The iFanboy Letter Column – 10.28.2011

Friday means many things to many people. For some, Friday is all about time to finally garden. For others, it’s all about not thinking anything about gardening. For others still, they have their mom do their laundry.

At iFanboy, Friday means it’s letter column time.

You write. We answer. Very simple.

As always, if you want to have your e-mail read on the any of our shows or answered here, keep them coming – contact@ifanboy.com


Does Dick Grayson have a thing for red-heads or do red-heads have a thing for Dick Grayson?

Shane from Texas

Both.

In regards to yall’s discussion about construction of the Batcave.  I always assumed Batman got Superman or J’onn J’onzz or someone like that to build it.  With heat vision, super strength, flight, and super speed they could have the place built in a couple of minutes.  I don’t know what Batman did when first started out but after he comes into contact with the other heroes it seems like a no-brainer.

Shane from Texas

Well that’s the big question, isn’t it? How did Batman get that cave built in the beginning? It’s comic’s greatest mystery. As for later on, sure, he could use the help of the Justice League but would he? I think it depends on which version of Batman we’re talking about. The ultra paranoid and secretive Batman would never use their help to build his inner sanctum. The more friendly and upbeat Batman might. Maybe Harold does all the work himself…?

I am excited to see Barbara Gordon back as Batgirl, but don’t you think she is much more valuable to the DCU as Oracle?  I understand that fighting crime would be more exciting, especially after being in a wheelchair for three years, but she is very smart and must realize how important she was as Oracle.  What do yall think?

Shane from Texas

There are several issues being touched upon in this email. First off, “valuable” is a tough word. What constitutes value? Valuable to stories is one thing and valuable is a commodity is another. As Oracle there were certainly no other characters like her in the DC Universe and thus she was in an unique position. In that sense she was probably a stronger character as Oracle. But if you look at her value to DC as a commodity (which, let’s face it, is how these characters are most valuable) then she’s much more valuable as Batgirl. Ask most people who don’t read comics about Batgirl and they’ll tell you she’s Barbara Gordon and vice versa. That’s because of years (decades, even) of cartoons and TV shows and movies where she was Batgirl. So I understand why DC chose to bring her back as Batgirl. And despite the fact that I think she’s a stronger character as Oracle, I’m fine with her being Batgirl again because she was the Batgirl I grew up with as a kid.

The final part of your email brings up yet another issue: shouldn’t Barbara realize that she’s more valuable to the superhero community as Oracle than Batgirl? Now, I’ve never lost the use of any of my limbs but I imagine that if you were to lose the use of your legs and then suddenly get them back you would be pretty keen to get back out there. Not to mention if you were a world class athlete and superhero. Plus, she has consistently been portrayed as being wistful for her time as Batgirl. I can see her understanding that she is important as Oracle but also really wanting to get back to the life she lost, especially a younger version of Barbara, which is what we’re dealing with now.

Conor Kilpatrick


I recently saw an iFanboy Mini video about tips on getting into the comic book industry. Whilst the advice was very helpful and has given me that extra push to chase my dream I still feel like I’m stuck in a rut so to speak. I’m nineteen years old and currently at college, but it isn’t for me. I’ve always had a passion for writing and I’m a big comic book fan. I love to read whether it be fanfiction, books, comic books and I love watching TV shows and movies and being a writer for comic books is something I’d love to be.

Here’s where I feel stuck. I’m in the UK and I don’t have any friends or know of anybody who shares my interests other than people online and even then there’s a limit because while my online friends share my interests none of them are comic book publishers or artists etc…

I’ve contacted Dark Horse, Mavel, DC etc..to try and ask for some tips but I’ve had zero responses and I expected that. I think the purpose of my informal email is just to see if you guys could give me some advice on what I should do. Or how to get a foot in the door so to speak.

If you can take the time to reply to this email then thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to help a fangirl out! and if not then no hard feelings!

Natalie

Do you know why you haven’t gotten anywhere yet? It’s because you shouldn’t have. You’re NINETEEN! Other than very rare exceptions, you shouldn’t be anywhere near writing comics for a living. As far as whether you should be in college or not, well, that’s a conversation and piece of advice I won’t be giving, because it is nowhere near my place. But your life is positively nascent. But, I can tell you that the only things holding you back are your talent, or lack thereof, and your willingness to hustle. That’s it. I can’t tell you if you’re good enough. You can’t even tell if you’re good enough. The only way to know it is to do it, and to keep doing it. You will be terrible at first. You have a lot of things to learn that you didn’t even know existed. Then, if you want to write comics, you’ve got to find artists and work with them, and it takes a very long time. In the meantime, write, write, write, write, write, write, write and read and write. Are you listening?

