Television designer and winner of the Aspen Comics Talent Hunt Chris Callahan had a comic book debut with The Misplaced, about love, death, and the limitations of Paradise published last week. He writes,
Before we get to the step-by-step, full-proof, never-fail, extensively researched formula for how to break into comics, I’d like to tell you a quick story (names redacted to protect the innocent) about how it’s impossible to break into comics…
I have two friends relevant to this article. Person A has been grinding on the con circuit he sells a fair amount of books at each show he does, he’s run several successful Kickstarters, and he has a small but loyal fanbase that buys everything he self-publishes. Far as I know he’s never had a “paid gig” in comics. Person B has had a couple series put out by a major publisher, and he recently wrote something for one of the big two.
Of the two people in question, it’s Person B who feels like he’s still trying to break into comics. After all, his paid work is sporadic, and he’s not really making a living at comics yet.
In truth, “breaking in” first boils down to you and how you define “in”. After all, who’s to say a creator with his own self-published book slinging floppies at the local con isn’t “in” comics?
If you read no further in this article, read this: Do not make your definition of breaking in something out of your control. If you won’t feel like you’ve made it until you’ve been discovered by Marvel, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of frustration that won’t be productive. Marvel does the hiring, not you. Don’t give someone else control of your goals.
No two people I know, or have observed during my time as a con rat, became a comic pro in the same way. The twists and turns and possibilities are too varied. But all of them that went from “I wanna make a comic” to (in one case) working on a TV show based on their comic checked these boxes…
Step 1: Produce Content
Obviously, right? Nope. I went to a “breaking in” panel at a con a few years ago. The moderator started by asking, “How many of you have a comic or portfolio with you?” Only about half raised their hand. “To everyone not raising their hand, you should leave and spend the next 45 minutes making something,” the moderator said. Fun fact: I was one of the people that didn’t raise his hand.
The point was taken, though. No one will hire you to write a comic, draw a comic, or letter a comic until you’ve already demonstrated the ability to do so. Incidentally, no one can impulse-buy a comic from your table at a show if you don’t have any books on said table. Even in the world of crowdfunding, you have to at the very least produce SOMETHING that convinces people to back it.
If you’re a writer, write. If you’re an artist, draw. Don’t wait for permission. Trust me, never once has a Marvel talent scout walked up to a random person at a con and said the following: “I don’t know you, but you seem pretty cool, I bet you can spin a good yarn, wanna write Spider- Man?”
Step 2: Put that content where people can find it
For me, it was posting Misplaced artwork on Twitter that finally got me some attention. Ironically I was posting art before there was a story. They were just random pieces of art with a rough thematic link. But friends kept commenting with things like, “I can’t wait for this book!” So I immediately started writing the book.
Twitter was my ticket, but like I said above, no two people follow the same path to a creative career. The main point here is to “put it out there” via a means you control. There are various web comic outlets. Or if you have a full digital comic, comiXology could be the way to go. Even your own site. You’ve just got to make that content you created available.
Other means of putting it out there:
– If you have a self-published floppy, get a table at your local con. Shelf space at a shop or distribution through Diamond both have barriers to entry. All a table requires is a fee.
– If you’re going after work-for-hire, get your way into a bigger con, print up some copies of your sample work, and politely go table to table and ask the various publishers if you can leave something behind. Check the company’s site or Twitter; most will let you know their process. I have a near yearly tradition of leaving something behind at the BOOM booth at SDCC. Alas, still waiting for a call. I’ve never had any success with this angle, but I know some who have and it’s always worth a shot.
– Finally, enter talent hunt competitions. I won the Aspen Comics Talent Hunt a couple years ago. Top Cow runs one regularly. Any opportunity to put your work in front of people is one you should take. There’s a direct link from me deciding to enter the Aspen Comics contest to being a contributing artist in The Stranger Things Artbook this year. Put your stuff out there any way you can.
Step 3: Tell people about that content you produced.
This step could be its own book, but it’s also arguably the easiest. If you’ve made the comic (Step 1) and gotten yourself a table at your local con (Step 2), then someone at some point during that show will walk by and ask, “What’s this about?” Answer that question, and you’ve completed Step 3.
It gets trickier from there, though. For the most part, people don’t want to be sold to. Starting a conversation about things relating to your book is much more effective. Find your fans where they already live. Seek out means to discuss your inspirations and interests, in person at conventions, online in forums… Introduce your content in context, and it’s much more likely you’ll be introducing it to a future fan.
And of course, who could forget social media? Friends, it is dark and full of terrors. But on some level you’ve got to do it. Twitter and Instagram are still the best places to connect with other like-minded folks and interject yourself and your work into the conversation. Get on Twitter/Instagram, follow everyone relevant to your book, and engage with editors/comic journalists/other creators. Reply to their comments, and share the tweets you think are worthwhile. (Just play it cool. Nobody likes a cyber stalker that likes every post they make.) And just like above, don’t pitch, converse. The soft sell sells harder.
BONUS Step 4: Sticking Around
Be chill. Be easy to work with. It pays off.
In my other life, I’m a TV graphic artist. I basically come up with the logo and general “look” of a show. I’ve done work for all the major networks, most recently redesigning the logo and
associated graphics of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade broadcast for NBC. Trust me when I tell you, I am not the best logo designer in the world. Honestly, I’d say I’m average. But the producer loves working with me because I meet deadlines, I solve problems instead of creating them, and I don’t let my creative ego get in the way of the final product. Sometimes that tips the balance in the hiring process.
Aside: How did I get into TV design and land such a high profile gig, you ask? Once upon a time I created a bunch of fake logos and animation samples, I put those on my site, and I emailed a few production companies. Sound familiar? Create a reel (step 1), post it online (step 2), email to inquire about openings (step 3)—and fifteen years later I’m still “in” (step 4).
The Results and Final Thoughts
Don’t aim to write the next Walking Dead; franchises like that are lightning in a bottle. Don’t aim to write superheroes just to get Marvel’s attention if you’re not a fan of superhero comics. Write a cool book or create artwork that you love, and you’ll probably find a couple other people that love it too.
I don’t know how far you’ll get, and I don’t know how fast it will happen. An editor might hit up your DMs. A comic friend might get a paid gig and bring you on board. You might post ten pages on Webtoons and a development exec from Warner Brothers wants to option it. Who knows?
Just repeat the phrase: “Make it, share it.” If you put enough content out there, good things will happen.
If you want to be a creator, always be creating.
SOURCE POINT PRESS
(W) Chris Callahan (A) Chris Callahan
From the mind of television graphic designer Chris Callahan comes the first of a 4-issue supernatural mystery miniseries that will leave you questioning the very existence of existence. What if paradise wasn’t as it seemed? A tragic journey to the new world… Two souls separated by death… After a fatal shipwreck, James finds himself dissatisfied with the tedious machinations of eternity in the afterlife. A journey to discover the truth of his wife’s disappearance reveals a terrible secret even Knowledge can’t explain. The Misplaced is a dark supernatural tale of love and desperation that spans several planes of existence.In Shops: Nov 27, 2019