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The Career After Comics

In the past few weeks we’ve lost two legendary creators from the Golden Age of comics, Jerry Robinson at age 89 and Joe Simon at 98. Robinson co-created Batman’s nemesis The Joker, and Simon co-created Captain America and dozens of other characters and even comics genres.

Both men were visionaries whose influence spread far beyond the comic book page. While there is much to learn from a study of either man’s comics work, I believe that a young creator may learn more about how to manage a comics career by studying their lives outside of comics. The reality is that very few artists, writers, or editors — even the most influential creators — actually spend their entire working life creating comic books. Many comic book writers and artists work in the industry for less than a decade.

Both Robinson and Simon found other ventures and distinguished themselves in art, publishing, and support for creators. If you’re a young, aspiring professional, what is your game plan? What will you second career be?

Here’s an excerpt of Joe Simon being interviewed by Mark Evanier at the 1998 San Diego Comicon.

Twitter advice from Marvel’s C.B. Cebulski

Marvel Comics talent liaison C.B. Cebulski has been twittering up a storm of advice to new creators of late. Cebulski, who scouts for new artistic talent for the publisher, has had a lot of practical things to say. Keep track of his latest by following him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/CBCebulski. We’ve recaped most of his recent tweets for you here.

  • When and if sending an editor samples pages, always save as JPEGs and keep all files under 300K.
  • PDFs are cool too, but try and keep them around 2MB tops. Last thing you wanna do is crash an editor’s inbox.
  • And limit attachments to your 5 or 6 best pieces. If the editor wants to see more, he/she will ask you to send more.
  • Yes, a link to a blog with your art would always be recommended over attachments to begin with.
  • Sorry, writers, but I’m offering advice for artists. Maybe some of the editors here can chime in and help you guys?
  • Blogs are always structured chronologically with newest posts first which is another reason I recommend them.
  • Yes, it’s definitely harder for writers than artists to break into comics these days, in my opinion.
  • And when I say “breaking into comics”, I’m generally referring to working for the more major mainstream publishers.
  • Truth be told, it’s easier than ever for anyone to “break into comics” via webcomics and self-publishing these days.
  • The internet &/or print-on-demand services mean anyone with an idea, motivation & a little $ can bring a comic to life.
  • Barely anyone has “broken in” at Marvel or DC directly. We always say it’s better to be published elsewhere first.
  • I always recommend people make comics, whether it’s for themselves or to try and break in professionally.
  • It’s easier than ever for writers to find artists, and vice versa, here on the net. (cont.)
  • Like Digital Webbing, Deviant Art, conceptart.org, and lots of creator boards, like Bendis and Millar, to name a few.
  • The question of digital art vs. on the board is a question each artist needs to answer for themselves.
  • Makes no difference to the editor or publisher really. How you create your art is your business.
  • Yes, “good, fast or nice.” If you’re two of the three, you can get a job in comics, as the saying goes.
  • I can almost guarantee you that my idea of being “Marvel ready” and an up-an-coming artist’s idea of “Marvel ready” are totally different.
  • The two main things we look for are style and storytelling. Speed is something we learn and judge later.
  • I don’t really know as I don’t recruit writers or review their work, but I would assume so.
  • Bad storytelling is bad even w/ the flashiest finish. Good ST is good w/ a crayon.
  • Got my first “where does a nobody like you get off giving advice on breaking into comics” note. Must’ve been from someone I didn’t hire.
  • If your work gets picked for review at a con, it means yours was one of the better drop-offs the Marvel editors saw.
  • Sample pages = TEST pages. They’re a means for artists to “try out” for an editor. They’re not a guarantee of work.
  • If you have published work, it’s better to send the editor the actual books than links to the stories online.
  • The most important thing to remember about working in comics is that THIS IS A JOB!
  • Your portfolio is your resume. Talks with editors are your job interviews. Be professional.
  • Yes, working in comics is a lot of fun, but it’s still work and has to be approached as such.
  • No need to dress up to meet editors at cons. It’s more about acting professionally. Showering helps tho. :)
  • Proper etiquette for following up with an editor after a meeting at a con? I recommend the rule of 4 Ps. (cont.)
  • Be persistent. Be patient. Don’t be pushy. Don’t be a pain-in-the-ass.
  • Wait a week to send out your initial e-mail. No attachments. Follow-up two weeks later if you don’t hear back.
  • Then just send updates letting the editor know what you’re up to every 4 – 6 weeks. Never more than once a month.
  • Yup, everything I say here may be common sense, but you have no idea how many people don’t get it right.
  • I’d say the Rule of 4 Ps applies to both artists and writers.
  • It’s interesting, in discussing it over beers last night, we all seemed to agree that writers tend to be much pushier than artists.
  • We also noticed an increase in the disturbing trend of “editor fishing” going on of late.
  • Editor fishing = Telling Editor #1 you’re coming to the office for a meeting with Editor #2 when you don’t actually have an appointment.
  • This done in hopes of Editor #1 not checking with Editor #2, thereby tricking him into letting you into offices for a meeting you never had.
  • Oh, yeah… people just show up at the Marvel offices all the time. The receptionists are experts at dealing with it!
  • Although there was one time Dave Finch dropped by unannounced to drop off pages and they didn’t believe him or let him in. :(
  • You’d be surprised. There’re 2 writers famous for it & always manage to pull it off. They usually pull it on new editors.
  • Oh, editors check, but you’ll find comics people are very forgiving of talent and always like to believe the best in creators.
  • No, wearing a Marvel t-shirt to a con will not improve your chance of getting a meeting with a Marvel editor.
  • You know, this is actually working. Gotten lots of e-mails and replies with intros and links to sweet art blogs. Cool!
  • Who knows… maybe Marvel will soon have our first Twitter hire?
  • Again, I am not trying to pick on or deny new writers opportunities. It’s just not part of my job. NOT what I do. I’m Marvel’s artist guy.
