HARD TRUTHS

So you’ve structured your comic, written your magnum opus, and are ready for the next step: getting the damn thing drawn. This is a critical and difficult time consuming step, and is the source of frustration for many new writers.

A common complaint I’ve seen on Reddit, Facebook groups and elsewhere is what is seen as the iniquity between artists and writers. The usual complaint is that artists do not want to be “true” collaborators, and work for a piece of the profits, and that artists are not out looking to hire writers.

HARD TRUTH #1: good old fashioned supply and demand. Great artists are hard to come by, but everyone seems to be convinced that they are a great writer without having actually created a comic. They may have written a comic, BUT they first need to realize this: a comic script that does not have art is not a comic, it’s a weirdly formatted unreadable novel. Your writing is just a bunch of words on a page. A bunch of words on a page isn’t comics. It’s prose. Great art though is self-evident. And great art is what is going to sell any comic.

So why don’t artists have to pay for writers? Well it happens, ONCE YOU HAVE A TRACK RECORD. The artist’s skill is clearly obvious to everyone. His art either sucks, or it’s awesome. I can look at an artists page of sequentials and tell if they have skills or not to make a good comic in a glance. Even if I read your script, which would take way more than a glance, I can’t immediately tell if it will translate into a comic.

Quick, you’ve got only one second to look at the image above and answer these questions to the best of your ability. On the left is the breakdown of these two pages. Is it well written? Does it demonstrate my abilities to tell a story? On the right is the finished art for those two pages as described. Is the story telling clear? Are the images engaging? Where did your eye go first? The written page or the finished penciled, inked, colored and lettered pages?

It’s pretty fucking clear. If anyone still insists on being obtuse and not concede the fact, well then, I insist that maybe you aren’t really interested in making COMICS. The thing that is DRAWING you to this medium versus just writing a prose novel IS THE DRAWINGS. If not, go write a novel.

HARD TRUTH #2: you have no track record. Why would an artist invest hundreds of hours on you when you’ve got nothing to show that you can actually create a comic? Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean you have the skills to execute that idea into anything that is remotely readable, let alone sellable.

There is no such thing as a million dollar idea. There is A MILLION DOLLAR EXECUTION of an idea. And if you’ve not actually done the hard work of executing your idea, there is zero way of telling whether or not it is indeed worth a million dollars.

As William Goldman famously said about filmmaking, “Nobody knows anything.” He was talking specifically about how in the screenwriting phase of movie making, it is impossible to tell if it is going to work or not. And this is from one of the most successful screenwriters EVER. The guy wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, All The President’s Men, adapted Stephen King’s Misery and, oh yeah, wrote both the novel and the screenplay for a little production called The Princess Bride. So the guy that empirically KNOWS screenwriting admits that when it comes to looking at words on a page, NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. This applies to comics as well.

HARD TRUTH #3: You will NOT break even at the beginning. There will NOT be any profit to split with your artist. I have yet to meet someone that I consider to be honest (there are a lot of braggadocious liars in this field) admit that their first book turned a profit.

You have to really want this. You have to want this so much, that you’ll sacrifice your time, your money, and your energy to do it. You’ll have to learn new skills. You’ll have to learn how to market effectively. You have to be filled with a burning hot intense desire to see your stories realized in four-color print, and do whatever it takes to do it.

And even on the remote chance there is any profit, it’ll be YEARS before you see any of that profit to split with an artist. Which leads to:

HARD TRUTH #4: Creating comics IS expensive and requires a lot of different skills. If the only “skill” you are bringing to the table is writing, you’re just going to have to pay for those other skills you lack.

Beyond paying for pencilers, you also have to pay for inkers, colorists, letterers, graphic designers and editors. Either spend the time yourself developing those skills, or find a way to pay those who spent thousands of hours learning and practicing and honing those skills.

After that you have to get it printed. Have you ever printed a comic book before? It’s expensive. Kickstarter you say? Well, do you have a following? An email list? Can you afford to pay hundreds of dollars on social media ads? I had all of those things and blew past my goal the very first day, and was funded over 300%, and still haven’t broken even, not by a long shot.

If you manage to get a publisher you’re still an unknown. If you want it to be successful, you’ll have to market it yourself. Don’t count on the publisher to do it for you. An indie publisher does not have the resources to babysit your book. No one will care about your book as much as you do. And effective marketing costs money.

Also, you’ll have to set up at comic cons to help create a fanbase. Those tables in artist’s alley cost hundreds of dollars. Plan on $150 at the little cons and upwards of $500 at the bigger ones. And that’s just the table. You need to buy a table skirt, popup banner, displays, and then printing posters and giveaways. After that, you also have to pay for your own travel, lodging and food expenses. So many people do not realize that the creators pay for those booths. The advertised guests on the flyers do not, but they’re known quantities and draw an audience. They also ironically do not need the $500 as much as the newbie starting out, but hey, that’s capitalism.

That’s what I am actively doing, and I have a track record, and accolades. That’s the bar that has been set by every indie creator that has gone before us. Either determine to meet those expectations, or just give up now and save yourself the frustration and disappointment.

So, either you can spend the time developing the skills you’ll need, and find ways to sacrifice and save up enough money to pay for your dream, or be like all of the people here who continue to whine about how it is not fair that writers don’t get paid. Spoiler alert, you will never create a single issue complaining about fairness on Reddit, your salty attitude will alienate you from the artists you need to complete your project and your dreams and stories will die and be buried with you.

Either way, I’ll see you in artist’s alley. It’s up to you which side of the table you want to be on.

You’re not dissuaded yet? Continue with WRITERS SEEKING ARTISTS: PART II