You’re in the UK? That’s not a problem in the least. I think there are more British writers in American comics than Americans. You only have comic friends online? Join the club.

As far as the established publishers are concerned, they have work to do, and they’re not going to help you become a writer. They aren’t interested in you until you’re already established and professional and have a body of work. That means self publishing, or starting at smaller publishers. That means being the editor, producer, writer, and master of your own work. It takes an enormous amount of time, and that is completely normal. Even after all that effort, there aren’t that many jobs in comics that pay you a living wage, relative to how many people want those jobs, so the only thing you can do is be excellent. Find your voice, and push at the world until someone will listen.

There is no shortage of comics pros giving advice online. None. I give advice all the time, and I don’t know what I’m talking about. You saw that video? Listen to these podcasts I did with industry professionals, and new comics writers (who are all in their 30s, it should be noted). Follow C.B. Cebulski on Twitter. Pay attention, and dig in. If you don’t have tenacity and patience, then you should definitely stay in school, because this isn’t the business to be in.

One last thing. Don’t apologize. Be confident. Don’t disparage yourself or minimize your significance. Project to others that you believe in yourself, and your goals are valid. Be stronger than you are, or at least appear that way. Find and earn your confidence so that when there is a seat at the table, much further down the road, you’ll know that you deserve to be there.

Alan Moore dropped out of school, and he’s British. Just as an aside.

Josh Flanagan


I have been listening to the podcast and you guys would often say I’m getting that page after salivating about some artist work. After 25 or so years I think I’m ready to take my collection to the next level and start collecting artwork. I found a lot of art being auctioned on eBay, but is there any other methods for getting specific pages from specific book? How do you guys approach this?

Derrick (Speedbal on iFanboy)

So you’re ready to take the plunge into original art. I’m either excited for you, because it can be a fun extension of this lovely hobby of comic books for you to enjoy, or I’m scared for you, because original art collecting can be a tough and expensive hobby to maintain.  Depending on what your goals are and what you want out of it, it can be incredibly rewarding or incredibly frustrating.  Ultimately it will be up to you to decide which it will be.

In terms of how to go about acquiring original art, most people start at eBay, and you could go there for original art. In fact, the first pages of art I ever bought were off of eBay. But, I tend to steer people away from eBay for a few reasons. First, there’s nothing worse than falling in love with a piece of art and losing the auction to some eBay pro who has all sorts of tools and bots to make sure they win. Second, the art available on eBay is wildly random, with no consistency. If you’re looking for a specific page from a specific book or artist, you could give eBay a shot, but there are better ways to track down art.

To make your art shopping easy, there are several solid and reputable original art dealers with presences on the web, representing many of your favorite artists.  Looking for art from Gabriel Hardman, Jeff Lemire, Mike Norton, Becky Cloonan, Chris Burnham or any other awesome current artists? Then you should check out Cadence Comic Art, who reps those artists and many more. Or maybe you’re looking for Cliff Chiang, Jock, Charlie Adlard or Ryan Ottley art? Then you’ll want to head over to Splash Page Art, where they have art from those artists plus many others. There are other dealers out there on the web, and they’re a great way to purchase art as they’re focused on selling you art from the artists they rep. There’s very little chance like with eBay, if you see a page you like, order it, pay for it, they ship it to you and it’s yours.

If you are hunting for a specific page and can’t find it at a dealer or eBay, you might want to check out Comic Art Fans, a site where collectors post the art they own. Not everything is for sale here, but some pages are and if you can find the page you’re looking for, maybe you can talk the owner into parting ways with it.

Finally, for a complete list of resources and sites related to original comic art, check out this amazing post by iFanboy staff writer Jason Wood over on the message board of our pals at 11 O’Clock Comics. If you’re into original art, this post is a must read with all the key links and resources to help you in your collecting.

Good luck finding that piece of original art that you’ll cherish forever!

Ron Richards

Comments

  1. If I may, just a few other quick bits of advice for people looking to start collecting comic art. It’s often a good idea to just check out the websites for artists you like. They’ll often either have a link to a store on their site or a link to their representative’s site. Also check out the pages for inkers, people often think that they want a page from so and so and don’t realize that whoever inked that person’s work is also probably selling pages.

    And I agree with Ron, ebay is a great place to start a collection, you can often get a page for less than $50. I got my first two pages (one from Excalibur and one from New X-Men), for less than $25 apiece.

    I’ve been buying original art (sometimes as little as a page or two a year, sometimes more) for the past five years and I really enjoy it.

    • What New X-Men artist was it?

