Comic Advice with David Herbert
(Hey, kids, what time is it? It’s David Herbert time! The resident comic opinion piece writer returns with some advice gleaned from his own experiences at writing writing webcomics.)
I was originally going to make a comic about this but I’m trying to keep LWI away from politics these days, plus I don’t think it’d be that funny.
When it comes to trying to make a career as a writer or artist, it’s always a good idea to get some advice from other creators out there who have gotten to the point where they make a living off their work and are respected by other creators. And thanks to the web, you can easily get nuggets of wisdom from these people.
Unfortunately, sometimes they’re full of shit.
So I have compiled a list of pieces of advice I have heard pros give to newcomers who want to know how they can become successful too. I have followed these words myself and I can tell you from experience, none of them work.
1. Don’t worry about not getting your comic out on time.
One word: Megatokyo. Years ago it used to get a hundred thousand hits a day easily and sold a lot of merch. These days, 30k if its lucky and Gallagher has admitted sales have gone down. Then you have Least I Could Do. Not always a quality product, but it is very popular and makes money.
The truth is, if people have to wait around, they’ll eventually get bored and leave unless your comic is something really special to them. And if you can’t get your comic out on time, why should they support you?
2. I don’t rely on buffers.
Now the first comment is usually about not wanting to put out an inferior product and that you should focus more on making a better comic page than a lot of them. Quality vs. quantity. I fully agree with that ideal. However, if this is what you practice, then you should make sure you have plenty of time to create that quality product so that it can be out on time and be good.
Many creators will then counter that they keep losing track of the pages and end up forgetting the order they’re supposed to go in or the date they’re supposed to go up. I’ve never had that problem, but if it is one for you, why can’t you just name the comic’s file the date it’s supposed to go up?
3. Don’t listen to critics.
And how exactly did this help Tom Preston’s reputation? It’d be more accurate to say “See what the fans are saying, but remember to take it with a grain of salt.” Many readers are not pro creators, nor do they have aspirations to be, they’re just people who like your work. But they do know what they like and probably know what other people like. It’s more about knowing the difference between good advice and bad. You don’t have to try and please everyone but blocking them out is not the way to go.
4. Never cheapen yourself as an artist by drawing a Batman or Wolverine picture to sell.
Peter David once wrote a column about this. At a con, while he was sales manager for Marvel, an artist drew this absolutely gorgeous Alpha Flight piece on a bristol board. All day people came by and commented that the piece was good, but no one wanted to buy it, and when they asked for sketches from the artist, they usually asked for one of the X-Men. Eventually, the artist did a quick sketch of wolverine on the back of the Alpha Flight picture.
It was gone in five minutes.
I’ve seen this too. Back in 2011 I shared a table with an artist who had posters of his own characters, plus Flash, Green Lantern and Thor. He sold more Flash pieces than others. And when they wanted sketches, they asked for Marvel and DC characters. A couple of people were disappointed he didn’t have a Spider-Man or Batman piece available.
The problem is this advice ignores the way you can use established characters as a foot in the door to get people to check out your stuff. Would Spawn have been the most successful Image comic if Todd McFarlane had never drawn Spider-Man? Would Gail Simone’s Leaving Megalopolis have been fully funded if she hadn’t written Birds of Prey or Wonder Woman? They were successful because fans of the characters they worked on became fans of the way they wrote those characters and so became fans of the creators.
And the worst of all?
5. Anyone can do it or Just put in lots of hard work and you’ll be successful.
The latter first. If you truly believe that, then how come Tim Buckley makes way more money than David Willis? How come Chris Hazelton needs to run a kickstarter in order to do his comics full time after nearly ten years? As for the former, if that were true than we would have tens of thousands more people making a living off of their work.
I tend to be optimistic but ‘just work hard’ is some of the most naive bullshit I have ever heard and it just pisses me off when pros out there imply others aren’t working as hard as they are.
As for anyone can do it, no. Not everyone has the ability to connect with an audience like some other creators. Rich Burlew isn’t your average writer. Jim Lee isn’t your average artist. They made better products than many of us could ever hope to and that is why people are willing to give them their money. Most creators are not interchangeable.
So that’s my list of things a pro can say to make me think they are too successful to try giving out advice to the amateurs. See, those pros can get away with these things because they already have their established fan base. Guys like me? We aren’t able to yet and won’t get anywhere if we tried.
(David Herbert is the creator of Living With Insanity and Tnemrot.)