People wonder why I get so angry at comic creators who constantly give advice to others on breaking in. I just feel like I am sitting in a room listening to evangelists every time certain members of the community talk about this subject.
I want to give you the truth on comics, because nobody else will. This is about the reality of the industry.
I know guys who have been in the business over ten years and still don’t get any work. I know guys who have been established in the industry for over 25 years and barely get by. Sales numbers are not great on most titles, even though digital sales are going up.
There are three people who determine the fate of the entire comic industry: Dan Didio, Axel Alonso and Eric Stephenson. If you cannot get your work into their hands and turn that into a publishing deal of some sort, you will never make it in comics. You can dabble, you can make art, you can experiment and have fun but if those three men ignore you, you will never make it to the top. There are exceptions to every rule of course, but if you think you are that lucky, you should buy lottery tickets.
It’s going to cost you at LEAST $2000 to make a comic, twice that if you want to actually have a good shot at getting it picked up by Image. If you want to work for Marvel or DC and aren’t an artist, forget about it. You won’t get hired there. Not even if you are famous. Unless one of those three gate keepers are fans of your work, or read your novels or something, you still aren’t getting in. If you are a white male, your chances are even slimmer even though people like you dominate the industry; there are too many of us in there already and when a slot DOES become available, those three guys are going to choose either a) their friends or b) the most politically correct and talented choice they can find.
So let’s say you manage to keep the cost down to about $4000, which is actually higher than the monthly salary of EVERY COUNTRY ON EARTH. You get it printed and ship it out to show off your work. Guess what? You’ll never know if anyone even bothered to look at it. Chances are, no one will ever get back to you about your book. You can post it online and fish for feedback, but even THAT makes people angry.
You see the truth about the comic industry is this: They don’t want you, they don’t need you, they don’t even like you. The industry is notorious for ripping off creators, it is legendary for misleading or taking advantage of fans, do you really think they want more people coming into their private club?
The only real way to break into comics is to build an audience. They want that, they need that, they like that. How you do that is up to you; run a mouthy blog, write a book series, or learn to draw like the pros. You could write the greatest comic ever written but the guy with ten thousand fans for his ASSGRABBER series is going to be the first one to get the call. Because great work, unfortunately, does not equal sales. Ten thousand fans though, are a hard number to argue with when it comes to market reach. They don’t want you, they want your friends, family and fans. Without that, your book is going to sit on a pile of other books written and drawn by people just like you. To them you are just “the slush pile” but what I see is a pile of dreams, trees and ink that could have been channeled into better things.
Truth is, the more shows you attend, the more likely your chances are that you’ll get noticed by one of those three guys. When an industry has no standards, no real method to determine what is “good” or “bad” other than sales numbers, then who you know becomes more important than what you do. Almost every single person I saw get gigs from Marvel and DC were guys who attended conventions throughout the U.S. Meeting the creators is the best way to get them to actually look through that pile of slush.
I followed every word of advice, every tip, read every script, every blog post and it didn’t matter. Knowing how to break in doesn’t mean you actually CAN. Now, your results may vary. But unless you’ve got four grand sitting around that you can waste, you aren’t going to get their attention. They want you to make comics to break into comics, but if you can already afford to make them, what do you need the big publishers for?
The reason I am saying this is not to discourage people; I mean I managed to get a script in to Top Cow despite all my attitude and arrogance, so anything is possible. Top Cow is a one of a kind company and they had a once in a life time opportunity available that some of us were lucky enough to get. Change the day of the contest, or the arrangement of judges, or the weather on the day they read scripts and you might have different winners.
When it comes to “breaking in”, whether it is comics or anywhere else, most of it comes down to luck. So if you really think you can make it, go for it, maybe the day you submit your work is the day luck is on your side. The more money you have to spend, the better your luck will be. Each convention you rent a table at is another opportunity to network, which is more important than the work you put out.
The reason I made this post though is because if you don’t have the money to produce your own work, if you think comics will provide a rockstar lifestyle, or if you think comics are the key to an easy career or a lucrative retirement, you’re wrong. Just look at the sheer number of charity cases for comic creators that have popped up over the last five years. If you can write, write anything else, you’ll be better off for it in the long run. Don’t waste time like I did writing scripts that no one wants or cares about when you could be writing books, films or poetry.
The comic industry is much like the real estate business; you either partner with a firm or you do it yourself. Anyone you know ever bought a house from an independent? Or though a website? Nobody wants to do that, because we’ve geared the market toward thinking those people aren’t as good or as competent. There are only so many slots available at the Creator-owned publishers and the first choice is always going to be someone connected to the Big Two. Whose money paid for Image in the first place? It was made by creators who funneled their success from Marvel and DC into their own business. To this day, it still remains the place for people who work for Marvel and DC to do their own projects. Your competing with them, even if they don’t admit that you are.
My honest advice, for those like me who don’t have the money to compete at a rigged sport like comics?
Find another way. Make your own comics as cheaply as you can and sell them digitally. Ignore everything they are doing. I love the characters too, but not enough to continue to be broke spending money on the world’s most expensive resume (which is what most comics are, aren’t they?”
The comic industry is going to be a drastically different beast ten years from now. Your best bet now would be to see where comics are headed and be there first; figure out a great app that let’s readers interact with the stories or find a new way with the current tech to tell these visual stories. Experiment with narrative and imagery, we need that sort of thing, the world doesn’t need another Spider-Man fan who wants to write Spider-Man, they already have one of those and he’ll be there for a good twenty years now until his health fails and they start a social media charity for him.
You CAN make comics. You CAN sell comics. You just can’t make or sell Image, DC, or Marvel comics. Which is fine. Don’t believe anything the people working on their books tell you, they can’t be trusted. Have fun doing your own thing. If you see people who work for one of those companies, or one of the other small publishing houses, don’t ask yourself how you can be in their chair; ask yourself how you can outsell them with your own work. The comic industry has a very strict NO NEW FRIENDS policy, so let the dream go. You can dream bigger than spandex.
Amazon has some great tools for beginning authors as well as tons of resources from other writers on getting started. Wouldn’t it be better to write a book, rather than write a pitch that won’t even get an e-mail reply?
Websites like deviantart allows artists to sell their work in all kinds of formats, on all sorts of merchandise.
I loved the X-Men and Justice League too. But at some point you have to decide whether or not you are going to be defined by what YOU make, or what THEY own. You ever had a friend give you some advice that sounded bad, but years later you thanked them for having the guts to tell you to move on?
See you then. 🙂