    • It was Randy Green. I should have been more specific, it’s from the “New X-Men: Academy X” series, not the New X-men that replaced adjectiveless. A page with Beast, Dani Moonstar, Wolfsbane, and Elixir. I was actually looking for a page with Colossus (who has always been one of my favorite characters) and he appears on the Excalibur page I got. They were both being sold by Rick Ketchum, the inker, and I figured that the price was right for both of them. I was SO pumped to get them.

    • iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

      Thanks teddy..your right… you can get some great stuff for around 25 bucks.. picked up a few gorgeous pages of the desperadoes (western/horror) comic a few years back at a convention for around 25 bucks each. The artist had stacks of them.
      On another note. I think that B Gordon was more valuable as oracle. Ha… although im reading batgirl now and really enjoying it.

  2. part of what makes you a good creative person is having a perspective and that comes from living….trying things, making mistakes, learning and failing. Its possible you might not have anything to contribute or write about at 19. You might, who knows….keep at it. This internet thing…hot damn there is just so much information out there from really smart people. Back when i was 19 it was like 2 geocities sites and AOL. I had to figure it out on my own….and i’m still trying to do that.

  3. Hornhead Hornhead says:

    1992 represent! :D

  4. The first thing I ever downloaded from the internet was a marvel trading cards series 1 scan of Captain America.

    COMPUSERVE BABY!

  5. MisterShaw MisterShaw says:

    For original art, also go to cons. The artists almost always have pages for sale, and are almost always willing to wheel-n-deal. Pro-Tip: buy from the inkers. They (generally) charge much less than the pencilers do.

    I personally don’t like dealing w/ dealers, because it makes it seem more like a product and less like artwork, but that’s a dumb personal thing I have going on.

    • Josh Flanagan Josh Flanagan (@jaflanagan) says:

      I can speak for Cadence specifically. I know a lot of those artists, and Paolo treats them very fairly, and really respects the artists.

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      I can also vouch for Paolo and Cadence. Had a very positive experience at NYCC browsing and then buying my Moritat pages. Lots of reverence for the artists and their work.

    • MisterShaw MisterShaw says:

      I wasn’t meaning to imply anything negative about any dealer. I just personally prefer dealing with the artist directly.

    • joekeatinge joekeatinge says:

      I’d like to put a third in for Paolo and Cadence. They’re great. Same with Albert Moy. Also, Steve Morger is great, who handles people like Frank Cho, Travis Charest, Brandon Peterson, etc.

  6. kennyg kennyg says:

    RRING! RRING!

    *beep* “Hi, this is Clark Kent, I’m not able to take your call at the moment. Please leave a message at the beep and I’ll return your call as quickly as is humanly possible. Thanks and have a super day!”

    *beep* “Hey Clark, it’s Bruce, you there? I’ll give you a second to pick up… So, listen, I’m thinking of re-arranging some… furniture this weekend in my… basement, and I thought if you were free maybe you could give me a hand with some of the heavier stuff. Yeah. You there? You aren’t screening me, are you? Because I’d know. Because I’m… you know… well, I’d know! Anyway, call me back.”

    With Patrick Warburton’s voice for Bruce, it could totally work.

  7. stevetwo stevetwo says:

    Natalie – I’ve been writing internal and external communications for a few different corporations for 20 years now. I also have a few manuscripts I’m trying to sell. (I have an agent trying to get me into a publisher.) So here’s what I can tell you from my experience: You’ll find that any type of writing, whether it’s for a PR firm, newspaper, magazine, your own novel or, yes, comics, requires that time and effort Josh said needs to be done. By no means am I trying to dissuade you from your dream, but you have to hear some hard, cold facts.

    Why? Because there are a ton (A TON) of people out there who think they’re great writers and bombard publishers with all kinds of terrible work. When your piece is sitting in a basket with 100 or more pieces a reader has to look at for the day, you HAVE to stand out. You sound like you have that potential, certainly the enthusiasm, and that’s half the battle.

    So here’s the rest of it, adding to Josh’s advice: 1. Be confident but not arrogant. No one likes someone who says, “you’re missing out if you don’t publish my stuff” or “if you don’t hire me.” 2. Be experienced at writing a variety of topics. Even if you aren’t great at, say, horror or romance or sports-writing, try it. The end result is a well-stocked portfolio and experience. 3. Don’t finish a project without taking a second and third look. You might find a better way of saying things, and you accomplish another CRUCIAL step: editing! 4. Keep your eyes and ears open for anything that comes your way. This is a difficult to do and stay with it, but aside from having a friend on the inside, it’s the only way to get your foot in the door. 5. You have to have an existing job to support your work toward that dream. The odds are against you that you’re going to jump right into a full-time job in or out of college. And a starting writer salary will barely pay the rent. Don’t question this. Just do it.

    And finally, 6. Don’t give up on your dream, but don’t let it consume you. If you have to “modify” it, don’t think you failed. Just never forget you’re living in the real world. Good luck.

