How to Break Into Comics Part Two: Seriously, Don’t Be Creepy

Last week, I posted all the affirmative, kick-you-in-the-ass advice I could, and while I feel it is again imperative that I mention I have only anecdotal knowledge of how one actually starts working in comics professionally, yet I have a lot of it.  Plus, the more I stand on this soapbox, and claim I know what I’m talking about, the more likely it is that I’ll look ridiculous if I can’t join the ranks of the comic book professionals.  I call that “motivation”.  Get it however you can.

Say what you want about the relative merit of both talent and drive, but like most businesses, the comics business is very much about knowing people.  Just as in sales, or the film industry, or whatever else, it really is about who you know.  I know that seems like a daunting prospect since so many of the people who work in comics do so by themselves and in almost complete solitude, and many of the fans suffer the same brand of introversion.

I know of a certain publisher of indie graphic novels and comics.  It’s most likely you’ve heard of him, and I’m certain you’ve heard of many of the creators he’s funneled through his publishing schedule before they were big names.  I got to know this person tangentially through someone else, and even got to the point where I pitched a couple ideas that got turned down.  I was given an excuse that “that’s not the kind of book we publish,” which given a glance through the past catalog proved to be patently untrue.  However, I later learned that to really get inside the system at this one place, the guy had to like you.  It certainly wouldn’t hurt to go out drinking with them, and get all chummy.  I’m sure there are plenty of you out there to whom this sounds utterly repellent.  There are an equal number of you who might think that sounds like a lot of fun.  Of course, that says nothing about the publishers themselves, and whether you actually would like them or not. But if you want to get published, it doesn’t really matter, because in many instances this is how the game is played.

Of course, unless you live in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, or Portland, the place to do that is going to be on the convention circuit.  Go to any major comic convention, and you will find a spot where anyone who’s anyone, or anyone who wants to be anyone get together, drink and chat the night away.  In San Diego, it’s usually the bar at the Hyatt, a roiling sea of comics commerce.  At the same time, it’s probably not the best place to actually meet people, because fan time is on the floor of the convention, and not necessarily the bar.  So how do you get there?

Well, the two most obvious answers are the web and the comic shop.  Again, if you don’t live in one of those major comic book meccas, the web might be your only choice.  But, on the other hand, if you’re really serious, it might be a good idea to get to one of those places.  I know several creators who were just readers when they met the right person at the comic shop in Los Angeles.  Geoff Johns met James Robinson when he was a fan at a comic book convention, and the two struck up a friendship.  Johns got an opportunity outside of Robinson, but then it was Robinson who brought him on to JSA later, and he was off.  On the web, it’s a slightly different story, but it is easier than ever now to get to know people in the industry, between facebook and twitter.  Back in the days of the Warren Ellis Forum, one user came to be known by several people, and got some comics published with AIT/Planetlar.  His name was Matt Fraction.  The thing is, who is it really worth it to know?  I know plenty of comic writers, but at the end of the day, they’re not the ones giving out jobs.  That’s what editors are for.  They’re the real people you’d need to get to know to get into the big leagues.  But again, unless you’ve got something published somewhere (or run a television show), you’re not going to get too far with them, other than receiving some helpful hints.

If you’re younger, and have free time, you can also think of interning.  Being an intern is still one of the best ways to get into the offices of Marvel and DC, and get to know who you need to know.  Dan Slott was an intern, for example.  Another person I know working for one of the major comic companies made himself stand out by volunteering to help out a big name at conventions.  “Need a Diet Coke?  Coming up right away!”  He did that until he was a known entity, and when there was an opening, he was ready for it.

And now, I will lay upon you the most useful nugget I possess.  Don’t be creepy and don’t be annoying.  I know this seems obvious, but there are some things you must remember.  First of all, this is a business.  Never forget that.  There is art being done, but without commerce, those wheels seize up real quick.  No one’s going to call someone who doesn’t appear to have a grip on reality.  You don’t need to wear a suit to work in comics, but unless your pages look better than John Cassaday’s, don’t look like you don’t care what you look like.  Don’t try to get too friendly with people before the relationship merits it.  Don’t call or email someone constantly for no reason.  If you’re a writer, don’t present an editor with ideas or a pitch or a script unless they ask for it.  Don’t interrupt people while they’re eating.  Read submission policies.  Never get confrontational, publicly or otherwise.  If you start acting like you’re owed anything, or that you deserve a single thing, you’re done.  Act like a professional if you expect to be treated that way.  Again, it’s something that shouldn’t need to be said, but from what I understand, it’s shocking how many people don’t understand that.  They hear “comics” and think that’s an excuse to act like children.  It’s just like any other job, except it’s really tough to get and make a living from, even if you’re talented.

