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Breaking Into Comics: Part Two

Mon Oct 11, 2010, 4:37 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 pretty similar.

PART TWO: Baby Steps


Let's get you a job.  Let's say you don't have an opportunity to go to NYC [ or wherever it is that the comic book or graphic album company you wish to work for is located ] - how do you get hired?  Samples.  You need great samples to get noticed.  

Every working comic book editor has a wealth of talent at his/her disposal.  If an artist can't complete his deadline and they have to find another artist or they have a new book that needs drawing - they have a Phone Book filled with numbers to call.  Ideally, you want to be in that Rolodex.  So how do you do that?  You have to impress them.  You have to impress them so much that they want to call you instead of another working artist.  The problem is: You don't have the experience that these other guys do.  That makes it kinda tough....

So let's rewind a bit.  Maybe starting with Marvel, DC, Dark Horse or Image isn't the first thing you do.  You need samples and your samples only get better by creating more and more of them.  All of us have at least a hundred "bad" pages in us.  Yep, they're in there and there's only one way to get them out. It's not by drawing more pin-ups of Power Girl.  You actually have to draw comic book pages.  Comic book pages force you to draw things you're not familiar with.  Pages help you see things in a different way and explore and expand your talent base in ways that drawing a "hot chick" or "Wolverine flexing his muscles and showing off his claws" can't.  Drawing a page with an underground hi-tech secret headquarters in one panel and Alfred the Butler in a normal kitchen in the next...  The initial ones will look okay upon first inspection - but chances are - they'll be "bad".  Don't despair. Practice really does make perfect.  You need to start small and build.  You might have to start very small.  But no matter how small the assignment - you'll be taking a step in the right direction.  That's the key element here.  Baby steps.  One step leading to another.  One small job to another.  

Only your work can take you to the next level.  If your work doesn't merit advancement or a better job, it means you need to apply yourself more.  Here's my advice to you:  When you're starting out - take that terrible job - no matter what it pays.  Do your absolute best work on it.  If the job pays $5 - treat it like you're being paid $5,000!  Because, at the end of the assignment you can take that work and get a better paying job with it.  You'll have samples in your hand that will hopefully impress another editor at a bigger company.  You'll have working experience.  You'll know how long it takes you to draw a page.  You'll learn so many lessons from that one crummy job that you would of paid them if you could have!  

Depending on your growth curve, you may need several of these jobs.  You may need to draw, ink or color several issues in a row at a smaller company before developing your talent to move to a larger company.  But here's the thing, when you're ready - you'll be ready.  If your samples aren't up to par, you'll know.  You'll know because you won't be hired.  Which is why I said, always do your best work - every chance you get.  

Doing enough to get the assignment finished doesn't help you in the long run.  Forcing yourself to work harder forces you to grow and improve.  I knew an artist that NEVER did his best work.  He was always waiting for someone to pay him what he believed he deserved.  To this day, he hasn't done his best work.  It's in him somewhere, waiting... But here's funny part about that:  What publisher is going to pay you an astronomical amount of money for something they've never seen evidence of.  Where is this "Best Work"?  It doesn't exist because you haven't been paid enough to draw it...  But an editor can't guess what you're capable of and therefore pay you accordingly.  They have to see some your best work.  If your work is excellent, your rate will reflect that.  But until you deliver excellent work, you're going to be paid based on what you're currently handing in. That old saying, "you're only as good as your last job" is very true.  And it's also very important that every job you do, you show improvement.  

So, always draw to the best of your ability.  The next time your draw something, you'll have that experience on your side.  It'll be easier.  And, of course, you'll have terrific samples to show around which will lead to bigger and better things!  

So how do you get in to the Big Three [ or Four ]?  You have to kiss a lot of frogs along the way.  And those kisses need to be dripping with love!  You can't fake them.  Otherwise, you can't expect any magic.  

Next week, I'll discuss how to submit samples and in what quantities.  See you then.

  • Mood: Llama
  • Listening to: Alt Nation
  • Reading: REH books
  • Watching: Deadwood re-runs
  • Eating: Healthy
  • Drinking: H2O
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:iconlightning-powered:
Lightning-Powered Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010  Professional General Artist
Good.
Reply
:iconandrew-ross-maclean:
Andrew-Ross-MacLean Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2010
Thanks again!!!
Reply
:iconbeza:
beza Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2010
Like the obvious parallel that the 100 bad pages line has to the famous Chuck Jones line about everyone having 10000 bad drawings in them.

