So, I just got back from the Hampton ComiCon and WOW! What a show! I don’t think we had 20 minutes total at the booth all day without someone stopping by, buying art, checking out our stuff, and asking questions. More often than not there were multiple people at either end of our corner booth and both Mike Munshaw and myself chatting up all things Visionary. Lots of families, lots of younger kids enjoying our special kid-friendly prints and prizes, and some pretty super-fans who kept coming back and buying more each round.
It was the first show in Hampton sponsored by the same fine folks that put together the Tidewater ComiCon, another of our favorite conventions every year. So, many thanks to Mike Federali and his whole crew who know how to do shows right!
So, who’s ready for another dose of My Comic Life?
My Comic Life Column 005: Building Up Finale: Those Big First Steps…
Alright, if you’re still here despite all the bubble-bursting and doom and gloom I’ve spread, you must really want to create these things called comics… Fantastic, welcome to the party, hope you survive the experience!
If you did miss any of my previous columns and want to get your wake-up call before you go any further, you can catch up on all of them at the Archive.
Since you’ve made it this far, I’m now going to tell you something that may at first sound like it goes against pretty much everything I’ve said up to this point: the most important thing you need to do now is CREATE!
“But, wait a second, I thought you said all this other stuff needs to happen first…” Ah, but remember, this series wasn’t about creating comics, but about starting your journey on building some kind of career in creating comics. Whole different beast and a very important distinction.
In my second column, The Breaking In Myth, I said that if your only goal was to create, you should just go and do, then circle back later to get the lowdown on the actual creative process (which is coming up next). I then focused this series on the whole strategy of setting those professional career goals and how to start pursuing those in a more realistic, strategic way.
Why start there? It kind of goes back to some of what I’ve mentioned before and that is my experience of meeting aspiring creators with very unrealistic expectations, and no idea of what they are really pursuing, much less how best to go about pursuing it. I thought it important to dispel some of those myths, ground those unrealistic goals, and give everyone a chance to start with a better view of the process as a whole.
But if you ask me what is the single biggest challenge I find with aspiring creators who want to get into the business? It’s probably going to surprise you, but, pretty universally, it’s the actual act of creating.
Creators Gotta Create!
There are a lot of folks who want to make comics, they talk about making comics, take steps to learn how to make comics, pursue opportunities to make comics, and yet time and time again – end up not making comics. Others never really think about the goals or the bigger picture, but just do, they sketch, they write, they do little comics in their notebooks, on their blogs, on napkins, and constantly have ideas for new stuff in their head. The person who has the absolute best potential of being a professional creator (again, the focus of this series remember) is the person who finds that magical balance of setting goals and working toward the goals all while creating every step of the way.
When Visionary first launched, we started as a Teaching Studio. We recruited aspiring creators who showed talent, had that creative spark and had a desire to launch a career in comics. Needless to say, that was incredibly popular with a lot of folks pursuing that dream; we were flooded with great candidates. We selected close to twenty creators we felt had a good start, that we felt we could help get to the next level. We then worked with them, got plans together for the titles they would work on, and were ready to move forward on the actual process of creating comics.
Eighty percent of those folks ended up producing nothing more than a few ideas, a few script pages, a few sketches or a handful of half-finished pages.
When I taught a non-credit, college-level course on comics I always gave each class a challenge – to take the weeks we met to work on a portfolio they could submit to me weekly for review on their progress, and to then incorporate things we were learning in class as they progressed. All with the end goal of having their best ever portfolio by the end of the session.
Out of multiple students, in multiple sessions, I had maybe two who actually completed any portfolio.
The most important thing I can stress in this series, and the most important single piece of advice I can give to aspiring creators who are starting out – is to totally let go of your expectations, your aspirations and goals toward the big-time, and to first, just focus on the act of creating. Yes, by all means, be intentional in your efforts, be realistic about where you are as a creator, educate yourself about the art, history and business of comics, do all that, but do it with an open mind and open purpose of just improving yourself. Then, turn all that off when you actually sit down to create and just create.
The worst thing a creator can do is sit down to create with the primary purpose of getting a job, getting a good review on a portfolio from an editor, or finally creating that best-selling epic that will take the market by storm. That mindset creates an incredible amount of pressure to succeed, to meet someone else’s expectations, or make it perfect the first time out and that can be paralyzing.
