Making Comics: Chris Eliopoulos on Staying In the Comics Industry

Cartoonist and letterer Chris Eliopoulos posted this essay about how to stay in the comics industry once you’ve finally managed to break in. He should know. He’s been in the industry since 1989, and has sort of seen it all. Despite being old and grumpy, there is much wisdom to be gained from his experiences. If you’re thinking about trying your hand at making comics, or you already are, or you just like to know what it’s like, this is definitely worth a read.

Chris graciously gave us permission to re-post the whole thing here. Make sure to check out his upcoming all ages series Cow Boy with Nate Cosby from Archaia, next year, and follow Chris on Twitter.

I’ve been told that breaking into the comics industry is easy, it’s the staying in that’s hard..

I’ve been working in comics since 1989, so I thought I would share what I’ve learned over those years that helped me keep working. Some seem obvious and others outright stupid, but some people don’t seem to know them.

This advice applies to not just pencilers, writers and other credited comics-makers, but all freelancers and staff people. In fact, it’s pretty good advice for anyone in business.

•Be good at your job. Now, that sounds like a “duh” moment, but some people starting out think the lower-level positions aren’t worth their time. Wrong. If you are sitting in the production department dreaming of being a professional penciler and slag off on your current job, people notice. If someone sees you putting pride into all that you do, they will believe you’d do the same in the job you really want.

•Don’t be a jerk. Obvious, yes. But in the stressful environment of periodical publishing, things can get tense. Don’t take out your frustration on others. People talk and if you become known as a jerk to one person, expect everyone to hear it.

•Don’t lie. Again, obvious, but hear me out. You’re a colorist and you have a crushing deadline. Do you tell your editor that you’ll have it done in time when you damn well know you won’t, or do you tell them honestly that it’s not going to happen? Editors are jugglers. They have a lot going on at once and if you screw them over, they drop the balls. They’d much rather you be honest and work with them. More than likely they can give you more time, but more importantly, they know that you’ll be honest with them in the future. I’ve seen too many people no longer in the business over-promise.

•Answer questions, don’t ask them. What? What I mean by that is be a problem-solver. Be helpful, take charge of a problem. Do your best and then take it to an editor. Even if it’s not exactly what they want, they will appreciate the effort and it may help them solve the problem.

•You’re a pro, not a fan anymore. Don’t geek out on your childhood idol. Within professional circles, the fan geek stands out. You are their equal, act like it. Don’t ask for a sketch, don’t try to be their friend, don’t ask them to critique your work. There may come a time when a fellow pro will ask to check out your work, but remember don’t take advantage of their courtesy. And don’t start sending out samples to everyone you work with. It makes them feel uncomfortable to work with you if they feel your stuff is not up to snuff.

•Keep your mouth shut. Don’t gossip, don’t listen to gossip, don’t assume anything to be true. Freelancers are old washer women.. We like to talk. I’m guilty of it. I try not to, but it happens. For your sake, just keep out of it. No one likes a busy-body. Don’t go on Twitter or Facebook and talk about other creators in a negative way. Remember, bad talk about someone could influence people into not hiring them or you.

•Get better. Don’t rest on your laurels. Always try to improve or try new things. Even in the most mundane jobs. When I was on-staff at Marvel, I went from letterer to senior letterer in a year because I always tried to get better and people noticed. I came in early, I worked through lunch, I stayed late. Editors began noticing I’d come in early and they wanted me to do their corrections, so they began coming in early to ensure I did their work. Even now, I try new things and push to improve.

•If you’re good enough, you’re not good enough. I hear so many people wanting to be writers or pencilers. And usually, their first remark is, “Well, if that guy can get work, I should. It’s better than theirs.” Wrong. You don’t know why they get work and comparing yourself to the “least talented” person is not where you should be going. You, as a penciler, need to be better than Jim Lee or Greg Capullo or the Kuberts. As a writer, work to achieve to be better than Bendis or Miller or Moore. Strive for that. Make publishers need to have you. Why work to be just good enough?

•Be friendly even when you don’t want to. Be nice to people. Be cheerful and upbeat. No one wants to work with a person who complains all the time (like me) when the next guy over who does the same job equally well is pleasant and a joy to work with. I know it’s hard sometimes to feel that way, but a quick call or an e-mail that is nice is much better than having the person on the other end want to work with anyone but you.

•Promote your work. This one I’ve always had trouble with. It’s okay to get online and promote your work. It’s your work, not you. If someone doesn’t like your work, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. And, even if they do, who cares? You can’t make everyone happy. And don’t be shy. Go on Twitter and Facebook and promote. I’ve found that the people who self-promote most, tend to do better and get more work over time. Perception is reality. You tell enough people that the work is good and exciting and it will be those things.

•Don’t procrastinate. Get things done because who knows if someone will come along with another assignment. Maybe even that dream assignment, but you insisted on playing X-Box and still have to finish that first job.

•You can say no. This is another one I’ve had trouble with. Be honest with people. If you can’t or don’t want to do a job (freelance, I mean. Staff, you do what you’re asked to do)say no to it. The fear as a freelancer is once you say no, that editor or publisher will never ask you again. And that may happen, but send a friendly note that you’re looking for work at a later date. People appreciate when you don’t waste their time. Don’t say yes, then bail on a job halfway through because you had no time or interest.

•Respect your elders. I see so many newcomers in the business for five minutes telling everyone the way things should be done. They rip people who have been in the business much longer but have no clue what they’re talking about. Instead of bashing, how about contacting them and telling them how much you like their work? There are so many tips and tricks that people in the industry have gained over their years. Show them the respect they’ve earned.

Okay. There are plenty more, but I have a deadline to make. If you have any other tips, be sure to share them. After you get your work done!


  1. This isn’t just sound comic advice. This is good advice for anyone at any job.

  2. Excellent advice and can be used in any creative industry profession.

    I’m really amazed at how much dirty laundry and shit talking comic creators publicly engage in. That kinda stuff always reminds me that many creators have never held professional, career orientated types of jobs outside of this small niche industry.

  3. This is an outstanding article…Thank you for sharing this.

  4. As someone who’s been recently getting minor work in the comics industry, I can see how applicable a good deal of this is. It’s great advice.