I guess the main thing your saying here is that while similar, drawing images and making comics have some distinct skill sets (page layouts and drawing the mundane), and you can't learn the latter solely by practicing the former. Is this right?
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:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
Practice, practice, practice! ;)
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:iconbeza:
beza Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
Indeed. :)

Wondering if you have any tips for writing comics, or will that be included in a later part?
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
Not my field at the moment. But from what I know, it's a lot more difficult.
Reply
:iconmelelel:
Melelel Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2010
when you speak about 'jobs', you're just talking about freelance or contract jobs right? As far as I've ever seen there are no full-time comics jobs, are there?
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:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2010
Of course there are. Everyone that draws a comic book for a big publisher is working full time. A lot of them are on contract.
Reply
:iconmelelel:
Melelel Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2010
oh well obviously it will take full time hours to do an issue of a comic book. What I meant is.. is there anything like a permanent position?... of course if you're on contract then the answer is no I guess.
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:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
CrossGen had full time employees. But artists on regular books are basically working full time and have secured on going work indefinitely. It's really like any job.
Reply
:icondanielgovar:
DanielGovar Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Fantastic write-up and great advice. The comments and feedback are just as solid.
Reply
:iconjoshawafrost:
JoshawaFrost Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you very much for these insights. I have worked manly in the cartoon world, but have wanted to get into comics for sometime. Your words have been literally singing off the pages to me, especially about always doing your best, and you know that is something that should be obvious, but I find myself at times just trying to get threw a gig instead of really figuring out how I can make it awesome, and well, for now on if I start slacking I am gonna try to remember these posts and get my ass in gear! Thanks for spending the time to post these I recently have been getting a ton of questions asking how I draw the way I do and things of that nature, and have recently done a post similar to this. If you ever are bored and feel like skimming it I would love to know if you have any valid points for the post [link]

Thanks again for the inspiration and beyond

- Josh
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
Thanks Josh! Great journal too!
Reply
:iconjoshawafrost:
JoshawaFrost Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
=)
Reply
:icontofubeast:
Tofubeast Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2010
This really knocked some sense into me, especially the bit about "doing your best work". It's true, I've been lazy sometimes with my work, and I should stop doing that. I've been thinking a bit about my process, and this just confirms what I think needs to be worked on.
Reply
:icontombancroft:
tombancroft Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2010  Professional Filmographer
Another great post Dan! Where's the book in this? I hope you are keeping these posts as notes for a book. (Not that they haven't been done, but not done this well.) I'm gonna link to these in my journal.
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:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
Thanks again Tom!
Reply
:iconwildpegasus13:
wildpegasus13 Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010
Hmmm. Great advice, I just wish I could make it past the thumbnail stage when it comes to pages. Its like trying to knock over a brick wall...with just my shoulder.
Reply
:iconmikedimayuga:
MikeDimayuga Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010  Professional General Artist
great column, and for me, 100% true. everything you mentioned happened/is happening to me. knowing i'm not alone, who thinks the same way i do, who's gone though the same things, is a great comfort. thank you.
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:iconestylon:
Estylon Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010  Student Digital Artist
This is a great follow up from the first post!
I translated the first one in italian, my native language, and posted it on my blog due to how much was inspiring with the hope that my fellow artist friends that lacks of skill in english language can enjoy and learn from what you've written.
I hope you won't mind about it, obviously i linked your journal at the end of the post.
Keep it up Dan! I guess meanwhile i'll keep to train to fix my weaknesses!
Cheers!
Reply
:iconkevmullins:
kevmullins Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010   Traditional Artist
Thanks for sharing your knowledge, hopefully from your tips I will one day be making a living from comics :).
deviantART muro drawingComment Drawing
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:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
Ha! Great drawing!
Reply
:iconkevmullins:
kevmullins Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010   Traditional Artist
Thanks :D.
Reply
:iconfindingox:
FindingOx Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010
it's not only informative, but very inspirational, too... where is part 3 :)...

