Recently the “breaking into comics” conversation started circulating again, as it does a couple times a year. It’s such a weird conversation, mostly because it’s a conversation rooted in outdated ideas. What I mean is that the term doesn’t mean what it meant twenty years ago but, people still talk like it does. Which, like a lot of things in comics, people are realizing as we drag the industry kicking and screaming into 2017.
Breaking into comics has so many meanings and measurements for so many creators now. What one person views as being successful in a comics career isn’t necessarily what his buddy down the street is looking for.
There are so many different ways to make comics and make them available to readers now. The days of needing to be near the heart of a publisher (physically, like living in New York) or mailing samples in the mail are all but distant memories. You can live anywhere and have a career in comics. Really.. all you need to have a career in comics now is an internet connection. Even if you are someone who measures success as working for Marvel or DC, the internet is your bestfriend.
You can make a comic and publish it online for next to nothing. You can make mini comics and go to conventions. Comic conventions. Even that is a vastly different thing than twenty years ago. There is a comic show in practically every state and or city on any given weekend now. It’s possible to get so many eyes on your work now in ways that are right there and up to you how you handle them. Even self publishing comics that are a quality product is so much more attainable due to crowdfunding and print to order sites.
So, with all the various avenues one could focus on, the plethora of subjects and styles that are widely accepted, why are so many of us miserable half the time and feel like failures while working our asses off making comics? Well… there are a lot of reasons. But I’m not a psychologist or paranormal investigator or whatever.
I just want to offer my personal perspective here.
My personal goals in a comics career is to make comics. The kind of comics I like. I would also like to be able to, at the very least, pay my bills and live comfortably. Not comfortably like nice cars and shit, but comfortably like not having to panic about bills, medicine, food, etc. I’m not someone who would only consider myself a successful creator if I ended up at Marvel or DC or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you, I’d love to work with them (or any number of others) but they are not the end game for me.
Comics is an investment. No matter how you cut it. You are going to sink your life into it. Very possibly your life and your money. Comics is working hard and feeling like no one is looking as you labor away in a room ignoring your family for hours or days on end.
The thing is… there’s always SOMEONE paying attention. You put a comic out, someone out there is going to find it and like it. Will you be held up as the next big thing in comics? No, probably not. Odds are good you might only have 50 people who call themselves “fans”. You know what? That’s fine. You keep working. You keep making comics. You keep trying new things and trying to get better at making comics. You try to learn about everything there is to make a comic and have it in someone’s hands. That 50 is bound to become 75.
If you are making comics and you fight through that depression, fight through that self doubt, you make yourself be outgoing and talk to other creators at shows etc. If you make yourself do that, you are breaking into comics.
I know, I know, “No, what we mean is how do I break into making money and being loved and not having any trouble dealing with the distribution monopoly that is Diamond?” I don’t know. By doing everything I mentioned above. By not deciding you want to be a comics creator and then setting your sights on the top of the mountain with no plan for how to navigate the base. Don’t get me wrong, goals are good. But being realistic in your goals is smart.
I talked with a lot of people that hate the idea of “pros” saying “just make comics!” as their advice for making it in comics. I get that. But, it’s not wrong. The only way to break into comics is to make comics. Is it the only thing? No, probably not. But I’ll tell you this, If you are wanting to make comics for a living, you have to love you some fucking comics. You need to want to make those comics even if no one is paying you to make those comics. If you want to get paid to make comics, you need to prove you can make comics worth paying for. The comics industry is maybe one of the stupidest business wise. It’s all over the place and everyone is trying to make their way in a sea of chaos.
I’ll offer you this, comics has been my main job for about 5 years now. I’ll be 41 this year. I have a lifetime of mini comics, anthologies, single issues and a couple graphic novels behind me. I was 39 when I got the opportunity to work with Dark Horse on EERIE and CREEPY. I am still incredibly honored and stoked by that. Not a lot changed though. I have managed a couple projects with editors I met or worked with during that. I noticed a lot more people paid attention to me once I could add Dark Horse to my resume but it didn’t make other publishers give me more work. I won’t lie, I get really depressed and feel like a failure, probably like, twice a week. But you know what? I keep going. I keep making the comics I want to make. I keep hoping to work with publishers I respect. I keep working with publishers I’ve had relationships with for a few years now. I keep paying to self publish my own comics. I keep making comics and I keep my goals reasonable. I don’t send out samples near as much as I should because of self doubt. I think about bugging people at BOOM! and ONI and such on a regular basis. I almost always talk myself down. Don’t do that. No matter how bad the rejection feels, don’t talk yourself out of trying. Comics is a hard egg to crack but, don’t believe the hype. There is room for everyone.
No matter how awfully alone you feel or how much you think you’ll never make it in comics, shut up. Shut up and suck it up. Ok.. you can cry too. That’s fine. Just as long as you find time in the darkness to make comics for the rest of us to enjoy.
So, this was me rambling. It’s probably not helpful and very un-informative. I have no real reason or place to assume I can offer you any helpful advice for making your career in comics. Just try. Try really really hard.
And fuck it, if you need someone to talk to, feel free to contact me. I can’t get you jobs but I might be able to make you laugh and want to try again.