Hello aspiring artists and comic book fans!
A lot of up-and-coming comic book creators and artists have emailed me lately with questions on how to make it in the industry. Seems a lot of folks want to know how to perfect their artistic skills, or how to craft a comic book from start to finish. While I don’t profess that my way is the best way, or even the “only” way, I would like to think that over the years of working in comic books, I’ve picked up a few helpful skills. So today, I’m gonna share some tips that will hopefully help you along with your development.
1. Am I an artist? Do I have ENOUGH talent?
There are a lot of artists out there. Some are naturally talented, others have to work at it, and some are simply deluded. I know that may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. I will NEVER destroy anyone who approaches me with their work, even if I don’t find their work appealing or good, but there comes a time when you have to ask yourself “do I have talent”?
I always try to give helpful direction and constructive criticism, because I believe anyone can get better, but a natural artistic aptitude needs to be there in order to evolve. Here’s the thing: the comic book industry, whether it’s the mainstream or adult industries are very competitive. You’re gonna be up against a lot of really talented folks, and there is always someone else trying to get his or her foot in the door – and maybe that someone will be better than you.
So remember this: an artist is NEVER perfect. We can always learn more and better our craft, but for that to happen, we have to be open growing and to constructive criticism… even if sometimes the criticism isn’t easy to take.
2. Draw, Draw, DRAW!
If you’re just starting out, my advice is to draw, draw, draw… because while practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, it will make you much better. And don’t just draw stuff you’re naturally into. Force yourself to draw other things too. If you love drawing people, MAKE yourself draw objects, animals, cars, furniture, fruit, buildings – WHATEVER! This trains you to be artistically flexible and versatile, and it will improve your skills. If drawing comics is your goal, you can bet that you’ll end up having to draw stuff like this in backgrounds. Editors aren’t gonna be easy going about that stuff because comics feel more realistic when artists pay close attention to the little details. So be prepared and train yourself to be a well rounded artist. It may be your key to success.
Don’t be afraid to use reference. Don’t trace stuff, but use reference if you need to learn how the human body works proportionately. When I was starting out, I got a grip on my “human anatomy” by referring to muscle building magazines. While those mags may focus on hyper-developed physiques, they also provide you with great examples of musculature and movement.
Likewise, there’s no shame in using reference for inanimate objects. The internet is a goldmine of visual reference, and you can find pretty much anything you need to illustrate. We don’t all encounter the objects we may need to draw in comics in our day to day lives. I don’t use a stethoscope on a regular basis, nor do I know exactly what the undercarriage of car looks like. Again, items such as these can be found with relative ease on the net, and using them as reference for your drawing will not only make your art more convincing, but it’ll also earn you the reputation of an artist who goes that extra mile.
A great way to grow as an artist is to surround yourself with peers and other up-and-coming artists. A great way to do that is to become part of an online community such as the Y!Gallery, DeviantArt, Fur Affinity or any other that fits your niche. You won’t always hear what you want to, but you’re guaranteed to receive the advice you need.
3. COMIC BOOKS – How to create one!
So. You have ideas. You have skills. You think you’re a pretty good writer… You want to make a comic book!
Well, first of all, it’s important to remember that a single comic book doesn’t have to be the ENTIRE story of a character. It can be just a small chapter in their life. You can decide to start telling someone’s story at the mid-point of their life if you want. You’re the writer, which means you’re the boss!
It’s ALWAYS good to have an idea of a character’s back story, but you don’t want to hit your readers over the head with too much information too soon. By giving just a few hints of a character’s past, you can hook your reader and keep them coming back for more. Origin stories are great, but can sometimes take too long to get going, and if they are too heavily intermingled with the current story line, readers can get a bit confused, or worse, a LOT frustrated.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to tell EVERYTHING that you know about your character in one comic. Pace yourself. Pace the information you give out. Keep surprises in store for later issues.
Your first book should be fun and sexy, and hint at stuff to come. To be crass, you don’t want to BLOW YOUR LOAD all over the first issue!! People need a reason to want issue #2!
So if I were you I would sit down, and write out EVERYTHING you know about the characters and story you’ll put in your comic.
