How to Break Into Comics, Part One: The Stink of Effort

Okay, right off, asking me how you can break into comics might seem a bit silly. For one thing, I’ve never worked on comic books professionally. That right there is the number one reason that I shouldn’t be your first source for information. But wait! Regardless of that specific and seemingly obvious barrier, I have picked up a thing or two by spending the better part of a decade wondering about this same question. In that time, I’ve read and listened to a lot of interviews and talked to more than my fair share of comic book pros, both artists and writers about this very subject. As I can’t draw, I’ll likely focus more on getting into writing comics, but artists can probably pick up a thing or two. Since I’m on the same road as so many other people, I thought I’d share some of the knowledge I’ve picked up along the way. Granted, as others are trying to break in and get published at the same time as me, you’re technically competition, so all my advice should be suspect. Your funeral. No, I’m totally kidding.

I’m not.


First things first, you have to decide what kind of comics you want to make. Do you want to work for Marvel or DC? Do you want to make simple autobiographical comics? Figure it out, and learn how to get noticed by the people you need to notice you. Find a pro who has a career like the one you want, and study it. What did they do? Once you think you have a handle on that, let it go, because if I’ve learned nothing else, no one has broken in to comics in the same way as someone else. There’s no right way. However, as a rule, you’re not going to get any work at the big 2 without having been published somewhere else first.

The quickest way to fail is to talk about making comics, but never actually do it. Do you want to create comics? Good news! There’s nothing stopping you. Do it. In fact, no matter what kind of comics you want to do, you should go ahead and start making them now. Get them made, and post them on the web, and get as many people as you can to look at them. But the fact is this, if you want to make comics, start making them. The longer you put it off, the harder and longer it’s going to be. Make any excuse you want, but if you’re not working towards producing comics, you’re not going to get anywhere. If you want to make superhero comics, come up with your own, and start crafting interesting and unique stories. Your first efforts will most likely be terrible. If you don’t think they are, wait ten years, go back and read them. You will cringe with terror. If that sounds awful or too hard, give it up right now. It’s going to get a lot harder. I realize this sounds harsh, but if you’re talking about getting paid for, and making a living from comic books, you need to get started. No one who wants to be in a band talks about learning to play guitar and doesn’t do it.

If you can’t draw, you’ve got to find someone who can and will. This part is tedious, awful, and could take years. It might even be faster to learn how to draw yourself. I’m not going to lie. Unless you have a fat wallet, finding a collaborator with skill, and with whom you get along is really incredibly hard. Do you realize how lucky Robert Kirkman is to have had Tony Moore as a friend when he was young?

But the best thing to be learned from Robert Kirkman, like his comics or not, is that he made his success happen. He knew what he wanted to do when he was very young, and he just started making comics. He made Battle Pope, to this day the only comic book I’ve ever bought based on the title alone. I literally went to the store the next day and asked for the book. The retailer had no idea what I was talking about, and it took him 2 months to get it, but Kirkman got me that easy. He was still a teenager at the time, and he self published his book, which lead to further opportunities, and now he’s a partner at Image and has the best-selling independent comic books on the market. Brian Michael Bendis worked for 10 years on money-losing independent comics before becoming the biggest name at Marvel Comics. Even indie guys do their time in the trenches, making mini-comics, and web-publishing waiting for someone to notice them and connect with the work. You have to be tenacious at whatever you want to do. The longer you don’t do anything, the longer nothing will happen.

I truly believe that there are people out there who have, inside them, the greatest novels, comic book story, or screenplay, but we’ll never know it, because they never took the time or made the effort to actually write it. At the same time, there are many people who don’t have as much talent, but they’ve got drive and ambition. So, while talent is all well and good, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t work hard. Also, it’s nearly impossible to judge oneself, so if you want to create, but don’t think you have the talent, that’s just fear stopping you from succeeding. I don’t think I’m the world’s greatest writer (maybe #3-4. Top 10 definitely), but when I read other people’s work, I very often think, “oh, there’s no way I can do that.” At the same time, that person is looking at someone else’s work, and thinking “oh, there’s no way I can do that,” unless of course it’s the megalomaniacal Joe Casey, who doesn’t think there’s anyone better than him. Learn from other people’s work, but don’t let the success of others stop you from going forward.  If you look at other work and say “I can’t do that!” it becomes instantly true.

Now that you’re built up, and have your affirmations all set, you’re ready to make comics. Because it turns out I have more good advice than I can fit into one column, come back next week for part 2. I’ll get into more specifics I’ve learned, as well as the ugly importance of networking, both virtually and in the grimy, hellish real world.



  1. Awesome, thanks Josh!  I recently finished my first script and have found a potential artist to work with on it, so this article is a big help.  I can’t wait to hit the convention circuit one of these days with a finished product to promote!