  8. Firevine Firevine says:

    Natalie; Don’t discount doing your own webcomic. Your talents will definitely be improved by them. Take Questionable Content, Something Positive, and PVP. Look at the first few strips, then look at the most recent. All three of those creators art has DRASTICALLY improved over the years. They all also put out content that to me, has just as much relevance as anything Marvel and DC are doing. They get booths at cons, they make a living off their work, and they have built dedicated fanbases.

  9. I thought Batman didn’t have to build the Bat Cave. Wasn’t the cave already there under the mansion, naturally? he just brought his toys down there, no? Isn’t the cave what bruce fell into as a child and all the bats flew out and scared the piss out of him? In most origin stories I’ve read, the cave was a natural formation and he just set up shop there. Are there versions of the origin where he actually constructed a gigantic cage?

    My question is, how the FUCK did he get that giant penny down there???

    • Jesse1125 Jesse1125 says:

      Sure, the cave was there, but the lighting, electricity to power the countless mainframes, steel beams, and girders to hold the Bat-plane, Bat-Copter, Various Bat-mobiles,the indoor plumbing, dehumidifiers,medical trauma bays(when Alfred has to attend to Bruce) etc, etc. I say Shane from Texas hit the nail on the head!!

      Bruce: ” I don’t know, I think the dinosaur would look better to the left of the giant penny”
      Clark: ” That’s it! It stays right where its at!!”

    • LMAO! Oh God, I just had this image of Batman and Superman decorating the Batcave like an old married couple, with Bats not being able to make up his mind and Superman getting more and more angry. “Damnit, Bruce! Darkseid is invading! Now where do you want the huge playing cards???” “Let’s try over by the Dead Robin ribute Tube again. “AGAIN!?!?!?!”

      Also, “Dead Robin Tribute Tube” would be a great name for a band.

    • Jesse1125 Jesse1125 says:

      “Dead Robin Tribute Tube”…..fuckin love it!!

  10. PaulAllor PaulAllor says:

    I don’t know if she’ll read the comments, but I just wanted to respond to Natalie, and add a few thoughts to Josh’s awesome response. Couple of quick things:

    1. Acknowledge that you’re doing some things right

    Wow, are you ever ahead of the game! Congratulations. At 19, you’ve already started thinking seriously about your comics career. Seriously enough to reach out to the guys on this site, and to reach out to comics publishers. So don’t get down on yourself, because most people, at your age, might have a half-formed notion about writing comics, but wouldn’t actually be doing anything about it. So, before you get too down on yourself, take the time to acknowledge that you’re doing some things right.

    2. Hone your craft before you try to publish

    Having said that, one thing you didn’t mention in your letter is whether you’re actively writing comics scripts. If not, you should be. A lot. But, I’m NOT saying you should put up a Web comic or print a mini-comic as soon as possible. I’m not an advocate of the “get your work out there as soon as possible” school of thought. I’m an advocate of the “hone your craft, and THEN, when it’s reached a certain level, get your work out there” school of thought.

    I just recently self-published a collection of short comics, but before I did, I wrote more than 1,000 pages of comic script that will never, ever see the light of day. I’ve written dozens of one-shots, ten complete minis, and many, many shorter stories. That was time spent practicing, trying and failing, learning the craft. That’s what you should be doing right now.

    3. Find a community

    I know I just said that I wouldn’t recommend putting your early stuff out there for public consumption. However, I WOULD recommend getting online and finding (or forming) a community of aspiring comics creators. Get involved. Show them your stuff. Read their feedback with an open mind. Take it to heart. And use it to hone your craft further.

    4. Gain life experience

    The more you live, the better a writer you’ll be. Not only will you be practicing your craft along the way, but you’ll be gaining life experience. You’ll be getting a better feel for how the world works, how society runs, the tangible and intangible forces that govern and guide our daily lives. You’ll get a feel for how people navigate through adult life. You’ll continue to develop a unique set of knowledge and experiences. And all of this will make your writing stronger. The more you understand the world, the more you understand people, and the more you understand people, the more you can create authentic, interesting characters and place them in dramatic, compelling situations.

    In other words, as you get older, if you still haven’t broken in yet, don’t view that as a weakness; view it as a strength.

    5. Try to remember that you are much, much younger than you realize.

    I know that sounds condescending, but it’s true. When you are older, you will look back, and realize that you still had more time ahead of you than you could possible imagine. If it took you another 15 years, another 20 years, to become an established comic-book writer, you would STILL not be out of the ordinary. But if you start working at it now, and doing the right things, you will have an extraordinary head-start. I’m 33, and I didn’t even start reading comic books until I was 28. Not writing – READING. And I don’t consider this a drawback at all. So many of my favorite writers and artists broke in when they were my age or older. Sometimes much, much older.

