I know, I know. Everyone is talking about the Reed vs Wizard Final Infinite Invasion Crisis on Earths: one through fifty-two, and I would love to rant about it for 1000-1500 words. HOWEVER, I will not. Why? Because I simply don’t know enough about it to give you an informed opinion on the matter. I know my opinion based on my experience at NYCC and my experience at Big Apple, but I thought instead of going on about it this week I would bring in a friend of mine who knows a lot more on the matter to help me in a good ol’ fashioned interview next week. Who is this person, well, he knows a lot about Wizard, and his first initial is G. In fact, his first name includes all of these letters G-A-R-E-B. Should be interesting!
I will tell you about one convention in particular. It was one of the best conventions I have been to and recommend it to everyone who likes comics (and not celebrity guests!) The Baltimore Comic Con, a few weeks ago was amazing. I couldn’t be happier to be at a show, and I was sick the whole time. (Anyone who was attending the show that got sick after, my bad.) Everything about the show was great.
I don’t really have a segue into what I do want to talk to you about, so I am just gonna go for it. This is another column for those young artists trying to break into the business. I think the people I most relate to. Picture yourself, 21 or 22 years old, having just graduated college, which you paid for, just so you could do what? Become a comic book artist? They teach that in school? And you spent how much to learn it?
Let’s push it even further. You’re a young artist who is now living in New York City. Why? Because that is the heart of the comic book industry. Sometimes you literally need to get your foot in the door to get your foot in the door. The problem with that is you’re in New York Friggin’ City! One of the most expensive cities in the world. Rent is ridiculous, I know, I live there, paying deep into the four digits for a small one bedroom to house my girlfriend and a quickly growing six year old. On a freelance income, it’s tough, and that’s what you can expect when you’re a comic artist. This gig ain’t easy and I’ve got a leg up in this race and I’m still spending half my week cold calling editors, agencies, networks, etc. looking for the next opportunity to work a check that I won’t actually see for at least 30-90 days after completion of the gig. That is if they are honest and decide to actually pay. I think every pro has more than a few stories of being cheated out of money they earned or at least being made to wait an inordinate amount of time to see their check finally come in the mail. To quote a very talented friend of mine in the comics industry, “You know those clients you bust your ass for, and they pay you weeks or months later than they’re supposed to? Yeah- they’re my favorite.”
What do you do?
I know, you were probably the best artist in your high school, you’ll make it. Wait, how many high schools had one of those? They all probably went to art school too, just like you and they’re probably all looking for the same gigs. So…what do you do?
You come to me, or another artist at a comic con to show your work. Man, I’m barely out there and in the past two shows I was at I must have looked at fifty portfolios. You’ve probably heard stories about an artist tearing into someone in a portfolio review. I know some people who do that, as do I. It’s not really to be mean. It’s actually because they know you’re not cut out for a job in the art industry. Especially these days. Half the gigs I get are because I can really bust my ass to get a job done for someone on a tight deadline.
The trouble is, to really break into comics, you have to live the freelance lifestyle. You need to be able to bend at the whim of your editor, or art director to get those first jobs, and you need to bust your ass. At the end of every month I have to look at my bank account and decide if it’s time for me to stop pursuing it and try to get a job at an ad agency, and it’s not my decision, because I, like many others have people who look to me for support. If it was just me, yeah, I’d be in a small studio apartment with my desk pushed to my bed, only sleeping when my body couldn’t take it anymore, living off of crackers and peanut butter just so I could get enough good samples to get some decent work.
Yes, my name get me some benefits in the business. I do know a lot more people, but the challenge is still the same, talent, ambition, that has nothing to do with who’s son I am. An editor won’t just give me a book because I am so-and-so, they have to know that when the deadline is at my door, I am there with 22 pages that look so good you can’t help but look at them.
I don’t want you to think it’s impossible; it isn’t, but it is hard, and if you’re showing me your portfolio at a con and you’re trying to support a family, I am not going to point you in the direction of a comic company, no. That would be me doing you a disservice. So, what do you do? It’s the question you have to ask yourself. Is this a reality, or is it just a dream?
Guys like Jack Kirby and Joe Kubert would have to crank out page after page in a single day, up to five to seven pages per day to support their family. My father would do comics while he was taking on three and four commercial jobs to support my family in his early career.
It’s tough. I’m writing this because the biggest mistake people make is that they prepare to be good artists but they don’t plan to be good businessmen. A young artist needs to protect himself. Plan carefully. I’m in the middle of what is going to be two months without a pay check, but thankfully that is something I planned and spread my money out for, but I know plenty of people who aren’t that careful and if you aren’t you’re gonna find yourself taking on other job to make the difference and before you know it, you’re a manager in a clothing store who’s thinking “Wasn’t I trying to do something else before this?”
It’s dawned on me that perhaps there is room for interviews in the vein of professionals and how to survive in this industry. I’ll develop that more.
Anyway, for this week, I am posting the finished lineart for a cover I did on a book called the Amazing Fist, by Spectacle Press. You can find them on Myspace. They’re a small operation but handle themselves very professionally. A rare quality. I’ll be doing another three cover for them and then it is on to the next thing to pay the bills. Good luck, freelancers of the world.