  • I come across many new artists via links on creator blogs. So new artists, get your pro friends to start linking to you.
  • There have more new opportunities for new writers at Marvel these past two years than ever before. I see a new name at least every month.
  • Astonishing Tales, X-Men Manifest Destiny, MCP… almost every issue debuts as new voice that the editors have discovered.
  • Looking at the new issue of Astonishing Tales, there are two new writers in there. One who had a short story in MCP, one making his debut.
  • Marvel also has new writer specific one-shots that they do to test run new writers who they think have the chops to write for Marvel.
  • I know for a fact Axel Alonso hired an up-and-coming writer he likes just this past Thursday for a Punisher one-shot of this nature.
  • He’d been following this writer’s work at few other publishers, read his newest issue, thought he’d found his voice, and called him.
  • Yes, these gigs are on short stories, one-shots and maybe not the best sellers, so you might not hear read them or hear about these guys.
  • But the point is the chances are now out there. Systems are in places at Marvel to get new writers in on a regular basis. More so than ever.
  • “New” meaning “new to Marvel”, yes. Which brings up another myth I’ll be happy to dispel re: screenwriters and novelists at Marvel. (cont.)
  • Just because they work in another entertainment medium, that doesn’t mean they have an automatic in at Marvel. Far from the case.
  • TV/movie/novel writing is very different from comic writing. Writing for an artist, understand the pacing, etc., are completely different.
  • And the editors at Marvel know and understand this. Any writer from Hollywood or literature has to try out just like any other new writer.
  • Yes, you may see more names crossing over into comics these days, but the door wasn’t magically just opened for them.
  • Maybe they get more “buzz” due to their other writing, but that’s to be expected. But they now write in comic cuz they KNOW and LOVE comics.
  • You know, I’d bet there were more “new” writers than “Hollywood” writers hired by Marvel in 2008. You just never heard of the newer guys.
  • Yes, you can sit here and argue and debate every point I bring up about breaking into comics, but really… what’s the point?
  • You don’t like what I have to say? Feel free to ignore me. Follow your own path. Break in your own way. Please.
  • My opinions and advice are my own, formed from personal experience. I pass it on with only the best of intention. I’m only trying to help.
  • Oh, I don’t mind. I know I’m just a Marvel corporate stooge to some people, doing spin control to covering up the big Marvel conspiracy.
  • “I’ve got the best ideas for (insert Marvel character here) since Stan Lee and Marvel won’t publish them cuz they’re scared I’m so good!”
  • Oh, you found us out. You’re so good that we’re keeping you down just so we don’t have to fire hacks like @BRIANMBENDIS & @mattfraction!
  • None of this sours me on Twitter or the internet in any way. I’ve been getting it for years and expect it. Makes me smile actually.
  • And I’m saving it all for my book. The chapter on how NOT to break into comics continues to grow on an almost daily basis. :)
  • Yes, breaking into comics really can be murder. :)
  • Most of the comments I’ve been getting have been via e-mail and DMs actually. I guess people want me to see them but not make them public.
  • And as some seem to have missed the point, the tweets about a Marvel conspiracy and me calling my friends Brian and Matt hacks WERE A JOKE!
  • Woke up to inboxes full of material ripe for Twittering about!
  • First and foremost, don’t use the current “global economic crisis” as an attempt to get work. It’s not just you who’s suffering financially.
  • Comic jobs are given based on talent, not economic need. Can’t believe I had 2 e-mails trying to guilt me into work! What’re you thinking?!
  • There are plenty of already established pencilers who have fallen on hard times and who are out there looking for work as well.
  • And we’re more than likely to call up and offer a gig to a pro we’ve worked with before and know we can trust.
  • I don’t care if “I’m new and hungry and will work cheaper than the other pencilers out there because I desperately need money to get by.”
  • And another thing, if you happen to find out personal details about an editor, don’t try and use them as an in to get work.
  • (And I’m not saying this about me as I put all my shit out here online and am always happy to talk about anything I post.)
  • But I’ve heard from other editors how artists at portfolio reviews, complete strangers mind you, asked about their wife and/or kids by name.
  • Or knew where they went to college. Or challenged them to a game of one-on-one as they heard the editor liked basketball.
  • There’s a line between the personal and the professional. Between being friendly and being creepy. Just know where it is and don’t cross it.
  • The number one piece of advice I give newer, up-and-coming artists: stick to the grid! There’s nothing more important in my opinion.
  • And for those that haven’t seen it, here’s “Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work”: http://tinyurl.com/lcgqu
  • Second piece of advice I always find myself giving newbies: Don’t break the panel borders. It’s distracting and usually not necessary.
  • New pencilers often make the mistake of breaking borders to add dynamicism to a page but it usually just confuses their storytelling.
  • Third piece of advice, don’t neglect your panel borders and gutters. They are an important part of your page that are often forgotten.
  • Fourth piece of advice, don’t forget that word balloons and SFX need to go on the page. Make sure you include them in your initial layouts.
  • Sounds obvious, I know, but there are even pros I know who don’t always take them into account and complain when their art gets covered up.
  • And my last piece of advice for new pencilers today, don’t attempt to draw in any sound effects. They’ll only serve to clutter your art.
  • Certain artists, like Adam Kubert, are masters at it, but it’s an art to be learned. Tell the story first without cluttering your pages.
  • And as I’m just a lowly writer & talent scout, I would greatly appreciate any artists here jumping in with advice/experiences of their own.
  • As Hollywood’s invaded and San Diego’s grown, it’s not the best con to try and meet editors and show your portfolio at anymore.
  • Unfortunately, there’s no real set answer to that. “Marvel ready” is a subjective term. When I see, I know… that’s about it.
  • I discovered @skottieyoung ‘s artwork simply walking thru Artists Alley in Chicago, so I always recommend new artists get tables at cons.

