August 10th will mark 15 years of one of the most fulfilling and close relationships I have ever forged. Dexter Wee is not only my longtime frequent artist and collaborator, I also consider him to be my brother that I’ve never met who lives on the opposite side of the planet than myself. Exact opposite actually. When it is 7:00 PM EST at my home, it is 7:00 AM PST at Dexter’s home.

I found Dexter on either Pencil Jack or Digital Webbing way back in the day. Those message boards do not seem to be as vibrant as they once were, and there are bigger and better alternatives available nowadays. There are several subs on Reddit for hooking up artists and creators. There are also dozens of groups on Facebook. And don’t forget about contacting illustrators directly via Deviantart and Instagram. Those are the places I would start with today if I was to look for an artist. But at that time, message boards were a bigger thing, and that’s where comic nerds tended to hang out.

What I did was create a post that specifically said it was for paid work, and gave some general details for the job, as well as a contact email for candidates to send samples of their work. I also asked applicants to let me know their page rate. THIS IS KEY. I let them set the price on their labor and their art. What this did was it immediately created a tangible qualification for me to sort out of who I could pay for and who I couldn’t, but on their terms.

I received well over a hundred submissions. Once I weeded out the artists that were too expensive for me, which were a few, and either lacked the skills I hoped to see, or were in a style that didn’t suit my story, which was many, I was left with about a dozen.

Here is the original submission I received from Dexter.

God, that is so precious. I love reading that, and seeing where this journey all began… But I digress.

I then sent those dozen artists, including Dexter, a trial page. I did this to not only try to ascertain the skills and abilities of the artist to translate my script into images, but also to get a sense of what a working relationship would potentially be like. The key here is to find how well I could envision working with the person. Not one with me as a dictatorial boss, but someone that I could develop a kinship with and forge a lasting relationship.

Right off the bat, a few failed that part of the test by being really rude or angry that I was asking for what they thought was free work. That immediately disqualified them, which in retrospect, I probably would have paid their page rate for the sample page had they asked, but the aggressiveness put me off.

The page Jon and I wrote contained all of the elements we would need to see in the story: a background establishing shot, a close up of the face of a character, an action sequence, and whatever else we thought we needed to see. Here is the original email I sent out to Dexter:

And Dexter responded with this page four days later:

Pretty decent, but I am an artist myself, and I could see that there were some things that needed tweaked. Besides, I needed to see how Dexter could take feedback, and how eager he was to be collaborative. So I responded with this:

Now I did this for everyone who submitted. Looking back on it, I probably wouldn’t be as harsh today as I was then. But this was all was part of the test to see if we could collaborate, and I needed to get an idea of how the artist responded to criticism. One guy actually became irate, and he thus failed the test, obviously. Dexter though, he came back having made all of the changes in a very timely fashion and was very eager to please, and most importantly to me, he seemed eager to learn and grow along with me.

Here is Dexter’s revised page:

And that’s how I found my artist. And one of my best friends.

Dexter has grown substantially as an artist as I have also grown and matured as a writer. He has been able to turn his side gig into his full-time gig, and is thriving as a comic’s creator. And as he has been able to build a body of work, and he is getting paid much, much more than his original per page salary. By the time we started The F├╝hrer and the Tramp, that original salary had quadrupled, and rightfully so.

It’s been a great journey for all of us. And we are nowhere near close to it coming to an end.

Here are some of our latest pages as a comparison of how far we have journeyed.

Now your path will most certainly be different. But, you could quite literally be instrumental in changing someone’s life and aiding them to achieve their dreams in a way that would have been impossible for them otherwise. You could set them on a path that leads to them being able to support themselves and their families by DRAWING COMICS. And you get rewarded in the form of it feeling like Christmas morning every time you get a new page in your inbox.

That’s a symbiotic relationship way more powerful than Eddie Brock and Venom.