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November 16, 2010


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Breaking into Comics Part Five

Tue Nov 16, 2010, 12:52 PM

Your First Assignment

So let's pretend all your hard work has paid off and a publisher/editor has given you a script to draw or a page to ink.  Maybe it's only a back up story.  It doesn't matter.  You have an assignment.  

Naturally, you'll want to do your very best work to impress the heck out of the editor and the fans - but you may be a bit intimidated or feel some pressure to perform.  Of course, that's very natural.  It's a lot like your first time up to bat in a baseball game.  Sure you've practiced and hit the ball before.  In this case, your samples were batting practice.  But now there's a few people in the stands and the pitcher isn't your coach or a friend of yours.  It's different.  Very much so.

Regardless, it's time to draw.  My suggestion is to start immediately.  If you're a penciler - this means reading the script and maybe doing some thumbnail sketches.  Convince yourself that they are merely starting ideas and not final thumbnails.  If you're an inker, start Hardlining the page.  Bring out the templates and start finding all the ovals and circles and lay down some ink.  Again, you're just doing some very basic things that don't require much artistry or much time.  

In both cases, beginning this way accomplishes two things:  One, without realizing it, you're starting.  It's the hardest thing to do when it comes to comics.  And Two, you're actually giving yourself a strong base for the following day.  When you return, you've built up some momentum.  There's some actual work to build on.  You've broken down that first scary wall.  Baby Stepping your way through each element of completion makes the process that much easier.  Before you know it, you'll be finished.  Each step won't consume or overwhelm you.  By breaking down the process and starting immediately, you take all the fear and pressure off yourself.  

Let's back track a bit with the penciling.  It's day two and you're sitting there with your initial rough thumbnails.  They might be almost too vague to really use.  That's fine.  But you have some storytelling ideas in front of you.  Here's a fun technique I use when I ink - but it can also be used for the pencil stage: How many times have your critiqued someone else's work?  Even if you've never formally addressed another artist about his or her work, you've probably critiqued it in your mind.  You might think, "Personally, I think this particular shot would work better from this angle..." Or, "This doesn't make sense, you should try this..."  Well, try doing that with your own work.  Pretend those thumbnails were drawn by someone else and you need to "help them"... Suddenly, your eyes open up and it's easier to see ways to improve on your initial ideas/designs/composition.  Trust me it works.  I use this technique on my pencils when I go to ink them.  I pretend the page was drawn by a new artist that really needs some serious help in every aspect of the game and I go to town.  Magically, I fix mistakes [ sadly, not all of them... ] and the page turns out much better than if I were to remain faithful to my original scribbles.  

The process works because it allows you to step outside the box.  You step outside of the immediate problem and look at it with fresh eyes.  You remove pressure from yourself and analyze and improve as if you're the teacher.  It feels safer.  As a result, you'll see dramatic improvements in your work.  The first step is thumbnailing.  The next step is refining those thumbnails.  Then you want to block in the key elements on the actual page.  Next, you may want to start defining shapes and key figures.  Then continue to refine figures and elements until you're satisfied with the page.  Little by little, all of it painless, you've completed a page or series of pages.

One side note: Don't blow your deadline.  This, above all else, is paramount.  Turn that job in on time.  Just like a job at a store or restaurant - if you're late - you get fired.  It applies to comic books too and yet so many artists blow their deadlines.  Editors vaule great art but they also value artists that can deliever on time.  Because if you can't deliver, it costs the company [ printing, scheduling, retail commitments, etc ]. If the company can't deliver then they can't stay in business.  If they can't stay in business, your editor loses their job.  To the editor, their job and livelihood is more important than yours.  Sorry.  It's how the world works.

Alright, you've finished your pages - now what?  Obviously you want to deliver them but let's say there's no concrete promise or indication of future work?  What to do?  You need to start sending out your work.  Don't rely on one editor if you don't have another assignment lined up.  You need to hit the pavement again the same way you did when you landed this first assignment.  The good news is that now you have some published work on your side.  New samples.  They're probably considerably better than the samples you used to get your first assignment.  

Until you've secured a solid work arrangement, you need to continue pursuing publishers and editors in the same manner you did initially.  There is no mystery group of editors that sit around worrying about whether you have work or not.  I know working professionals today that don't get steady work and they wonder why their phone isn't ringing.  They imagine that there's a weekly meeting of editors and they discuss everyone that's ever worked for their company and keep tabs on them.  Obviously there aren't any businesses that work that way but sometimes it's easy to think that if a company has hired you once or even several times - that you're "in their system".  The system rewards those that pursue the system.  You won't get a piece of pie in the cafeteria line unless you ask for it.  It's there, but the cook behind the counter can't read your mind and he's not going to plop food on your tray unless you tell him what you want.  You need to ask.  

So ask.  Send samples.  If you don't get another assignment based on your last one, do more samples.  Improve.  You improved enough to get that first job, now it's time to improve some more to get another.  Believe me, each time you complete a job you will improve dramatically.  If you don't, you're not as passionate about the medium as you thought you were.  There's so much to learn and improve upon with every stage/level of art.  It never ends.  Only your passion to learn and grow does.  

Good luck barbarians.  Break down that gate.

  • Mood: Llama
  • Listening to: Alt Nation on Sirius
  • Reading: Oscar Wilde
  • Watching: UFC
  • Playing: See Below
  • Eating: what I want when I want
  • Drinking: See Above
Add a Comment:
bashibozuk Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2011
thank you!
JaimeDL Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2011
Great advice and inspirational as well. Now back to those samples.
tombancroft Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2010  Professional Filmographer
BTW, I lied, I still want to.
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2010
Man, I'd love to see you draw an entire comic book!
tombancroft Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2010  Professional Filmographer
Wha- you never saw my Opposite Forces comic series I self published back in 2000-2004ish? Alias republished it after that, in color. I'll have to get them to you (the black and white versions, since that's all I have). Besides that, 'd love to do a Captain America story someday. Thanks for saying that though, it sounds great coming from you.
tombancroft Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2010  Professional Filmographer
I don't even want to be a comic artist and I LOVE these articles! (I like eating too much.) Great job Dan!
erdna1 Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Ok, all five printed, now let's read and get wise. I'm already in touch with a great editor, but God knows how helpful this insider stuff is. Thanks A LOT!
JoshawaFrost Featured By Owner Nov 21, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
Very nice chapter dude! I have been planning panels now, and am getting started on my samples =)
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2010
Go for it, Senor!
JoshawaFrost Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
Will do sir =)
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