10 Questions for Sean O’Reilly

Our subject today is Arcana Studio publisher, writer, and concept artist Sean O’Reilly. As CEO of Canada’s largest comics company, O’Reilly has influenced the careers of many creators, and has written books including Kade, Clockwork Girl, and The Greatest American Hero. He splits his time between California and British Columbia.

His newest project is The Gwaii from the Arcana Kids imprint. You can find out more about Sean O’Reilly and the comics from Arcana Studio at www.arcanacomics.com.

Question 1: When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics for a living?

When I went to the San Diego Comic Con for the first time. I thought it was simply awesome, and I really wanted to be part of the industry.

Question 2: Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?

My parents. My dad was a Golden Gloves boxer and Canada’s middleweight champ. As a result, I think I can turn up the tenacity and intensity when the bell rings. My mom is the consummate kindergarten teacher, and I think I have that playful spirit in me as well. It’s a bizarre mix, but it’s definitely defined who I am.

Question 3: Who has had the biggest influence on your comics career, and how has that person changed your work?

Tough question. I find inspiration and motivation from numerous sources, but mostly the biggest influences on me so far have been those who have persevered. Those who have struggled and finally achieved some of the success they were striving for. I find strength in that because if they did it, maybe I can too.

Question 4: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

Spend time with my family. Listen to music. Basically, I try to get away from business.

Question 5: Describe your typical work routine.

