really need someone they usually call an established artist they know or have access to. My point is that young artists would benefit more from spending the time and energy that goes into building a portfolio into creating and drawing their own stories because the odds are that you will not be discovered at a show. Are there exceptions? sure maybe but it's usually from an introduction from a well known or connected person. Almost never from a cold approach. Record companies invest in bands that have already recorded their own albums not in ones that have a good demo. The same applies to the comic book business. Editors will see your work and THEY will call you to offer you work because you have proven that you're dedicated and you CAN do the work. The future of the creator in comics is to represent himself and not work to represent others. The world of print will soon suffer the same fate as the world of movie rental places like Block buster (Soon to fold). People will buy comics on Itunes and directly from creators so why not start to create your own stories NOW? You're right I would never hinge anything on any company, I'd much rather hinge it on myself.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 8, 2010
True. There's a million different ways to skin a cat.

I don't know if you realize this or not, I haven't gone into "how to get hired" yet. Part One is simply about developing a critical eye for your own work. Understanding limitations and strengths and recognizing what needs improvement, etc.
Reply
:iconmadpencil:
madpencil Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Yes I do realize that, and believe me I appreciate you taking the time to share this valuable information. My perspective has come about having experienced these things first hand and I just think young people need to get the real deal of the "Business" of comics and as you know better than I do, that's exactly what it is, a business.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010
Excellent. Hopefully you'll dig the 2nd Part. ;)
Reply
:iconmadpencil:
madpencil Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
I read part 2 and yes now I can recognize that as a solid plan to get into that rolodex. I hope you'll go into the importance of creating something also. Thanks Dan. By the way I've kept track of your stuff since the Extreme days and I like where your style has gone, really cool. Also (Just my opinion) you should expand on that vietnam strip you did. The retro line quality is great!
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010
Thanks man! I still do a monthly strip for the Army and I always try to improve upon that looser look! Thanks!
Reply
(1 Reply)
:iconphillipkennedy:
phillipkennedy Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010
Thanks for the insight. High praise for the Marvel book; I've seen it over and over, came close, but went with other books. I'll take you at your word and pick it up stat.
Reply
:iconasterisks:
Asterisks Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
I think the hardest part sometimes is critically examining your own work. I mean, some of the stuff I did 2 to 4 years ago which I thought was good I look at now and can't help but cringe.
It's as if when our drawing skills grow so does our eyes ability to distinguish the good from the bad.
Reply
:iconvarakienen:
VARAKIENEN Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010
Looking foreward to part TWO. when can we expect that?
;)
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010
I think I'll do one a week.
Reply
:iconelplateado:
elplateado Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010
Excellent journal im a comic artist wannabe, and i working really hard but reading what you write i think that i must work harder then.

One little question: you think that exist something like "to much old for begin in the comic field" im 36, and sometimes i feel that the medium is just for teens or guys in his 20's
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:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010
Not at all. Look at Joe Kubert. The man is 84 years old and still turns out incredible work. Age is a #. Nothing more. Skill is your own.
Reply
:iconelplateado:
elplateado Featured By Owner Oct 8, 2010
thank you very much for your answer, that's a relief to me, im going to keep working hard, because i really want to be a comic artist, your journal is great, i will keep my oyes open to the next ones!!
Reply
:iconthe-mad-pirate:
The-Mad-Pirate Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
There is a part in Richard Williams " The Animator's Toolkit Animated" DVD series were is telling his earlt life experiences. He was told by a Disney Animator at 15 years old : "Yes , You cand draw CARTOONS really well. But what i am telling its to Learn To Draw". He says in this DVD that learning figure drawing helped him in achieve a solid foundation in tone and Volume.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010
Interesting.
Reply
:iconthe-mad-pirate:
The-Mad-Pirate Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
Yeah , in fact many 3D modelers start doing sooner or later live drawings because it teaches them to see volume and form and grow a better understanding of anatomy. Those are very helpful when they have to model an antropomorphic character.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2010
Cool!
Reply
:iconbashibozuk:
bashibozuk Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010  Professional General Artist
Thank you. I appreciate this.
Reply
:iconoblivionz:
oblivionz Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2010  Professional Interface Designer
Most useful Journal entry i have seen :D.
Really appreciate it.
Reply
:iconkeight:
keight Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2010
Thanks for posting this, Dan. As an artist myself, whose youngest artistic kid is aiming for manga and has been through the wrong (and I do mean wrong - 2D art is too alive and well!) art "school", I have been trying to get these points across for some time; but :D I'm the mom, and you're the Dan.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010
;)
Reply
:iconkeight:
keight Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010
The young artist I am talking about is :iconzirio:. :D
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010
Wow! Very talented!
Reply
:iconkeight:
keight Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2010
Thanks, Dan. That seems to be the opinion of our "big name" artist friends as well.
Reply
:iconzirio:
zirio Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2010
Thank you very much for writing this, it was very helpful and I'll be looking into practicing more of this.
Reply
:iconzane-degaine:
zane-degaine Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2010  Professional General Artist
Thanks for posting this. Its awesome and inspirational, I think, to up-and-comers when a working pro takes this kind of time to reach out and help.
Reply
:iconpigmanga:
pigmanga Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2010  Professional General Artist
Amen! Speak the truth Dan! The comic book gospel....
Reply
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