    And that’s the end of my advice. Up advice, I talked about finding a community. Now, I’m going to very briefly plug the community I belong to. It’s called Comics Experience, and it’s run by Andy Schmidt, a former editor at Marvel and IDW. I work with Andy, as the site’s Book Club manager. Comics Experience has an awesome private workshop where people critique each other’s scripts, have access to pro editors and creators, and hold in-depth discussions about breaking in. If you want to know more about it, E-mail me at paul@comicsexperience.com.

    End brief plug.

    Hopefully some of this was helpful. I’m honestly not sure why I felt compelled to respond to this letter column. I guess I mostly just wanted you to realize where you’re at. You said that you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, but believe me, you’re not. You’re on solid ground, and the road is wide open in front of you. You just need to take a deep breath, figure out how you want to proceed, and then start walking.

    Good luck!

  11. joekeatinge joekeatinge says:

    I was pretty struck by Natalie’s letter as I remember having exactly the same feeling when I was 19 and feeling my desire to ‘break into comics’ was something that was Never Going To Happen. As a guy who has since had some success with comics and currently makes his living off of them, it turned out there was a lot I had to learn, that there’s a lot I know now that I wish I knew then.

    While my time traveling ability is at an all-time low, I hope I can instead help out with Natalie and whoever else is feeling the same way by typing all this out. So, here goes: how I ‘broke into comics’ (a term we’ll destroy in a bit here) and the lessons I learned along the way.

    You’ll ‘break in’ another way. Everybody’s path is wildly different. Spoilers: that’s the first lesson I wish I knew.

    When I was 19 I left the house and moved up to Portland, OR for college. I had been reading comics my whole life – I’m still not even sure how that started. Since reading Spawn #10 at age 10, I wanted nothing more than to write and draw my own comics. Comics were – and still are – my greatest passion in life. There was no other art form or pursuit that ever interested me more.

    However, by the time I was 20 I had given up on comics as a career completely, spending the next year or so with the aim of becoming an English professor. I had heard stories about guys like Jim Shooter or pretty much everybody from the 1940s breaking in during their teens. Guys like Rob Liefeld and the Image founders were largely young when they broke in. I felt my window had closed.

    I loathed every minute of college, but it was The Safe Thing To Do. People don’t break into comics. It’s too hard to do. It’s a rarefied air I would never be able to breathe.

    As I was nearing turning 21, I grew increasingly depressed. Like, A LOT depressed. So much so I was having a hard time getting anything done, much less school. This wasn’t what I wanted. I hated school, so the idea of being a professor and constantly being in school all the time seemed like some circle of Hell. That said, I had come to grips with the fact my drawing style was, at best, resembling dead cartoonists. It wasn’t marketable. I guess I wasn’t thrilled with my writing either, because the idea of being a writer was something I accepted was never going to happen.

    At the time I had a girlfriend who was pursuing becoming a filmmaker and she urged me to try comics. She was moving down to San Francisco, a place with a huge history of people making comics like R Crumb, Erik Larsen, among many others. I thought the idea was stupid. My father, a guy who spent my entire life pushing me to go to college and get a secure job, didn’t. He pushed me to go. So, I did.

    The deal was to give myself one year to try to get into comics. If it didn’t work out, I was back to becoming an English professor. As my dad put it, in the worst case scenario I would spend my 20s in one of the greatest cities on the planet, so it wasn’t the worst fate to have.

    This was the tough part, because I knew what I wanted, but no idea how to do it. I took a handful of community college classes, mostly focused on writing and film (which I figured was a close cousin of comics. I’d later realize I would be better off studying music, which I now believe to be a lot closer). I wrote and I wrote and I wrote many a script no one in all existence will ever see. I wrote original stuff. I wrote what I guess is fan fiction. I read a lot. I studied a lot. I was just trying to figure out how to crack this code to comics.

    Roughly six months in, friend of mine by the name of Mark Englert (whose name you may recognize from Capes with Robert Kirkman or Halocyon with Marc Guggenheim) was illustrating a Freak Force back up to Savage Dragon #115. He mentioned off hand how their color flatter quit and they needed another one. I asked what the hell a ‘color flatter’ did and he explained it’s the person who gets paid pennies to separate out all the different elements of a comics page in either flat color or grayscale for the colorist to fully render. I said I could do that. He asked if I knew anything about Photoshop. I said, Hell, no, but I’d figure it out. So I got a copy of Photoshop and did just that. Within days I was colorflatting on a computer that could barely handle it, using a mouse and a lasso tool. I was getting paid a dollar per hour to separate colors on a page. I dropped the college classes, worked at a video store from 5 PM to midnight then worked from 1 AM to 10 AM color flatting as much as I could. My health worsened for it. My relationship was demolished by it, but I was working in comics in some way, so I was freakin’ stoked. That’s lesson two: figure out the work no one else wants to do and do it well.