Email. Meeting. Email. Meeting. Layout a comic book. Meeting. Write something creatively. Email. It’s not glorious, and it’s way too much time in front of a computer.

Question 6: What writing, drawing, or other tools do you use?

My Dock: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Firefox, Safari, Fetch, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Mail, BBEdit, Address Book, Calendar, Final Draft, iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, Time Machine, After Effects, MSN, AIM, Skype, Yahoo. Couple other randoms in there as well, but that’s basically the tools I use 98% of the time.

Question 7: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

The initial excitement and motivation I feel when I start to create, and when the project has completed and I can enjoy reading a graphic novel I wrote or created.

Question 8: What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics – and why?

I guess making Clockwork Girl or The Gwaii as they both were a culmination of life events, my past and my experiences creatively and professionally.

Question 9: We’ve all met very talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a promising new creator?

Work hard and be consistent. It takes twice as long as you’d imagine.

Question 10: Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?

Enjoy what you are doing. This is such a tough, demanding world and so many people put forth goals that are difficult to achieve. At the end of the day, so much is out of our control, and all one can really do is to be passionate about what they do, trying their best. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. I try to align everything I do — it’s not possible — with VOIP; Vision, Objective, Integrity and Passion. When I can love what I’m doing and all four of those criteria are met, I know I’m going in the right direction.

Want more? See the index of “10 Questions” interviews.

Discuss “10 Questions” in the ComicsCareer.Com Forum.

Are you a professional comics creator? Participate in the 10 Questions project.

VideoSnip: Meet CAG

Learn more about Comicbook Artists Guild, which was founded by today’s “10 Questions” interview subject, Keith J. Murphey. This interview was conducted at the 2008 New York Comic Con.

10 Questions for Gary Reed

Gary ReedGary Reed has been writing and publishing comics since the late 1980’s. As publisher of Caliber, he published hundreds of comics titles and helped launch the careers of many of today’s top creators.

As a creator, he has written a wide variety of comics, including the long-running Deadworld, Dracula and Frankenstein (Penguin Books), Saint Germaine, Raven Chronicles, Seeker, Jack the Ripper, Renfield, Spirit of the Samurai (a young adult novel) and many others.

The Canton, Michigan, resident current projects include A Murder of Scarecrows and Deadworld: Slaughterhouse, both in early 2009. Watch for a book called Subversives in mid-2009. You can find out more about him at www.garyreed.net.

Question 1: When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics for a living?

It wasn’t so much a decision but rather circumstances. After opening a book store and deciding to carry comics to appeal to younger readers, the comics took over and via that decision, I got into publishing and then creating comics. It was all incremental rather than a momentous and conscious decision.

Question 2: Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?

I would have to say my wife, Jennifer. I never had much expectation expected from me or anyone else when growing up as we were poor, having lived awhile in the projects, so adulthood was something that was successful if you managed to have any kind of job at all. It was more surviving than anything else. She led more by example and got me thinking of going to college and I took control of my future rather than just slogging along. I guess I have to say she exposed me to a whole new way of thinking.

Question 3: Who has had the biggest influence on your comics career, and how has that person changed your work?

I can’t really say that anyone has influenced my comics career although I’m certain that there are snippets of inspiration from a number of different people. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman showed that there can be a variety of sophisticated material produced, but outside of that, I can’t think of anyone that motivated me.

A Murder of Scarecrows cover - smallQuestion 4: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I think creative people don’t necessarily need overall recharging but sometimes do in regards to certain projects. So, to recharge on one project, move onto something else and then approach the previous one with a bit of distance and perhaps a different look.

Question 5: Describe your typical work routine.

No such thing. Every day is different. Some days I can spend 8-10 hours on writing, others I’m lucky if I can squeeze in one. Since I teach college biology, during school I don’t get as much of a chance to write as I would like. But I take the summers off and then I usually have my coffee and answer my emails before talking a walk and then start writing. I’ll go as long as I feel it’s productive, and that can vary from one hour to ten hours. Just gotta go with the flow.

Question 6: What writing, drawing, or other tools do you use?

I do everything on my PC, but I was one of those who protested computers for writing when they first hit the scene. I could not envision not using a typewriter. I used to go through stacks of legal pads to write notes and snippets and then type but now with the computer, I do everything there. I can’t even write longhand any more; my hand cramps up after one paragraph. Besides, I find I can’t read my own writing sometimes.