Create for the sheer pleasure of creating. Create and let it flow and see what comes without pushing direction or setting up goals to hit on quality or quantity. Take that blank piece of paper or blank screen in front of you and just dive in to see what you can make. If you need to, literally start by telling yourself you are doing this for you and need never show it to another living soul, much less the top editor at Marvel. Doing this takes that paralyzing pressure to succeed off your shoulders. It lets you tap back into those creative energies kids have so naturally, and we as adults stamp out with purpose and intent, goals and expectations.
Practice, Practice, Practice…
The first discipline you need to develop as a creator is to set aside time as regularly as possible to create. Try your hardest to make it a daily activity, even if it’s a half hour a day to begin with. If you can do more some days, great, but don’t fall into the trap of saying you’ll just spend double the time tomorrow, or spend all day on the weekend, that’s the beginning of NOT creating, and tomorrow becomes the next day, and the weekend becomes next week.
Everyone knows the saying, but let’s take a look at why this is so critical.
First and foremost, daily practice is one of the key disciplines that will help you throughout your creative life, especially as an aspiring professional. Starting now, even if it’s that half hour, will mean you are conditioning yourself to create EVERY day, even if you don’t feel like it, even if you’re sick, even if you have a million other things to do, you do it. Once that window of time begins expanding, to an hour, a couple hours, or when you start working in the business, to a full eight-hour day, you’ve built on a good foundation of daily practice.
Second, by taking the time to create daily, you begin to condition your brain, just like any physical exercise conditions the body. The creative areas of your brain will begin to get more active, your creative energy will begin to increase, and your ability to slip into a creative mode will get easier, meaning that time spent, no matter how little, will get more and more productive.
Third, if you are also taking the time to learn about creating comics, and you’re taking time regularly to actually do that creative work, you’ll find your brain making associations between what you’ve learned and what you’re doing. You’ll start noticing areas where you can improve your work by applying what you learned, tips and pointers that you may have struggled with in the abstract will become clearer in the application, and you’ll start polishing your work more and more.
Fourth, you’ll also find yourself making more intuitive leaps on how to do things better. That can range from the smaller logistical things to the bigger picture creative things. Daily use of whatever tools you use to create, will make them more familiar to you, and as you get comfortable using them, your brain will then start seeing relationships, or shortcuts to doing the actual work better and faster. That may be as small as suddenly realizing a whole series of steps you do in your art software can actually be setup as an automated action you perform with a single click, to realizing you’ve been choosing similar camera angles in every panel and need to shake it up more.
Fifth, when you’re doing this regularly, you’ll find yourself pushing your own boundaries, trying new challenges, taking risks. Especially when, again, you remove that pressure to make perfection, or to work to someone else’s expectations, you’ll start setting your own expectations, your own goals and reaching for them and, more and more, meeting them.
Before the Good, There Must Come the Bad
This is critically important for the new creator, the person just starting out in doing the work. No matter how talented you are, your first finished script or finished illustrated pages are going to be bad, accept it, embrace it, and roll with it. When you start out, you will not be ready to submit anything to anyone, so don’t pressure yourself into thinking otherwise. This is another reason I chose to open with this series as it stands, because if in shattering those false expectations of breaking-in, I get you to slow down and allow yourself to just create, to grow as a creator before you try to succeed as one, then that is a true gift.
Everything Else From This Will Flow
If you keep your focus on actually creating, doing it as often as you can, disciplining yourself to doing it regularly, and also putting in some time on learning the craft to help you grow – you will. It’s really that simple. Everything else we’ve discussed so far in this series – making your own comic, doing work with a fellow creator, doing paid work, to even being the most successful creator in the history of comics, all stems from you creating something… every day.
As promised, beginning with this column, I’m going to start including resources for everyone to explore. These will range from websites, to books, to online courses and all between. We’ll be collecting these onto a central resources page, but new ones will always be listed here first.
Creating Comics is a clearinghouse of resources about every arena of comics, from creative production through to publishing. Created by Dave A. Law, the site isn’t updated anymore and some of the links no longer work, but plenty still do, and they go to numerous articles, series, books, and tools for every aspiring creator.
Making Comics.com is another clearinghouse site of resources, covering every topic from creation, to production, marketing to selling and even legal advice. It’s more current, with new updates regularly and also includes a number of links to other resources online, such as reading lists, and even recommended software.
About.com has a dedicated section on it’s site all about creating comics. They also include links to outside resources, with a focus on different areas of creative work and more practical topics.
It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get focused on creating comics! We’ll track a comic all the way through production, looking at some of the more important aspects of each piece of the creative process. This is where the fun begins!
What resources have you found in your journey, online or otherwise, that have helped you get more focused and learn about comics in general, or as a creator?
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!