  2. Thanks very much for this! It’s an interesting read and I’m sure it’ll be a great series.

  3. This rings very true to me probably because it’s all I think about 24-7.  I want to make comics and I do!  I don’t get paid for it and no one’s seen the work but that’s ok for now because at least I’m making progress.  I’ve found, for me at least, it really helps to set goals for yourself so you know exactly what to be working on when you get some free time.  For me I draw a page a day, it keeps me productive.  Like Josh said there is nothing keeping you from making comics right now!  So the hell with our college degrees and social expectations, lets make some comics!

  4. @ Bebop – Exactly!

  5. I find the best way to get into comics is to have a thirty year career in animation and then do a couple of movies with Mike Mignola.  That’s what got me published.  On the other hand, I’ve written and drawn the first issue of my own comic that has no buyers.

    I realized I wasn’t ambitious enough, at least not creatively.  I pitched it as a series, broken into arcs of course for ease of publishing as trades.  That was the natural thing for me to do because that’s how a pitch an animated series.  But what I need to pitch was a single story and not just how the character got her powers and fell into her situation…that story was entertaining and emotional but not right for the market today.  Your story should be a tale that has something to say and leaves the reader feeling satisfied.  Sherlock Holmes never needed to resort to cliffhangers to keep his audience.  People loved his stories and couldn’t wait for another even though each was wrapped up.  Not that cliff hangers are bad but today’s economy doesn’t favor long term risks.  It’s not enough to say, "I can do as good as that," when pointing to something in the racks.  You have to shoot for being better than that.

  6. That’s actually some of what I have in store for next week’s installment Tad.  But yes, you’re completely right.

  7. Even without reading the article, Josh goes into my iFanboy Hall of Fame for putting up an image of Barton Fink. Nice. My favorite Coen Bros. film, and one that’s too often overlooked.

    Oh, and I’m sure Josh probably said some nice, relevant things, too.

  8. That’s some great advice, Tad. I think there’s a trap there that aspiring writers sometimes fall into when it comes to comics. You get in love with the concept, with what you can do to it, and you forget to start with a simple story. And honestly, it’s a natural trap to fall into because we probably all grew up on one fantastic character or another, from X-men to Batman and beyond, and we’ve seen how you can create a whole universe and history and grand plan for a character. We see everything as a potential franchise. I actually feel like this is what happened with many of the original Image creators. They drew great characters. They envisioned epic sprawling sagas, everything you could *do* by creating an archetypal characteror group…. and then many of them fell flat when it came to telling a single, convincing, emotional story.

  9. I need to get off my ass and start drawing again.  Thanks for the swift kick Josh!

  10. Thanks Josh!  After attending the MSU Comics Forum, thanks as well for that article, I have been inspired to write and draw again with an eye on creating my own book.  While having one foot firmly planted in reality I know I’d hate myself forever if I didn’t start working on it.

  11. I thought this was another article about how to get started reading comics again, not creating them lol.

  12. I love these sort of articles. as someone who has started drawing as much as possible in hopes of one day being able to do it better than a five year old so that he can create the best comics he possibly can (with money hopefully one day a nice side effect of that maybe), I want to know all of this. I really enjoyed this and can’t wait for the next one, Josh. thanks.

  13. After 2 years of working on my book I can honestly say, making it is the easy part fellas. Seriously, right now I am Promoting the first book/Building the website/networking/going to cons/selling/mailing/meticulously going over 2nd book with editor/going back and forward with artist notes/researching and writing third book all with a 50-60 hour a week job to fund said projects. But all in all it’s the most rewarding experience of my life and you would be a fool never to do it. I GOT STORIES!!!


  14. Thanks a lot, Josh! A friend and I have been talking about writing a comic for years, and a few months ago we finally got off our lazy asses and started writing it. We have two issues of the first arc written (working a few nights a week after work) and now we’re starting to really think about how to get this thing noticed.

    We’ve thought of taking a finished copy of the first issue around at cons, along with the scripts for the rest of the arc and an outline for the rest of the series. A press pack, of sorts, to hand out to creators and whatnot. Does this sound like a reasonable course of action to anybody?

  15. This was great. Although I can barley wait for the next chapter. Since this will be more in line with my own situation. I have my book done, but getting people to see and networking has not been the best exoierence. Hoping to be pointed in the right direction. Thanks so much

  16. I pitched a couple of shows today.  Don’t know what the chances are because from certain angles they might seem similar to something on the air (that’s doing well) and something that is no longer on the air (that didn’t do well).  But something was said to me that seemed relevant to this thread.  "Thank you for getting that it’s the characters that make a show.  Thank you for pitching a show.  We get people who pitch notions or ideas with no clue of how they can turn them into a series."  I’ve been told this at another studio too.  So disregarding the pat on my back, although your concept can be super cool, it’s the characters and their relationships that will ultimately determine your audience.

  17. You guys should check out the Me Write, You Draw: Writer & Artist Discussion thread on the Rev3 forums:

  18. Torrent link deleted.