Howdy, folks! This is something I’ve wanted to touch on for a while now, and I finally had the chance to get it all together! I constantly see people who are looking to get into the industry but don’t know where to start. Today we are going to talk about where to get started and how to make a dream into a possible reality.
For starters, I’m not a comic book publishing guru. I am not going to sit here typing away about how you can follow my 10 step process for guaranteed results. I’m just here to put all the pieces together into one helpful article with the help of some comic book writers and artists who are already published in the industry. Lets break it down!
Getting Started: Just DO IT!
I don’t want to be “that guy”, but I’m going to be. Don’t let your dreams be dreams. Just do it. (Source cited below.) For real though, everyone can talk the talk, but only a few brave people ever actually make the plunge. If you don’t commit to the cause, you’ve already given up. 2015 was a wild year where I got a chance to talk to a lot of people in the industry and they all put 110% to get to where they are now. Nobody had anything handed to them on a silver platter.
Networking is one of those things they teach you about in business school that doesn’t really make sense if you’ve never applied it in real life. You meet somebody, you chit chat a bit, you exchange business cards and then promptly make your way to a trash can to toss it away. I can honestly say that is how most networking has gone in my life until I entered the world of comic books. The comic book industry is one of the most network-centric businesses I have ever seen. Almost everything I have accomplished in this industry has been due to me grinding, making contacts, spending countless nights sending out personal emails to hundreds of writers and artists in the hopes for five minutes of their time. Once I made those contacts though, everything got easier. I had a starting line that I knew I could always turn to no matter how busy people were.
This is a little different when it comes to long term projects compared to something that takes an hour or two. Finding an artist/writer who wants to do an interview is astronomically easier than finding one to create a comic book series with, but they apply the same general concepts. This moves us onto one of the real struggle points, is your work actually good?
Is your work good?
I’d hate to be a, Debbie Downer, but make sure your work is actually good before you take the leap into the comic world. Is your story interesting? Is your art clean and professional? These are things you have to ask yourself before you jump into the industry.
To be completely honest, everyone’s success story is going to be different, especially in a business that is so strongly based on human interaction (something most jobs these days don’t include.) Let’s see what some people we talked to have to say!
We got to do a little interview with Wes Locher, writer for Alterna comics and he had some good advice!
1) For starters let everyone know a little bit about yourself.
I’m Wes Locher. Comic book writer. Letterer. Man about town. I’ve been working in the indie world for the past five years and have released several miniseries and contributed to anthologies too numerous to mention in an introductory paragraph.
I like comics that are outside the box and most importantly, fun. I’m based out of Florida, allergic to dairy and my social security number is… whoa… you almost got me there.
2) What projects are you currently working on/have planned/etc.
2015 marked the release of my sci-fi comedy miniseries Unit 44 from Alterna Comics. It’s probably the best thing I’ll ever write. I should probably just pack it in now. It’s the story of inept Area 51 employees who forget to pay the rent on the facility’s off-site story unit, leaving the secret contents to be sold at public auction. It was drawn by the talented Eduardo Jimenez, whom I feel like I share a brain with now.
Additionally, this year I released the comedy one-shot Hipsters Vs. Rednecks with artist Tyler Kelting and the time travel one-shot The Temporal with artist Kristian Rossi. Other notable works include the short comic Adrift for Titan Comics, the heist graphic novel The Undoubtables for Markosia Enterprises and the crime-fiction miniseries Chambers for Arcana Studios.
Currently I’m writing a series about Thomas Edison as a James Bond/MacGyver mashup and a fantasy series about a famous hero resurrected to fight the world’s greatest evil, except the hero isn’t into it. I guess you could say I’m prolific. My wife just says I’m weird.
3) What got you into comic books originally?
My path into becoming a comic book reader is the classic tale of the spinner rack. I grew up in small town in Ohio and whenever my parents would stop by the drug store I’d hit up the spinner racks while I waited for them to do whatever boring adult things they were there to take care of. There I experienced the adventures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Archie and other early 90s classics. Eventually, once I’d bought all those books my dad showed me to a dedicated comic shop a few blocks down. The rest is four-color history.