About that talent, there’s one other thing.  Show you best work.  If you want to impress someone, never ever show them something that you feel less than 100% about.  If you don’t think it’s your best work, then work harder.  Push yourself to do better than you think you can do.  Present the best of yourself in your work all the time.  Would you want to pay for it?  If not, don’t bother.  The last thing the world needs is more mediocre comics.

You’ll need talent, drive, luck, and more luck to make a living from comics.  It’s entirely possible that there are those out there who got lucky, and didn’t have to deal with any of this, but for the other 99% out there, it’s a long road that makes no promises to be easy, or guarantee success.  But someday, you might walk into a comic book store and see your name on a cover, and that day is going to feel about as good as it gets.

Then of course, if you manage to get published or hired, then you’ve got to do it again, and again, and again.  That can take even more effort, but we’ll have to get to that some other time.

Comments

  1. Such a big help, thanks again Josh!

  2. "How to Break Into Comics Part Two: (Funny Subtitle Not Found)"

    Great article as always.

  3. Dean Haspiel got me my first break.

  4. Subtitle option: The Sisyphean challenge. Networking is always important, regardless of field. Amen, Josh Amwn

  5. Subtitle?  Who’s missing a subtitle?

  6. Really great article, Josh.

  7. The fact that the people who really need to hear the advice "don’t be creepy" are too socially maladjusted and oblivious to realize you’re talking to them is a great tragedy. To the people trapped at signings with them.

  8. @Josh: Great article, man. I really enjoy these. I have a question, though: As a reviewer yourself, do you get nervous about showing your work to the other members of iFanboy? Are you worried about Ron or Conner ripping you a new one on your future comics work, or is that something you’re not concerned with?

    Keep these articles a’comin’!

  9. @DJRustbucket – I ended up as a reviewer sort of on accident.  I was just another dude talking about comics.  It turned out more people started listening to me than most, though.  On the one hand I consider it really helpful in my own creation, because I’ve done so much analysis on what works and what doesn’t.  Now, I just have to manufacture that.

    I’m more nervous about showing stuff to the general audience we have, since they’ve heard me say so many things about good comics, that I have to bring the quality, or I’m full of shit.  As far as Ron, Conor, and the rest of the staff goes, they’re my very best friends, and they’re supportive.  But I also trust them to give me valuable notes as well, since they know their shit.

  10. What Jimski said above: yeah, so… how many of the creepy, annoying people actually REALIZE they are creepy and/or annoying?

    Josh, your next installment should be a how-to video tutorial that demonstrates seven different scenarios for having a beer with a publisher. 😉

  11. And simply by titling his article, Josh ruins any dreams I once had. 

  12. Makes you wonder how the Creeper ever got his comics gig. 

  13. The Creeper definitely has tape on someone.

    Which, I hear, is another way to break into comics. I’m sure that’s Josh’s next installment: "Chapter 3: When talent isn’t enough, there’s always blackmail."

  14. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Really enjoying this series, Josh.  This whole process has made you an even better commentator.  Great insight.  

  15. Really loving these articles Josh. I’d say to make it a regular thing but there’s only so much insight to be had. lol. Been wondering how your own work’s doing tho. Any updates?

  16. First and foremost love the article. and in the comments when Josh mentions how reviewing things helped him define what works and what does not is a great point. There wasa time I very actively pursued this career. But in the end I decided my personal skill capicity was not up to the task at hand, still I remained throughly imeresed in this media. I’d say I had a fairly good feel for in general what makes a good comic, but definately listening to this podcast has helped me move out of generalizations and into more criticial analysis than I did before. Now a friend of mine is actively pursuing this career and my previous experiences and what I’ve learned from this podcast as well as other critical reviewers is now helping me to give better advice to my friend.

  17. Going to a con next weekend. So I’ll have to keep this in mind.

    Don’t be creepy. Don’t be creepy. Be creepy. Crap! It’s okay, I have time to practice.