Question 7: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

When I finish. I know that seems obvious, but when I get whatever project I’m doing finished, it’s a sense of relief. When I check over the lettering or even the final printed version of the book, it’s usually anti-climatic. Sort of like actors when they finish their roles in a film, they’re done and the released version that comes out much later is something different and a bit remote.

Question 8: What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics – and why?

Since I do many shorter works that only run a few issues for the most part, each one has its own reward. I don’t get that from Deadworld, which is what I have worked the longest on, because it’s always just a part of a bigger project and there isn’t a sense of resolution. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Deadworld is not rewarding, but I never get the sense of completion with it. If I had to pick one project that was most rewarding, it would have to be the anthology, Of Scenes and Stories, as that collected many of my short stories and had scenes from some of the longer works. I felt that represented me as a writer more than any other project.

Question 9: We’ve all met very talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a promising new creator?

Advice varies so much and its application varies so much as well. I think the general idea that most new creators should grasp is that if they embark in comics, they should be true to whatever they want to do and don’t compromise themselves. Sure, you can do projects that you may not relish if they’re important for your career and spotlight your talent, but don’t try to become something you’re not or don’t want to be. Success, especially for the young, is often gauged by others but as you get older, you realize that only you can determine what your success really is.

Question 10: Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?

There is no Plan B in life. This is it. Whenever you make a choice in life, you automatically eliminate other choices so as you go down whatever path you’ve chosen. No sense turning around to look back; just keep going as there’s going to be a lot more choices ahead of you.

Want more? See the index of “10 Questions” interviews.

Discuss “10 Questions” in the ComicsCareer.Com Forum.

Are you a professional comics creator? Participate in the 10 Questions project.

10 Questions for Al Bigley

Al BigleyAl Bigley is the absolute champion of art contributors to the old paper-based Comics Career Newsletter. He drew more covers and provided more spot illustrations than any other artist — by far.

Since his days submitting illustrations to CCN, he’s gone on to a diverse career, drawing comics for DC, Marvel, Archie, Image, Golden Books, Hershey, Kenner, CTW, Disney, and more. He’s also written a new book, Draw Comics Like a Pro: Techniques for Creating Dynamic Characters, Scenes, and Stories, published by Watson/Guptill.

You can find out more about this North Carolia artist at his website, www. albigley.com.

Question 1: When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics for a living?

Around age 7 or so, when I fell in love with comics and drawing.

Question 2: Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?

My mom, who had no problem with a kid who loved comics — then seen as sorta “bubblegum for the mind” — and encouraged that hobby and love of drawing.

Question 3: Who has had the biggest influence on your comics career, and how has that person changed your work?

No single person or creator. I love the work of Kirby, Neal Adams, the Buscemas, Nick Cardy, etc. I also tried to absorb any industry info from them I could via interviews or live appearances.

I always keep Jack Kirby’s example in mind, though. If he could be treated poorly, exploited, and taken for granted…

Al Bigley artQuestion 4: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I do other creative things: make a model kit, play with music software, or watch a film. I also work out and jog a few times a week.

Question 5: Describe your typical work routine.

Nothing typical, as freelancers work when they can, but I often just try to work in the morning, returning later to the work if I need to.

Question 6: What writing, drawing, or other tools do you use?

The usual. Bristol board, pencils, various ink pens and brush pens, erasers, drafting table, t-square, ellipse templates, etc. I also have an iMac for scanning and Photoshop for some fixes or whatnot there.

Question 7: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

I just like the creation of it. When all is going right, it can be very satisfying. It can also be nice when you see the finished, published product. Not always, though.

Question 8: What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics – and why?

Teaching cartooning and art to kids. Like the cliche says “when a student gets it….”

Very nice feeling to know you’ve gotten through to a young artist.

Question 9: We’ve all met very talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a promising new creator?

Just don’t be shy about showing your work and getting honest critiques on it. Even if no work comes from that, you’ve gained some valuable insight and advice on the work.

Also, many newcomers need to look at artwork other than their favorite stuff by their favorite artists. Even if the industry seems to be buying only that stuff right now, you’ll gain from studying other styles and genres.

Question 10: Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?

Just do good work, on time, and be honest with others. Know your limits and be honest about them. Try to “do unto others….”

Want more? See the index of “10 Questions” interviews.

Discuss “10 Questions” in the ComicsCareer.Com Forum.

Are you a professional comics creator? Participate in the 10 Questions project.