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The Straightest Talk You Will Ever Get About Creating Comics

Jack Kirby’s drawing table

This series Comics Coach was based on a set of posts I had written a while ago on the topic of creating comics. I wanted them to be archived in one place for people to read, as I am often asked how to break into the industry and self-publish comic books.

In this final post, I’m going to give you the straightest talk you will ever get about creating comics.

I would say about 75% of the comic book fans I’ve met in my lifetime have wanted to also create their own comics. This seems like a natural thing; a healthy instinct. Rather than passively consuming all that media, they want to create something new. This is the way it should be, I think.

And now, more than ever before, there are resources for you to make those comics. Print on demand, crowdfunding, digital platforms, etc. Long gone are the days (it seems) that the Gatekeepers can stand in the way of your vision making it to the wider world.

But here is the thing to keep in mind, if you are looking to either break into the comics industry outright, or self-publish your own comics: you have a MASSIVE amount of competition. Because, as I’ve said, a good deal of comic fans seem to also want to create their own comics. And the comic book format has also been tapped by everyone from successful novelists to moviemakers as a cost-effective and visually powerful way to get their ideas across.

And then there are the tons of comics put out every week by established publishers—DC and Marvel alone puts out scores of them. Open up a Diamond Previews catalogue and just bask in the sheer numbers of product being pushed out.

But you don’t want to be a sell-out anyway (I mean, unless DC is really twisting your arm about that Red Bee project…then you might have to take the gig just to make them stop calling you)—you’re going the independent route. As I said, the Gatekeepers have lost their power, and you’re taking it to the People. And massive numbers of other people are also taking it to the People. But there is enough room for you all, certainly.

Here is the thing, though: if your main goal is to become wealthy off of making comics, forget it. If what is driving you the most in your pursuit to publish your own comics is to get rich, drop Comics immediately as a pursuit and go find an emerging technology to study instead.

Because the odds are, you will NOT become “rich.” Odds are you will NOT get that deal with Pixar. Odds are, you will not even make enough money to confidently quit your day job—even if you were working as a creator for DC, Marvel, etc.

If you are going to make comic books—or pursue any other artistic endeavor, for that matter—do it for the love of the craft. Enjoy the journey of creating something new, rather than focus on any grandiose materialist goals you might have. Because if you do not relish the Process of making comics, if the sheer joy of expressing yourself through the graphic medium doesn’t sustain you—I’m telling you right now, the Business is not going to do it for you.

This is all written not to discourage, but to get your priorities straight. If your priorities are not straight as you launch out on your project, you might not only be disappointed but possibly go legit depressed insane. And I’ve seen people go legit depressed insane over this, even losing their life savings in some instances over way too ambitious projects that don’t even make it past their first issue.

Ah, you might counter with: but how about all these independent creators who have made it? Who have those deals with major movie studios and whatnot? Who could afford to quit their day job? Who have successfully created a niche market of fans and followers for themselves? And what about those Ninja Turtles guys? And Scott Pilgrim???

Let’s take the rarest examples first. The Ninja Turtles guys. They go make this independent comic, it becomes widely popular and adapted to every medium, they are now millionaires.

They are the rarest example. It will most likely not be your own personal experience. I am not 100% saying that it couldn’t be you. But I’m 92.3% saying it won’t be you.

Then there are those who get that moderately successful graphic novel, so moderately successful that they perhaps get a book deal with a mid-list publisher to do more of them. Or the person who gets a movie option placed on their Image title. Or the person who gets the phone call from Marvel based on some webcomic they’ve done.

Most of these people still cannot confidently quit their day jobs to make ends meet. Some might be able to go down to part-time.

Then there is that cool successful indie comics pro you know, whose comic we all know, who always seems to have things going on and a devoted fan base. That person probably works his or her ass off, both on their own work and possibly “day job” type stuff to keep ends meet. That person probably travels to comic shows all year long and is on the Internet constantly to promote his or her work. That person either has a good grasp of how actual legit business and marketing works, or knows enough to hire someone who does. That person is most likely not fooling around.

This last category is who I urge you to strive to be, dear Comic Creator. That is a realistic goal. It will take a lot of work. It will take a lot of times when your spirits will only be buoyed by the love of the craft alone. But it is something attainable—assuming that your content is good.

And perhaps your content is GREAT. Perhaps you are a legit genius. Perhaps you are truly—and I say this without any sarcasm—an undiscovered Stan Lee or Grant Morrison.

And here is the final bit of straight talk I will give you about creating comics. There are many, many genius-level talents out there who will never have the spotlight. If you happen to make it far enough in the business, you will learn that some of the most consistently-hired people are the most mediocre talents—because this is Entertainment, not necessarily Art. And there are a bunch of other factors that will come into play.

And you will find all this out and it will absolutely break your heart & it will piss you off & will make you lose all your will to create and it’s so unfair & etc.

And then—then, you will either give up, or keep going.

The choice is yours. Why are you doing this? Why are you creating comics?

The answer is crucial. The “why” is crucial. And by understanding all this, you have about a 25-30% leg up on the rest of the competition—because a lot of people flat-out don’t want to hear this because it harshes their mellow and threatens to destroy their Comic-Con dreams of super-stardom. And the illusion is quite exhilarating, I understand that.

But are you going to go into this smart? Are you going to go into this emotionally prepared? Are you going to go into this for the right reasons?

Good luck, True Believer.


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