4) What would you say is the best way for someone interested in being a comic book writer/artist to get started?
For writers, understand what makes a good story. There’s a method to the madness. Read comics and books, watch movies and TV. See what speaks to you. Then write a story. Then another. Then another. Then write some good stories.
For artists, learn how to tell a sequential story. Pin-ups are great, but it’s important the artist can flow with a narrative script.
For colorists, study lighting and color theory.
For letterers, become familiar with Adobe Illustrator. Read comics and understand how the balloons and sound effects lead the eye across the page. Also be aware that everyone else will believe they can do your job better than you.
5) Any suggestions for writers/artists who are looking for someone to work with on a project?
Comics are time intensive. Anytime I start a project I resign myself to the fact that it’s going to be at least one year (if not more) until anyone is able to read the finished comic. If you can’t wait that long, you might be in the wrong business. Link up with people who are passionate and putting in the work. Comics take a long time to make and if the creators aren’t having fun with it, that will always translate to the page. Just like any other creative endeavor, fun should be priority number one.
Writers – look for artists who are doing the work and have talent. Offer to pay them when you’re starting out. Read their back catalogs. Do your homework.
Artists – look for writers who are telling stories you are interested in. Read their back catalogs. Do your homework.
6) Any other advice you may have?
Start small. Create three-page comics. Then five-page comics. Then 10. This piece of advice is redundant but there’s a reason you find it in every “how to break in” conversation. Not only are smaller comics harder to create (forcing writers to cut the fat and focus on what’s important) but they’re more financially feasible, serve as fantastic portfolio pieces and you’ll learn from your mistakes.
Sure, after finishing up your first few comics you’ll think they’re the coolest thing since the Nintendo 64, but eventually you’ll hit a point where you’ll re-read them and only see what’s wrong. That’s a good thing. That’s how you know you’re learning.
Take what you learn from each project, apply it to the next and you’ll eventually stop hating what you create. That’s when you know you’re on the right track.
Don’t worry so much about who’s going to publish your comics. Do good work and the doors will open.
7) Anything you would like to plug?
The 100-page Unit 44 collected edition is available on ComiXology from Alterna Comics for just $5.99. Recommended if you like science fiction, action, humor, breathing, blinking, laughing, etc. https://www.comixology.com/Unit-44/digital-comic/271168
8) Anything else you might want to add?
With each passing year there are more and more books being released about creating comics. Here are three that were incredibly helpful to me when starting out:
The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Denny O’Neil
Industry veteran Denny O’Neil takes readers through the very basics of story structure and how it applies to the comic book format. You’ll want to dog-ear the heck out of this thing until you find your footing.
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
This book should be mandatory reading for artists and writers. It lays out the “rules” of sequential art established throughout time and will help creators understand and appreciate the medium more than they already do.
Writers on Comics Scriptwriting vol 1&2
In these collections pro comic writers dish on scripting, process, inspiration and more. It’s the closest you’ll get to sitting down and having a beer with your favorite comic scribes.
Thanks for taking the time, Wes!
“Writing great characters is key. When fans love characters, they’ll follow them anywhere, regardless of genre.” – Matt Daley, writer of Lantern City
“Care about your work more than anyone else and be honest about improving what you struggle with.” -Peter Simeti, President of Alterna Comics
“I think it’s important to remember that the hustle of selling work and the making of good work are different skills.” –Brandon Graham, Prophet, Island, and other Image Comics
“Write for yourself. Don’t try to chase trends or styles. A project with a unique voice is better than another clone. FINISH.” -Joe Kelly, writer for Deadpool, Action Comics, and more.
“Work on things that make you unique rather than try to blend to fit in an editor’s catalog.” -Stephanie Hans, artist for Marvel Comics
“Emotional tethers make a story! If I don’t care, I just don’t care.” -Dave Dwonch, President of Action Labs Comics