I’ve had my fair share of experiences as a underground comic book artist and I always give one piece of advice when asked. “Don’t do it man!” I mean that most sincerely. It’s not to say that I don’t enjoy what I do or that I’m not proud of the work I’ve created. It’s just that I want the best for everyone I meet and sometimes the best is to tell them don’t do it!
Usually this question is asked without seeing any work. It’s usually questions about “how do I make a living at this” or “I’ve brought out my sketchbook for the first time in five years and I think I want to make comics, should I?” The answer is no, you shouldn’t. Go do something else. The answer is you don’t make money creating comics. I say all that because if you’re absolutely convinced that creating a comic is right for you, then by all means do it! If you’ve got an idea that you can’t get rid of, do it! When you find out that copies of your book are not moving and when you get bored with your comic the only thing that will move you forward is passion. If that’s not there you’ll never, ever make a living at comics. Even people with GOBS of talent are not guaranteed a successful comic book career.
Be prepared to work for years without financial reward. Be prepared to produce new work every day. Be prepared to turn down social engagements. Be prepared for the emotional highs and lows that you have to overcome every single day. Because if you can not do those things the market and the fans will not show up. This is a job. Treat it like a job. Treat it like a job you love doing.
I’m actually writing from a position of mid-transition. I can clearly see what needs to be done. I know how I need to schedule my time and I’m learning to balance my life. Things are not perfect but I’m figuring out what to do with that imperfection. As you think about putting down that next line or pen stroke, here are some things to think about. 1. This is not your masterpiece. This is a warm up. 2. This is not a warm up, this is page one 3. This is not perfect. You’ll never be perfect. Don’t try for perfect. This doesn’t look like my favorite artist. Don’t worry, it won’t. 4. Have fun. If you’re not having fun creating it no one will have fun reading it.
I want to emphasize that I’m not being negative. This is what I wish I heard when I started creating comics. It’s the best advice I can give. Be prepared for commitment and disappointment, but in the end you just might make it.
I’ve been a big fan of Tom Scioli’s work since starting American Barbarian. I followed Scioli to the Final Frontier. Now Scioli is working on the groundbreaking web series “Satan’s Soldier”. What makes Scioli’s work so amazing is that he literally exhibits no boundaries. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. While he’s able to do things that makes your jaw drop his books aren’t All-Ages material. When Scioli posted on Facebook that Satan’s Soldier #3 was an All-Ages book I had to laugh. While technically true, it’s the exception and not the rule. One of the things I loved about Satan’s Soldier was the psychadelic effects produced from using animated GIFs and it’s neon, un-reproducable in print, RGB colors. A few weeks ago I was tempted to draw the above strip just for the fun of it, but I couldn’t come up with anything funny other than the visual gag. So when Scioli announced that issue 3 was “All-Ages” I had to take a stab at that idea.
Here are some of my favorite Indie comics, in their own special categories. *denotes for Mature Audience
RASL* (ending soon) by Jeff Smith
Glamourpuss* by Dave Sim
The Goon* by Eric Powell
Savage Dragon* by Erik Larsen
The Next Issue Project various artists
Prophet* (From issue 21 onward) various artists
Supreme* (From issue 41 onward) Erik Larsen and Cory Hamscher
Mouse Guard by David Petersen
Madman by Mike Allred (currently on hiatus)
The Walking Dead * by Robert Kirkman
Graphic Novels worth checking out:
A Contract With God* Trilogy by Will Eisner
Cerebus by Dave Sim (Various titles including High Society, Church & State, and Melmoth*)
Bone by Jeff Smith
Blankets* by Craig Thompson
Maus* by Art Spiegelman
Sin City* by Frank Miller
American Barbarian* by Tom Scioli
American Splendor* by Harvey Pekar (Various titles including “Cleveland” and “The Quitter”)
Any Empire by Nate Powell
China Town by Eric Powell
Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian
Lethargic Lad Greg Hyland
Spy Guy by Mike Kitchen
The Possum by Blair Kitchen
Axe Cop Ethan Nicolle
Blink by Max Ink
Elephant Eater Comics by Ryan Claytor
Afrodisiac* Jim Rugg
I know I’m leaving out a lot of GREAT people but this is the best list I can come up with at the moment.
As a comic fan I’m feeling very conflicted these days. On one hand we have all these “great” movies coming out soon that will help promote comics to a larger audience. On the other hand it feels morally corrupt to watch these movies, knowing how the creators have been treated.
I haven’t been buying Marvel or DC for about 3 years now (With one notable exception being Tom Scioli’s issue of Captain America: Hail Hydra). I was pretty overwhelmed by all the event books being put out. It made DC’s books impenetrable and I felt that Marvel was more concerned with getting to the next book rather than creating a satisfying, self-contained story. I also have personal motivations for shifting my allegiance to creator owned comics. I’ve been promoting “Straw Man” for 8 years and through that process I’ve made a lot of friends. Those friends have created great, “one-of-a-kind” books that offer more rewards than those offered by corporate comics. You see I’m supporting an artist, an idea, and a dream for some of these people. The creator loves his creation and he will do all he can to make it work (even if it means working for years for nothing to make his dream come alive).
