Sorry about the delay between my first column and this one. I probably would have written sooner, but every time I get an idea for a new column, I find yet another person writing eloquently about the same material. In the meantime, the hard working people of WHOOPs (the World Headquarters Of Oni Press) attended the New York Comic-Con, which was a fantastic show. While in NYC, I presented my “How NOT to Break into Comics” panel (along with the talented Jonathan Hickman) and attended several panels focusing on the ins and outs of trying to get and sustain work in the comics industry.
Seems like every comic book reader wants to be a comic book creator. I once heard a professional comic writer say, “There are no comic fans… just people who want my job.” I always thought it was just a funny little glib statement, but it sure seems accurate these days.
The simple fact is that not all comic readers are going to be able to work professionally. The reality is that not everyone has the talent, skill, or professionalism required to succeed in this industry.
If you are reading this column, I can assume you have some passing interest in working in comics. So you have to ask yourself, are you the William Hung of aspiring comic book professionals?
That may sound like an odd question, but one of the things that has never ceased to amaze me when looking at portfolios and submissions is the hazy cloud of self-delusion that so many aspiring creators seem to be living in. At least 95% of all pitches I look at SUCK. I mean, they are instantly laughably bad. I am not trying to be cruel here, but if this column can help wake up aspiring creators to this fact, then it may help people achieve their dreams.
There is often a great deal of passion in these projects, but just because you are passionate, doesn’t mean you are good or that the material is marketable as an artistic or commercial endeavor. The problem is that people get so caught up in their passion and enthusiasm that they never step back and honestly evaluate their work. Who knows? It may be that people simply can’t be honest about their own work. Sure, you may show your work to your mom or friends, but they aren’t necessarily going to be giving you the most constructive criticism.
This is the William Hung problem. I am sure Mr. Hung thinks his singing is fantastic. He probably thought he had an honest shot at succeeding on American Idol. But the guy was absolutely delusional. Everything about his tryout was so horrifically bad. So bad that he became a nationally-known phenomenon. Yet the guy was earnest and genuinely gave it a try.
I applaud anybody working hard at achieving their dreams, but you have to be able to honestly evaluate if you are on the right track to reaching your professional goals.
What has been said time and time again to artists is that you should hold your work up to something currently being published and ask yourself, “Is my work as good or better than what I am looking at?” Does it look as good? Is it as professionally finished? How does my page construction and panel layouts compare to the quality work I respect and admire? How is the storytelling and narrative flow?
Being a comic book professional requires constantly honing your craft. If you want a long career, you will need to constantly be improving on your skills in the pursuit of excellence.
A few years back, somebody scanned and posted the critique Alex Toth gave Steve Rude. Here was one comic great critiquing another. Steve Rude was already an established working professional who has obviously had a successful career. Yet he solicited Toth’s criticism, and boy did he get it. The validity or merit of Toth’s critique isn’t as important as the fact that Rude was wise enough to understand the value of genuinely constructive honest criticism.
Everybody should give it a read.
Interesting side note:
When I first saw the clips of William Hung, I thought there was something seriously wrong with the guy. But after looking at his Wikipedia page, it turns out he is actually pretty darn intelligent. He immigrated to America when he was 10 years old and eventually ended up at the University of California, Berkley where he was an engineering student. Since his appearance on American Idol, he has released four CDs, been in numerous commercials and television shows.
But the question you need to ask is, do you want to be remembered as the terribly delusional guy everybody laughed at or do you want to be respected as a valued and viable creator in this creative industry?
As I always say, working in comics requires three basic things: talent, professionalism, and persistence. I should add perspective to the list. If you don’t have an honest perspective of your work, then odds are you aren’t going to be able to cut it professionally.
In our next column, we’ll be looking at the subject of pitching the appropriate material to the appropriate publisher and how people can be just as delusional about the subject matter that they are excited about.
In the mean time, if you have any questions or suggestions for future columns, please post them in the comments section.
Until then, never stop trying. The world needs more art, more stories, and more talented voices.
Randal C. Jarrell