I have a question, UB. In general, I see comicbook creators as being very generous when they have time, giving ppl advice, etc. Do comicbook creators feel, "the more the merrier" when it comes to artists/illustrators, and if so, why? In the past, I have met illustrators that make you feel like a threat, kinda' like, "hey, I'm not gonna' help you take food off my table..." what has been your general experience with this, UB?
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:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
It's about 50/50. Everyone comes from a different perspective. I was given some good breaks because of some very helpful artists. It's my way of giving back, I suppose.
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:iconfindingox:
FindingOx Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
:thumbsup: thx!
Reply
:icondeadxcross:
DeadXCross Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for this Dan. That was very helpful as it was informative. I'll look forward to your next post :)
Reply
:iconadultbraces:
adultbraces Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010
These are great Dan. Thanks!
Reply
:iconpunchyninja:
punchyninja Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
thanks for the post, very inspiring.
Reply
:iconvarakienen:
VARAKIENEN Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010
will the frog kissing Never end?
hahaha.
i CANT EVEN TASTE nORMAL FOOD ANY MORE, ALL i CAN TASTE IS THE FROG.
Aaaaanny way. Jolly good issue, looking forward to the next.
;)
Reply
:iconexquisiteoath:
exquisiteoath Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010  Student General Artist
I really appreciate these, they are well written and full of great advice. Thank you for taking the time to share with those of us who are still just getting our stuff together, many lesser men wouldn't.
Reply
:iconhuntingtown:
HuntingTown Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
This is me... this is where I am right now. I am ass deep in frogs... This was kinda my outlook on what I needed to be doing, but you don't realise that this goes on for month after month, where you're literally only making enough money to get to and from the office... and occasionally beans. It get's you down after a while so it's really good to hear a pro say "yeah, keep at it, I know it sucks but you need to go through this shit". So thanks... I'll try and enjoy my beans for the time being.
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:iconpencilinpain:
PencilInPain Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
Well, I guess I'm still in page 40 of my 100 bad ones, but here's a question for you, Dan. When It comes to samples, what's better, drawing big company characters (and prove you are able to draw big properties) or maybe invent your own stuff (so you can use or publish those pages somewhere else, in case you're never hired by Marvel or DC)?

That was some encouraging reading. Thanks, man!
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
I'm covering that in Part Three. But bigger can be better if you can pull it off.
Reply
:iconpencilinpain:
PencilInPain Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
I see. I'll be looking forward to part three then. Thanks, Dan.
Reply
:iconbenbasso:
BenBASSO Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010  Professional
Excellent advice. I completely agree with you.
And I'm not a superhero artist, but it works great with all.

I would add to try to stand out from all others, becoming what is missing, forming a big personality, but it may be depend on the tastes and publishers.
Reply
:iconevilnick:
evilnick Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I can't wait till the next part is out. I have an inking portfolio that I think is just about ready to submit.
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:iconbashibozuk:
bashibozuk Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010  Professional General Artist
thank you!
Reply
:iconkrissthebliss:
krissthebliss Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010   Digital Artist
thanks for the advice man.. I'm staring out as a colorist and this really helps
Reply
:iconjohnreynolds:
JohnReynolds Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010
Thanks for the advice, reaffirms the belief that this is something you have to work on and for to even get close to making it a reality!
Reply
:icononegemini:
onegemini Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010  Professional General Artist
Great advice as always.

Bummer though I didn't get a callback from Marvel this weekend at NYCC.

And the submission editor on Twitter basically said that most of those who didn't get callbacks are at "fan art" level, don't show any grasp of the fundamentals, most likely won't show any growth, and based on his own life experiences, should probably realize that they won't ever make it and should find another career to make them happy.

More than a little frustrating and a bit aggravating to hear, as I'm already a published pro, with other pros backing me, great reviews, and a bunch of fans.

But in the inverse of the norm - it only takes that one person not believing in you to stop you in your tracks.

So I guess I won't be resubmitting to them for a while, because he makes it sound like one strike and you're done. :\

Other fish in the sea (which are harder to catch - but oh well).

