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Friday, January 4, 2008

To All Fledgling Comics Creators: How Strong is the Passion?

Many, if not most, comics professionals will tell you that making comics is a fool's pursuit. They don't make a lot of money, but they still churn out story after story, page after page, book after book. And they do so while they spend most of their waking hours in their day jobs. I've been employed full time for over 12 years, and have written or drawn comics on and off for the past 15.

But I still have my day job, and I'm still making comics.

Jennifer de Guzman paints a bleak picture for aspiring comics creators in her column over at the Slave Labor Graphics website. And I quote:

"The First Reality: You are not likely to get rich, or even make a decent living, by creating comics. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but you cannot start out thinking of yourself as an exception because, odds are, you are not."

And this is true. Given the current state of the industry where there are a few major players and truckloads of minor players, as well as the commercial limitations and cultural biases against the medium, only a select few will get that big break. And among the select few, even fewer will be able to make a decent living out of making comics.

In many a forum, newbies have posted the question, "How do I make comics?" And they usually air this question because they've got a cool story swimming in their heads and want the world to know about it. The usual reply would be, "Why do you want to make comics?" If it's about the money, as the replies would go, it's very a steep climb and money shouldn't be a prime motivator.

But then, in my opinion, money is the prime motivation and a valid one at that.

We all know that making comics is a challenging endeavor, and those who make them know that it will be an indelible part of their lives. Their passion for making comics sustains them, hell or high water, and the financial rewards are the bonus.

But this is different from the desire to devote a career to making comics. To be able to succeed at making comics as a career, the passion should be a given. No one can imaginably sustain a career in making comics if there was no passion behind it. That's why newbie job interviews for most fields involve the question, "Why are you interested in this job?" Employers want to know and test an applicant's passion for what the job entails before considering the applicant for the post. Passion is a key criteria for employers because they know it would be inconvenient for them in the long run if they realize that the applicant was there for the money alone.

If a person were in a stressful job (like making comics) purely for the money, he'd reach a point where he'd reevaluate his priorities. Passion would otherwise make him endure.

So I think it's a given that all aspiring comics creators and graphic novelists have passion for the craft. They seriously want to make comics no matter what. The real question, however, is how strong the passion is. How long it can last.

Passion can make a person do crazy, unconventional things, particularly when it involves a powerful interest from extreme sports to wild animal handling. But passion can also be a powerful drive to pursuing excellence. For one, passionate people don't find shortcuts; they want to know as much as they can every step of the way. They take the long route of discovery and application.

Passionate people also know that their greatest enemies are pride and self-preservation. Pride stunts their growth, gives them that "know it all, I'm better than him" attitude, and thus prevents them from opening up to learning opportunities. Self-preservation, on the other hand, inhibits them from taking risks. This is practiced by pro creators who sacrifice sleep and socializing in favor of the comics that craves to be made. How many times have we slept at near sunrise knowing that we have an important appointment at 9:00 in the morning?

Passionate people can't help themselves. They would ask, "Why the hell am I doing this?" but continue anyway. Reality is a deterrent they're able to cheat or circumvent, even deny, by hook or by crook.

So for the aspiring comics creator, I won't put you down when you say you're in it for the money, because I know that you won't last very long. Down the line, something's going to divert your interest or promise you a higher paycheck. If outside the comics field is where you're really meant to go, then best of luck to you.

But when you have enough passion, you'll pull out all the stops in finding out all you need to know:

1) You'll want to find out how to write a great story. Not a story that'll just satisfy your childhood dream, but a story that's logical and properly structured, laden with an interesting protagonist, colorful characters, and an overwhelming threat. You'll want to learn the nuances of dialog and enjoy real research. In your story, you'll want to explore the possibilities of your storyline and not limit yourself to conventions. You'll go to the library or the bookstore for writing books. You'll write and revise over and over.

2) You'll want to find out how to effectively visualize your story in comics form, and fine tune your illustration skills. You'll waste paper, spend hours in front of the computer, and invest in more drawing materials than the average Joe. You'll take the pros as inspiration, but take time to develop your own style. You'll learn perspective and anatomy from art books, not comic books.

3) You'll want to learn how to attract the interest of an audience. You'll read about the comics industry. You'll read about the book industry, and publishing in general. You'll try alternative means of producing, distributing and promoting your work. You won't limit yourself to an overcrowded specialized market, and determine what other people are looking for beyond spandex, in the genre of your choice. You'll research on how to write professional query letters and press releases. You'll want to learn how to directly contact people who can help you. You'll want to learn how to make more sales at the shortest time possible...without sounding desperate.

And finally...

4) You'll want to learn how you can effectively share what you've learned as an inspiration (or a kind warning) to others.

That's passion. It's a crazy little thing, but it can take you places. Crazy places and insightful situations. With the graphic novel still in its relative infancy, there's no way but up. Maybe not in cash, but definitely in tons of experience.



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