Welcome back folks to another dazzlingly, daring diatribe from yours truly! Fall has fallen, and finally, things are slowing down just a tad as we go into the home stretch this year. Of course, that doesn’t mean much around good old Visionary.
Why not you ask? Well…
We’re still pretty hyped up that our first novel under the Visionary Books line, Deadlands: Ghostwalkers, was nominated for a covetous Scribe Award and a Dragon Award, thanks to the wonderful wordsmith Jonathan Maberry. The mass-market paperback hit stands back in August.
We’re also still celebrating ‘thunderous’ reviews for our second release that just hit stands a couple weeks back. Deadlands: Thunder Moon Rising, by our own EiC Jeff Mariotte is proving to be an excellent follow-up to the series, with its own take on the weird west!
On that front, us folk here in Visionary Central also got our first gosh-darn, gander at the finished manuscript from Seanan McGuire, who’s proliferous pen is dishing out our third book, Deadlands: Boneyard. It caps the trifecta quite nicely with a wild tale of a weird-west freak show! On top of that, we got the same amazing art team back, with Aaron Riley doing the cover, and Steve Ellis gracing the interior with his own pen and ink.
We’re also wrapping a record-breaking number of shows for Visionary this year, with our final full slate between now and mid-November. You can get all the latest on the ones still coming up with our Weekly Visions post from last week. So, if you’re in range of Hampton, Tucson, Washington DC, or Southern Maryland, come and say howdy to our stalwart staff and crazy creators at your show of choice.
Don’t fret though, there’s still more to come, stuff we’ll be starting to tease as we go into the colder months. Hey, you got to have stuff to read and enjoy on those long winter nights, and we’ll have you covered just like your favorite snuggly blanket!
My Comic Life Column 004: Building Up 2: Laying a Foundation
Alright, so last time, I did my best Joker a la Heath Ledger impression and challenged all you aspiring creators out there to get serious. Seriously, check it out here if you missed it.
So, now that we’re a little wiser, a little more focused, and a lot more serious, having spent some time rethinking our plan, let’s start building up that potential comics career, shall we? Where, oh where, should we start?
Digging the Hole
A buddy of mine pointed out that even before you lay a foundation, you actually start by digging yourself a hole. He was being sarcastic, but he got me to thinking – yes, you will indeed be digging a hole. If you’re going to seriously pursue a career in comics, you will be committing resources to that, so be prepared for those to start leaking out of other areas of your life. You will need to commit time to practice your craft on a regular (ideally daily) basis, so where will that time come from? There will also be expenses associated; whether it’s hardware or software, a laptop, art supplies, or just printing costs, you will at some point spend money, so can you set realistic limits and budget that out of your income?
I’m now going to reveal a critically important piece of the puzzle here…
For your own well-being, it is essential you be intentional and on top of just how big a hole you’re digging in order to pursue this career, and to know when you may need to step back or even stop. I’m not passing judgment on anyone’s journey or the sacrifices they may have been willing to make. I am however strongly advocating that you be intentional in being aware of those sacrifices and the impact they have not only on you but those around you.
I’ve known folks who just kept pushing ahead, never seeming to realize what they were putting on the line. I’ve known folks who risked everything to pursue a creative career (in comics and elsewhere) and lost jobs, homes, cars, family, and even their independence. Some end up making it, and build all that back plus so much more; others–a lot of others–don’t. We all know the negative stereotype of comic creators who are middle-aged, living with their parents, not making enough to support themselves, much less families they’ve brought along with them, but still convinced they will make it huge in comics someday, despite having very little progress to show. You don’t need to be one of those.
I’ve known plenty of top professionals who find it hard enough to support themselves, so when I see folks who undermine the entire rest of their life or fall short in their other responsibilities to doggedly pursue something where they’ve made precious little gain, it’s heartbreaking. Yes, when you start, you will first be digging the hole, investing time, money, energy, etc. To take a serious leap of faith with some real potential, or to give a marked timeframe to operate in the negative, in order to launch your comics career is part of the game. But keep in mind, at some point, to be truly successful, the hole needs to stop getting deeper, and something needs to start filling it up.
Foundation = Education
Before you start trying to work in comics, you should learn about comics. Simple, huh? Yet many hopeful creators overlook this entirely, or make the mistake of assuming having read and loved comics all their lives equates to an education.
(Spoiler: It doesn’t.)