    The thing is, the color flat work turned me from Random Fan to Guy Who Actually Could Get A Pro Badge At A Convention. Mark came up to visit both me and Erik Larsen (who lived across the bay in Oakland). I went with him to visit one time, since at this point I was color flatting some of Erik’s books. Erik asked me what I wanted to do and I told him. I also mentioned how I had no idea what to do. He said, “I don’t know what to tell you, son.”

    From there we became buds. He was the only person in the bay area I knew who made comics as a living. At the same time, I was starting to hang out at a comic shop called Isotope, where I finally made a ton of friends who either shared my passion for reading comics or wanted to make comics on their own. Having these friends made me a lot more jazzed to make comics. It made it seem possible. So, that’s lesson number three: find your community, whether it’s in person or online. I think most people probably go with the latter.

    My friendship with Erik led to us hanging out a bit during Wizard World LA, which led to me volunteering to run the Image booth when the guy doing so didn’t want to. That led to me knowing Eric Stephenson, which led to me doing the same thing at that year’s San Diego Comic Con for an up-and-coming writer named Robert Kirkman, who also didn’t want to handle sales at his booth. I did it for Image and Larsen. Apparently it worked out well. I sold a lot of books for Robert. He didn’t have to. Larsen and Stephenson saw how much effort I put into it. Larsen came up to me toward the end of the con and asked what I was doing lately. I mentioned my schedule of working at a video store, working on color flats, then coming home to the new apartment I shared with some friends who smoked so much there was a perpetual cloud in our hallway. ALSO: a kitchen seemingly made entirely out of dirty dishes. He asked how much I liked it. I said I didn’t. Then he said the other phrase I’ll never forget from him:

    “Then why don’t you come work for me?”

    Erik had become Publisher a few months before. He was in the bay area. So Image was going to be too. He said they needed to largely restaff the office and I seemed pretty enthusiastic and I obviously could get whatever work he had thrown at me done. My mind was blown for the months following, especially since he made it seem like it wasn’t a sure thing. I’m still not sure it was, but lo and behold, in November of 2004 I left Hollywood Video for the last time and went to work the next week at Image Comics.

    My initial job there was Inventory Controller, which basically had me as a glorified mailroom boy. I worked from that to Traffic Manager, which I did for years, which basically meant I maintained our scheduling, printing and distribution. Eventually I was the PR & Marketing Coordinator and for a brief time the Sales & Licensing Coordinator. Throughout all these jobs I got a ton of experience and easily the best education one could ever have in the comics field. It showed me how the business actually worked from almost every single angle. Even those angles I didn’t work, like accounting, production or publishing, I was able to work alongside some of the best people in the field who do what they do. To this day I am still mesmerized by how damn amazing the Image Comics Production Staff was and continues to be. They’re the unsung heroes of creator owned comics. So, that’s lesson four: learn the industry. Know your business.

    As much as comics is a beautiful art form, it is an industry. Knowing what I know now helped me out a lot. Image will most likely not hire you. So, do your research. Go to websites like iCv2. Go to panels at conventions. Hell, talk to people at conventions. Unless I’m signing or on a panel, I am pretty much always open to answering whatever questions people have. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the help of others. That’s lesson five: pay it forward. People are going to help you break into comics. You need to do the same.

    Speaking of paying it forward: at a Wizard World LA in 2005 I met a guy who would become one of my best friends, Mark Andrew Smith. You’ll no doubt recognize him as the dude who’s now writing GLADSTONE’S SCHOOL FOR WORLD CONQUERORS and the upcoming SULLIVAN’S SLUGGERS with artist James Stokoe. We were coming into comics at the same time, so despite the sometime huge physical distance between us (he’s been living in Asia for years), we kept in relatively constant contact. Around the same time I started to get to know other cartoonists, people like Brandon Graham (now of KING CITY fame), that Stokoe guy, Marley Zarcone (she of HOUSE OF MYSTERY), and many others. They were all doing amazing things at smaller publishers or in some cases even just online. I long wished they would get a larger platform, as I was (and still am) convinced they could take over this medium. Concurrent to that I would talk to friends who did more established work say they wish they had a platform to create whatever without the restraints of their own books. About a year or so later Mark gave me a call saying he just inherited a sci-fi anthology. He asked for what I thought we should do. I said ‘something bigger.’