Corporate comics have had a rich history of denying creators of their creations. From a distance “the comic book” looks like the combined cooperation of several creative individuals. But when you dig deeper you’ll see that often characters were created under duress. With comic genius Jack Kirby you’ll find that he was essentially forced to give up his creative rights to feed his family. Sometimes creations and ideas were outright snatched from artists.
It’s come to my attention that Gary Friedrich, the creator of Ghost Rider, has been sued by Marvel for $17,000. 17,000 from a man who is unemployed and absolutely broke. Shame on you Marvel. I don’t understand all the specifics of the case but I do know that something is absolutely wrong here. You could easily make an argument that Jack Kirby knew he was signing his creations away when he worked for Marvel, but as I understand it Gary Friedrich had tried to defend his creation. Same goes with Steve Gerber, creator of Howard the Duck, who fought tooth and nail against Marvel and was buried under piles of litigation. Jack Kirby felt so passionate about the way Steve was treated that he helped draw “Destroyer Duck” to raise funds to help Steve Gerber’s court case.
Now let’s turn our attention to DC. Forget the convenient fact that DC didn’t do right by Shuster, Siegel, or Kane. We have in recent days seen Alan Moore’s Watchmen characters rehashed for a new series of comics called “Before Watchmen”. From an artistic point of view you must ask “why?”. The work was complete as is. It was the single vision of one artist with one statement. I think it would be just as fool hardy to attempt something called “Before Mona Lisa” which would of course consist of a frowning, teenage Mona Lisa in front of a freshly planted sapling forest. From a legal point of view Alan Moore will be conveyed the rights back to Watchmen whenever the graphic novel goes out of print. The thing is, Watchmen has never gone out of print. Moore never expected the book to last, just like Kirby never expected the Fantastic Four to be more than a fad.
Point is, Marvel and DC don’t care a thing about protecting their creative talent, especially when it involves their bottom line. Why then should I as a consumer support these companies? Every dollar spent on a Marvel or DC comic says “I agree with the way you treat your employees and creators”. What makes this incredibly difficult for casual fans is that it’s hard to recognize that the Big Two are levying this irresponsibility against beloved and well know characters. Who doesn’t want to read the next Watchmen story? Seeing how the original was brilliant, who wouldn’t want to read more of that? Or how about that new Avengers movie coming out? If you had told me as a kid that not only would we get four different solo Avengers movies, but also a fifth movie that put them all together?! That’s more than any child should have the right to dream about.
So I’m coming to a very difficult decision to not see the Avengers in the theaters nor buy “Before Watchmen”. I am insatiably curious about both of these projects so I will probably borrow “Avengers” and “Before Watchmen” from the library when they eventually hit the shelf. The point is Marvel and DC will not get one red cent from me regarding these shameless projects. I’m not going to be a hypocrite and tell people I’ll never view these things, but I feel like I’ve reached a compromise that I can live with. Maybe by that time I’ll have lost interest.
I don’t think my “boycott” will really effect Marvel or DC in the long run. I do think there is a way fans can make a difference. One idea would be to print a short document describing Marvel’s actions on to a sticker and slapping that on to the movie poster. It might remain on the poster long enough for casual film goers to read.
Or we could help change copyright laws. I think if a corporation hires an artist to create a character that the copyright should be split between the publisher and the creator. The creator can self-publish his version of the character and the publisher can continue to publish their version. If the creator loses interest in his creation then he simply has to do nothing. If the creator has a good relationship with the publisher he could choose to work with the publisher indefinitely, for their mutual benefit. It stands to reason that if one version is inferior then sales would drop and the inferior product would be rendered impotent.
I believe that mutual risk is inherent with both the publisher and the artist. The artist invests his creativity, time, and physical effort to pursue a risky venture. A publisher invests it’s time, money, and resources to pursue a risky venture. That means the risk is shared and that the copyright should be shared. Anything else is just a strong-arm to stranglehold creators into giving up their creative rights.
So, it’s Christmas and you just got that big 42″ Hi Def Tv with the 3D option. So a couple weeks go by and you’re noticing the 3D just isn’t cutting it. The picture isn’t as sharp and the 3d just doesn’t pop like it did when it’s new. So you call up the company that made the tv and you ask that since you’re TV is still under warranty that you’d like to have the 3d repaired. They tell you that they’d be happy to fix the tv free of charge, but you’ll have re-wrap the tv and ship it directly to the manufacturer, paying for the shipping and handling yourself. By the time it’s over you might end up spending a 100 dollars and be out of a TV for 2 or 3 weeks! Well instead of getting the work done you decide the 3D just isn’t worth the hassle. You’re still able to enjoy the movie in glorious HD and besides it was eating up too much money in batteries for those so-so 3D glasses.
The World Wide Web kinda works like this when it comes to the latest and greatest vs. the tried and true. It’s a good practice as a designer to build in functionality so that as time goes on your work can still be presented in it’s best light, even if it’s not the latest technology. A great example of this would be the text shadow option in css. Some day this will be standard on all browsers. For the moment you need to insert something called a “Web kit” that tells a specific browser what to do. A careful designer would be sure to include a back up should the technology not be available on an older set up. By using good html structure a beautifully designed css website can still function when all of it’s bells and whistles are removed. It’s important that this built in structure remain intact in order to anchor the website just in case a browser has failed to update to the latest version. Other wise your website might just end up being a huge paper weight.