The Medium As An Art Form
The first step is learning about comics as an art form. It’s important to learn about how the medium works, the roots it evolved from, and the various changes over time. So, at least some understanding of how we went from pictograms in ancient cultures to the digital revolution of the 21st century is important. Doing so, you start to learn the language of the art, its rules and guidelines, its practices and aesthetics. You learn what works, what doesn’t, and where maybe you can bring something new to it.
This is even more important these days as comics are making huge evolutionary leaps in the growing digital space. Innovations are helping push the boundaries and completely changing some of the most basic, fundamental aspects of comics as a storytelling medium. If you as a creator don’t have a solid grasp on that, how do you expect to compete?
The Business Itself
While comics in and of themselves are art, they are also very much a business, an industry. So, for anyone wanting to work in that industry, there is a great deal one should learn about that industry. Learn how the direct market works, learn about the differences between indy-press and mainstream. Learn what publishers are out there and the specific niches and demographics they cater to. Learn about the distribution and retail end of comics as well. You don’t need to become an expert in every arena, but you should have a solid, fundamental grasp of the bigger picture, especially on how it will impact you as a creator.
I often scan listings for folks seeking creators and/or collaborators. I’ve found some great artists to work with as a writer, and sometimes solid enough looking leads to send a heads-up about my studio’s services. It startles me, though, the number of listings I regularly find from folks who so clearly have NOT learned the business. Promises of working on a pitch, to get a series picked up by a publisher, who will then PAY the creators (doesn’t happen EVER), or folks wanting someone to work free, with no shared ownership, or… well, any number of ads that I immediately gloss over, but with a twinge of regret for the equally clueless folks who will fall for them.
Just learning a minimum about our little niche of the entertainment world will–and I’m just being honest here–disillusion a good number of people. Again, it’s that magical allure of comics and the myths surrounding it, but once you get a good understanding of the dynamics, politics and economic realities of comics? It may indeed lead you to change your mind about whether you want to pursue that dream career or not. At the very least, it may lead to some significant shifts in your plan to get there, and that will only help you in the long run. (Everyone’s been reading Jim Zub’s Blog I shared earlier, right?)
The Job and the Other Jobs
No editor will seriously consider a submission from an aspiring creator that shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how the job is done or how it fits into the larger picture of a creative team. Learn the formats, and how lax or strict those guidelines are for your chosen field. For example, writers work in script format, which has a good bit of leeway as long as key elements and layouts are there. Finished art handed in for printing? Very specific specs to hit for printing. Learn how to produce your work best so that those you are working with have what they need at their fingertips.
For example, a writer needs to know about comic script formatting. A prose story or a jumbled outline will never even be read in the best of circumstances. The more you learn about how an artist takes a script and works from it in creating the art, how the colorist looks to it for guidance on palette and mood, and how a letterer works with it in lettering the actual book, the more you benefit not only yourself but everyone else on your team. Keeping those factors in mind means you produce better quality scripts, and your team a better quality book.
Just like any other job, the people who get the best jobs are not just the ones showing the most talent, but the ones who produce the best work. Work created to spec, prepped well for the rest of the team to dive in, and save the editor and production folks time, is going to be seen as better work.
How Do I Learn Everything?
You don’t, and you don’t have to. It will be a process you should start, and dig into a good bit before you even start submitting work, but it’s one that doesn’t ever really end.
Take every opportunity to learn that you can. That means when you get critical feedback on a portfolio, redo the portfolio and incorporate those comments. Stay up on media sites and any developments in the industry. Make sure a regular part of your time commitment includes broadening your education and expanding your knowledge base. There are a ton of books on every aspect of creating comics, and plenty of resources online, from entire sites focused on creating comics, to pro creators who regularly offer tips on their social networking pages. If you have the chance, take classes, attend conventions, network with folks in the know and pick their brains whenever you can. Find the ways that work best for you and fit into your schedule and resources, and make the most of them.
Then once you’ve started, never quit. All quality professionals recognize the need to stay current in their field, to learn innovations and cutting edge developments. We recognize this as obvious with fields such as medecine, or science, yet somehow miss it in comics. As I mentioned before, comics, as an art form and industry is in a major state of flux, with sweeping changes happening all the time. If you want to compete, you need to be on top of all that.
Basic Training! How to start doing the work, and taking your first steps into the wonderful world of comics! This one will start including mandatory (if you’re serious) reading lists, online resources and a bunch of other goodies!
Feel free to add your thoughts, any great resources you know of, or simply share your educational stories.
About C. Edward Sellner
A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Comics, one of the best known comic studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycomics.com!