    After many more a conversation, the idea for PopGun was formed. Editing an anthology was nothing I ever saw coming. Mark and I split editorial duties and eventually included an assistant who would go on to fully co-edit two volumes, DJ Kirkbride. The long-story short, we edited four volumes altogether and the series has gone to win multiple Harveys and even an Eisner for its efforts. There was no way for me to ever know it would go so freakin’ big back when Mark and I first talked about maybe doing it, but we did. There’s lesson six, be open to every opportunity that comes along. You’ll never know where it will lead. Saying yes will more likely lead you down more interesting paths than saying no.

    For instance, editing PopGun led to me editing other books, including ONE MODEL NATION, a book written by one of my all-time favorite musicians, The Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor and illustrated by AFRODISAIC’s Jim Rugg. Editing became something of a second job (albeit one that didn’t really pay) for a long time. Again, I never expected it to even happen.

    Then there was Angouleme.

    After countless times of pushing me to go, my buddy Justin finally convinced me to go to the The Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2010. He knew I wanted to write, but he also knew that I had never been outside of the United States and Canada. I was able to figure out how to get there and for the first time in my life I crossed the Atlantic ocean and went to Paris, France.

    This experience is one of those major moments in my life, on par with moving from Portland to San Francisco or being hired at Image Comics. It was there I was exposed to so much both in and out of comics that I had never seen before. It was the life experience I needed to get me writing. Which is lesson seven, possibly the most important: get some life experience. The best writers and artists draw from truth. If all you’ve ever done is stay in the same town, your field of vision is going to be pretty limited. Fall in love. Get your heart broken. Get in a fist fight. Travel abroad. Do something really stupid. Spend too much money. Start a savings account. Wake up with a bad hangover. Learn to cook. Read books without pictures. Go to concerts you don’t want to go. Go to bars alone in foreign lands and see who you meet. Drink Absinthe. Real Absinthe. The stuff you should be arrested for and you’ve got to separate and mix correctly or you’ll die.

    Returning from this trip was tough. On the plus side, it really kick started my creative juices in ways I never anticipated. All I wanted to do was write my own comics, but I wasn’t. I was writing press releases about other people’s. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved my job. Very much. It’s another life experience I am eternally grateful for, but at the same time if there’s something putting people in this existence to do a specific thing it was obvious that wasn’t it for me.

    Time passed. Eventually it became obvious it was what I needed to do, in both in my and my employers eyes. They liked me, but they needed someone with their focus in the right place. Made sense. We parted ways.

    This, right here, was one of the scariest experiences I ever had. Yeah, I’ve been in some actually, physically threatening situations (I highly recommend those as well for the life experience thing), but this was something where the entire status quo of my life was shifting to something new and different. I didn’t have the secure job. I didn’t have the health insurance. I didn’t have the regular paycheck.

    I basically had a drive to create and some money saved up.

    Living in San Francisco means you pay to live in San Francisco. When you’ve got a full time job with benefits, you can make ends meet. When you’re trying to start a freelance career, it’s not the best place to be. I travelled around to a few different cities including Seattle, WA, Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR to figure out where to go from there.

    Within hours I knew I would move back to Portland. It was there a friend I made working together at Hollywood Video in San Francisco all those years ago, Emi Lenox (yep, same one from Image Comics’ EMITOWN), had been working on establishing her career. It was there one of my previous bosses, Jim Valentino, drove me around and more or less proved why Portland was the place to be. The community of creators there was unparalleled. The low cost of living was absurd. So, the second day there I put in an application for an apartment. I got it the following day. I moved in a month later.

    That’s lesson eight: be willing to be scared. Be willing to take a risk. Be willing to do something that’s possibly stupid. I will add the caveat that this step is hard, impossible to take if you have responsibility to others, such as a kid, but I didn’t. So I did it. Taking the safe route never works.

    I’ve been living in Portland for almost eighteen months now and being back here is the best decision I’ve ever made. The cost of living made existing on freelance rates very doable. The location and community made finding more work a lot easier. Its accessibility to other parts of the country, like Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, made promoting myself easier. The friends I’ve made here have kept me extremely motivated.

    The experiences I had at Image and elsewhere opened up doors to opportunities, but it was only by going through those doors and putting my all into them that I was able to get anywhere. I barely graduated high school. I never graduated college. If I can do this, you can do this, which I guess is lesson nine.

    So, yeah. Such opportunities included a lot of freelance editing jobs that weren’t exactly what I wanted to do, but subsidized working on my writing in the meantime. They also opened a lot of doors. Working with Frank Cho and Doug Murray on projects like 50 GIRLS 50 helped me hone my writing craft by editing someone else’s work. Frank was a buddy beforehand, but working together on this led to us deciding to co-write BRUTAL together, which he’s drawing as well. This experience helped me financially and creatively to put together my own ongoing creator-owned series, HELL YEAH, with Andre Szymanowicz, who I met by working on POPGUN.