Sorry for the ramble. Keep up dishing the great advice.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010
Well don't let that stop you. Let it inspire you. I checked out your page and your work is coming along quite well. You just need to really take it to the next level. It's completely within your grasp. More and more pages. Everyone has hundreds of bad pages in them before they get to the good ones. Get those bad pages out of your system. You can do it.
Reply
:icononegemini:
onegemini Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010  Professional General Artist
Not looking for a full portfolio review or anything (plus I know you can't really, as my sequential pages on dA are intentionally few in number after I caught people swiping them and claiming them as their own) -- but anything in particular you think I should try-out, work on, punch up, etc?

You don't have to give me a whole list, just any tiny thing off the top of your head would be very helpful.

Thanks.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010
I think you need to really take a good hard look yourself. Pretend you're Marvel or DC or whatever. Now take a look at your work and ask yourself which title you would put Onegemini on. Is there a book you would take another artist off of and decide to put your work? Not that it's about that, at all. But you almost have to look at your work in terms of it's quality in that way.

Like I mentioned, based on what I've seen - you're headed in the right direction. You just need to log in some more pages and really fine tune your work so that it holds up well against a very professional roster. You need to develop that critical eye a bit more and get very honest with yourself. I don't mean "get harsh", I mean - truly be honest with yourself and look at what you're doing from somewhere outside. You don't need me or anyone else to tell you what aspects to work on. As a professional artist, you need to be able to look at your work and know exactly what needs to improve. If you can do that, you're well on your way. If you can't tell the difference between what you're doing and what a "pro" is doing then you have a ways to go.

There's still a gap there - but you're closing in on it. Don't despair. You're not defeated. You're inspired to become better!
Reply
:icononegemini:
onegemini Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010  Professional General Artist
The only reason I asked is because I thought there might've been something specific you saw that you could comment on.

I am truly always doing what you mention in the second paragraph, though I'm the first to admit I usually go straight for "get harsh."

I know what books I'll never be on; Batman, Punisher, and other "darker, grittier" tiles of that nature. It's just not where my style has gone - and I'm fine with that.

But certain other books like the Spider-man Adventures or certain licensed character books at other non-Big Two companies, yeah, I think I'd be a great fit for. Further than that, I have proven I can meet deadlines and maintain quality on a monthly book, so I have that going for me.

I showed some of the new work to my editor at IDW and asked if that experimentation would be something he'd be interested in, and he basically said that they hired me for the style I already had, and if I were brought back for future issues of the same book, he'd expect the stylings I used before. Not that I'm limiting myself to that style only, mind you. I plan to continue my experimentation and apply it where I can [get away with it].

But that obvious subjectivity of the whole thing can be a bit of a roadblock for me - it is hard to get outside of my head and see from another's perspective. Even when I can, just because I can gain a view of my work from another's perspective, it doesn't necessarily mean the next person (be it submissions editor, editor, reader, or peer) will view as I, or that alternate outside perspective, does.

Anyway, sorry for the ramble. Back to the literal drawing board.
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:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2010
Well, keep doing what you're doing and you're going to get better and better at it. That's the nature of working. After awhile, the jobs you're looking for will come to you.

If you're hitting road blocks, that means it's time to step up your game. Who are your favorite artists doing "adventures" style books? Or better yet, who are the most talented? Can you out draw them? Strive to. Get better than those guys or in their same neighborhood and you'll get the work they're getting.
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:icononegemini:
onegemini Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010  Professional General Artist
Thanks.

I do have better pages, but they're part of a project I'm working on currently, and I can't post them online quite yet - though I did include a few with the submissions packet the other day as I didn't want to show old work (as of course anything from earlier this year counts as old work - published or not).

I'm sure I'll bounce back, but rejection is disheartening enough. Then hearing from someone who is the door to approval that they view those who didn't make it in so weak a light is an extra gut-punch, y'know?

Time and booze is what I need I guess. And pages.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010
Submission editors bring new talent to series editors but series editors are free to choose any artists they like. If your work catches an editor's eyes - he'll find a way to contact you. There's more than one way to skin a cat.

Strive to be so good that they knock on your door. That's the goal.
Reply
:iconbattlereaper:
battlereaper Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010  Student Digital Artist
More great advice. I eagerly await next week's tip. Right now, I've got my tongue so deep in the ugliest toad I could find, that I can taste last month's flies....lol.
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:iconfrankakadar:
FrankAKadar Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Thanks for these tips Dan! Appreciate it a lot :)
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