Then, start scraping stuff away. Stuff you don’t think is essential to the first book, which is ultimately meant to HOOK your readers. Make a few lists for yourself… lists that show the elements you’ll show in the comic, lists that show the stuff you’re keeping to yourself, and lists with ideas for the future.
If after that you still feel a bit confused by all the information, then it might help you to plan the events of a few issues in advance. That way, you pace things naturally, but can see well ahead of yourself and better understand how your story will unfold.
4. Self publishing… is it for you?
You can either shop your comic around to publishers or you can decide to go it on your own. Self-publishing is not easy, especially in this day and age where the digital medium is slowly carving away at the printed product, but it’s not an impossibility. There will always be the reader who wants his or her comic books in print.
You can either find a printer locally who, if you create adult-themed comics, isn’t opposed to that sort of material, or you can look online for print on demand sources such as Comixpress, Ka-Blam Digital Printing or Sips Comics to name just a few. A quick Google search will turn up a slew of such services, and then all you have to do is find the one you prefer and can best meet your needs.
If you decide to approach a local printer, there’s a few things you need to know. First of all, printing is NOT cheap. You will need to be able to put up the cash to print your comic, and you will need to print a minimum of copies in order to make it financially viable. Digital printing may be slightly cheaper than going to press, but again you may have to print a minimum amount.
Distribution is equally important, especially if you want people to be able to buy your book. Naturally, the internet can help. A good website, a FaceBook page, a Twitter account – all things can help you to promote and even sell your book. But approaching comics distributors may also be helpful.
Diamond Comics Distributors are naturally one of the first places you will want to look, but be aware that they require a certain amount of sales in order to distribute a title. If your sales are below their minimum requirement, they may decide to stop distributing your work.
Again, a Google search will turn up a number of possible distributors. Each will have their own set of terms of services, so it’s very important that you read over all of their documentation BEFORE you embark on any partnership.
If you decide to shop your comic around to a publisher, there are a few things you need to be aware of. Not all publishers are after the same things, and not all publishers offer the same things.
While most publishers offer royalties and cash advances on projects, those percentages and amounts can vary as can the copies printed. Again it’s important to read everything over carefully and ask questions until you are completely clear on what you’re signing.
Before you send a publisher your work, be sure to read their SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. That’ll insure that you are best prepared to make a real impact with your work. Publishers are busy people and we don’t like our time being wasted, so reading the submission guidelines will help you to get your foot in the door without bogging us down with unnecessary materials. We want to get to the crux of your submission and we want to do so efficiently. A proper presentation is the first step to getting a publisher interested in your project, and if your presentation meets all the submission criteria, then you are more likely to garner the publisher’s interest.
This may sound petty, but I’ve literally received 50-page submissions that I was asked to sift through in order to get to the meat and potatoes. I don’t think so! Short, concise, precise and professional makes a far greater impression than sloppy, long-winded and demanding.
5. Magic Beans.
Of course, there’s a ton of other stuff you can learn about becoming a comic book artist, a comic book creator, self-publisher and distributor. I mean I could probably write a small book on the topic… but some stuff you just need to research for yourself. Again, Google is your friend. You can also find a ton of books on the subject, some of them even published by comic giants such as DC Comics etc…
But I can’t stress this enough: Make sure you have talent… because you will be up against many people who do, and publishers are very quick to recognize who and what has potential and who and what doesn’t.
In closing, the question I get the most is what my partner, Fraser and I call the “Magic beans” question. Often artists ask us if there is a guarantee of success in making comic books. The answer, simply put is “NO”!
Like in any market there are no guarantees. Will you become hugely successful? Maybe. Will you end up making millions? Probably not. You can go on to become hugely successful or you can end up nowhere. That is the reality of this industry.
Two equally talented artists could end up having entirely different careers based on the choices they make, the luck they have and the opportunities that are presented to them and the ones they act upon.
Comics can be a labor of love, but becoming successful at something is more than just having talent or the love of the craft. It’s also about being smart and knowing how to proceed in a way that brings you closer to your goals. Determination, a great attitude and a desire to work hard and continue to improve are a large part of what will determine your success… and this isn’t just something that applies to making comics… it generally applies to most things in life.
Keep on creating! I wish you all the very best in your artistic endeavors,