    This pursuit on writing eventually took the notice of another previous boss, Eric Stephenson, who along with another guy I worked with at Image, Rob Liefeld, invited me to pitch for their upcoming Extreme line. They asked if I could put something together, so I did within days. That’s lesson ten, when someone invites you do anything – whether it’s pitching or whatever, do it right away. There’s a billion other people out there who want your job. If you don’t move on it, they will.

    Luckily, I did. In February 2012, the goal I’ve been working on this entire time, writing a work-for-hire ongoing series becomes a reality with the release of GLORY. It feels pretty good, but at the same time, it just makes me want to work harder than I ever have before. I may be on the cusp of the beginning of what I’ve been working towards and wanting all these years, but that’s not good enough. I want to do better.

    The way I got into comics isn’t the best way. I made a ton of mistakes along the way. I’ll make a ton more in the future, but it is my way. I’m still not satisfied with where I am. The main thing I’m hoping anyone gets out of this is that you never know how you’ll do it or how long it’ll take before you get where you need to go, but the overall most important lesson to this is that there is NO breaking into comics. That’s the final lesson. Comics isn’t a fortress. Comics isn’t a secret club with a password you need to learn. Comics is a medium one person can take on their own. Want to make comics? Make comics. Make them your own way. I can’t guarantee this will bring you success, critically or monetarily, but it will personally and in the end, that’s all that matters.

    Good luck in all your pursuits. If you want this, you can do it.

    Make it so.

    • Drewbacca Drewbacca says:

      In the next two years I’ll be a high school English teacher after I get my bachelor’s degree. When I start teaching, I’m going to read this to every student I have to show them that anything is achievable. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s certainly changed my outlook on life, and comics as well.

  12. Drewbacca Drewbacca says:

    Josh, that was one of the most honest and incredible advice letters I’ve ever read. You should be seriously proud of yourself. I’ve been in the same position as Natalie, but I have a few friends who are into comics. My problem is that I’ve got ideas for art that I could tell you finite details about, but I draw like I’m using an electric toothbrush with a fountain-tip on the end. Anywho, well-done, Josh.

  13. tdaniel says:

    Natalie –

    I sure hope you’ve come back here to read these responses, because everything posted here is as valuable to your future in comics as reading, writing, drawing, watching, and formal education. Joe’s response is in fact, priceless. He’s giving you real-life experience worth understanding and modeling your career upon in some sense. In fact, I can swear by what he is saying in many ways.

    Joe published my first story in Popgun Vol.2 entitled “Loner’ – drawn by then relative unknown Ming Doyle. She’s since gone on to big, big, much bigger things than I and deservedly so. The story is eight pages, nothing special – a little ghost tale. But I got the gig because I had been helping Joe & Mark by creating a webpage for Popgun. Joe simply asked what I really wanted to do in comics. I replied – write, get published, try and tell a tale or two. The very next volume he gave me a shot.

    That was 2008 maybe. I’m 44 years old Natalie. I’ve been reading comics for 32 of those years. My beard is grey and guess what?

    My first book comes out from Shadowline-Image next July. You can check it out here:
    http://www.theenormouscomic.com/

    The point of this however is not self-promotion so much as it is yet another testament to the fact that there is no set way into this business. Since 2003, I’ve done websites for the local comic shop, helped indy creators polish their pitches with logo and production design (i’ve assisted Nick Spencer on every boko he’s ever pitched with design work), aided ‘names’ like Bendis, Brubaker, Kirkman and others market their books, done merchandising for Skybound and production for Shadowline.

    One thing can lead to another, Bendis introduced me to a television-film management & production company. They gave me gigs. Hell, they got me in the pilot of the Walking Dead for cripes sake!

    You get out there online, post, engage, ask questions and share your work. Seek out collaborators of a similiar stature and desire – grow with them. Partner and nuture those relationships over time. Meet deadlines, honor committments and even give your time and work away on the behalf of others.

    Joe paid it back to me. Brian, Robert, Nick and especially Jim Valentino all have – in spades.

    I’m 44 years old Natalie and I’m a kid again.

    I hope to see you here taking part and trust me, ‘it gets better’.

    Tim Daniel

  14. Sensei44 Sensei44 says:

    Having read only Batgirl #1, it seems pretty redundant with the other Bat titles. I think she was far better as Oracle.

  15. Dedwyre Dedwyre says:

    Among other reasons, I don’t think Barbara should be Batgirl for the same reason that Conor is fine with it: She was Batgirl when I was growing up. Now that I’m older, she should be older and have moved on. No more “girl,” she’s a woman.